Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Norway then... Norway!

The divorce analogy has been used quite a bit throughout the course of Brexit where we are breaking up with a partner of some 40 years. So expanding that to start a new relationship, the Norway then Canada approach is essentially finding a nice new girl and asking her if you can use her pad for a bit and then swan off when you find something better. Charming.

Some sofa surfing blokes can get away with that sort of thing but generally if you're starting a new relationship it helps to tell her she's the sweetest gal in the world and you'll be awesome together. But then EEA advocates in parliament are a pretty miserable bunch.

Were we joining the EU today they'd have a Westminster bridge firework display with all the pomp and ceremony. Yet with Efta we're talking about it like a second best we're reluctantly forced to join after the proles have thrown a spanner in the EU works. Again using the divorce analogy, it's like settling for a girl you don't really like but are just afraid to be alone.

To argue the case of why we join Efta you really have to sell it as superior. Which it is. It's a liberal, democratic alliance of North Atlantic countries and Switzerland - regarded as a world centre of banking. It's a natural alliance of nations who don't fit in the EU. We'd be in better company, particularly Iceland and Switzerland who both have a lot to teach us about improving and enhancing our democracy.

Efta isn't a supranational quasi-superstate bloc, it's not intruding on our values and it's not telling us what to do, and it's mainly about trade - which is what we Eurosceptics always said we wanted. EEA and Efta means preserving the bits of the EU worth having while finding a natural home with like-minded allies.

The UK is is particular about fish as are Iceland and Norway. Our combined weight in global fishing affairs is considerable - not least because of the expertise we bring to the table. the same can be said of gas and oil exploration at sea. Teaming up with Switzerland also gives us a major voice in international banking. Efta with the UK is a power in its own right and certainly would be no passive "rule taker".

To join Efta we have to want it and we have to show that not only do we want it, there is also a future for Efta states, and in the process, we can enhance the EEA which could potentially solve a problem for both the EU and Switzerland who have long been seeking to normalise their relations to no avail.

There are any number of geostrategic benefits for the UK being in Efta which would be considerably more agile than the EU, but being that Efta is not a customs union it gives us trade options and the best of both worlds. This to me is an upgrade, not a booby prize.

This blog has discussed at length how EEA Efta resolves most of the immediate Brexit problems but we should not be looking at this solely from the perspective of  solving a Rubik's Cube. We have to see this in terms of not only how we can leverage the best deal for the UK but also how we can turn Brexit into a positive for all. For the EU it means far less exposure to the costs of Brexit but also rids it of one of its less cooperative members without souring European relations.

If we are going to be minting new coins then why not mint one in honour of Efta and and make a decent show of it to prove to our allies that we are committed to a long term mutually productive relationship where we can have the best possible relations with the EU and still work collaboratively in trade affairs without petty spats and needless acrimony.

What is totally lacking is any sense of vision. The Tories have their "fwee twade" agenda - which is taken seriously by no-one who knows about trade. Here though we have an avenue available to us that is not only pragmatic, it is also deliverable, realistic but also highly desirable if we do so in the spirit of building something and giving it new energy. The dismal hostility from Brexiters is hardly attractive to a new partner nor especially is the grudging negativity of remainers.

What the MPs need to so if they want Efta is to not only get to grips with the issues, but also project a markedly improved attitude and show a bit of initiative in terms of presenting a viable vision. They need to be out waving the Efta flag as enthusiastically as they once waved the ring of stars.

The notion of docking to Efta part time is very much the bureaucrat's solution devoid of any human energy or ambition. It is as though we are resigned to becoming a second rate power on an EU leash, somehow forgetting that Britain is a country of considerable economic, intellectual, academic and scientific resource with plenty to offer.

Norway may play hard to get but she needs to know we are serious and we're not going to take her for a ride and use her. She isn't interested in a rebound relationship and on recent from is not impressed at our reckless and selfish behaviour. Who would take that on?

The short of it is that the tide is going out on Tory trade fantasies and the latest enthusiasm for TPP is utterly ridiculous. Trade gravity is one of the few absolute rules in economics. We may not belong in a supranational federalising project such as the EU, but we are still every bit Europeans and we still belong in the European family of nations. Efta best represents our circumstances and by every possible measure including healing the nation, it is a no-brainer. What are we waiting for?

We must rediscover the value of self-determination.

If you are a functioning intellect you should be able to look at your opponents cause and argue their case at least as well as, or better than they can just as a thought exercise. That is key to winning any argument. This is also why remainers lose the argument. They don't understand their opponents.

Very often I see somebody tweet something in respect of the economic effects of Brexit and inevitably someone will remark that we leavers just don't care. To a large extent they are right. What price do you put on democracy? Many of us leavers have their own distinct reasons for wanting to leave that do not involve immigration and freedom of movement is only a peripheral issue. Remainers, though, prefer to salve their wounded pride with the notion that xenophobia is the prime motivator. It at least affords them moral superiority.

Once you run wild with that notion - or the notion that leavers are thick, you're on a loser because you spend the rest of the time believing you are superior and your cause is the more righteous. Unsurprisingly that does not win friends and influence people. That is why Remain lost.

But then, for sure, there are those for whom freedom of movement was a very strong motivator in deciding to vote to leave. It is not without its problems. Predictably Remain set about a campaign of denialism which runs contrary to the lived experiences of leave voting folk. Much of the UK's problems stem from the fact that everything from hospitals to roads to sewers are running at capacity and investment cannot keep up. That has quality of life implications.

We also see how our city streets are used as transit camps by eastern Europeans - making them less safe and unsightly. I certainly didn't sign up for that. In fact, nobody did. We were never consulted and consent was never sought and the chief reason for that being that is asked we'd have said no.

Now that it's done remainers point to the very obvious economic benefits. We now have more goods and services available to us because we have an inexhaustible supply of cheap labour. Again remainers will deny the negative externalities of this and the point that it has changed the UK to a cash-rich convenience economy (with the cultural and attitudinal changes that come with it) is lost on remainers.

Much of the ire in relation to the EU is not specifically to do with the EU in that our continued integration with the EU is a symptom of our own political and democratic dysfunction where politicians deliberately exploit the overall lack of interest in the EU to take us deeper in by stealth. Moreover, because of the way the EU operates, measures which appear to be domestic are in fact on the instruction of the EU and so the extent of EU rule is generally obscured from view and not common knowledge.

Having been an associate of I have a long memory of it reporting "hidden Europe" where the media has utterly failed to detect the EU dimension to domestic law, particularly in matters of energy and utilities, and that is why remainers and many leavers in fact are appallingly ill informed as to how deep EU integration really goes. It is also why remainers have trouble believing that the EU controls us to the extent that it does. There is a singular lack of appreciation that the EU is a government.

What makes it hard for leavers is that though much is done without our knowledge and consent, it is often difficult to ascertain whether a policy failure is the result of EU or domestic measures. This is what we mean when we say there is no accountability. The government can blame its failures on the EU and vice versa.

We then find that EU measures are often quite popular in that they have laudable intent. On paper the Agency Workers Directive provides greater protections for temporary workers. In practice, though, it is my view that it has the precise opposite effect. That much is difficult to prove since there are policy overlaps with Westminster, but the central issue is that even if we could identify the culprit, and if it were the EU, we'd be waiting a decade at least for reform assuming  the Commission would even allow it on the agenda.

We are often told that the EU gives us workers rights. I don't think the levels of protection are necessarily superior or necessary, but the point being that in order for the EU to give us those rights it had to assume the power to do it which means that power is no longer our own to instruct our legitimate government in these such areas. Consequently our unions are redundant and have become obedient cogs in the machine.

Essentially this is that "democratic deficit". Here we get well funded EU activists like Femi Oluwole telling us that the EU is a democracy because we have perfunctory voting rituals at every level of the EU. It's that same denialism and an abuse of the meaning of the word democracy.

Keen to manage the perception that the EU has a democratic deficit it promotes its "citizen's initiative" supposedly enabling "EU citizens to participate directly in the development of EU policies". This is tacked on to the Lisbon treaty as an accessory to address the basic oversight that citizens are not generally able to engage with EU policymaking. In a real democracy, however, citizen participation in the development of policy is the very essence of it. Again remainers are trying to spin away a gaping hole in their argument.

This is essentially why the europhiles lose the argument every time. Leavers can be beaten with economic metrics, many of which are undeniable and the economic case for Brexit falls to pieces. Yet, still, even when faced with catastrophic economic harm leavers are still as determined as ever. 

We have an establishment which downplays the influence of the EU, its denizens not even knowing what it does or how it goes about appropriating more powers, denying the very nature of the EU, while the EU version of democracy is really just a PR apparatus. 

Were I a remainer, I wouldn't even bother trying to shore up the lies of the EU and the establishment - in much the same way as I do not attempt to shore up the idiocy of Brexiteers. I wouldn't pretend the EU was a democracy. I would simply sell it on its merits as a benign technocracy. 

For all that the EU is accused of being the "EUSSR" it does not disappear journalists and there are no gulags. It is only malevolent in its effects rather than its actions and intentions - and no better or worse than any nation state. It is not a democracy, rather it is a managerial entity which has taken control of economic and social functions to raise standards uniformly across the continent. 

One can easily make a case that the EU, having taken control and set the parameters of government essentially protects the public from the worst excesses of democracy - muting the abilities of extremes on both sides of the argument. It is a stabilising influence. If faced with either a Rees-Mogg or a Corbyn future, that argument has its own appeal.

But even then we can argue that the devalued vote has gradually eroded people's faith in their own democracies which has actually led to this state we are in today. Government is something that is done to us and is not something we have meaningful participation in. For a time when the EU was largely limited to common standards on meat hygiene and metric measurements it was a tolerable, if unwelcome influence. Now though, it can instruct governments to enact laws that not only clash without values but also have far reaching social consequences. 

In the end though, the Brexit debate has become two sides talking past each other. Remainers are still ploughing ahead with all the classic economic tropes while leavers, disbelieving of the warnings, are still more intent on Brexit to "take back control". It would appear, exemplified by the Brexit negotiations, that we can have democracy or economic prosperity but not both.

But here, though, I return to the charter of The Leave Alliance. "The prosperity of the people depends on being able to exercise the fundamental right and necessity of self-determination, thus taking control of their opportunities and destiny in an inter-governmental global future with the ability to swiftly correct and improve when errors occur. Within the United Kingdom, our vision is for a government respectful of its people who will take on greater participation and control of their affairs at local and national level".

The relative prosperity we enjoy presently irrespective of Brexit is on borrowed time. There are a number of economic and social stresses which cannot be reconciled without fundamental reform. Remaining in the EU ensures that reform never happens and we limp on in a state of political stalemate, with an inept political class disengaged from vital policy making, now largely in the hands of Brussels, where all it can do is concoct sticking plasters and electoral bribes to ensure they stay in power. Politics is then debased and for that there are future consequences. 

As the nature of work is changing along with demographics and with the onset of technology of unimaginable disruptive influence, as much as we need an entirely new economic paradigm, is is essential that we retain the ability to correct and modify policy in ways that simply isn't possible in the EU. The Posted Workers Directive took no less than seven years to reform but is still by its very nature flawed and unjust. 

Citizenship is more than just the rights conferred by a passport. Part of citizenship is respect for the rule of law. That respect happens only because the people themselves have a role in the creation of that law. It is from democracy that it has legitimacy. In legislating on labour and social matters the EU is using powers it obtained illegitimately in pursuit of a an integrationist agenda which necessarily requires that the peoples of its member states are not able to diverge. By definition that is not democracy thus there can be no legitimacy. 

It is ultimately this rule of law, combined with responsive and legitimate government which is key to our future prosperity. Further erosion of democracy and a further debasement of politics will see growing dissatisfaction and popular dissent. Democracy is not just some vague concept. It runs right to the heart of the argument in terms of what has been done to us over the decades where we are no longer meaningfully in control and we are told that sovereignty and self-determination are outdated concepts. 

We therefore have to either grudgingly accept EU dominion and that there is no alternative to a more transient, technocratic society, or decide whether we believe that democracy has to mean more than simply casting a vote in a hollow ritual every five years. This is the choice we were given in 2016. 

Since then we have seen that remainers have no faith in the British people, democracy or the abilities of this country and compel us to prioritise their immediate economic convenience over self-determination. That 48% would have voted for such a miserable proposition tells us that we've forgotten the meaning of the word democracy and why it is so precious. 

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

When fools rush in

I was not shocked to learn that Erna Solberg, the Norwegian PM, has slapped down Nick Boles's "Norway then Canada" plan. It's the same old story. The Tory-come-lately steams in with only half a clue, thinking he knows it all and then very predictably hits the rocks. He has now given opponents of the EEA yet more ammunition - who are already spinning it as though Soldberg has ruled out the option entirely.

Not taking the hint, Boles then tweets "This is obviously disappointing. But what matters is being in EFTA pillar of EEA, not full membership of EFTA". Boles here assumes that the EEA agreement can be activated for the UK with a couple of splashes of Tippex and the job's done. But as much as the EEA needs substantial configuration for UK use, he is not thinking about the process either.

Being that the process is a minefield of legal complexity it is sure to require a number of clarifications and discussions all making use of the EEA institutions and presumably the Efta courts. On paper it is less disruptive than full membership but in practice amounts to much the same. We have yet to hear from Boles what's in it for them.

Any plan involving Norway/Efta was always going to require an incentive for the Efta states. The UK as a committed Efta member could make it in the strategic interests of Norway - but if we're just using them for temporary convenience it's a disruption and an insult.

Solberg has always been lukewarm to the idea of the EEA as a settlement, which she would since, should the UK embark on such a plan, she holds some of the winning cards and can use that leverage to the advantage of Norway. If the UK wants to take that avenue we will have to make it worth their while.

It is, though, entirely typical for the Boles ilk to plough in and throw their weight around without having done the groundwork. He is a Tory after all. The idea of the EEA as a transitional measure is not a new one. The Leave Alliance campaigned for a transitional EEA arguing that it would be used as a departure lounge. The difference is the timeframe and how you pitch it.

EEA would be a viable long term transitional avenue but the acceptability rests on a question of what we are transitioning to. As a joint Efta endeavour to reshape the EEA and evolve it, it would have stood a chance, but to waste a number of years only to drop out to an undefined FTA which would need to be negotiated in parallel is not sensible or logical. It is also completely lacking vision.

Boles took the outline of an idea without understanding it, without putting the work in, took ownership of it (as many have before) and completely ruined it - regressing the debate in the process. Instead of helping the case Boles has hammered another nail into the coffin of the EEA option.

It is that egotism and singular lack of vision that has dogged the Brexit proceedings from the outset. All parties involved are still looking at Brexit as a Rubik's cube to be solved rather than an opportunity to reshape European relations. We have seen a number of submissions from the likes of Open Europe, cherrypicking and inventing to get around EU roadblocks - often completely ignoring what has already been discussed and rejected by Barnier.

No doubt there are solutions to a number of difficult dilemmas but everything suggested thus far requires that the EU bends or breaks its own rules with no particular incentive to do so. We are then surprised when the EU says no. They simply do not learn.

At this point any discussion around the EEA option would be academic since May has repeatedly rejected it and it has suffered a number of blows along the way, not least with issue illiterate misrepresentation in the media, the BBC especially. The reason it continues to float to the top is that it remains the one viable framework for an orderly departure.

What keeps it out of the running is the media's total refusal to acknowledge that there are political avenues to curbing freedom of movement within the EEA and the often repeated myth that Norway "adopts all the rules" and "has no say" - most recently repeated by the idiotic Chris Morris of the BBC.

Whenever the BBC produces what they call a "reality check" explainer they have to rob any issue of nuance while also getting the basics wrong. There is a mountain of analysis in the public domain yet BBC hacks refuse to avail themselves of it and continue to treat their audience like children with the attention span of a gerbil.

What happens now, though, is anyone's guess. Between the ineptitude of the media, Remain and Leave propaganda and arrogant know-nothing Tories like Nick Boles, the EEA option is once again swept to the sidelines while we churn over the few remaining options, none of which good. We now have to wait for Brexit day until there can be any serious attempt to resurrect the option, preferably under new leadership.

That leaves us to bicker over the customs union and the NI backstop meaning that we have made zero progress since December and will likely have to wait until next year to be able to call it. Meanwhile we coast toward no deal with wholly inadequate preparation. We should note, however that the EEA option is never dead. If we do crash out then it the EEA option becomes the most viable rescue plan.

After Brexit day there is no chance of a second referendum and re-entry into the EU would require a formal accession process, losing all our current opt outs, possibly requiring we join the Euro. These are all issues that Remain will have to confront. EEA Efta will be the fastest way to get things up and running again and when faced with some of the consequences of no deal, with the Ultras having lost all credibility, political opposition will melt away.

I have long suspected that the UK will need a "Dunkirk moment" before there is any clarity to the Brexit debate. Rees-Mogg will have to explain how collapsing orders from UK factories and jammed ports constitutes "fwee twade". No politician can withstand that level of ridicule. Once the bed blockers are out of the way the adults can get on with designing a pragmatic solution. May will be gone and so too will her red lines. From there we may find a road back to sanity. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

Brexit is the political enema we've been waiting for.

Britain is having a crisis of competence. It has not understood Brexit on any level. The establishment still does not know how to respond to it, it does not know how to relate to the public and it has no idea how to reconcile the dilemmas of Brexit.

In a way, though, the EU has bungled this too. We are seeing a certain ruthless competence from the EU but it is only skin deep. It is as much a prisoner of its own rules as we are. It is a less urgent matter for then in that the rules serve the EU's interests. To a point. They safeguard the EU's legal order and they ensure the EU comes out on top in this negotiation. That is why its denizens will follow the rules to the letter. It does not do creativity or pragmatism.

There is a cost to this though. It no longer feels like there is an active negotiation in play and proceedings are eerily quiet. It could be that both sides has resigned themselves to there being no deal. Should that be the case then not only does the economic relationship disintegrate, so too do western European relations. It's seriously bad news for Britain and it's not good for the EU either.

In respect of its own values it will have failed to show regard to its broader objectives of peace and stability in Europe. Its slavish devotion to procedure has locked in an inescapable course and even though the fault lies squarely with the UK government, that should have been seen early on as a point of failure for both sides. A broken and impoverished Britain is not at all in the regional interest.

The first mistake in my view was the failure to realise that Article 50 was inadequate to the task and following it to the letter, creating a very obviously flawed framework for talks, has tainted the entire proceedings. It has shown a similar lack of sensitivity to the Northern Ireland situation as it did with Ukraine. The EU is certainly not acting with respect to the sovereign integrity of the UK.

I think that can be said objectively even in light of the UK having made every avoidable error possible from its failure to plan to its failure to understand the process and the EU point of view. As much as the UK has failed to appreciate how the EU is constrained by its own rules the Brexit process has also highlighted how the mere existence of the WTO limits the scope for creative solutions.

Much of the problem stems from the fact that both sides have viewed Brexit as an administrative chore instead of an opportunity. The EU has long sought to normalise its external relations and consolidate its neighbourhood policy, meanwhile Switzerland is seeking a consolidating treaty.

Being that it is in the interests of the EU to keep the UK in the European community of nations, here was a golden opportunity to reform and modernise the EEA. It would have meant an intergovernmental conference on what to do about freedom of movement, and there could have been a working compromise, but instead, knowing that ending freedom of movement was a driver of Brexit, the EU has displayed a certain petulance in doubling down on its unwillingness to open the books on it.

The UK has been similarly myopic in failing to realise that many of the limitations experienced by Norway in the EEA would simply not apply, not least because the combined weight of Efta with the UK is a power in its own right. This is why I am even less imbued with Nick Boles's "Norway then Canada" nonsense, in that if Britain is taking such a step then it needs to be a full and enthusiastic participant of Efta rather than poking around with subclauses looking to use it as a halfway house. The UK has completely failed to think about Brexit in geostrategic terms and where it will best exert its own influence.

Similarly the EU has failed to appreciate that the UK operating its own trade policy is potentially a wildcard asset to them, where the agility of the UK means it can act as a forerunner to do all the things the inherent internal conflicts on the EU prevent. I am perhaps stretching it there but the point is that collectively we should have been looking at how to take a negative and turn it into a positive.

To a large extent, though, these what-ifs are largely redundant since we are in fact looking at a Europe in an advanced state of political decay. Though the UK's incompetence is exemplary, I have a hunch that Germany is living on borrowed time and shortly after Mrs Merkel departs, Germany will be floundering for a new settlement of its own. Without German coherence the European project is in trouble, not least since Italy is rocking the boat.

But what of the saviour Macron, the darling of the neo-Blarites? I'm certainly not qualified to speak on French politics but I think there too lies a political reckoning in waiting. This brings the future of EU integration into broader question. The EU has been keen to put a brave face on Brexit, keen to present a new energy (in trade especially) but internal stresses will put the kibosh on any radical initiatives. It may well be that the EU has simply run out of steam.

The European project was born to a more coherent age where we knew who the enemy was and the old orders were not threatened by social media and migration pressures. There was also a kinship born of the Second World War and a spirit of reconciliation. To a large extent that still exists on the continent but with every new generation as the memories fade, so does the sense of European purpose and the EU struggles to find relevance.

It is interesting that when I now look at generic eurosceptic tract, much of it pertains to what the EU has allegedly done to Greece or historical arguments most of which is not relevant to Britain or even topical. Even as a committed leaver I find most anti-EU material to be pretty thin gruel. Remainers would probably make the same arguments - that we are not in Schengen, not in the Euro and have a number of opt outs from fiscal governance thus there is no real need to leave. But by that same token, I still see no reason to stay in that most of the EU's problems are not our problems - many of which are of their own making.

The EU, though, definitely does have a collective interest where Russia, Syria and Turkey is concerned for obvious reasons. Accuse me if you will of being inward looking in saying that these acute issues for the UK, but I am generally of the view that our intervention is not welcome, not necessary and, most of all, not useful. Perhaps it comes with being an island and an anglophone maritime nation that we have a more global outlook. Marrying us to the EU and winding down our global participation was simply never going to work.

It is not, therefore, just the UK that stands at a crossroads. Much is going to depend on whether we have a deal with the EU and what form that will take, but the political decline exposed by Brexit might very well begin to show symptoms on the continent in due course. Germany is subject to many of the same pressures that contributed to the leave vote and they have their own version of Ukip. After a long period of stable and competent rule, Germany could very well struggle to hold it together.

This is against a backdrop of global retrenchment, protectionism, nationalism and with existential questions hanging over the WTO. Arab states are making peace with Israel while natural allies within Europe are turning frosty. The world is changing beyond recognition, moving on from the post-war order to become something entirely different with radical and unpredictable shifts in the power dynamics. It therefore stands to reason that the institutions of yore, by birth and by function soft power assets of the West, they no longer enjoy the prestige and power they once did.

From a domestic sense, Brexit has been portrayed as a freak, moving against its own interests our of a bloc at peace with itself and living in glorious harmony. But it may also be that the UK is merely the early adopter and the first to realise the direction of travel and the first to come to terms with its own political exhaustion and economic stagnation. We struggle to control this chain of events not least because we do not understand them but also because change of this magnitude cannot be controlled. Reaching a consensus on where next is proving impossible.

Being that the EU is a prisoner of its own rules, unable to show initiative and unable to flex to the circumstances of Brexit, largely in keeping with its usual crisis management, it perhaps underscores why the UK needs to be free of such constraints in order to reinvent and to find itself once more. After all, Brexit is as much a national identity crisis as anything amplified by the EU's weakening of the union over the decades.

There is a sense of disbelief among remainers that leavers do not apparently care about the litany of urgent economic concerns. There is a bloody minded determination to see it through whatever the cost. What leavers seem to recognise is that the deep set political dysfunction cannot be allowed to continue and that the driving economic factors behind Brexit can no longer be swept under the carpet.

The largely middle class  marchers against democracy we saw last week triangulate their own progressive values with the PR of the EU and the virtue signalling of the BBC and the house of Commons - and they don't see much of a problem. Leafy suburbia does not have to contend with rape gangs, daily stabbings and acid attacks and is blissfully insulated from the growing homeless problem much of which is unarguably exacerbated by EU freedom of movement. They don't want change because they see no cause for it.

Being that the nation is so fragmented along a number of fault-lines, with collapsing social mobility and a widening gulf between the London and the regions, we cannot even say that our own country is a union let alone able to unify with Europe. Something has to give and there can be no rebuilding and no reconciliation until it does - and not until we know what the new political terrain looks like - which in due course will look very different to now.

With Labour locked into a bizarre nostalgic socialism and the Tories chasing their free trade delusions - and the centrists desperately seeking to put the genie back in the bottle, nothing in our politics is speaking to the instutionalised dysfunction in the country and could never realise the problem not least because it means admitting they are fifty per cent of it. An obsolete politics completely out of touch. The solutions floating to the surface are rehashes of tried and failed ideas.

If there are to be solutions then they are not going to come from politics as we know it. There is for a time going to have to be a free for all so that the people themselves work out what it is they want and organise to get it. The establishment parties will need to be swept aside and our political institutions rejuvenated. This cannot happen if we elect to limp on with the same bland EU inspired managerialism.

It is only with a political renewal can we understand ourselves and reforge a sense of national unity. Again the EU is an obstacle to that in that it has for decade sharply divided the country and propped up the managerial order muting any expressions of democracy. It is only through that process can we rediscover political competence. After all fifty percent of competence is knowing what you want and how to get it. Being that our ruling class is not of the people and communicates through the warped prism of media it is left to take guesses what we want. It cannot legislate in accordance with national values when it does not share our values.

When we have a political class marinated in political correctness, imbued with the idea that the plebs cannot be trusted and carried away by narcissistic constructs like the EU, it can only ever diverge further from the societal norms, to the point where lawyers are hounding war veterans and men in drag are put in female prisons. A political class held hostage to social justice fads and the culture of weaponised offence taking. 

There is far more to resolve than the economic. The spiritual, moral and intellectual wellbeing of the nation is in a similar state of decline. It very well explains why we are turning our backs on liberalism. It is permissive to the point of perversion and increasingly authoritarian when threatened. Meanwhile with prosperous borders, hyperglobalisation and shifts in technology and communication everything is in a permanent state of flux and communities become ever more transient too diverse for there to be any kind of cohesion. Little wonder then that we are becoming ungovernable and becoming increasingly insular and selfish.

This is increasingly aggravated by EU attempts to homogenise and liberalise labour markets, thus removing any democratic influence over labour laws and further castrating unions. We are told the EU has gifted us protections and rights but we increasingly find they are not worth the paper they are written on and are there mainly to neuter genuine grassroots mobilisation.

The liberal baloney about interconnectedness and economic integration suits the mobile and generally rootless youth still rolling the dice before they find a sense of belonging which in part explains the age differential in the Brexit vote. Remainers, though, assume this is part of a liberalising trend believing that we have abolished human nature and that the young do not settle down and turn into rusty old gammon. Certainly a settled community is less likely being that we appear to be abolishing home ownership thus creating a nomadic population accepting that settling is only for those who can afford to. The long term consequence is an elderly population without assets or pensions.

In my assessment there is simply too much broken for us not to need a fundamental reset of how we go about politics and who does politics on our behalf. It cannot be Brussels. If we are to build a new settlement then it must be to our own designs and we cannot be grovelling to the EU commission every time we want to reform policy.

I am certain that we will make a pig's ear of Brexit. I don't suppose it could have been any other way and the chances of an intelligent Brexit are vanishingly small. After that comes the recriminations and infighting but then comes the space race to design the new order. The Corbynite fantasies will fall flat on their face and the Tory right probably won't even last that long with their "free trade" ideology already hitting the rocks in the WTO. The gods are uncooperative. The power will then flow to the remaining adults in the room. 

The healthy signal that we are getting from the polls is that there is increasingly a massive constituency of politically homeless people. If at this point you are not politically homeless then you simply aren't paying attention. It is we who will have to step in and "take back control". Brexit is the political enema we've been waiting for. 

I am often accused of having sided with Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson to bring Brexit about. I'm certainly not in that Brexit camp and I never have been. I have long thought that Brexit will destroy such men. Johnson already stand as exposed and those who have not yet seen through Rees-Mogg are about to get a first hand education is precisely how wrong that man is. It will be difficult not to gloat even when I'm living on stocks of tinned ravioli. 

If anyone ever thought Brexit would be done and dusted in a couple of years they were quite wrong. Brexit will define the next era and probably the politics of the next three decades at least. Brexit day is only the beginning of a long road to build a new Britain with new politics, new institutions and new ideas. It is a chance to properly address many of the issues our ruling class refuses to - problems that aren't going to go away unless we do. That, my friends, is why I'm not losing any sleep over a car factory in Sunderland. For sure it does matter - but the future of Britain matters more. 

Time to let the mutineers take charge

Regular readers of this blog know I don't have much positive to say about pretty much anybody. That is my major malfunction. There are, however, some people in this universe worth listening to and Paul Collier, author of The Bottom Billion, is one one of them. Today he writes in Prospect Magazine on London's profoundly negative influence on the rest of the country.

Collier speaks of an ideas deficit in modern policymaking. He outlines how UK policy is devised by what this blog general describes a spreadsheet sociopaths. "At the same time as the ordinary individual is reduced to an insatiably greedy ego, policy is entrusted to another species: selflessly disinterested Platonic guardians, the class of officials and economists trusted to steer society towards the best of all possible worlds".

This is a fundamental feature of the Brexit debate which rails against the dead hand of Brussels technocracy where, as Collier observes "Fundamental ethical concepts such as belonging, obligation and purpose are swept under the carpet. They count for a great deal with any rounded human being, but not one jot to rational economic man". If there is an essential divide it is between those who believe the UK is a home we are temporary custodians of and those who believe all concerns are subordinate to the economic and that Britain should essentially be run as a business park.

Such philosophical objections to the way public policy has been framed, says Collier, may seem a long way from the difficulties that have faced Stoke, Nottingham and Doncaster in finding a vibrant post-industrial future. But there is a connection.
The apotheosis of technocratic public policy came under New Labour, and it is easily summed up: let the City rip, and use the taxes to finance Benefits Street. That agenda never spoke to the anxieties of people living in failing towns, where bright young people are leaving, and a narrative of despair had set in. The approach was centred on means-tested hand-outs, which offered left-behind communities no hope of achieving independent prosperity. There was no dignity in the good times—and no security once the party was over. When the City blew itself up and the tax cheques fell away, those who had grown used to the hand-outs were subjected to painful retrenchment.
The shortcomings of substantive policy have only been filled by hollow popular politics. On the centre-right, we hear much talk about “strivers” but none about what, exactly, someone stuck in a post-industrial desert is supposed to strive for. Meanwhile, the centre-left seems to have given up—lapsing into nostalgic socialism and magic money. The latest Labour Party political broadcast spoke to the sense of despair in many towns, and promised to bring back “decent jobs.” But it was not accompanied by any analysis of how this might be done. For as long as that party’s MPs can win conference cheers by proposing general strikes about nothing in particular, it’s easier to imagine it wrecking those parts of the economy that still function than rescuing those that don’t.
This certainly touches on many of the themes of this blog in respect to the death of politics and modern managerialism - where Collier and I are of a single mind. I urge you to read the whole piece.

There is, though, that larger question of what is to be done. I am not sure I agree with Collier's proposals not least because calls for investment in the regions generally leads to quagocracy, state funded boondoggles and measures which are ultimately a patronising handout. Not far off what we are already doing and pretty much what remainers propose we do instead of Brexit - even though it did not prevent Brexit. You can seed a business park here and there but you can never return the reason for being to the former mill towns and the Valleys.

I could be fairer to Collier's ideas were I to give them closer attention - and I will leave it to you to ponder them, but what is interesting is that Collier describes Brexit as the Great Distraction. It could cost the country dear, says Collier, "but there is no point bemoaning it without understanding why it happened".
Brexit is a mutiny of the sans cool: it is not about the arcane details of relationships with the EU. Across Europe, leaders are facing equivalent mutinies. Regardless of the outcome, the underlying issues will rise to the surface. They will not be fixed in some all-night meeting room in Brussels. They can be fixed only by mapping out a new future for capitalism and the communities that it has forgotten.
The question to ask here is whether we would even be having the conversation were it not for Brexit. Had there been a remain vote it would be swept under the carpet very rapidly and by now we'd be back to business as usual as though there never were a referendum.

But Collier is indeed right; there is no point bemoaning it without understanding why it happened. I can very easily argue that the spreadsheet sociopath mentality, the decades long managerialism he describes is very much a consequence of our entanglement in the EU and very possibly severing those tentacles is a step toward repairing the culture of governance. Government by KPI and membership of the EU is far from coincidental. I take the view that if spreadsheet sociopathy got us into this mess then it stands little chance of getting us out of it.

I actually think it is going to take something considerably more profound and seismic because even if Westminster were capable of the kind of thinking described by Collier, London is still going to cast a long shadow and will inevitably always get what it wants and will continue to be distracted by its own myopic fixations. Here Collier's thoughts converge with my own once more. .
The agendas of today’s more egalitarian economists and the leftist lawyers are different, but they have two characteristics in common: they are set by highly-educated metropolitans, and neither resonates with the practical concerns of less-educated provincials. While they continue to fuss over their agenda of umbrage and outrage—the latest furores have been about transgender rights and reusable coffee cups—the great regional divide scarring society only deepens, unaddressed.
This is essentially the driver of the culture war that characterises Brexit. Our metropolitan luvvies are telling us northers that we're thick and racist while they're turning a blind eye to mass child rape and putting men in drag in women's prisons. There can be no resolution of the economic until we have sorted out the political and found a way to bridge the gulf.

Being that the values of the metropolitan "elites" are perverse and alien to the regions, it's actually better if the regions get to set their own taxation and spending priorities and are able to define their own politics. Meanwhile, Brexit pruning the City torpedoes the legacy Blairite policy of using it to fund "Benefit Street". Since the spreadsheet sociopaths don't have the answers, how about we give the power back to the very people who might? If Brexit is a mutiny then let the people take charge!

Understanding the politics

Everywhere I look the wheels are falling off Nick Bole's "Norway then Canada" shtick. There are too many complications, politically and technically for the EEA to be anything approaching temporary. Without looking at agriculture, fish and customs we are still looking at a lengthy accession process which could take two to three years assuming all is smooth sailing, while the introduction of fish and agri measures would have to be phased in.

Moreover, it has not secured the confidence of pundits high up the food chain and it's not winning hearts and minds at this end of the game either. Comments on the Daily Express and replies to Steve Baker's tweets are less than generous. It becomes more flaky when the question of customs is raised whereupon Boles, having been told that Efta cannot have a customs union now argues for a bastardised Efta membership so that we can. He is, therefore, arguing for an indeterminate SM+CU Brexit where he is forced to gloss over the cracks - making a poor show of it as he goes.

To be even close to a compromise solution it has to attempt to reconcile the red lines of the respective leave camps. The Kipper brigade wants free movement to end and the Tories want to be able to play with trade deals. The remains, though, want full single market participation and frictionless trade. This is a tall order.

The problem is that the circle of pundits and Brexitologists are still locked into the narrative that only a permanent EEA and customs union solution will work and that there is no movement on freedom of movement. They won't entertain the idea that there are solutions because they don't want to. It reinforces their message that "Brexit has failed".

The Barnier camp is very much thinking along these same lines where by they will facilitate EEA+CU but that's the line they are holding. This is why Boles is of very little use to us and is no ally of the pragmatic soft Brexit case. The intellectual effort should go toward demonstrating that the single market is achievable with controls on freedom of movement without a customs union without the need to activate a backstop and without border infrastructure. It is up to the UK to devise a counter proposal based on existing instruments that the EU can agree to. 

Since the hard Brxiters are ruling out any form of single market they are not thinking along these lines at all. Number Ten isn't either. Then as Norway then Canada gradually implodes, widely viewed as parking Brexit and an act of "remoaner sabotage" we are pretty much back where we started.

I am of the view that between Articles 112 and the obligations within the EEA and Union Customs Code, the EU can be persuaded, not least because from its own literature we can see electronic customs are the direction of travel in any case. If the political will is there and if the UK is suitably pragmatic, we can bash out a compromise.

This is where Boles could have been useful, but instead he has gone into a full kamikaze dive into the guns and now he's being shot to pieces. Predictable and predicted. If the UK is to get a workable compromise then it is going to need a plan that is actually deliverable and one that can credibly answer its critics. Something Boles can never do not least when the end point throws the EEA accession into the bin to put us on the wrong side of third country controls.

I am told I would stand a better chance of advancing these arguments were I less abrasive but actually their is a general remain insistence that Brexit cannot be allowed to succeed and if there is a deal then it must be one that humiliates Brexiters (a customs union - with no independent trade), while the Brexiters will not entertain any form of EEA for any number of interchangeable reasons. It's not going to matter how emollient my tone. No party, including the EU, is devoted to a face saving, workable compromise for all. Brexit has become a bitter zero sum game.

Much of the problem stems from the the fact that those likely to influence the debate look to opinions with prestige, and for as long as the prestige opinions are bed blockers then we are going nowhere. They serve as a praetorian guard and if there is a breakthrough then any plan has to get through them first.

I'm told that it is me who doesn't understand the politics, and there is a clever game afoot which is I am not a party to, which may well be the case, but I still can't get past this idea that if you don't have a workable and viable plan and it doesn't have buy in from at least two of the factions then it's either going to be no deal or a Frankenstein fudge that everybody hates, puts us on an EU leash and ultimately gives us none of the things we want. This requires a certain amount of informed pragmatic leadership and we have nothing even approaching that.

More to the point, while the thought leaders are finally in the EEA ballpark there is still a gulf between the thinkers and Number 10 which if anything has regressed in its understanding of the issues and is fighting its own internal battles. Even if a pack of nonentity backbenchers could advance a plan, an indeterminate SM+CU is not something May can pivot to in light of everything she has said up to press.

Boles might have provided a momentary distraction and something for us to churn over while we drift further into no-man's land, but we have been here before with Kinnock Junior, Open Europe, IEA and the rest of them. One is simply resigned to the fact that there is no saviour. We are now just waiting to pick up the pieces.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Why are they owed civility?

It's the same old story. You know it well. I'm so tewwibly wude - but if I wasn't then MPs would drop what they were doing and adopt my opinions wholesale. Just like that. Tedious.

It's actually well over a year since Nick Boles first mooted EEA Efta as a transitory device. This blog pointed but to him at the time that it was not at all practical because of the complexity involved. Typically I was talking to myself and was wasting my breath.

A year later he resurrects this zombie idea which has evolved into "Norway then Canada". Now padded out with a few extra baubles it still stands as a completely unworkable idea. The central misapprehension is that the EEA agreement is a plug and play device that is immediately operable with just a few splashes of Tippex. 

It does not, though, take into account that fisheries and agriculture are not covered by the EEA along with a number of other peripheral issues that would at the very least require a complex bridging agreement along with a chapter on customs. 

These are contentious issues, fisheries especially, what with it being an emotive subject and a totem of eurosceptic ire. There are also no off the shelf options to bridge this gap. We'd be looking at a combination of solutions deployed by both Norway and Switzerland but would have to be engineered to take into account the circumstances of the UK as a departing member. In some places it will require a re-write of the rules just to make them workable. That is going to take some years to finalise and deploy. This is viable long term but not as a transitory measure. 

Here there is no point in doing this for a transitory arrangement not least because they cannot be rolled over into any future FTA because they fall outside the scope of FTAs. If that is the approach we are taking it would pretty much mean a vassal state transition essentially remaining in the CAP and CFP - which defeats the stated purpose of "Norway then Canada" - mooted as an alternative to the present vassal state transition. We are then looking at a Frankenstein EEA developed for the sole benefit of the UK which we then throw in the bin. Not going to happen. 

We could spend some time questioning the further logic of this proposal but I am told the logic does not matter since this is a clever ploy to trick ERG types into accepting EEA - so this idea doesn't actually need to work. Ignoramuses such as I just don't understand the politics, apparently. How convenient. 

Course, this scheme is so full of holes it has already been pecked apart but in such a way that it actually damages the EEA case, possibly irreparably, with Steve Baker, Tom Newton Dunn and the FT editor keen to capitalise on it. So as a political ploy it has already failed. Anyone who has taken the time to ascertain whether such a plan is deliverable can already see that it isn't. It's not like this is a new debate. It has matured over four years and there is a pool of knowledge on Twitter that far exceeds that of Nick Boles. 

But, in that time honoured tradition of being a North, it is tewwibly wude of me to point out that this obviously flawed scheme does not work - and it's actually my fault that Nick Boles is talking crap because if I spoke with deference to my betters they would drop everything and listen. I'm getting that same old shtick that pig ignorant arrogant Tories would be more receptive to the ideas of others if only I were to grovel before them and tell them how brilliant they are. Boles can just airily waft in and deposit his views and we are all to pretend that it's a step in the right direction. So long as I don't criticise it then nobody else will!

This logic escapes me. That we should not now criticise him is akin to someone asking us not to condemn a drunken driver who has just mown down some innocent pedestrians, just because he means well and didn't intend to do any harm. Boles has had more than a year to advance his understanding of the issues moving on from the publicly stated position of being far too bored by it all. He could very well have consulted any number of informed voices to firm up his arguments but Tories, typically, already think they know it all.

Here I think I am somewhat entitled to feel put out by this in that a number of of EEA advocates have put the work in, developing the arguments, and now we have a Nick Boles ploughing in like a bull in a china shop shitting all over something he does not understand and regressing the debate at a crucial time. You will, therefore, forgive me if I am less subtle in my criticism of this idiot. 

Give democracy a chance

Bradford - post-industrial poverty posterchild

Last night's post has caused something of a stir on Twitter. I had a feeling it would. That sort of qusi-Spiked-online class warfare shtick always gets the hits in. It's easy to write, it couldn't be less original yet that is what people seem to like. It's analysis by cliche.

This is actually why I hate my readers. Leave and remain. The more sophisticated and in depth articles tend to go ignored especially if they bring certainties into ambiguity for either side. There is nothing cut and dry about the Brexit debate and it is fraught with intractable dilemmas and in the end you just have to go with your gut instinct. I am not at all convinced by the economic arguments for Brexit and even though I could do without the hassle, I am still, at my core convinced it is the right thing to do. 

Sadly though, I am only noted for the occasional trolly clickbait posts I write which are sadly necessary to bring in new readers. In this case I am accused of turning Brexit into a class war issue. One commenter remarks that "I find it hard to believe that Pete knows anything about what the kid in Bradford with a pay as you go phone thinks" - thus do not have the necessary working class credentials to comment. 

As it happens I am from Bradford and didn't own a contract phone until I was twenty six but lived through a time when class was less relevant. I never thought of myself as working class but I'm not exactly a denizen of leafy suburbia either. Both the BBC and Channel 4 shot their poverty safaris documentaries within fifty yards of my house. But being that I am not a collectivist and not especially a social animal I arrived at my own set of values and fumbled my way from there. Class is pretty meaningless to me. I have no class at all - as many of my readers will confirm. 

I do, though, think I am qualified enough to empathise with the working class being that I am from Bradford and wasted much of my youth in its city centre pubs. The people I still make time for are from that era. I certainly have a better grip of working class life than a Guardian hack who's not seen beyond Zone 4 since the early nineties.

The blurring of class through the Blair era has certainly made social commentary a lot less precise but working class is one of those things where you know it when you see it. More recently, I saw it on a coach holiday touring the beaches of Normandy, which is about as working class bloke as you can get. There was more than a subtle hint of Brexit aboard that coach. Proper middle class folk would go in a Volvo with a roof rack. (There I go with the stereotypes again).

But if there is a class narrative to Brexit then it is the overall collapse of social mobility where those once blurred lines are once again becoming more distinct. Remainers would have it that it is absolutely nothing at all to do with the EU and everything to do with Tory austerity. I think it is all intertwined and not so easy to diagnose.

Firstly you have to ask why class perceptions began to blur. Certainly the housing boom had an effect which allowed ordinary people to acquire assets where generally working class people who managed to get a low interest mortgage with zero deposit and a Mondeo on hire purchase began to see themselves as socially mobile.

This was growth built on a foundation of sand. A consequence of cheap money, a bloated state sector with generous pensions and perks, massive government spending, cheap Chinese imports and easily obtainable debt. Everybody knew in their heart of hearts knew it was unsustainable and they knew that what goes up must come down.

What we're left with is a country counting the cost with a generation frozen out of the property market, poor savings rates, a growing pensions black hole (storing up massive generational inequality for the future), stagnant wages, insecure labour and to a point, scapegoated foreign workers.

Here the left wing narrative has it that the Tories could fix all this by ending austerity and turning the tap back on even though we haven't fixed the fundamentals from last time while we spend some £48bn a year on servicing debt. Our spending commitments were unsustainable in 2008 and they are unsustainable now. We need radical structural reform but the left will not allow it. They will cry like babies.

At the forefront of this is the welfare argument. The Waitrose Whingers now wailing to remain in the EU have latched on to all of the other soft left concerns - the cult of the NHS and naturally will wail that if only we didn't have this beastly Brexit we could keep firehosing the plebs with the welfare they need instead of these howwid Tories "punishing the poor".

These are people who clearly never have any contact with working class people, most of whom are proud to say they have never claimed welfare, would rather work and they resent that their taxes go toward sustaining the feckless lifestyles of a welfare underclass. The left will, of course, say they are brainwashed by "right wing media".

Doubtlessly the issue of welfare dependency and idleness is overblown but by the same token so are the edge cases exploited by the left. It is an inevitability that any welfare system will have egregious failures whoever is in office and they will exploit it to the max. Central to it, though, is a clash of values.

Here I stand on the right with the view that a job, any job, is the fastest route out of poverty not least because it puts you in a better position to find better work. This is contrasted with the left who argue that work doesn't pay and the answer is to introduce yet more perverse incentives not to work. they then wonder why landlords charge £600 a month for a damp shed in in a Birmingham suburb (been there done that). Coincidentally it happens to be what the local council will pay in housing benefits.

This does not make me anti-welfare but my years in Bradford have shown me the ugly side of welfarism and where there is poverty it is chiefly a poverty of ambition and belief that work does not make you any better off so why even try? The result? A prozac munching youth made more susceptible to socially contagious destructive ideas. The latest fad being transgenderism.

And what do we do about this? We pander to it. GPs hand out antidepressants like candy instead of remarking that their patients should go to bed earlier, get some exercise, stop smoking weed, lay off the computer games and stop eating crap. The left, though, will make any number of excuses for them.

We then find that we have men and women in their late twenties and thirties with a poor work record, squandering their potential, living in a subsistence life in exactly the sort of shitholes the Guardian sends John Harris to for his Louis Theroux adventures into the post-industrial north. They then give each other awards for their social consciousness.

Of course, if we had a Conservative party with a backbone we would be seeing far braver policy making than we presently see but it finds itself held hostage by a generally left leaning class of metropolitan media types who generally buy into the statist paradigm that the hapless northern serfs need generous state handouts. Snobbery masquerading as right-on social awareness.

I am of the view that the very worst thing you can do to a person is tell them that they are a victim. Self-pity is a the most potent drug. Most people have it within their power to sort themselves out if forced by circumstances to do so. Instead "depression" is a fast track to a doctor's note and subsidised housing where they are then left to rot. It keeps them off the unemployment statistics - so too did Blair's expansion of the university system. Youth employment then pays for itself.

What we then have is an class of entitled whingers with no actual marketable skills and no relevant qualifications who then sit back and wonder why jobs that they would in other times be doing are being hoovered up by ambitious Polish go-getters. Contrary to stereotype, Poles are now taking the top jobs as well as making our Starbucks sludge.

If now one goes into any city centre dental hospital you will find the practitioners are either eastern European or Indian while the admin staff are the white working class girls. We are told we need more immigration to sustain the NHS, robbing the rest of Europe of its professional class, all the while working class people are increasingly born to a system that writes them off and will never have access to the sort of education and training it takes to become a health professional.

This, again, we are told is the result of "austerity" but this was every bit as true in 2007 before "austerity" was even a thing. Culturally there is a malfunction and it has a lot to do with a certain inbuilt sense of entitlement and the belief we should be automatically as well off as the previous generation. This malfunction is not so easily corrected.

If it were as simple as simply turning the money tap back on then we would have seen some kind of improvement during the Blair era. What improvements we saw were only skin deep and certainly not lasting, not least because of the proliferation of non-degree degrees leading to qualification inflation and yet more Taylorism in the job market. Between that and a smattering of EU directives, fluidity in the labour market has been destroyed depriving young people of choice and opportunities for experience.

Chiefly we are looking at systemic decay and when I see the litany of fraud cases in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, we get an insight into the soul of modern welfarism. Not just benefit claimants put also public sector officials with their hands in the till.

Thus far we have not touched on the EU dimension in all this. Most would say that none of this is anything at all to do with the EU. Superficially that is right. The EU has no direct say in our health, education and welfare and it is not responsible for the spending decisions of New Labour. The EU influence, however, is still profound.

Here I would not say the EU is a cause of our dysfunction, rather it is a symptom of it which in turn creates its own feedback loop. As Westminster has offloaded increasingly more of its governance responsibilities to Brussels, instead of labour laws being a result of a democratic discourse between the public, industry and their government, they are defined primarily by the EU and designed with a view to creating European wide social constructs to the integrationist agenda. Not least the Agency Workers Directive and the dog's dinner Posted Workers Directive.

Notwithstanding Mrs Thatchers union busting laws, unions have generally become a passive part of the machine lobbying at the EU level for laws to bypass national governments and have gone native. Between the Maastricht social chapter and subsequent regulatory interventions and ECJ rulings, we are no longer able to define labour policies in any meaningful sense. We can only gold plate that which we are instructed to implement.

This has in recent years created a working culture where workers are all too aware of their workplace rights and the means by which they can bleed their employers, but not so hot on their contractual obligations. This is what has caused large employers to either automate, offshore or insulate themselves from the rules by hiring contractors. The working equilibrium that existed prior to 1996 has been destroyed. The dialogue between employer and employee is dead.

Instead of an active dialogue between parties involving unions with vitality and guts, everything is now looked at through the prism of entitlement under EU law. Protections that were not necessary, not asked for, and in the end, massively counter productive. But as usual, the EU is judged by its intentions rather than actual outcomes. 

This is why the remoaner bunch on the march tap into the generic left wing sentiment that the Tories want Brexit so they can "slash regulations and workplace rights". If only the Tories would. They don't have the guts. The result would be a more fluid job market affording young people more opportunities to learn, flexibility and agility. But that's not what the left want. They are powerless without a victim class to patronise.  

Meanwhile the EU's peripheral influence is not insubstantial. Obligations to outsource under services liberalisation rules and directives governing the structure of utilities markets have had their own effect. It has massively changed the culture of local government, corporatising it and bureaucratising it, and through a series of policy targets and quotas dictates much of its spending - which is increasingly immune to any kind of democratic pushback. We've forgotten what democracy even looks like.

This then leaves the question of what remedy Brexit will bring. I actually think that is a partly redundant question. For sure if we remain in the EEA then much of the same rules will apply and insofar as many of my complaints are concerned it will be as though we never left the EU. I just recognise there are certain trade offs, many of which are disappointing, but likely would be enacted through global treaties anyway. Not least the WTO Agreement on Government Procurement.

It is more of a redundant question though, when you ask what will happen if we don't leave the EU. And that is the crux of it. At best nothing at all will happen. The political deadlock will see to that, and at worst we see a further ossification of the EU influence in our systems of government which underpin the decline. Brexit, on the other hand, forces a lot of the issues and brings into question the sustainability of numerous approaches to government and will force certain cuts and rationalisations that would otherwise prove politically impossible.

Here we will see a resurgence of social enterprise, previously destroyed by the Blair administration as it appropriated the third sector for its own ends, eliminating much of their real world activity to turn them into full time grant chasers. It could very well see a restoration of the voluntary ethos that underpins community. Something many feel we have lost in the last two decades contributing to an epidemic of loneliness and isolation in the elderly.

Ultimately I saw much merit in David Cameron's Big Society, which of itself was a worthy conservative vision defeated by hamfisted attempt to sell it to a media that didn't understand it. I argue that it is possible but not without major structural reform and certainly not without leaving the EU. It certainly can't happen unless we do. 

We see from the left in its crusade against food banks how it hates the idea of social enterprise and how it thinks the state should be the cradle to grave provider. The culmination of that Blairite mentality is pretty much what we have now. A dilapidated social care sector that didn't function even when it was well funded, bureaucratised and increasingly unaffordable childcare and schools whose literacy rates would not rival mud shack schools in Uganda - which evidently churn out more doctors than we do.

The march against democracy in London last week, reeking of middle class privilege, is of that ilk who essentially believe that democracy cannot be trusted and that in order to safeguard rights and standards we need the EU. The people themselves are not capable of fighting their own corner. It is a fundamental mistrust of the values of Britain and the belief that without the imposition of "progressive" EU measures we shall revert to savagery and Victorian era exploitation. I utterly hate that mentality and if it was going to work then it would have worked by now. All we Brexiters are saying is give democracy a chance. It can't do any worse. 

Additional: If the Guardian has the nerve to ask for donations for the crap they produce then so do I. Please give if you can.

Saturday, 27 October 2018

Remainers didn't learn a thing in 2016

If I saw a jamboree with a stage line-up of Caroline Lucas, Chuka Umunna, Eddie Izzard, Sadiq Khan and Anna Soubry I would cross the street to avoid it. And this has nothing to do with Brexit.

Caroline Lucas is the epitome of shallow, narcissistic virtue signalling. The phrase virtue signalling was practically invented to describe her. It's not even a phrase I like but have yet to find a better substitute. But as a much as the woman vomits her progressive credentials she is distinctly authoritarian. 

The Greens love the EU because it churns outs environmental laws by the truckload. It doesn't matter if this creates monstrous externalities where we find UK refuse dumped in Malaysian rivers. The europhile does not judge the EU on outcomes, only intent. Nor does it especially matter to them that green laws are lobbied for by the largest of corporates not least because they create subsidies and slush funds, but also because they are a means to shaft the competition. 

But there's is something even more sinister about green politics. It is the view that left to our own devices we would abandon environmental causes which in their priority stack demands that we be stripped of our democracy. Here we are told that without the EU we would still have filthy beaches. Oddly though, the same laws apply to Greece yet Greece has UN certified dead zones along its shores. 

As to Chuka Umunna, I couldn't tell you what his exact politics are but that's ok because I doubt he could either. Remain just seems to be a platform of convenience. If you were to create a machine to churn out inoffensive centrist media-friendly clones, readily programmable with establishment dogma, it would look and sound a lot like our Chuka. Not quite black, not quite white, not quite left and not quite right. The very last in a long line of anodyne politicians selected by PR firm.

Then we have Eddie Izzard, a once amusing comedian whose transvestism USP has gone from the edgy and stylish to the distinctly frumpy even by middle aged Westminster standards. His act showed a remarkable recall talent being able to recite his own material in French but would often use his act to go off on a Europhile rant bleating out all of the usual mantras about being at the heart of "Europe". Never one to knowingly make the distinction between a region and a political structure.

But like most comedians these days, he eventually took his own comedic shtick seriously as the basis of a political standpoint. The transition from comedic to preachy and tiresome. That's when they become mannequins for political parties bereft of their own charms - seeking celebrity affiliations to appeal to the yoof. Ever available for BBC charity telethons they enter a select group of hasbeen celebrities deployed to wag the finger at plebs. 

And what of Sadiq Khan? A shifty opportunist who has no real knowledge of the EU, no particular passion either way, but has calculated that because the London metro class is Remain, so is he. Were he a South Yorkshire mayor he could just as easily be spouting leave dribble. When his term in office is over, so is his career and most will be glad never to set eyes on him again. He knows this, which is why he needs the People's Vote publicity. A shitehawk basically.

Last but not least there's Anna Soubry. A politician most had never heard of til now, but famously sent mad by Brexit. Believe it or not I can respect the lady. She's bossy, knows her own mind, and when she did finally think about the EU she decided she was all in. There is but one small problem. She's gone mental. She's lost it. Her gin soaked ranting is actually funnier than Eddie Izzard in his prime. 

Add in the likes of Vice Cable, Bob Geldof and other doddering nobodies with a smattering of EU funded activists and what you're actually looking at is the establishment in full swing. Everybody who doesn't want their applecart upset by political change - all of whom think the answer to healing the divisions is to cancel Brexit and do more of the same. 

As to the crowd at this jamboree, one can't help but notice a certain middle class monochrome dynamic which you might expect in a majority white country, but this is highly ironic since these are the one preaching diversity to us. It's the whitest thing I've ever seen apart from Torbay seaside air show.

Now I know we can all play this game. A Leave gathering would likely be a line up of some of the thickest, most dishonest politicians in the game, and remianers would rightly point out the elderly gammon dynamic. That's pretty much what eurosceptic events have always looked like for as long as the movement has existed - and always woefully under-attended. You would think by it's persistent poor turnout that it was a minority point of view. But it turns out there are at least seventeen million of us. 

And there marks the difference in culture. Leavers just aren't the placard waving types. The only mass gathering I can remember was when Jimmy Goldsmith held a rally for the Referendum Party in 97. But that's just not how we roll. Instead we put the work in. The Brexit vote was not a bolt out of the blue. It was a culmination of twenty years work. It's been bubbling under the surface for decades waiting to have a say. 

This, though, does not matter according to the Remoaner bunch because as they keep pointing out, we will all be dead soon. I'm only thirty nine but will probably expire of boredom before we actually leave the EU. Remoaners shall inherit the earth! 

This attitude, though, tells us a lot about how they think. There is the assumption that the yoof, fresh fro their progressive education, marinated in EU propaganda will never shed their juvenile notions and so long as they can wait us out then they can built their new Euro-Jerusalem. They haven't noticed that there is a certain stench of death about the old establishment that reeks for more than a Leave Means Leave gathering. 

This is actually why they are taking to the streets instead of organising a coherent political movement. The Lib Dems are not faring particularly well and nobody thinks a new centrist party could gain traction. They know they do not have the numbers to do it by the book so everything rests on a massive AstroTurf operation in conjunction with a number of well funded foundations and associations of academic grant chasers. I'm not losing any sleep over it. 

They claim there were nearly 700k marchers last week. Loopy professor AC Grayling claims 1.2 million. Being generous I put it at closer to 300k, cycling upward through the day, but any way you cut it, it is a remarkable achievement. They really do have a talent for mobilising on and off line. Their funded activists arrive out of nowhere and rapidly gain tens of thousands of Twitter followers and are given endless radio airtime. Only money buys that. There is no way it's organic - which is partly why we do not see a corresponding leave movement. There's very little money around on our side unless you are deep in with the Tory right.  

Once we have left the EU, though, a lot of that Remainer money dries up or is diverted to other causes. Once we are out in March, a referendum becomes a moot point. Out is out and then they have to make the case for rejoining through the formal accession process. That is an argument they cannot win. We will, therefore, see the legacy remain campaign collapse probably faster than Ukip.

Meanwhile their FBPE Twitter operation is turning increasingly sour and censorious, and the various legal challenges have completely run out of steam. They maybe a noisy bunch but most of the country, however they voted, generally accepts that we are leaving the EU. And though leavers have little in the way of leadership or active organisation, we are still here. 

If one thing is clear it is that the legacy remain movement learned nothing form its defeat in 2016. They are still bleating that we were taken in by a big red bus and we've been poisoned by right wing media. They have yet to fully understand that the 2016 vote was a two fingered salute to the hectoring and condescension of the establishment. 

What is not yet fully understood though is that June 2016 was the opening battle of a long war. For most at the People's March, the march was little to do with the EU. We didn't see this kind of mobilisation before the referendum. This is the progressive left realising that their grip on power is on the wane and they are not going to go quietly.

Marinated in the superstition that Leave is a xenophobic culturally regressive force and "inward looking", imbued with the idea that their "interconnectedness" by way of centralised supranational authority is somehow morally superior, these are quite toxic people and authoritarian to the core. They say they believe in democracy just so long as people they don't agree with don't have a voice. 

Though was very necessary to bring these divisions to the surface, Brexit certainly doesn't resolve any of it. In terms of culture war, things are probably going to get worse and we can expect BBC drama and radio to be preachier than ever - like they need to double down on the politically correct messages as though we are just not getting it.

The problem is, being that the working classes actually live in the real world and not some Doctor Who pastiche universe inhabited entirely by remainers. You can't tell them that the knife wielding miscreants climbing aboard lorries in Calais are our future doctors and nurses - and politically correct whataboutery when it comes to child abuse in Rotherham won't wash at all. It's easy to say "refugees welcome" when you live in a leafy suburb, but the rest of us think twice about opening the doors to Eritrean serial rapists. It's easy to be progressive and have socially convenient values when you are insulated from the consequences of them. 

Ultimately there is a massive class gulf in the UK which explains why remain messages do not hit home. Convenient cross border travel and no roaming phone charges says nothing at all to a Bradford kid with a pay as you go phone for whom an occasional day out in Manchester is exotic travel. The remain bunch have no conceptual reference in order to relate to working class leave voters.

The people's march is not about democracy - and it isn't even about the EU. The fact is that they have kept a lid on popular dissent and deprived it of a voice for a very long time. Genuine working class sentiment has been no-platformed in mainstream politics since at least 1990. The legacy remain brigade want it to stay that way and mistakenly assume that rolling back the referendum also rolls back time. 

Support for the EU among legacy remainers is more to do with how they identify with it. They imagine their progressive values are embodied by the EU - and if you believe the EU's projected self-image it really does. Course you would have to know nothing about it and suspend all of your critical faculties to do so but then that is remainers for you. You would have to be completely blind to its corrupt lobbying culture and its murderous trade policies and how freedom of movement is robbing eastern Europe of its vitality and eroding its professional class. 

The legacy remain movement lives in a fantasy world - where the jihad incubating slums of Yorkshire don't exist, where the EU brings prosperity to the regions, where Radio 4 comedy is funny. They then wonder why Ukip managed to get a foothold. It can only possibly be because the plebs are thick and racist right?

Even now, London politics doesn't know how to connect with the public. We have seen hamfisted attempts by the Tories to relate which explains Theresa May's "citizens of nowhere" conference speech. I actually liked it but it provoked howls of rage from the chattering classes. Tories will always appease the media gallery and back down. This is what happens when politics becomes a full time profession. We end up with a remote governing class with completely alien values left to take guesses what the public actually want. 

This is why the divides cannot be reconciled without a fundamental change in the way we do politics. London is an alien culture to the rest of the country. London's narcissistic metropolitanism may very well converge with Brussels but it has nothing to say to Bradford, Bristol or Newcastle. Everybody recognises this. The question is one of what to do about it. 

We talk about devolution but our managerialist government doesn't know what the word means. Recent experiments include directly elected mayors and police commissioners along with pushes for regional assemblies. All we end up doing is creating fiefdoms for the dispensation of central grant money. People power it is not. These are not sovereign authorities. They are mired in KPI culture carrying out objectives defined by Brussels and Whitehall, geared toward meeting quotas and hitting targets. The bipeds we elect to these entities have no powers to speak of and are mere functionaries of the machine.

Democracy is more than just holding perfunctory voting rituals. The public must be able to organise locally, take control of their institutions and define their own policies according to their own values and priorities. If the bureaucracy is so ossified that elections have no meaning, and we are so constrained by the dead hand of Brussels, then our democracy is meaningless. Our institutions are working to values defined by remote technocrats who have never even visited the places they legislate for.

The "people's vote" march to overturn the referendum is not at all concerned with democracy. They couldn't adequately define it and if they could they would not be remainers. These are people for whom remote technocracy works just fine. Many of their non-jobs depend on it and it ensures their own values hold supreme whoever is elected. It is with a certain soviet irony they called it a "people's vote" when this was really a march to contain democracy. They march to ensure that those of us who have not had a say for decades remain voiceless. The last thing these people want is meaningful votes.

Read Part 2 here.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Brexit: the sovereignty thing

The modern dilemma of globalisation is how we reconcile democracy with the maximisation of trade. Enhancing trade and the profitability of value chains is now more centred on regulatory harmonisation and standardisation than tinkering with tariffs. That obviously has ramifications for national sovereignty and it is the issue that has defined the Brexit debate since the beginning. The philosophical debate of 2018 looks more or less the same as that of 1975.

Remainers will scoff at sovereignty. They always have. They view it as a quaint and obsolete notion and to a point they are right. We shall soon find as we leave the EU there are other binding obligations where Brexit brings no remedy - and that which has been done in Europe is now going global.

I take the view that there are levels of compromise. My favourite line is that I'm not going to go to the barricades over aubergine marketing standards. Life is too short and most of the time these things don't really matter. For whatever downsides there may be, the wealth of goods now available to us because of the standardisation process makes it worth it.

Some issues though, are more contentious than others. Food labelling tends to be a political football particularly in the wake of food scares or new allergies. Then there are certain cultural factors to take into account. There is a landmark case Efta case where Norway wanted to restrict a type of alcopop marketed at young people where the court ruled that the domestic restrictions amounted to trade protectionism. Food and drink will always be contentious.

Similarly we look to international labour standards which are designed to create a level playing field. Seafarers in the west struggle to compete against untrained and inexperience Filipino crews and so the International Maritime Organisation in conjunction with the EU and the International Labour Organisation is seeking to insert certain safeguards into modern managed trade agreements.

Though the intent is laudable, the issue of labour rights then becomes a top down affair and when it becomes a matter of trade, it becomes a matter of binding agreements and yet another restraint on sovereignty. Thought the trend is toward beefed up labour standards, seeking to penalise exploitative ship operators, if rights and standards can be traded up they can also be traded down - without consent. This happens in international arenas, EU and above, far beyond the reach of democracy.

Here is where we see measures such as the posted workers directive and the agency workers directive, which in my view have done more harm than good in that they have created unfair competition and eliminated labour market fluidity making it harder to find and keep secure work. It disproportionately affects the young and the bottom decile. What makes the EU obnoxious is that it is judged by its intentions not by its outcomes. This is why I tend to find remain activists actually considerably thicker than the average Kipper.

In this dilemma there are the hyper-globalists and free traders generally describing themselves as liberal - and then there are the protectionists who tend to favour national sovereignty. There is a place for both and every issue must be weighed up on its own merits. Neither camp is can claim superior wisdom.

As pointed out previously, the liberalisers argue that liberalisation of trade very often has no net impact on jobs, where the word net is doing an awful lot of work to disguise a great deal of disruption and displacement which again is usually felt the most acutely by the bottom decile. This is ultimately the driver of so-called populist movements. The latest UNCTAD publication alludes to this.

There are obvious advantages to a global rules based order to curb the worst excesses of predatory trade practices. Common approaches to liberalisation also has its distinct advantages. With the UK being the second most open market in the rankings of the Government Procurement Agreement we have been the beneficiary of massive foreign investment. The histrionics in respect of TTIP opening the doors to US healthcare companies somewhat overlooks the fact that under the WTO GPA, much of the government estate is already up for grabs.

Here we are going to find that those rejecting the EU on the grounds of its "neoliberal" credentials will find Brexit does not make the issue go away. Any future FTAs are likely to bring demands for further liberalisation and increased access to UK government procurement projects. The trend of privatise subcontractors does not end with Brexit - which many, including myself, increasingly see as an unhealthy development as services and utilities drift further away from public accountability and local control.

Of course, we could go to the other extreme where we fetishise sovereignty to such an extent that we lose all of the benefits of openness - which the debate surrounding the single market now demonstrates. Neither extreme is good. The so-called "neoliberal" world order is drifting toward the centralisation and privatisation of technical governance and regulation which is certainly not good for democracy - especially when many of the corporates involved have more clout that most countries.

For all that we are told that openness and private sector involvement is better for our wallets, it is not necessarily good for democracy and many would point to PFI contracts as a totem of corporate plunder. They are not wrong.

This globalisation dilemma is one this blog has wrestled with for some time. I am an advocate of the WTO and I think it needs to be strengthened, reformed, improved and democratised - but if we couldn't do that with the EU, it seems a little to ambitious to think we can do it globally. The WTO is less offensive in that it is not a surpanational authority and there is not much wrong with intergovernmentalism among like minded nations.

In the end, though, I come down on the side of national sovereignty. Though it is certainly not a binary consideration, with huge grey areas where, unarguably, there are benefits to binding international accords, the principle itself must always be at the forefront of our considerations and must be keenly defended.

Remainers are absolutely right to warn of the dangers of a a WTO Brexit. Leaving the EU without a deal most certainly is dangerous and uniquely damaging to the UK. Who, though, could have been so crass as to make the UK so vulnerable in the first place? Only a fool. Thanks to the Lisbon treaty all of our external relations are tied up in a single treaty instrument. That created a grave systemic risk.

This is something that was done to us with the arrogant assumption that integration would be irreversible and permanent. As much as anything of a political nature is never permanent, it certainly isn't when done without consent. That always made Brexit a question of when rather than if.

There is then the human factor. Though we may be advanced animals in the process of mastering space travel and quantum physics, we are still essentially a tribal animal and we seek out communities based on shared values, a common language, a common history and a shared destiny. This is not something that can be imposed without consent. If it is be be a genuine demos then it must evolve of its own accord.

In the end I think the EU will fail because of its fundamental lack of legitimacy. Polls in the last couple of years have tended to favour the EU across Europe but these such polls are fickle and the EU is about to face a number of stresses as Eurozone members wake up to how much of their democracy they have ceded to the technocrats.

What is needed for the future is institutions and structures for the facilitation of trade but ones which ultimately respect democratic expression. The EU is no respecter of sovereignty nor are its voting rituals a genuine expression of people power. The Utopian liberal ideal will always trample on national and local democracy. The solution to any crisis in their eyes will only ever be to confiscate ever more powers to remove the roadblocks to the completion of their grand designs.

This is why, as we leave the EU, we need a new constitution for the UK and one which safeguard against making the same mistakes. Generations of politicians got carried away with their utopian ideals for whom the ends justified the means - cutting corners with democracy and never seeking consent. If we are to have binding agreements that encroach on sovereignty then the risks must be distributed and there must be safeguards.

The essence of a democracy is that power belongs to the people. In a representative democracy (flawed though it is) that power is on loan to politicians to exercise in our name. That will always carry risk which is why we must move to more direct democracy much like Switzerland. Constitutional questions must always be put to a public vote. But the essential point is that the powers loaned to politicians are not theirs to give away.

There is no solution to the intractable dilemma of globalisation and there will always be a conflict between openness and sovereignty and democracy will always be the fly in the ointment of schemers. But for whatever gains there may be from standardisation and harmonisation, there must also be public involvement and legitimate consent. Without that we only ever widen the gulf between the govern and the governors which is how we got here to begin with.

It is not a question of national sovereignty, rather it is a question of the people's sovereignty and having a system that fundamentally recognises that politicians are our servants, not our masters. The men who connived to ratify the Lisbon treaty and opened our borders did so in the belief that their judgement was superior - knowing that if they sought consent they would not get it. It is that singularly betrayal that has poisoned politics ever since and has shattered the country. That is why sovereignty matters and that is why any new constitution should be designed to ensure they never get to do it to us again.