Saturday, 13 October 2018

Is Britain a business park or a country?


I don't know how true it is that the UK has shaped the core EU economic policies of mass market liberalisation. I suspect this is a line deployed by remainers to flatter right wingers who say the UK doesn't manage to influence the EU. We often hear the "single market is Thatcher's achievement" shtick. It was ultimately a tool of political integration sold to Thatcher as liberalisation. Were I left wing I might describe this as the global neoliberal order now entrenched by the WTO.

The eurosceptic movement as it exists now, though, typically described as right wing has always had protectionist instincts and their anti-globalist stance has more in common with the left wing antiglobalisation movement of the 90's than they would care to admit. It is only their socially conservative politics that has them described as right wing and their alliance with the ultra right free traders is more an accident of politics than them being natural bedfellows.

This would typically be Daily Mail/Daily Express reader who would voice outrage that UK trains and British Army trucks would be outsourced to Germany at the expense of production in Leeds and Derby. Certainly this would have been the politics of Sir James Goldsmith who was very much anti-globalisation.

It is this hyper-liberalised approach that shapes Britain as we now know it. We actively seek foreign investment by allowing Chinese ownership of our utilities - electricity especially, stitching up guaranteed strike prices to guarantee a return on investment. This then leads to massive and highly questionable boondoggles like Hinkley Point which arguably puts the UK in a winning position by developing the very latest in nuclear technology but this at a time when we really ought to be looking at decentralised energy production and CHP.

The problem I see is that this dynamic is the sticking plaster to prop up a model that doesn't actually work. We are told that liberalisation is a universal good and that there are no losers from "free trade". On paper that is. We are told there is no discernible net loss off jobs. That though is not to say that it does not have seismic impacts on jobs and certainly it is responsible for many of the hammer blows to the regions over the decades.

This is where we see governments essentially running a command and control economy to compensate for the ravages of globalisation. On the one hand we see Keynesian splurges like HS2, the Swansea Lagoon and Hinkley point, along with generous interest free loans and hidden subsidies for anything from wind farms to car factories. This is to ensure the regions get their "crown jewels". Remainers get good mileage out of Nissan in Sunderland and Airbus in Bristol without which, these areas simply wouldn't have a middle class at all.

This is essentially what EU regional funding is propping up and it's one of the only things preventing even more acute London agglomeration. Agriculture is all but dead and wouldn't survive without subsidy and large services employers are moving either toward automation or outsource their customer services to India.

For all of this though, it is not doing enough for the public not to notice that the regions are dying. rural towns are shuttered off season and the former industrial towns are now welfare slums and festering jihad incubators. Dewsbury, Rotherham, Telford, Oldham, Halifax... the list is familiar to sociologists.

These are places which have long since lost their reason for being and their pride along with it. Places now more famous for feral Pakistani rape gangs than what they once produced. Places once described as chav towns before the term fell out of fashion. They are now more patronisingly described as the "left behind" and study subjects for journalistic poverty safaris.

With industry now fully bureacratised and even vending machine repair men now requiring degrees and licencing, the system serves to ensure that the economic exclusion that exists is baked into the system which creates a massive victim class to which well-to-do leftists see as subjects of their social welfare feudalism. This is essentially what underpins the poverty of ambition and destroys social mobility. Business won't invest in skills and training because it doesn't need to. It can simply lobby government to allow in more immigrants.

That is then what props up anaemic growth which disguises a collapsing economic order and further kicks the can down the road - all the while our creaking social entitlements are hollowed out. This is against a backdrop of feeble savings ratios, collapsing pension saving and a housing time bomb as each new generation is effectively prevented from acquiring capital.

This ultimately explains the sharp divisions in the country and to a point the generational divide. If the system works for you, you vote remain, if not, you take a punt because things are only going to get worse. There is little to be lost by gambling when the future signals only more of the same.

This is where I listen to remainers very carefully. I listen to what they say. The tell us we need to cancel Brexit and instead address the issues that caused the Brexit vote. Their solution is to firehose more money at the regions - to "end austerity" and to chuck more welfare at the serfs in t he regions. That'll do it. Let them eat subsidy while we wag our fingers at them for being racist. Get that Gary Lineker, Bob Geldof and Bono to tell them what's good for them. The plebs listen to celebs don't they?

Essentially the Western economic order, underpinned by the EU and the WTO, one which forces liberalisation of utilities and public services is one that primarily exists for the free move movement of capital. Free movement of people, though a liberty enjoyed mainly by the well off in the UK, is mainly there to ensure a continual supply of cheap labour which props up a massive consumer convenience market.

Insomuch as the current model robs the towns and even mid sized Northern cities of their vitality as the ambitious youth drains away to London, we also see the wider implications of this where Hungary, Poland and Romania are suffering a brain drain of the professional classes who gravitate to the UK to make a living. This is most telling in the health sector.

A little while back I needed a tooth extraction at Bristol dental hospital. What you immediately notice is that the the admin staff are British - women mainly and all of the practitioners are immigrants. Dentists seem to be Indian while dental nurses are Polish. It's easy to see why from a working class perspective that there is a feeling they are being replaced.

This is where we are told that immigration does not depress wages. On aggregate. Again this is a trick of the spreadsheet sociopath which has it that because there is negligible statistic impact that there is no wider social impact and the anecdotal lived experiences we hear from the regions can simply be written off as racist/xenophobic etc. This is how the working class ends up utterly ignored and patronised by the ruling class.

This is where we see the NHS weaponised against the working class. Not for nothing do we see leaders of the continuity remain campaign pushing the NHS is against Brexit routine. Without immigrants "our" NHS cannot function. Without immigrants there is nobody to look after granny or care for the disabled. What they mean by that is without immigration there is nobody willing to do it for peanuts when they have overheads that migrants living in HMOs do not.

In more ways than one the NHS serves as a bed blocker. As the object of a bizarre political cult the spectre of NHS privatisation or NHS cuts can be deployed to defeat just about any political initiative. It underpins the political deadlock thus preserves the political status quo to the point where nothing ever changes and nothing ever gets done. We are simply to keep feeding the beast and it can always serve as an excuse to rob us of yet more of our income. To even suggest that there may be alternative systems is a politics akin to holocaust denial.

I also think there is a greater harm to this "neoliberal" order. The perpetual supply of cheap consumer goods and convenience foods takes it so own toll. Certainly it feeds the market for cheap Chinese goods which is a form of economic warfare on the West but also I think that a society where social provision acts as not only a safety net, but also as a substitute for saving - creates a society of rootless consumers living in service of the machine - cash rich but asset poor - throwing money away on the frivolities provided for them. It makes for a more selfish, wasteful and transient culture.

At times I have elaborated on this particular dynamic which is not at all received well, particularly by those who see the core function of the state to act primarily as a provider of social welfare - who do not see themselves as defenders of the neoliberal order even though they are. They tend to be anti-free schools and generally anti-choice when it comes to healthcare and education and anti-cuts when it comes to welfarism. They are authoritarians who believe these things things should be monopoly run by the state largely because for them they are a means of social control.

My own view is that welfare is one of the pillars that subsidises structural poverty essentially paying people to stay poor - which is why the Blairites are welfare expansionists. It knocks out working class competition and provides a victim class for their bloated public sector to patronise which in turns keeps vast numbers voting for an ever ballooning social sector. This is why Blairism is corporate friendly. Taxing the City underpins their social spending thus maintains their arsenal of social control. It's why they love the EU.

This is why I love Brexit. Brexit trashes all of that. It's why, at the end of the day, if we have to leave without a deal then leaving is still better than remaining. As much as it forces a massive rationalisation of state provision, forcing families once again to take responsibility for one another, it also forces people to save, invest in their own health and participate in the education instead of treating schools as day-safe lockers for their offspring.

For all that the "progressives" will whine about cuts to education, I can see how it will force us to rethink how we do schooling. I for one love the idea of free schools, not least making use of redundant buildings such as former call centres and police stations. Why shouldn't kids be educated in interesting places? Why should schools be depressing cultural concentration camps surrounded by high cage fencing? Why should there be a universal model? It's not like it's working out better for the working class when there are mud shack schools in central Ghana with better literacy rates than comparatively well funded schools in Sheffield.

What I would love to see is a public liberated from state dependence and freed of the lazy assumption that if the state does not do something for them then it doesn't get done at all. As much as anything I think the UK need cultural renewal as well as political and economic. I certainly have no stake in preserving the status quo. I think individuals and communities are at their best when they take their own initiative. We've just had that instinct beaten out of us by progressives and led to believe our interests are best served by the state - which is why the left actively promote NHS worship.

For me, the fig-leaves of Nissan and Airbus are a poor substitute for a functioning economy and continuation of the current economic paradigm will lead to increasing economic exclusion as the protected (but shrinking) progressive middle class uses the instruments of the state to lock in their own privilege. Eventually, though, that creeping economic tide will come for them too.

The society I envisage is one radially different from the micromanaged centrally planned one we now live in where quality of life is measured solely by GDP and material conveniences. Community happens through necessity and as the state has gradually removed the necessity it has also destroyed the very fabric of community and with it any sense of local politics and consequently local democracy - not least since the essential power to do anything locally is constrained by embedded and unreformable EU directives and half of the local utilities are owned by a Shanghai based hedge fund.

For all that Brexit negotiations may be going the hell in a handcart I am somewhat sanguine about it all. The political dysfunction needs resolution and that cannot happen until the fever burns itself out. I even start to wonder if an orderly departure was ever possible even though theoretically it could be delivered. I don't know. Something had to give though - and it is now crystal clear that our political system simply cannot cope with something as challenging as Brexit. This is like the winter storm which brings down the tree that has rotted from the inside.

The current order is dying and politics as we know it is on life support. The fate remainers sought to delay or defer was always coming and they are fighting against the tide of history. Personally I am glad to have played my part in bringing the old order down and I want to be around to be part of the rebuilding. For the first time in my life the future is a a book yet to be written. And I find that more than just a little bit exciting.

Friday, 12 October 2018

There is still a window for sanity to prevail


Instead of having cake and eating it we are getting just desserts. Yesterday we saw a drip of technical notices from the UK government setting out many of the consequences of no deal - none of which will be news to readers of this blog.

Curiously, there has been no political attempt to spin them on the part of the Conservative Party or the government. They stand there as the government's own official legal assessment. Project Fear it is not. Even the BrexitCentral propaganda merchants can't spin this away. No deal is not an option and Theresa May now knows this.

She is, therefore, doing all she can to stay in the game and doubtlessly the EU is all doing what they can to keep the ball rolling. It looks as if there will be developments to report on Monday. If May is going down the road suggested, that puts the Ultras on the spot. They have to decide whether to block it, and bring down the government, or stand back and thus surrender the game - losing all influence.

What we are now looking at is an indeterminate transition and probably a customs union with an undefined exit date graduating to an FTA with various regulatory bolt-ons with direct ECJ applicability. And the worst of it is that it will do little to alleviate trade friction. If this is the framework agreed then all the withdrawal agreement will do is postpone the cliff edge by a couple of years or slightly longer.

Life is very often like this. When you put off the tough decisions circumstances will make your choices for you. That's where we are now. The Ultras very successfully campaigned against all of the options and in the final hours we are left to cobble together a solution just to avoid a calamity and to ensure our political obligations in respect of Northern Ireland are upheld. No vision, no ambition, just a miserable capitulation to the facts we've avoided.

We could have elected to join Efta and stay in the EEA, obviating the need for a customs union and a vassal state transition but all the cleverdicks writing for BrexitCentral and Conservative Home said we could get a better deal - and that no deal wouldn't be a problem if not. Such is Tory arrogance.

Whether or not the Ultras do make a last stand remains to be seen but all they can do do is smash the country into the rocks of the WTO option. The suicide solution. How our supine parliament reacts will ultimately decide which way this goes. Your guess is as good as mine. If they do make a move on Mrs May then they still have to confront the same realities or risk a crash out as talks expire. If that's how they want to play it they will be doing so in the face of a mountain of evidence that says all the things they say won't happen categorically will. I can't imagine that doing very much for Tory fortunes at the ballot box.

As it happens, though, the UK can pick up the Efta strands at any time, so to an extent it doesn't matter what is in the withdrawal agreement just so long as there is a withdrawal agreement and the game is still in play. Once we have formally left the second referendum brigade will have to refocus their energies and the political capital of the ultras will be spent.

There is then the chance of a unified upswell in favour of the Efta-EEA solution. It will depend on the message sinking in that an FTA is only marginally less dreadful than the WTO option. Much of the no deal warnings will remain the same when applied to FTA logic. We just need to buy time by securing a withdrawal agreement. Once that is in place the backstop then hangs in the air as a very real concern to which only a whole UK solution can prevent. By then the EEA really is the only game in town. Hope there always is.

Meanwhile this blog will plod on as ever it does, growing at a glacial rate but growing all the same. On that score I am happy to report that by close of play today one of you will be the two millionth reader of this blog and though that is not in the big leagues it is certainly an accomplishment for an independent blog with no party affiliations, tribe or prestige to hang on. It is what it is. Thank you for reading.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

None so blind as James O'Brien.


I am generally regarded as someone with a lot to say. Except for when I have anything to say. Which is right about now. For what is creeping up on three weeks now, I've been in a zen like mute state where not a single situational thought has crossed a synapse. I feel quite guilty about it because I am supposedly a dedicated blogger but these mute states are part of my make up. Every now and then I simply observe.

As it happens I shouldn't be feeling at all guilty. If you watch the above clip from James O'Brien, he gives an adequate sketch of the state of play. Anything could could happen, nobody knows what is going on and everything is contingent on political imponderables with no one faction having the numbers to call it.

The only real development is that the Ultras have pivoted to a Canada style FTA from their previous full steam for no deal campaign. I think their fox has been shot and it is now generally accepted as fact that no deal is a very bad thing and attracts the support of only cranks, bigots and liars. I think it's safe to say that the tide is going out on the Ultras. The only way they are going to get their way is if Brexit talks collapse entirely.

There is still a lot to be said in respect of Brexit. The big questions as to what comes next have yet to be answer, but there is much we do not know about our starting point which makes such discussions especially difficult. Especially where trade is concerned and especially if we end up in a customs union. The debate is very much on pause until we know what is happening.

Hitherto now I would check the Brexit hashtag on Twitter religiously but of late that has become saturated with tedious manufactured "people's vote" fodder and yet more irrelevances from z-list celebrities. Remainers certainly haven't learned a thing from their 2016 defeat.

Meanwhile it's a poor old show if you are a remainer in that the window for another referendum is closing fast and the slender chance that there was ever going to be one is vanishing. They are also staring at an obsolescence of argument.

For a while it was just a few of us sounding the alarm over no deal for many months with the media failing to grasp the seriousness and urgency. Eventually though, the message did get through. Remain campaigners are now reasonably well versed in the issues and are all keyed up for having a debate that is pretty much settled except among the lunatic fringe of the leave movement. They have all the ammunition they could want for rehashing old arguments but it's a lot more difficult to engage in respect of what a deal could actually look like.

There is something of a more dishonest game going on, though, in which remainers share some of the responsibility. James O'Brien, for instance makes hay over the current chaos even though he is in a powerful position to remedy it. His audience is not insubstantial yet nowhere do we hear him using that platform to advance the EEA option. It would not suit his remain agenda to admit that there was indeed a viable way forward.

This is the recurrent lie by omission that has plagued the debate from the early stages. The option has considerable support and there is a widespread expert consensus that it is viable and it is an outcome that non-obsessive remain bores could live with. Moderates can support it yet it still delivers on the 2016 vote and it achieves most of what sane Brexiters wanted while preserving much of what remainers claim to value. It also has the merit of being more likely than remaining int he EU.

Yet, for all of that, O'Brien still uses his platform to preach the gospel that there is no alternative to the EU. Anything that isn't the status quo is simply dead space to the likes of O'Brien. His perceptions cannot extend further. The man claims to be a seeker of clarity yet continues to no-platform options that could deliver the UK from a disaster.

What's more, the EEA is actually the most sensible option for both sides of the divide. Britain has never been an enthusiast of the le grand project. Even Ivan Rogers noted that there was a certain inevitability to Brexit the moment it be came clear that we were never going to join the Euro. Now the inevitable has happened.

Though the UK has a number of opt outs and as close to a tailored EU status as you can get without actually leaving remaining makes little sense for the UK. Arguably that which can and probably should be integrated successfully has already been integrated but there comes a point where the integration of technical governance is pushed for its own sake for no practical purpose.

For the mainland which shares a number systems, roads and watercourses, transboundary integration is sensible and desirable. The UK, though, does not share a land border with central EU and there is no value in further integrating which can only serve to widen the distance between the public and the decisions made in their name.

We are nearly all agreed that there is something about British politics that no longer functions and to a large extent that is to do with the shift in the culture of governance over the last two decades - which is very much a consequence of EU managerialism - bureaucratising civic administration to the point of absurdity and demolishing local democracy in the process. The dead hand of Europe is often obscured from view.

Here Brexit marks an opportunity as central government is tied up with things that should concern central governments. For the first time in a very long time I am hearing debates about the shape of our trade and agriculture policy. Energy will be next. All of these things be open to innovation once freed of the EU.

Much of what is described as "neoliberalism" or crony capitalism is a consequence of EU measures governing market structures on everything from the national grid to government procurement. The gradual transformation of local councils into grasping corporate scale monstrosities and EU membership is no coincidence.

Though the EEA does not completely free us from these such controls and restraints it puts us in a better position to diverge in the future. Just the move from the EU to EEA draws a line in the sand. This far and (not much) further. It's an entirely pragmatic thing to do and one which better allows the UK to utilise its considerable administrative talents to pursue its wider international goals - as indeed Norway does - a global leader in energy, aquaculture and maritime regulatory affairs.

James O'Brien scoffs at the notion of taking back control but the EU is a gateway to the privatisation of regulation. Being that the EU is not equipped technically or intellectually without massive expansion of designing its own standards it will often passively adopt agreed standards and codify them into law with minimal scrutiny. As the EU builds up ever more intellectual property legislation - largely favouring multinationals we will public law cleaved off to become private property. We are halfway there already. Standards are not free to access and use commercially.

Though regulation is increasingly for the facilitation of trade and to create larger markets, national regulation is also design with protecting the public good - balancing the externalities of commerce with the freedoms of the individual. The more remote the decison-making the less likely it is to respond to public inputs. this is especially so of global regulation and especially true for EU member states whose own influence within the EU is subordinate to the agenda of the Commission.

The consequence of this centralisation being globally harmonised regulations - which may well be sensible for vehicle safety but not so for those things that can and should be decided locally for the benefit of communities. With the EU there is no line of delineation and everything is up for grabs and is subsequently a tradeable rule in the international domain.

In recent days and weeks we have seen a number of flaps in regard to things said by Fox and Gove in respect of relaxing rules. That uproar, though not always rational, is real democracy at work. There is a connection between what the public is alarmed at (because the alarm is raised) and what politicians then have the scope to do. This dynamic does not exist in the EU precisely because it is a remote technocracy that bores the media. It can therefore get away with mass murder.

Free of the EU the UK is able to defend its own interests internationally in ways it cannot as an EU member, but it can also devolve powers in a meaningful way where local authorities are genuinely free to innovate on everything from water to bin collections.

The one benefit of Brexit so far is that we are seeing unprecedented engagement in issues normally regarded as too boring to even think about. Normally our politics is perpetually deadlocked in bickering over the NHS, schools and social care - much of which ought to be entirely locally managed. Meanwhile the real business of government carries on in Brussels unremarked with no alarms raised until it's too late. This is how we ended up with abortive copyright laws.

Britain must maintain a close relationship with the EU because we are part of the European family of nations and barring a seismic geographic event, that much is not going to change - nor are the basic rules of trade. The internet may well distort the rules according to the sector but in terms of regular trade flows, the EU is going to be our largest single customer. It therefore stands to reason that we need the most advanced trade relationship available. The EEA.

It has already become apparent that the well meaning and encouraging rhetoric from US diplomats do match the USA's aggressive trade tactics and is proving to be no ally of the UK in the WTO. The creative writings of the Institute for Economic Affairs do not make the realities of international trade disappear and the sovereignty ambitions of Ukipper wingnuts are not realisable anywhere on the planet. We have to face these basic truths. That, though, does not mean the UK cannot function as an independent country.

There is an opportunity here to reform "Europe" in ways we never could as members. By moving into Efta, thereby making it the fourth largest trade bloc, Efta can serve as a counterwieght to the EU not least by forging sectoral alliances of it s own in the international regulatory forums Very often it is market penetration and sectoral expertise that sets the agenda rather than domestic market size. A point often lost on remainers.

Being that the EU, through the implementation of the WTO agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade, agrees to implement international standards and conventions, increasingly Geneva is becoming the centre of the regulatory universe, not least with China converging on UNECE standards, regulations and classifications. Already Efta makes its voice heard and there is every reason to believe this would be enhanced by the accession of the UK. The notion that Norway has "no say in the rules" is a grotesque distortion of the facts.

The EU is only a "better deal" (as James O'Brien puts it) if your only real concern is going back into the perpetual slumber of EU membership where governments may continue to shed their obligations and responsibilities to an offshore entity that might as well work in secret for all that anybody pays attention to what it does. It dispenses with the messy and often chaotic excesses of democracy and allows radio presenters to revert to empty chatter about billboards on the underground. We can return to our inward-looking normative state and let the grey men of Brussels attend to the details.

That, though, marks the death of local and national democracy where democracy is reduced to voting rituals to decide which quarterwit social climber is going to stick their noses into our business and tell us what we can eat, think and say while Britain slides into international obscurity and erased by the EU as an independent actor.

These are the sorts of conversations we could be having about the nature of our future trade and how we cut away the dead hand of Brussels to revitalise our democracy. Instead though the debate is sharply divided between two camps each offering unrealistic and undesirable visions, none of which could ever satisfy a majority. Meanwhile the EEA option sits there like a bad pierogi on the plate. Afraid to be touched by anyone.

Remainers are all too happy in their comfortable little groove blethering on about the dangers of no deal - equating no deal consequences with Brexit as a whole. That cottage industry is turning into a nice little earner for some and O'Brien will lavish endless air time on anyone who knows which form to fill in to send a widget to Switzerland. It's all grist to the mill for the remain-o-trons. What they can't admit to is that there is a realisable Brexit that need not be a hammer blow to jobs and British trade and one that renders most of their concerns inert. Even if it means letting the Ultras win.

The sad part is that were there any public pragmatists willing to engage in these such issues they could very easily take ownership of Brexit away from the mad hatters and force Theresa May down a more intelligent path. Instead the remainers waste their time and vast sums of money on the cul-de-sac of an ill-defined second referendum campaign. All for the wont of failing to accept that Britain has voted to leave the EU - and was always going to one way or another.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Remainers need to stop re-writing history


I happened to catch the Guardian's Nick Cohen yesterday blethering about Russian meddling in Brexit. Says Cohen "Leavers should be able to support Brexit and defend Britain against the machinations of a hostile foreign power. In practice they fear it would discredit the referendum result. For where would their story of national liberation be if it turned out Putin was writing the script?" I have to say I am surprised to see Cohen taking this line. I don't especially like the man but I thought he was better than this. The Brexit vote is certainly taking its toll on the nation's thinkers.

If there is a question of foreign meddling in UK affairs it is to be found after the referendum rather than during. For instance, why when the likes of Owen Paterson were arguing for remaining in the EEA did he and many others in his cohort become sudden converts to the WTO option, and how did the Brexit campaign pivot to a campaign for no deal? Here we find it's the Americans we need to be worried about, not the Ruskies.

As to events prior to the referendum, only an outsider could ever believe there was a conspiracy in play. Those of us who watched the whole thing unfold remember how utterly farcical the whole things was. Any campaign claiming to have positively influenced the outcome is flattering themselves.

I struggle to remember the date but prior to the referendum I attended a Referendum Planning Group meeting in Warwickshire. We saw from the attendance list that Arron Banks, then largely unknown to us, was sending a member of his organisation, then named The Know - which was later to become Leave.EU. We saw this as a positive as it would open up a dialogue. The meeting was well attended, packing out a medium sized conference room.

Having had a chance to mingle over lunch, I got a feel for the consensus which was that the rep from The Know, whose name escapes me, was thick as mince. Nobody was impressed. She wasn't just under-informed. She was stone stupid. It gave us a clue who we were dealing with and I can't say the organisation ever climbed in our estimations.

In the following months we saw that organisation grab the attention of the eurosceptic world. They were spending big money - namely building up an audience on social media in what was to become the space race for the official designation as the lead campaign.

The general view was that the Electoral Commission could not award the title to any organisation which didn't have Ukip on board. If you don't have Ukip then you don't have a grassroots base. As it happens, Ukip was to pivot into Grassroots Out, a campaign largely funded by Banks which would run in parallel to Leave.EU which would become the main internet presence for that side of the campaign.

In the beginning Leave.EU looked hugely promising. Until that point nobody in the euroscpetic universe had even heard of Arron Banks but it was a gift from the gods to have a millionaire donor activist come out of nowhere - especially one who understood the importance of internet presence. On the face of it, it was set to become a serious contender for the prize.

Quickly though, the organisation began to deteriorate. The Twitter content from Leave.EU was both unprofessional and utterly utterly embarrassing. I don't know what the thinking was but I'm sure it was along the lines of Breitbart style populism but executed half as well. It could only ever preach to the converted. To anybody remotely literate it was a huge turn off. Had it been the official campaign it would no doubt have lost us votes.

When it came to the official designation, Vote Leave, very much a Westminster bubble outfit, should not really have been a contender on account of it having no wider public support and that which it claimed were grassroots campaigns in support of it were very much Tufton Street sock puppet organisations. When it came to it, though, the Electoral Commission had no choice but to reject Leave.EU.

One only need look at the applications side by side to see which of the two had the administrative capability. The Leave.EU submission was sloppy and when contrasted with the ruthlessly professional Vote Leave effort there was no contest. It would not have been fair to leavers to choose Leave.EU which itself was having a schizophrenic episode as to whether it would merge with Grassroots Out.

From then on, Leave.EU abandoned any pretence of professionalism to become an utter shambles that anyone who was anybody sought to distance themselves from lest they be tainted by association. We then saw a series of embarrassing incidents, not least a Bristol public rally where the organisers hadn't bothered to get permission from the venue owner.

As the referendum crept closer, free of any obligation to put on a credible public face, Leave.EU went wildly off the rails to become probably the most useless campaigning organisation in the history of political campaigns. This was a major disappointment for those of us who did not want a Westminster-centric campaign and especially not one run by Matthew Elliott.

At that point the government had come away from Brussels with nothing to show for all the renegotiation efforts yet persisted in telling us we should stay in a "reformed EU". There was an open goal right there to exploit - yet another prime minster lying to us about Europe. The campaign should have gone into overdrive to rob Cameron of his credibility. Vote Leave, however, would not do that. It was a Tory outfit and they would never do anything to split the party.

So with an open goal not exploited and little else to run on, instead of a relevant campaign, what we got was Boris, a red bus and an indefensible claim of £350m a week for the NHS as a Brexit dividend. Even prominent leave MPs had to distance themselves form that claim and as an independent campaigner, there was nothing from that camp I could endorse. It was every bit as incompetent as Leave.EU but in more subtle ways. From that point I took the view that not only would we lose the referendum, we actually deserved to.

Referendums, however, are odd affairs. The answer often given is not necessarily the question on the ballot paper. For some it was a matter of immigration, for others a matter of sovereignty and for others an opinion poll on the establishment. In the end it was the latter factor that won the day.

As campaigning drew to a close Arron Banks's outfit had all but faded into the background and even Ukip struggled to mount an effective operation. Nigel Farage would take his battle bus to Leeds to speak to a crowd of nine. This was a campaign fought through the media where unless the the Bros bus was present the media wouldn't bother to show up. The campaign in the end turned into a Boris roadshow. Vote Leave had staked the outcome on Johnson's inexplicable popularity.

Ever since then the Remain movement have preferred to believe that Brexit was result of a gullible public falling for a demagogue running on a false prospectus and backed by shadowy influences. This is a comforting narrative for three reasons. Firstly it establishes their own intellectual and moral superiority. Secondly it can be used to delegitimise the result and best of all it absolves them from having to address their own failings. Of which there were many.

The Remain campaign had its own official organisation to mirror Vote Leave. If the leave campaigns were ineffectual then Stronger In was especially so. I struggle to remember anything it said or did. That, though, was only partially their fault. The real dispute was not between the respective campaigns but between the insurgent movement and the establishment which was comprised of the government, big business, academia and the media.

In the final days the remain movement was essentially the old establishment in panic mode. We saw all the least popular figures from John Major through to Eddie Izzard and Bob Geldof, all the while we were bombarded with ever more shrill warnings ranging from a plague of locusts to the slaughter of the firstborn. It was this, more than any other factor that scraped a win for Leave.

It should have been a bigger win for leave and had we an effective campaign operation willing to exploit the obvious open goals it could have been a landslide for leave. If anything, the grubby and disorganised nature of the leave campaign cost us votes. Farage certainly managed to alienate the ethnic minority vote.

Since then we have seen all kinds of theorising as to what happened and why and there has been a sustained hounding of Arron Banks for his questionable associations. It has become a cottage industry in some quarters, providing endless spider web conspiracy theories for Guardian hacks. They've rinsed it for all it's worth.

As it happens, though there are a die hard group who will remain convinced that Brexit is the work of shadowy Russian influences, most are not remotely interested and if there was a story it has by now jumped the shark. They would need photographic evidence of Arron Banks performing obscene acts on Vladimir Putin for anybody to take notice. Nobody is convinced that Russian Twitter bots swung it, not least since most of the country is not glued to Twitter and most of the Facebook activity was interactions between real people having real conversations. There is only so much targeted messaging can do.

All of this noise from the Guardian only really serves to flatter Arron Banks's self-image as a player and someone vastly more influential than he actually is. His many attempt to purchase Ukip have failed. His Breitbart inspired propaganda tactics failed then and now - and he has utterly failed to sow a Trumpesque insurgency. The further right Ukip travels, the further into much deserved obscurity it goes. The word Ukip is only now invoked as a scare story to whip Tories into line by whichever faction for whatever purpose.

In fact, the collapse of politics as we know it since the referendum tells its own story. If compelling evidence of foreign meddling did exist we could simply sweep the referendum under the carpet like it never happened. But something did happen and it exposed deep and irreconcilable divides in the country that our politics is no longer equipped to cope with. If only it were so convenient that it was simply an electoral blip caused by Russian scheming. That would remove all of the difficult questions and absolve the establishment of any blame.

As much as Brexit has opened the door to opportunities to reform and revitalise politics, demanding more of our institutions and bringing into question long settled policies in need of overhaul, it also shines a torch on what isn't working, shows us who our true allies really are and it shows especially who certain interests in the Tory party are really working for. With or without Brexit, there have been US interests stalking British politics and we were always going to have to fight the economic radical wing of the Conservative Party. There is no sweeping that under the rug.

These are all questions that demand our attention the most. The Tories would have us believe that the US are our closest allies and the prime candidate for a free trade deal, but in multilateral affairs we can see the US is no friend of Britain and will do us no favours. In trade affairs it's America first and always and that policy does not change regardless of who is in the White House.

If there is a threat to Britain it comes not from Russia, rather it comes from a fifth column deep in the Conservative Party masquerading as Brexiters acting on behalf of US corporate interests. Though Brexit is very much an act of national liberation it also opens us up to threats from these such predators. I am sure the Tories are delighted that Arron Banks is proving to be such a useful decoy.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Remainers don't love the EU. They're neo-Blairites clinging on to the past


I honestly don't know why I bother but every now and then I get sucked into a Brexit debate on Facebook. It's occasionally useful in that I get to see what the hardcore Brexiters are thinking. What we get from the Ultra Brexiters in Westminster is actually a smokescreen to obscure their true attitudes and it pays to go to the source now and then because your average right wing Brexit grunter has no obligation to cloud the real agenda with sophistry. And here it is.
Slash all taxes, subsidies and benefits. Entirely remove import tariffs. Deregulate everything as far as possible*; and pivot away from Europe, instead import stuff from wherever it is most cost effective: Food from Africa and America; excellent cars from Japan and Korea; etc...
*No, deregulate does not mean no regulations. It means removing pointless ones. Of which we have a super abundance. e.g. Planning regulations. Remove at planning regulations on land which is already building land and is outside conservation areas.
The point the hard right Brexiters are singularly unable to grasp is that regulation from data protection and IP law right through to food labelling is for the purposes of harmonisation in order to remove bureaucratic overheads - and thought they are costly to implement, over the longer term they improve the profitability of value chains. Being that we have reached a state of global trade normalisation, the drive is toward enhancing the profitability of value chains by eliminating fraud, counterfeiting and product adulteration and tax evasion - which requires improvements in regulation and customs systems, all of which requires international cooperation. Just because you don't see the immediate value in a regulation doesn't mean it doesn't have a function.

Here we find that the EU adopts global standards and uses its soft power through trade agreements to expand and enhance that regime, to such an extent that even China is plugging into the UNECE regional system for cars and chemicals. Consequently, if we pivot away from the EU/global regime that leaves only the American system of standards which means we are then geared to servicing a smaller market further away - and though e-services to a point defy the trade gravity model, the model still applies and especially for goods.

The more we deregulate the further we drift from compatibility thereby placing protectionist barriers into the system. Divergence is its own form of protectionism whether intended or not. This can add overheads far exceeding the average tariff which globally is 3-4% which is often mitigated by playing the currency game.

The buccaneering "free trade" approach is at least sixty years obsolete and though it sounds superficially appealing it crashes into the rocks of reality the moment you introduce it to the real world. The removal of technical barriers is very much a technical detail driven discipline requiring an intelligence led approach to harmonisation - which in terms of trade is a form of deregulation. It takes time, skill and patience because it is as much driven by regulatory diplomacy as it is trade agreements.

This has all been covered at length in previous blogs but essentially what we are looking at is the distilled version of the self-declared classic liberal who believes that deregulation is central to restoring economic dynamism. Our textbook grunter gives the game away by mentioning planning regulations. It's easier said than done. 

Superficially, freeing the entrepreneur developer from the bureaucratic hurdles is unarguable. But what do you cut? There are all manner of mandatory assessments and surveys to be made not all of which are appropriate and very often completely senseless. For a large development you might want to keep water impact assessment and wildlife protection surveys not least because there are reporting obligations under various international treaties. 

For sure we could do a lot more in terms of de minimis rules and give inspectors more powers of discretion but when deregulating you first have to ask why those rules are there in the first place, whether they are still relevant and and what hazards are created by their removal. 

Arguably we could do a lot be removing statutory reporting obligations not least because wherever you find them you find the tail wagging the dog. Any statistician needs uniformity of statistical inputs which means the entire regime is designed for the gathering of statistics which dictates the structure, the tools and processes of service deliver on anything from bin collection to social services. This is one of the ways in which the EU has influenced the shape of government and it has gradually eroded the ability of local authorities to innovate and service provision and inspection becomes a giant box ticking exercise. 

To do that though would mean unplugging from national and transnational surveillance authorities which in some areas would prove politically untenable not least on environmental measures from habitats to beach cleanliness. Conservation NGOs are adept at whipping up AstroTurf protests at the mere mention of deregulation in these areas. This is why serious political reform has been in recent years next to impossible and is only partly resolved by Brexit. This is partly why the culture war matters. NGOs are the vanguard of the system. 

What is needed from Westminster is a far more hands-off approach, but as long as regulation is dictated by Brussels and to a large extent defined down to the smallest detail, central government is obliged to issue diktats to councils who in turn have to devote massive resources to fulfilling bureaucratic obligations. Much of the EU's influence is hidden from view but the extent of it is far reaching and profound. 

Here, for instance we could look at government procurement rules which start life in the WTO which are then interpreted and gold plated by Brussels and then turned into an instrument of integration and then mangled by Whitehall after MPs have added their own virtue signalling nonsense and Keynesian boondoggles. With EU directives dictating the structure of markets and the competition rules it is not at all surprising that we have become the Serco state. One thing the lexiters are right about is that the EU very much entrenches and ossifies "neoliberalism" into the system.

The more pernicious effect of this culture in governance is that it destroys local democracy. If you want change you have to go to London and you only get change if London can convince 27 other countries and only if you;re patient enough to embark on a ten year crusade, otherwise forget it. This is actually why the UK needs a new constitution setting out the limits of central government authority.

As a Brexiter I am often accused of wanting to wind back the clock to the 1950's but if by that they mean back to a time when we did have properly functioning local democracy then I'm guilty as charged. In pace of local democracy we now have giant corporate scale councils where councillors are at best a citizen's steering committee but have long since been stripped of any power. They are kept to keep up the outward illusion of democracy but democracy it is not. The argument for Brexit, for me, is not one of deregulating, rather it is a matter of returning control to the most appropriate level, reducing the scope of Westminster politics and rebuilding local politics.

Remainers like to gleefully gloat that any enhanced relationship with the EU will result in the UK adopting EU rules, which to a point is true and the UK will continue to be influenced by EU trade governance measures but this is only a fraction of what the EU legislates and in my view the least intrusive aspect of it. I'm not one for going to the barricades over aubergine marketing standards or safer cars. What matters is that the people are able to organise their society according to their own values and priorities which is simply not possible under the EU regime. 

It is very often we leavers who are accused of not knowing how the EU works. We are told that the UK has remained sovereign, and maybe it has in respect of retaining the ultimate right to leave the EU (a right we have exercised) but as far as sovereignty of the people goes, there is no more potent undermining force than the EU whereby the people have been robbed of their essential powers to shape their societies and spend and tax according to their own values and ideas. The EU has tentacles in just about every area of public life ensuring its multiplicity of systems are defended by their denizens, from academia to the vast quangocracy that has ballooned since the 90's.

For me the objective of Brexit is not to unleash the power of "free trade" or indeed so that we can re-nationlise aspects of the economy. I think both are uniquely bad ideas. Brexit, if anything, is about returning ownership of the state to the public, ensuring that we have a meaningful democracy - where taking back control from London is every bit as important as taking it back from Brussels. 

The creep of globalisation means that trade governance is extending far beyond the domain of trade to encompass multiple competences where gradually sovereignty of the people is traded away for the convenience of capital. It eats away at immigration control all the way through to banking regulation to the point where we are drifting toward the privatisation of corporate law as it is rubber stamped by largely anonymous and unaccountably global organisations. Taking back control is not an empty slogan. It is a very necessary act for the protection of culture, nature, heritage and democracy itself. 

Very obviously such a radical step necessarily means that we are erecting barriers to commerce. Brexit is statement of principles to say that the needs of commerce are secondary to democracy. That is something the remainers will never understand. They are neo-Brlairites. 

Blair always used to preach that we cannot have well funded government apparatus and generous social provision without a thriving private sector. He was right about that much but he then set about removing all obstacles to commerce specifically so he could bloat the state and ramp up entitlements. He oversaw the vast bureacratisaton of civil society, massaging entitlement culture and destroying the voluntary ethos. It centralised the power and destroyed the last remnants of localism.

This mentality, though,  has survived long into the Tory administration not least because it is underpinned by EU membership. Now that we are leaving, all of the arguments put forth by remainers are in respect of the economy, the NHS and social care (as though it were the function of economic umpa lumpas from Eastern Europe to wipe granny's chin). They want the EU because they want to continue propping up the Blair order. 

What they are not addressing is that even were they to succeed in rolling back the referendum and sweeping the problems under the rug, the state as we know it on current trajectory is unsustainable even with current levels of immigration. One way or another a major economic contraction is coming simply because the ponzi scheme cannot be wrung out any further.

One way or another Britain needs a new political settlement and one which addresses the multiple ticking timebombs we are sitting on. That's what tin-eared remainers cannot see. They tell us that if only we weren't leaving the EU we could concentrate on solving the issues that caused the Brexit vote. But then their remedy is always the same - more tax and spend policies propped up by mass immigration and further surrender of powers to the EU.

Growth in recent years has been anaemic, propped up only by immigration and that alone tells you that nothing we are doing otherwise is working and that massive immigration is masking an underlying decline - and for as long as we remain in the EU with a number of economic policies and governance paradigms blocking any possibility of reform then we do not have the tools to reconfigure our country to meet the challenges of the emerging global order.

It is absolutely the case that Brexit will make us poor if not for the interim then for the longer term. That was going to happen anyway but all the while our politicians, enabled by the EU have been unable to internalise the fact that the EU is a waning power. Our eager involvement in any aerial bombing campaign going, our purchase of two super-carriers and bizarre aid policy is all symptomatic of a political elite with delusions of imperial might. The EU is serving as a life support machine for our self image.

Though we have convinced ourselves we are a force for good in the world, it is EU trade policy and NATO bombing raids driving the mass immigration that is now destabilising Europe. For all the handwringing about the rise of populism across Europe, nobody is doing more to drive it than those same political elites. They are the ones who are gradually dismantling democracy. They are the censorious authoritarians. They display more ideological zeal than even the most foaming of Brexiters. Being that it is the norm it never occurs to them that they might be the extremists. 

I am of the view that irrespective of Brexit there is an epoch defining shift in the course of humanity in part caused by the internet and in part by the elimination of scarcity. The model that has served us for decades no longer fits. Our politicians have no idea what to do about it and our of fear they will take extraordinary measures to prevent it because they know the end of the old order is the end of the power. 

If there is one positive about the change that is coming, it is that we have more people than ever plugged into politics who are no longer content to be ruled by the few. With the new era comes new demands for accountability, transparency and sovereignty. It therefore falls upon us to pick a side. Do we embrace the change or do we cling to the past and leave those in charge who have delivered stagnation and decline? I dunno about you but I'm done with these losers.  

Saturday, 6 October 2018

The circle of ignorance


A couple of weeks ago I was in the car listening to Any Questions on Radio 4. If ever you need to know what state of the art stupidity sounds like then it serves that function superbly. It featured George Freeman, Emily Thornberry and Simon Heffer. It wasn't edifying.

Freeman made a pretty good go of the Efta arguments - though only by mainstream media standards. On the details of the subject he's no better than the rest. Thornberry is in a world of her own believing that the customs union is the answer and nothing is going to persuade her otherwise. She has understood as much as she wants to.

In their own ways they can at least be saluted for trying even though their efforts are pitiful. What struck me was the breathtaking ignorance of Simon Heffer, who argued that the Irish border issue had been overblown and that it could be solved with a free trade agreement. He then blethered about the benefits of "free trade" and went on to mutter something about corn laws.

With politicians you expect them to be ignorant, but as a leading columnist, it's Simon Heffer's job to be substantially more informed than he is. This is the dysfunction of our media where those who enjoy exposure think they do so because they are gifted with a wisdom greater than lesser mortals. and do not have to work to stay informed. They can simply bloviate and whatever excrement falls from their lips must be considered gospel. As it happens, had Heffer not been a lead columnist for the Telegraph in its dead tree days nobody would know or care who he is. He is a leftover from the pre-digital age.

Sadly, Heffer is not alone. For reasons that escape me, Spectator hacks routinely waste oxygen on BBC panel programmes, along with dribblers from the IEA and Spiked Online. The BBC does not seek to inform, rather it seeks to present the full spectrum of legacy media ignorance for the consumption of equally in the dark voters.

This dynamic also extends to wider televised politics where we often see equally ignorant television and radio presenters interviewing each other or other third rate hacks, none of whom have a command of the issues. It is a self-perpetuating circle of ignorance. Not only does it have no expertise of its own, it would not know where to look for it. If ever there is an informed opinion on TV it is wholly by accident and not to be repeated.

It is for this reason I have tuned out of virtually all television politics. The only time I see any of it is in snippets on Twitter which is usually used by party tribalists to score points. It is not there to inform. Television politics is largely there for the entertainment of political hobbyists who follow politicians rather than issues. Some use it for their weekly does of throw-the-remote-at-the-telly outrage and other to cheer on their teammate as though politics were a spectator sport. There is harm in this.

Sadly, most people do very little thinking of their own. They triangulate. They look at a policy and see who hates it and who loves it and they pick their side accordingly, defending that policy with whatever cliches and soundbites they are fed through various propaganda channels. It wouldn't be so bad if the gatekeepers they look to for confirmation were actually doing any thinking of their own but as we find with the likes of James Delingpole, Brendan O'Neill and Julia Dunning-Kruger, there is very little in the way of sentient thought. The people are propagandists.

The prevailing attitude in media is that the public are less informed than they are and do not wish to be troubled with detail. Shortly before the broadcast of Theresa May's conference speech i happened to catch a little of the pre-speech punditry. I don't know who he was but he asserted that Boris Johnson was an asset because voters don't want detail and detail is a turn off.

It may be the case that party activists and those still determined to vote for one of the two parties are not interested in detail but there is an ever growing segment of voters who are politically homeless and utterly sick to the eyeballs with vacuous, dishonest and patronising politicians. They do want to be informed and they do want the details. There is, though, nobody supplying that demand.

What makes it all the more terrifying is that politicians themselves get their information from these same sources ensuring that every ignorant soundbite snowballs into an indestructible parallel reality. There are numerous Brexit myths on both sides where for largely tribal reasons the nuances and realities don't get a look in. Politics is then reduced to two competing narratives neither of which are correct and both uniquely destructive in their own ways.

In the case of Brexit we have the likes of Spiked Online who argue that any enhanced trade cooperation with the EU is a betrayal of Brexit, themselves having deferred their thinking to others and accepting the lazy propaganda narratives of the Ultras. Everything is binary and complexity is shunned as "project fear".

Central to this is prestige disease. Each side has their respective thought engines capable of armour plating stupidity with lofty titles and a veneer of academic kudos. There is no attempt to validate or question what they say because what they produce is readily seized upon as ammunition in rapid fire daily debate. The whole of politics is thus reduced to binary tribal bickering where it doesn't matter  who is right just so long as the other side loses. The longer it continues in this way the surer it is that we will all lose.

The most successful countries are those which can moderate the excesses of winner-takes-all tribalism and governs in the national interest. In the past the British system has been an exemplar of this but across the west this system is breaking down as politics is funnelled through the social media meat grinder. Our politics is not equipped to cope with it and nobody has much of an idea what to do about it. Governments realise the threat but their only answer is more authoritarianism and censorship.

Arguably the success of the European Union is that it does stifle democracy and keeps politicians out of the mix. I have some sympathy with that view. The problem is, however that when things start to break down, they stay broken down and without the policy tools available to correct such issues, politicians will not take an interest. Eventually dissatisfaction is of such potency that the democratic correction is more turbulent.

It would seem, therefore, that the Brexit fever must simply run its course. We are powerless to influence it or shape it and our path is locked in by an administration held hostage by the bogus or obsolete narratives of 2016. Only when we are standing in the ruins in the aftermath will we take stock. By then it should become apparent that our politics simply doesn't work. The country may be sharply divided but the one thing most of us can agree on is that the traditional parties have nothing to offer us and the system as we know it cannot go on the way it has. If a Brexit trainwreck is what it takes to get that new politics then so be it. We cannot go on like this.

Going to war with reality


It is now generally understood that no deal cannot stay no deal. The day after a disorderly exit begins a long and costly road to building a new normal which absolutely will require formal relations with the EU. Being that we will have considerably soured relations and be in the greatest need, we can expect that any sequence of agreements is going to be entirely on EU terms where we will be forced to submit to EU demands on everything.

As it now stands most people are now aware that a WTO Brexit would be an unmitigated disaster. We have gone from virtually no debate to saturation warnings. I think now even the Brexit ultras know they have lost that particular argument which is why they have shifted their rhetoric to support a Canada+++ deal.

What is not yet fully understood is that a Canada deal is just an FTA and there is a gulf between the EU and the Brexiters as to what the "+++" will actually entail. The EU is not about to roll over and grant the UK exemptions to their system of rules. More likely the "+++" will be a series of bitter pills that the Brexiters are not going to like.

But then assuming we do secure a withdrawal agreement and a Canada style FTA, as much as do deal cannot stay no deal, Canda cannot remain Canada. Should we exit to a base FTA, even maximising the concessions the EU is likely to make, the UK would still be frozen out of a number of key markets and subject to standard third country controls which is likely to seriously impact British exports. There is still a cliff edge even with a Canada deal.

What has plagued the Brexit debate on all sides from the beginning is the assumption that whatever deal we get is the end of the matter and then the UK is free to do as it pleases. An FTA though, in the modern context, is the establishment of formal and ongoing relations which evolve over time. Not for nothing does Article 50 refer to the future relationship.

What the Tories will find once we have formally left the EU is that the relationship is wholly inadequate to the needs of the UK and we will spend the next ten years or more looking to restore market participation which will more than likely end up with the UK adopting huge tracts of EU regulation and product controls in the same way that Switzerland does now.

If the media was at all on top of its game it would now be running similar warnings to "no deal" in respect of a Canada deal simply because those plusses are not going to bridge the massive gulf between an FTA and the single market. If the EU is not going to go for Chequers or anything close to it they are in effect reinforcing the distinction between an FTA and the EEA. The former is a relationship of a particular class and it won't go much above and beyond the most comprehensive FTA.

Meanwhile, if rumours are to be believed and that Mrs May is considering a customs union (having misunderstood its function), it still doesn't address the major headaches for exporters and in terms of what it does solve we are giving up an awful lot to solve very little. It really is the worst of all worlds where the longer term destination is subordination to the EU in matters of trade and technical governance. The EU then has the UK where it wants us.

This is why, strategically, it always made more sense to join Efta, not least since Switzerland is looking for a new mode of relations with the EU. The combined power of Efta with the UK could have ensured a far more equitable relationship, bringing about an outer ring of the European free trade area with the UK in a far stronger position. Moreover, had we committed to the EEA, being that it is an adaptive framework, there would be considerable opportunities to either reform it or use the mechanisms therein to block further integration.

At no point has there been any longer term strategising. Brexit is all about satisfying fleeting political obligations, some of which exist only in Theresa May's imagination. It is that shortsightedness and lack of vision that will ultimately ensure Britain pays a higher price for Brexit than it should ever have cost while squandering a major opportunity to reform the functioning of European trade.

Theresa May, though, is simply not capable of the kind of thinking. She is only working to her brief to leave the EU. She has taken the job as an interim administrator and is treating Brexit as a bureaucratic chore.

All the warnings have been disregarded by the Ultras. They believe the harder the Brexit the more liberty we will have in terms of future trade. They don't believe we will end up grovelling back to Brussels because the power of "free trade" will save us despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

This was always the Achilles heel of Brexit. There is a singular lack of vision and informed planning. They believe they have a vision. They can waffle about free trade, self determination and sovereignty with the best of them, but without acknowledging the limitations of sovereignty and our strategic positioning then we are acting on blind faith alone. A vision without plan is just a pipe-dream.

Consequently what could have been a win win for the EU and the UK turns into a lose-lose proposition. Brexit will harm the EU but will especially harm the UK while not actually improving out position. Having elected to take us out of the European economic ecosystem entirely, the Tories have gone to war with reality. The next ten years should be about renewal and forging a new role for Britain in the world. Instead we'll be in disaster recover mode as we limp back to Brussels begging for whatever scraps they can spare us.

Thursday, 4 October 2018

More of the same.


Today in Brexit tedium: You all saw the Barnier tweet reiterating that a Canada+++ is available and has been from the beginning. The ultra brexiters have taken that to mean an FTA plus whatever fiction they want tacked on to it. They are dishonestly claiming this as a vindication of their position, conveniently ignoring that the EU will not agree to begin talks on any such agreement unless the UK signs up to an NI backstop. The EU is entirely consistent on this.

The ultras claim that a Canada+++ deal where they get to define what the plusses mean means that we don't need a backstop, Two problems here. The EU won;t agree to it and secondly, the details of their proposal has the same basic flaw as Chequers which the EU already declined.

All the same, the Brexiters will use Barnier's tweet for domestic leverage and for propaganda purposes ignoring that fact that Barnier has not narrowed the options down, rather he is re-stating ONE of the available options. The EEA, for the EU is still on the table.

So really it's another day where there is plenty of Brexit noise but no progression in terms of understanding and we are still waiting on Mrs May to bite the bullet and face the reality that she has to choose one of the options defined by the EU.

As you ought to know by now, Chequers is an attempt to reconcile the regulatory issues in order to produce a whole UK solution which removes the necessity for an NI backstop. She wants a partial EEA with unilateral divergence powers. No chance, Lance.

May has at least understood that there is no frictionless trade without regulatory alignment but is desperately seeking a means to find a solution that the EU will accept which also appeases the ultra Brexiters. No such solution exists.

So now she has the choice of an FTA which categorically will not be adequate for the purposes of maintaining frictionless trade and one that requires a backstop she has permanently ruled out. So she has two options... no deal or EEA+.

Here the EEA is not making it easy for May because Barniers advisers are listening to flawed advice which says an EEA solution must also have a customs union, which is a Brexiter red line and one red line we can pretty much all agree on.

This is a tactical error on the part of the EU in that they haven't really considered what they want thus are doing nothing to nudge the UK in the right direction and are increasingly making the more viable solution less politically viable for May.

As much as we are not seeing honesty, competence or clarity from the UK we are not seeing any tactical acumen from the EU nor are we seeing any kind of pragmatism or creativity. There is too much bad blood and I can't say I blame them.

The only way there can be a withdrawal agreement is if both dies come to an accommodation on the NI backstop. Personally I do not see what the fuss is about since it is only activated in the event that no solution can be found in the second Brexit phase.

If May was smart she would emphasise that aspect of it and sign it just to get the withdrawal agreement in the bag. Barnier has been keen to de-dramatise it and May could very easily play along by speaking more vaguely about a future whole-UK solution.

If I were May I would sign up to it, get the Withdrawal agreement in the bag and then resign immediately after Brexit and that way it's up to the Brexiters to find a way around backstop activation. It boxes them into the EEA and she won't even have to make the decision.

Ultimately the EEA was always the only viable solution and for all this fannying around May could have saved herself a massive headache by showing a bit of backbone but she has fallen victim to her own self-imposed red lines. She shot herself in the foot.

Being that May has all the decision making capabilities of a rabbit in headlights I rather expect she will pull a flounce at the last minute, expecting the EU to chase after her with an emergency offer to avoid no deal. I don't think they will. The stunt will backfire.

The ultimate conceptual mistake May has made is believing this was a negotiation where the relationship could be built from scratch rather than having to design an interface to a system of rules. She assumed the EU can and will bend its own system for the UK.

This is the one reality that has escaped May, most of the Tories, all of the think tanks, half of the British press and the broader public. They just don't understand the EU machine and the two sides are speaking different languages.

At this point if Parliament was reading the writing on the wall they would by now be asserting their own authority and looking to force May into the EEA but there lacks the coherence and the foresight so it we are all passengers of events awaiting the depressingly inevitable.

All of this, though, was predictable - and predicted - even on my side of the argument, but saner voices were sidelined by all the clever little boys in various Tory think tanks who said we could get a better deal. Now we all pay the price for Tory arrogance.

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

None of the Tory factions are conservatives. There is no moral centre.


As far as the Tory right are concerned Theresa May's conference speech was more wet centrism. They were looking for more Tory red meat. They seem to think there will be a right wing renaissance if they have a leader who promises to flog off the NHS, slash taxes, shrink the state and make Brexit as hard as it can be. I haven't seen any evidence that suggests the wider British public would vote for that.

But even if Brexit didn't exist the right would still be saying these things in any circumstance. Here I want to explore what it means to be a conservative because it occurred to me earlier that I no longer have any idea what a "real conservative" is and it seems to me that the right of the party are economic radicals who have no intention of conserving anything - and as far as I can see have no moral mission whatsoever.

As it happens I do think Theresa May is conservative. She's a Church of England Tory moral authoritarian who basically does believe in markets and personal responsibility but still thinks the state should be pushing people around and controlling what they see, eat and do. I imagine it actually goes down quite well with middle England and were it not for Brexit she would be a lot more popular than she is.

The problem for May, though, is that on the face of it she is more fond of pushy moralising than actually doing anything that might actually solve a problem I actually have. But then Mrs May is far from alone in that. The one complaint from all sides is that there is no big idea. A complaint I might have made myself in the past.

Brexit, though, has been a huge learning experience for me and having come out of the other side of it, I tend to view radicals of any stripe with suspicion in that they all seem to think that a problem can be tackled with simple solutions if only someone was brave enough to cut through the red tape and the nimbyism. That usually means you are dealing with people who haven't studied the problem and thing the issues are simpler than they are.

More not the point, having looked in depth at the WTO option and what we stand to lose, I generally think now that things could be a whole lot worse than they are and if we can maintain this basic standard of living then it's about as good as we can ever expect. Good government at this point is less to do with radicalism as it is picking a single major problem and dealing with it while trying not to interfere with that which works reasonably well.

Here the obvious target is housing - and though from the right we get demands to liberalise planning, this is another complex area where a lot of the red tape exists for good reasons and it only becomes apparent why such procedures exist when you ignore them. The right do not want to see a programme of mass house building at the hands of the state and believe that with a a bit of policy tinkering here or there then the market will provide.

On that score I do not believe them one bit. I do not think we can trust the market to address the issue to the scale necessary with the right degree of urgency simply because there is an incentive for developers top ration the supply and play silly buggers wherever they can get away with it - not least building rabbit hutches that no normal person could build a life in.

In this I support May's initiatives to stimulate more council builds for one basic reason. It worked last time. Coupled with right-to-buy it has in the past been hugely successful in terms of social mobility that we have not been able to repeat since. As far as big ideas go, it's the one that is universally useful. Whether or not that is a conservative policy is, to me, neither here nor there. I do not demand ideological purity. I just want to see something get done.

As not the broader issue of conservatism, the notion of rationalising the state for its own sake tends to ignore the complexity of modern governance - and if Tory attitudes to agriculture are anything to go by in terms of ending subsidies and trade defences then we are dealing with people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. That to me is not at all conservative. The dogmatic "free trade" brigade are cranks and ideologues who believe that outcomes will attend to themselves.

If there is an argument for rationalising the state then it is from the perspective of sustainability and to ensure the relative prosperity we currently enjoy can continue. Right now, as this blog has noted, the British are the worst savers in Europe, fiscally illiterate and we are storing up a massive pensions black hole along with an acute care crisis. I am of the view that the British public are conditioned to rely on the state as their financial backstop which cultivates poor decision-making and that is the principal reason why the working class is losing out to more frugal European immigrants who have o such conditioning.

This is actually where the remainers have it wrong in wedding their cause to the cult of the NHS. If we are saying that the collapse of social mobility is a contributory factor to Brexit then doubling down on state provision from cradle to grave is actually reinforcing that structural disadvantage. If we want young people to be able to compete then more than anything they need an attitude adjustment. This is why I argue that Brexit is more a cultural correction.

In this I am convinced that young people need the means to be able to compete. I can very readily see Brexit hitting UK universities quite hard which will in turn result in universities having to work harder but it will also force them to rationalise and it is my hope this will put university degrees back in their proper context rather than a prerequisite for any remotely well paying job. That then creates more fluidity in the work place which is another factor essential to social mobility.

To me conservatism has always been a moral force that says no to the material demands of a largely spoiled public and one which creates the economic liberty for people to succeed for themselves. It does have a role to play in nudging people into better choices but over the years that has lost its moral purpose to simply become an over protective nanny and too timid to take on the retail politics of the left. They instead seek to compete on their turf.

In that regard the criticism of the hard right is well founded, but their solution of simply flogging off the NHS without a social strategy that conservatives should have, is really just shock doctrine economics that most likely will shunt a generation into lasting poverty while the corporate machine gradually cannibalises individual and family wealth.

The nudge factor has to be along the lines of planning, saving, self-educating, and avoiding temptations that lead to ruin. This is why I feel the CofE and British conservatism have always been naturally allies. The rural version that is, not the happy-clappy social justice warriors they have become. But then I'm not a god botherer and the country isn't that way out anymore. We need to find a way to fill the moral vacuum in government to restore moral authority.

For all that I could never be a member of the hollowed out shell that is called the Conservative Party, I could never consider myself of the left. I think Labour is a slovenly party that nurtures the very worst instincts of people, promoting reliance on the state and excusing people from any from of self-improvement. I am not remotely surprised to see that the continuity Blair regime in social provision has seen a collapse of social mobility.

What now passes as a conservative party is an marketing label the factions fight over - each accusing the other of being something other than conservative when neither can lay claim to the title. The economic radicals are ideological thugs while the centrists are managerialists who believe in liberty and markets in theory but not in practice. What they both lack is a moral centre and without that you simply do not have a Conservative Party. You have only zealots, self-serving sociopaths and uninspiring functionaries.

In fact, had the Tory party not lost its moral instincts they wouldn't be making such a pig's ear of Brexit. The crass "free trade" mantras of the right would not be making the running and the party would see that there is a basic moral obligation for managed immigration. Instead the functionaries of the party simply see immigration restrictions as something they must do in order to relate to their voter base. It explains the "dad dancing" faux patriotism and borderline jingoism. They have no idea why we are leaving the EU, they don't want to leave the EU but feel obliged to while putting on a show for the punters.

Meanwhile, on the right, Brexit is not a cause of itself in the name of democracy. Rather it is simply the removal of an obstacle to their economic shock doctrine. They are not motivated by a basic belief that the nation state is the bedrock of meaningful democracy and essential to the communitarian wellbeing of a country.

As for the working class right which has in recent years drifted off to Ukip, there lies the genuine hostility to foreigners, namely Pakistani rape gangs. They would prefer to see radical mass deportations but again this is a symptom of a broader moral malaise, not least since the parents who don't know where their children are for days on end are central to this issue. We have children turning up to school without their parent having fed them. This is a consequence of that slovenly left wing governance paradigm that does not hold adults to account.

We could also say more of the police and social services where we increasingly see them becoming statistics gatherers and public relations functionaries. The professions of public service have been debased while we have eliminated the role of the citizen in public life. This is in part the managerial quangocracy culture the EU has transformed our local government into.

Brexiters are often accused of seeking a return to yesteryear having rose a tinted view, longing for a past that never existed. Nobody wants to return to the past. This is to misframe how people feel about their country. What people detect is a collapse of standards and a regression of values. When we look to the older generation we see that self-discipline, public service ethos, citizenship and self-reliance did exist, as did social mobility, community and a sense of basic security. It's not a sin to want that yet it is portrayed as gammonesque regression.

We cannot, though, expect the Conservative party to rediscover its moral centre largely because it is a walking corpse of an organisation. Being that the parties are largely for the functioning of politics conducted in London with largely alien values, living a wholly different experience to the rest of the country, it can never truly understand the sentiments expressed at the ballot box. They try their best to show us they have heard the message but they are tone deaf and self-interested. They won't give up the power and our politics will remain occupied by them until we demand change. We need to invert the power pyramid and "take back control".

For all that Brexiters have spoken of self-government according to our own values, they have proven myopic in believing that transferring power from Brussels to London makes any real difference. The only difference we will notice in the years to come is a marked decline in competence. The only way we can restore Britain's moral centre is to rebuild politics from the ground up, putting the power in the hands of the people where they live. For years councils have been instructed by Westminster when it should be the other way around. Only then will national politics resemble the authentic character of Britain.

The May Speech


Theresa May has given her closing speech to the Conservative Party conference. She did not once mention Chequers by name. Instead she reiterated that she will sign no backstop which means that unless she has to a whole UK solution (as indeed Chequers is designed to be) there cannot be a deal.

She rightly remarked that the FTA proposal from Johnson is insufficient for the facilitation of frictionless trade - which she emphasised the need for. She has set the parameters that would lead one to conclude that the EEA is now her only option. Though she did not make mention of the EEA. In effect, ever since she raised the concept of a common rulebook she has been working on the understanding that frictionless trade does not happen without regulatory harmonisation.

Being that the EEA route is politically unpopular she has sought to recreate it in all but name but with caveats that allow for the regulatory sovereignty that her backbenchers crave. This is impossible and the EU would never agree to it. Now, though, with May rumoured to be moving toward more concessions along the lines of a customs union, it would seem there is space to develop Chequers into something that could be accepted by the EU. ie not Chequers.

This would suggest that Mrs May is forced by circumstance to get to grips with the reality of our predicament and make a number of unpopular concessions. Here she will likely choose any combination of components apart from the one that can work... the EEA.

Meanwhile there are rumours that an anonymous "EU diplomat" has told a journalist who told another journalist that the trade component of the withdrawal agreement could be limited to a three page political declaration. There has always been the outside chance of that with a de-dramatised backstop thereby kicking the whole cannery down the road. If that happens then there is a stronger possibility that we will end up with a variant of the EEA Efta option.

Without knowing more we are still left to guess - but if it is still the case that the EU wants a firmer framework for the future relationship in the withdrawal agreement then we are running out of time for Mrs May to see the light. We are still odds on for no-deal.

As to the style and content of the speech, that is for the scribblers of The Times and other such court journals. All that need be said is that none of her spending commitments or big ideas (if indeed there are any) can come to fruition unless she has a deal because without one we are up a certain creek. Between now and then, there is politics. We are still none the wiser.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Our politics is dying because it has to


The right wing case for Brexit is not compelling at all. The Tory right are pushing for a minimalist trade deal with the EU for the sake of regulatory independence which they believe can be traded away to achieve more open trade with the rest of the world - namely the USA.

In this they are deaf to all of the warnings. If we become a third country with n regulatory cooperation then we cannot expect anything approaching the same level of frictionless trade with the EU and being outside of EU approvals systems means that a number of sectors from pharmaceuticals to automotive will see their export costs ramp up substantially.

Before we joined the EEC, there wasn't any significant ro-ro traffic at Dover. It wasn't even introduced until 1965 and was only handling a few hundred lorries a year until the early 70s. Then, the real growth came with the single market. Out JIT production lines along with fresh produce exports are effectively the children of the single market.

Should the UK diverge on standards then as much as we are looking at increased red tape at the borders we also face a higher frequency of inspections which could very well kill value chains entirely. This is a dilemma faced by Canadian producers who have to decide on either the USA or Europe as a market because it cannot be both.

This is the sort of detail that Tories are avoiding and being that they do not understand the system and being creatures of conformity they will latch on to whatever is spoonfed to them by the various lobbyists masquerading as think tanks. The fashion at the moment is a fixation on a US deal, contrary to all the best advice of expert functionaries from Ivan Rogers to Hosuk Lee-Makiyama.

What we are going to find is that any such deal falls flat on its face. If not we are looking at years of negotiation to produce an FTA far shallower than we might have expected and one which opens us up to the US dumping its agricultural surpluses while having nowhere near the freedom to trade in services that we would have in the EEA. We would be servicing a far smaller market and having deviated from the global standards employed by the EU we would find that market shrinking. 

Of course producers are free to mix and match if they can afford separate production lines but in all this time I have yet to see any serious analysis from a serious source that shows how we can replace single market trade, not least because as a general rule we will do less trade with more distant partners.

Being that Tories are Tories, they will not listen to expert advice on this and instead have cultivated their own ecosystem of quasi-expert soothsayers who steal the terminology of experts so as to appear plausible but to the trained ear are spouting gibberish. The good news is that the Tories won't be around long enough to complete negotiations with the USA. At this rate they may not even be around to negotiate the future relationship with the EU. Assuming we get that far, that is.

But what of the left wing case for Brexit? Trade Unionist, Paul Embery, sees a hard Brexit as a positive development in that it puts barriers up to low wage competition and prevents the further encroachment of globalisation. 

On the first count I am somewhat ambivalent. The spreadsheet sociopaths tell us there is no measurable impact on wages but that's ignoring the black market in labour and multivaried analysis. The experts on that matter tend to be ideologues and prone to dishonesty. See Portes, Jonathan. But then less trade equals fewer jobs. I'm not sure how the bottom decile wins either way. 

The second count is a much more complicated question in that technology is as much the culprit. Online transactions allow corporates to evade taxes depriving governments of legitimate income, forcing them to cut back on spending thus, if you're a Keynesian, shrinking aggregate demand. 

This actually points to the need for more intergovernmental cooperation to close down the loopholes and tackle tax havens, but there we see moves toward harmonised tax policies designed to eliminate arbitrage. That then is seen as an attack on sovereignty - which is about right in that it centralises economic policy. 

The right wing view is that we should be able to lower taxes and become a Singapore on Thames, but the EU most certainly will wield its soft power in retaliation and the imposition of non-tariff barriers might still deter business. Not an easy one to crack. 

There are a lot globalisation issues I have not fully reconciled in my thinking - but I'm relieved to see that none of the top thinkers in the field have either. The only solution I have settled upon is that democracy is really the only legitimate judge and that nation states are better able to respond to pressures in time. The EU is many things but it is not agile or responsive. Democracy is more at liberty to experiment. The Guardian this week takes a stab at outlining the left wing view
A small number of people in the Labour party and in the trade union movement take a different view. For them, Brexit is to be welcomed because the EU’s bias in favour of multinational capital, its hardwired monetarism and its obsession with balanced budgets means it is more Thatcherite than social democratic. For those remainers who say this is a caricature and that the EU is really about protecting labour rights and defending the interests of workers in a harsh, globalised world, left leavers have a one-word riposte: Greece.
In recent weeks there have been two publications that have challenged the mainstream view. The Left Case Against the EU by Costas Lapavitsas, a Soas economics professor, takes issue with the idea that the EU is all about cooperation and togetherness, a borderless paradise of interrailing and Erasmus schemes. The EU, Lapavitsas argues, is not a nation state that the left could battle to capture and then shape the way it is run. Rather, it is a transnational juggernaut geared to neoliberalism.
The European left’s “attachment to the EU as an inherently progressive development prevents it from being radical, and indeed integrates it into the neoliberal structures of European capitalism”, Lapavitsas says. “The left has become increasingly cut off from its historic constituency, the workers and the poor of Europe, who have naturally sought a voice elsewhere.”
This seems a pretty accurate assessment. The European left sees the EU as promoting democracy, egalitarianism and social liberalism, but the reality is somewhat different. The four pillars of the single market – free movement of goods, services, people and money – are actually the axioms of market fundamentalism, which is why Mrs Thatcher supported its creation. Meanwhile, the European court of justice has gradually turned itself into a body that enforces a free-market view of the world, placing more and more restrictions on the freedom of member states to make their own economic decisions.
This explains the division in the Labour party between the old left and the Metropolitan London "progressive" left. For the latter, the EU embodies much of the soft left Blairite social agenda and it affords them a number of entitlements and perks which is just enough for them to turn a blind eye to the many faults of the EU. This is why we see the neo-Blairite bratpack headed by Mike Galsworthy pounding the streets of Birmingham this week at the Tory conference.

It is actually this schizophrenic nature of the EU that leads to such a diverse array of criticisms. It all depends which prism you look through. For the right the EU is a centrally planned distinctly socialist affair, eliminating dynamism by bogging the labour market down with regulation and red tape. The old left, on the other hand, see the EU as a barrier to a socialist utopia.

Remainers point to nationalised utilities in European states arguing that the EU is no barrier to socialism, but this ignores the services liberalisation that forces even stated owned enterprises to open contracts to European bids along with various directives which, while they do not dictate private ownership, certainly govern the structure of markets and lead toward their liberalisation. See image. This is why the EEA is the least popular outcome for Brexiters of all stripes in that these such directives apply - and though there is scope to shape such rules and opt out of elements, EEA states still have to keep their markets open to the EU to the same governance methodology. 

As it happens I am not the biggest EEA fan for that exact reason. I just accept, unlike my fellow leavers, that the alternatives are worse and that many of these directives are in response to global obligations be they WTO commitments on government procurement to environmental measures agreed under international treaties. To repeal many of them we would also have to pull out of a number of climate accords which is politically improbable. I am also of the view that any combination of free trade deals is not likely to replace the trade we enjoy via the single market. 

There is also one other reason. I'm not a socialist. The idea of a Labour government meddling with the energy market, especially one intent on creating 400,000 "green jobs" is absolutely horrifying. The one thing Lexiters are right about is that the EU very much does stand in the way of Utopian left wing economic ideas and that is probably one of the few things in the EU's favour. Were I a Tory right now staring at an election defeat with Corbyn waiting in the wings I would be all the more keen on the EEA. 

But that then makes me a hypocrite doesn't it? Having argued for the supremacy of sovereignty and democracy, leaving a number of key policy areas inside the current system of controls is antithetical to much of what I have written. But then I am not a purist. If there is one thing I have learned in the last few years about politics is that you can never have it all your own way, there is always a trade off and if we are going to leave the EU then we shouldn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. 

More to the point, there are a lot of issues where Brexit doesn't actually solve anything. It won't make Stoke-on-Trent great again, it won't bring back the mines, it won't stand in the way of automation and in many cases, especially if the Tories get their way, it will exacerbate a number of known problems.

The essential problem for the UK is that its politics is so wildly out of touch and tribal. The Tories are pushing free trade dogma which has long ceased to be relevant while the left are talking about a reversion to a mode of socialism that was only really appropriate for its time in the era rebuilding the UK after the war. It is certainly incompatible with modern norms of porous borders - which, Brexit notwithstanding, we are not going to solve any time soon.

Essentially the have been seismic changes over the last forty years and governance has become more complicated than any one person can fully understand. For a lot of the problems we are fighting against the tide and struggling for solutions and in some cases there simply aren't any solutions. I do not see a satisfying resolution to the trade versus sovereignty dilemma. 

Being that these issue are of a complex and technical nature, and the public tends to gravitate toward politics of a more cultural nature, our politics isn't equipped to deal with many of these problems which is why we see them looking back in time and seeking to impose outdated doctrinal solutions. Of itself that is bad, but it is amplified by an ever more polarising media and one which struggles with nuance at the best of times.

What further compounds our problems is a very distinct cultural divide exacerbated by insecure labour and transient populations combined with high immigration. The culture war. Being that the EU adopts any passing progressive fad, using its soft power to impose its values, much of the hostility toward the EU is actually nothing at all to do with economics. Brexit is as much an attempt to reclaim British values (whatever they may be) and ensure UK legislation is made according to those values rather than the progressive values and Keynesian ideas of globalists.

While we are on heightened alert for a no deal Brexit and a serious economic collapse, it rather looks to me like we are on course of a political collapse come what may. Though there is now more of a discernible difference between Labour and the Tories than there has been in recent years, there is still a gaping gulf between Westminster and the rest of the country. Britain certainly didn't vote to leave the EU as an endorsement of hardcore libertarian free trade ideals any more than they especially wanted to bring about a new socialist order. 

For the moment I am politically homeless but I think I am in good company. I think I am in the ranks of the sane majority in my dismay and contempt for Westminster. There is certainly a demand for an alternative even if there is no supply. I think it will take a political collapse for that alternative to make itself apparent. 

As the Guardian notes, "almost all the energy on the remain side has been spent on keeping the UK inside the EU come what may. There has been nothing from remainers that would suggest that they have a serious plan for tackling the symptoms of Brexit. The same applies to reform of the EU". This is why stopping Brexit doesn't actually solve anything at all. Britain is in the midst of a full blown , economic, political and identity crisis where neither leave nor remain can provide any clarity.

What we are looking at here is a democratic correction as the institutions and politics of yore gasp their last. the world has changed and our politics needs to change with it. The EU certainly does safeguard the status quo but there is an instinct afoot, globally, that the status quo is ill-suited to whatever the new era is going to look like. In respect of that I think perhaps turmoil is the new status quo until there is a satisfactory one nation resolution. Our politics is dying because it has to die. 

As this blog has noted previously, there are too many time bombs in store for the near future that our current economic paradigm is not prepared for, from our housing crisis to our pensions crisis to our care crisis. All of these are thorny issues that require radical change when we have a political stalemate that actively discourages radicalism and reform. We talk about reform but we have forgotten the meaning of the world. All we do now is timid tinkering and top down reorganisation. 

If there is one thing we can say about Brexit is that it is disruptive. Reality will very rapidly torpedo the delusions of Tory free traders, and soon after Brexit the socialists will find there simply isn;t the money to implement their half-baked ideas. They are still making policy as though the UK will have anything like the same tax receipts and credit rating. Brexit will be a bucket of cold water and will seriously impact on public services to the point where we have no choice but to explore new ideas be they along the lines of big society voluntarism or privatisation.

We are often told that we Brexiters didn't know what we were voting for. But we did. We voted for a departure from the status quo because as much as it isn't delivering it is not sustainable. It's fairer to say we did not know what we'd be getting. But then none of us do. It comes down to one very simple estimation as to whether you think we can go on having elections where voting makes no difference and nothing ever gets done. I do not think that we can and I think ducking the issue has a far greater price than any mode of Brexit.