Thursday, 30 November 2017

The system did not have democracy in mind

Very occasionally I look at my Brexit compatriots and wonder why on earth I aligned with these muppets. I mean, they really do talk some crap don't they? But then who, honestly, has a working command of trade mechanics and how the EU works? In the grander scheme of things, hardly anybody. I could maybe scratch up about a hundred people from my bubble with a rounded command of the issues - and for all the remainers like to sneer, I don't think they have a particularly sophisticated idea either.

Consequently there are two Brexit worlds and never the twain shall meet. There is the philosophical Brexit, which in my view the leavers win hands down every time, and then there is the technocratic Brexit where it seems that leavers are genetically incapable of comprehending the issues. 

A glistening example this week comes from Brendan O'Neill, who, of late, seems to set the benchmark for Brexit stupidity. But then from a layman's perspective, he is absolutely right. The people of the UK have voted to leave the EU and to control their own laws accordingly. That in itself shouldn't be all that controversial but the mechanics of trade muddy the water. Northern Ireland, furthermore, just makes it impossible. 

In this it comes down to a choice. If the UK wants to diverge from the EU regulatory model then there must be a hard border. This is because the EU cannot compromise. It is bound by its own legal construct and then there is the WTO. The rules must be obeyed. This global order of rules is such an article of faith that it cannot bend to exceptions even in such a case where enforcement could very well lead to a political destabilisation and violence. That leaves only one thing left on the table. The Brits will have to lump it and carry on conforming. The system has thwarted democracy. 

It matters not that there is no particular value in regulatory divergence in this instance. What is said here is that when it comes down to it democracy has to take a back seat. The other message coming over loud and clear is if the UK does diverge then the EU will place the integrity of the single market over an above peace. So much for EU dogma. 

Of course, this is all highly subjective but the system we have built is so rigid that even having left the EU we find expressions of the democratic will come with such miserable consequences that we are bound forever to do as instructed. This is precisely where we didn't want to be, which is why we needed to leave far sooner than we actually will. The problem with carelessly allowing the drift into technocracy is that, as Brexit demonstrates, powers are much more difficult to repatriate than they are to give away.

Howsoever, we are where we are so it is is the job of politics and politicians to find a compromise. We have to somehow marry the technocratic Brexit with the philosophical Brexit in a game where neither side can begin to comprehend the other and we've put an impossibly short timescale on it. Why? Simply because some words written in haste on a page somewhere in the Treaty of Lisbon say it's two years. The system was never built with democracy in mind.  

This is why Brexit is only really the beginning of a far more involved process. We have spoken previously of the double coffin lid scenario where we punch through the layer of EU rules only to find we are tangle in a different web of rules and constrained in similar ways. We will also find that the WTO (combined with the rest of the UN regulatory system) means that sovereingty as imagined by Brexiters barely exists at all. 

As this global order ossifies we will find it takes on the same character as the EU, adopting much of the same dogma and operating according to the same set of globalist values, influenced and dominated by the globalist intelligentsia, all of whom subscribe to all of the same convictions from command and control quasi-liberal economics up to and including climate change. 

In this it's easy for the blowhards to denounce regulations as petty infringements on liberty but we are about to discover as we diverge the precise utility of it - not least as food prices start to climb. Many leavers will come to question whether that marginal increment in sovereingty was worth having to live without heating. 

That said, the UK is not the only one to run in the the limitations of democracy inside the framework of the current legal order. Certainly the Greeks have learned that expressions of democracy are next to useless as a member of the Euro - and sooner or later a refugee quota will test Easten European tolerance to the limit. 

In effect, we have spent the last half century building an elaborate cage of rules and systems for the better functioning of commerce while utterly neglecting the human propensity to break systems. Sooner or later, it will all come crashing in for no other reason than the fact that no system can ever withstand the human need to evolve and challenge the constraints placed upon us. It is the cycle of history. 

In this instance we are at the very end of the post war settlement. Though the WTO is a relatively young institution, it is the manifestation of a seventy year old system devised long before internet, containerisation and automation. Humanity is evolving to a point where the systems of yore and the economic models of the present increasingly have less relevance. Rather than asking where we go from here, our terrified establishments are doing all they can to preserve the old world.

As much as this is down to the fact that any new order will undoubtedly threaten their power, they simply have no idea what the new mode for humanity will be. Is it to be a technological anarchy they cannot control?  Can governments any longer hold dominion over us? They don't know and they are in no rush to find out. That is what they are afraid of. If governments are no longer at the centre of power then tyrants no longer have a means to control us. That is not in their grand design, and freedom is the very last thing they have in mind. 

A dose of the Brexit blues

Some readers will be wondering why I am not obsessively blogging every twist and turn of the Brexit process. I am watching it like a hawk and spend more hours on Twitter than any human should - thus have seen every possible opinion and every stupid misconception, but other than the provisional agreement on the Brexit bill and the unsurprising shape of the Northern Ireland "deal" there nothing much to get excited about.

The dregs of the ultras, notably the odious Liam Halligan, are still playing their mendacious games, piping out their poison to anyone who will listen, but there does now seem to be a broad understanding in the Twittersphere that the WTO option is not an option and anyone who suggests otherwise very rapidly provokes the ire of the ever growing crowd of brexitologists.

Today, though, there is some room for optimism. If reports are correct and there is indeed the basis for an agreement on the exit settlement and Northern Ireland then it is a signal that time pressures are focussing minds, and in the absence of better ideas the government is having to concede to the obvious. 

We are told that these such concessions "outrage" Brexiters, but it would appear that, as usual, it is only the unappeasable expending any energy over it. Tories can squeal all they like for the One True Brexit™, but the UK does not exist in isolation and its actions have consequences. If we turn our backs on regulatory cooperation we open a hole in the EUs customs firewall. It then has no choice but to police its frontier.

The EU will not make substantive concessions on the NI border because, when we leave, the border becomes the outer frontier of the most mature and complex customs and regulatory union on the planet. It cannot redesign it the for the sole benefit of a departing member. We have a choice of remaining in the single market or erecting a hard border with Ireland. It is that simple.

To make any kind of substantial concession for the UK so as to avoid a hard border the EU would have to revise its treaties, and any concession would then apply to all third countries. That is simply not going to happen. The UK will have to maintain regulatory harmonisation. This we have been over time and again, and as EUReferendum notes, the mechanics of WTO rules means we have obligations either way.

There will come a point in the very near future when there is something original and interesting to say, not least as discussions regarding our future relationship heat up, but for the moment I am living a in a day to day zombie state of lethargy, exhaustion, nihilism, serotonin depletion and relentless boredom - as is traditional for this time of year. Don't be surprised if I am not at my most prolific.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Best be leaving now

The European Commission has launched a public consultation to gather views of the broader public on setting up a European Labour Authority and the introduction of a European Social Security Number.
The European Labour Authority should ensure that EU rules on labour mobility are enforced in a fair, simple and effective way. Concretely, building on existing structures, the Authority would support national administrations, businesses, and mobile workers by strengthening cooperation at EU level on matters such as cross-border mobility and social security coordination. It would also improve access to information for public authorities and mobile workers and enhance transparency regarding their rights and obligations.
The European Social Security Number (ESSN) aims at simplifying and modernising citizens' interaction with administrations in a range of policy areas. An EU Social Security Number would facilitate the identification of persons across borders for the purposes of social security coordination and allow the quick and accurate verification of their social security insurance status. It would facilitate administrative procedures for citizens by optimising the use of digital tools.
Both initiatives were announced by President Juncker in his 2017 State of the Union address. Legislative proposals for both initiatives are announced in the European Commission's Work Programme for 2018 and planned to be tabled by spring 2018.
There are two ways to look at this. This could be viewed as the EU steaming ahead to do all that which it could not do with the UK as a member, much like PESCO. The other way to look at it is that this was always the direction of travel. UK membership only really governs the pace of integration and a "public consultation" means they are going to do it regardless of what anyone thinks. 

Either way, this is not the domain of a mere trade bloc. This is an instrument of an emerging supreme government, to which the UK would otherwise be subordinate. It is the foundation of Juncker's "Social Europe" meaning that social and welfare policy will gradually drift toward Brussels and far out of the reach of democracy. Of course, this would follow that much vaunted Brussels subsidiarity principle. You are free to have any have any policy you like, just so long as it stays within the parameters defined by the Commission and the ECJ.

And this is the thing with the EU. Once consent is established for the basic foundation, the ossification process begins to the point where you no longer have the power, reform is impossible and like trade and agriculture, it simply drops out of public discourse. Why debate that which cannot be influenced? This is how we drift from democracy to technocracy - and subsequently stagnation and disaffection. That is why I would vote to leave every single time. 

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Britain's moment of transition

There is a place about an hour from where I live. I go there whenever I have visitors or on a Sunday afternoon when I have nothing else to do. It's an aircraft museum dedicated to the the Fleet Air Arm - the air wing of the Royal Navy. It's a special place for me because it's a connection with the past and a small part of my identity. It invokes a certain sentimentality and patriotism - one which I am far from alone in.

When I was a boy I wanted to be a pilot, but not just any pilot; a Royal Navy pilot. I think it was a fusion of my love of all things aviation combined with the huge respect I had for my uncle who served in the Falklands conflict. That conflict was the last righteous victory of the British.

Though the Empire has long been dead, military power has remained in the landscape of the British psyche ever since. The Falklands was no different. Some of the most iconic and inspirational images in British media come from that conflict, notably the flotilla of small boats welcoming the aircraft carrier HMS Invincible back to Portsmouth. These images to this day contribute to the British self-image of a being military power.

The conflict to this day inspires many men my age who grew up learning about the daring raids by Vulcan bombers over Port Stanley. The Vulcan itself having an aviation pedigree going back to the Lancaster bomber - the instrument of our victory over the Nazis. It was also a victory for our fighter pilots who, in the spirit of their Battle of Britain forebears, fought bravely to fend off the aggressor and saved our ships from aerial attack. Britain, just for a moment, was reliving its glory days.

Notably the conflict was one where Britain stood alone. America did not come our rescue, nor did we enjoy the support of our European allies. By every measure, it was moment of great pride for Britain, one which cemented Margaret Thatcher's place in history and secured a long term in office for her.

Even by 1991, the UK still saw itself as a major military power - and when we committed our forces to Operation Desert Storm, our bomber pilots painted mascots on the side of their aircraft, as a homage to the bomber traditions of World War Two. As a boy I recall making dozens of plastic models of Buccaneers and Tornados painted in the desert camouflage colours of the first Gulf War.

At that time, most of our aircraft were cold war relics close to the end of their operational life. Many aircraft on their return to the UK were immediately retired to museums which continue to inspire children all over the country. 

Culturally, my generation were raised in the long shadow of World War Two. Growing up in the eighties much of the television we watched was influenced by it. From the many war films to the documentaries and memorials, we were saturated with the impression that the UK had fought and won a righteous war against an evil aggressor, and we stood apart in the world as a force for good.

Of course, any serious examination of the British Empire shows that Britain has plenty blood on its hands and a more objective, less sentimental look at at our past shows that we have much to answer for. That, however, struggles to compete with our collective self-deception of being a glorious victor in all things.

It is partially this powerful sense of identity that drives us to leave the EU. It bruises our national ego to admit that we are no longer a global power. Even now, our defence procurement is less about operational capability as it is power projection. This explains the purchase of two of the world's largest aircraft carriers.

The carriers themselves will carry the most advanced and most expensive aircraft ever to fly. They will be used in operations similar to those currently underway in Syria, where we believe we are righteous actors against an evil foe. Whether or not we are making things worse does not really come into it so long as it continues to massage our self-image as a global force for good. Never underestimate what a politicians are prepared to spend in the name of national vanity.

This, though, has defence analysts and armchair generals wondering how we can possibly finance the navy to do all the other tasks befitting a global pretender. Having invested so much in power projection, just about every other branch of the armed services will have to take a cut.

Britain has never really come to terms with the end of the Empire. Our Foreign Office officials, many my own age, many of them Eton and Oxford educated, are taught the works of Rudyard Kipling and tales of the Commonwealth. Our establishment simply cannot shake off its colonial mentality, nor cannot permit itself to acknowledge that the special relationship with the USA is largely a British delusion. This is why we continue to add our diminishing military capabilities to US adventures in the Middle East. This is why Britain is now about to get a rude awakening.

When Britain leaves the EU we will be forced to confront the reality that in terms of power and economic clout we are far less significant than we believe ourselves to be. The EU has been the life support machine upon which our delusions of influence depended. For this reason we have continued to behave on the world stage as though we still mattered when much of the world has zero interest in what the UK has to say.

In this regard, it is unsurprising that a feckless oaf such as Boris Johnson would have become our Foreign Secretary. He is the personification of Britain's self delusion. A boorish, spoiled, lazy yob born of the elites, who believes it is the duty of foreigners to simply bend to our will. There is a presumption that we can simply waltz into the WTO and dictate the agenda and all will bow before us.

Though our media treats this as an entertaining sideshow, internationally it damages our reputation, turns goodwill sour and diminishes our standing in the world. We will have to work hard internationally to recover from this damaging episode in UK politics. But then this is also a healthy process for the UK to undertake.

Britain's self-important self-image is one that has continued influence domestic politics but it is also a major reason why we invaded Iraq. We saw ourselves as the righteous saviour. It is also that same hubris which believed our forces would be effortlessly victorious. Instead we opened a can of worms which almost certainly contributed to the destabilsation of Syria, playing midwife to ISIS.

They say pride cometh before a fall but in the curious case of Britain, it's the other way around. We maintain our pride of empire long after we have fallen. Like cartoon physics we do not begin to fall until we look look down. That time is now upon us.

Britain is soon to find that when it leaves the EU it cannot resume its position as the head of a mighty Commonwealth. Like everyone else it will have to sing for its supper. It will be a Britain for the new generation; they whose grandparents never saw World War Two, for whom the Falklands war is just another conflict in the distant past, and for whom those museum relics are just "old planes".

I am the last of the Empire generation. The last to be touched by the legacy of World War Two. My Britain does not exist anymore and when I walk round the air museum I am walking among ghosts from a time when Britain ruled the skies and seas. Just as the mines and steel works are never coming back, the Royal Navy will never again dominate. That is the reality our political establishment has yet to fully realise.

On the left of British politics we have Mr Corbyn and his dreams of restoring the post-war socialist order, and on the right we have Tories still in denial as to Britain's position in the world. The left may chastise the right for this obsolete thinking but the Labour Party will be the first to deploy our aircraft carriers on a humanitarian bombing mission. We can no longer afford their delusions. If we want a Britain fit for the future we must rid ourselves of them. Our greatness lies in who we are to be, not in who we were.

Where next for UK defence?

Though I am a little late to the party I think it worth making mention of the PESCO agreement which some are describing as an EU army amidst a number of high profile denials.

This agreement takes formal defence co-operation in the European Union to a new level. Under PESCO, each country has to provide a plan for national contributions. The participants will be backed by a European Defence Fund that should be worth €5bn annually after 2020. The money will be used for weapons research and equipment purchases. 

Categorically this is not a "Euro army" but it is most certainly what the EU would call a tidying up exercise to formalise that which already exists, further moving the UK toward the fringes of European defence cooperation. Since the UK buys Apache, RC135, P8 Poseidon, F35, Chinook and a number of other high profile US toys, the UK has already chosen its defence partner, and that is not the EU. 

Whether or not the UK is involved in any future European programme to develop the next generation fighter remains to be seen. BAE Systems believes that it will in some way be involved. European politics being what it is, we can expect moves to isolate the UK and ensure any jobs from such a venture will stay on the continent. 

As to any operational cooperation, NATO will remain the common framework while the EU steams ahead with ever closer union. It is not a euro army but it is another subtle move in that direction. As is consistent with the EU modus operandi. 

In that regard I expect that if we see another action similar to that of Libya, the EU will be looking to keep command of such a venture in house, keeping NATO in the loop as a scapegoat for when it goes wrong. The framework itself will allow for member states to take the lead and for reluctant states to give the outward appearance of non-intervention while supplying material and logistical support under an EU flag. 

As with everything else the EU does, it will never formalise as a single command under an EU executive but it will go ninety percent of the way and fudge the rest. The EU likes to have plausible deniability. 

We can also say that member states will push back against full integration, not least France which will continue to exert its influence over its colonial interests. France will maintain independent defence cooperation with the UK as a means to avail itself of assets from Waddington and Brize Norton. The UK will naively oblige even though no such reciprocal support would come were we to mount a similar operation of our own. That is the French understanding of cooperation. 

As regards to PESCO, for the EU to have mobilised something so quickly after the UK's decision to leave the EU, it would suggest this has been in the works for some years already with the UK dragging its heels. For the EU to make big noises now is more a deliberate diplomatic signal. It wants the UK thinking about EU defence cooperation and whether we want to be on this particular bus. No doubt the EU does want some UK participation and it would be in our interests to maintain a high level of involvement. 

The short of it is that the UK cannot afford to operate a wholly independent military and that reality has influenced our defence spending for at least a decade. In taking on aircraft carrier capability it was always the case that we would have to specialise and look to foreign partners to play their role in Western defence. Consequently our amphibious capability is under the microscope and we can expect to see HMS Albion sold off. 

In this we have the option of European cooperation under the NATO banner or indeed further cooperation in CANZUK countries, which in a defence context makes a great deal of sense. As the UK specialises in carrier operations Australia makes up the shortfall in amphibious capabilities with two Canberra class Helicopter Landing Docks (pictured). We should also note that even though the UK is committed to a new fleet of frigates, in the wake of Brexit it is a near certainty that the number will be cut. It is therefore a necessity that we look to allies to mount a fully effective carrier battle group.  

The UK is far from alone in struggling to maintain operational capabilities and as we head into a new era of economic uncertainty (when are we not?) governments will want to spend more on domestic concerns. Defence cooperation, therefore, is just good sense. Duplication of NATO capability is a waste. 

Brexit most likely means the UK will be second in the pecking order for EU defence projects but then again this is largely a formalisation a the status quo. UK defence procurement will always look to preserve jobs in Yeovil before it looks to collaborative efforts - and our continued support of US military adventures means we will continue to gear our forces for US interoperability. 

In this respect we are seeing a continuance of old habits. Britain is psychologically separatist when it comes to defence. Our national ego, rooted deeply in our Eton educated establishment views European defence cooperation as inferior - with an ongoing (and not unjustified) suspicion that the French are not acting in good faith. Since we have gradually dismantled our aerospace sector, our preference will always lean toward US air power - usually for no better reason than they have sex appeal and the generals like mean looking toys. 

But this is ultimately why the UK doesn't really get the EU. Our defence establishment thinks in terms of NATO and the anglosphere - a large reason being historical alliances and our righteous victories. That mindset is to this day deeply entrenched and there is just enough pushback for the UK to never be a wholly committed European partner. It is too much of a bruise to the national ego to assume the role of a subordinate "partner" in Europe - especially when France is the military superpower inside the bloc. 

This is a view with which I have some sympathy. France is not a reliable or honourable defence partner. Cooperation with France in good faith usually results in the cannibalisation of UK defence assets and we watch the jobs move to France. French defence corporations are still very much French whereas BAE Systems is a global multinational with no particular corporate loyalties to the UK. 

In any estimation, the UK defence establishment has been in a state of decline for the last three decades and we are poised, eventually, to slide from the top ten arms exporters. We should note, however, that our strengths lie not in ships and aeroplanes (and all the toys which appeal to our national ego), rather the UK is a supplier of black electronic boxes upon which modern military depends. In respect of that, it is vital that the UK safeguards its position as a research and innovation powerhouse. 

The short of it is that the EU is now putting up walls to the UK - and though superficially that is a worrying development, it should also shake the UK out of its complacency and should also wake us from our naive belief that EU cooperation strengthens the UK defence sector. Little by little it is cannibalised by European actors for the greater glory of the EU. 

In a lot of ways defence cooperation and defence procurement is a bellwether for international relations. The UK psychologically and strategically has preferred to keep its options open, and given European history this remains the best policy for the UK. In this the EU is the inward looking isolationist and PESCO is almost certainly a step toward weakening NATO. It speaks to the EU's self-image as a rival to the USA as a military power.

Speaking more broadly we are presently watching a realignment in global power. The dominance of Boeing and Airbus is coming to an end. The structural inefficiencies have remained unchallenged for decades but with new markets opening up for smaller mid-range aircraft such as the Bombardier C Series and Embraer E-Jet family, and with China making impressive inroads into the sector, there is soon to be a genuinely competitive global aerospace market where Airbus will no longer enjoy regional monopolies. It can afford no more costly white elephants.  

The hegemony of both the US and Europe is coming to an end. We face a number of challenges to enhance our global competitiveness and in that, Brexit is one of the many triggers that indicates the end of the old world order. As daunting though this may be, it breaks the deadlock for the EU while forcing the UK to gets its skates on. Whether or not we can rise to this challenge remains to be seen. 

What we can say is that the UK has a number of difficult choices ahead and will have to abandon a lot of long standing assumptions. In seeking out a new role in the world it will open up a number of new avenues for cooperation. In this respect many Brexiteers are right. Though there is no scope for regulatory union and economic integration as per the single market, CANZUK does present itself as the UK's natural home for future defence cooperation. 

For the UK it was never a realistic proposition that we place all of our economic and defence interests into a single basket. One can see how it would make sense for mainland countries, with France at the centre, but the UK's future depends on its agility and flexibility. 

This does not rule out the possibility of operational cooperation with the EU and so long as we have assets like the QE carriers and Trident, we will continue to be an important part of the defence of the West. To that end the UK must work to ensure NATO remains the dominant framework. 

As ever, it must be said that the UK's post-Brexit fortunes are largely contingent on how Brexit is handled. Some have suggested that if Airbus is forced to depart from the UK it may look to move its design arm out of Europe entirely. The far east is certainly not short on engineering talent. While a hard Brexit has major economic ramifications for the UK, the effects on wider European trade are also substantial. The harder those effects the greater impact they are likely to have on European defence spending which could well torpedo EU ambitions in that domain.

The diplomatic signals with regard to PESCO from the EU are very much a sideswipe at the UK. This is to be expected. This has long been a faultline between the UK and the EU and the EU is keen to demonstrate that it is not a wounded animal. We should not, however, forget that a mishandled Brexit is a lose-lose for Europe and European defence and we should keep in mind that the EU, politics notwithstanding, is a hugely important ally. Either side would be foolish to lose sight of that. 

Saturday, 25 November 2017

Traitors, quislings and enemies of the people

The Daily Mail has one agenda only. To make money. It is better than all the rest at it because it knows the business better than anyone. It lives by the one golden rule of media which is as true in the internet age as it was in the age of the printing press. Sell the people their own opinions back to them. People love nothing more than to have their own opinions validated and shown to be mainstream rather than fringe.

So when the Daily Mail runs a headline like "Enemies of the People" it is largely reflecting the opinions of its core readership. And when it comes to the judges and various officials involved in the various attempts to forestall Brexit, the average readers probably does cast them as enemies of the people.

If you identify with a certain popular shade of Britishness then for decades you've watched a succession of governments handing over powers to Brussels without ever having a direct say in a matter which is of supreme importance to you. The message comes over loud and clear that the establishment is doing something to you, it isn't being honest about what is being done, and it does not want you to have a say.

Then comes a referendum - a free and fair vote, which was won by leavers, albeit by a small margin, in which the government was explicit that they would implement whatever was decided. We can equivocate but those are the indisputable facts of the matter. The ballot boxes were not tampered with and more people voted to leave than to remain.

And though you might say the public didn't know enough about the EU to make that call, it transpires that collectively we know little of the vagaries of the Westminster system or the broader UK constitution either. Hence why ordinarily sensible people of all persuasions get bent out of shape when an ill judged parliamentary amendment is voted down.

It is, therefore, from a position of ignorance, entirely understandable that ordinary people would see judicial activism as a complete betrayal of what they understand in the most basic terms, to be democracy - ie winning a vote. You might very well then see such people as enemies of the people along with the rest of the establishment which conspired to take us ever deeper into this wretched union.

And when it comes to the rhetoric, it is in keeping with euroscepticism from the year dot. In my more extreme youth I probably would have been seen calling such individuals quislings and traitors. And this is not exactly rhetorically inaccurate. Politicians whose loyalties serve a foreign agenda without the knowledge or consent of the people.

And now that I mention it, I'm being a patronising hypocrite because, though I have trained myself not to say these things, I still pretty much think that. I do see the EU as an occupying power and I do see the hardcore remainers and establishment figures as servants of that regime and the globalist agenda and though I have some fairly unpleasant bedfellows, I would still side with them on this issue every single time.

Had there been a referendum on Maastricht and Lisbon then I might feel differently about it. In fact, I am certain that Lisbon would not have even been ratified and we wouldn't even be in this mess. It is the hubris of our rulers that has led us to where we are and we are setting about correcting that.

So when it comes to the handwringing of our liberal establishment, ever more forthcoming in its belief that Britain is turning down a dark road toward fascism, I just have to tell them to get a grip. The post-referendum landscape tells you all you need to know. The majority of Ukip has drifted back to its natural home in the Tories and what is left of it is split between a fragmented moderate faction and one that is going all out against Islam.

The latter faction does not command much in the way of mass appeal and it barely has an organisation behind it. Ukip is yesterday's news. As to the Daily Mail, they're actually having a laugh. The public at large is not baying for the blood of Gina Miller and would not be able to name a single judge involved. The right wing are not going to go overboard nor are they especially agitated. Except the DM knows who precisely who will go overboard. Those same handwringing liberals.

As a permanent fixture in the twitterspehere I seldom ever encounter somebody of the right who shares these splash front page images. And if I do it is seldom ever to the extent that remainers and leftists do. The DM is a master at clickbait and it knows how to rattle cages.

This of course brings about yet more forelock tugging, worrying that such incendiary rhetoric  could result in the murder of another MP. That is to completely overlook the fact that Jo Cox was murdered by a self-radicalised psychopathic nazi who was reading far more sinister stuff than the Daily Mail. He most likely thought the Daily Mail was a left wing establishment rag. That is how extremists think.

The general public however, are just getting on with it and wondering why on earth the government isn't. Nobody is shining up their jackboots and flexing their red braces. There is, however, a disturbing trend in death threats being sent to MPs who register their objections Brexit. MPs may complain but they love any opportunity to play the victim.

As it happens, when the plod do track down these ranty losers, it's usually some ordinary tosspot with fairly pedestrian views who's had one too many on a Friday night and sent a poison pen letter to Anna Soubry. A night in the local slammer and a fine will usually set them straight. If the policing is good it results in a caution and nothing more is said. Very very occasionally there is cause to take it more seriously and the police have a good idea when that is.

The only time I can imagine such threats being much more serious is if by some means they do manage to overturn Brexit. The mood would be most sour indeed in that your average layman will never comprehend the many roadblocks that could have killed Brexit. They will just see it as an establishment conspiracy. They already think such is underway by way of a sustained media campaign to delegitimise the vote and blame it on the Russians.

But even then I suspect such threats would be empty. We would see some ugly incidents but things would most likely return to a depressingly pedestrian norm with an undertone of seething hatred for politicians. No uprisings, no civil unrest - just bitterness and acrimony. Why? Because we're not Nazis and we are not "far right" and we are not extremists. We're just people of the United Kingdom who do not want to be governed by Brussels.

Later down the line that resentment would fuel a new Ukip, only this time the gloves would be off. Last time around Ukip played it by the establishment's rules which saw it coming and was skillfully able to defuse it. What that will result in is a Westminster establishment becoming more illiberal and authoritarian simply because it thinks that is what is required in order to appease the public. They will do virtually anything except what they have been instructed to do - ie leave the European Union.

But then returning to the now, there is a more pressing political concern. Because the left and the remain establishment very much believe there is a seething mass of fascism they are taking ever more illiberal measures to police language and the debate in general. If anything feeds, validates and emboldens the sense of resentment it is precisely that sort of paternalistic intervention - where the establishment believes the plebs must be protected from harmful words and ideas. This we have already had two decades of, and it is, in part, a goodly reason why so many voted to leave.

If anything at all causes the UK to turn down a dark corner it will be an establishment that fails to learn the lessons and continues to treat ordinary people like halfwit pondlife. And if then they are still willing to use any and all means at their disposal to ensure that a vote has no meaning, then maybe they really are traitors, quislings and enemies of the people.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Brexit: In for a penny...

Ima gonna level with you. I now have a galactic knowledge of things I never wanted or needed to know about the EU. And this leads me to believe we are in a position where much of what has been done to us is pretty much irreversible without some pushback from other member states. This is not going to happen. This is what we eurosceptics were always warning about.

Consequently, unless we stay in the single market, we are totally fucked. We are looking at, in modern terms, an unprecedented decline in living standards. I don't like it, but there it is. If we had a halfway competent government, it would by now have realised this and we wouldn't even be having this conversation. But here we are.

There is still a chance that sense will prevail. The government may find itself boxed in on all sides. Myself and my fellow keyboard warriors are keeping up the pressure, but it is in the hands of the gods now.

But yesterday was a moment of clarity for me. An epiphany of sort. The budget told me one thing and one thing only. Brexit is bad, but remaining in the EU is absolutely suicidal.

Y'see it became clear to me when I saw that we are making a 40% cut to the FCO. Here we are about to enter a far less privileged arrangement with our nearest and largest trade partner and the Downing Street thinks we can prune the FCO and not make cuts to entitlements. That, people, is a political establishment that has completely fucking lost it.

If you are a bubble dwelling politico then any budget day is a political event. Not for this pussycat. To me they are always pedestrian managerialism lacking any political courage. This one was no different save for one fact. The only thing that made it remotely interesting; the fact that this budget is the last of its kind. The very last one where we can afford to ignore reality.

For the last decade or so we have pruned the RN, the FCO, DIT and all the instruments of international hard and soft power. This is so we can continue with the electoral bribes and keep shelling out entitlements. We live in an age so perverse where the government can spend 35% of tax receipts on welfare and we call this "austerity".

Brexit, as far as Downing Street is concerned, is just another procedural expense. But when it hits, it will be like they tripped a claymore mine. They won't know what hit them. If that doesn't wake them up then nothing will. Only then can we arrest the silent decline. And if it still doesn't register that we cannot go on like this (which is still possible given how bent out of shape things are) then we will go all the way south.

That would be bad, and it would render Brexit somewhat futile, but I'm still ok with that because without a disruptive event that was our destination anyway.

If all we have done is brought it forward then it will be us who deal with the consequences and picks up the pieces. We will, at the very least, have done the adult thing and not kicked the can down the road in the way that our politicians do. It won't be pretty, but at least we will not have shirked our responsibility as custodians of our democracy.

One way or another we have started something here. The protected class are afraid. They are doing what they can to avoid confronting reality - but they cannot, will not, and must not win. We have crossed the event horizon. Now we have to own the choice we have made. There is no going back. AlI I can say is... buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, because Kansas... is going bye bye.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Arresting the decline

If I were to pick a columnist who shaped my political views as a younger man it would be Philip Johnston of The Daily Telegraph who was writing for it back in the days when it was a still a semi-serious newspaper. 

Though it has been a very long time since I bothered to read it, it is interesting that he should have penned this article detailing how entitlement culture has a total grip on British politics. It slots in very well with some of the themes on this blog of late and is not too far dissimilar to what I would have written last night were I not stricken with the lurgy. 
The main reason why we have run an almost permanent deficit since the 1960s has been the explosion of entitlements that fractured the something-for-something contributory principle originally espoused by Beveridge. The state gives money to people because of who they are rather than what they need and irrespective of what they have paid in. And once commitments are made they are set in stone.
To give one example: when my children were young (not that long ago) there was no free nursery schooling; yet not only does this new entitlement continue despite our indebtedness, it has been expanded to curry favour with a particular group of voters. Woe betide any Chancellor who tries to cut it.
Over time such entitlements have supplanted contributory benefits and given rise to resentment among the people who pay the taxes to fund them, who are in turn dissatisfied with the standard of services they receive from the state.
In a non-collectivist world, they could get better schooling for their children and higher levels of health and social care for themselves if they could spend more of their own money on what they wanted rather than what they are given.
We should have started to uncouple personal welfare from public spending years ago as the country became richer, leaving the state to help only the very poor. Instead, radical ideas such as top-up education vouchers and treatment co-payments in health have been killed stone dead.
It is heartening that Mr Hammond remains focused on spending restraint; but like most recent Chancellors he misses the big picture, or is simply unable to redraw it. Mr Brown, in particular, went off in the collectivist direction, deliberately dragging ever greater numbers into the welfare net.
We are now in the perverse position of relentlessly cutting the things the state is supposed to provide such as defence, policing and infrastructure, while political parties vie with each other to promise more people more things that they could and should do for themselves.
Those who want to see the proportion of GDP taken by the state reduced to around 30 per cent, with commensurate tax reductions to boost productivity, choice and growth, are hardly heard from anymore. We are doomed to pile up debt while periodically chipping away at it without making a discernible impact. The entitlement culture has won.
I've been expressing similar arguments quite frequently of late - and in the Twittersphere this kind of thinking makes you some kind of monster. So in that respect entitlement culture has also won the battle of ideas. We are, therefore, doomed to watch the slow rot of the country while we cannibalise wealth. The politicians cannot arrest the decline because to do so would take a degree of political courage that simply isn't there. 

Consequently only a seismic political event can break the deadlock. That is why Brexit is so damn important to the survival of the nation. Unless we have this out we are done for. The status quo is certain death. Brexit is a window to turn it around. If Brexit is defeated, then so is Britain.  

Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Canada deal is not a Brexit solution

Not a lot was said about the Northern Ireland border during the referendum. It was broadly assumed that a solution would be found regardless simply because there was no political will to erect a border. That, though, was to underestimate the legal rigidity of EU and international legal systems. Even though this blog gave a great many issues a proper airing I have to confess that Northern Ireland was something of an afterthought.

As it now transpires, at the very least NI will have to stay a part of the single market with a bespoke customs agreement - and that is likely to dictate the trade settlement for the UK later down the line. With the EU now saying it's either a Canada or Norway solution, the NI issues further pushes the government toward the inescapable reality that leaving the single market is not really a viable option. How it actually pans out from here, though, is still anyone's guess.

Assuming the penny does eventually drop and things go well, the UK will probably end up retaining EEA membership, docking to Efta and forging a customs agreement. We should note that for a successful transition it will be necessary to have add-ons which include an agreement on fisheries and agriculture so that we can plan our divergence strategy. In that respect, our endpoint looks, on paper, a lot like continued membership. Or at least it will so far as most people are concerned. 

The technical distinctions however, will be considerable. There will not be the scope to diverge that many imagined but the potential will be there to seek out our own trade relationships and customise our third country relations. This will be a slow process and we cannot expect any meaningful progress for a number of years while we work out where we stand. 

If we can get this far then that to me is the hallmark of a successful Brexit. The fewer immediate changes the better. What matters is that our third country relations will be UK specific, the UK will be a distinct customs entity and it will have repatriated decisionmaking over several vital areas of policy. We should not expect that those decisions will necessarily be popular but the point is that they can be changed later down the line by an elected administration. Reform and reconfiguration of the relationship is more possible in this guise.

To my mind this is how our relationship with the EU always should have evolved - with the maximum level of economic cooperation, a high degree of integration but without irreversibly ceding direct control. Such a settlement would very probably be a major disappointment to the extreme Brexit fringe but that is a good sign. At the very least it is a worthwhile hedge against future EU disintegration.

So what are the chances of this happening? Well, I really don't know. My working assumption during the referendum was that eventually the government would be boxed in by reality and they would have to take the path of least resistance. Events have upset that applecart, not least because this is the most determinedly anti-reality government I have ever seen.

Howsoever, there are signs that the UK might finally cave in and pay what is required to move on to the next phase. If that concession is made then more concessions will follow. We might then get somewhere since the details of the rest of the exit agreement will be too arcane for the ultras to take an interest in. There is yet hope for us.

The ultras will only really assert themselves when it gets as far as what they consider to be their exclusive domain. Trade. They have their particular red lines and nostrums and that is when there will be a fight to the death.

This is where we need to have a serious debate about the Canada option. For many months now we have been battling against the ultras who push for the WTO option. As far as the Twitter debate goes, the ultras have lost that argument and I suspect they know it. We will soon know for sure when they start talking up the merits of a Canada deal.

Superficially, and to the uninitiated, the Canada option seems tolerable but in actuality it is only marginally better than a no deal scenario. It would avoid total obliteration by way of resolving the peripheral issues but in terms of trade in goods and services we can still expect to lose around a third of our overall trade by way of leaving the single market.

As an option it only really stand as as viable if we can demonstrate there are opportunities elsewhere to replace that trade, which in my view there is not. Over time we could develop the potential but not without major investment in African trade infrastructure. That is not going to happen without considerable investment which will not be available with such enormous hits to tax receipts. The intelligent strategy would be to set about buying ourselves the option to leave the single market in the future - but even then I still suspect it is a valueless pipe dream.

In short, anyone with a dog in the fight should be careful not to paint the Canada option as a half way house between the single market and oblivion because it's still a pretty dismal option. As imperfect as the single market is, it's better stick with the devil we know than gamble it all on the crackpot theories of the Tory right. The case was theirs to argue but they have failed to offer us a credible alternative. That's entirely for them to contend with. They are not owed their version of Brexit.


I will start with a health warning that my knowledge of German politics is not extensive, however, I do wonder what lies in store when exploratory talks to form Germany’s next coalition government have collapsed.

One wonders if Germany is reaching a similar state of political exhaustion as the UK where Merkel is, like Cameron was, the linchpin on a similarly fragile political settlement. If that be the case, when Merkel inevitably departs we could be looking at a prolonged period of political disquiet in Germany with very serious existential questions for the EU.

Presently, Poland is in a state of transition where it is difficult to tell which direction politics is travelling in. For all that we are told the UK is turning inward, such commentary seems less credible when compared with Poland. 

It doesn't help when we only really have our own media to go on. That same media has been telling the whole world the UK is undergoing some kind of anti-immigration backlash when Brexit is more a sentiment of overall disatisfaction with the establishment. The same may or may not be true of Poland. I am not minded to give the media the benefit of the doubt.

What we can say, however, is that the fabric of the EU is being tested and this would be a very bad time for German leadership to go AWOL. Should German governance fall into a similar state of dysfunction as the UK then already strained European cohesion goes out of the window. Ultimately it is Germany's moral authority that stops the fringe states doing their own thing.

If the EU does not have coherent direction from Germany then the EU could well be exposed as toothless and impotent and that could lead to a wholesale departure from membership obligations. This not to say the EU is in danger of collapse, rather that there will be too many brushfires for it to any longer pretend there is European unity and the EU as an entity then diminishes in importance among its members. 

In this we must be mindful that the UK was not alone in joining for purely transactional purposes - and a number of accession states saw the EU as a source of funding rather than buying into le grand project. Certainly one does not see any organic appreciation of the EU in Croatia and the only blue flags you will see are on EU funded infrastructure projects. 

As this blog noted over the weekend, this such propagandising actually doesn't work and does little to buy the allegiance of citizens. At best it serves only to buy the affections of European political establishments. One wonders is even this can be sustained with the departure of a major financial contributor like the UK.

As ever, when it comes to an EU crisis the EU's only answer is "more Europe" and in a bid to slow the tide of Euroscepticism the colleagues have decided upon an expansion of "social Europe". Categorically, it will not work. Electorates cannot be bought off with euro-gimmicks. 

If there is a point to this post at all it is that the bravado we see in the EU in the wake of Brexit is pretty thin gruel. The fundamentals are not sound, the politics is drifting, and the UK is not alone in seeking to reinvent. Immigration is not solely a UK preoccupation and the EU is too hamstrung by its own obsolete dogma to offer any realistic remedy. There is only one certainty in European politics right now. With or without Brexit, the post-war settlement is disintegrating. 

Open letter to Carole Cadwalladr

Dear Carole,

When dealing with Arron Banks you have to remember one thing. Attention is all he craves and any attention is good attention. You are dealing with a man with no shame. He is expert in political judo in that he will use your own force against you. The more he trolls you the angrier you get, and the happier he is - not least least because when you play that game you get sloppy and you overreach.

His strategy is to make you look like a conspiratorial lunatic grasping at straws - and no offence intended, it is working. Your reaction plays right into his game and he is laughing at you.

If I was you I would have a look at Leave.EU's bid to become the designated leave campaign. You will note that it is badly constructed and sloppy. When you look at it side by side with that of Vote Leave you will see the obvious difference in quality. That is pretty much the hallmark of Banks. He is a fly-by-night who wings it, doing the bare minimum and has no concept of how stupid he is. He is an exemplar of Dunning Kruger syndrome. That is his weakness if you play it skillfully.

What Banks wants most of all is continued exposure. Without it he's just an insurance salesman in a lot of financial bother. That's one thing his galactic ego could never permit hum to acknowledge. He likes his persona as a shady operator because it feeds his delusions. Otherwise he's a singularly unremarkable and pretty sad man whose influence has peaked.

You must also note that his actual support is minimal. He is out on his own. Everybody who had any dealings with him on the leave side concluded two things almost immediately. Firstly that he is a waste of time - and secondly; he and his entourage are thick as a whale omelette and a complete liability.

Ultimatley the only thing sustaining him and his operation in the public eye is you - and all you are really achieving (while carving a niche following for yourself) is discrediting some of the very real concerns about the likes of Legatum Institute. I think you are too emotionally invested and that is counter-productive.

I'm not sure if you have the self-awareness to see it but the more your Guardian readership buys into the victim status you are building for yourself, the less seriously anybody normal will take you. The consequence of that is "boy who cried wolf" syndrome when it really matters, and nobody will care about Legatum and their very real commercial agenda. The whole case will have jumped the shark.

Ultimately you can take or leave this advice, but were I you I would give some thought as to how you are being manipulated. Banks is functionally stupid but he does know how to play people, and he has you hook, line and sinker. I would venture it is your own ego feeding the beast.

You will get no argument from me that their output is pretty grim stuff. Conterversy is his modus operandi and has been from the beginning. The reason they are targeting you is because it works. Your reaction is exactly what they want. You say the bullies are winning - but that's because you're giving them everything they set out to get. Rather than helping any partiular cause you are building yourself a support group and it looks like you are emotionally capitalising. Not surprising you have found common cause with Brendan Cox.

Banks might very well be a shady dealer - and a poor businessman with questionable ethics, but ultimately your body of evidence is pretty thin gruel. Supposing there is any deeper investigation it will only reveal trivial financial irregularities and will do nothing to serve your ultimate ends of deligitimising the referendum.

All the while your web of innuendo about shady internet operations will come to nothing. It is highly probably that Banks did part with money for what he believes to be sophiticated online operations but in all likelihood he was conned by some shakedown artists who saw him coming a mile off. A fool and is money are easily parted.

What I might suggest is that if you want to do some serious journalism you should ignore the Banks decoy and focus your attention on Steve Baker, Owen Paterson and the Northern Ireland connection. If you can't find sleaze on the Tory fringes then you're just not looking hard enough.

If you think Arron Banks is the target then you are mistaken. He's not that important and he never was. The moment Vote Leave was granted the lead designation he ceased to be of any significance. There is nothing to be slavaged from the corpse of Ukip, and his own media efforts will come to nought simply because he and his team lack the talent to make it work. He's finished. His political life support machine is you - so that just makes me wonder, what do you get from it?


Saturday, 18 November 2017

Brexit: Britain must learn to think outside the box

There is some imprecision in the Brexit debate and partly it is my fault for saying most EU rules come from global bodies. It's interesting how Twitter shorthand can transmogrify a concept. As with everything else, it is heavily caveated.

It is more accurate to say that most standards come from global bodies and each standard has its own equally laborious guidelines from the same sources which form the basis of private conformity assessment. This is important.

In fact, when we are talking about regulatory costs on business we are in fact talking about the costs of implementing standards where just a single subclause of a standard opens up an entirely new domain of bureaucracy, spawning hugely complex systems of their own - especially when it comes to data standards, management practices, document management and health and safety/hygiene monitoring - measuring and corrective actioning.

When it comes to the manufacture of goods, as much as you must be able to prove your product conforms to a standard you must also be able to demonstrate full traceability and that the production process was also to a given standard. This is where conformity costs balloon. For a small fry it is next to impossible fully implement all of the standards, not least since (on a certain scale) they are not applicable. Not forgetting that standards themselves cost money to buy and auditing is not cheap either.

It is primarily this which excludes new market entrants - and not for nothing do savvy corporates invest a great deal in influencing standards to ensure it stays that way. The domain of standards is barely understood, especially by politicians and the top tiers of the EU simply because it is, to a large extent, a private domain. In that respect our national influence on the substance of rules is barely connected to the EU. Over 80% of electrotechnical standards in the EU come from the IEC.

In this it tends to be the first movers who gain the influence advantage. As a commenter over on EUReferendum noted last week, private companies are 99,9% driven by short term profit and the overwhelming amount of priority issues they deal with are closely linked to the (sometimes very complex) value chain, not speaking of the time and energy these companies waste in daily internal politics.

These are ecosystems for itself and really big mistakes are often committed because they see no value in investing in skilled people able to formulate broader government strategies. Rule of thumb is that most of the companies leave these issues to be dealt through industry associations which offer no more than a very low profile approach.

Only really leading companies in each sector, depending on having clever shareholders who understand the value of investing in government relations, invest to drive medium and long term strategies out of it. For this reason, when the bus comes and overruns most of the players (as it is expected to happen with Brexit), most of them barely know what hit them. Warnings from industry over the dangers of leaving the single market have been under-informed and inept. It is assumed the institutional knowledge is held by government.

As to how much regulation is adopted from global bodies, that is a different question and not so easily measured. The influence of UNECE is now well documented, but what I've noticed in my studies is that new UNECE measures tend to adopt older EU rules as the foundation, which are then in turn re-adopted by the EU. Vehicle emissions rules and thresholds are one such example. When you look at how EU FTAs are pressing third countries to use UNECE, Codex etc, we can see that the EU is essentially surrendering exclusive domain over its technical regulations.

What is more important to note, however is the fluidity of the global regulatory ecosystem where each body forms joint committees and working groups, some on a permanent basis to work toward entirely new frameworks for emerging technologies. There is huge crossover between the WCO, UNECE and ITU in respect of blockchain - which will completely transform trade and in many respects remove government from the system entirely. Many of the MoUs between them will have a far greater impact on the global regulatory sphere than deep and comprehensive deals like TTIP (assuming it ever passes).

This of course raises a number of questions regarding influence, transparency and accountability, and pressingly for the UK it requires that we formulate our own strategies to ensure we continue to punch above our weight. Increasingly we find global conventions standing in the way of the EU gold plating standards and regulations and so "having a say in the rules" is less tied to EU membership than ever. However, the UK will have to seek out sectoral alliances so that the EU is not calling all of the shots.

We also should note that there is a huge difference between standards and EU product frameworks, the latter being the mode of EU dominance, but even then we gradually see methods for conformity assessment kicked out to ISO - and we can expect to see the World Customs Organisation increasingly asserting its influence - especially in the field of anti-fraud and counterfeiting - which is soon to be a greater concern than tariffs.

For now the debate is bogged down in discussions about the WTO which is only one framework in a far larger ecosystem. The debate about the mechanics of standards simply isn't fashionable - not least since most of the trade wonks have never had anything approaching a real job and have never seen standards implementation in practice. Companies are more likely to be absorbed in standards documentation than EU regulations.

So coming back to the original premise that most of the rules come from global bodies, as far as business is concerned that much is true. The working and the syntaxes and various thresholds may be set at the EU level but the substance is way beyond the EU's institutional capabilities.

To put it in more crude terms, Brexit is not the catastrophic loss of influence many assume it is. We have the great and the good repeating Financial Times dogma, but there is no real expertise currently in the public debate. Government should be consulting Walter Mattli, Ngaire Woods, Thomas Biersteker and Tim B├╝the rather than Westminster think tank interns and eco-lobbyists with a chlorinated chicken fetish.

I am, however, not in the least bit surprised that the debate has not evolved beyond the Janet and John level. This stuff very rapidly gets boring and the more effort you put into research the fewer rewards there are to be had. Writing about this stuff is the fastest way to see your hits take a nosedive. 

In many ways this is quite dangerous. Possibly one of the most vital trends and most underreported aspects of global governance is the privatisation of regulation. If people thought reporting of the EU was poor and the EU lacks transparency, trying getting your head round the standards process. It is simply not in the Overton Window and we have a remain inclined media determined to keep it that way. Brussels is the furthest extent of their horizons. 

If the UK is to make a success of post-Brexit trade policy then this domain is where we should focus our attention. It will require more compulsion on business to support trade bodies and to get involved, far greater research into trade technologies - and a better intelligence mechanism to ensure we have a working picture of how standards are evolving. There is every possibility we could be better than the EU at this since even our government would have to work hard to be worse at it

As far as Twitter goes the discussion on trade seldom ever ventures beyond the now tedious domain of FTAs and those influencing the trade debate are barely discussing the tip of the iceberg. We are going to need a multitiered strategy and we need to very seriously beef up our representation in Geneva. We have too many generalists like Julian Braithwaite, who, while an excellent ambassador, cannot possibly cover all the ground. It is simply not possible. 

Put simply, if the UK is going to be an independent country then we need to start acting like one and break out of the Brussels-centric mindset. Though we will in all likelihood stay aligned with the EU, we must be mindful of the Geneva Effect and ensure we give the current trends a shove in the right direction. 

Whether or not most of the regulations come from global bodies right now is a redundant debate. What concerns us is Britain's strategy and the inescapable reality that Brussels is gradually losing its control over the regulatory agenda. With an intelligent approach there are a number of opportunities to lead the field, but if we allow ourselves to be boxed in by all the conventional wisdom on trade then we will get nowhere. We must learn to think differently and we must urgently expand the debate.

Shocked I tell you.

If you're wondering why I'm quiet on Twitter, it's because I'm temporarily suspended. As a thought experiment I tried tweeting about remainers the same way they talk about Brexiteers. I see how this works now.

Friday, 17 November 2017

EU funding was always propaganda

Following my piece on the FT's poverty safari, a friend sent me this video featuring Nick Clegg on a safari of his own in Ebbw Vale in South Wales. It features little Cleggy boy puzzling himself as to why the ungrateful plebs could have voted to leave the EU when there are so many shiny regeneration projects stamped with a blue flag in the district.

Not least of those is a £2.5 million European Union funded funicular (pictured). Yep. Somebody somewhere thought that was a worthwhile regeneration project. 

This is very much a product of quangocrat thinking who have no concept of how to go about regeneration. All they know is they have a budget and they must spend it. This is the product of central economic planning.

One other example of this thinking can be found in this Guardian piece, exploring what needs to be done to close the north/south divide:

"Unlike the overcrowded south-east, the north is not short of homes, but its housing stock is often run down and energy inefficient. So there should be a nationwide programme to improve insulation, starting with cities in the north. Such a scheme would cut fuel bills, reduce carbon emissions and provide well-paid jobs for local people".

No it wouldn't. Get real. A fund would be set up. It would be farmed out to councils who would manage it badly, waste most of it, fail to install insulation on more than a handful of homes, probably of the wrong type, resulting in no meaningful reduction in bills and largely installed by corporate contractors, each of whom would take their skim off the top. Cynical? No. Because that is what happens every single time. Eyes passim. These people never learn.

All the while the deeply ingrained obsession with carbon emissions means they will always take the most cost effective means off the table while convincing themselves that the most expensive, least effective means is in the long term interest, thus justifying the vast sums of our money thrown at these initiatives. But these people are experts donchaknow.

The fact of the matter is that these places are never going to be restored to their former glory and the locals know it. The towns aren't going to be regenerated and no stainless steel dragon sculpture is going to offset the encroachment of the internet on high street retail. The only thing that keeps small rural towns afloat is tourism and and that's only if they have a particular charm, which former mining towns are not known for. 

In this respect one can quite understand the growing resentment as millions are spent on clueless baubles to decorate these derelict towns. They might marginally improve the look of the place but unsurprisingly such "regeneration" rapidly falls into disrepair and soon looks tarnished. One is often unsurprised to see that regeneration projects carrying a blue flag plaque are now tatty relics from the 90s. The places are abandoned even by the EU. 

The difficult truth we have to face up to is that the best regeneration for any of these places is yellow, caterpillar tracked with a large dozer blade on the front. We are living in a post industrial era and increasingly we are moving to a post-work economy. In the past it has been a policy priority to try and prevent agglomeration but now with small businesses catering for evermore niche interests, policy must look to creating cities large enough to create markets for them, lest everything gravitate toward London. 

Strategically we need let the inherent crunch points of London be their own deterrent, with no policy attempts to remedy them, while investing in Birmingham, Glasgow, Leeds and Manchester. The wrecks and relics of the industrial revolution are far beyond salvation and only private money in the hands of individuals can ever really bring life back to them. That is only going to happen when we allow private capital to do its thing. 

The public cannot be bought with their own money, nor do they wish to see it squandered on political vanity projects and white elephants. This is something the EU and its advocates has never understood. All the blue plaques achieve is to remind us that we are a defeated, occupied country kept afloat with subsistence grants - dressed up as the munificence of eurocrats even though the money is ours. This spending we have absolutely no say in. Had Ebbw Vale's local population had a referendum on how to spend £2.5m I am certain a funicular would not have been top of the list. 

The intent of the European Regional Development Fund was always to buy the advocacy of idiots like Nick Clegg. It rather looks like it worked on him. It did not, however, work on the people of South Wales, who have more depth and wisdom than our entire political class (if not the education). It is for that reason I will take democracy over technocracy any day of the week.  

Meanwhile, as we are on the subject of funding for decrepit relics struggling to survive and fading in relevance, don't forget to donate to this blog. This is one cause the EU is not going to bail out. 

Brexit: It's a values thing

In an attempt to make the EU more appealing to voters and counter rising eurosceptic sentiment across the bloc EU leaders have proclaimed a set of twenty “social rights” . The set of social rights, supported by all EU governments and institutions, spells out what the EU believes are the foundations of fair and well-functioning modern labour markets and welfare systems. It encompasses principles ranging from equal access to jobs and fair working conditions and wages to social protection and unemployment benefits and training.

European Commission President Juncker said. "Our Union has always been a social project at heart. It is more than just a single market, more than money, more than the euro. It is about our values and the way we want to live. Today we assert our common values and commit ourselves to a set of twenty principles and rights. From the right to fair wages to the right to health care; from lifelong learning, a better work-life balance and gender equality to minimum income".

Who could find that in any way offensive? You guessed it. Me. I wasn't able to immediately articulate by reaction but Sam Hooper could: "So the European Union continues to be something done *to* member states and citizens rather than any kind of organic response to what the people might want. Normal business then". Exactamundo.

Instead of initiatives fighting their way to the forefront of politics, backed by a popular movement, the technocracy, according to its own warped value system, takes a punt at what the people might want, without actually asking them and imposing it whether they want it or not. We could notionally elect MEPs to oppose it, but they wouldn't because they themselves are marinated in this same soft left consensus bullshit and you can be assured the NGOcracy will have their say as it travels down to us.

The consequences of this is a number of research agendas pumped through the various propaganda arms of the EU and into domestic institutions - along with regional funding that usually translates into technocratic centralist initiatives having precisely zero impact on the people who actually pay for it.

This, of course, keeps all the policy wonks and apparatchiks in business, with plenty of junkets to Brussels along with engagement workshops and seminars sucking in mayors and council chiefs and all the other dismal functionaries of modern managerialist command and control government.

The biggest problem with all this is that the only truly unapproachable concept for our euro-establishment is that it might be a big part, if not the whole, of the problem. The unintended consequences of just about every regulatory intervention in the labour market has caused a good deal of misery - and the very idea of the EU in any way influencing welfare policy is too horrifying even to contemplate.

The proclaimed set of rights - known as the European Pillar of Social Rights - says everybody has the right to quality education throughout their lives and that men and women must have equal opportunities in all areas and be paid the same. The unemployed have the right to “personalized, continuous and consistent support”, while workers have the right to “fair” wages that provide a “decent standard of living”. Minimum wages should be ensured to satisfy the needs of workers and their families, the leaders agreed.

While the rights would not be directly enforceable by the EU, except where they already exist in national laws and therefore subject to national courts, they establish a common EU standard and language for discussion of social issues. That, though, is only the opening volley. Any moves toward common standards is nearly always the beginnings of integration and the beginnings of a transfer of sovereignty to Brussels.

In effect this completely eliminates the very possibility of voting for a radically different model of governance. You can have any mode of government you want just so long as it conforms to the social democratic consensus and implements the welfarist agenda of the left. It locks in social policy to the extent that it cannot be reformed in any meaningful way (like all other areas of EU competence) and by definition excludes the possibility of a conservative/liberal political agenda.

What is most telling is how the denizens of the EU ecosystem look on in incredulity that people might actually vote against something they view as entirely benevolent, offering them rights and entitlements. It never occurs to them that the people themselves may wish to define the parameters of the society they live in.

Economist Simon Wren-Lewis describes the referendum as "people voting to make themselves poorer than they might otherwise be for some ill-defined notion of control or because of myths about immigration". To him and his ilk the notion that the plebs would prefer democracy to the idea of being farmed like animals is conceptually obscure.

This is ultimately what makes the EU an anti-human enterprise. It embodies the mindset that the people themselves cannot and should not be the authors of their own destiny and that democracy requires their qualified supervision. To them there is only one true way and their perfect order can only come about through the confiscation of vital powers.

It is further telling that those most opposed to Brexit are the same who oppose any privatisation of the NHS, oppose any reform of welfare, oppose any changes to EU funded academia, and fully subscribe to the climate change dogma of the elites. There is no sense of scepticism, no application of critical faculties and they simply cannot imagine a society not designed down to the last detail by statist technocrats.

I have no doubt that Brexit will unleash its own brand of turmoil and administrative chaos, but in so doing will release the human potential long constrained by the invisible bars of the EU construct. The EU is a utopian delusion where reality seldom ever intrudes. It can never truly respond to the needs of people because it is not of the people. It occupies an entirely different universe and for as long as it exists it will continue to govern in the interests of its denizens and dependents rather than those it nominally serves.

We are told that Brexit will bring uncertainty but democracy by its very nature is uncertain. Certainty is preferred by those who dislike disruption. But then the disruptive nature of democracy is the very point of it. It is a corrective to elites who become set in their ways, mired in their own dogmas and unwilling and unable to see their own follies and corruptions. To our establishments academic and political, the EU offers the perfect insurance policy to ensure that their agenda is unimpeded regardless of any vote. 

This is why I would vote to leave the EU every single time. It has not fully dawned on the people or the government yet but Brexit is regime change. The remainers get it - which is why they would use any means at their disposal to overturn the vote. This is why remainers can be found on Twitter openly praying for the deaths of senior citizens - to tilt the demographics in their favour. It is that which reminds me that this is as much a question of values. Democracy and liberty over the cold, calculating ambitions of genocidal technocrats. It's a potent reminder that you can have the EU or democracy - but not both. 

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Financial Times goes on poverty safari

My absolute pet hate in media is poverty safaris where hacks making a name for themselves venture out into the wilds of Northern England to see how the natives live. This latest effort from the FT is a singularly awful example where Sarah O'Connor ventures to Blackpool.

The reason I hate the genre is because it's exploitative. It tells us nothing we don't know, it's derivative and its only function is to secure the praise of other hacks inside the closed loop of London media circles. More to the point, we have been here before. Depression and joblessness in the regions is epidemic and has been for some time. This stuff is easy to write, cheap to produce and it adds nothing.

What puzzles me is why any of this is a mystery to our gifted class of pundits. If you are rotting without a job, on benefits, and stuck in the arse end of nowhere one might expect some difficulty in maintaining one's mental health.

In this instance we are talking about Blackpool but could just as easily be the Welsh Valleys. Places whose primary function is long redundant. Modernity killed the mines and the airline killed the seaside resort. The jobs came and then the jobs went. And they are not coming back.

So why would you have a welfare policy that pays people to stay in a place where there are no jobs? Furthermore why are GPs throwing antidepressants at patients on demand? Simply because GPs are not in the habit of saying no and mental health nurse practitioners hand them out like smarties.

Moreover, patients don't like to be told that their condition requires some maintenance work on their part - and that there is more to recovery than simply popping a pill - which is largely rendered inert since drugs and alcohol also involved. Not least habitual use of cannabis which for some is a major cause of mental disorder. It can be an extremely mentally invasive drug leading to psychotic episodes.

As much as anything recovery from depression is about breaking the habit of depression - forcing yourself to do things whether you feel up to it or not. Too often people make excuses for themselves and it is politically incorrect in our therapeutic age to call bullshit on it. The very last thing we should do is park people on incapacity benefit because that is a sure fire way of making it a permanent condition.

Moreover, depression then becomes a golden ticket to avoid taking up responsibilities and once word gets round, entire towns are diagnosed with it. It doesn't take Sherlock fucking Holmes to work out why there are high concentrations in these welfare slums.

For adult males of a working age the best prescription is a dose of "shut the fuck up, get on a bus to the city, find a spare room on the internet, and get a fucking job". The first month you will feel cold, vulnerable, miserable, despondent, bleak even. And then a pay cheque arrives. And then you can buy a few nice things.

Then, a month later, another pay cheque arrives and you are on your way to a having a deposit for a more substantial let. Six months later, you have a routine, an income, a secure place and you're not in fucking Blackpool. A year later you might even have a job that doesn't suck. You might still have depression but you will manage it better.

But no. Such a diagnosis is out of place in the era of the snowflake. It's not the job of men to go and find work and be men. It is our role to be victims and wait to be saved by government regeneration schemes. Meanwhile, we are told there is nothing we can do to help ourselves and pulling the duvet over our heads and popping another pill is all we can do until a job falls out of the sky.

Now I am not unsympathetic to depression. I know what it's like. I am a depressive nihilist myself. When I hit the rocks I hit them hard. But I know you have two choices. You can sink or you can swim. It is a choice. You can keep buggering on or you can guzzle down a bottle of something and throw yourself a massive pity party. I've done the latter once or twice and clawing your way out of it is not easy. It takes work. Self-pity is a very potent drug.

Punching through that motivational barrier when you really don't care if the universe implodes is the discipline you have to develop. Right now it's 15:37, and it's almost dark outside. I can feel the last of my neurotransmitters bleeding away and in an hour or so I will be in a state of catatonic despondency. It's typical for this time of year. I've had to develop management strategies for it because otherwise I will find myself back on my arse again.

And you know something? I don't live in Bristol because I like the local cuisine. I came here because I knew there would be work after failing to find work in another derelict seaside town. I did rough it. It wasn't fun. Except for the bits that were. This is why I can vote for Brexit because if I need to do it again I can and I will. That is self-knowledge born from experience.

This is why I also don't care about the economic impact of Brexit quite so much as the handwringers do - because I know that Brexit will force cuts and it will force tough choices - and it will shatter the status quo that leads to these welfare ghettos. We won't have £24bn to spend on housing benefit.

Britain needs to grow up. There are no answers when it comes to Blackpool and Blackwood. These places are long dead and no central state planning is ever going to restore them to their former glory. A regeneration scheme here or there is not going to change the fortunes of their miserable residents. Only a better life can do that and a better life is something you have to work at.

For this, and so many other emerging issues, the politicians don't have any answers. They don't have the courage to make the cuts or seriously examine the viability of our creaking welfare state. For as long as politicians are held hostage to generation snowflake there will never be a reappraisal of our command and control economy - and for as long as we treat adults like entitled children they will go on behaving like entitled children.

Since the politicians won't act, Brexit will force the issue. This is a long time coming - and though there will be pain, nothing good can come from leaving things as they are. Brexit cannot come soon enough. We have exhausted the possibilities of the current political settlement and if the cold reality of Blackpool is this far beyond the grasp of the Westminster bubble then it's a wake up call we are badly in need of.