Sunday, 7 October 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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