Wednesday, 30 November 2016

We need to "take back control" - from Westminster

The more I talk to Brexiteers the more I risk becoming a Brexit agnostic. The inane insistence that "they sell more to us" is one among many nostrums that really does aggravate the bejesus out of me. But then I have to keep reminding myself that it only Brexit activists who grind this axe and in fact the majority of people are capable of a more nuanced and rational view. But then there's the Brexiteers MPs. The Brexit politicians are actually so bad one momentarily imagines abandoning the cause entirely. I then immediately remember that the EU is a faceless, remote, corrupt, democracy-dodging entity with imperial delusions.

Were it not for that, crossing the floor, so to speak, would be a no-brainer since the economic arguments for Brexit are thin, the "free trade" waffle doesn't stand up, and for someone who believes that less government is generally better I have just voted for a massive expansion of the civil service.

Brexiteers would say that at least they are accountable to us but in reality the civil service is no more accountable to us than the Commission is. It does its own thing and skillfully pulls the wool over the eyes of our quarter-wit MPs.

As it happens, in the short to medium term there are few, if any advantages to leaving the EU. If I go back through this blog and examine some of the arguments for leaving, many of my arguments are hopes and aspirations rather than tangible consequences of leaving. But then it comes down to one principle - that independence is a virtue in itself.

As a young man there were no short to medium term advantages to moving out of my parents house. I had to pay my own bills, do my own administration, work for a living and do my own laundry on a regular basis. I still haven't mastered the latter - but the reason we go through that hassle is so that we can learn to stand on our own - so that we are not completely helpless in later life. It is that prism through which I see Brexit.

I am just old enough to remember a time when MPs weren't wall to wall drooling imbeciles, and though there is the distinct possibility that my memory is playing tricks on me, they can't have been as bad as they are now. I think that is consequence of having handed over so many functions of government to the EU. It has made us weak and incapable. It means that MPs have the mental space to ponder the nutritional content of MoD vending machines rather than the more pressing issues. This is why Brexit has thrown them so completely.

Having voted to leave the EU, we have dumped a massive chore on them that they are quite obviously under equipped to process and are floundering. That is no reason to call it off though. They may not yet have the understanding required of them but sooner or later if they don't shape up we will be kicking them out.

With any luck, at the end of this we will have entirely new departments fully dedicated to the execution of foreign and trade policy and we will, for the first time in a very long time, have domestic expertise. In this it is unreasonable to expect that we can seamlessly make our own way in the world from the get go. We can expect to have a few failures and a few false starts. In that regard, the bigger the mess they make the more it drives home the point that we had no business offshoring the real business of government in the first place.

I take the view that our membership of the EU has masked the growing incompetence within government and the infantilisation of politics. While the institutions of the EU have been silently administering the important functions in the background our own politics have been allowed to degenerate into the playground it is now. The consequence of that is that functions of government which are not as yet the remit of the EU have suffered as well, not least defence, where we have slashed the army to a skeleton crew and the Royal Navy has never looked more pitiful.

One thing that is often overlooked in any bureaucracy be it a private corporation or a government is institutional memory. Institutional memory is a collective set of facts, concepts, experiences and know-how held by a group of people. As it transcends the individual, it requires the ongoing transmission of these memories between members of this group. 

Once you dismantle a department or function of government you lose the most vital asset it has. You no longer retain the necessary experience and corrective influences that prevent basic and avoidable mistakes. This is, in theory, why we keep the House of Lords as an advisory chamber. Having completely eviscerated much of our capability with regard to foreign and trade policy it is little wonder that our Brexit efforts thus far are shambolic. 

That said, now that we are "taking back control" our officials are at least working in the direct national interest and notionally answerable to the government. As time goes on they will get better at it. That is the upside to Brexit. To complete the process, however, we need a major programme of domestic reform to ensure that we clear out our drongo MPs and make sure that our civil service is held to account and that we stop rewarding failure. 

On that matter, we've heard a lot about being dictated to by faceless bureaucrats but in reality we have made no real progress if we merely exchange Brussels for London. We know from the Brexit debacle that for all the intense intellectual effort in the public domain, little of it reaches the ears of the politicians who supposedly serve us. The bubble mechanics ensure there is a firewall around politicians to ensure their attention doesn't stray from controlling interests. 

We could tinker with the voting system as suggested by many, but exchanging one set of drongos for another doesn't really get us anywhere. I think it's time we admitted that parliament is a wholly obsolete outmoded system and there must now be a mechanism where the people can hold government to account directly, either as a community or as individuals. 

Succeeding in political change is only really likely so long as you have an attentive, intelligent and useful MP you can gain access to. When we live on an island of over sixty million people with only 650 MPs there is no possible way that people can ever really affect change. Only the self-selecting political class have a hope of influencing and they tend to be the dogmatists and ideologies.  

If we are to make government by the people, for the people, then we need to ask why so much of it needs to be in London, and why central government should even have a say given the diversity of peoples and landscapes in the UK. Why should our politics be funnelled through just one MP and why does that MP have total autonomy over how they vote? 

I can never imagine a UK where we don't have a jeering circus on the green benches in Westminster but if we are to bring real democracy to our politics we should be looking to minimise the role of MPs and increase access for citizens. There will always be a need for representatives to handle the day to day business of holding Number 10 to account in the daily decisions that cannot be deferred or delayed, but we do not need these people to rule us or tell us how to live. 

So much as Brexit is going to be shambolic and nobody is really going to be satisfied with the outcome, I think it is the process that will really demonstrate why we need change and it will show that things cannot continue as they have. It should serve as both a warning and a wake up call. Thus far the message has not sunk in and we are not seeing the change we had hoped for but that will not happen over night. 

We have to build on the bombshell we have dropped and we must convert that momentum into something more lasting. A managerial Brexit that doesn't frighten the horses is no bad thing but we would be fools to let it rest there. If Brexit really was a vote for self rule then it requires that we take power away from Westminster as well as Brussels. 

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Our political class is out of ideas

Steve Hilton, former adviser to David Cameron is surprised to find that Brexit is not turning the UK into a more outward-looking, pro-enterprise country.
It certainly seems as if Theresa May understands the resentment against the ruling class and its agenda in a way that her predecessor did not. But, as ever in politics, the real test lies in what you do, not what you say. And it does not seem to me as if radical change is on the horizon. The Prime Minister’s pig-headed embrace of a narrow, mean-spirited Brexit instead of an optimistic, pro-enterprise, outward-looking one, is deeply alarming.
It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone really. Brexit is not of itself a revolutionary act. It has the potential to be a catalyst but could just as easily be managed away into neat boxes as though it never happened. In that regard you can see why Brexit hardliners are keen to see the hardest Brexit possible. A negotiated exit more than likely takes the revolutionary sting out of Brexit.

The problem is that the Brexit vote was not a revolutionary movement. There was no plan or a coherent set of demands, nor was the campaign a coalition of the people. It was very much a Tory marketing campaign which actively excluded the people. Consequently there is only a generic demand for change with no intellectual foundation. This leaves the incumbents to decypher what will ameliorate public sentiment.

In that regard we can hardly expect Mrs May to deliver the Brexit revolution. She is the very personification of upper middle class England. She has no more idea what the problem is than David Cameron. This latest wheeze of putting workers on company boards has quickly transmogrified into something even less coherent and will be quietly dropped - faster even than Mr Cameron's "big society". As far as that goes, Big Society was actually ten times more visionary than Mrs May's gimmick.

If anything happens at all in response to Mrs May's initiative it will be yet another tiresome piece of bureaucracy that business has to find a workaround for and it will have zero impact. The basic problem is that the political establishments across the West are completely out of ideas. And in this we can include Ukip and all the minnow parties we have seen popping up in the last decade. The most ambitious idea they can muster between them is proportional representation, itself a dismal bit of tinkering to ensure their mouth-breathers have a shot at the green benches. Given that the bar is already on the floor, what is the point of lowering it?

In the wake of the referendum Brexiteers are keen to keep the momentum going and Arron Banks has ideas of a populist campaign to "drain the swamp" but this is a cultural import that didn't even work particularly well in the USA. The "left behind" constituency in the will respond to that message, but nobody else will. Consequently between the two options; the dismal managerial status quo and the gruntings of some kipper malcontents, you can see why the Brexit revolution is falling flat.

Steve Hilton has it that "to really bring about the revolution we need I believe we need far deeper change than we have seen this year. We need a whole new set of people who believe in radical change to stand for office at every level and take back the levers of power — here in the UK, in Congress and state government in America, and in every other democracy too".

This is precisely what won't work. The disaffection is about the same now as it was twenty years ago. That spawned Ukip and where did that get us? As much as the party system is on its last legs a new party really can't change anything. The system is of a particular nature whereby the closer a party gets to its goals the more it becomes what it seeks to replace. It achieves nothing. 

In the end it's ideas that bring change but we are not living in an era of ideas. We live in the era of quick fixes and political gimmicks. Even Brexit is a symptom of that where leaving the EU became the dreamboat that would solve every problem under the sun. What we now find is that, unless we can make it a catalyst, even Brexit changes very little.

To have that revolution there needs to be a coherent set of ideas and based on a thorough analysis of the problem - which is more than just economic. As much as anything the West suffers from a cultural and spiritual ennui where we have all but made politics and politicians redundant, which is why many of them are in a dismal repeat cycle, drawing their ideas from the 1980s when politics last mattered. The creaking system of parliamentary democracy we have is utterly spent and has degenerated into a three ring circus between the Lords, the Commons and the media. It is in a lingering death spiral, desperately in need of replenishment. 

In this we can already see people switching off from mainstream media and I am far from alone in lamenting the low grade content of online politics and the tedious and dishonest games they play. All the while decision making is being moved away from parliament and into the courts as though the creche needs adult supervision. 

Though there are more spectators than ever, the power is increasingly in the hands of fewer but deep inside a toxic feedback loop between the media and the politicians where the perspectives of those who live in the real world are excluded. It seems to me that exchanging one gaggle for another brings no remedy. For as long as the power resides in Westminster and not with the people we can only ever expect more of the same. 

This, however, is not to say that Brexit is not part of the solution. It is is necessary to expose just how ill-equipped our politicians are and how utterly incapable the system is. On present form it's working a treat. Before we can have real change we must first make it abundantly clear why change is necessary. By the time they've finished making a pigs ear of Brexit, nobody will be in any doubt that we must take the power back. The answers are not to be found by shuffling the deckchairs on the Titanic. 

Ukip's race to the bottom

I spent most of the lead up to the general election analysing every move Ukip made. This was with a view to discrediting Ukip in the public eye - and though they did a good job unaided I would like to think my (other) humble blog played a small part in that. My view was then as it is now; that had Ukip been allowed to make the running in a referendum then we would almost certainly lose it.

In the end Ukip's own manifest incompetence spoke for itself and by polling day Ukip was a busted flush. In that time, those who know me well might recall that there were times when I lost a little perspective, but that was only to be expected when having to explain what should be abundantly obvious to Ukippers who were (and still are) unspeakably foul creatures. Preening, stupid and many of them unequivocally bigoted.

But as with any particular specialism, once you zone in on a particular target, one tends to lose track of other developments. A thick and crass as Ukip are, the revelation to me this year is that Ukip's dull wittedness is not especially egregious. It is in fact the norm.

Following from yesterday's example, today I learn from Think Defence that Debbie Abrahams MP (Labour) asks the MoD not how we bridge our air drop capability gap but asks how many vending machines in the MoD contain snack foods that are high in calories and low in nutritional value. We also learn (pictured above) that Hilary Benn has no idea that "drones" cannot drop aid.

This really should shatter any illusions that it's the Corbynite wing of Labour holding the monopoly on being vacuous narcissistic animals. It seems the entire political class has declared a race to the bottom. For the first time Ukip's position at the pinnacle of doltishness is momentarily threatened.

Consequently Ukip so they have hit back hard today. Ukip's new Brexit spokesman, Gerard Batten MEP, has announced that Ukip's official policy is now to reject the Article 50 process and withdraw from the EU unilaterally. Even Labour will have to work hard to top that. I don't like to tempt fate but I think we are now at the bottom of the barrel.

Monday, 28 November 2016

Downing Street notes are nothing of note

It is difficult to know what to make of the supposed leak form Downing Street. To me it looks so vague that it is best ignored. On the back of this the Guardian concludes that the UK is now unlikely to stay in the single market. If that is indeed the trajectory then we have a problem. Not because this would indicate a hard Brexit based on Brexiteer principles because it definitely isn't that.

It would be because the government has such a thin grasp of the technical realities that they are considering some other avenue than the EEA, opening us up to a long, more complex, riskier negotiation to achieve more or less the same thing. If this is where the debate in Cabinet is still at then it is clear they are still struggling to grasp the basics - to a degree than makes even our media look informed by contrast. That is certainly not outside the realms of possibility.

But then a handwritten note photographed in hands of Tory aide in Downing Street is hardly an authoritative source. If it is a leak then it is testing the water of public opinion. If it isn't then it is the issue illiterate scrawl of an underling and not worth our time. In either case it is deeply depressing that this is the way politics is done now, especially on matters of such significance. Likely this will just add to the noise and another week will pass where Brexit means... er... Brexit.

The single market interim option is the only sane way forward

Some readers have remarked that this blog can be repetitive at times. I make no apology for it. This is a campaigning blog and I will say the same things so long as it is necessary to say them. In that fashion I return to the matter of the single market.

Opinion on the matter of single market membership is becoming ever more polarised. Even moderate Brexiteers are beginning to suspect that any attempt to keep us in the single market is an attempt to stop Brexit. But that shouldn't distract us too much in that the EEA option, often described as the Norway Option, has always been the least popular among leavers.

The fact remains that the leave campaign could not agree on a plan and the only thing they do agree on is that we should leave the EU. The EEA option does exactly that. Of all the interim arrangements available it is the option that sees us officially leave the EU the fastest and removes the possibility of being sucked back in.

What it does do is minimise the impact of Brexit on business and retains the maximum possible cooperation with the EU while being outside of the political union. As a middle way it works in that it safeguards much of that which is valued by remainers whose views must be taken into account given that the leave win margin was wafer thin.

As most are now aware the EEA does have safeguard measures so that we can modify freedom of movement but for this should be viewed as secondary since immigration was not the issue on the ballot paper and most leavers would say that "taking back control" was their primary motivation.

The point of a staged exit using the EEA as a departure lounge is to secure an orderly transition recognising that forty years of technical and legal integration is not undone at the stroke of a pen. In the very first instance though a number of powers are returned to us over multiple policy areas including trade, aid, agriculture, fishing, home affairs, employment, justice, foreign and defence policy.

Given that we have over the last forty years dismantled much of our domestic governance capacity it follows that we must have a comprehensive transitional framework. Further to this, were we to seek a bespoke settlement we would be adding multiple layers of complexity and risk to that which is already complex and risky.

There are a number of myths surrounding the EEA option. Firstly the myth that Norway pays about the same into the EU budget. This is categorically untrue. There is an entirely different system which is not even administered by the EU. The second most common myth is that EEA members are still under ECJ jurisdiction. This is incorrect.

Decisions are taken by a process of co-determination which also applies to the adoption of single market rules. EEA members do not adopt all EU rules (less than a quarter) and as this blog has noted a number of times, the rules in future will predominantly be those agreed at the global level where we would regain our independence and right of veto.

To my mind, though, the most important feature of the EEA agreement is that it has its own secretariat which brings the agreement up for periodic review whereby we can continue the process of Brexit, registering opt outs as we go, as and when we are ready. This is superior to a fixed negotiated settlement that would be very difficult to revise after the fact.

The stone cold truth of the matter is that there were never any real budget savings to be had by leaving the EU, we are always going to need a liberal system of immigration in relation to Europe and deregulation is a vast red herring. Much of the dogma concerning regulation is a hangover from the debate in the early nineties and holds very little relevance to the situation as we find it.

Ultimately the vote to leave the EU was a vote to end political integration and re-establish the UK in as an independent nation in matters of law and trade. In all the ways that matter, the EEA satisfies that ambition while reducing the danger to the UK economy.

Hardline unilateralism would be a distinctly unwise policy for the UK as would any agreement that sees the creation of trade barriers where none presently exist. Leaving the EU should not and does not mean the end of cooperation with the EU and any settlement with it must recognise the fact that the EU is our closest ally in terms of geography and values. We should not seek to indulge the irrational and obstinate Brexiteers who would have us do deliberate harm to our economy for the sake of political ends which are unlikely to materialise and to most are undesirable.

This blog remains an ardent advocate of Brexit and in this I am not even all that enamoured with the single market in its current form, but the damage we have done by joining the EU will take a long time to repair and we should not act in haste. The EEA represents a stable compromise that will buy us time and give business the breathing space it needs. Like many Brexiteers I am impatient to leave but that must be tempered by reality.

For decades now we eurosceptics have warned that we were being taken into something that was quite different from what our politicians believed it was. Far from being a trade bloc it is a sophisticated government engine with tentacles running into almost every area of public life. Reversing the decision to take us in will not be easy since it was designed to be irreversible. We cannot expect that leaving will be straightforward and to pretend otherwise is misguided and wrong-headed.

Continued resistance to the EEA runs the risk of doing unnecessary damage to our economy and increasing the risk of failure whereby we end up trapped in the EU with fewer rights than before. This would be the worst of all possible worlds. In this game it pays to play it smarter and make short term compromises to get what we want in the long run. Trees that do not bend with the wind will break, so please Brexiteers, it's time to get a grip. Please don't make me say this again, I'm running out of clich├ęd Brexit flag pictures. 

Parliament's dereliction of duty

The egregious stupidity of Rebecca Long-Bailey last week is this week matched by Emily Thornberry in suggesting that we should mount aid drop operations over Syria. First of all one would note that this does not happen without the permission of Russia lest it be a very dangerous and messy business, and secondly we lack the capacity to mount such an operation.

Paraphrasing tweets by Think Defence, the A400m is not yet in service and the C17 is not cleared for air despatch. He asks "Where are the stocks of parachutes coming from for such a massive air drop and how many of those do you think we actually have available?"

He tweets "MPs have presided over a huge reduction in UK combat power. On Aleppo, they cannot now propose we 'do something' when we 'have nothing'. This is the harsh reality, the RAF air despatch capacity is limited, limited by reality, not MP's fantasies".

Think Defence concludes that we could probably "muster something" but it would be a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed. It would need to be a sustained operation. And this is what happens when we have politicians who think that detail is for other people. Though it is their job to ask questions and hold government to account, they choose instead to concern themselves with everyday trivia and virtue signalling. The consequence of this disengagement from policy-making is a yawning capability gap. 

And this should worry us. We've already seen what craven narcissism our MPs are capable of when it comes to intervention and consequently we are rinsing every last airframe hour out of the Tornado GR4 in Syria. Now we are seeing the same kind of sabre rattling in relation to Russia while the MoD thinks it a jolly good wheeze to prune our main battle tank fleet by 33%. Should it come to a crisis we will find our MPs deep in the bunker pushing imaginary divisions around the map.

It's one thing for our MPs to completely abandon any kind of involvement in trade, a travesty of its own, but to delegate defence of the realm to the bureaucrats and corporate lobbyists is nothing short of criminal. We have been here before with the Snatch Land Rover, whereby British forces suffered multiple unnecessary casualties, turning the tide of public opinion against further involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Scandal through that was, it was a political failure and one we stand to repeat on a much more frightening scale.

Across the board we have politicians who are not only incapable of doing the job, they show no interest in doing it. Incompetence is barely forgiveable, idle lack of interest, however, is inexcusable. MPs are only interested in defence when it is a polarising tribal issue like trident or if, like the QE class carriers, is creating jobs in their own back yard, but as far as everything else goes they have, through negligence, reduced our armed forces to a shell while they write cheques we can't cash. Says Think Defence, "there is a lot of power in soft power, but it means nothing without the hard power to back it up".

It is hard to say whether this atrophy of politics is entirely the consequence of EU membership but Brexit has certainly exposed our political class as venal, shallow and crass. Their collective ignorance is breathtaking. They are intellectually ill-equipped for the task at hand and risk the nation's prosperity with their dereliction of duty. Now, though, they risk the security of all of Europe through their indifference and self-indulgent narcissism. Parliamentary incompetence is now a national emergency. 

A dick move from the remainers

I listened this morning to Peter Wilding, of remainer think tank British Influence, talking to Nick Robinson about the EEA. Wilding makes a halfway credible defence of the EEA but it's very much the bubble line of argument rather than the more advanced arguments you'll find on the blogs.

What we learned from this exchange is that Nick Robinson has little understanding of the issues and does not know that Switzerland is not an EEA member. This is the real basics that a former political editor of the BBC really ought to know by now. The fact that Wilding did not pull him up on it shows that his own understanding is also quite shallow.

That is perhaps what prompts his new initiative to challenge the legality of leaving the single market. shot this down a while back but like all misapprehensions in this debate, it is one that refuses to die.

The technical arguments I need not rehearse, but this is a bit of a dick move on the part of Wilding. Resistance to the EEA comes from the Brexit hardliners, and launching yet another legal challenge only hardens their resistance as it reinforces the view that the powerful few are using their influence to overturn the referendum. It also marks a pretty dismal development when politics is subordinate to lawyers and judges.

The worst aspect of this is that this added pressure is largely unnecessary. There is no hint from Mrs May that she intends to play for a hard Brexit and this kind of activity makes the EEA seem like a Brexit in name only ploy that she must avoid. When you have a gin soaked Anna Soubry and Chuka Ummuna making the case for the EEA it becomes politically unpalatable. The best thing they could do right now is keep quiet and let moderate Brexiteers do the talking.

But this is really the establishment bubble all over. A media prattling on about something it has no understanding of, along with meddling from politicians who have no conception of just how repellent they are. And they wonder why we are leaving the EU!

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Getting the best from Brexit

There have been some encouraging votes of confidence in the UK with week, particularly from the motor industry. Employment figures look good too. I think though that it's best not to get too carried away because there will be a price to pay for Brexit. The motor industry is safe because we will retain AEO status, we will have a tariff free arrangement, and we might even be able to duck rules of origin requirements in this sector. I think on balance manufacturing will enjoy business as usual.

Some predicted that the very act of voting to leave would trigger a recession. It didn't but I imagine until we know what Brexit looks like there will be a degree of deferred investment - none of which matters especially to the average voter. I think the worst of the economic turmoil is a result of market panics which is largely because money follows money and markets do not behave rationally.

What we will see is a recovery of the pound and investment recovering when it sinks in that Brexit isn't the end of the world and the UK is not bent on hard Brexit. If anyone is to blame it's the media for their persistent ignorance and wilful mischief making. One of the downsides of being a democracy.

The question of whether we have an actual recession is an open one - and it's actually irrelevant. We could very easily avoid negative growth but that does not mean we couldn't still suffer a long period of hardship in the real economy. I now think that is the more likely scenario and I don't think it will all be attributable to Brexit. As to when it will kick in, nobody can say for sure but I think we will see it further down the line as we peel away from the EU and transitional arrangement begin to expire. That could be a decade away.

By that time business will have a far better idea of what Brexit looks like and will have adjusted their strategy accordingly. In this it is unlikely that the social impact will be severe because as far as the regions go, defence and infrastructure spending is huge. I think farming will be the key concern. Brexit for farming could go either way. It could either be the answer to their prayers or an unmitigated disaster.

In most respects the economic impact will largely depend on banking arrangements where we could either see radical change or no change at all. Most of all Brexit requires a major rethink of how invisible government works and who it answers to. A lot will be up in the air for quite a long time.

If you were to press me I would still say we likely will see a mild recession and one that doesn't really impact on the lives of most people. It won't be as bad as the financial crisis and most of us made it through that intact. For most people, the estimation of how well the economy is working is largely dependent on their own personal circumstances. For what was supposed to be one of the hardest times since the 1970s the crash had no real tangible impact on supply chains and the histrionics didn't pan out. If they didn't then, they won't now.

The problem we have is that the the mass liberalisation of trade as promised by Brexiteers isn't coming and deregulation isn't on the cards so if there are sunlit uplands it will on the back of an unexpected innovation in trade. Brexit at least makes that a possibility but the "bumper trade deals" as promised by Boris Johnson do not exist.

On the whole I expect Britain is going to be a little bit poorer for having left the EU for a couple of decades. That though is not going to matter. It won't take long to adapt and I expect it will be a catalyst for a number of social and cultural changes that will be most welcomed when they arrive. I think that will set the stage for a political renewal that we are much in need of.

The sticking point for remainers is that they don't see much wrong with the status quo and they don't think change should inconvenience them. Brexit will hit pensions and I think we will see more cuts to services. Understandably a lot of people want to avoid that. Having said that it should be noted that continued EU membership held no real certainty either. At best the economy is treading water and though some economic metrics look pretty good the story on the ground is one of a more fluid economy where pay is improving in some sectors but job security has vanished entirely.

We can also say that the EU wasn't going to offer us any solutions either. CETA is not home and dry yet and it looks like TTIP is dead in the water and there wasn't much else in the offing. We are looking at a state of trade normalisation where we can expect no real booms unless there is a revolutionary innovation. The advent of 3D printing is going to change a lot of trade patterns and the shipping industry is undergoing a complete remodelling. Nobody knows for certain what that will look like.

What we can say though is that having left the EU there is at least the potential for us improve our trade. I am absolutely convinced that Britain could be a trade facilitation pioneer. It's just a question of getting the government to realise that their focus on bilateral deals is wrongheaded and obsolete. If we had a McCarthyesque purge of DfID and cleared out the NGOcracy we could compete directly with China in opening up new markets in Africa. The biggest task we face is parting with bad ideas that have been entrenched for many years. DfID should not be a branch of Oxfam. Clearing out the EU mentality is necessary for us to move forward.

The big fear is that we won't and we will simply leave the old mindset in place and continue working the way we always have. That's the problem with having a middle of the road conservative party that is still effectively run by the dinosaurs from the Thatcher era. They may not be in office but they control the purse strings.

Ultimately the success of Brexit is not a given. It is something we will have to work at and we could very well make a pigs ear of it. The point though is that we have afforded ourselves a window of opportunity that we would not have otherwise. Ultimately it now depends on the political process and the people we elect.

That means that each of us now has to take more of an interest in politics than ever before, and start voting for candidates on merit rather than tribe. At the moment we are overburdened with dunces and halfwits many of whom take no real interest in anything at all beyond their own myopic preoccupations, particularly on the Labour benches.

Meanwhile the ideas machine behind the Tory party is still the same squalid circle jerk it always has been. It's now up to bloggers to start thinking and innovating and we need to bypass the London wastrels altogether. There is a long road ahead and if Brexit is to be a success then we will first need to replenish our politics.

Whether we have a recession or not is really neither here nor there. The decision has been made and though some would like to overturn the referendum that would be pointless. The genie is now out of the bottle. Just the sentiment to leave was a hammer blow to our membership and its going to happen one way or another. There's no putting things back as they were. What matters now is that for the first time in forty years we are free to choose our direction.

If we want to make the best of Brexit then we have to depart from the old ways. When I look at our current crop of MPs and our dismal media I see a system that has lost its way, in part thanks to having made itself obsolete under EU rule. Parliamentary democracy is not really democracy and the model is not really one befitting an internet age where citizens are now more engaged and informed than ever. Our establishment is a praetorian guard to prevent citizens having real power over their government.

If we want to build a better Britain and have politics fit for purpose then we need to change the way things get done. Our establishment has delivered failure after failure driving us ever deeper into debt, making the same mistakes over and over. Brexit alone doesn't change that. To go the rest of the way we have to break the cycle. If we are to "take back control" that means taking back control from our government.

It's time to clip parliament's wings

The former Chancellor Alistair Darling has warned that disillusioned voters who backed Brexit could flock to a populist nationalist movement headed by a Donald Trump-like figure as they turn against Theresa May’s Government.

Darling suggested that Ukip or a similar movement could reap the benefit, reflecting fears among Mr Corbyn’s Labour critics that the party leader is not appealing to its party’s traditional working class supporters. “You can see what’s happened with the rise of Ukip. The orthodox wisdom at the time Ukip came on the scene was it was colonels who read The Daily Telegraph, but where they have been making big gains is up the east coast of England, the North-east and the North,” said Lord Darling.

This is, however, nonsense. The only thing that could revive the insurgent Ukip is parliament somehow blocking Brexit - which seems increasingly unlikely. I know Arron Banks wants to keep the wagon rolling but Ukip is bankrupt and unless he is willing to bankroll the whole show then it's going nowhere.

Worse still, there isn't a holy grail like Brexit to pursue. This tawdry "drain the swamp" nonsense of his is going nowhere. It's quite obviously a Trumpism and it's not going to gain any popular traction. Through Breitbart, they intend to stir up a popular revolt against the Westminster establishment. The problem they've got is that the styling is all wrong. It's brash, gloating and most of all un-British. It can be popular but not popular enough and the more it sings to its fan-base the more repellent it is to everyone else.

What's more, it doesn't work. It doesn't even work in America. Yes Trump is going to be president but that's only because very large numbers of voters simply didn't bother to vote. Trump is an accident of numbers. Had the Democrats put up virtually anyone with a pulse who wasn't Hilary Clinton they would have beaten Trump.

Moreover, Arron Banks hasn't learned the lessons at all. Any upstart movement is going to be under intense scrutiny. Just like Ukip was. What that media scrutiny showed was that Ukip was a rabble without credibility and just as likely to be crooked as those they seek to replace. There is no reason to believe that an operation from the same stable would be any different. Further to this, having so closely aligned himself with Trump and Breitbart they are going to struggle to shake off the smell of the far right.

There is also one other consideration. There really isn't any point. Fielding candidates is entirely the wrong way to go about it. The SNP shows us that much. Through disciplined grunt work at the local level they managed to capture a wave of disillusionment but in a short time their MPs have proven themselves to be infinitely corruptible and unlikely to achieve anything at all. These upstart movements always end up being worse that what they replace.

Part of the problem is the system itself. I don't think any of our MPs went into politics with dishonourable intent and certainly not to get rich. But when you have a system that pays them more than they would ever make in the real world, puts them in charge of a small staff and makes them feel important they start believing their own bullshit and pretty soon start feeling entitled to all the perks and privileges. It's actually no surprise that the working class MPs are the worst when it comes to dodgy expenses claims. Money goes to their heads and they don't know how to use money effectively.

There's one other issue too. The system is corrupt but MPs themselves as a rule are not. A lot of the anonymous back benchers are fairly ordinary, serve a couple of terms, fail to make an impact and then end up working as a consultant or non executive director. It's a bit grubby but hardly grounds for a full blown revolution. Corruption isn't really the issue.

The really affliction of British politics is the bubble effect where the higher you go the more out of touch you are. The bubble has its own narrative and and they exist on another planet entirely. In this the media is even worse than the politicians.

What people are sick of is is having no real say in how they are governed while at the same time being governed by liars and morons. There is no point chucking them out only to replace them with the same or worse. If we want change then it is the system that must change, not the people inside it.

This is ultimately why any new movement from the Ukip stable will ultimately fail. What Banks and Farage have in common is they are both incredibly lazy. They both think they can wing it. Neither have any particular idea of what they want to achieve or how or even what the real problem is. This is common with the rest of our politics. They all have their hobby horse ideas like open primaries and proportional representation - tinkering with the means of electing people to the same system.

None of these remedial activities actually address the root causes of the problem. PR is a pretty terrible idea. For sure it might mean that more ordinary people become MPs but that's actually not the problem. The SNP proves that people they drag in off the street can become MPs. All PR does is give crackpot fringe parties a shot at winning seats. Ultimately it does nothing to correct the problem.

What the Brexit fallout has shown is that parliament does not represent the people and because of the bubble dynamic it never will. Changing the people in parliament doesn't work because parliament is the problem. There are virtually no constitutional constraints as to what they can do in our name or what they can do to us and elections are a completely inadequate means of holding them to account.

Our parliamentary democracy means putting all of the power into the hands of a few who operate in an entirely alien environment where the people have no real power of veto. They have the power, and the natural consequence of that is they use that power to accumulate more powers, sucking power away from councils and handing it to Brussels. While Brexit solves part of the problem, it doesn't really address the fact that we are still governed by a remote centralised system to which we cannot say no. This is what makes Westminster such a magnet for a particular breed of control freak.

Any movement concern with making lasting change needs to be concerned not with the people who wield power but where power resides. Most of what parliament does is busywork that could and should be devolved to the regional level, and if the system was functioning properly we wouldn't need full time MPs as they would only concern themselves with the issues of national significance. As to the larger decisions, we have proved time and again that government cannot be trusted and so we must have more direct democracy.

Politics will always have a degree of corruption. Politicians will always be corruptible and will always a magnet for lobbyists for as long as they hold the power. Politicians are never going to be saints and it doesn't matter how well intentioned new parties might be, they always become what they hate. It's really no use "draining the swamp" unless you're going to concrete over it. It's about time we did.

Friday, 25 November 2016

Referendum reenactment society

I just listened to Alastair Campbell on BBC Any Questions. Yes yes I know, I need to go out and make some friends. Between Blair, Major and the old gang we really are seeing a last ditch remain attempt. As bad as its proponents are the shrillness tells me that they really have lost the game. Everything in between now and Article 50 is just noise. Between a hated old elite and a Labour party that doesn't even know what the single market is, the remainers have lost it completely.

There I days when I look at the shambles of the leave crew and the weakness of their narrative and think we are not leaving - but this swansong of the remainers puts me at ease. It is an alliance of the deceivers. The people who now believe in having second referendums are the very people most averse to the idea of first referendums. Because they would, by their own admission, lose them. These are the people who had to ram through the Maastricht and Lisbon Treaties, doing everything they could to avoid any kind of consultation.

The message now is that we are so hopelessly dependent on the EU for wealth and prosperity that we cannot leave. Effectively what the old gang are saying is that their legacy is irreversible - as indeed it was intended to be. Except of course all these treaties are, at the end of the day, just pieces of paper and articles of faith. Nothing in law or politics is irreversible. It is only a question of whether we are willing to pay the price. Turns out for all their shrieking that we are.

In this, virtually nobody thinks a second referendum is a good idea. There's no space for one. A referendum after Article 50 is triggered is simply presents a choice of hard Brexit or whatever is negotiated. A referendum before Article 50 is triggered is just a vote that says "we heard what you said, we don't like the result, so fuck off plebs, we're going again!". As bankrupt as that is, this government is not going to propose it so why it is even up for debate beats the hell out of me.

Effectively what we are seeing is the old gang still in denial. The democracy dodging dinosaurs are still in disbelief that the majority of people would quite happily bin their collective legacy. I don't deny that these are influential people but they have missed their window to act. Should we stay in the EU as a result of their string pulling it would be yet one more sign that the system is impervious to democracy and we would teach that to a new generation. There's no escaping it. The will to leave the EU will last for as long as there is an EU. It is now a generational saga.

For all the exchange of sophisticated arguments among the political class, of which you and I are a part, the man in the Almondsbury Social Club knows only one thing. He voted to leave and expects that to be honoured. Should we stay in the EU he will tell his children that voting doesn't matter. That has consequences and ultimately that would be the true legacy of the old gang.

The bottom line is that Britain voted, for whatever reason, to leave the EU. The old gang can offer up whatever reasoning they like but I promise you that it wasn't because of something written on the side of a bus. The raw sentiment was a rejection of a political class that thinks their grand designs should not be subject to the approval of voters. The Referendum Reenactment Society of Campbell, Blair and Major can only ever demonstrate why Brexit was necessary. The more they say the more relaxed I am that we are leaving the European Union.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Remainers are playing with fire

Most of the prominent Leave figures went on record to say that it was not the responsibility of the leave campaign to have a Brexit plan. Repeat offenders include Gisela Stuart and Julia Brewer Hartley. Consequently Vote Leave has no post-referendum leverage beyond their wafer thin win margin.

Having failed to establish a coherent set of demands it is now left to the government to find a path out of the EU. Because there was no plan and because Vote Leave campaigned on a number of falsehoods and unrealistic assumptions leavers do not get to dictate the terms of our exit.

As each week passes, a new reality comes to light, further eating into the claims of Vote Leave and consequently the legitimacy of the vote is increasingly brought into question. Those who fought to remain are asking why we should commit ourselves to a massive undertaking with uncertain economic consequences on the back of a false bill of goods.

That brings to light another of Vote Leave's failings in keeping the campaign an insular Westminster club without acknowledging other leavers and other points of view on the leave side. They monopolised the campaign, quite deliberately, and now their central arguments are taken as the given reasons for leaving. They have painted us leavers into a corner. The longer this drags on, the weaker the Vote Leave case for leaving gets. Which way this now goes is uncertain.

Presently there are deep divisions in the Conservative party between hardcore remainers, hard Brexiteers and the lesser heard sane voices. Parliament could, if Mrs May loses her appeal, still rock the boat. This has many worried that Brexit may not happen at all. As my regular readers know I do not have a stellar track record when it comes to political predictions. My hunch is that after a lengthy period of bickering Article 50 will be invoked - but we should still consider the possibility that it will not.

Let's game this. Let's say Parliament manages to torpedo Article 50. Just imagine how loudly every leaver in the country would scream. The debate then goes nuclear, MPs get death threats and we see ugly protests outside the House of Commons. Leaving the EU then becomes a conservative party manifesto pledge. That much is not in question. The honour of the Tory party is at stake. We are so used to broken promises from the Conservative Party that our votes are only on loan to them for the purposes of leaving the EU. The only way Mrs May keeps those votes is to honour the bargain on the right.

That then sees the next general election becoming a re-run of the referendum. In this, all May has to do keep up a level of credibility to walk it. The Ukip vote goes to the Tories while the remain vote is split between a shattered and deeply pathetic Labour party and the Lib Dems - and let's face it, Tim Farron is a worm and everybody can see it. After that Mrs May will have the clear majority she needs. It may take a while longer to get the job done but it will get done.

But let us say for arguments sake that I am being overly optimistic and somehow parliament blocks Brexit and it loses all support in the house. That's our MPs basically saying "fuck off plebs, we're in charge". Well, that's "game on" isn't it?

We have the worst crop of politicians in living memory. As you know I quite like Mrs May. I have a real soft spot for her even though her policies are a bit stodgy for my tastes. I think she has integrity. But Tony Blair is right. She is a lightweight and it is starting to show through the cracks. We are getting subtle hints that she doesn't have a full grasp of the issues. She won't survive a leadership battle and the battle will be a fight to the death between the Tory right and the remainers. Let's say out of pessimism that the hard right loses. Brexit is dead. Ukip completely buried.

Where are we then? Imagine it. A House of Commons lead by remainers, entirely self-satisfied that they have crushed an insurgency, back to lightweight Blairite policies (with only half the political competence) in a country that utterly despises them, where the message has been received loud and clear that your vote means fuck all and voting cannot bring about change.

We will have witnessed the last hurrah of a spent, corrupt and failing parliamentary system. By now we have heard all the rhetoric about "the establishment" and the media has used up all its lines about political insurgencies. We will have arrived at a political stalemate not between the parties but between the people and their government. I think at that point, all bets are off. Parliament will have lost all of its moral authority and our continued membership of the EU (and any UK government interaction with it) would be viewed as open defiance of the people.

It is also worth gaming how the EU would react to continued British membership knowing that Britain is a member against the wishes of its people. It brings the whole EU into question. What we then have is a political and media class more despised than ever while the EU question remains an open, festering sore. And this is something remainers need to think about very seriously .

My previous post was chastising hard brexiteers, but the remainers are in fact their equal and opposite number. Neither have any intention of reaching a compromise or a consensus. While the hard Brexiteers would deliver an economic blow, remainers are paving the way for an era of the most toxic uncertain and turbulent politics imaginable.

Worse still, things do not go back to how they were before the referendum. Brexit is now a real word in the political lexicon and it does not go away until we do leave. It is always a spectre hanging over Britain and the EU and the EU itself cannot progress until the matter is resolved. In the meantime investment steers clear of the UK while there is an overall loss of confidence in Britain as a place to do business and as a democracy.

We then see a far right surge. There will be no Ukip-esque attempts to pass as moderate. It will be an unhinged Breitbarter party and ordinary people, out of disgust more than anything else, will vote for it. Last time around Ukip failed because it lacked ruthlessness and organisation - and because there were still people willing to give the Tories the benefit of the doubt. In this scenario, we see a badly burned electorate no longer willing to play by the rules, no longer bound by any code and not in the least bit willing to hear out the mainstream parties. And then there will be voters like me who simply elect to stay at home. I wouldn't vote for a Breitbart party but wouldn't be moved to try and stop them.

The choice before parliament is to try and hold out for a few more years in this countdown to extinction - or do as they have been instructed and negotiate a an amicable separation from the EU. If they opt for the latter then we can set about moving forward. If not then this forty year old dispute goes septic. In the end that sees British politics pushed to the point of no return and we leave the EU unilaterally. The hardest of hard Brexits.

There is only one certainty in this. One way or another, Britain will cease to be a member of the European Union. The establishment is already on thin ice and if our politicians choose to stand in the way then they are signing their own death warrants. They stand to do lasting damage and will harm us in unimaginable ways. Politics will never be the same again. That's what real "uncertainty" looks like.

Please, no more Brexit nonsense

The Brexit headcases are growing in number and they are growing impatient. I share their frustration but Brexit was never going to happen quickly. Annoyingly though, the idea that we can simply pull the plug and walk away is a seductive idea that simply will not die.

Whether we can legally leave the EU unilaterally is really a debate for men who wear wigs and gowns (no, not Richard Branson), but the real question is whether we would want to. There are grave consequences for doing so.

To pick just one example, if we left the EU unilaterally then the air transport regulations cease to apply to us and we'd lose our non-secured aviation rights. The right to pick up passengers on intermediate flights between airports not comprising of your own territory, and which is not an end destination, is not a given right. It is what is known as a fifth freedom right, which only came in with the third aviation package, by way of Council Regulation. Overnight we would obliterate UK airlines and send schedules into chaos.

Similarly goods could not pass between Dover and Calais because Calais is not equipped to handle freight from third countries (countries without customs agreements). The hard Brexit nutcases think it's a simply a matter of knocking up a quick deal of tariffs and going on our merry way. It isn't.

There are hundreds of similar regulatory considerations, leases and contracts. There are no quick fixes, no temporary sticking plasters and no magic wands. Over the last forty years we have dismantled a lot of our own domestic administration capacity and we will not be able to "take back control" until we have rebuilt our domestic governance systems and adequately planned the handover. 

There's everything from medicines approval to food safety surveillance to consider, all of which makes up multiple tiers of invisible government which is seldom ever acknowledged but keeps the wheels of civilisation turning. 

While the temptation to tell them to shove it is ever present, and believe me I've had my moments, unilateral withdrawal would plunge the UK into every kind of crisis imaginable and would cost a good deal more than £350m a week to sort out. Omnishambles doesn't even come close.

Brexit will have to be handled carefully and forensically, and must be meticulously planned in order ensure a smooth transition. That is absolutely paramount to the economy and national security. Hard brexiteers should also consider what would happen to our credit rating if we took drastic measures. 

If I were to detail every last consequence of unilateral Brexit we would be here all week. Even a negotiated settlement that involves leaving the single market creates numerous administrative difficulties for exporters and they need time to plan and adjust their budgets. The simple truth is that hard Brexit, whichever way you want to define it, is simply not a realistic proposition. 

This is not a matter of remoaner catastrophising. I have been committed to getting us out of the EU all of my adult life. We just have to recognise that forty years of economic, social and political integration is not undone at the stroke of a pen. To pretend otherwise is to grossly underestimate the extent of what has been done in our name over the last forty years - the very thing we have been warning voters about all this time. 

Suzanne Evans, Nigel Farage, John Redwood, Arron Banks, Bernard Jenkin and all the rest of them have long since given up thinking. Their steadfast refusal to engage in reality is a symptom of the bubble mentality. It borders on the psychotic. They are being dishonest with voters and with themselves. Whether we like it or not, and believe me I don't like it, we have to leave the same way we went in. Gradually. 

It will be many years before we see any tangible benefits to Brexit. Ultimately we voted to leave to stop the UK being subsumed into a federal Europe and to safeguard democracy. It doesn't matter if it takes five, ten or even twenty years just so long as the job gets done. We have waited this long to start the ball rolling. Waiting a little while longer won't hurt. Reckless gambles based on assumptions serve nobody. If leavers continue to insist on making Brexit a binary proposition then they risk Brexit not happening at all. The public will rightly turn in the other direction. 

This June we won a significant victory. D-Day. But it was only a beachhead and there is long fight ahead of us to see it through to the end. In this we must fight will as much skill as determination. Dogmatic, unreasonable and hasty moves from hardline leavers could see all of our work undone. It's time to get serious and drop this hard Brexit nonsense. 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

A crisis of parliamentary competence

By now I assuming you have all seen the video above. My opinion of Labour MPs, I thought, could not sink any lower. For sure, gross stupidity is not confined to the opposition benches but Labour does seem to have a talent for selecting particularly cretinous females. One had assumed the base level of stupidity bottomed out with Angela Rayner and the ultra-dense Jess Phillips but it turns out you can sink lower.

What one immediately notices is that all of these quarter-wits were selected from an all women shortlist. It seems that the only qualifying criteria for selection is a pulse and a vagina. For followers of the Westminster bubble this probably comes as no great surprise but it's something of a shock to me. Being attuned to policy rather than politicians I do not keep many tabs on the flapping mouths of Westminster.

I was acutely aware that the SNP were graceless chippy misanthropes and had assumed this was merely the quality of having won seats unexpectedly. One would have thought that Labour, a mature party of some standing for many years, would have a functioning branch system that could weed out the chaff. Evidently not.

Of course it would be remiss not to point out that the Tories have their fair share of thickos. Andrea Leadsom has not covered herself in glory and Priti Patel is similarly underwhelming. All in all women are extremely badly represented in politics.

That said, it is unfair to single out the women. John Redwood is not a man I credit with intellect and when it comes to time served with a dunce cap on the head, many on the front bench have certainly racked up the hours. It may be that it's just the regional accents which make stupid people sound considerably more stupid. I don't know.

What seems to have happened is that political parties have sought to be more representative. For many years now the public, myself included, have wondered why parliament doesn't seem to be the domain of "real people". Well now it is. After the slick and well polished Blair and Cameron we now have MPs more in line ordinary folk, as indeed parliament is intended to be. We make a virtue of representative democracy. Well folks, this is what it looks like. Awful.

By plucking any hapless biped off the streets to serve a parliamentary term, we have possibly one of the least capable parliaments of all time and the worst crop of politicians in living memory. To an extent though, that should not concern us. Stupidity is fluid affliction and with careful training even the most moronic can be primed to perform simple tasks. What should concern us though is the character of our MPs now.

Brexit is the most constitutionally seismic event for a great many years. MPs have known full well it was on the cards and have had two years to prepare. By this point, to not know what the single market and the customs union is, is pure professional negligence.

In this I do not expect MPs to be fully conversant in all of the technicalities. I'm not. Right now there are plenty of debates unfolding going over the intricacies of trade and when it comes to trade imbalances and tariffs I'd probably have to don the dunce cap with the rest of them, but it is the innate lack of curiosity or sense of obligation to find out what these basic terms mean - when it is their job to know - that tells us we are not well served at all.

Having made a good deal of noise about the sanctity of parliamentary sovereignty, seeking to second guess the decision of the people, parliament has asserted its superiority over the people. In this parliamentary democracy we are subordinates to them. Now that they have, we learn that these people have no idea what the EU is or how it functions - yet presume to tell us that it is in our best interests to remain within it.

We are told that deliberative democracy is a safety mechanism to avoid egregiously stupid decisions but when we are in such a state where parliament is less informed than the man in the street then we really have no need of it. The choice that voters made in the referendum was made with at least as much, if not more, consideration than our MPs have given it. What have they done to deserve the extraordinary privileges we grant them and what right have they to second guess us?

If this is now the best our selection process can deliver then it is time to reappraise parliamentary democracy and move to a more direct model of democracy. If we are going to have stupid people making decisions then it is better if we cut out the middleman and widen the sample so at least the decisions are not taken from within this claustrophobic Westminster bubble. As a model, parliamentary democracy is spent - and if we wouldn't trust these people with so much as a TV remote then we most certainly cannot trust them to run the country.

Autumn statement: it's the democracy, stupid

I tend not to pay too much attention to economic metrics. It seems to me that people read them whichever way they want to read them and project their own hobby horse assumptions with them. If I want that sort of blogging I go to Flipchart Rick, who is a prestige merchant, drawing only on sources permitted within the bubble.

Depending on who you read, the latest OBR statistics are evidence of either a total Brexit catastrophe or the complete opposite. Flipchart Rick is a utilitarian. The only thing that matters to him is the numbers. Democracy, however, goes beyond dry economic metrics and in this economics to takes a back seat to matters of identity, self-determination and the spiritual needs of humanity. All of which is presumably backward mumbo jumbo to economists.

Me, I prefer to view economics in its proper context and I don't think we should be slaves numbers. The human spirit very often defies expectations and the future is not predictable. All we can do is take our best shot based on the best advice available. In this the greatest enemy is certitude. We could very easily condemn ourselves to drudgery if we didn't let our ambitions and desires transcend the pragmatic.

One example of economic hocus pocus this week is the suggestion by Credit Suisse that Brits are automatically $1.5 trillion worse off just for having voted to leave. By some jiggery pokery that might even be true but how do you persuade half the population who have nothing to begin with that they are going to be worse off?

Rick has it that "with NHS, schools and defence budgets protected, to an extent, this means an ever tighter squeeze on everything else. The cost of the Brexit process, including thousands of extra civil servants, will also have to be found from this shrinking pot".

It really depends on your worldview as to whether that is a good or bad thing. Personally I think the rot really set in in Britain as the government got wealthier and as it set about nationalising and bureacratising public life, it destroyed the voluntary ethos that underpins community. I think New Labour was one of the worst things ever to happen to the UK.

Consequently if Brexit does defund big government we might actually see a newly mobilised voluntary sector and in the process people will rightly start asking why it has any right to tell us how to go about such things when government is not funding such initiatives,

The bottom line is that I think we need major democratic reform, a major cultural revolution and that will necessarily mean kicking over a few anthills. I don't care what the numbers say. The numbers can give us some useful warnings, for instance, the OBR forecasts that lower immigration will cost UK £16bn and we want to think very carefully about closing doors, but the idea that the numbers should deter us from doing what we each feel is necessary to bring about a society we want to live in is bankrupt.

As it happens, this blog among many others went to considerable lengths to disavow Vote Leave's £350m claim and warned that Brexit could cost considerably more. I even went as far as predicting a recession, which may yet manifest itself. The fact is there is a process to go through as a corrective to what has been done in our name and without our consent.  

And you can talk to me about deficits and national debt if you like but a lot of the spending we are doing in this decade is to plug policy gaps left by the last three governments. The Royal Navy has been pruned and neglected and all the while we were living the high life on borrowed money we did little to address our energy needs instead focusing on vanity toys and renewables.

A vote to remain in the EU was to vote for more of the same narcissistic government pursuing ever more expensive and dubious goals while continuing to neglect the basics. The only great pity of Brexit is that the same establishment that got us into this mess is tasked with getting us out of it. 

I'm not taken with the panglossian nonsense of leavers for a moment and I don't believe Brexit will bring about a jobs surge or see "bumper deals" rolling in. I think we are going to have to work double time just to tread water for at least a decade - but the point is that we very much have departed from the post war settlement which has stagnated and run out of ideas. To borrow a phrase, the future's not set, there's no fate but what we make for ourselves. 

It could be that we have made a mistake, but then again we were voting not for what happens in this years Autumn Statement, but for what happens ten years down the line, not for our immediate financial concerns but for the democratic and social life of the nation. What's sure as anything, that is just as much a valid estimation as what the clever people think

There was always going to be a price to pay for Brexit. We heard the warnings, we made our choice and ultimately we won't know what it means for some time. What we do know is that it was time for change and now that ball is rolling. Whether it is a success or not depends on whether we are going to grasp the challenge with both hands or sit around moaning about it. It will take more than a gloomy interim forecast to change my mind. 

Cox: the shame of our media

Today sees the completion of the Thomas Mair trial. He has been handed a whole life sentence for his brutal crime. The trial was largely a formality to establish for the record the events of that day. He was very obviously guilty. It should need no further comment. Save for one.

From the accounts of what police found in Mair's house we get an insight into his motivation. Police found the full monty of sociopathic white supremacist reading material and nazi paraphernalia along with detailed notes about his target. Mair was a dedicated scholar of evil. And that should be noted.

Mair is the genuine article and needed no "tabloid inflammation". This killing is absolutely not the result of a "toxic atmosphere" in public discourse, nor will it happen again just because of few robust tweets. The suggestion that full and frank debate of issues results in such horrors is entirely bogus and, in fact, free and robust debate is our best defence against it.

It is a particular kind of brain that can can take political extremism to the next level and while holders of extreme ideas are fairly common, very few can make that final mental leap to kill. This is a one off. This particular crime was premeditated, calculated and meticulously planned. It could have happened at any time in any conditions. The profile of his target tells you that much. It was a political assassination.

In that regard, James O'Brien, Polly Toynbee and Alex Massie (among others) should hang their heads in shame for suggesting that those who feel strongly about leaving the European Union are in some way akin with Mair, (a committed fascist with murderous intent), and consequently share culpability for Cox's murder.

Such cynical opportunism represents the very worst of British media and should be viewed in a similar light to the transgressions of the tabloids that these individuals in particular rail against. They are no different, they are no better. The self-serving manipulation of such events for political outcomes is one of the more revolting facets of contemporary debate - and if anything contributes to a toxic anti-establishment atmosphere it is that.

The blame for Cox's murder belongs solely to Thomas Mair and for his crime he will rot in prison, forgotten and unmourned. That is the fullest extent of punishment that British law allows and the judge has shown no hesitation in handing down that sentence. That should draw a line under it. There are no lessons to be learned here, no introspection to be had. This is merely a consequence of a free and open society and on occasion this will happen.

In all the platitudinal noise we will hear surrounding this crime, democracy will be a central theme - a component of which is free speech and open debate. It should be noted that attempts to shut down such debate are more in line with the ideas of Mair than Cox. Let that sink in, James O'Brien, Polly Toynbee, Alex Massie. 

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

To halt Putin we must solve our own existential quandary

As a commenter on this blog put it to me just recently, "Putin is a symbol of patriotic anti-liberalism (as in modern lefty-liberalism, not traditional liberalism). For modern liberals he must be defeated, so that their world view can continue to triumph. This isn’t a matter of principle based on Putin’s character deficiencies but merely another fight between modern liberalism and conservatism. That is why trying to introduce some rationality into the debate is bound to fall on deaf ears".

There is a lot of truth in that. Putin is a very much a self-styled anti-liberal and the attacks in recent years on LGBT rights are a strong signal to that effect. While it horrifies western liberals, majority-Orthodox countries in Eastern Europe are paying very close attention. There is a battle for the soul of eastern Europe in which the West is cack-handedly imposing social mores and that is why the West is losing. 

The first step to sorting out a mess is to realise that you are making a mess and to stop doing those things that make it worse. John R. Schindler, a former National Security Agency analyst and counterintelligence officer, remarks that "if Trump decides to get the State Department out of the business of exporting our sexual mores to countries where they’re not wanted, that might cool things down with Moscow somewhat. However, the hard-wired strategic rivalry between the West and Russia will remain, no matter what pleasantries get exchanged between our leaders".

That is exactly as I see it. It is unlikely we are going to reconcile our differences with Russia but we can at least normalise relations and cool down the stalemate. That is the best we can hope to achieve and if it averts a new cold war then it would be a much needed foreign policy win. We are presently at a crossroads where things could go either way.

Schindler notes this week the Iskander-M missiles systems deployed to Kaliningrad, which Moscow has said was merely part of a military exercise, will be staying there permanently. Since those missiles can launch nuclear or conventional warheads as far as 300 miles with stunning accuracy, Russia now holds a powerful military advantage over NATO in the Baltic region.

"Predictably, the Kremlin maintains that moving state-of-the art missiles into Kaliningrad is a response to American ballistic missile defenses which have been deployed in Eastern Europe. As usual, Moscow depicts all its military moves, even ones which are destabilizing to regional security, as cosmically defensive, so great is the Western threat to Russia".

If I recall, the US missiles deployed to Eastern Europe were more at the behest of the US defence industry than at the request of Poland. Russia's pretext is not entirely without justification. But then this very much is a game of chess, where Putin is playing the long game establishing beachheads with a view to annexing former Soviet states. This has already succeeded in Ukraine and there is nothing we can do about it except to take up a firm position of deterrence.

But this is where our own culture war comes into play. Our own liberal establishment, which is imposing unwanted liberal impositions on the popular morality domestically as well as abroad, is losing moral authority. They are very much testing the tolerance of their populations to the limit while at the same time cultivating an authoritarian and illiberal regime where if one has a different opinion you make sure you keep it to yourself.

That in some way explains the spike in what we now call hate crimes in that Brexit and the election of Trump once again allows for open debate and the free expression of politically incorrect opinion. In the west we live under the conceit that we have changed attitudes when in fact all we have done is stifled free speech and buried all opposition to the liberal narrative. Hardly surprising then that we are seeing a backlash.

It is said that Russian propaganda in the West is responsible for turning populations against the establishment - but is in fact merely articulating attitudes that already exist that our state broadcaster will not even debate. So much so that popular politically incorrect BBC comedies from the 1970's have been all but erased and sent down the memory hole. Our own establishment is terrified by mere ideas.

As it happens most people are ok with homosexuality. Most people are tolerant and most people in the end would not wish to see persecution of gays, violent assaults or discrimination in the work place. Where social conservatives draw the line is the fact that gay marriage was effectively brought about by a diktat without debate and we have become so openly "liberal" that if you look at pictures of London Gay Pride marches, we are bordering on normalising sexual deviancy.

For the virtue signalling liberal youth its all jolly good fun and a chance to parade one's right-on credentials but it is in fact a collective gloat in that anyone who thinks it is over the top is no longer even entitled to a public opinion on the subject. Certainly not if they wish to keep their social standing in polite society.

Where I stand on this particular matter is neither here nor there, but in all honesty I am not wholly convinced that homosexuality and bisexuality is occurring genetically as is the established view, and the increased instances we see in the West are a product of an ever more confused culture and could in fact be a Darwinian population stress response in societies where house prices are high and the cost of raising children is prohibitive. There are any number of social factors which have not been properly explored because of a politically correct kosh hanging over academia

I expect even now this post has raised some eyebrows because what I am saying here is not something presently inside the spectrum political acceptability, and to merely discuss it is a deviation and therefore bigotry. That is where we are at now, where even questioning an orthodoxy out of genuine enquiry is considered impolite and bigoted. As it happens I don't actually care either way but the point is that rather a lot of people do, and if we want a liberal society then we have to change minds through open debate rather than bury ideas.

The socially conservative among us are rightly concerned that we do not end up in the mess America is in where there are dozens of genders, and gender identity issues leading to all manner of psychological illnesses. We first need to know if we are seeing a genuine medical issue or socio-political psychological disorder - for want of better terminology (sounds a bit nazi!). The confusion we are now sowing in young people is leading to depression and suicide and when you look at Caitlyn Jenner, and the fawning cult built up around her, I genuinely wouldn't be surprised if provincial Poles and Ukrainians would rather go back into the Russian sphere than to become the degenerate mess that is now the USA.

Effectively, said with some mirth, we have become godless heathens in no position to be exporting our values. Furthermore the idea that we can export our so-called democratic values is also up for question in that we are increasingly electing either the intellectually subnormal or the criminally insane. The West is in a right old mess and our "democracy" is broken. Perhaps Turkey looking East is symptomatic?

In this, Putin is setting himself up as the defender of Christian values (whatever those are these days) where his authoritarianism is the equal and opposite of our own. Putin is pointing to the West and making a case that we have become so embroiled in our own navel-gazing that we have lost the capacity to adequately respond to existential threats such as Islamism where the inevitable consequence is the massacres in Paris. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn;t Melanie Phillips make that case?

Some observe that the propaganda efforts of Putin are now to sow just enough confusion that there is a tacit mandate for him to pretty much do as he pleases - and if that is the case then it seems to work. The fact Putin is murdering his way through his political opposition and jailing journalists doesn't seem to count for much these days.

It seems to me that the political elites of the West have become so far detached from their own citizenry that the values they export are those imposed on the us rather than judeo-christian values which are probably stronger than anyone still suspects. Through wealth and general slovenliness though we have abandoned faith and given way to a weak secularism that allows any old values to fill the vacuum. We have no answers.

Now at this point, if you're thinking this post is a load of rambling introspection, then you're absolutely right. (You may have another word for it). The purpose of this post is to explore how some of these issues interrelate. If the West wants to make a principled defence of liberty in the face of Russian illiberalism and aggression then Western leaders need to get back in touch with their peoples and we need a no holds barred debate about all of the politically correct assumptions we have been living under for the last three decades. Just how liberal are we really?

As much as Putin is able to exploit our military disarray he is able to exploit the West's own existential funk. This is why to my mind the weakening of the EU could not have come sooner. The Commission is no longer able to act as a rogue non-state actor and it is now only one voice among many now that Brexit has emboldened Poland, Romania and Hungary to speak up in their own names.

The decision as to whether we stand up to Putin in all things has to be one taken by common agreement rather than it being the geo-political DNA of a dysfunctional and dying supranational project. In this I believe there is common ground to be found with Russia that the European Commission could never find. There may be a way to pause the escalation and there may be a way forward where our allies do not have to choose between the dead hand of Russian authoritairnsm and the death spiral of the West.

It seems to me that we have few remaining chances to dissuade Russia from further destabilising Europe. To my mind that means cutting our losses where we have already failed but reinforcing our deterrent to ensure that state of hard-wired rivalry does not spiral into something that we will all live to regret. The election of Trump is a sign that America can meet Russia half way now that hyper-liberalism is dead. There may even be a way for UK to broker a new settlement. Whatever that looks like - it looks a lot better than war.

I wish I'd been a remainer

Running a blog is not an easy thing to do. This is my third blogspot, and to date the most successful, but only through persistence and a lot of hard work. It doesn't get nearly the sort of hits it should get for the effort that goes into it. I think this is because it is a fairly niche blog. The hardcore rump of the leave "movement" (for want of a better word) have a very particular narrative to which I do not subscribe and in fact I have more common ground with most remainers than I do leavers. For the most part they have a better command of the details.

One such example was Dr Mike Galsworthy's video critique of Brexit the Movie (BTM). BTM was an absolute travesty. I really wanted to tear into Galsworthy because I have a strong dislike of him, his sneering superior attitude and his overall dishonesty, but I had to let that video critique slide because nothing he said about it was anything I wouldn't have.

Similarly InFacts did not make life very easy in that they picked all the soft targets; Hannan, Redwood and the rest. The attacked all the Vote Leave core arguments in such a way that it was impossible to come to the defence of the leave side. My only real critique of InFacts, apart from their selection bias was that they did a pretty dismal job compared to the demolition job I would have done in their place, and if they'd read this blog they would have found new material with which to beat them over the head.

From an entirely selfish point of view I really do wish I'd been a remainer. It would have been so much more rewarding from a publishing perspective and I would have been acknowledged by the official campaign. Had I been for remaining in the EU I expect this blog would have had three times the exposure. Instead this blog, among others aligned with The Leave Alliance, continues to toil in obscurity - and though we made something of an impact, mainstream history will not make mention of us.

It is said that history is written by the victors. In this case history is written by the establishment media. In their book Vote Leave was the voice of the leave campaign and there are no other points of view. But that's because Vote Leave is very much a branch of the establishment too. In no way could it be considered a grassroots campaign and was conducted entirely through the London media using mainstream politicians and Tory party affiliates.

This is really what the establishment is. An overriding orthodoxy whereby it does not matter who you are or what you say. If you do not have prestige, connections and subsequently the acknowledgement of media you don't exist. There is no grey area.

In this there were plenty of nobodies on the remain side who were acknowledged by media simply because they conform to the establishment narrative, and because they only made arguments within the parameters allowed. The media then picks the low hanging fruit to represent the opposition. This dynamic is wonderfully sketched out by a friend of mine on Facebook who is, not for the first time, quoted on this blog...
"And now on BBC Radio 4, to talk to us about the EU, we have Professor Claus van der Reasoning, an expert on the European Union and a jolly good chap. Professor van der Reasoning is the Clegg Professor of Europe at the European Institute of Europe and has absolutely no axe to grind.

Here to give the anti-European perspective is Sir Henry Bigot MP, a foam-flecked lunatic who hates and little else, and was once reported by the Guardian to have felched David Duke while singing Horst Wessel Lied. He may experience technical issues.

Welcome both of you to this balanced programme that represents both sides of the argument."
And this is actually why the likes of Farage are now on our screens and on the front pages. In that regard, Farage and co are tools of the establishment. They never banked on the public finding them less repellent than themselves. Their hubris has backfired.

I suspect this tactic is a good part of the reason why they lost. They were too self-absorbed. Though the best leave arguments were never deployed on TV during the referendum and had few, if any, champions in the public debate, those arguments definitely were made on social media and on the blogs which bypassed the establishment debate entirely. It's entirely possible that bloggers influenced half million people between us.

That though does not change the post-referendum narrative where the remainers maintain their reputation as the informed and reasonable while the leavers are still portrayed as populist oiks driving the country to ruin on the back of fabrications and lies. The vote may have gone against the establishment but the establishment is still very much in control of the debate.

Amusingly this now bites them on the behind because the one course of action they now seek (something akin with the Norway Option) is the one they went to great lengths to demolish during the referendum. The reason being is that it is entirely safe. They have painted themselves into a corner.

We are now seeing them put up a feeble campaign for an EEA settlement but because they have never explored the potential merits of it, or bothered to acknowledge advocates of it, they are forced into using the same old tactics of scaremongering - repeating all the same mistakes. They are, by their own behaviour, actually increasing the support for leaving the single market.

They could, of course, use Flexcit but that would mean doing something they never do; admitting they are wrong. It would mean acknowledging the author and all those leave campaigners who made the case for a progressive Brexit. Remainers would actually rather damage Britain than break the conspiracy of silence.

But then there is method in their madness. Their hope is to keep the debate off balance and deprived of clarity for long enough that the resultant incoherent shambles will erode the support for Brexit. Best of all, being an incoherent mess takes no particular effort on the part of the media.

Once again it falls to the bloggers to bring any clarity to the situation, and once again without any real acknowledgement. Had we been remainers, by now we would have soaring hits and a considerably larger following, and maybe a seat at the table. But that is reserved for remainers like Open Europe. For sure, most leavers aren't capable of making an intellectual contributions but those of us who are, are simply not allowed.

In the end, from a self-interested perspective, it's really rather a pity that the EU is an obsolete, antidemocratic relic standing in the way of progress, otherwise I'd have done quite well out of this. Sadly, or not so sadly, for all the common ground I had with remainers I could never make the final leap that Britain should be subordinate to a supreme European government. Now I just want both extremes of the debate to lose. Sadly though, for all the waffle we have heard about "toppling the establishment", eurosceptics have never had less power or influence than now. Such is the extent of Ukip's failure.