Wednesday, 31 May 2017

Brexit: better off with Labour?

Interesting isn't it? Not so very long ago we were all talking about the imminent demise of the Labour party and the unelectability of Corbyn. May has put him within four points of winning. If Lib Dems vote tactically then May is done. That's if you put any stock in the polls, which I don't.

I rather suspect people won't make up their minds until polling day when large numbers of us will probably decline to vote and it will be decided on the toss of a coin. With there being so little in it, this could mean either a substantial Tory win or a hung parliament. Whatever happens it will be by an accident of numbers rather than a clear expression of public will. May is obviously unfit to be prime minister and there is little to recommend Corbyn either.

What I will say is that Corbyn does seem to have found his stride and can at least speak with confidence and conviction - and has been unequivocal that a no-deal Brexit is not permissible. A deal is more likely under a Corbyn government and he will likely be better received by Brussels. The mood over the channel is that the Tories are needlessly confrontational, hopelessly under-informed, belligerent and arrogant. They are not wrong.

David Davis has a grotesquely cavalier attitude, has no real knowledge of the subject matter or the stakes of the game in play. That makes the Tories a bigger economic risk than Corbyn.

Ultimately this is not May vs Corbyn. This is Davis vs Starmer. Keir Starmer, Labour's Brexit spokesman is a realist who is prioritising single market access over immigration - and is keen on maintaining institutional links with the EU. I have listened to him speak. What I am hearing is exactly the right tone of pragmatism and under him we will likely get a deal based on the realities rather than an ideologically driven Brexit - assuming the free market can overnight replace 40 years of systems integration.

I think Starmer has a few things wrong because he has a faulty definition of the Customs Union but that always was a red herring. It's something we can afford to make a mistake with and revisit later. What we cannot afford is for unilateral and irreversible calls to be made based on the Tory interpretation of Brexit which could result in the loss of most of our European trade and a major dent in our international standing.

Brexit is a complex subject and what we need is politicians who have a very good idea of the stakes, a good working knowledge of the institutions and a good idea of how trade works. In the competency stakes Starmer is ahead by a country mile and is, more importantly, not closed off to advice. He is the more trustworthy and reliable option.

Ultimately the decider is what kind of people we are electing. May and her Brexit ministers believe they know it all and cannot be told anything. They will not listen to advice and anyone contracting them finds themselves out of a job. This is no way to run a government. They are running a secretive agenda, they are not being straight with us and I can say, unequivocally, that these people do not know what they are doing - and they are playing with fire.

Be under no illusions here. This is a question not just of Brexit but of our national survival. All other priorities are rescinded. I do not say these words lightly and I do not endorse Labour politicians casually. It offends all of my sensibilities to have to do it. I have my doubts about Starmer but when contrasted with Fox, Davis and Johnson it's a no brainer. For the purposes of Brexit we are safer with Labour. There's a sentence I never thought I would write. I need to go take a shower.

BBC debate: the cupboard is bare

I don't have a television. I'm not happy to finance the BBC and I really can't cope with TV adverts. It is not necessary to have a television and when for news you have Newsnight, Laura Kuenssberg, Robert Peston, Andrew Neil, Evan Davis and all the other insufferable beeboid worms, there is no way I am going to be less informed for not having one.

This though puts me at a slight disadvantage. My timeline on Facebook is full of eminently sensible people writing posts about how terrorism is not a consequence of our foreign policy and that the links with Islam must be explored. All week I've been pondering why anyone would bother to restate these self evident things, assuming that the debate has long since moved on. The debate can't still be at first base can it?

Well, just five minutes of watching the BBC "debate" last night I can see that we are, and actually these things, depressingly, do need restating time and again. The "debate" was a most unwholesome spectacle. Effectively it was a mob of shouty left wing populists mouthing the usual platitudes and reciting the usual mantras as though there are no negative externalities to immigration, all the money in the world to firehose at the NHS and the pretence that Ukip is the manifestation of the third Reich.

Now you'll get no argument from me that Ukip have made their own bed and deserve to be pilloried for their unsubtle and unintelligent policymaking but Paul Nuttall's weary exasperation better encapsulates public mood than anything else we saw. More sickening than anything Ukip have said in recent times is the insulting intellectual dishonesty of the others - and the group-think in play.

Like most who watched it, I didn't get through more than about five minutes before switching it off in disgust. It was, however, a useful reminder why we voted to leave the EU. The debate was a microcosm of UK political debate as a whole. A virtue signalling political class working in collusion to paint the every day views of ordinary voters as somehow bigoted and extreme, gliding effortlessly over the facts, knowingly misframing the issues - refusing to even engage.

As bad as it was, it seemed even more debased than usual. The same old faces, the same tedious narratives, the same lofty disdain, but somehow more tarnished and more broken. The bubble-dwellers inhabit the pre-referendum world and have learned nothing.

This forces me to conclude that however bad a Brexit deal is, national immolation is no less than we deserve and perhaps it's the only way to restore some kind of dignity and authority to our politics. What we are seeing is the fag end of retail politics, with politicians throwing around our money as though it were still 2006. Infantilising the nation.

By now, all but the very thickest can see that UK politics is in a very deep hole. Probably beyond salvation. The talent pool has dried up. If this really is the best we can do then we don't deserve to survive. The rot has spread too deeply and there isn't a way back from this. 

Trump: doing the impolite thing

It would appear that Trump has pulled out of the Paris climate accords. As I understand it, though please correct me if I'm wrong, the accords themselves are a fudge that actually commit signatory states to very little. More than anything it is just another globalist jamboree where our remote ruling class can parade their virtue. Normally the consequences of these agreements are inexplicably large hikes on our energy bills.

That Trump is pulling out is only significant in that it green-lights others to do the same. It shatters the cosy globalist consensus. Trump has done the "unthinkable" and broken the conceit.

You see, everything at that level of global politics is a conceit. Even the EU is a manifestation of this dynamic. It's all about maintaining a pretence and signalling allegiances. Trump though as done what he was elected to do and has done the impolite thing. And that is what bothers the elites. Not that he has turn his back on the climate accords (as if they actually care), it is that he has done the thing one does not do. The impolite thing.

This in their eyes makes Trump a pariah. It also explains the deliberate isolation of the Theresa May at any of the G7 jamborees. Brexit is impolite, you see. It's all about keeping up appearances.

But actually, as I noted on the blog this morning, the very last thing we want to do is to maintain the various conceits in global politics. We can't go on pretending that these transnational accords are doing anything useful, we can't pretend the post-war settlement is still fit for purpose and we have to admit that these seventy year old institutions are barely relevant to the shift in global political tides.

Some have it that this is America turning inward. I don't think so. America has always been ill at ease with anything that threatens their sovereignty and the reason Hilary Clinton lost was because she was perceived to be one of the American elites who would go along with the globalist agenda, and refusing to ever be impolite.

What is needed more than ever is a wrecker at the top, to drive a horse and cart through the hypocrisy. That is what makes Trump the ideal vehicle. He is not a man of virtue, but doesn't even pretend to be, unlike the denizens of the old world order.

This is actually what makes the UK and the US natural allies in that we are actually early adopters of the new era which dispenses with the vanity of the globalist consensus. That it is a further affront to the junk science of climate change is just the icing on the cake.

You will notice how Obama is widely adored and missed by the luvvie elites of the world. He was very much their man. He restored America's reputation as part of the gang. That gang though, is far less interested in advancing the interests of their people, rather they are working toward a global technocracy where the little people do as they are told. The "big club" as beautifully articulated by the late George Carlin.

And this is why Trump very much is anti-establishment. For all that he has installed his own cronies, he is a wrecking ball. Some weeks ago pundits had concluded that the revolutionary potential of Trump had probably dissipated, having rowed back on a number of election pledges. I was one of them. I think, however, President Trump could still pull of a few surprises. And even if he does nothing else for the rest of his term then this gesture alone is a turning point in global affairs. One the pretence has been shattered, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. There is no unsaying what Merkel has said.

In this, the media is aghast, along with much of the Twitterati. The singularly bovine apparatchiks and the sheep. If Trump and Brexit are offending these types then you can take it as a good sign and that maybe, just maybe, democracy is making a comeback.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Europe must evolve or die

I want to say a little about the geopolitical ramifications of Brexit. Mrs Merkel has certainly caused a stir in saying that the US and the UK are no longer partners the EU can rely on. A cleverer chap than me on Twitter noted that her words are a Rorschach inkblot test. "From your reaction I can tell who you are".

There can be no doubt that while nothing substantive has changed, the signals are all there that point to a new order in the West. Some have it that it's a disaster for the Western alliance. I don't think so. I think this is healthy.

When we see pictures of our leaders parading together on the world stage we are looking at a conceit. The pretence of European unity. The European Union in geopolitical terms is a flag waving exercise where our political elites pretend that the divisions within Europe do not exist. The modern conceit being that if we ignore the issues they will somehow go away.

When people talk of the post war settlement what they are actually talking about is the post-war conceit. It is this that prevents any kind of realignment and as with markets, the longer the distortion stays in place, the bigger and more volatile the the correction.

For a time this has served us well. That time though has past. We are not adapting to the new global order and we are not evolving quickly enough to meet the challenges of the new century. Bound by its own dogma the European polity dos not know how to address the ever growing fractures. It is marked by procrastination and self-deception.

It would now appear that this democratic correction is upon us. What it looks like yet we do not know. It would be safe to assume that the West will remain allies but the days of the US strategic hegemony over Europe are over and that Europe, Germany in particular must, be the architect of its own destiny.

Foreign policy pundits have it that the man reason for the UKs membership of the EU was to stop it ever realising its own ambitions - to prevent federalisation and a European army - but Eurosceptic concern in the UK largely has it that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy and if it is to happen then the UK must not be part of it. I concur. Defence cooperation is one thing but the transference of UK forces to a European command is intolerable. From Libya we can see that EU imperialism will naturally lead to the same mistakes America has made - mistakes we have already been a party to and are in no hurry to repeat.

Now that we are leaving the EU, as much as the UK is free to reinvent itself, Europe may now do likewise. This blog has remarked that there is every practical necessity for greater economic and political integration on the mainland and if the EU is to survive then it must reform. I take the view that the UK's continued membership was the obstacle to that reform.

There are, however, caveats. A new European superpower is one that will have to face up to global and regional threats. It's attitudes to Russia are incompatible with the political developments within the Visegrad states who still value and respect their cultural and historical ties with Russia. Moreover we are seeing a rejection of EU moral and cultural imperialism in Hungary and Poland and I don't see the eastern bloc or the Balkans remaining inside the EU sphere of influence.

More than likely we will see a Visegrad alliance along the lines of Efta but including Russia in some way. As the EU becomes more federalised it will need to design a status that reflects the inherent internal contradictions. Though there may be a desire not to admit this reality and preserve European Unity at any cost, if there is no reform then Britain will not be the last member to depart. Hungary or Poland seem like the obvious candidates for departure.

Your guess, though, is as good as mine. These are developments for the next twenty years. All we know is that the EU cannot survive in its current form and the next decade is make or break for the EU. Shit or get off the pot. The reality is that the UK is not the only country to be fractured by globalisation and the binaryism of the cold war is no longer there. There is no clear cut east-west demarcation and despite the EUs efforts to create one, it will not be reflected among its peoples.

Effectively this shift in geopolitical tides is the catalyst for the EU to resolve its schizophrenia. There will need to be a realignment of interests and choices will have to be made. What comes out the other side will be a Europe closer to how things are rather than how we pretend they are. Ultimately the pretence of European Unity could never last. Those who argue that we are demolishing the post-war settlement are effectively saying that maintaining this conceit is the overriding factor to all other considerations, including the democratic will. Personally I can't see how that ends well.

If we are indeed seeing the end of the post-war settlement then that is a sign that the people have moved on when the institutions of Europe have not. Questions are being asked but the ECHR and we know that the Geneva Convention is no longer fit for purpose. The systems of governance are ill-equipped for the challenges of permanent mass migration and if European nations wish to retain their culture, identity and heritage then they must act now.

In a lot of ways British politics is microcosm of what is happening across Europe. Our politics is twenty years or more behind the curve. As this blog has pointed out, the Eurosceptic movement in the UK is still making the same arguments it was in 1992. In our response to terrorism we are still working from twenty year old narratives and political theories we were talking about in 2003. All the while we have seen hyperglobalisation of technologies and massive shifts in wealth elsewhere in the world. We are not even close to intellectually equipped to tackle the issues of the new era and our institutions are faltering. If that is true of the UK then it goes double for Europe.

Far from being the regressive force turning inward the UK is really just an early adopter. The first to wake from a seventy year slumber. Brexit was the wake up call for Britain and Europe. This is why I see die hard remainers as woefully naive in that they are seeking to put the genie back in the bottle, chasing a status quo that died the day of the referendum. We could by some connivance find a way to remain a member of the EU but the fissures can no longer be the elephant in the room.

As it happens, the writing has been on the wall for some time. President Trump has merely brought it all into the open. The US was a reluctant backer to the EU inspired action in Libya just as Germany has been reluctant to take a role in allied efforts in the middle east.

Given that Syria and development in migration have a direct and profound effect on Germany it is high time that the Germans show some leadership, casting aside their ghosts. Its very survival depends on shedding its guilt and if it does not act then it is unlikely Eastern Europe will want to be dragged down with it. Hence their hostility to taking refugees. It stands to reason that Europe should take a lead in tackling the issues directly affecting Europe when US attention has turned to address threats in the Pacific.

Some have it that the UK has now made itself an irrelevance by leaving the EU, but as a non-Euro member it is already detached and has no real desire to rule Europe. Just as the USA is asking what it owes Europe, Britain is re-evaluating its own status where as a free agent it can be broker of global initiatives not directly concerned with Europe's southern frontiers. One might even say it's a reversion to the norm. For as long as the is an English Channel, the UK has options that Europe does not. It's up to us to explore what those options are.

You are always going to get kicking and screaming from denizens of the old order, fearful of change, terrified of the realities unleashed by facing down our many conceits, but to all things there is a time and the time for the European Union as we have known it has past. The next generation cannot be bound by the shackles of the last. A new era needs a new order. Every culture needs to mutate to survive - and now we are grasping that nettle. Let it happen. It's long overdue.

Monday, 29 May 2017

I can't vote Labour, but I wouldn't blame you if you did

So May is clinging on to her "no deal is better than a bad deal" rhetoric. This is no longer a leave/remain issue. This is ultimately a matter of national survival. There is no room for silly little games. We are not haggling over the price of a carpet. If we walk away that's a termination of all our relations with the EU and its constituent members. The treaties shall cease to apply.

So much as that then unleashes the full force of such a severance overnight, we are still in the position of needing a deal with the EU but with zero standing and no leverage. What is often forgotten is that any third party agreements with have with other states are also nullified in that they are agreements with the EU, not the UK - so we would lose most of our formal trade relations. Without a deal from the EU, each of them would have to renegotiated individually.

Now you will have to forgive me for being single track on this, but this really is the only issue in the election that matters. No party's spending plans or fiscal credibility can be taken at face value without talking about its position on Brexit. Without trade you don't have the same tax base and considerably shrunken tax receipts. We are talking about a decade or more of severe "austerity". An order of magnitude more than you have seen to date.

Outside of this consideration everything else is just noise. I don't really care if Diane Abbott is thick as two short planks. Stupid is as stupid does - and by far the most stupid proposal on the table is that we can walk away from the EU without a deal. In the stupidity stakes, the Tories are leading by a country mile.

We continue to be starved of any detail, and are subjected to the same mantras we have heard since January. We are being asked to vote for May on trust. But why should we trust her? Not one of her front bench are able to speak with any authority on EU issues, she herself does not even understand the negotiating framework, let alone the scale and scope of Brexit, and the Tory party faithful continue to assert that the WTO option is viable. There is no basis on which to trust them whatsoever.

But now we have to choose. In last night's televised electioneering, when Corbyn was asked whether he would contemplate a scenario where Britain failed to strike an arrangement he said: "There's going to be a deal. We will make sure there is a deal". So for all his lack of fiscal credibility, he at least passes the basic test where May does not. And then we have to look at who would hold the brief. I am not overly taken with Keir Starmer, but he is streets ahead of David Davis who continues to hold a blasé attitude. In a speech last month Starmer said:
We recognise that immigration rules will have to change as we exit the EU, but we do not believe that immigration should be the overarching priority. We do not believe that leaving the EU means severing our ties with Europe. We do not believe that Brexit means weakening workers’ rights and environmental protections or slashing corporate tax rates.

Labour believe in a very different vision of how Brexit can work for Britain and the EU. We believe in building a new relationship with the EU – not as members but as partners. Where jobs, the economy and retaining the benefits of the Single Market and the Customs Union are our priority. 
Though I may find cause to argue the toss over the customs union, if forced to choose between the oblivion that May offers and an unhappy compromise, Starmer gets my vote. But then comes down to the question of who we would be electing.

Corbyn's prevarication on terrorism and his apparent sympathies is clearly unacceptable. His economic policies can be shot down by a sixth form student. I find him and his team repellent and morally objectionable. In any other circumstances there would be no question of voting for a Corbyn Labour party. The question is whether a Corbyn government would cause more damage than a "no deal" Brexit.

I am of the view that Corbyn does not have the backing of his MPs and would struggle to implement his agenda. We could probably survive a term of Corbyn and sooner or later, the knives will be out for him. I do not, however, think that Britain could survive as a trading nation should we walk away from the table - and even if the Tories do manage to get as far as negotiating a trade deal their pig headed and issue illiterate red lines would more than likely produce an abysmal deal that would see us substantially poorer for no real gains.

If you know me at all, then you know it goes against every fibre of my being to even consider Labour as an option. Thankfully that is is not a choice I personally have to make. My local Tory MP has a majority of around ten thousand in a constituency where Ukip polled well. I expect that will see a lower turnout but that majority will be upheld by the transference of Ukip votes. There is zero chance of dislodging the incumbent Tory so I am as well not voting.

Having said that though, I would recommend that readers give this some serious thought. May must be sent a warning, and a Tory landslide would be a very bad development for the UK. If you live in a marginal seat, I would give very serious consideration to voting for whoever can oust a Tory even if that means holding your nose while you vote.

Normally Labour would not be a serious proposition for government, but we are faced with a grim decision and ultimately Brexit is the only issue that matters. I voted to leave but I did not vote for a national suicide and May is simply not competent. More to the point, Brexit will be the driving concern of the next parliament, distracting any government from other matters - which could well stand in the way of Corbyn implementing his agenda. Given the realities he would face there are enough safeguards to risk it. Trusting the Tories though is a far bigger gamble. Not one I would make.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

How to stop another Manchester

The profile is usually the same. A loser who slips through the net, has nothing in their armory of achievements to call their own and gradually turns to hate the world, blaming everyone else for their own predicament.

Their only source of pride is their sense of self-righteousness - being more moral and pure - without acknowledging their own hypocrisy - usually involving drink and drugs. In the absence of a sense of belonging, trapped between two worlds and fitting into neither, the resentment turns to hate which in turn becomes nihilism. All it then needs is a channel.

It's the classic story arc of a loser and usually it applies just as much to far right white nationalists, far left anarchists as islamist suicide bombers. When it comes to extremism there isn't a fag paper's difference between them - and are very often interchangeable. It is not uncommon for politically extreme youth to convert to Islam.

And that's the other familiar part of this profile - men with no real connection to Islam, scant knowledge of it, and are in fact "born again muslims". This is why it doesn't help to be finger-wagging in the direction of UK Muslim communities who are often just as much in the dark as the rest of us.

I think by now this much is known to authorities which is why they direct their prevention strategies at universities and community level youth organisations. Public workers are trained to spot the symptoms - puritanism, devout preaching and a sudden change in habits.

Olivier Roy, one of France’s top experts on Islamic terrorism, argues that it's the Islamification of radicalism that we need to investigate, not the radicalization of Islam, begging the question of why radical youths would choose violent fundamentalist Islam over other destructive creeds to engage in terrorism".

I completely concur. Angry young man syndrome is not at all uncommon. When I was twenty two I latched on to the more extreme end of libertarian politics, occasionally dabbling with other politics on the right, exploring the various strands, alienated from my largely leftist social circle, not especially academically inclined, and very very preachy. I was a massive hypocrite too. Were it not for one or two variables I could just as easily have been recruited by Islamic extremists. As it happens, I got sucked into Ukip for a while, mainly because it was available and I understood it. It's grievance politics. Availability is the key factor. 

In some respects all politics is the losers creed. Successful people tend not to go into politics until later life assuming they even have well developed political views. The more extreme, the bigger the loser. I actually take some comfort in the fact that I'm more of a centrist these days. There is hope for me yet. 

But that's really what explains Salman Abedi - dislocated from his own heritage, having no affinity with the host culture. They exist in a spiritual vacuum. Now you can argue that this a consequence of immigration, but the dynamic is not unique. Social isolation is a common facet to this. The reason it turns to extreme Islam is because it is popularised and available. It speaks to the puritanical and nihilistic tendency.

In fact, the target in Manchester tells us everything. As much as anything this was an act of revenge against women. The loser makes excuses for himself that his inability to get the girls is a moral choice and the impure deserve divine punishment. As much as anything it's misogyny. We find in other attacks there is a similar strand - a lashing out against normal activity where people are finding enjoyment. Things the puritan considers sinful. The joy and love they themselves will never find. 

So what is to be done? Well, we know the psych-profile well. We are seemingly pretty good at detection but it seems we are failing to act on intelligence, partially because of the scale of the problem. 

Oliver Roy notes that hundreds of foreign fighters from Europe are seeking a safe return to Europe by turning themselves in to their embassies in Turkey, according to the Italian press. "This means they don’t have the suicidal instincts characterizing terrorists like Abedi". This has been a common theme where alienated and radical youth have gone out to Syria to find it did not meet their romanticised ideal and seek to return to a normal life.

By this point a deradicalisation programme is largely unnecessary. All that really remains is some form of punishment. What remains is the question of who do we let back in and under what circumstances - and how do we stop them going out there in the first place?

The former seems like the more answerable question though it may prove more difficult to enforce than is assumed. If they want back in, they will find a way. As to the latter question, that is one that requires more substantial action from us. 

In this, it is that spiritual vacuum where radicalism thrives. It is there we must focus our efforts. We need to ask why these young people slip the net, how we can better engage them and how we can engineer a society that is more inclusive. Oliver Roy argues that the “hegemony of secularism” and the rejection of “all forms of religiosity” in the West have created a spiritual vacuum that can be a breeding ground for fundamentalism. He is only partially right though. 

Social trends and globalisation have eroded the role of the church and the mosque where we are increasingly atheist and lack the normative social structures of yore. We are a spiritual wasteland. The question, therefore, is what measures we can take to improve the spiritual life of the nation - be it a reintroduction of cadets in schools, national service, or the kind of classically statist measures that weave a common narrative and sense of national purpose. Some might then immediately scream "fascism" - and they would, to an extent, be correct. Fascist theory is as much about the organisation of society. 

So this is really a matter of choices. To what extent do we wish to reintroduce the state into the private lives of citizens and to what level do we wish to introduce compulsion? The immediate problem there is that we are naturally suspicious of that kind of policy and mockingly cynical of it in a singularly British way.

In days of yore it was easier to create common threads in society. We had only a handful of radio stations, all state operated, four television channels and a heavily proscribed media. That much is forever out of the window. With the advent of smartphones everybody has material tailored for their distinct preferences and biases. In this you can to a degree regulate media policy and prevent the spread of extremist material, but even then, tech savvy extremists are always a step ahead of even the best intelligence. 

I would argue that the destruction of the voluntary ethos has made us more vulnerable in that scouts and cadets are no longer part of the traditional childhood - where stranger danger and state bureaucracy puts people off volunteering. We are all increasingly living insular and selfish lives - and lonelier too, which goes some way to explaining the rise in male suicides. As much as anything we need to reintegrate men and find ways of socialising young people and including them. In this I can report that my experience of cadets was wholly positive, introducing me to some excellent role models - but the problem being that radicalisation actually starts much later where it is much harder to detect. 

In that regard universities and colleges could add a dimension of compulsion to attend social and non-teaching programmes, but this would require considerable funding and would more than likely encounter public resistance. The fact is that we are not culturally or politically prepared to do all these things - not least since there is no guarantee that it would even work. It would seem that the consequence of being a prosperous and liberal society is a cultural vacuum which cannot be filled. That feeds into much of what this blog has discussed on the matter of Brexit - the social divisions and the loss of identity. This is fundamentally a question of belonging.

There are then questions as to how we conduct our foreign policy. In what ways can we bring an end to the conflicts that create festering incubators of jihad and whether we can tackle the spread of poisonous and corrupt ideas - and while we maybe could do something with international development, we cannot expect to see results inside a century. We can maybe do more to cut off income streams from counterfeiting and fraud but we're always behind the curve in that.

So how can we stop another Manchester? Put simply, we can't. Our best efforts will be defeated. That which we can do is already being done. Could we be better at it? Sure. Would it make us a bit safer? Maybe. Do the conditions where hate thrives go away? Nope.

There are those who argue that Poland doesn't have a problem like this because it doesn't have Muslims to the same extent. Poland is still socially conservative, considerably more religious and not anything like as liberal as the UK. It's why their young people come to live here. It's why Muslims come here and not Poland. As much as anything this is because Poland has not experienced the same rapid economic development. In that regard, if we are saying the solution is to become less liberal and poorer, then maybe Brexit does make us safer?

But then that has always been the question hasn't it? How much liberty and prosperity do you trade for safety. And while we can get misty-eyed at the community that existed when we were poorer, it meant few choices, poorer health and less space for personal growth. We can put on our Sunday best and get back in the habit of church, doff our caps to our feudal masters and reinstate the patriarchy and be just like Poland. A place where there are still moves to ban abortion. It may be safer, but not better. 

The Islamist looks upon the West with disgust. We are in their eyes decadent and morally degenerate. That is why they hate us. There is nothing we can really do to accommodate them. We could change our society to full the spiritual vacuum, and in so doing reduce the risks - and there are plenty of good conservative arguments for doing so, but the only way to be truly safe from them is to become them - and that is simply out of the question.

Again we are forced to conclude that the only response to this is to carry on being who we are, warts and all. If we are to become a militarised society with increasingly intrusive government, with armed police on the streets, where people have to conceal their individuality to be free from persecution then way may as well surrender now. Our enemies will have won.  

Saturday, 27 May 2017

The conservative Brexit cult

This last week, Conservative Home have been reinforcing their WTO option scriptures. It makes you wonder just how sick these people are that they go to such lengths to manufacture such poison. The latest effort is jaw-dropping. They assert that "Were the UK and EU unable to agree to a high-quality bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), it would be bizarre  – and could only be attributable to bloody-mindedness by the EU."

Oh really now? Not in any way would it be attributable to the fact that the PM and her team have only a very slender idea of how the system works and a gaping lack of comprehension as to what is actually achievable. It's true the EU has set out a firm set of negotiating principles, but this more a statement of the facts of life. It is we who are petitioning them for a free trade deal. They have two objectives. Firstly that the loose ends must be tied up and that they are not left counting the cost of the UK's departure. Secondly is the integrity of the single market, ensuring that its own rules are upheld.

Almost immediately this government comes unstuck in seeking to renegotiate the negotiating framework, expecting that the EU can and will risk an FTA without certain assurances. As to trade, the EU has to work within its own constraints and if there are going to be special concessions it is for us to provide those assurances first. May is unknowingly playing with fire already, wasting precious time in the process.

The authors assert that "were this to happen and the UK and EU were unable to reach agreement on an FTA, the papers in the series on this site over the past week have shown that it is likely that it would be the EU and not the UK that would be most disadvantaged by this". This is the kipperish assertion that they need us more than we need them. Even for Conservative Home I am surprised to see such a lack of sophistication. Climbing further into the ConHome piece we see one of their favourite smoke and mirrors tricks.
Over the years, successive negotiations have not only drastically reduced most tariffs, but also brought effective new disciplines into force for trade in services, intellectual property, technical barriers to trade and product conformity assessments, and agricultural trade and subsidy policies.  Almost every trade issue now disciplined by intra-EU rules has a counterpart in rules found in a WTO agreement.

For practical purposes, it is only necessary to focus on the rules that would apply – and barriers to trade that would exist – in UK-EU goods and services trade based only on WTO obligations.  Many areas covered by the WTO, such as intellectual property and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, impose on members an absolute obligation to apply them on the basis of both national treatment and MFN, so the UK need not be concerned about possible discriminatory regimes being applied against it.
They were doing so well until that last sentence. When it comes to standards the EU subscribes to those agreed as the benchmark at the WTO, but the issue is one of conformity assessment and registration. Take for example cosmetic products. The way the regulatory system works is that cosmetics may only placed on the market by a "responsible person". This must be "a legal or natural person" designated within the Community. Within the EU, that "responsible person" is usually the manufacturer.

EU manufacturers, though, may designate, by written mandate, "a person established within the Community as the responsible person who shall accept in writing". But, where the manufacturers are established outside the Community, they are required to designate a person established within the Community as the "responsible person". They cannot hold this position.

Imposed on "responsible persons" are key duties, including ensuring compliance with the regulations. Specifically, they must register their products on the Cosmetic Product Notification Portal, having carried out safety assessments for each cosmetic. The ingredients used have to be lodged on the Cosmetic ingredient database (Cosing) which facilitates the identification of cosmetics ingredients and their labelling.

Roughly the same dynamic applies to chemicals. As to what happens to airline certifications and animal produce is a whole other ballgame. Put simply, dropping out of the EU without a deal means the databases get wiped and our inspectorates cease to be recognised.

This is not to say that we cannot trade with the EU, only that producers have to go through the process of re-registration with all the costs therein. When you chuck tariffs and rules of origin into the mix the costs are such that EU importers start to look elsewhere for suppliers. To say this is offset by the depreciation of sterling is pretty thin gruel. Businesses would have to acquire the in house expertise and systems would have to be developed to cope with it. That's difficult at the best of times but especially so on the date the treaties cease to apply with little or no warning. We are already looking at a crunch with customs IT being unable to cope - and there is no way to predict every last outcome.

By way of mitigation, ConHome invokes the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement. They assert that
Post-Brexit, "the introduction of border controls and customs checks, should they occur, would also interfere with the UK’s trade with its former EU partners". Indeed they would. To a massive extent.

They say the TFA "cuts red tape at the border to facilitate easier trade with new provisions to expedite clearance of goods; availability of information on rules and procedures; automation and e-services; disciplines on fees and penalties; and harmonized processes and standards. All of these new rules will considerably mitigate the delays and costs of border procedures".

The word missing at the end of that sentence is "eventually". Thus far implementation of TFA is in its infancy with many of the systems involved being experimental, being applied to one or two trade routes in Ghana or Kazakhstan. This is not so easily superimposed on Calais, bearing in mind the volumes of traffic, the time it would take to develop and implement the necessary software and the other impediments to trade that third countries experience.

To make full use of TFA instruments you would still need a period of transition - but this is lost on the Toryboys. In nearly every post in their series on the WTO option they make the case that there is no cliff edge and that the WTO option is practically inconsequential, assuming all these mitigating instruments just fall out of the sky on day one.

It might even help if these people read their own work. In Mark Wallace's dismal effort he says the WTO Option "is not the apocalyptic landscape that some here in the UK portray it to be. It would be odd if it were such a dire prospect, given that vast numbers of people around the world live and thrive in exactly this system".

Christopher Howarth in this same series says "The US trades with the EU under WTO terms, but that does not mean that the US has no agreements with the EU. The US, as with other non-EU states, has a mutual recognition agreement for goods standards to facilitate cross-border trade. EU/US Mutual recognition has now been extended to the insurance market, something that would interest the UK".

This is a contradiction in terms. If the USA has an MRA with the EU then by definition is does not trade on WTO terms alone, as proposed by ConHome, thereby contradicting the idiocy of Wallace.

They then assert that if the UK and the EU did not reach agreement on an FTA, which addressed these issues, then "EU exporters would also face similar impediments should the UK decide to impose them". And that's the next big question. What exactly is the UK's default policy on day one? Hitherto now the treatment of third countries was a matter of upholding EU law since we are in the EU. We have no protocols of our own. WTO frameworks do not a customs system make.

In this we should remind ourselves that the UK is almost dependent on imports for food so if we want to keep supermarket shelves fully stocked then we will have to apply a very liberal regime to EU imports and by so doing would have to apply that to all others as well. The EU though is not in a position to unilaterally make exceptions for the UK.

What we are looking at here is a Toryboy propaganda effort, blinding their readers with bullshit, having only a vague comprehension of what is involved and how the system works. They take their readers for idiots, which to be fair is a pretty safe bet, but even looking at their own material they cannot deny that there most definitely is a damaging cliff edge to a no deal Brexit. You have to go to some Olympic mental gymnastics to make the case that it doesn't. More to the point this doesn't even begin to tackle the volumes of issues not directly related to trade in goods or what happens to the UKs credit rating - or what happens when half of our statute book is nullified overnight.

The short of it is that if you wanted a to operate on a goods and services only basis you would still need to meticulously plan for it and do it over a number of years. As much as that is not desirable, to do it overnight would be a total catastrophe.

What ConHome is actually saying is that there are means by which we can rebuild our customs systems from scratch but at no point do they address what happens in the meantime and whether we can ever regain that trade after EU importers have found substitutes. This is some pretty evil intellectual dishonesty at work.

When you are looking at this level of derangement at some point you have to realise that you're dealing with a cult. They are talking about concepts they have only a passing familiarity with where they have gone to extended lengths to cherry-pick for a narrative that suits their ends.

My post is only a cursory effort since no matter how many times you dismantle their arguments they will still lie through their teeth. The amount of energy required to refute bullshit is a magnitude larger than it takes to produce it and at some point you just have to marvel at the absurdity of it. In any case, I expect we shall probably find out soon who is right since the staggering lack of competence on the front bench will likely bring about these circumstances - not least because they take the likes of ConHome seriously. Should that day arise, they will blame anybody but themselves. That's what it means to be a conservative these days.

Let the chips fall where they May

I've made a lot of arguments for Brexit. Not all of them have been correct. Some of them depend on the circumstances, others have been flat wrong or based on faulty assumptions. One of those faulty assumptions was the competence of our government. I knew we were in a predicament but I had not expected a government this awful. Were the clock to be wound back I would have taken a wholly different angle.

If you ask me there are few, if any, economic benefits to Brexit. To find them you have to climb into the microscopic world of high end trade policy - and though there are opportunities, none are guaranteed and there are no automatic benefits. There can be no escaping the fact that Brexit has consequences and the Article 50 process is one of damage limitation rather than seeking to gain advantage. In this the first and most pressing priority is ensuring that under no circumstances do we drop out without a deal.

Throughout the referendum I argued that staying in the single market would offset or delay most of the initial impact. That now seems to be the consensus view among anyone who has looked at this in any serious detail. That much, though, is not getting through to the government. They have their own ideas rooted in their "Brexit means Brexit" dogma - and they have yet to confront the alarming inconsistencies in their approach. It is only a matter of time, but for now we are still in Brexit limbo.

As each day goes by without any serious debate around the issues we drift further toward a "no deal" Brexit. The government has not understood the rules of the game and the media is not alert to this. But for a very narrow Brexit bubble on Twitter, there is no substantive debate at all.

What surprises me is how the Brexiteers have scattered. What passes for Brexit debate tends to be the softer subject of the Brexit culture war and the respective attitudes of each side toward each other. In this, nothing original has been said for months. It's a rinse and repeat cycle for the chattering classes. Nobody wants to take the bull by the horns and start looking for answers.

There are good reasons for this. As much as anything public debate doesn't seem to have an impact on our "strong and stable" government and we're not going to get any sense out of the opposition. It seems we have all reached our Brexit boredom threshold. 

Not until we hit crunch point will we see a revival of Brexit debate. By then it will probably be too late. One might venture that if May does not have a handle on how the system works by now she isn't going to. The intent may not be to drop out without a deal but it increasingly looks like the indecision and ineptitude will lead to a collapse. If I could say for certain that the woefully ignorant Corbyn would fare any better I would be voting for the opposition. It would appear that we have the worst politicians at the worst possible time.

A friend of mine remarked that the Cameron-Clegg administration is probably the last we have seen of semi-competent governance for some time. I fear he is right. That said though, that veneer of competence was wafer thin. All it took was half a dozen politicians to vacate the field to fully expose how bare our political cupboard really is. Brexit really does hit home how broken politics has become.

I said above that were the clocks to be turned back I would take a different angle. And this is really it. We are at the fag end of representative democracy. Our political system is exhausted. The party system has collapsed and instead what we are looking at is two empty shells, easily captured by niche interests. While Brexit may be a major economic risk, the one thing that poses a greater threat is the complete collapse of our politics.

May's social care policy is symptomatic. A Facebook friend remarks that manifestos should be (and traditionally were) an 'in for a penny in for a pound' type document. Once published, you stand by it. If the media and some of the public don't like it, the storm is yours to weather. Quite so. Parties were well aware of this dynamic which is why, in days of yore, considerable effort and money would be poured into policy research, utilising the think tanks, to produce bulletproof manifestos. You put it out there and you fought for it.

That dynamic is now dead. Most of the traditional think thanks have forgotten their purpose, churning out second rate tribal dogma, research is undervalued and serious policy making is a dead art. We now have menufestos, where "policies" can be dropped at the first hint of discord. We have a rootless, spineless, intellectually bankrupt polity.

As each day passes I find myself writing yet more despondent prose, aghast at what looks like a slow motion plane crash. Remainers now ask me "what else did you expect?". Well, that's a good question. I had expected that no matter how bad our government is, eventually it would be forced to confront certain realities and modify its approach eventually. It seems now I was being naive and we are in deeper meekrob than I imagined.

In this regard, the only thing preventing a political implosion was in fact EU membership, where we could drift without having to confront the systemic collapse of political competence. The technocracy works sufficiently well to tolerate it. Except of course the referendum has changed all that. Where the culture war Brexiteers are right is when they say that we are past the point of tolerance. We can no longer afford this inexorable slide into political oblivion. The collective narcissism, vanity and venality of our political class can only pull us deeper under.

Again May's social care u-turn exemplifies the problems. Personally I am opposed to the policy, but everybody is acutely aware that cuts have to be made somewhere. National finances are not in a good shape and we are certainly not able to withstand another economic shock. Some decisions have to be made, we can't keep kicking our problems down the road and we can't keep on with a government which is still making policy as though the financial crisis never happened.

In this, we can see that the cultural balance is also in trouble. The younger and less politically engaged tend to prefer Corbyn and his magic money tree - where we're seeing a complete lack of political maturity.

In this I might paraphrase philosopher and comedian, George Carlin. Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from British parents and British families, British homes, British schools, British churches, British businesses and British universities, and they are elected by British citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders.

As a nation we have become infantilised, disengaged from our politics, easily distracted by trivia and completely unable to prioritise. Our politics has become a grubby pissing contest between corrupt tribes seeking to dole out largesse of the state to their respective powerbases. The model is corrupt. Politics is now more of a firesale. Everything must go - to those who vote for us!

So as much as Brexit threatens our status as a serious trading nation, our politics threatens our very survival as a functioning country. It would appear that nothing but a very serious shock to the system is going to correct this. Nothing else will focus our collective attention. We have a system on autopilot, locked into a collision course and nobody seems to care.

I am now of the view that whatever happens, whatever the consequences, it needs to happen. Each and every one of us are the architects of our own demise. The leavers with their bogus and flimsy Brexit arguments may have much to answer for, but remainers were ultimately advocating ignoring the problems and kicking the can down the road. Leave or remain we were on a course to oblivion. The rot was already there. Brexit just exposes it. Only when the UK is forced to confront the consequences of its decades long political slumber can it hope to reform and move forward. It's as well we do it now since our fate was already sealed.

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 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.


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.