Thursday, 14 November 2019

Three Million

At some point today one of you became my three millionth visitor. Thank you for reading.

Saturday, 9 November 2019

The games they play

In all my life I cannot recall a general election so completely without energy. If I hear anything on the wireless about it I immediately switch it off. I don't want to know. I don't want to listen to smarmy politicians and shrill activists. Particularly I'm not interested in the bidding war for votes which is becoming ever more unhinged as though there were limitless capacity to borrow and spend. They're all at it.

Worse still is the way in which this election has become a game of political assassination. Kate Osborne, the Labour candidate for Jarrow, is apparently in hot water by way of posting the above image. 27 female Labour MPs had petitioned the central party, unsuccessfully it seems, to prevent her from standing. Liz Kendall, Jess Phillips and Yvette Cooper are among those (quelle surprise) who say in a letter that such images incite violence.

The image itself is just a pop culture meme based on Pulp Fiction which most people have seen or are at least aware of. It's so hackneyed it couldn't possibly be construed as anything sinister. It could just as easily apply to any politician repeating slogans devised by campaign chiefs. It could just as easily be "Long term economic plan" with David Cameron in the frame.

No doubt the words "Jo Cox" at some point will be uttered if they haven't already. I don't care enough to find out. I don't even know who Kate Osborne is and I don't care. There may be a hundred good reasons for her not to stand but this most certainly isn't one of them.

But as it happens Osborne has survived this assassination attempt for now but several other candidates have not - meaning that anyone with a sense of humour or strongly held opinions with the potential to offend the snowflakes is disbarred from entering politics. And then we wonder why we get the dross we get.

To be quite honest with you I'm struggling to care about politics right now, especially because of this baloney, not least having been a target of cry bullying and faux outrage. I'm inclined to vacate the field and let them get on with it. I'm certainly not going to gratify it by voting. What I want to see is politicians setting out coherent policies for the future, especially regarding Brexit, but instead the election has turned into a full scale moronathon.

The depressing part of it is this is very much their comfort zone. This is the politics they love. This is the politics the media loves. This is what they love for. This election has given them the much desired opportunity to drop all of the difficult technical stuff in favour of virtue signalling and showboating. Had they any self-awareness they would realise it is this exact conduct that makes us despise them so very much. If the likes of Yvette Cooper et al are the target of bitter invective then this is why.

In times like these you can actually be forgiven for thinking we are better off being ruled by unelected bureaucrats - but only if we are spared the inanity of elections. For all that we've campaigned to "take back control" we are handing that control to narcissistic wastrels and morons. We lack the capacity for good governance. Statecraft is now a dead art.

Right now we need mature and competent politics more than ever but we are nowhere close to it. As much as anything the electorate are fifty percent of the problem. We complain when politicians lie to us but what we really mean is they're not telling lies we approve of. Politics will only improve when we stop feeding the beast, when we stop reacting to careful crafted talking points and demand credible answers from credible people.

The sad truth of the matter is that unless we the people are prepared to put our foot down and stop indulging this kind of politics by voting for them, then the leper colony on the Thames is the best we can ever hope for from our politics. The profound incompetence we have seen in respect of the Brexit process is just a symptom of a far deeper malaise to which Brexit of itself brings very little remedy. Brexit may be part of the solution but unless there is sea change in how we do politics then Britain is condemned to eternal decline whether we leave the EU or not.

Friday, 8 November 2019

Labouring the point

Though the media couldn't be less interested in Brexit having found its comfort zone in reporting the general election, Brexit is still the central issue and the stakes couldn't be higher. By an accident of numbers this election could see Jeremy Corbyn in Number Ten.

It seems Labour have settled on a renegotiation policy to then go forward to a second referendum. Here we have to revisit a few basic points. The EU is not going to substantially renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. If there is movement on level playing field provisions including labour rights then there's a chance the deal can be reverted to its status pre-Johnson but if Corbyn wants added extras such as a customs union then he's got the political declaration to play with and nothing else.

In effect he'll be going to a public vote with something not entirely dissimilar to Mrs May's deal that he and his party blocked when they had the chance. But then there's the mechanics of the referendum. For right or wrong, leavers wouldn't support a deal negotiated by Corbyn. The designated campaign, therefore, would be a proposition imposed on leavers. They will call it a remain versus remain referendum.

But that's not the only problem. This is a real question of legitimacy. We were told that the 2016 referendum would be a once in a generation vote. Our chance to decide. We leavers had long anticipated a referendum and some of us had been planning on it. This has now chewed up the better part of five years of my life, to the point where I really cannot afford the time or energy to keep up the pace. Nor can I afford the cost to my career development. I need to make a living and I can't spare more time to fully participate.

I'm not alone in this. Those of us who worked to make it happen gave everything we could and more but we'll have to sit this next one out. So it'll be their referendum, not ours. 2016 will be the stolen referendum. The London wing of the Labour party hated the result so pressured Labour's coward in chief to overturn it. So they'll have their "people's vote" which will largely be a contest between two warring Westminster tribes where the people don't get a look in.

One suspects the immediate issue with any "kangarendum", held largely to appease the few (with no real public appetite for a second vote) will be turnout. For the remain position to have any legitimacy whatsoever then it's going to have to beat the 17.4 million mark. Which it won't. We will be back here again.

The second problem is that Labour cannot possibly campaign against their own deal. They have to argue that it's a good deal. There is no chance of a coherent campaign from Labour. And then just supposing they managed to lose a second referendum, they would still have to get the deal past parliament - bringing us roughly to where we are now. Does Labour want to be the party that revokes after two referendums? If not then it's no deal.

Any which way you look at it, Labour does not have a solution to this current stalemate. Like everything else they do, it's driven by electoral triangulation and trying to ride two horses at once. Labour is simply not a credible option.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Brexit: painted into a corner

The Tories are in full lie mode. They are lying because their biggest headache is the Brexit Party. Both the ERG Tories and the Brexit Party have spent the last year telling us that May's deal is not Brexit and now if they Tories want to save their own skin they need us to believe that Johnson's modified deal is substantially different.

One of the chief complaints from Mogg, Baker et al was the "vassal state" transition. That's still in there so they are now promising it will not go beyond 2020. Liz Truss tweets "We will not be extending the Brexit transition period beyond 2020. The British people have waited long enough for Brexit. We will be able to negotiate a good free trade deal with the EU and other partners in that timeframe."

But of course we won't be. Even if the future deal could be negotiated in a year, don't forget we wasted the entire first year of Article 50 talks because the government had no clue what it wanted and didn't understand the process. We can expect the same again, treading water while the Tories learn the basics. And they will learn the hard way we they first have to be argued with ad nauseum, deconstructing a great many myths they've programmed themselves with over the last five years.

Put simply, there is zero chance of a comprehensive future relationship being negotiated in one or even two years. There are 300 areas of technical cooperation that require alternative arrangements if we want the full spectrum of commercial opportunities. Tories are barely aware they exist. When you're talking about legal arrangements on everything from intellectual property through to data protection, fisheries and financial services, there is no such thing as a "simple free trade agreement". It has to be comprehensive and it's not going to happen fast.

As it happens there is no such thing in the modern world as "free trade". FTAs are about rules for trade governance - so when you hear Tice, Baker, Mogg and Farage blethering about "free trade" you can be assured they are no closer to knowing what it is than they were five years ago.

In respect of the transition, the Brexit Party are very right to be concerned that we will end up in a long term interim arrangement and it is not beyond the realms of possibility that it could become permanent. It is possible the transition may become a staggered implementation period but the process will complete at a glacial pace.

This is something that could and should have been anticipated which is why we Leave Alliance types insisted that it might be a good idea to have some sort of Brexit plan. In full expectation that disengaging from a system of governance more than four decades old would require a transition, we took the view that the fastest way to get the ball rolling, and to have an arrangement where the EU could not exploit vulnerabilities created by transition, was to join Efta and retain the EEA.

Having failed to anticipate this, believing Article 50 would be used to fashion a quick and dirty trade deal, believing Brexit was an event rather than a process, the Brexiteers have walked blindly into every ambush and will continue to do so. As yet we have an incomplete idea of what our trade defence concerns are, what access we wish to retain and what form the regulatory relationship is going to take. There are many battles to come and many bitter pills to swallow. 

None of this, though will get a look in. Our politics has reverted to its comfort zone of weaponising the NHS and blethering about the gender balance of leader's debates. The Brexit process is far too boring to make a central feature of a general election and if we can't even have an informed rational debate about the NHS then the chances of having one about trade are zero. I have repeatedly attempted to raise these concerns on Twitter over the last three years but each little clan has their own narrative and if there's one thing about our politics, it does not like to be disturbed by reality. What little debate there is exists in a parallel universe.

Of course the Brexit Party answer is not to engage in any of the realities, instead believing we should leave now and slam the door behind us, then demand a fresh negotiation under the remit of GATT24. This narrative has ossified to the point where it is no longer questioned by the grunters and they're going to believe whatever is convenient to believe.

That then puts the Tories in the awkward position of having to dismantle a great many of the falsehoods that they themselves have created. The ERG and their associate propaganda vessels are responsible for much of the no deal mythology. Steve Baker now implores us to read and accept the analysis done by Martin Howe QC who now insists that Boris's deal is a universe apart from May's and is not the BRINO he and Baker have been telling us it is. I suppose having no shame comes in handy. Easy to get away with when the media will give you a free pass.

The ugly truth is that the only way we will conclude a quick FTA with the EU is if we sign one already written by the EU. EEA was the only realistic way to ensure we didn't end up in a "vassal state" transition for years but that wasn't Brexity enough for Brexiteers. They've painted themselves into this corner. We now have to accept we will be locked into the EU's negotiating framework for years or face no Brexit at all. Our fate was sealed pretty much the moment we invoked Article 50 without the first idea of a destination.

Though notionally we could ratify the withdrawal agreement, but then fail to secure a deal over the future relationship, dropping out without alternative trading arrangements, unless Johnson has a commanding majority, parliament may find a way to force his hand. Though it is unclear what form that would take. My hunch, though, is that we will extend for as long as is necessary and for as long as the EU will allow. The Tories have a few collisions with reality between now and then that should further inform their position.

Whichever way you look at it Brexit was always going to take a long time to navigate. The notion that we are going to "get Brexit done" any time this side of 2025 is fanciful. We are looking at a decade in totality but loose ends to tie even after a final future treaty is concluded. In that time, without knowing what that relationship looks like we won't be striking "bumper deals" with anyone. The scope of external deals will be highly contingent on the shape of our relationship with the EU and the kind of EU market access we retain.

To say that the discipline of trade is complicated is something of an understatement and nether our politics or media are equipped to handle it. The UK has lost all its institutional knowledge and that which is in circulation comes from a narrow claque of trade wonks all of whom think in the narrow terms of FTAs using EU methods. Soon that knowledge with reach its natural limitations and we'll be fumbling in the dark.

The Brexit Party are entitled to wail but ultimately the fault lies with Farage. He and his entourage should by now be fluent in all issues Brexit and should have acquired the intellectual capital to have anticipated much fo what befalls us. Instead they've spent the time luxuriating in dogma and slogans, enjoying the perks and publicity. There was never any plan or vision beyond Brexit and there is no intellectual foundation for their message. With not much to choose from between Johnson's Tories or the Brexit Party, one can easily see how they could have their prize snatched away from them. And none would be more deserving of the failure they themselves are the architects of. 

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Brexit: Descent Into Hell

Despite what I posted on The Leave Alliance yesterday, I don't think leave voters need it spelling out.  If you're going to dabble with the Brexit Party in a marginal seat then you risk throwing the game. That message will sink in and the Brexit Party will struggle to poll 9% and return zero MPs.

As it happens I think the big story in this election will be the fall in turnout. It's less to do with the timing as it is the overall mood. Online and off the mood seems to be one of exhaustion. Parliament foisted this on us because they couldn't get their act together. Peter Hitchens seems to have nailed it down.
The grimmest horror story I have ever read tells of a man in despair who hangs himself efficiently and lethally. After a brief, painless moment, he awakes to find he is still very much alive, in exactly the same place he was in before he tried to end it all. Well, almost exactly. It is a lot darker. Dawn never seems to arrive, and things are stirring in the shadows that he does not much like the look of. But what is quite clear is that he has not solved his problems at all.
So it is with our Parliament and our political class. Too weak, irresponsible and cowardly to put their names to the compromise with the EU that was always going to be the outcome, they have sought oblivion by placing all the responsibilities on someone else – in this case, you and me.
They hope that in yet another national poll – the fourth since 2015 – they can somehow escape the moral and political debts and obligations they had before the General Election was called. It is as if an Election was some sort of cleansing ritual, in which a flurry of votes washes away the wicked past and leaves MPs born again and free from all the stupid things they have done (or the things they have stupidly not done) in the past few years. But it is not. The debts all remain. They will be collected. The compromise still has to be accepted, and the consequences undergone. They will all pay.
He doesn't elaborate on what form this will take. Hitchens doesn't seem remotely interested and I sort of don't blame him. If I had to vote I'd be forced to vote (with no enthusiasm) for the default option of the Tories simply because there isn't a viable alternative. The Lib Dems are led by an adolescent social justice activist and Labour is too dreadful to even contemplate. Leaving aside the allegations of antisemitism and Corbyn's associations, there is a greater danger - greater even than their economic agenda.

With Halloween having been and gone without seeing our departure from the EU, remainers spent much of Saturday gloating and mocking the lack of riots widely anticipated by a number of pundits. But of course the public are not entirely stupid. They know who and what is responsible for the delay and yet again leavers are showing more patience than any reasonable person could have expected from them. As much as we've had to endure insult after insult, they keep rubbing our noses in it.

If Labour somehow wins the general election then we are looking at a re-run of the 2016 referendum. They'll call it a confirmatory vote but in essence they are going to make us vote again, rehashing all the same tired arguments driving voters away in droves. And that's really what remain wants to happen. They're not after a positive mandate. They just want a fig leaf of legitimacy to sweep it all under the rug. My hunch says they would probably succeed.

I know that should there be another referendum I will have neither the time, resources or energy to commit to it having already invested the last five years of my life in getting us to where we are now. In that time I've not only had to fight the remainers but also the ERG and now The Brexit Party. I'm done. I have no more I can give to this and if Labour goes ahead with this I probably won't even bother to vote. At that point we will have established that voting really is a meaningless ritual to confer legitimacy on an establishment that will never yield to democracy.

I am now fairly convinced this won't see riots or blood on the streets. There's be a few small protests but nothing seismic. Remainers will take that to mean that we don't really care all that much, failing to recognise that waving placards is more their MO than ours. But as Hitchens has it, the "moral and political debts" won't go away. They will simply fester.

For a time they will have evaded the economic harm of Brexit but the real question is how we move forward with a politically demoralised country. How does any politician ever look a voter in the eye ever again? How can they ask for our votes when we know our votes only count if we vote the right way?

Part of the reason we voted to leave in 2016 was the sore point of the Lisbon treaty which never went anywhere near a referendum. We remembered. And we will remember this. For all that MPs play the victim now and wail about the toxicity of politics, they really ain't seen nothing yet. We can look forward to a darker and more volatile politics than we have ever known. For a time they'll think they've got away with it, resuming their inane political habits but those political debts will continue to mount.

As much as Westminster is in a state of terminal dysfunction, one gets a sense that much else is disintegrating. This from the Shropshire Star is illuminating.
A man who drove at a group of girls, punched one in the face, then kicked a police officer in the chest while being arrested has been spared an immediate jail sentence. Youssef Abi, 32, appeared before Shrewsbury Crown Court on Monday to be sentenced for common assault, dangerous driving and criminal damage. He was speeding, drinking alcohol and was unable to keep his car on the correct side of the road while driving a group of teenage girls from Wolverhampton to Rhyl on February 29, 2018. The court heard the girls feared for their lives and begged Abi to let them out of the car.
When they finally got out of the car on the A53 between Shrewsbury and Shawbury, he drove at them and swerved at the last moment just missing them. He then punched one of the girls in the face when she wouldn't get back in the car. Abi was also aggressive towards a passer-by who intervened and smashed her mobile phone, then kicked a police officer in the chest while he was being put into the back of a van. Kevin Jones, defending, said Abi was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after hearing that another family member from his come country of Syria had died. He was sentenced to 12 months suspended for two years.
Though this is just one case it's consistent with a long evolving trend of relativism in this country where you can get away with just about anything just so long as you play victim. Victimhood is currency. It would seem that the British political and legal establishment is in the midst of a moral collapse. We are failing to uphold even basic standards. 

To have a functioning society both politics and the law need to act by consent and to have moral authority. Both institutions seem to be in a race to the bottom in debasing themselves to the point of perversity. Having lost both moral authority and consent to govern you then have an ungovernable society which can only lead to heavy handed authoritarianism in response. Pretty soon the relationship between the public and the state is adversarial and sour and a breeding ground for extreme politics.

For all that the left have spent the last five years calling anyone with even mildly conservative views a fascist, should they succeed in overthrowing the vote of 2016, they are about to learn a whole new definition of the word that will shake them to the core. Because if the state will not stand up for the the majority view and majoritarian values, using its own position and authority to suppress and subvert the majority, imposing its own warped and debased values, there will most certainly be a furious backlash.  

If politicians think there is an anti-politics mood now, the moment they overthrow the vote of 2016 to replace it with their own kangarendum is the moment they crucify what is left of our democracy and rule by consent. By that point it won't even be about Brexit. Brexit will remain a feature of public discourse but by then it will becomes clear that simply exchanging the personnel in Westminster is not enough. The British public will have an appetite for destruction.   

Saturday, 2 November 2019

The Brexit Party is gambling Brexit away

Posted on The Leave Alliance site.

When we first looked at the withdrawal agreement we were less than enthused by it. It is a document of labyrinthine complexity not designed to be read or understood by anyone remotely normal. Being that it is so opaque it is easy for opportunists to read into it pretty much anything they want others to believe. This is the game the Brexit Party is playing.

For the most part the provisions within the agreement relate only to the transition which is effectively non-voting membership of the EU. Nothing much much changes. We always anticipated this, recognising that Brexit is a process rather than an event. There are over three hundred areas of technical cooperation which need alternative arrangements and we have long taken the view that crashing out without a deal would lead to chaos and uncertainty.

There are risks associated with such a transition but they are overstated and certainly they do not outweigh the political and economic risks that come with no deal. There is plenty of "project fear" around but there's no disputing the EU's official legal position on the UK's status in their markets should we leave without a deal. It makes for grim reading. No one should be in a hurry to inflict that kind of damage.

Any pragmatist would recognise that our departure from a decades old system of government would require transitional arrangements not only to reassure British business but also to cushion the blow. Furthermore, the UK needs to be a close collaborative partner of the EU. We may not wish to be members but we do wish to be allies and friends. For that to happen we need a managed and amicable departure - not the zero sum game of 'no deal' that the Brexit Party demands.

Cynically they seek to whip up opposition to the deal, pointing to provisions within the withdrawal agreement, particularly those concerned with the "level playing field". As it happens the provisions are a relatively low bar and shouldn't present any major obstacle to the UK pursuing its own destiny. Moreover we do not wish to compete by entering a race to the bottom.  

It should also be noted that these provisions exist in every EU FTA and there is no way the EU would ever enter an agreement without them. It didn't make an exception for Canada and will not do so for the UK. Curious then that Brexit Party individuals continue to make reference to CETA. We wonder if they have ever read it. We also note that similar provisions exist in a number of multilateral WTO agreements - particularly on state aid, subsidy and production standards.  

The Brexit Party position, though, is one based on an outmoded perception of the modern world. There is no such thing as "full independence" when you live next door to a trade and regulatory superpower, unless of course you want to completely isolate yourself from lucrative markets and end all formal cooperation. That certainly isn't what we had in mind when we campaigned to leave the EU.

The fact of the matter is that the EU has enormous clout and has its own regulatory gravity and when nearly half of our exports go to the EU, in any case, the EU will continue to have considerable influence over our regulatory and trade policies. We do not operate in a vacuum.

The stubborn and intransigent approach by the Brexit Party will get us nowhere. They assert that we can simply waltz out of the EU and then approach them for a rudimentary agreement under GATT24. Though the use of this mechanism is theoretically possible an interim agreement on tariffs comes nowhere close to addressing the mountain of issues created by new non tariff barriers. All the while the EU has repeatedly stated that, should we leave without a deal, it will not enter any further talks without first resolving the customs frontier issues in Ireland and those other areas addressed by the withdrawal agreement. They have emphatically stated there will be no "mini deals".

The Brexit Party is harbouring a number of delusions based on a simplistic understanding of the EU and trade in general. Trade is more than just moving lorry loads of tinned beans from Warrington to Warsaw. The UK depends on its services exports which are facilitated by dozens of legal instruments for which there is no cover under those "WTO rules".

We are of the view that the withdrawal agreement is suboptimal but ultimately that is a consequence of our collective failure as a movement to anticipate the shape of negotiations and our refusal to forward any kind of Brexit plan. There will likely be more uncomfortable compromises and concessions to come. The balance of leverage is definitely on the EU side. We are certain, though, that leaving without a deal hands virtually all of the leverage to the EU.

By taking a wholly absolutist line, the Brexit Party could split the leave vote in marginal constituencies, potentially handing the game to opponents of Brexit. Cynically the Brexit Party argues that the withdrawal agreement "is not Brexit" as a device to excuse their petulance. At this point we have to ask if Mr Farage really does want to leave the EU or whether the publicity, pay and perks of his current position are too much to give up.

The Leave Alliance is no fan of Boris Johnson and our preferred outcome (Efta EEA) now seems improbable, but the withdrawal agreement is the only realistic means of departure and a failure to face reality at this point could well see us lose the prize entirely. What Farage is doing is inexcusable and unforgivable.