Monday 24 December 2018

A Warsaw packed adventure

This blogger is away to Warsaw for Christmas courtesy of a Polish friend. Pictured is the German-Polish border post. I shall return next week with the usual nerdish observations about transport infrastructure and the drains. A very merry Christmas to you and yours.

Thursday 20 December 2018

Brexit: the death of reason

Pictured above is a sample of my reading over the last two years. I don't consider myself an expert because the subject is so vast and there is always much more to learn. Of what I do know, and of what I have understood, it would be fair to say that I have acquired a very specialised knowledge of a largely misunderstood and complex discipline. There are only a handful of people who interrogate the subject at this level.

I am, therefore, not in the least but persuaded by the optimistic assertions of the no deal Brexiters. Whenever I raise the subject on Twitter I have people telling me that they work in the sector and they believe everything will be fine. The basic misapprehension at work is the belief that negotiating commercial contacts is anything like international trade diplomacy. It isn't. Commerce is not trade. Trade is a discipline in its own right.

Those who think trade is simple are largely the beneficiaries of international trade accords that remove customs formalities and technical barriers. After thirty years of single market operation, those now working in commerce have never known anything different. 

Facilitating this trade is multiple tiers of regulatory controls involving dozens of different specialisms from veterinary officials to trading standards. What most people see is just the tip of the iceberg. The rest makes up a fabric of invisible government that no-one knows is there until it goes wrong. The system is taken for granted. What we can say with confidence about this system of controls is that if we unplug it all at the wall then things very rapidly start to go wrong.

This is where the no-dealers provide me with a litany of nostrums based on half-understood memes proliferated by Tory propagandists - the latest being "managed no deal". My reading and writing on the subject, I think, entitles me to say with a similar confidence that they are wrong. 

We are told that because we start off from a position of conformity there is no problem. But of course conformity means nothing if there is no formal recognition of conformity. And for every subsequent problem there's a made up WTO rule that magics it all away. At this point you're not arguing with a rational mind. You're dealing with somebody reinforcing their own dogma. These such debates only strengthen their ignorance.

Worse still, we then get celebrity businessmen who have no real role in the day to day running of their own companies telling us they believe no deal will be fine because they export all over the world without any problems. People choose who they want to believe on the basis of prestige. All of my reading, all of my understanding is rendered inert. When people need to make a decision based on zero knowledge their look to sources of prestige on their own side be it a QC or a businessman.

With this dynamic, each side builds its own sacred scriptures which then circulate within the tribe to become articles of faith and no amount of argument or evidenced debate is going to make a dent. Every breath is wasted. Consequently the petition to leave without a deal is now racing up to three hundred thousand signatures.

The reason the ERG no deal propaganda machine is so successful is because each of their simplistic nostrums and slogans require thousand word technical refutations that their supporters will never read, much less understand. We are now deep into what Carl Jung called a "psychic epidemic".
“Indeed, it is becoming ever more obvious that it is not famine, not earthquakes, not microbes, not cancer but man himself who is man’s greatest danger to man, for the simple reason that there is no adequate protection against psychic epidemics, which are infinitely more devastating than the worst of natural catastrophes. The supreme danger which threatens individuals as well as whole nations is a psychic danger.
Reason has proved itself completely powerless, precisely because its arguments have an effect only on the conscious mind and not on the unconscious. The greatest danger of all comes from the masses, in whom the effects of the unconscious pile up cumulatively and the reasonableness of the conscious mind is stifled".
Ordinarily this would not present us with much of a problem. This is, after all, parliament's decision. It is within their power to stop a no deal Brexit. The no deal extremists are in the minority. The problem, though, is that there is a psychic epidemic on the other side of the house which believes that it can legislate against the automatic outcome of Article 50 if no deal can be agreed. Such is not in their gift. 

They believe that, should they vote down the deal on the table, Mrs May will have to go back to Brussels to reopen the books. This is not something Brussels is inclined to do. There may yet be one last little dance but it will not fundamentally change the substance of the deal. There are then the ultra remainers who are playing a game of double or quits, believing that if the deal is voted down the can force Number Ten to revoke Article 50. A dangerous gamble. 

We therefore stand on a dangerous precipice where literally everything depends on May's wildly unpopular deal scraping through parliament. It is for this reason alone I support the deal. There is plenty to say about the pitfalls and potential traps within the deal and plenty to pick holes in, but it is the deal on the table and no deal is not something we can afford. 

In another mind I might be inclined to dump the deal and stand up for the principle, but in the end that does not get us anywhere. No deal cannot remain no deal and we will be in no better position to strike a bargain with the EU after the fact. What little leverage we have will be used up just trying to reopen talks. There is a danger we could very easily sour relations with our closest allies resulting in a decade or more of economic turmoil and political discontent.

For all that fellow leavers tell me that May's deal is a trap and that the customs union will become permanent, my reply is less detailed than it once would have been. My answer is now "tough shit!". There was a plan, the was an alternative there were windows of opportunity along the way. All of them were squandered. At some point you have to simply accept the consequences and take it up with those responsible. 

In the final analysis, Theresa May's deal has one redeeming quality. It keeps us in the game and gives us another roll of the dice. There is a window in which to press for an alternative. The Efta option may be dead but the EEA acquis is still an artefact and there are ways and means to make use of it. The political declaration has more binding effect than is assumed and once we have a withdrawal agreement in the bag, the mood will change and we can expect a change of tone on all sides. The immediate dangers will have passed. 

Here I am guided by one simple premise. Brexit was always going to be an evolutionary process. We were never going to get what we want in one go. May's deal means it will take longer than I ever anticipated and the deal will park us in a suboptimal position for a decade or more. 

But then European relations are a continuum and there will be events along the way that influence and steer the process. In some ways we will converge and in others we will diverge. But in every formal sense we will not be a member of the European Union and that singular fact has real world implications that will lead to future clashes in which issues will be resolved one way or another. This is true of all non-EU European states. Politics will eventually collide with technocracy.

Brexit was never an economic proposition but that doesn't mean we can simply disregard the economic concerns. They are both real and urgent. Our future trade and geostrategic position matters - and for Brexit to be workable long term we need to be mindful of that. On that score we need to start from a position of relative strength - which we won't if we leave without a deal. We will very rapidly slide down the rankings and then there is no future window to salvage the situation.

No deal Brexit is ultimately the pet project of of the Tory right. Their economic theories are a relatively new addition to the Eurosceptic worldview and really only tracked on after the fact. Through their respective propaganda channels they have successfully co-opted the eurosceptic movement as a figleaf of democratic legitimacy for their radical economic agenda. There was no built in mandate for this in the referendum and it has never been openly debated. They are using the referendum for their own nefarious purposes; to advance and agenda based on intellectually bankrupt ideas. May's deal is at the very least a safeguard against that.

My younger self may have subscribed to the ideas of the Tory right, and were it not for my corrective education I might still favour no deal, but the world is not as simple as they believe it is. There are rules within rules and there is no simplifying the inherently complex - much though we may wish it were otherwise. It's one thing to believe in Britain and to be optimistic for the future; to trust in Britain's capabilities, but to act on the basis of wishful thinking is pure foolishness. We are better than that. I hope.   

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Wednesday 19 December 2018

Brexit: pockets of unreality

My favourite comedy of all time is Red Dwarf; the tale of the last human alive (Dave Lister) and his quest to return to Earth from three million years into deep space, with only a neurotic hologram of a former shipmate, a mother hen mechanoid, and a creature that evolved from the ship's cat for company. In one episode, prophetically titled "Out of Time", the gang go raiding a derelict spaceship found abandoned in deep space.

The ship contains closely guarded secret technology and is surrounded by by unreality pockets, a security measure causing very strong hallucinations. During one of these Kryten, the mechanoid, becomes convinced that Lister is a 3000 series android (an unsuccessful model, due to its hyper-realistic appearance), after which he is forced to obey orders from Kryten, a 4000 series. The next bubble gives the gang animal heads as illustrated. The further they fly the more of these pockets of unreality occur.

One could very easily see it as an allegory for Brexit. The closer we get to the prize, the more absurd the surrounding political landscape, almost as though it were designed as deterrence. It would be comforting to think there was an intelligent design behind it all but there really isn't. We've flown into a pocket of unreality where the normal rules of time and space simply don't apply.

The allegory only goes so far though. It is the general public flying through the pockets of discombobulating unreality, whereas Parliament resides in such a pocket on a persistent basis, as outlined by EUreferendum blog last night. In a fantasy construct all of their own, the ERG have convinced themselves that EU contingency measures amount to "concessions". This is nicely eviscerated by EUreferendum, saving me the bother.

In the Red Dwarf episode, the crew conclude that the disturbing hallucinations are too severe to endure all the way through to their destination thus decide to go into stasis, a form of cryogenic sleep until they arrive. Sadly we have no such technology of our own and must endure a higher frequency of absurdity. The hallucinations become more deranged the closer we get to D-Day. 

Far outside of the unreality minefield, though, things are very real indeed. The rest of the universe carries on as normal while politicians chase after their own delusions, further illustrating the disconnect between politics and the urgent needs of the country - as though to exemplify why Brexit is necessary. If there is an argument for leaving without a deal it is only as a wake up call to a completely detached political class. The ultimate Brexit paradox is that we very probably need a no deal Brexit in order to have a political purge of the sort of politician that advocates a no deal Brexit. 

Meanwhile, much of what is now hitting the news is only coming to the fore because of the EU's contingency measures which now confirm much of what the blogosphere has been saying for the last three years - and only now is there a glimmer of awareness from The Economist:
The biggest worry is not that the world’s view of Britain is changing. It is that this darker view of Britain is more realistic than the previous one. The Brexit vote could almost have been designed to reveal long-festering problems with the country: an elite educational system that puts too much emphasis on confidence and bluff and not enough on expertise; a political system that selects its leaders from a self-involved Oxbridge clique; a London-focused society that habitually ignores the worries of the vast mass of British people; and a Conservative Party that promotes so many pompous mediocrities. The reason Brexit is doing so much damage is not just that it is a mistake. It is a reckoning.
Of course it does not go as far as recognising its own role in this morass, but you have to give them points for trying. One could almost think they've been reading this blog. Brexit is no mistake though. This state of detached unreality is simply not sustainable. It was always going to come to a head and now we are counting down the days. As much as Brexit is a necessary corrective, the EU itself is a symptom of this very dynamic. For all their utopian ideals, with policy driven entirely by econometrics, there is no real world feedback in the system, ever widening the gulf between the governors and the governed.

In place of democratic input there is a strata of what they call civil society which is made up of NGOs and grant funded academics which the system believes to be authentic democratic input. But it's a closed loop of political cogs groomed for the life in the NGOcracy - marinated in political correctness and Agenda 21 dogma. 

This is how they end up believing that we are only too happy to pay more for our winter heating if it saves the planet. This is how we get 5p charges on carrier bags and bans on plastic straws. This is why, when Europe is taking to the streets, they sign an international compact on migration. Their priorities are a million miles from our own. Reality does not intrude.

This same self-absorption has plagued Brexit talks from the beginning where it;s not only the government disregarding anything said by Barnier. They're all at it. We are now staring into the Abyss and the Labour party (and others) seem to think that we can simply vote down the deal and toddle of to Brussels and ask for something completely different. The writing is on the wall. The EU will not stand for any more sodding around and it is not going to open talks again without a very seriously good reason. The window is closed and still Westminster is negotiating with itself. 

What we are looking at here is the culmination of decades of political degradation. Ours is an old and creaking system limping by on legacy prestige. It has yet to come to terms with its own lack of vitality and gravitas. The veneer of competence has long since evaporated and the public grows impatient. There is no mood to tolerate any further chicanery. 

This was made clear yesterday. Reality is closing in. We are now seeing more impassioned protetests in Westminster, and not of the clean living, well groomed remainer kind. Here we see Anna Soubry hounded by evidently right wing protesters and though she holds her composure, there is a brief moment where she looks genuinely frightened.

For the record, I'm not ok with this. Hounding her in this manner doesn't sit right with me. This is yobbery. But then Soubry is no innocent either. She would overturn the 2016 vote in a heartbeat if she could, and the ongoing legal attempts to thwart Brexit are playing with fire. This is reminder that they operate at our sufferance.

Elsewhere we see similar manifestations of anger. The big yellow "Bollocks to Brexit" bus has been touring the country of late, visiting mainly remain voting places - to a small but cordial reception. But not so yesterday, when the people of leave voting Durham turned out to block the road and pelted the bus with eggs.

Our political class is used to doing as it pleases without the intrusion of the real world. Without that impetus, and by neglecting to engage with anybody outside of the bubble, they have nurtured and strengthened their own pocket of unreality. They have done so to such an extent that they will fight to preserve it and use every arm of the state to ensure there is no "rude" interruption from the public. 

In a sense Westminster is becoming The Alamo. A futile battle to the last man against overwhelming forces, with too few defenders and attacked from all sides. These are the last days of the siege. If you see Anna Soubry in a Davy Crockett coonskin hat, you'll know why. The bubble of unreality is about to pop.  

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Tuesday 18 December 2018

Brexit: Resigned to the facts

I was considering writing a long article on how a no deal Brexit plays out. I thought better of it. We have been through this mill countless times. There's no point.

I have often questioned the utility of Twitter. I've been on it almost every day for four years now. I have watched every twist and turn of the public debate and bore witness to every twist and turn. I have seen every combination of every stupid argument - and I have seen the lengths people will go to to deceive themselves. I have seen breathtaking dishonestly and bloodcurdling lies. From all that the one thing I know is that when it comes down to it, most people will believe what they want to believe.

As we draw closer to the moment of truth, the rebate reaches fever pitch - to an intensity to rival the last days of the referendum. Minds are not going to be changed. If anything the debate is regressing. The only relief is the knowledge that in a hundred days this will all be over and we will see who is right. It's my best guess versus your best guess.

My best guess is that forty years of technical and legal integration suddenly unplugged overnight will cause many of the problems we anticipated and many we did not. We have seen through the course of Article 50 talks how the EU will close ranks on the UK, we have seen how it will prioritise its own legal order over an above real world outcomes and there is little reason to believe it will be any more pragmatic after the fact.

Moreover I place my faith in the analysis conducted by Being Richard North's son I know how he thinks. After every sentence he's thinking "Can I argue this point?", "Does this hold true?". He is not man trying to convince anybody of anything. He is a man who simply wants to know. He writes to understand and the blog is your invitation to observe. A man of ruthless self-discipline and unmatched intellectual rigour. He can get things wrong when it comes to political predictions but on technical issues I will take his word for it over any of the slovenly con artists in the ranks of the Brexiteers.

And though I do defer to his work, I recall that I've served this cause for twenty years and know a few things if only through hazy recall. I also know how trade works. This is not from following prima donnas on Twitter. Long times readers can attest to the fact there is an audit trail here of a deep study into how they system works. Like my father I do not see this as a game. I do not see it as my role to dredge up a piece of trade technobabble to counter the latest remainer scare story. I simply want to know for myself.

We can argue that in the event of no deal, with meticulously executed planning, the UK can avoid many of the headline impacts. We have left it too late though. Moreover, the notion that no deal is mitigated by a series of subsequent mini deals gravely underestimates the depth and complexity of the remedial measures we would have to take. We would need an EU approved fisheries plan to resume trade and we would be looking at lengthy negotiations to re-establish air services agreements. Brexiters seem to think this can all be scribbled down on a napkin.

Repeatedly I am assured that EU member states still want to do business with us. I am sure that they do - but there is a certain presumption at work here - that the EU will ride roughshod over its own system of rules and that it won't use its leverage to extract concessions from the UK. I am also highly sceptical of the notion that we are able to reciprocate against any new barriers to trade.

Moreover, I've studied the Ultra Brexiters - both the leaders and the grass roots. They are blinded by their faith. Most of them have fallen for the expert misdirection of the propagandists. Still they trot out the same banale tropes about tariffs, completely ignoring the bigger issues - because it's complication and they simply don't want to know. Their worldview is built on a series of decades long assumptions that make up part of their identity and much of their social setting. Letting go of it is just too hard.

I'm well aware of this dynamic. I once thought as they do - but when you've successfully challenged your own dogma there is no going back. Once you let reality intrude everything becomes a lot less certain. The ultra Brexiteers have never had to reconcile the intricate trade-offs because never once have they recognised the dilemmas exist. The arguments made by Brexiters for no deal are almost entirely based on blind faith and they have shown a cavalier disregard for the consequences.

I myself have flirted with the idea of no deal simply because part of me is resigned to it, and part of me thinks it's necessary, if only to blow a hole in British politics as we know it, but I have never once pretended it is not without grave economic and social consequences. It would be just reward for the remainers whose petulance and dishonesty has led us down this path. It will also explode in the faces of the ERG MPs. It will bring about a crucible. A long overdue political reckoning.

That, though, is the only thing going for it, for which we will pay an unimaginable price. Politically, socially and economically, it will take decades to recover. There are no sunlit uplands, no fast lane of international trade unshackled from the binds of the EU. Even if we avoid the headline impacts of leaving without a deal, we are still frozen out of European markets.

I good go to some lengths to evidence my claims but if there is one thing I know as an experience publisher, the more detailed your argument, the fewer people will read it - and there is one absolute certainty - that if it doesn't tell the audience what they want to hear then they will disregard it entirely. They won't take it from trade professionals or academics, they won't take it from remainer politicians and any Brexiter who breaks ranks with the narrative is mistrusted. I've been called a remainer countless times.

A madness has descended on this land. One that is beyond our ability to control. Presenting rational arguments to irrational people is fruitless. This is a fever that ha to run its course. It looks to me like Theresa May is going to play it right to the wire, to spook parliament into backing her deal. It might work. It might not. Parliament is fragmented every which way and she cannot count on the support of ultra remainers or the ERG. If it passes then it scrapes through on a wing and a prayer.

If the deal falls flat then we will descend into political and economic chaos. Within weeks the government will fall, the Tory party will be broken and there is every reason to expect a general election. the results will be inconclusive. Even at this time, Corbyn's Labour is limping in the polls. We are looking at political uncertainty not seen in the UK in living memory.

There is one and only one reason to Back Theresa May's deal and that is that it keeps us in the game. The deal is not the end point and leaving the EU was always going to be an evolutionary process. I have made it quite clear on this blog that the deal is suboptimal in every way - but it is the only deal on the table. For me it accomplishes one thing - and that is to take the first step to leaving the EU.

The argument as to why we should leave the EU was always a slam dunker. The question of how is a far more involved debate and the question of where next is an open question. On that score, leavers simply haven't won the argument. The woolly aspirational guff from the ERG is dangerously out of kilter with reality and the deal is at least an insurance policy against their delusions. It then presents us with a window to turn this around once we are out from underneath the sword of Damocles.

The ambition of the Brexiters is to have a far looser and simpler relationship with the EU. In spirit I sympathise with this view. In reality though, transboundary concerns with our largest neighbour dicate a highly involved relationship and it is never going to be simple because the issues themselves are not simple, highly technical and deeply political. It is therefore unrealistic, nay deluded, to believe that we can sever all formal relations as a permanent settlement to the European question.

Some have remarked that I've gone quiet over the Norway option. Some still hang on to the hope that if May's deal is defeated then there is another opportunity to advance the EEA idea. I have made that case on this very blog. Now though, my feeling is that if this deal is defeated, any deal is defeated. The EEA option cannot withstand the weight of propaganda against it at this late stage. We needed significant parliamentary backing long before now. The option is dead for the foreseeable future.

It is, therefore, decision time. Do I give way to my inherent nihilism in the hope of creative destruction? I think not. Revolutions of this nature are wildly unpredictable and the stakes are too high. Tearing it all down is easy. Building something in its place is not.

My closing thoughts of the year are that the deal on the table, for all of its potential traps, is as good as it gets for the moment. Both sides know that the backstop is politically unsustainable and though the political declaration is said to be non-binding, politically and morally it is, in much the same way as all international conventions are. Whatever happens is not permanent not least because there is no permanence in European relations. It is a long continuum.

Brexit of itself, especially leaving the single market, is enough to be getting on with. It already creates a space for political renewal and creates enough problems of its own. If Brexit is fundamentally about sovereignty then this deal goes a long way toward that goal. The rest we must accept, not only as a recognition that absolute sovereignty is a nebulous concept but also as the price for Brexiter intransigence. They actively resisted having a plan and chose instead to wail from the sidelines. The destination is one of their own making.

And then ultimately, of all the rules, regulations and international conventions I take my guidance from, there are still none more relevant than the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition. The third rule is "Never spend more for an acquisition than you have to". Should we bide our time we can get what we want, but to walk away now is to pay a price we simply cannot afford. Only a lobeless idiot would gamble a £270bn a year trade relationship for the sake of a one off payment of £39bn.

You can argue the toss about the arcane points of principle of the backstop, and whinge about non-regression clauses, but this is the world as we find it. Most people don't care about aviation safety rules or what food safety regime we use just so long as it works. I'm not going to go to the barricades over that and it's not why I got into politics. If, at the end of the day, your trade and economic policy involves mobilising the army and breaking out the civil contingency plans, then it's fair to say it needs a bit of a rethink.

When the tale of Brexit is told it will be a tale of squandered opportunities and wasted time. A better deal was always possible but pragmatism and ambition were crushed under the weight of propaganda from both sides. The remainers ideas were limited by their stunted horizons, unable to see anything beyond Brussels. The Brexiteers made an irrelevance of themselves by refusing to acknowledge reality. It therefore fell to Theresa May to reconcile the irreconcilable to the best of her limited abilities. This she has done. You don't have to like it, because I sure as hell don't, but for now, this is the hand we are dealt.

Leaving without a deal is not just a matter of whether we can keep the trucks rolling. This is about safeguarding dialogue with the EU ensuring that there is a basis for amicable future relations. The ramifications of an embittered and acrimonious breakup are serious. It has has grave and long lasting geo-strategic consequences. We have to be mindful that whatever our view of the EU, it still exists and will continue to exert power in the region and beyond, It is still an entity with which we must contend. 

For all the dire warnings, some verging on the ridiculous, we have to keep in mind that the media is largely unable to cope with the detail of any given story and will trivialise and sensationalise it in order to generate clicks. It is that lack of seriousness that allows Brexiteers to write it all of as "project fear". 

Behind each and every one of those stories, though, is a legitimate concern based on the legal standing of the EU, as set out in the EU Notices to Stakeholders. We cannot know the full extent of the impact but even if much of it is hyperventilation, it's the slow degrading impacts of economic isolation from Europe that will take the greatest toll. Like in war, the humble AK-47 accounts for a higher body count than the A-Bomb.

Every Brexiter, myself included, feels the impulse to tell the EU where to shove their deal. There would be considerable momentary satisfaction in doing so. My feeling, however, is that our own supine and servile political class will be grovelling to Brussels in no time, and without fanfare will sign up to more or less the same terms and conditions. The more volatile our exit, the more pain we endure, the greater the likelihood of total capitulation down the line. For that reason I am backing Theresa May's deal. For all of its flaws, no deal at all is too rich for my blood. 

Monday 17 December 2018

Tell the fat lady... she's on in five

EUreferendum blog picks up on the shenanigans in parliament today. I'm afraid it passed me by completely. For all that I am focussed on the Brexit debate, the dramas of Westminster seem barely relevant - elevated to a level of importance only by the legacy media whose output increasingly does not intrude on my reading of daily events and could not be trusted to get it right anyway.

We're living in two different worlds and the two are splitting further apart by the day as the playground in Westminster gets more and more surreal. They could very well to drop us into a "no deal" because they're so far detached from reality that they won't even understand what is happening until it has happened. This is a terrifying situation, where our political classes have totally lost it. They are not even close to understanding what is happening in the real world.

If this is how it plays out then I expect there will be hell to pay. People will want answers and they'll want to know why we are in such a mess. As ever we'll get the classic establishment narrative that the plebs were taken in by charlatans when we should have been listening to the experts. What won't factor into their thinking is why the experts weren't believed when it mattered - which is a whole other story. I will be here to remind them that the expert class did knowingly lie through their teeth to close down all alternatives to remaining.

I do have to hand it to the Ultras though. They've played a blinder in totally dominating the leave message, and saturating the debate with pro no-deal propaganda - but the real question is why has it not been adequately challenged in the media? Should the worst happen it will be the collective failing of our self-involved politico-media class.

Again though, I come back to the thinking that it is this very political dysfunction that makes Brexit necessary. If it wasn't Brexit then it would be something else to bring it all crashing down on us. It should be recalled that whatever price we pay for leaving the EU is the price of our political incoherence. There was always a plan in circulation to minimise the risks of leaving and to ensure continuity of trade but politicians and media who knew about it chose to ignore it because it did not originate from within the Westminster bubble.

Ultimately our politics is in the habit of electoral triangulation. They will never do the right thing if it loses them votes. Moreover, we could not expect them to do the right thing when they haven't the first idea what that even looks like. We might often remark that we would get better results from parliament if we just dragged people in off the streets - but given how debased the party system now is, that's more or less what we've got. For many constituencies the MP is the one person who bothered to apply to the party most likely to win. We are simply not intellectually equipped, politically, to make a good go of such an undertaking.

The story of Brexit, when it is told in the future, will be one of a political class crippled with indecision, paralysed by the enormity and boxed in by their own incomprehension. It will also be the story of how scum floats to the top. Of our 650 MPs, we only ever hear from a handful of them, and though we have some eye wateringly stupid MP's, we have heard so little from the silent majority whose own voices have been subsumed by ideological zealots on both sides. Again this down to the facile media fixation with confrontation between extremes.

As noted in yesterday's post, part of the reason our political class is despised is partly because we only seem them through the prism of our media. Television interviews are an alien setting, and when we see them at work, it's usually only at PMQs where any right thinking person would be disgusted. It's really at the committee level where we get to see who is worth their salt - and having sat through my fair share of trade committees I find they perform no better there either.

Some of the best performances have been by some of the Northern Irish MPs, not least because the outcome of this process affects them in a profound way. For all others, there is still a sense of disconnect. Some may have worked out that Brexit has implications for the flagship factories in their backyards but on all other concerns it is largely beyond their abilities. They don't know what questions to ask (or who to ask) and they don't understand the answers they get.

Part of the problem is that it wouldn't make any difference either way. The PM is deep in her bunker surrounded by gatekeepers who police what information they see. The best advice of experts does not get as far as the PM unfiltered and the fate of the nation rests on the leanings of the PMs advisers. We are not privy to their thinking at all. This explains the completely irrational rejection of the EEA option. The consequence of this is the further up the chain you go the less likely you are to meet anyone who knows anything. It is not at all surprising that Sir Ivan Rogers quit in disgust. I would.

This, though, is why I could never side with remain. If I wanted an easy life, the smart thing to do would be to vote remain, tune politics out entirely and get on with a much more lucrative and rewarding life doing something else entirely. EU membership at least ensures the shelves are stocked with the essentials. The question is whether that status quo, with a politics so fundamentally broken is sustainable.

If there is any genius to the EU system it is that it contains politics in a bubble of its own ensuring it can't go too far off the rails. It's got to the point where not only can parliament not exert its ultimate sovereignty, it doesn't want to either. They much prefer to churn over the same old territory while ducking the mounting and acute problems, to which their sticking plaster answer is unending immigration. For as long as the system is propped up with only the occasional hiccup there is no sense of urgency in addressing them. We have a largely indolent political class living the high life at our expense.

It would be easier still for the electorate resign itself to this dysfunction. They almost did. Leave won by a slender margin and were there a second vote they could likely be browbeaten into submission. Our political class finds it too boring and complicated to bother with so why should we go through the economic turbulence? But then, of course there is a reason to rock the boat as Sam Hooper points out.
Automation, outsourcing and globalisation have incrementally, relentlessly eaten away at the idea of a steady, 9-5 factory or retail job being sufficient to raise a family or buy a house. Millions of people who in decades past went through an education system which prepared them for little else now find themselves having to learn new computer or service-based skills from scratch, with almost no support or coordination from local or national government.
Even university graduates find that their degrees are of increasingly dubious value, and are obliged to virtually fight to the death for a coveted place on a corporate graduate scheme. The losers go back to live with their parents or work in minimum wage drudgery, wondering why their BA in critical gender theory hasn’t proven to be the passport to the slick professional city life they crave. Call centres and giant Amazon distribution centres have become the new dark satanic mills of modern Britain. Our present education policy should be focused entirely on this looming precipice, yet we distract ourselves by arguments over grammar schools or whether boys should be allowed to wear tiaras and tutus in class.
Social mobility in the UK is collapsing as a result of numerous pressures while our political class is not moved to do anything about it, which of itself is problematic, but this supine and politically inert culture is also giving way to a moral collapse where we are more vulnerable than ever to the perverse agendas of the degenerate left. 

To resign ourselves to the status quo would be an act of extraordinary national cowardice on the part of its politicians and its people. There is no doubt in my mind that a no deal Brexit will exacerbate many of the problems affecting the regions, but in many respects it will be a gentle shove to a system already standing to the brink. For all that we have heard threats of Airbus's imminent departure from our shores, crucial high skill work has been bleeding overseas since before Brexit was even a thing. As much as UK wage costs are high for every pound that goes to the employee, another must go to the treasury.

It would be nice to believe Tony Blair when he says we could call the whole thing off and entrust our rulers to make recompense, but they are capable only of the same thinking that brought us here to begin with. There is no basis on which to trust that they won't sweep it all under the rug and get back to the business as usual of managed decline.

It is very likely that the loss of single market participation will make it impossible for manufacturers to operate inside EU value chains. It is very likely that much of the defence spending that props up the regions will be cut and councils will yet again have to rethink their priorities. They can no longer afford their white elephants and flights of fancy. Politicians for the first time this century will have to address how we go on to meet the challenges of the new global era.

We are told Brexit is likely to trash our university sector. I'm hard pressed to find anyone who cares. They have abdicated their role in society to become creches for privileged children to keep them safe from the adult world for just a few more years - churning out PPE grads to be fed into the Westminster machine having never accomplished anything in the real world. All the while the lesser renowned institutes serve as a means to mask youth unemployment while offering them little in demand in the private sector.

It seems that the ones most concerned about the impact of Brexit are those most concerned with the impact it will have on a bloated and underperforming state apparatus. The very same apparatus that underpins their status and privilege. The same apparatus that underpins the makework jobs while our infrastructure crumbles and we squeeze ever more people into smaller and smaller spaces. 

Brexit is very much a kill or cure proposition but on present from, with the politics and media we have, we were on a certain death trajectory anyway. Brexit creates a policy space where the old simply cannot continue. In a very real sense Brexit forces us to rethink every level of government. That is exactly what I voted for. 

Whether we leave the EU with or without a deal is now n the hands of the gods. The die is cast and the outcome largely depends on the dregs of competence still left in the Westminster system. It is beyond our influence and probably always was. Soon we will know and soon the truth will out. The deceitful will get their just desserts and on that day politics will never be the same again. Who says there are no benefits to Brexit?

Additional: This blog continues only through the generous donations of its readers. If the Guardian has the nerve to ask for donations for the crap they produce then so do I. Please give if you can.

Sunday 16 December 2018

The politico-media nexus is the cancer at the heart of British society

When the real story of Brexit is told (if ever it is) it will be an account of how a self-absorbed, self-regarding and trivial media class failed every basic test of competence. It starts with a collective inability to recognise and process nuances.

The first taste of this was early on in the referendum was Carolyn Quinn of the Radio 4's Today Programme jetting off to Greenland to explore "the practical process by which Britain would exit the EU if UK voters opt to leave and looks at the experience of Greenland, which quit the EEC in 1985".

Where to even start? This is long before the single market was established in the UK, before we evolved JIT supply chains inside it and before Maastricht, Lisbon and the dreaded Article 50. It is difficult to imagine anything less useful than going off on a jolly to Greenland. 

This was compounded by a nasty piece of hackery shortly afterwards by the BBC's Jonty Bloom, entitled "How does Norway's relationship with the EU work?". Again, another jolly at our expense to tell us nothing and get the fundamentals wrong. Thus it was lodged that Norway has no say in the rules". 

Though the origins of this mythology go way back, this was at a crucial point in the campaign where one would have thought, having a public service remit (and at such a crucial time), the BBC would have taken a little more care. Instead, this slovenly and wholly inaccurate narrative plagued the debate throughout with those same mantras oft repeated by Andrew Neil and Laura Kuenssberg.

This has been the problem with Brexit throughout. Narratives are established and take on a life of their own, and the media is only interested in the competing narratives of the political extremes. Thus remainers were able to say that a Norway Brexit would be pointless, equating it with being an EU member with no say, which in turn became ammunition for the Ultras pushing their no deal agenda. 

Once such a narrative is established, it is all but impossible to dislodge it. Only when the truth gets some recognition from within the bubble does it gain any traction. In this instance, its sponsorship has come too little, too late - and from the wrong side of the argument. The impasse was never going to be broken without a leading leaver to back it. 

But then half the problem here is that those entrusted to interrogate politicians lack the intellectual equipment to challenge untruths. Just yesterday we saw Rebecca Long Bailey telling us that Labour would renegotiate a customs union with a say in trade deals. This slips by without challenge, as do the various assertions from leave MPs that we already trade with the rest of the world on WTO terms.

Even after three long years of intense debate with Radio 4 being at the razor's edge of the national debate, John Humphries still doesn't have a functioning notion of the difference between the customs union and the single market. Robert Peston routinely belches his incomprehension into Facebook. Faisal Islam still struggles with the very basics. Brexit is simply beyond their abilities. 

What makes this all the more infuriating is their inability to learn. As we have seen, each of the options periodically enjoys a few days in the spotlight where the media will recycle the same tired talking points but learn absolutely nothing in between so that each time we go through the mill, rather than advancing the debate, overall understanding is regressing. 

There are one or two semi-capable reporters in the BBC ranks. John Campbell, BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor, very occasionally produces reportage of value but relies almost entirely on remain inclined testimony, largely from Twitter "experts" which amounts to quote scraping rather than going to primary sources. What we get, therefore, is the retailing of prestige opinion which is just as prone to dishonesty and factual error.

It is this intellectual malaise that runs right the way through the politico-media establishment. This is why so many politicians and hacks have fixation with customs unions as the basis of any solution to the respective Brexit dilemmas. We get Raphael Hogarth of the Institute for Government boasting that we need a customs union because he's been to the Norway border to see for himself. This is highly typical London think tanks who employ arrogant teenagers who don't know how to think.

This is where I lament that we do not live in the times of the vikings where we would could raise an army, march on London and leave no man or woman alive. It's pointless singling out any one faction because they all suffer from the same disease. Information is transmitted orally, there is very little primary research and most of what they think they know is derived from secondary sources which only carry weight because of their institutional prestige. It is, therefore, highly unlikely that they were ever going to get the right answers.

Then, of course, the media suffers from the obsession with youth. We see a procession of telegenic, twenty something policy juniors on television spouting absolute crap. The national debate is frames by morons for morons - made worse by the fact that television producers are also unsupervised children. Experienced journalists cost too much. It is amidst this morass that agenda driven factions can advance their agendas without challenge.

This then creates a feedback loop where politicians who get their information from this same media go on the media to recycle the same errors adding their own in the process. Westminster then becomes a pocket of unreality as half understood concepts are fed into electoral analysis resulting in entirely warped triangulation - which explains Labour's dogs dinner of a Brexit policy (whatever that is this week).

The depressing part about all this is that there doesn't seem to be a way to fix it. This is about as good as it gets. This is a consequences of the internet, the twenty-four hour news cycle and the auto-cannibalism of corporate scale media. For as long as voters are passive recipients of news from the television, ever keen to be entertained by low grade Sunday morning political magazine programmes, this does not improve. 

Between this and the utterly valueless exercise that is Question Time, where an ignorant public interrogate equally ignorant politicos and z-listers, there is no readily available channel of reliable or useful information. As Eureferendum notes, much of the Brussels news we get is little more than what is spoonfed to hacks in the pigpen. We are no better or worse informed than if we simply read the EU's own press releases. The rest is supposition, innuendo and fabrication.

Though I can never prove it, a large part of me believes that the media is as much responsible for Brexit as any other factor. Perhaps more so. The unedifying spectacle of televised leaders debates in the 2015 election reduced our politics to a glitzy game show - and the referendum coverage took much the same tone. These are people we don't want to hear from, who can't tell us anything, in a format that is objectively disgusting. For all the wailing we have heard from the establishment about "fake news" it is little wonder that the inquisitive would seek news from elsewhere.

Leave won the referendum not because of any bus or sophisticated Russian bots. What won it for leave was a wave of revulsion at our politics - of which the media is a major component - where it revealed itself to be lacking all authority and gravitas and unable to treat adult issues with any seriousness.

There was a time where both the BBC and ITN enjoyed a certain level of respect. Their pompous intro music and their formal format gave them a certain gravitas which has since been eroded as new more often takes on the form of informal sofa chats where everything is softened to present the human interest side of a story, treating viewers as imbeciles. We used to have Brain Walden. Now we have generic vacuous blondes and Andrew Neil.

There is now something quite slovenly about our media which is indicative of a media class that does not see its own faults and believes itself to be the height of excellence. It has no concept of how it underperforms and does not respond to external impetus. Like politics it has become a closed loop of the profoundly ignorant, parasitic in nature and completely tone deaf. 

It is not coincidental that the our media's vitality has expired around the same time as our politics. The two are symbiotic. Co-dependent even. One sordid nest of incompetence cannot exist without the other. There is a revolving door between the media, think tankery and politics, it's all part of the same culture and its value system is entirely alien to normal people. Not for nothing is the Brexit vote almost entirely the regions versus London.

One would surmise that with most of our politics, particularly for England, being funnelled through Westminster, with all the major decisions taken there, London becomes the be all and end all of politics which produces vacuous clones and ambitious sociopaths. This is where Brexit could be our last chance to turn things around. In an Observer piece this weekend entitled "the baleful distraction of Brexit" it wails that:
Brexit has paralysed British politics: it has left the government utterly incapacitated, ministers warring and both main parties riven by splits. It is absorbing every shred of political energy; in the words of one official, it has wiped the policy grid clean. Yet in every nook and cranny of the state – from understaffed hospitals to the schools sending parents begging letters for financial support – there are problems that demand urgent focus and resource. We also face huge social challenges that require action now, from how to care for an ageing society to how to prepare for the impact of technology on the world of work. All this is going ignored, with detrimental effects on people’s lives.
What it fails to note is that all of these problems existed long before Brexit was ever a thing, and even before the banking crash - before austerity was even a word in regular use. Moreover, nothing Westminster was ever likely to do was ever going to resolve it. They are only capable of more of the same. Public debate on all of these issues is as ill served by our politics and our media because it is conducted in that same pocket of unreality and subject to all the same distorted media narratives.

I am, therefore, not in the least bit concerned that Brexit "wipes the policy grid clean". That's partly what I hoped for in voting to leave. If parliament cannot cope then it will have to devolve (return) these such matters to their rightful place in local government. It is only by having local politics of consequence can we expect to have local media of any worth or intrigue, and in cutting Westminster out of the loop, we also cut out the bubble dwelling media. What is needed then, is a new framework for real local democracy and self-governance.

The basic problem of British politics is that we invest our hopes in a corrupted government machine to provide solutions to problems it is in no position intellectually or politically to resolve. We are then angered when it doesn't deliver. It is unrealistic, though, to believe that there are central government solutions. We are only going to solve these problems through meaningful democratic participation - which is not Westminster.

This week we have seen the People's Vote brigade rolling out Tony Blair. One of the most scummy fork-tongued Remain narratives employed by Blair and his fellow quislings is that if we stop Brexit we can focus on the "real issues" instead. We are to simply roll over and entrust the same old faces to deliver a "new deal". But we know how that goes; more patronising makework schemes and "regeneration investment" - most of which is consumed by consultancy firms via a regional quango - and as ever the answer is to firehose more welfare at the plebs.

They think Brexit only happened because of "austerity" - not because we are utterly sick of the lot of them. They think they can once again dip into our wallets to dish out electoral bribes and we'll be ok with them pissing on our votes. They reckon we didn't really mean to leave the EU - and that it's just the underlying issues *they* need to fix. It doesn't occur to them that the underlying issue is the fact that we hate them and their EU vanity project. It's all just a management and PR problem to them.

They genuinely think we're too bovine to care about things like self-determination,. democracy and accountability - and we'll pack up and go away if there's a top up of regional funding. We all know nothing would change if we trusted them. As much as anything, we voted to leave precisely because we have an establishment that will continually do as it pleases and ignore the rest of the country when we protest. Even now they don't get it which is why they can so casually talk about overturning a vote.

They don't recognise that Brits genuinely want regime change and a chance to reshape Britain - and all they offer us is more of the same - more taxes, more authoritarianism and more paternalistic meddling while they heap on the insults. The fact that these well compensated individuals parade Blair, Major, Adonis and Campbell on our screens honestly thinking it will win people over tells you everything you need to know. They've never even met a working class person outside of London. Or at all for that matter. Just like our media.

I have a deep well of disgust for the Westminster bubble. It is a cancer at the very heart of British society. I do not believe anything can be resolved until we carve it out. I can very easily understand why so many would riot if their Brexit vote is stolen from them. Brexit is our one and only chance at meaningful change - and if it doesn't happen then we are still at the mercy of a system that treats us with contempt. With the death of Brexit is the death of hope for a better country. The country is finished if this really is the best we can do.  


The above petition is doing the rounds on Twitter. Petitions come and go but most of them wither on the vine. This one has skyrocketed in just a few hours. Ground zero appears to be the Westmonster website, along with endorsements from Kate Hoey et al. The no deal propaganda has gone into overdrive. We are looking at a near total polarisation of the issue - especially on Twitter. 

Twitter polls are so far from scientific that they may as well be disregarded but even so, it is clear there is no sympathy on either side for May's deal. What is interesting though is the government petition heat map which tells its own story. It's an all England affair. Or rather all England against the capital. 

This is, of course, little more than rune reading, but it certainly sets the tone for the politics of Brexit. What it tells us, if anything, is that if May's deal does go ahead (or indeed any deal) the Brexiters will cry "betrayal" at every turn. That much has been evident for quite some time now which is why we needed strong leadership willing to speak to the nation rather than pandering to any one wing.

I won't be at all surprised if we now leave without a deal. Neither side is going to give an inch and for all that the Brexiteers are pumping out breathtakingly dishonest WTO claptrap, the remainers are still engaged in their jihad against the Norway option. There is no longer any compromise. One side has to lose and with democracy itself on trial, it's going to have to be the remainers.

Meanwhile, I'm detecting an odd change of mood. The legacy Remain campaign has faltered. The "Bollocks to Brexit" tour bus is the object of ridicule, with hardcore remain campaigners now heading into Ukip Calypso territory, while the People's Vote operation is rolling out the widely despised Tony Blair. It's highly likely that, were there a second vote, having learned nothing, Remain would once again lose.

This is all against a backdrop of widespread protests all over Europe, with it now converging on the European Commission building in Brussels. One gets a sense that this is now entirely in the realms of the political and there is no mood to hear more of technocratic solutions. Something is definitely up and the EU is not covering itself in glory. 

One also notices a distinct twinge of scorched earth petulance ot the remain camp - which we have seen before, but yesterday I observed an Economist hack telling us that they now support the breakup of the UK so that Scotland can rejoin the EU. There's also a surge in this sort of unhinged lunacy...

Perhaps we leavers could help out by wearing striped pyjamas and a little yellow star? 

It was about this time last year when we found ourselves at this impasse, and for all the hectares of articles written, we are still no further forward with no better idea of the outcome. The only difference being that we are edging ever closer to make or break time. It all now rests on whether there can be last minute edits to the deal and what parliament will do. It could all come down to the toss of a coin. 

This is no longer a matter of trade and economic outcomes. This is fundamentally a trust issue where the entire British establishment is on trial. they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. There is no outcome that does not lead to a worsening of this deep rooted political crisis. Being that there no majority for any particular outcome,there is talk of putting it back to the people, but but it can only be a May's deal vs no deal vote or a straight in/out re-run. There is no outcome that can unite the country. What was started in 2016 does not conclude any time soon. 

Friday 14 December 2018

Brexit: big, bold and definitely not boring

Almost every week there's a dreary article about how Britain is an irrelevant old soak, pining for the days of empire, populated by hapless dupes who fell for the siren calls of populists promising to make Britain great again. Last time it was Fintan O'Toole, this week it's Ryan Heath of Politico Europe.
Brexit is the story of a proud former imperial power undergoing a mid-life crisis. The rest of the world is left listening to Britain’s therapy session as they drone on about their ex-spouse, the EU: When will they stop talking and just move on?
The promise of Brexit at the time it narrowly passed in a national referendum in June of 2016 was that it was a way for Britain to feel big again — no longer hectored by the EU bureaucracy in Brussels, no longer treated as just one of 28 members in an unwieldy confederacy. "Britain is special," the Brexiteers assured British voters, who cast their ballots accordingly.
This is apparently cutting edge analysis - or at least he thinks so. The thing, though, about this achingly unoriginal analysis is that's very much the view from within the bubble. Heath goes on to postulate why Britain's attempts to negotiate Brexit have hit the rocks. He puts it down to a sense of self-importance and exceptionalism. Central to this analysis is a sneer at Britain. It has little to do with diagnosing the issues, rather it is a tribal song to signal virtue to other self-styled liberal internationalists.

What we are seeing though is the fundamental incompatibility between British and European politics. You actually have to go further down the chain to the lesser intellectually endowed specimens within the Tory party. Just a few days ago we say Esther McVey confidently asserting that we could get tough with Brussels, threaten to withhold our £39bn and demand a free trade deal. 

Throughout the Brexit talks we have seen British politicians talking about the process as though we were haggling for a carpet in an Arabian souk. There is no inherent understanding of the EU and it systems, and though everyone wags the finger at the Brexiters, this ignorance is universal throughout the entire politico-media bubble. Mrs May's attempt was not much more advanced, seeking to sweep the process aside and make a grandiose offer in her Florence speech. May simply didn't know what she was dealing with. 

Part of the reason for this is that the EU simply does not feature in the the British political debate. Anything remotely technical is cleaved off and pushed through to Brussels. The last time the EU featured heavily in parliamentary discourse was at the time of the Lisbon treaty ratification. Our politics simply isn't involved in the running of the EU so there is no collective knowledge and little in the way of institutional experience. Nobody knows how any of it works or why we even did it this way to begin with. 

Consequently it have never been truly understood that a deal with the EU has to fit in with a system of regional and international rules - many of which are beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. The situation is not helped by having possibly one of the worst crops of politicians in living memory. Theresa May is only PM because she's the closest the Tories have to a heavy hitter. Consequently we have a collection of intellectual pygmies going up against the EU Commission which is ruthlessly organised and experienced in these such negotiations. Lambs to the slaughter.

What we see from this is that the EU prioritises its own system of rules and principles over and above all other concerns. Britain just doesn't see why the EU cannot flex or why the EU shows little in the way of pragmatism. The EU is a rigid technocracy whereas on the UK side, what we are seeing is pure politics. This is partly to do with the fact that the EU was designed to contain and replace politics. We have amateurs up against some of the best thinkers in the business.

It also goes off the rails because Brexit is something our establishment really does not want to do. They are attempting to triangulate - to do what they can to minimise the damage while ensuring they get re-elected. Nobody in the EU has to worry about that. Being that immigration featured prominently in the referendum campaign, on the worst possible advice, May ruled out the EEA option, leaving her with little to play with in order to reconcile the issues. 

Not only was May obliged to take the themes of the referendum into account, she also had a clan of Brextremists with a gun to her head throughout. Ideologues with poorly defined notions of free trade and a razor sharp propaganda division working on their behalf. Not at any point has there been a unity of purpose and parliament has been fragmented and atomised every which way so that no one idea commands anything approaching a majority. Again, this is not a problem for the EU. 

In hindsight it is difficult to see how it could have panned out any other way. I had expected, with parliament being overwhelmingly remain inclined, they would eventually coalesce around the EEA option, but Labour's own internal conflicts have resulted in a similar incoherence. The parties no longer adequately represent the divides in the country. How can a largely metropolitan London party serve its own liberal interests while also representing the white working class of Rotherham? Simply, it can't. This is made all the more acute by the fact that the political class is not trusted and actively despised.

And therein lies the fundamental flaw in the analysis of Ryan Heath. The electorate aren't dupes suckered in by Boris Johnson and his bus. Britain's relationship with the EU has always been one of resigned necessity. It has never enjoyed enthusiastic support in the country, yet our political elites continue to use that lukewarm consent as free licence to take us ever deeper in. But there was always at least a third of the population who would have voted to leave in a heartbeat.

What won it for leave in the end was a wave of revulsion at the condescension, hectoring and snobbery of our political class. The vote was not an endorsement of the Brexiter rhetoric, rather it was an opinion poll on politics as a whole. Though a significant feature in the debate, the EU was as incidental to the Brexit verdict as it generally is in British politics.

The self-serving narrative that we are pining for the days of empire presupposes that the majority are even old enough to do so. Most of the colonial blazer wearing Ukippers died off through the nineties. If anyone has an over-inflated view of Britain's significance, it's the bloodthirsty centrists who are always first in the queue to drop bombs on Arabs.

Ultimately the perception that the EU is an unresponsive, remote, technocratic behemoth is one that has panned out to be entirely justified. As much as Cameron barely asked for EU reform, he came away from Brussels with nothing worth having. Now, with May conceding as far as she can, we find Brussels unwilling to lift a finger to get the deal over the line. Their reasoning may be sound and they have some justification, but ultimately the EU is willing to harm its own trade to prove a point. A world apart from the florid partnership rhetoric of the EU.

Far from being in the midst of a national identity crisis, this is primarily a revolt against politics as a whole and Brexit is very much the timely kick up the backside. Too much as been neglected for too long while a narcissistic and self-involved political class parade their virtues on the world stage, involving us in ever more wars and signing us up to yet more expensive obligations and binding commitments, Meanwhile our concerns ignored and our voices overruled. The EU is totemic of that as Labour connived to ram through the Lisbon treaty without a referendum and opened up our borders without a national debate.

For some time now our politics has been an ideas-free morass, devoid of vision and easily distracted by trivia and all the while the culture of our politics has become so estranged it dare not even debate contentious issues. Now that same hollowed out politics is tasked with a serious undertaking like Brexit, it has proved beyond their abilities.

If there is any whiff of exceptionalism and revivalism it is a consequence of our politicians having no fundamental connection to voters, and a similarly low regard for them as Heath, so their hamfisted attempts to relate to us borrow from Trump's revivalist rhetoric.

Were it that the UK were negotiating bilateral relations with another country we could expect that our flexibility and pragamistism would be an asset. But that's not what we are dealing with here. The deal itself is a technical adaptor into a hard coded regime designed from inception to keep goods and services out. It was never capable of respecting our sovereign decision and politically it doesn't want to by way of being wedded to its own dogma.

This is less to do with English exceptionalism as it is a fundamental misunderstanding of what the EU is. That is as much to do with our political class and the EU itself operating in the margins of ambiguity. Eurosceptic in 1975 warned that should we become enmeshed in their apparatus our political institutions would be hollowed out and robbed of their vitality - and how right they were. 

Now that we are leaving we find we have dismantled our trade and diplomatic expertise, and the committee system shows how parliamentary evidence gathering has withered now that our own political machinery no longer concerns itself with technical governance. It is so long since our politics was tasked with policy of consequence we have lost the capacity to do it at all.

This is ultimately what Brexit has exposed. The Brexit vote was the storm that blew down the tree that had rotted from the inside. And it's probably not even exceptional. Member states have delegated the entire Brexit process to the Commission, largely because they take no interest in it. They are similarly insular for the same reasons. Were any other member to leave it would expose a similar state of decay. 

This to me points out why Brexit is so very necessary. Taking back control is not just a matter of repatriating lawmaking. It is about restoring responsibility over trade for external affairs to Parliament - and though we presently lack the skills and the knowledge, it is something we will have to rebuild over time. In respect of that it is better to be a mid ranking power in command of our own affairs than a disengaged province of a technocratic hegemon unable to decide who and what comes into the country.

It is not exceptionalism to believe that the UK can be a self-respecting and respected independent nation, nor is nostalgic to believe that Britain has a role to play globally in the myriad of international forums, both as a knowledge leader and a military power. It is not "inward looking" to have horizons beyond Brussels and it isn't xenophobic to respect that Britain is a home rather than a business park open to all comers.

It has long been by view that the EU has been a crutch for the British political establishment and a life support machine for our stagnating economic model. Breaking free of the EU and correcting the error of 1975 was always going to come at a price - and we pay a far higher price because of what our forty year long stasis has done to our politics. It is better, though, that we do this rather than wait for it all to fold in on itself.

Ryan Heath writes Britain off as "small, boring and stupid". There is a distinction though between Britain and our political class (of which he is a part). "I’m thoroughly bored by it all" says Heath. This says more about him than Britain. Britain has decided to undergo a massive transformative undertaking in defiance of its own rulers, to carve out a new future outside of the European groupthink. It's a big idea, it is anything but boring, and probably the most intelligent move we've made for decades.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Brexit: don't wake the sleeping dragon

About three years ago, a certain stockbroker known to many of us on Twitter nailed the central Brexit factor. The prize, he said, will go to those the voters despise the least. I wholly concur. The vote was not an endorsement of the Vote Leave message or even a vote of confidence in the likes of Boris Johnson. It was a rejection of our political class.

This is why I think remain would lose a re-run of the referendum. Not only have they learned nothing, their behaviour is worse than ever. Nobody disputes that the leaver brigade are a band of incompetent charlatans but somehow the remainers still manage to be worse. We can put up with a certain crookedness from politicians. It goes with the territory. One thing we can't stand, though, is smarm.

Long time readers of this blog will know I dish it out to both sides. Farage I think is the rank incompetent whose ego has paved the way for the disintegration of Ukip, but even then he's not a savvy operator and quite a bit naive. His Tory counterparts, however, are pondlife. Redwood, Rees-Mogg, Paterson, Hannan and Baker are not only ruthless ideologues, they are also pathological liars. No lie is too big and any lie will do.

The supporting cast do not come off well either. Liam Halligan is a deeply unpleasant individual, as is Peter Lilley, Matt Ridley and the Tory think tank set - Singham, Littlewood etc. The Brexit blob. Given that they have pushed us to the brink of oblivion one could very easily conclude that I'm on the wrong side.

Further down the chain we have the likes of Gisela Stuart, Kate Hoey and Frank Field. I do not regard them as mendacious. They are sincere. Rather they are easily led and easily exploited by the Tory Brexiters. I know they mean well but by supporting the Tory blob, they are complicit in a massive deception. There is a lot to despise about the Brexiters; the intellectual paucity, the duplicity and the borderline criminality.

All of that though, pales in comparison to the Remain brigade whose contempt for democracy is total. They regard themselves as intellectually and morally superior in every way. They are share a mile wide paternalistic streak; believing the plebs to be hapless dupes taken in by the Brexiters and must be saved from their own ignorance.

The great thing about humans though, is that though not all are blessed with intellect and are not exposed to the information they need, most of us are equipped with a razor sharp bullshit detector. And that's why the remainers lose every time. James O'Brien, for instance, is a shrewd propagandist - master of misdirection and the lie by omission. Like Adonis, Campbell, Dunt and Umunna, there isn't a sincere bone in his body. They feel entitled to crush the 2016 vote and would do so even if leave had won by a far larger margin.

I am often chastised for attacking my one side, but I don't see the Brexit blob as being in any way on my side. The enemy of my enemy is not my friend. To a large extent they are all the product of the same Westminster bubble culture and it's largely a coincidence that we are on the same side of the Brexit argument.

Central to the Brexit vote was the gulf between London and the regions. The dysfunction in our politics stems from an aloof and remote political class ensconced in its its own sordid little nest - whose values are alien to the rest of the country. If you've understood the problem then you despise them all in in equal measure. They are all in the business of manipulation and have no scruples about it. When you realise the self-serving games in play, they are all equally disgusting.

That, though is the very nature of politics and that is what happens when decision making is centralised in London. This is why I've always taken the view that Brexit is a good start but not the end in itself. This is primarily about the people asserting their sovereignty and putting the power in the hands of the public - and EU membership is a barrier to accomplishing that. Brexit is an anti-politics vote.

Sadly too few Brexiters have realised that that the self-styled progressive remainers are not playing by the rules. The Brexiters maybe crooks and self-serving shits, but the Remainers are engaged in a highly organised, well funded jihad against democracy. These people are the establishment, they know Brexit is an existential threat to their order and there is no limit to how low they will sink. They feel wholly entitled to stop Brexit by legal chicanery and they have the money, position and power to try.

The more gullible audiences love them for this. Remainers like to think they are the intellectually superior side of the argument but through arrogance and overconfidence they've started to believe absolutely anything if it fits the narrative. They've also convinced themselves that their referendum loss was more to do with that bus than their own failings. This is their weak spot. Arrogant to the core.

If there is any part of me that thinks we should leave the EU without a deal, it's the part of me that recognises we are already deep into a culture war and we are up against a tyrannical and wicked tribe of elites be they professors, QCs, media personalities and politicians. They are every bit as fanatical as the SS and capable of equal atrocities. Their mob behaviour would gleefully bring down the full weight of authority on the individual to silence them. This is why the stakes are so high and why the situation could become deadly if we don't leave.

In many ways, the EU has become a proxy issue in this culture war and it is why, to a large extend, rank and file leavers do not care a jot about the economic consequences of leaving. I can actually respect that. I detest the London Brexit blob who spin an elaborate web of lies to tell us that the WTO option is entirely viable. That is both dishonest and wrong. To say though that the principles of Brexit trump economics, though, is a wholly coherent view. It is also rational and not too far from my own view.

For me, if there is a way to do this without torching the economy then I would rather we did it that way, and would prefer evolution over revolution to wrest power from the incumbents, but I don't discount the nuclear option if the situation calls for it.

In this I have sufficient self-awareness to realise that my own side has some ugly elements, much of it on display at the pro-Brexit march last week. I do not, though, see them as "far right". It's a far more authentic voice of dissent than the highly orchestrated "people's march" aka The Waitrose Warriors. Authentic is ugly.

One of the first observations in the Twitersphere was that the Brexit march - made up of working class Ukip elements, was mostly white men of a certain age. That is what the business end of raw politics looks like. Though the march doesn't have the numbers to show to the camera, this rabble is but the tip of a rather large iceberg. When the remain activists show up in force, that's all of them. My side, however, is a sleeping dragon. One which has shown extraordinary patience.

Far from being "far right", this is the unsanitised politics that has simmered below the surface of the UK's progressive veneer for two decades. It's a pissed off and neglected working class who have endured insult on top of insult, and betrayal after betrayal. This is why the stakes are so high. Brexit is the one safety valve - and though it may cost the economy, the cost of erasing their votes is potentially explosive.

The remainer jihadists are ultimately servants of the status quo. The regime has successfully suppressed dissent for decades and kept the working classes bottled up and voiceless. This is how they like it and they very much want to keep it that way. The system serves them well and any upset to it is a threat to their gravy train. They won't go without a fight.

The mistake they make is to believe that leavers believe what the London Brexit blob believe. When they say that Brexiters are dinosaurs pining for the loss of empire (and all the other cliches) they may be accurately describing a handful of Tory backbenchers, but in doing so they gravely insult those of us who voted to leave for entirely honourable reasons. It is that fundamental misconception that feeds their own sense of superiority and entitlement. It is why they are actively despised - and more so than the Tory Brexiters.

As we approach the endgame, the fighting is as bitter as ever, and there is no mood for compromise. The remainers have stepped up their dirty tricks and the Brexit blob are ramping up their lies. The biggest losers are those caught in the crossfire. But this transcends Brexit. This is a fight to the death. One side has to lose and nothing is resolved until they do - much like any civil war. Moreover, there is no end to this unless the remain establishment is usurped.

The reason being that the UK is becoming ungovernable because the views and values of the metropolitan ruling class are so estranged from reality. This is especially evident in Radio 4 comedy output - tin eared, snobbish and vindictive. It's the cliched scripture of the chattering classes. The snobbery of the Hay-on-Wye set.

Unless and until we have a politics that reflects the values of the nation rather than the empty media driven triangulation, we will continue to see the mood sour and real politics will turn ugly. The sight of Ukip marchers brandishing a gallows is a taste of things to come. Unless there is real change, the sleeping dragon will arise.

No deal: a kiss of death for aerospace

The Rolls Royce story yesterday was instructive. They are moving their design approvals work to Germany. They say it won't involve that many job losses - but that's only really the tip of the iceberg for the sector.

Passenger aircraft go through a series of maintenance checks at depots in the UK. There are deep inspections and none of this can be done without authorisations and certifications. That's the sort of services trade in danger by leaving the EEA and especially so with no deal.

Then, if one of these inspections finds a patch of corrosion in the wing, that section of rib or stringer has to be cut out and replaced. A designer has to come up with a solution that not only fits, but also can withstand the stress. They also have to work out the fatigue life of the repair - ie how many flight cycles before it needs replacing. All of this work has to be carried out inside a certain framework of standards and authorisations. If that recognition vanishes, UK repairs are not insurable.

It also means that none of the engineers are certified to actually do the work. Airbus can choose to be regulated by EASA - and it will but you need a formal agreement to do it. Rolls Royce is just talking about new design work but repair design is a major sector. Similar systems exist in the nuclear sector - and maritime and anything that is safety critical. With the UK not being part of the EU regulatory ecosystem and with spares crossing borders incurring tariffs to complete the work, you are looking at major overheads.

Imagine, for instance, that an aero engine is removed from an aircraft at Dublin airport and then sent by road to Belfast for servicing. Barring any parts used, this would be a services transaction, with the return of the engine to the Republic entirely dependent on conformity with EU law.

At a more pedestrian level, we might see ordinary cars driven across the border for servicing, as well as tractors and other agricultural machinery, and even small marine craft, to say nothing of electrical appliances and the like. Without an agreement on the provision of services, customs officials might even find themselves examining the maintenance books of ordinary cars, turning back those where work has not been done in accordance with EU law.

So there is actually a good chance that in the aerospace sector a few thousand engineering jobs and the IT staff that support it would vanish overnight. EU won't be in a rush to help us fix that as Germany will be happy to cannibalise UK market share.

For all the baloney that Rees-Mogg and Redwood spout, even if they were right about the ports (which they ain't), trade is more than just logistics and it's services transactions like this that make up the the lucrative work for SMEs. Even mundane things like passenger lift repair and maintenance is worth more than the entire fishing industry and without an agreement on Mode 4 movement of workers, they can't send out qualified engineers.

It's not that big a deal for Rolls Royce because their design approvals are on new products and assemblies so they don't have that much work in that respect but for everyone else whose work depends on recognition within the EU regulatory ecosystem - they are screwed.

You can say that the predictions never came true when we voted to leave the EU, but on this stuff it is cause and effect. Removing licence to operate has real world effects. This is more physics than astrology. Adding it all up and I can very easily see it killing 1m jobs. And don't forget this is high skill work that pays decent wages in the regions which sustains the local economies of already clapped out places like Derby and Hull. It actually provokes many of the economic factors that led to the Brexit vote.

Britain as a services economy has depended on being part of the EU regulatory ecosystem and thirty years of our commerce has evolved inside of it. To date I have not seen any Brexiter plan saying what any of this trade pivots to as a substitution. And there's a good reason for that. These are morons who two years ago didn't even know what a non-tariff barrier was - and a completely ignorant of services trade. Talk about services and they assume you mean the City of London and banking services.

Typically Brexiter trade literature is the output of Toryboy think tanks with teenage interns for researchers and morons like Kate Andrews who think reading an Ayn Rand/Adam Smith book makes one qualified to speak on trade. This is much to do with the intellectual atrophy inside the UK political system, where narrative conformity is prized over knowledge - which is why they have idiots like Low Fact Chloe to spout vacuous nonsense. Brexit blob devotees lap it up.

You can blether about sovereignty til the cows come home but 100% sovereignty is pointless since the average punter doesn't give a monkeys where airline safety rules come from so long as they work. We can "take back control" of that stuff but it excludes us from markets. With this stuff the EU doesn't do equivalence or mutual recognition. You either do the work to their rules or it simply isn't valid. So unless we have a negotiated exit with formal arrnagements for the continuity of services trade, you can kiss goodbye to those jobs.