Monday, 18 February 2019

The problem is us.


I absolutely detest Kate Hoey. Watch the video and you'll see why. She is the personification of the Dunning Kruger effect. She has absolutely no idea how thick she is. She has no comprehension of why she evokes such strong feeling against her. She goes through life thinking that the problem is other people.

But then I suppose she's probably right. The problem is us. We put her where she is. One of the things I hate about politics is that my fellow leavers will support this creature because she is a Brexiter. The reason we have shitty MPs is because we set the bar so low. We are basically fine with morons so long as they agree with us.

Why Lexiters support this drongo beats the hell out of me. She gave out copies of Liam Halligan's "Clean Brexit" book to her friends at Christmas. It's an ultra Tory libertarian tract based on the dribble of Gerard Lyons and his wildly askew misunderstanding of the WTO. There is no inquiry or scrutiny of an individual so long as they're on side.

This in a big way is the whole problem with Brexit. It cannot be resolved by binary positions. The basic constitutional question of who governs us is binary and the easiest question of all to answer. How we deliver it and what comes next is open to a world of debate and disagreement. Yet, without examination of the issues, people will pick a side on the basis of where gatekeepers stand on the issue. There's a digital feudalism at work.

I suppose that is only to be expected. People generally look to people they identify with. Superficially Kate Hoey is a run of the mill Brexiter and if you didn't know what a nasty piece of work she is you could very easily mistake her for a nice lady. People will generally outsource their thinking and do very little of their own. What people want is to have their own opinions tidied up and spoonfed back to them. 

I could grumble about this but that much is never going to be fixed. It's human nature and propaganda will always work. What we need from our politicians, though, is a higher standard. We need them to recognise they have an obligation to be properly informed. They have no excuses not to be informed. They have the time and the resources.

What we find, though, is that MPs all too often rely almost entirely on British media. Yesterday an MP tweeted a Daily Mail article which reported remarks made to The Sun by Dominic Raab. Says The Sun:
BREXIT scaremongers were exposed as hoaxers last night after their warnings of No Deal chaos were finally demolished. EU chiefs have secretly agreed measures to ensure transport links with Britain are maintained, The Sun on Sunday can reveal.
Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said: "It is welcome that the EU wants to agree reciprocal arrangements for a No Deal. This pierces the Project Fear myths and shows that the UK and EU can work sensibly together".

The actual source of this is the EU's own contingency measures announced in a press release in mid December. I cannot see that there is anything new or newsworthy about it yet neither the Daily Mail or The Sun picked up on it, or properly stressed that these are limited temporary measures where only basic connectivity is maintained - and though this brings some remedy to the customs concerns, full regulatory controls will apply in respect of conformity to standards.

It wouldn't wouldn't actually matter if either newspaper had emphasised this because generally the headline is all that people will read. One thing I note from running this blog is that the number of retweets has no relationship to the number of click-throughs. Again that is human nature and I'm sometimes guilty of that myself. I will retweet something without reading it.

This is why the tabloids are actually grossly irresponsible. They know better than anyone how this works yet they take no responsibility for the damage they do. They knowingly mislead their audiences. They are every bit as culpable for "fake news" as any Russian bot farm.

This then opens us the murky question of press regulation. Instinctively I oppose the sort of measures proposed since they tend to point the finger at social media and place obligations on them to filter content. That then demotes independent sources such as this blog and gives preference to mainstream media which is more culpable than orchestrated black propaganda.

There is, though, a case for the legacy media to answer. All too often they produce content which does not support the headline, or in this case allow themselves to be used. The Sun's editor should have known full well it was reporting on old news.

As it happens, Twitter wasn't buying it. Any MP who did retweet the article will have seen angry corrections in the replies. Being that they are in transmit mode only, though, they will continue to assert that a lie is the truth. Of itself that should be a news story - that the Brexiter MPs are engaging in a systematic campaign of lying. Certainly there is no propaganda Kate Hoey won't gleefully retweet. 

So with MPs failing to inform themselves and a media which knowingly misinforms its readers, and with readers only too happy to allow themselves to be misinformed, very often cheering on a fraud like Rees-Mogg purely on the basis of who he "triggers", there is no basis for informed debate. 

It once was the purpose of media to hold politicians to account as an essential pillar of our democracy. I think probably that was always a conceit and our media is no better or worse than it has ever been. The emergence of blogs and Twitter allows the public to step in and perform that role. The problem, though, is that for all there are some excellent investigative tweeters and bloggers, none of them have institutional prestige or media recognition thus are condemned to toil in obscurity. The public still prefers trusted brands despite the overwhelming evidence that our media is universally malevolent.

Probably the only thing we can really do is teach media literacy from an early age and encourage media scepticism. We're not going to get better politicians and the media is not going to improve because we, the public, give them licence. Even those who think they are free thinkers are susceptible to manipulation. It is a constant source of amusement to me that Brexiters rail against "the establishment" then in the same breath will retweet an article in The Spectator.

I have written a great deal lately about the merging of politics, think tankery and media and its manifest inadequacies. This toxic self-regarding bubble has a total monopoly on the narratives and with it being centred in London, it is increasingly estranged from normal standards of decency. This is how the Owen Joneses and the Dunning Krugers of this world reach positions of mass influence. The whole jamboree is repellent to anyone with a shred of integrity which is why our politics is so devoid of it. Until we break up the Westminster grip on power, we will continue to be victims of its poison.

Britain's potemkin village economy is collapsing


I do not wish to preempt any official statement from Honda but the news they intend to close their Swindon plant by 2022 can't be entirely divorced from Brexit, though many will go to extended lengths to claim that it is. As with FlyBMI, no one single factor causes a business decision but there's always that one final straw. Over the coming week I expect we will see plenty of speculation as to what those other factors are but Brexit remains the elephant in the room.

Either way, though, the loss of 3500 jobs is serious. Deadly serious. It could easily climb to three times that number when we factor in the secondary industries it supports locally. For Swindon it's a major blow.

This isn't the first news of its kind and probably won't be the last. Just last week we heard that Airbus is to cease production of the A380 at a cost of hundreds of jobs in the UK. Again, Brexit is not the main culprit but I can't see how it wasn't influential in the decision. The real impact on Airbus, though, has probably already started and it will already have switch suppliers and sought service provision elsewhere. The worst effects of Brexit won't be headline news like the Honda story. This is likely to have a devastating cumulative effect.

The point for me is that this was always on the cards. As much as there is a general trend toward economic nationalism and a retrenchment of global supply chains there is no way the UK can compete on wages. One notices that when a multinational manufacturer pulls out of the UK they don't tend to move somewhere inside the EU. I happen to know Airbus has been pushing out a lot of technical and IT work out to India.

Of what work we do retain, much of it comes down to tax sweetheart deals, government bungs and creative eco-subsidies. Nissan is famous for it. What we find up and down the country is entire regions propped up by centrally planned production. This is partly by design as the single market and EU regional development policy has encouraged interdependency and distribution of production. We cannot, therefore, be surprised that it all comes crashing in as we leave the single market.

The short of it is that without these regional development policies, subsidies, bungs and interest free "loans", the regions would have collapsed economies twenty five years ago. To a large extent that was already the case by 1990 and all we've really bought ourselves is a sticking plaster. A temporary one at that. This current model was never sustainable.

Just about every major regional employer is in some way propped up by Keynesian stimulus. Hull has been reinvented as a centre of renewable energy technology. Science parks inexplicably pop up in the middle of the Welsh Valleys. Aero-engine maker Rolls-Royce got £250m of government money in 2001. Low emission plug-in vehicle grants come to £3,500 per car.

Meanwhile nobody thought we were getting a good deal on the Hinkley Point power station but it;s jobs for the region so we went ahead with it anyway. This is also why the Severn tidal lagoon is an idea that refuses to die and it's why the government seems determined to piss away billions on HS2 even though nobody sees real value in it. I even wonder if we'd actually bother renewing Trident were it not for the 15,000 jobs it is said to support. Meanwhile Channel 4's decision to site a new cultural hub in Bristol comes with a healthy bung from Bristol City Council.

This is notionally what we call investment but all of this contributes to the overall cost of doing business. By prioritising boondoggles in the energy sector we are hammering our own competitiveness as well as putting added tax stress on ordinary people. Moreover, we're borrowing to keep it ticking over. Borrowing in the financial year ending March 2018 was £41.9 billion. This is when we're spending £24bn on housing benefit alone.

Politicians will call this spending "investment" but politicians won't ever question if there's a genuine return on such investment just so long as it props up the middle classes in the regions. Our entire system of retail politics is designed to placate rebellion in much the same way the CAP was devised. Productivity this is not. And, of course, there's a natural termination point to this in that any of this labour intensive spending is generally reliant of cheap imported labour when all the while we are sitting on a social timebomb of economic exclusion.

A recent report The Telegraph has it that the number of "silver renters" in England is set to treble to a million, analysis of official data shows, as more people are leaving it too late to buy their first home. According to analysis carried out by campaign group Generation Rent, the number of private renter households in England headed by someone aged 65 or older is set to increase from 370,000 in 2015-16 to 995,000 by 2035-36. The rise will come as the result of more people reaching their forties without having made their first step onto the housing ladder, at which point it becomes increasingly difficult to get a mortgage, the report said.

Meanwhile, other reports indicate that about 15 million people have no pension savings and face a bleak future in retirement. The Financial Lives survey of 13,000 consumers by the FCA, the biggest of its kind, found that 31% of UK adults have no private pension provision and will have to rely entirely on the state in their retirement. The full state pension is £159.55 per week, but that is only available to individuals who have a complete record of national insurance contributions.

Of particular worry is the group of people aged over 50 who are not paying into a pension and have few years left to build one up before they reach their 60s. When the FCA asked why they had made no provision, 32% said it was too late to set one up, 26% said they could not afford it and 12% said they were relying on their partner’s pension.

Auto-enrolment has brought millions of people into pension saving for the first time, but millions of self-employed and part-time workers are not in the scheme. Then turning to another report in The Guardian we see that British workers can expect among the worst pensions in the developed world. This is as councils are set to spend more than 40% of their budgets on adult social care.

We are now at a point where wages are generally stagnating and we are paying all the tax we can and it's still not going to be enough to prop it all up. We're already dismantling the fundamentals of civic governance just to pay for our elaborate set of entitlements, all of which has to be paid for somehow and business is slowly concluding that it can clear off elsewhere.

Right now business is looking at the writing on the wall. The next political political party to win by a landslide will be a socially conservative but economically left wing party. This spells an increase in the minimum wage, heavier taxes on business and more entitlements we can't afford. This is already why call centres have decamped to India and I see that process accelerating to cover more complex and high skill work. Honda can probably adapt to tariffs but not our wage and welfare demands.  

Without a major remodelling of our economy, politicians are going to seek to maintain the status quo and they will seek to borrow to keep bringing voters and propping up the regions. They won't try anything radical or necessary precisely because it will lose them votes. They were always going to keep doing this until there was a national emergency. Even now, as we drift toward a no deal Brexit, they still think in these exact same terms.

This is all against a global backdrop of an epoch change that none of us fully understands yet. Everything is changing. Britain is especially vulnerable because in tying up all of our trade and external relations into a single treaty construct, we have put all of our eggs in one basket. Leaving the EU even with a deal throws a great deal into doubt. As much as it has shone a torch on the dysfunction of our politics it is also revealing just how flimsy our Potemkin village economy really is.

Now I don't claim to have a master plan. All I do know is that government cannot provide the answers. this system of centrally planned distributed spending is not working but in a world where we are increasingly making work as we know it redundant, we are going to have to find a new way of living and a new way of doing things. Before we can even begin to do that we need to stop doing all of the wrong things - which is the central function of Brexit. 

This is where we can think about a new approach. The way we live is completely obsolete and unsustainable. Every day, millions of people get in their cars every morning to sit in a traffic jam for at least an hour. I can't think of a more depressing waste of time and money. Much of this could be eliminated by public transport but public transport in most cities just isn't good enough because there isn't the economy of scale.

So what we need is bigger cities. We need to encourage agglomeration by way of benign neglect. I don't think we should be propping up the regions anymore. We can never again give purpose to places like Huddersfield. These are dead towns. The only reason Bradford has improved is because it has grown in population. What we need to do is to encourage more city living and get people to move back into the city centres to eliminate the need for cars. Cars are a massive waste of money and infrastructure spending for cars costs too much.

If towns are to be regenerated then it is with private capital. It cannot be done by our system of quangos and councils. As working class people move to the cities to improve their chances, middle classes will move out with their money to regenerate the regions in ways that centrally planned spending cannot. We can then delondonise the economy. London is now becoming its own deterrent through price but more can be can be done to accelerate the exodus by way of giving other cities control over their corporate tax rates.

Presently politicians are only capable of two dimensional thinking. Their answer to everything is to either tax it, subsidise it or ban it. After decades of this paradigm there is a morass of complex subsidy and tax along with bizarre entitlements which (if Shamima Begum and the Grenfell fraudsters is anything to go by) has a perverse effect on social attitudes in the UK. Generally if we see a problem we attempt to spend our way out of it. We no longer do intelligent policy, not least since big handouts equals big headlines.

It has long perplexed me why we are forking our £24bn a year on housing benefit. I'm not sure why I'm paying council tax on what I earn to pay £700pcm for someone else's home when it goes directly to a private landlord. Housing benefit sets the floor price which is why landlords feel they can charge £550pcm for a one bedroom flat. This we could easily deflate but we don't. Instead it keeps pace with inflation and then we wonder why we are running out of money for public services and swelling the ranks of economically excluded citizens.

Brexit is a problem we are going to have to think our way out of and the beautiful thing about it is it deprives government of its one and only tool. Money. Frankly I couldn't care less about the UK's standing in GDP rankings when so much of that relates to the City of London and never goes anywhere near ordinary people. We can be a poorer country and live better than we presently do.

As it happens I'm not at all sure that being a wealthy country is doing us any good. We have one of the worst teenage literacy rates in the OECD which again is another symptom of our big spend mentality. Since the 90's we have "invested" in schools, where most secondary schools now have modernised facilities and decent enough IT, but British education for all the cash we've firehosed at it is not getting results. It's not about cuts either. Mud huts in Ghana can churn out doctors for the NHS, so why can't a Bradford comprehensive? We can't keep on with the NHS in this way either. We need a wholly new approach.

For as long as we have the Hondas and the Nissans as part of our house of cards ponzi economy, we can just about hold the country together, but only until our social timebomb hits in which case those jobs will be the reserve of the well to do and just a job becomes a symbol of class and status. Since it's all going to explode anyway, I don't see that a controlled demolition is such a bad thing. Brexit might well be fixing the roof while the sun is shining - in ways our politicians never would.

One way or another, making our towns hopelessly reliant on disloyal, crooked, tax-dodging, subsidy sucking multinationals was not a good idea. Locking our economy into the EU political structure was an equally stupid idea. Undoing that is going to cost us considerably. Since we're evidently going for a hard Brexit, it looks like it's going to hurt more than it ever needed to. But being that we are the first in the West to be addressing these issues at a time when the whole world is in flux, I'm quite pleased that we're getting a head start - and if we get political renewal into the bargain then it's still worth it.

The remainers are ultimately the head-in-sand conceited ones. They will no doubt make the most of all the bad news and turn it to their political advantage, but none of them have any solutions to the deep set economic and social decay and certainly no answers outside of the command and control spending paradigm. If what they propose worked then there's a good chance we wouldn't even have voted for Brexit. Everything they propose we are doing already.

All of our metrics show that the UK model of welfare is totally unsustainable and in a globalised economy other countries are more than happy to take business off us and highly mobile corporates don't feel they owe us anything. Our establishment, though, resides in a non-interconnected world where economic policy can be imposed unilaterally without regard to the global context, where increasing tax on upwardly mobile corporates and high earners inevitably leads to increased revenues without risk of relocation, where the City's hegemony is inevitable and can be squeezed for new revenues as though other nations are incapable of competing for business.

If Britain is to compete (or even survive) we need to lose our legacy sense of collective entitlement. As Brexiters keep pointing out, the rest of the world is catching up to the west. India and China both have aggressive trade policies, increasingly cutting the USA and the EU out of the loop. Trade conditionality and western finger-wagging is increasingly unwelcome. Though Tory exceptionalism and superiority is taking centre stage in the UK, globally, the EU is perceived in much the same way. More to the point, it's time we stopped propping up these flabby corporate monopolies.

Of course, all of this goes down like a lead balloon with left wing progressives. Like all stripes of the left, they are children who don't like to be told what they can't have. The endless wailing about Brexit is symptomatic of a political class who've had it all their own way for decades at the expense of everyone else. They most certainly do not want to be told that the free ride is over. Their lofty position of squandering other people's money to feather their own nests and bribe their own electoral cohort has served them well. They are struggling to come to terms with the idea that the jig is up. But the show is coming to an end whether they like it or not. Tell the fat lady... she's on in five!

Very very important things


Seven MPs from a party that isn't in power and has nothing useful to say for itself have resigned. Generally they are known as centrists if they are known at all. Chuka Umunna is one of them. He's a hardcore remainer. Shallow, widely despised, and last time I bothered to check he was facing deselection.

Then there's Luciana Berger. She is not known for accomplishing anything. She has suffered appalling antisemitic abuse but has maximised the offence taking for all that it's worth as a stick with which to beat Corbyn. Berger says she has come to "sickening conclusion" that Labour is "institutionally anti-Semitic". Which it pretty much is. I once thought antisemitism barely existed in the UK until Corbyn came along and now I see it quite often.

As to Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes and Ann Coffey, I am only dimly aware they even exist. I think Smith may have registered on my radar as saying something sensible once but I can't remember what it was and I may even be mistaken.

We do not, as yet, know what they stand for specifically but then that is also true of Labour. We know they want an enquiry over the 1984 Battle of Orgreave and we know they want to put transvestite rapists into women's prisons for reasons best known to them, and they have a bizarre fixation on the Israeli-Palestine conflict which most normal people don't really care about anymore. And yes, it really bothers them that the state does not own the railways. They don't talk about any problems I actually have.

Course, there is that small matter of Brexit, where Labour does have an official policy but it varies according to who you speak with and the particular day of the week. They want a customs union because they think it has something to do with border cooperation. Presumably this new group of avowed remainers will have something different, but equally useless to say. 

One assumes these individuals were hoping that some of their colleagues who aren't facing deselection would follow them out of the party. Being though, that none of them are there on merit and they represent constituencies which would elect a hatstand if it wore a red rosette, they are not going to pass up on a £70k a year job - not least because they lack the talent to earn that in the real world.

It has been suggested that perhaps Sarah Wollaston, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry may leave the Tory benches and join them. This also would have zero bearing on Brexit negotiations and make no change to the parliamentary arithmetic and nobody will particularly care. It has also been suggested that this new group may merge with the all but extinct Liberal Democrat party echoing the SDP in the 80's, which, should it happen, won't particularly matter either. We'd just be back to two and a half party politics which has been the norm of my lifetime. Notwithstanding those robust Scottish folk.

Being that this is very very very important we can now expect the media to give it full saturation coverage not least because it raises the non question of Labour's leadership where Corbyn won't resign. That will be super interesting and totally worth the nine pages each newspaper devotes to it. I eagerly await Brendan O'Neill's hot take in the Spectator on how Brexit is destroying the old establishment parties. Giddy with anticipation even. 

Meanwhile, I don't know if it has been mentioned, but on the 29th of March this year, Britain is leaving the European Union, possibly with a deal but very possibly without. Mrs May is doing the rounds of member state premiers to drum up support for any kind of concession, which she will not get. MPs, whichever side of the house they sit on, will then have to decide whether to vote for the deal or not. Whether they back Jeremy Corbyn or not will be a matter of supreme indifference. 

The Labour party split, however, is considerably more important than perhaps finding out how and why Brexit will affect business at the beginning of April. MPs are important doncha know? They're on the telly and everything. They obviously think they are very clever and very important people so we should think so as well - and keeping our media entertained is far more important than informing people. 

We could not, for instance, use a well paid class of people to report that Dominic Raab is lying about ports and aviation functioning as normal on Brexit day. That sort of information is not at all useful to anyone. What a waste of time and resources that would be. It's really us plebs who are out of touch. 

Sunday, 17 February 2019

After Brexit


Once we've left the EU we will no longer be the recipient of EU economic direction. Britain will have to come up with a design of its own. Here's where we'll see all the classic waffle from the left about an industrial strategy. The fad of the hour is a "green new deal".

Course, we have been here before. The 2008 Energy Act was more a Keynesian stimulus package than an actual energy policy. More than a billion pounds was sunk into the renewable energy sector in Hull alone.

The problem being that it doesn't work. Hull has had no shortage of regeneration funding and in a lot of ways it looks better now than it ever has, but still it languishes. Liverpool and Newcastle have many of the same economic and social problems. Similarly they've had their fair share of regeneration cash but still underperform.

Ultimately the thinking on the left is faulty. They always seek power making promises of getting the masses back into reliable well paid jobs. Populists of every stripe offer hope of a restoration of some kind. With Labour it's a romanticized idea of boosting manufacturing and moving away from London based finance and services jobs.

I suppose it is progress that the regional disparity is now a recognised problem and politics in London knows that their grip on power depends on coming up with solutions but fixing the problem is easier said than done. The uncomfortable truth is that we could spend four and five times what we do on regeneration and it wouldn't make a dent. Globalisation is a genie that isn't going back in the bottle and Brexit is little remedy.

In terms of our economic woes, the trends are far from unique to Britain. It stems from having more people than we know what to usefully do with and ageing populations that we have to care for. We struggle to create an organic demand for labour so we prop up our economies with centrally planned white elephants. This we call investment, but it all comes crashing in the moment it has to function without subsidy. Similarly, perpetual immigration is not sustainable.

This sort of sloppy thinking is in part a goodly reason why we are where we are. The current crunch is caused by a failing paradigm where the Potemkin industries in the regions simply aren't productive enough. All of them rely on tax sweetheart deals and stealth subsidy. Worse still, we are at a crunch point where they are becoming expensive luxuries we cannot afford.

Much of our economic policy since the financial crash of 2008 has been a sticking plaster to tide us over until things pick up again but if the signals from around Europe are anything to go by, they are not going to pick up any time soon and this current paradigm will not outlive the political dissatisfaction that goes with it. Moreover, it's going to get worse. We can't afford any more tax but tax is going up once again.

This kind of command and control thinking is generally flawed but the left have failed to factor in Brexit into any of their estimations. One way or another we are going to take a major hit to our exports and already we are seeing a number of government schemes on the chopping block. Meanwhile, though changes in the aviation sector most certainly spelt the death of the A380, Brexit was most likely the final nail in its coffin. All the while there are major money movements that haven't yet registered with the media. Sooner or later tax receipts are going to nosedive as is investment.

Part of the reason I'm somewhat ambivalent to the dire warnings in respect of Brexit is because I have always anticipated living to see this whole system caving in on itself. Voting for Brexit was just a vote to give it a little shove. Some of the first casualties of Brexit will be household names which have been in and out of the news for years having financial difficulties. I'm of the view that the longer we prop it all up the worse it will get.

That, though, is exactly what this and the next government would attempt to do for the simple reason that they don't know what else to do. Generally speaking they have no ideas of their own and the sort of manifesto fodder they subject us to is lifted from progressive think tanks like IPPR. They market it as original thinking when in reality it's exactly the same thing we've been doing since at least 1992. The left will, of course, say that the Tories have subjected us to a decade of harsh austerity but it amounts to little more than bookkeeping.

Typically the left does not care about governing or seeking out ideas that will work. The agenda is always the same - to create a command and control socialist economy based on high taxes and borrowing. The only thing that changes is the pretext. Despite all the historical precedents nothing deters them from their fanatical devotion to this goal.

The Labour party in its current form resides in a non-interconnected world where economic policy can be imposed unilaterally without regard to the global context, where increasing tax on upwardly mobile corporates and high earners inevitably leads to increased revenues without risk of relocation, where the City's hegemony is inevitable and can be squeezed for new revenues as though other nations are incapable of competing for business. Where the government can nationalise and subsidise industry at a whim without fear of reprisal or economic consequence.

In normal times Corbyn wouldn't have a hope of winning power, but the Tories are not faring any better. Since any version of Brexit is likely hit the economy hard, and with the Tory right wedded to equally bankrupt ideas, it would seem that the next election could go either way. The first thing to go out of the window, though, will be grandiose schemes from think tank spivs.

The ugly truth about to land on our doorstep is that britain has lived beyond its means for decades and there are unpopular choices ahead that will redefine British society. Any borrowing we do will be to put our Brexit brushfires rather than chasing left wing flights of fancy. The worst of the damage done by Brexit will in truth be a consequence of propping up a zombie economy without allowing for a societal correction.

Ultimately new ideas as to how we go forward after Brexit are not going to come from the Westminster bubble not least because they are not capable of original thinking - but also because they have yet to internalise the fact that Brexit will force them to change their ways. It puts government on a wholly different footing. We have come to the end of the road and now we face a pile of tin cans kicked down the decades. Now we have to reform all those things that politicians have shied away from reforming and make the cuts we will really notice.

In a lot of ways we won't be able to design a new future until the chips have landed. If we leave without a deal then central government will be limping from crisis to crisis which will keep the civil service occupied. It will then fall to local authorities and individuals to pick up the slack. What we need is a new political structure that enables people to address their own problems.

This may prove to the be the ultimate Brexit dividend. If central government was going to come up with solutions then it would have by now - even just by accident. I take the view that only a radical change of circumstance can dislodge the ossified paradigm which currently governs our politics. Many of the embedded structures of bureaucracy are likely to collapse, forcing us to improvise and innovate in public policy.

Most of all I expect to see a reversal of Blair's public sector reforms - reverting to a time where local charities actually performed real world functions rather than retreating to business parks to fill in grant application forms. We will see a return of the voluntary ethos. Much of what has gone wrong since 1997 is government assuming roles that it cannot and should not do, bureaucratising them and them wondering why cost of provision skyrockets. We then wonder why these services are then cut back. Britain's economic and social revival is going to have to be people led rather than state directed.

I'm often told off for my "hair shirt" Brexit ideas, usually by centrists and statists who cannot envisage a Britain where we actually do things for ourselves without being prompted - where things happen without government funding and motivated people find ways around problems. A Britain where people are not warehoused in non-jobs where we are no subject to the ideological conditioning of the left. Those are the people who wail most profusely about leaving the EU. They will never be convinced.

If there's one thing I've taken from many of the follow investigations by journalists as to why people voted for Brexit, there doesn't seem to be an overall coherent reason. All the vox pops might mention something about immigration when prompted and some express their general dissatisfaction with the status quo - when all the economic metrics tell us that materially we've never been better off and Britain is a wealthy place. I would venture a guess that there is something more fundamental missing from British society.

Everywhere you look social and creative spaces are being erased and with it a lot of cultural distinctiveness. Venues close and with them go the places where people congregate. Social media and general atomisation leads to more insular lives. Communal workplaces have vanished and towns robbed of their reason for being. In many ways as the state has taken over the social function of society it has made people redundant. Our malaise is as much spiritual and social as it is economic. This can only worse as the EU gradually erodes the vitality of local democracy.

The problem with remaining in the EU is that it ensures nothing changes. It locks in the current paradigm and maintains the direction of travel. Even if you disagree with me that it will all eventually cave in on itself the fact remains that the ossified political paradigm is no longer delivering and the longer it survives the more it locks in privilege while condemning ever more people to economic exclusion. When hard work is no longer a path to prosperity you can't be surprised if productivity collapses.

Nobody can argue that Brexit is presently well executed, and it will surely take its toll. We are already seeing the beginnings of the implosion caused by uncertainty. It's a lot of upheaval that could have been avoided. For that I do not blame Brexit, rather I blame the incompetence of our politicians who have collectively failed us. That failure though is endemic to the system. We cannot, therefore, trust in the status quo to remedy Britain's malaise. We are looking in the wrong place if we are looking to Westminster for solutions. As much as Brexit frees us from Brussels, it frees us from a failed paradigm. That alone gives me hope for the future. 

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Brexit: reclaiming democracy


Yesterday I directed your attention to this article from Corporate Europe Observatory.
Opposition is growing over the European Commission’s proposed Services Notification Procedure. This directive threatens to undermine local democratic decisions, and constrain public interest policy-making in a wide range of sectors, including city planning, education, affordable housing, water supply, energy supply, waste management, and many others. The proposed directive is part of a wider Services Package (a follow-up to the 2006 Services Directive, also known as the Bolkestein Directive which provoked mass protests in several EU countries due to concerns about its social impacts and was only approved after being scaled down).
Many, from city councils to trade unions, have expressed alarm at the sweeping new powers the draft directive will give the Commission. It will be able to annul new laws and regulations developed by national parliaments, regional assemblies, and local governments across Europe, or impose significant delays in order to change proposals. Those authorities will have to submit their regulations to the Commission three months in advance, in order to receive prior approval; a far-reaching tightening of existing rules, which only allows the Commission to object after the approval, and as a last resort to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. And the scope is overwhelming: according to recent information from the Commission, 79 different sectors – including child care, energy, water supply and 76 more – were covered by notifications between 2010 and 2015. New documents obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory now confirm that, in drafting the proposal, the Commission has taken its cues from the corporate lobby groups who will benefit most, whilst largely ignoring concerns raised by other interests.
What's notable about this is there isn't a peep from the British press. There is no comment from any of the British think tank set. There is no public debate about it in the Twittersphere. If it's mentioned at all then it comes from Eurowonk land. British polity is simply not engaged and not remotely interested.

You would think with this being a blatant power grab with major ramifications for sovereignty that one of the eurosceptic groups would have picked up on it, but British politics as a whole is narrow and insular. Eurosceptic groups devote zero resources to monitoring the EU - which is rather a shame because they would have better arguments if they did.

But this is why UK membership of the EU can never be democratic. A curious and alter media is a vital pillar of any democracy. Notionally we have MEPs who could vote against this measure (ignoring for a moment they are structurally outnumbered) but without a media early warning system there is no lobbying from civil society and the wider public. None of our major unions are on top of this nor is there any protest from UK local authorities.

Only occasionally do we see any uproar over what Brussels is up to. There was the outcry over Article 13 of the Copyright Directive which only really got traction due to its overlap with Youtube content creators which makes it a talking point in the culture war, but generally speaking, technical governance is completely ignored and there is no Westminster debate or scrutiny.

More generally there is a disconnect between MPs and MEPs, where one would have though that national parties would take a greater role in directing MEPs based on the outcome of Westminster debates, but the EU parliamentary system is largely ignored. The fullest extent of public engagement is the occasional Euro election which is generally low turnout and the outcome is decided by those who are actually interested. For all that there has been an outpouring of grief since 2016 from remainers who tell us how vitally important the EU is to them, all the evidence suggests otherwise.

As a rule scrutiny of the EU is a somewhat niche pursuit. If there is a corruption scandal, generally news of it reaches me via EUobserver or Euractiv, and EU trade news comes to me via bilaterals.org. The most active civil society groups are nearly always from mainland Europe and anything said by Brussels tends not to register in the British press - as has been abundantly evident through the Article 50 process.

When Brexiters complain that the EU is not democratic they tend to point to "unelected commissioners" but this always overlooks the fact that it wouldn't be democratic even if they were elected. For there to be a democracy you need a demos, and civil society involvement. No such thing exists in the EU. That which passes for civil society engagement is our NGOcracy, much of which is, in a roundabout way, dependent on the EU for funding and is little more than astroturfing.

If the European Parliament served a democratic function it should be as a goalkeeper - our last line of defence against the EU executive. But like any defence system it's only as good as the early warning radar. We have none at all. Through our efforts running eureferendum.com for more than a decade, we have long observed that British media is often years late in bumping into things that they should have been on top of.

As it stands we import much of our cultural politics from the USA and we have a more up to date understanding of US politics than anything happening on the continent. Political union is more feasible with the USA. Not that we should want such a thing. Instead we have transferred political authority over our trade and overseas policy to the EU and our own parliament has zero comprehension of what it does, how it works and what it's up to.

What's particularly toxic about this latest powergrab from Brussels is that it cuts Westminster out of the loop entirely with local authorities then becoming directly accountable to the EU and the lobbyists pulling the strings without parliament being aware the coup has even happened and they will carry on oblivious to the fact that the EU, without a treaty, can keep absorbing political authority over domestic affairs by stealth rendering local and national democracy inert.

Arguably remainers could easily say this is a consequence of British disengagement and to a large extent they are right. But culturally we have never been engaged with the EU and I don't see that we ever will be. EU membership just isn't right for the UK. For as long as we are members, outsourcing gall the policy of importance, we become ever more self-absorbed and insular, and our politics continues to atrophy. Only by repatriating political authority and putting the process back where we can see it will we change the culture of our politics.

It ought to be a national emergency to realise that so much of our decision making is now done behind closed doors (or might as well be for all the attention our media gives it). That Brexit is being handled so badly is down to a systemic ignorance of the EU in our media and political class. Little did they realise that they'd handed over competence over just about everything that is regulated. So much damage has already been done. The cost of Brexit, therefore, is simply the price for correcting their error.

I am often asked by remainers what the advantages to Brexit are. They wail about the loss of entitlements and perks and point to the obvious fact that from a trade perspective, Brexit is hardly an enhancement. The truth is that there are no economic benefits to Brexit for the foreseeable future. It comes down to one estimation as to whether you think we can allow the further privatisation of lawmaking and the marginalisation of our own powers to influence the laws we live by.

If your only concern is the convenience of going on holiday and rights you already had, there is little I can do to persuade you that Brexit is worth it. If, on the other hand, democracy matters to you, it should be abundantly clear that EU membership is intolerable. Our political revival depends on leaving it.

Friday, 15 February 2019

The castration of democracy


On occasion I'm accused of flip-flopping over Brexit and at other times accused of being a "secret remainer". The latter accusation is risible. I'm not very secret about anything. If I have an opinion you will surely know about it. As to the flip-flopping, I admit to having a number of reservations about every mode of exit. That's bound to be the case if you've interrogated the subject honestly.

I'm under no illusions about Brexit. I'm certain that if we leave without a deal then it will be a major blow for trade even though I'm still hedging my bets on what sort of mess Brexit day is going to be. The point for me is that I am in no rush to experience the economic turmoil that goes with Brexit. My best friend is currently on the dole looking for work and he's a talented guy - yet he's having all sorts of problems. I've been in that unhappy position before and I'm in no hurry to go through it all again. No deal is a nuclear option and something to be avoided if at all possible. I do not, though, rule it out.

I have an order of preference. At one point I was firmly in the EEA Efta camp but no longer think that is viable. I think we missed the window and if we go in that direction now they will tack on a customs union and over time it will simply be parked as a proxy version of membership where we end up same as before, adopting rules with no real Westminster input. Though Efta would give us the necessary instruments to oppose new directives, the chances are we wouldn't. Our politicians still don't get Brexit. 

Being that my hope for the end point of this process is The Harrogate Agenda, I don't really see how such a relationship would be compatible. The Flexcit approach to leaving would have dispelled the uncertainty and prevented much of the damage but that ship has already sailed. 

More to the point I can certainly see why Brexiters don't think the EEA is brexity enough. Committing to a longer divergence process carries its own risks and as Parliament is reluctant to leave it is probably they would maintain current levels of alignment indefinitely. Parliament is rightly not trusted and that's entirely a mess of their own making.

So it now looks like the plan B is Mrs May's withdrawal agreement followed by whatever trade relationship we can cobble together be it shadow EEA or an FTA with enhanced customs cooperation. If it be the latter then there is a strong chance the backstop will be activated thus curtailing a number of key freedoms we expected to achieve by leaving. Either way there is a bitter pill to swallow. 

There are days when I really do wonder if any of this is worth the hassle, particularly when we are setting ourselves up for a fall. Current parliamentary arithmetic would suggest that May's deal will not limp over the finish line and we are odds on for an "accidental Brexit" with little time to prepare. This is the last thing I wanted to happen but ultimately if it is the only way to leave then that is how it must be. A reminder of why crossed my path this morning with this article from Corporate Europe.
Opposition is growing over the European Commission’s proposed Services Notification Procedure. This directive threatens to undermine local democratic decisions, and constrain public interest policy-making in a wide range of sectors, including city planning, education, affordable housing, water supply, energy supply, waste management, and many others. The proposed directive is part of a wider Services Package (a follow-up to the 2006 Services Directive, also known as the Bolkestein Directive which provoked mass protests in several EU countries due to concerns about its social impacts and was only approved after being scaled down).
Many, from city councils to trade unions, have expressed alarm at the sweeping new powers the draft directive will give the Commission. It will be able to annul new laws and regulations developed by national parliaments, regional assemblies, and local governments across Europe, or impose significant delays in order to change proposals. Those authorities will have to submit their regulations to the Commission three months in advance, in order to receive prior approval; a far-reaching tightening of existing rules, which only allows the Commission to object after the approval, and as a last resort to take the matter to the European Court of Justice. And the scope is overwhelming: according to recent information from the Commission, 79 different sectors – including child care, energy, water supply and 76 more – were covered by notifications between 2010 and 2015. New documents obtained by Corporate Europe Observatory now confirm that, in drafting the proposal, the Commission has taken its cues from the corporate lobby groups who will benefit most, whilst largely ignoring concerns raised by other interests.
This is pretty much the whole argument for Brexit in a nutshell. The concern that it "would constrain democratic decision-making in member states on everything from housing, to water and local planning" ignored the fact that it already does in many subtle ways. You can have EU membership but not democracy. There are plenty of ways in which the EU system of governance dictates the shape and culture of our domestic governance in such a way that democratic inputs are rendered inert.

We were told by David Cameron that the EU could be reformed and we were to a large extent exempt from ever closer union - not least because of the referendum lock, but integration very often happens by stealth and happens with every law the EU passes. Much of it never appears on the public radar until it's far too late. I'm an EU watcher and this latest proposal is news to me. I've seen no mention of it in our media. As far as I can see not even the Guardian has covered it.

Then, of course, we are told that with greater participation we have a shot at vetoing such measures, but the thing about the EU is that defeated regulatory initiatives never die. They just go into process and resurface later on. To remain in the EU would would be to resign ourselves to the further encroachment of corporate influenced technical governance which increasingly subordinates democracy and puts the power over our authorities into the hands of foreign lobbyists. TTIP 2.0.

In respect of this, I don't think there is a price I would not pay to stop this happening. I could certainly do without a no deal Brexit and I'm not looking forward to the inflation and job shedding that goes with it, but the direction of travel for the EU and wider global governance is to subordinate public authority to the needs of corporate capital and for me that is a bridge too far.

At the beginning of this process I came to understand that regulatory harmonisation was the WD40 of trade and that it is a facet of modern global governance. What I never fully understood was the scale and pace of it - and while we are in the EU, the political authority ultimately rests with the commission and the ECJ - and if it wants more powers it can find ways to acquire them without a new treaty and there are no safeguard measures.

This is a dynamic our politicians are barely aware of. They don't really care. They take no interest in technical governance and they like that the difficult stuff is handled elsewhere so they can preen about the NHS and poverty. Our grandstanding virtue signalling politics is very much symptomatic of an abdication from grown up statecraft. To them Brexiter demands for democracy and sovereignty are little more than irrational pleas for the intangible thus valueless in the face of the trade we stand to lose.

Being that the Overton Window is largely dictated by our utterly debased media, many of the themes discussed on this blog in respect of trade will be utterly alien to MPs. I recall last year an MP reading out some tract out in parliament that I'd written on international organisations. She later remarked that she'd never heard of any of them let alone understood their significance. Though technical, arcane and obscure, the substance is highly political and massively consequential, yet the so-called mother of all parliaments is found nowhere near it. Brexit has put it back front and centre where it should be. 

Since Britain is a complex services based economy, much of our economy depends on regulatory harmonisation and cooperation, so this is not something we can retreat from, but it ought to be offensive to anyone calling themselves a democrat that our key interests are not debated or understood by our so-called representatives and that what little defence we have against such measures consists of a pack of quarterwit MEPs, themselves the plaything of lobbyists.

There is no denying that we stand to lose a staggering amount of trade by leaving the EU, especially so should we leave without a deal, but when that trade is facilitated by removing essential democratic controls in collusion with corporates in closed door sessions with no early warning system then we simply have to call time on it. 

We are routinely told that membership of the EU means we have a seat at the table where the UK is able to defend its interests. That is a view I hear regularly from British EU functionaries and diplomats. This is echoed in a recent Guardian piece. More than 40 former British ambassadors and high commissioners have written to Theresa May warning her that Brexit has turned into a “national crisis” and urging her to delay proceedings until the government has greater clarity about Britain’s likely future relationship with Europe.
They write: “Our country’s national interest must always be paramount. The Brexit fiasco has already weakened the UK’s standing in the world. We strongly advocate a change of direction before it is too late. It is clear that Brexit has turned into a national crisis.
There is no possible deal that will be a sensible alternative to the privileged one we have today as members of the EU with a seat at the table, inside the single market and customs union but outside the Euro[zone] and Schengen[area].
The problem here is that our diplomatic corps have to a large extent gone native. Their perception of how we are viewed internationally trumps all the petty domestic concerns like sovereignty and democracy. In their high stakes world they are building complex market frameworks to advance the UK's commercial interests - which to a large extent is what they are paid to do, but are all too used to the idea of doing it without the meddlesome supervision that goes with it being coupled to democracy. 

The question, though, is who decides what the national interest is. Commercially it may well be in our interests to complete the single market in services, but when those corporates best placed to exploit such markets tend to be tax dodging multinationals it's worth asking who exactly do these people serve? I do not see that it is in our interests to have our local and national bylaws revoked at the behest of of global consultancy firms. For as long as the trend is toward globalisaton then the trend is toward the further castration of democracy.

Remainers will point  out that Britain will face many dilemmas in the future as we resume an independent trade policy. The USA will no doubt make demands of our food safety rules and Japan will seek to exact the maximum advantage possible. What they don't mention is that we are not obliged to ratify any such agreements and parliament is well within its rights to assert itself. That very well may mean that much vaunted FTAs are scuppered, but safeguarding our democracy is what are MPs are fundamentally there to do. That we are in this Brexit mess to begin with is because they were negligent.

To quote Sam Hooper once again, "Brexit – in all its halting, stop-start awkwardness – is the first significant attempt by any country to answer the question of how a modern nation state can reconcile the technocratic demands of global trade with the need to preserve meaningful democracy. On this key question, Britain is currently the laboratory of the world. No other first-tier country has dared to touch the subject with a ten-foot bargepole. At best, some of the more forward-thinking opinion journalists are belatedly ringing the alarm bells, but nowhere other than Britain have these concerns generated any kind of significant governmental response".

Of course Brexit of itself is no automatic remedy - especially when our institutional knowledge of trade and international affairs has long since atrophied. This is abundantly evident as Tory Brexiters demonstrate on a daily basis. But even now it has put trade concerns front and centre. Though only baby steps, the debate around "hormone beef" and "chlorinated chicken" has generated an awareness of trade issues and the subject is once again fashionable. Brexit has once again politicised what is ordinarily the domain of officials and diplomats.

The 2016 referendum was a statement. Throughout the course of our relationship with the EU, successive prime ministers have taken us deeper into the project without consultation or consent. they then proceed to lie about it. David Cameron then asserted that we could reform it and indeed that he had reformed it. There is simply no basis on which to trust our establishment in respect of the EU,and part of the reason Brexiters have become progressively more hardline is because there have been several attempts to derail and reverse Brexit.

The statement made in 2016 was that our establishment is no longer trusted. It has repeatedly shown contempt for the democratic will and without the democratic tools at our disposal to stop them, there is simply no way we can further consent to what is done by them in our name. The more overt policies of the EU have had their own costs, but now we see the full extent of what has been done to us and what is yet to come. They have set us down a path that was always designed to be irreversible so it comes as no surprise that reversing it comes with a great deal of political and economic pain.

That, though, is not an argument for not doing it. As I cast my mind to the mid term, in the full knowledge that already tough economic conditions will worsen, a large part of me is not looking forward to Brexit at all. This is the price we will pay to correct the errors of previous generations of politicians. And pay we will. 

Still, though, I see no compelling reason to remain. The future holds only more salami slicing of democracy which has already had a subtle but profound impact on our politics. If we allow it to continue unabated then we shall find that we are no longer citizens, rather we will be demoted to the status of corporate serfs - to be managed like cattle - where nothing happens unless Brussels gives us permission. Whatever the EU may be offering, the price is simply too high. 

The slow death of British media


Last night's vote in parliament couldn't be more inconsequential so I've sat for nearly two hours staring blankly at this page trying to think of something halfway original about Brexit. It's easy to see why the media creates its own parallel universe in politics. Unlike me, they can't take the day off on a slow news day. This causes them to create dramas that simply do not exist, very often seeking to manufacture a story from nothing. 

This, though, is what adds to the overall noise where much of what the media produces is actually a pollutant making it harder to decipher what is actually happening. Much of what the media produces is written by younglings with no subject knowledge and very little real world experience in order to contextualise events. Being that adult supervision is an expensive overhead we have seen it cut out of the process to the point where legacy media can no longer be relied upon to inform the debate. The prospect, then, of having informed public discourse are somewhere around nil.  

This goes double for Brexit. It's a difficult topic, it's easy to get wrong and what little expertise that does exist is highly partisan. The media has its go-to experts but many of them our far out of their lane speaking on subjects their expertise doesn't stretch to and wouldn't tell the truth even if they knew it. Being that the media has no expertise of its own they've lost the knack of spotting a bullshit artist.

Being that they haven't the budget to retain expertise they very often outsource it to free sources - taking whatever they can get on short notice. This is why every think tank now has its own well groomed media girlie. There was one on BBC Question Time last night; Grace Blakeley, yet another all purpose groomed-for-TV PR spiv with no business experience, no life experience or expertise and no political memory - spouting achingly unoriginal ideas. Hipster communism and Keynesianism peppered with run of the mill eco-dogma.

What worsens this dynamic is a peculiarly British demand that media should attempt neutrality. This leaves both Sky and ITN open to constant accusations of bias spurring them to seek a balance of chair fillers. This is not at all helped by diversity quotas. This is what creates the market for think tank spokesmen.

Part of the problem is that media has no real ability to spot expertise. As a society we are conditioned to believe that titles such as doctor, QC or professor imply a level of learned wisdom. Thankfully Brexit has driven a horse and cart through that, but still media is infatuated with prestige and title. This is partly why they get things so badly wrong. 

This is a common dynamic between media and politics. I've now sat through dozens of select committee meetings where the witnesses tend to be senior bods with no more idea of what's going on that the politicians themselves. Usually if you want to know how a system works you need to talk to a mid ranking official or practitioner - especially when regulation and administration is concerned.

What has been acutely apparent over the course of Brexit is how interchangable the political-media bubble is. Columnists and "researchers" rotate through the same handful of organisations, often crossing over into politics. This creates a political monoculture centred around London.

This is in part why politics is falling apart. The product of this monoculture is a class of arrogant know-nothing ambitious politicos with values that in no way resemble those of ordinary people. They rely almost entirely on opinion polls as a measure of what ordinary people think. The rest of the time they're deeply ensconced in their own parallel universe - much of which is informed by our non-informing media, excitedly carried away by whatever fiction they've managed to create between them.

What makes it all the more toxic is the massive sense of self-regard and belief in its own superiority. Bubble dwellers never look outside the bubble simply because it doesn't occur to them that there are answers to be found there. These supreme beings have no use for the lower orders except to serve them coffee. This is what contributes to their spectacular lack of self-awareness. Our media blob has no inclination of how utterly ignorant it is. It cannot be told anything and its errors become gospel.

When the story of Brexit is written it will be the story of Britain's institutional collapse. Academia, politics and media all failed. Central to this is a media establishment with zero attention span and no capacity to retain knowledge. Every branch of media failed to hold politics to account. What we needed was a capable and inquisitive media. What we have is a collection of propagandists and attention seekers degrading public discourse and eroding our trust.

Ultimately our politics will not improve until our media improves - which it won't. Ever. This corruption is the new normal. Our media gravitates toward power and prestige and for as long as the power is centred in London, our media culture will remain a Londoncentric bubble which fiercely guards its monopoly over the narrative. Only by breaking up politics and redistributing powers will we see a revitalisation of media. For as long as we are ruled by London we sustain this nest of parasites.

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The last mile


One of the notable features of the debate at the moment is that each respective side does a better job of discrediting their own positions than the opposition. Remainer arrogance, snobbery, petulance and outright churlishness does them no favours at all. The mask really has slipped. But then I can say that of my own side too.

It's got to the point where I almost feel like I don't have a dog in the fight. The closer we get to Brexit day the more uniform Brexiters become in their mantras and the more stereotypically awful they become. Moreover, it tends to be rooted in self-pity and paranoia. 

The no-dealers are generally becoming more ridiculous (now claiming that the EU owes us £10bn) through to risible demands for the arrest of Olly Robbins for breaching the Official Secrets Act. Then, of course there's the usual shtick about Mrs May being the remainer quietly sabotaging Brexit, conspiring with the EU to keep us in a customs union. 

Worse still is the denial of any responsibility in all this. It's anybody else's fault but the Brexiters, all of whom resigned after effectively marginalising themselves by being intellectually underequipped and not sufficiently grounded in reality to be taken seriously. Ever since they have retreated to their own fanbases to form one of the most productive excuse factories in the business. For whatever complaints leavers may have about the deal on the table, I am totally lacking in sympathy.

At the heart of this has been typical Tory arrogance and presumption, believing we could wing it and that we could rush through it all in one go - underpinned by the crackpot theories of Patrick Minford and the snake oil of Shanker Singham. It became more important to them to win the propaganda war (which they have) than to win the actual argument. 

There was a time when the leave camp was fragmented, but with the Tories dominating the propaganda channels, it would seem the majority of ardent leavers have fallen in line with the scripture to the point where for me Brexit is almost an unsupportable proposition. We are inflicting major damage on our own economy which was entirely avoidable were it that we had a clue what we were doing. 

The difficulty we are presently experiencing in rolling over trade relationships need not have been the headache it is. The jobs we will inevitably lose in the coming months was also avoidable were we able to dispel the growing uncertainty. Everything that can be mishandled, though, has been completely and utterly mishandled because our approach was conceptually wrong from the outset. We will pay a far heavier price than we ever needed to. 

The danger of this gross negligence is that Brexit will ultimately case more problems than it solves which could lead to a future "bre-entry". This is because the leave campaign was never up front about the real purpose of Brexit. It can never live up to its economic promises because it never was an economic proposition. 

If the Brexit process has shown us anything it is that it is a great deal easier to give powers away than it is to take them back. Being that EU integration tends to happen on autopilot, generally in the background without much in the way of scrutiny, unless we put the brakes on we would one day find ourselves with few remaining exclusive competences and with key policies beyond the reach of democracy and beyond reform.

Of itself that is sufficient justification enough to leave the EU, but it is barely a remedy to anything at all - and certainly not without a clear idea what we actually wanted to achieve. The absence of such vision has left a policy vacuum which has been filled by a Tory "free trade" experiment which, if taken to its extremes, will damage the UK unimaginably. 

With remainers now realising that the game is up and there is virtually no chance of us remaining in the EU, there is little point in lavishing further attention upon them. They may well be risible but they are, for the most part, harmless. Brexiters on the other hand, are fully committed to inflicting the maximum damage possible - thus most of my ire is now directed at fellow leavers. The case for Brexit is poorly represented in the media and incompetently defended and the more we see of Nadine Dorries and Andrea Jenkyns the less appealing Brexit becomes. 

The public debate has now been colonised by the morons and the lunatics because anybody sane has tuned it out if only to preserve their sanity. Those who haven't grasped the concept of non-tariff barriers by now are never going to - not least because they don't want to, and unless one indulges in the ongoing fiction of backstop renegotiation there is simply nothing left to say on the matter until the brown stuff hits the fan.

I suppose, though, for all the mistakes that have been made, the greatest error of all was my own belief that this could ever be handled competently. Once you scrape off the presentation layer of British politics there is insufficient talent in the system to ever bring coherence to this process. I am not alone in being unable to recall a greater display of mendacity and ineptitude. For all that Brexit notionally affords us the ability to govern ourselves, one could be forgiven for doubting it is even desirable. Anyone waiting for the grown ups to be back in charge will likely be waiting a very long time. 

No cause for optimism


So yesterday there was a big kerfuffle over something that Olly Robbins had supposedly said. Something along the lines that the deal would have to go back to parliament unchanged or we will need to extend Article 50 talks. This leaked "secret" (known only to the entire universe) was lead item on Radio 4 news this morning.

This came only a day after Michel Barnier, filmed leaving the UK ambassador’s residence after dinner with Steve Barclay, yet again telling us ”We aren’t going to reopen the withdrawal agreement”. Which is not news as pointed out at the time. Bizarrely though, it's taken The Guardian two days to catch up.
The British government is “pretending to negotiate” with the European Union and has not presented any new proposals to break the Brexit deadlock, according to EU officials. Theresa May’s de-facto deputy, David Lidington, and the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, met senior EU officials and MEPs in Brussels and Strasbourg this week, but the talks yielded no obvious results. The British side thinks a crucial process has begun and hopes progress will have been made by 27 February when MPs are expected to have another crunch Brexit vote.
However, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said the talks do not even qualify as negotiations. In a call on Tuesday morning with Guy Verhofstadt, chief Brexit representative for the European parliament, Barnier said there were “no negotiations” with the British. “These are courtesy calls at best and we have nothing new to say,” Barnier was reported to have said, by a source familiar with the conversation.
If the Guardian has it right this drives a horse and cart through speculation from the Sun's Nick Gutteridge. What I can't work out, though, is whether the UK government are stupid enough to believe they are actually negotiating, or believe that we are stupid enough to believe that they are negotiating. 

If it's the latter, it is certainly is working if Twitter is anything to go by. Television media needs there to be high drama in order for any of this to be newsworthy so they will go along with the pretence, entrenching themselves deeper in their own alternate universe. Typically, anything said by the Brussels side does not register with British media and even though Twitterers see the primary source material before it even hits the television, they still bizarrely retail the TV media narrative. 

Whether or not Brussels will cooperate with a last minute piece of Phantom Veto theatre to help the deal get past parliament remains to be seen but this does look very much like an exercise in running down the clock and Robbins is smack on the money. 

Whether it will get through Parliament is another matter. Parliament lost the plot a while ago. There is a remote possibility that some Labour MPs support the deal, sufficient to make up for the Tories who oppose it, with some Tories coming back into the fold. But it's a gamble, where she will go into the vote with no certainty as to the outcome. Some parliamentarians may not take kindly to being railroaded into a last minute ultimatum.

The only certainty here is that the EU is not going to back down on the backstop. There is no chance of the UK producing anything that would tempt them to reopen the agreement, not least because even if there were alternate arrangements, there is nothing that comes to mind that would be functionally preferable and certainly nothing that doesn't add a tier of complexity and red tape for Irish businesses. I don't even see Brussels seeking to firm up the review mechanism.

One way or another it's all down to what parliament now decides to do. There is still scope for them to invent a new and interesting way of misunderstanding the process, but certainly nothing that we might consider useful or productive. If they haven't got to grips with reality by now then they are never going to - which puts us odds on for no deal. There is no cause for optimism. 

Monday, 11 February 2019

Going through the motions.


I generally find Article 50 negotiations make so much more sense if you listen to what Brussels is saying and then take them at their word. If they say the negotiations are going to be sequenced thusly then then that is how the negotiations are sequenced. If they say we must pay £39bn then I generally take that to mean that we must pay £39bn. If they say they are not going to reopen the backstop for negotiation then they are not going to reopen the backstop for negotiation.

Course, there's no fun in that. If you generally accept that this is not a negotiation and there is no high drama. The last minute shuttle diplomacy theatricals are entirely an invention of the media. This is entirely a fictional construct in tandem with the government who is also pretending there is work going on to jettison the backstop.

All the while Labour puts forth is own utterly pointless and undeliverable demands to give the outward appearance that they are contributing something - knowing that the government cannot and will not entertain the proposals. Everybody here is maintaining their own fiction in broad daylight as though it were not possible for us to verify events for ourselves.

There really is an Emperor's new clothes dynamic going on where there is a tacit agreement between the government and media to keep up this charade because without it, neither side has anything useful to do. Michel Barnier can stand on the doorstep of Number 10 with a loudhailer singing "We aren’t going to reopen the withdrawal agreement" and still we pretend that some sort of negotiation is in progress.

Back on planet earth this is going pretty much the way everyone expects it to go. We will waste a couple more weeks and then possible a couple more before the deal, as is, goes back to the house of commons where we have the final test of precisely how stupid parliament really is. I don't know what the current arithmetic stands at but as before this might as well go through on the toss of a coin.

Between now and then we simply have to bear witness to this dumpster fire of an administration making excuses for itself as just about everything else descends into farce. The inventions and brexcuses of the ERG are rolling in thick and fast. For the time being there is barely enough happening in the real world to sustain any kind of ongoing commentary. The writing's on the wall for all to see. We are just waiting for politics to collide with reality.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Gloria De Piero MP isn't listening


Normally I would not draw attention to anything in The New Statesman because it does not tell the truth. Stephen Bush is a liar. Today though, it features an article from Gloria De Piero MP. It's the usual safari shtick - "we must listen to abandoned northern poor people" before telling us "The truth is that none of these problems were created by membership of the EU and nor will they be solved by leaving". So the mindset is still the same. We think the plebs are wrong but we have to at least look like we care. What struck me was one of her anecdotes.
Paige also left school at 15 with no qualifications. She was diagnosed with mild autism but felt she didn’t get the support she needed to finish school. She dreams of becoming a midwife but says the education system is too rigid to allow her to learn at her own pace and would mean running up debts she couldn’t afford.
“You could easily just go in and observe and learn it first-hand instead of having to go to college and university. Obviously you are handling life so it’s a big job but what happened to experiencing it first-hand. You learn more first-hand than what you do on paper,” she said.
Barbara also brought up the fact you have to study for a nursing degree nowadays rather than being taken on as a trainee by a hospital as an obstacle to people going into nursing. Tony believes it is harder now to work your way up from the bottom and there is too much emphasis on going to university.
The opportunities presented by the traditional apprenticeship system – where people were properly trained and guaranteed a job afterwards – are denied to the younger generation, he says. He did a five-year apprenticeship in engineering and got a job with the company he trained with, but contrasts this with the experience of his son: “My son tried to do a course to learn plumbing and because he was on a course, they stopped his benefit. They would sooner he was on the dole.”
What is described here is a relatively new dynamic. It started in the early nineties. I was probably the last generation who could fall out of school and into the local factory and acquire a trade. I seriously don't envy youngsters trying to find their way off the bottom rung now.

Most opportunities now are closed off unless you meet a whole heap of prerequisites which present a huge barrier for anyone with domestic commitments and financial constraints. If you want to do a useless degree course you'll have banks throwing money at you but if you want skills training, you either have to rely on community colleges where the teaching is poor or save up for private sector training. It's now rare that businesses will take people on and train them.

My own career as a software developer was thanks to two courses at a private training facility in Leeds. Two week intensive courses are better than a year of college where what they teach is often useless and obsolete. This cost £1500 which was a lot of money at the time. It was the best money I ever spent and that skillset is worth more to me than a degree and the lack of a degree is no obstacle in the IT field. 

Being that I have a reasonably accomplished CV I always have a fallback trade, but starting in any other field would now require an investment in one or other qualification. There's not a cat in hells chance of finding an employer who will pay for it and there is virtually no support for living costs while you train. I know a guy who did manage a software engineering HND but only by lying to the dole office. The last thing you tell them is that you are independently trying to re-skill. The system doesn't tolerate it.

There are three central reasons why it's harder than it was. De Piero makes mention of downward pressure on skilled trade. Economists such as Jonathan Portes continue to publicly lie about this and remainers lap it up. It's not just for brickies though. It has a noticeable effect in things like software engineering where the breadth of skills now demanded increases while the wages stagnate. 

Being that recruitment is now done by way of outsourced agents, it's all done by keyword matching and since they can fish from a far wider pond, they have no incentive to train. Why take an estate kid when you can bring someone over from Poland? I've seen this dynamic in every sector from computing to nuclear engineering.

This hooks in with the second issue; the way we do business. For all that we have notionally privatised the economy, a vast chunk of the private sector economy is servicing government procurement be it Trident renewal, Hinkley Point or some other big ticket "investment". 

Much of the work has to be fed into the OJEU system for EU wide bidding and generally contracts are only really obtainable by the big consultancy firms. Often they have no in house capability to fulfil the contract but they have the gargantuan bureaucracy to meet all of the requirements for a successful bid, be it eco-compliance and all the necessary kite marks etc. 

Only if they win the contract will they crew it up on a Just In Time basis. So there is no permanent pool of skills and being that it is on a JIT basis, there isn't the time to train up new staff. This is why the design offices at Airbus are full of people from Poland and Indonesia. There was a time when most people working at Airbus Filton would have been brought up within sight of the factory. 

Here business will often complain of a skill shortage but they are willing to do nothing to remedy it save to lobby for more visas for Indian workers whom they can more readily exploit. This might then explain why here in Filton we voted to leave. Airbus can threaten to bugger off but they're not hiring locally anyway.

This, though, is not a whinge about immigration, rather it is to do with the culture of tendering and procurement which favours global multinationals and the consultancies who already enjoy preferred bidder status. This is as much to do with the layers of bureaucracy you have to go through just to put in a bid. Small firms in business parks in Gloucestershire have to spend tens of thousands on pointless annual environmental impact assessments if they want to put in a bid. One wouldn't be surprised if the monopoly firms actually lobbied for them to freeze out competition.

As much as this is true of engineering it is also true of healthcare and hospitals have major compliance bureaucracy which increasingly makes demands on the levels of qualification for staff. Again this sees the NHS casting their recruitment net abroad which is why the left is always keen to remind us that migrants prop up the NHS. Very often you won't see a British dentist. If there are British working class people to be found anywhere, they tend to be the admin staff.

What we have is an ossified and risk averse system which is very much to do with the culture of governance which is everything to do with the EU in the way it regulates for European homogeneity. It disproportionately affects the UK because the UK does actually implement EU measures in ways the French find ways around. This is what leads to qualification inflation and an unnecessarily high bar of entry to many of the trades. That many roles are now degree technician grade is not coincidental and is partly why the NHS has massive wage overheads. If you wanted a system to exclude the plebs it would look a lot like EU governance.

Then, of course, there's those precious "EU workers rights" which are actually nothing to do with mine or your protection, rather they are again measures to enforce homogeneity between member states. In every respect the EU makes it worse for workers. EU rules upset a delicate balance between employer and employee, once fiercely policed by unions. Now, though, unions are compliant parts of the machines. 

The layers of protections demanded by the EU resulted in the unintended consequences of destroying permanent jobs - which then resulted in the corrective Agency Workers Directive which totally destroyed labour market fluidity. Not for nothing are people increasingly "self employed contractors". This is one of the main reasons I hate the EU with a passion.  

Of course, it can be argued that not all of this is the result of EU legislation and much of it is a consequence of globalisation and automation - and certainly our own government makes a number of wholly useless interventions and so it is increasingly difficult to tell what can actually be blames on the EU. But then that's the ambiguity the EU enjoys as it allows them to duck responsibility. The one instance where there was a clear line of accountability was with the posted workers directive which caused a great deal of damage - which took more than seven years to reform, still isn't fixed and never will be.

What we have built since about 1996 is a vast regulatory construct which is there largely for the convenience of capital. It disempowers workers and demotes them to the status of organic components. It neuters unions and robs people of their sovereignty over the labour and market laws. 

What Britain needs is a radical overhaul of its culture of governance and and to put the power over things like workers right back in the hands of the people. For as long as it is locked up in the treaties of the EU, any UK reform can only really be tinkering around the edges. I then get heartily sick of the likes of De Piero and Lucas blithely telling us that it's time to listen and that we need to address the needs of working class people while doing everything in their power to ensure we stay tethered to the EU without the necessary powers to rebuild our own society.

We hear MPs mouthing the platitudes of reform but what people need is a real say in how they are governed. Every power the EU has over our rights and our laws is a power we do not have. It doesn't matter how many poverty safaris our MPs set out on. Unless they do as instructed (ie leaving the EU) respecting the essence of that mandate, they cannot honestly claim to be listening.

My preference is that the UK leaves with a deal but it increasingly looks like MPs like De Piero are moving to ensure the people's sovereignty is constrained in any new deal, be it non-regression clauses and the customs union. They seek to deprive us over our democratic ability to decide for ourselves the basis upon which we trade with others and our means to influence our laws. Brexit really won't "solve anything" if MPs are resolved not to take back control and leave our laws exactly as they are.

De Piero expects a pat on the head for talking to her constituents but she isn't listening nor is she thinking. Brexit is a once in a generation chance to completely rethink how we do things but she and her co-conspirators are working to ensure we are robbed of that chance. It comes as no surprise that Brexiters now prefer no deal at all. It comes down to the simple fact that our so-called representatives cannot be trusted not to betray us at the first opportunity.