Sunday, 31 March 2019

Distant realities

There is the Westminster reality and then there is our reality. In our reality parliament has totally failed. We're out of time and out of options and unless parliament ratifies a withdrawal agreement it looks like we are sunk.

In the other reality, the one inhabited by MPs and hacks, they can return to work on Monday to peruse an array of options from the menu to go back to Brussels with. Here we have George Freeman calling for a "Brexit war cabinet" as though we have all the time in the world. This comes alongside renewed calls for a customs union.

The bizarre thing here is that a customs union is not an answer to anything. It isn't an alternative to a withdrawal agreement and comes nowhere close to solving the Northern Ireland conundrum. Moreover, the MP collective has not selected the option on its merits. The respective arguments for and against don't even get an airing here. Rather they see it as a political object with far less baggage than the single market as a sweetener to try and keep the game in play. 

This tells us that they are not actually serious. This couldn't be more half hearted. It's a last ditch attempt to find a consensus on the back of last weeks indicative votes despite them being incoherent and inconclusive. They don't seem to care what passes just so long as something passes. They've given up the ghost completely. 

If we had anything like a functioning media they would be calling out the ridiculousness of this latest wheeze but with they themselves having so little of use to do, it is yet more fodder for their ongoing soap opera, allowing them to fill space in speculating who may or may not vote for it and for what reason. To employ a well worn cliche, this really is rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

If anything, this latest twist in the saga is yet more evidence of the dysfunctionality at the core of politics. You could say that this is just how consensus politics works and this is just how high level politics gets done. That may be adequate for run of the mill politics but Brexit requires a level of leadership and direction that this parliament is incapable of reaching. Brexit is not a matter for tribal horse trading but this really is the best we can do.

It may be that MPs do manage to reach a consensus on a customs union this week, but it doesn't give Mrs May anything to work with. It could mean that converts to her deal find themselves yet again voting it down. It does no provide a conclusive basis on which to move things forward and gives Brussels nothing to work with either. For May it's as good as going empty handed.

Typically, parliament is rushing round trying to do all the things they should have done before this process even began. The more urgent things become the more divergent their reality becomes. Only when it comes crashing down on them will it shake them out of their complacency. 

Friday, 29 March 2019

Nothing much to celebrate

Some have remarked that I've been a lot quieter than usual just lately. I've been lurking in watch mode rather than voicing my views. To a very large extent, I'm not exactly sure where I stand on current events as they are unfolding.

Yesterday there was a pro-Brexit march in Westminster but as a leaver I wanted nothing to do with it. Aside from the fact I think we should leave the EU, I have nothing in common with these people. When I look at these people waving their placards I see all the people who have bought into every passing narrative engineered by the London Brexit blob and speakers at the event will no doubt have trotted out all the hackneyed cliches I see daily on Twitter. I'm just not interested.

Ultimately these are people who will cheer on the day we leave without a deal. People who have disregarded the complexity from day one in favour of populist slogans. It's everything I detest about the self-regarding Brexit blob; reducing a complex issue into a binary narrative.

It seems fitting that carpetbaggers like Claire Fox and Brendan O'Neill should have been speaking at the event. These are people who at the very beginning turned out with "Invoke Article 50 now" placards; a sure sign that they had neither understood the process nor given it a nanosecond's thought. Then after nearly three years of intense debate, all the complexities and nuances still managed to escape these people having used every platform available to them to trot out the same crass mantras about having nothing to fear from no deal where every legitimate concern is rubbished as "project fear".

It's actually got to the point where if I meet a Brexiter outside of the internet I don't want to discuss Brexit at all. They tend to be followers rather than thinkers. They pin their colours to the mast of any passing ship. First Farage was the messiah, then Boris Johnson, then Jacob Rees-Mogg, and for some reason they always seem surprised when they turnout to be know-nothing charlatans.

Any which way you look at it, leaving the EU without a deal is a massive failure of politics. It doesn't solve anything. There are a multitude of transboundary concerns from fishing through to space policy, pollution and trade that need to be addressed. All of this still has to be negotiated and with UK-EU relations at an all time low, with minimal trust between the two, rebuilding relations is going to be long and arduous and will likely not look much different to the withdrawal agreement presently within our grasp.

If anything I am aghast at the whole jamboree. No dealers like Rees-Mogg and Jonathan Isaby (editor of BrexitCentral) suddenly turn tail and support May's deal while devout remainers vote it down thus making no deal a near certainty. The dishonestly, mendacity, opportunism and downright stupidity is infuriating.

We can't even say the best efforts of a dedicated few have been thwarted. Nowhere in the debate is there any learned coherence to be found. On the one hand we have grunting jingoistic morons like Mark francois and on the other we have tin-eared snobby bigots like Anna Soubry and Chuka Umunna. These people have nothing to say to me. There are some who have picked up and run with the EEA Efta cause but understand too little and come to it too late, failing to grasp that we don't get anywhere near an EEA outcome without ratifying a withdrawal agreement.

But then of course, with Brexiters being a baying mob who insist that anything that isn't a WTO Brexit isn't Brexit at all, they are going to cry betrayal whatever the weather so there is no compromise to be had. This speaks to the propaganda power of the Brexit blob. Even if there were an honest broker on the leave side pushing for Efta EEA, they'd be facing deselection motions at home.

In the end the whole process descended into madness. In the beginning it was reasonable to assume that with a majority of MPs being anti-Brexit that they would at least do the bare minimum to avoid no deal if they didn't manage to unite around a softer Brexit. Turns out even that was overly optimistic. With politics being as broken as it is, there was never any hope of them making a good go of it.

When Brexit day arrives I can't say I will be in the pub celebrating a job well done. Brexit day serves only as a marker on a much longer road, and by leaving without a deal the road back to unity and stability is far longer and fraught with more risk. If politics couldn't handle the routine work of passing the necessary bills to get us out of the EU then they will seriously struggle to repair the damage we're about to do to ourselves.

With that, I'm suffering from a sense of total resignation. There is no single point of failure here and no single group or person we can point the finger at. This is a total systemic and institutional collapse encompassing all of the parties, both houses of parliament, think tanks and academia and the entirety of the media. With a mess like this, where does one even start?

Before we address the next phase of Brexit, whatever that may be, we are certainly going to need a general election. The fragile Tory/DUP alliance has all but fallen apart, and neither of the major parties can keep a coherent front bench together. Government has lost all political and moral authority and we cannot progress without a clear out first. My own preference is that we wait awhile, just to let some of the consequences of no deal sink in.

For now the Brexit blob are heroes to leavers but it really won't take very long for the more egregious no deal narratives to fall apart. By way of unilateral EU contingency measures we might very well evade some of the headline effects of Brexit, but there is still a great deal of complacency and it won't take very long for our regulatory systems to start falling apart. A lot of long held assumptions will hit the wall and soon after the Ultras will have a lost of questions to answer.

Sadly, though, a general election really only goes part of the way. The likes of Rees-Mogg will somehow manage to cling on to their seats and an election doesn't really address the fact that parliament as an institution is a clapped out anachronism in desperate need of redesign. An exchange of politicians will bring little remedy.

Many have remarked how this is the worst crop of politicians in living memory where somehow  we are ruled by some profoundly stupid people. This is a matter for some investigation. It's very possible that our system of politics turns otherwise accomplished and intelligent people into morons. A fair few of them are lawyers, doctors and business professionals. Why does our system turn them into gibbering imbeciles?

But then here we might have a far graver crisis. In this I might paraphrase philosopher and comedian, George Carlin. "Everybody complains about politicians. Everybody says they suck. Well, where do people think these politicians come from? They don’t fall out of the sky. They don’t pass through a membrane from another reality. They come from British parents and British families, British homes, British schools, British churches, British businesses and British universities, and they are elected by British citizens. This is the best we can do folks. This is what we have to offer. It’s what our system produces: Garbage in, garbage out. If you have selfish, ignorant citizens, you’re going to get selfish, ignorant leaders".

Ordinarily the party system should filter out the worst of them but when you're recruiting from a limited stock, and throwing them into a system that more resembles Hogwarts than an actual legislature, where to get anywhere you have to partake in the media circus, it doesn't seem like politics is salvagable without the use of a bulldozer.

Brexit was always going to be a long and difficult process, but it would appear things were far more broken than any of us realised. Now we face an arduous task on three fronts - rebuilding politics, the country as a whole and European relations - starting from a position of total chaos and economic turmoil. There is no putting the genie back in the bottle. We may never fully recover from this.

What should be remembered, though, is that as much as our politics was living on borrowed time just waiting to be upturned by a thing like Brexit, much of the defects were structural and decaying from the inside. The same can be said of our zombie economy. Our short termist politics is incapable of addressing long term strategic endeavours. This is what has to change.

The fact we all have to face is that this is all going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. There is a lot of anger at the prospect of remaining in the EU and some of the footage is an indication of what could explode if we did remain, but leaver and remain voters alike are going to be united in the near future in their indignation at a politics that has failed them so very badly.

Politics for this term had only one job: To leave the EU as per the instruction of 2016. It was their job to find a settlement we could all live with. With the public sharply divided on the EU, but with no positive mandate for it, the task for MPs was to heed that message, to come together to find a new way forward. Instead we are to crash out of the EU having completely failed to rise to the occasion creating the gravest national crisis for generations.

Between now and then, the next few days will see parliament flailing around to try and salvage what is left of the process, but when they are so far from understanding the issues and regressing by the day, any further technical discussion seems like wasted breath. They needed to be on top of all this before they triggered Article 50. They needed to have their indicative votes long before now. If clarity of purpose has evaded them for the last three years then it likely will not arrive by the deadline. All we'll get is irrelevant squabbles over undeliverable plan Bs.

This we have all seen before. We've been through the mill so many times, with the media polluting the debate with its ignorance and malicious actors deliberately pushing falsehoods and outright lies to willing audiences ever keen to have their prejudices validated. The voice of reason never stood a chance. The noise was impenetrable and the spoils went to those who banged the drum the loudest. Sooner or later, though, those who have brought us to this point will get all they deserve. I may not be cheering on Brexit day, but I will certainly have my fun in the very near future.

Additional: As you know, this blog runs entirely on reader donations. I don't like to ask which is why I don't ask often. This is one of those times where I need to. Please give if you can.

End of the line

Brexit day. Supposedly. There's no getting around it. Theresa May's deal is a long way from what anybody wanted. According to reports, there were cheers from Brexiters outside Westminster when it was announced that the deal had yet again failed to pass. But now it all hangs in the balance. The legal default may be no deal but we have a little while to go before we know exactly which way this goes.

As a long time Brexit campaigner you might expect of me that I would be joining the protest outside Westminster, but this is as much the failure of Brexiters as it is parliament as an institution. I'm not wasting my money to wave flags at a Tommy Robinson jamboree or listen to witless speeches from the likes of Claire Fox of the Spiked ilk who have contributed precisely nothing to the debate over the last three years.

Moreover, leaving without a deal is not something to be celebrated. Terminating all formal trade relations and cooperation accords with our nearest and largest neighbour in peacetime is far from an accomplishment. No deal cannot stay no deal and in due course we'll be back in negotiations with the EU where the preconditions will be to implement the backstop as is and to cough up the £39bn - so we haven't actually achieved anything except to kick our own exporters in the balls.

Though there is much blame to go around, I can no longer single out any one culprit. In the end the ERG didn't come close to winning parliament over to their ideas, but parliament have enabled them through their collective ignorance, indolence and disarray. They could at any time have asserted themselves to hold the executive to account but passed up every opportunity to do so. We have drifted to this point by way of not making any affirmative decisions.

Ultimately, though, this comes down to a schism between parliament and the public. Parliament just won't do what is required of it to deliver on the 2016 vote. They could have leveraged the softer Brexit they prefer. There have been a number of votes on the EEA Efta option, but instead have kicked the can down the road as often as Mrs May has. It was always going to be pushed right to the wire. Now we are at the wire, it comes down to a face-off between no deal and no Brexit. Essentially this is economic blackmail hoping that enough moderate leavers will chicken out. I think it's a little late for that.

As ever, though, the decision is not wholly our own. Brussels will have it's own views in due course, and whatever their verdict will be contingent on Mrs May going back to them with a coherent and decisive message. There is no reason to believe such will be forthcoming. Brussels may very well conclude that there is no mileage in letting this drag on.

The next few days will be telling. The government and parliament both have their work cut out but if they've not yet realised the urgency and gravity of their inaction by now then they probably never will. An accidental Brexit where we simply run out of time and options looks more likely than ever.

If by some means we do end up remaining then I will be torn between two narratives. On the one hand it will be a victory for a newly established ruling class who were never going to let us leave, but then at the same time, with no deal having such profoundly damaging consequences, it is arguable that parliament has done its job. No deal does not have majority support in the country.

Brexiters have held all the top job jobs, had every opportunity to engage in the process and present plans of their own. They could even have voted for May's deal when it mattered. They played for double or quits and there was every possibility they could lose. There was a win within their grasp and they threw it away. All the while, the astonishing ignorance and frivolousness of Brexiteers has undermined their own case through the course of negotiations. Never was a win so readily squandered.

As it happens, though, it really all rests on what Mrs May does next. She would be crucified by her own party were she to revoke Article 50 and there is no apparent support for another referendum. It looks like she has nowhere to go. Parliament's vote has now given control over the Brexit process to the EU Council and Commission. This is the end of the line. Whichever way it goes, this chapter ends in failure.

Next steps

Wednesday, 27 March 2019


So now we're in trouble. Unless parliament ratifies the withdrawal agreement Mrs May has nothing to take to Brussels and no way forward that could secure an extension to negotiations. Parliament will not make an affirmative choice so it comes down to the default option. No deal. Revoking Article 50 is an option but one that carries enormous political risks and sets the UK down a volatile path.

Being that the Conservative party largely favours no deal, the they'd be looking at an extinction level event were they to revoke Article 50 so it looks like we will leave without a deal largely for the short term survival of the party. I say short term because it won't take very long for voters to work out that the Tories who have long preached that there is nothing to fear from no deal have been engaged in a systematic campaign of lying. 

At that point we will set upon a nationwide enquiry as to what went wrong. The last three years of politics will produce a lifetime of lessons. This is not only a failure of the Conservative party but politics as a whole. Parliament as a whole did not want to leave the EU without a deal and on multiple occasions expressed that through multiple votes. Those pushing to leave without a deal were outnumbered five to one.

There is no single factor that brought us to this point but it has a lot to do with the state of the House of Commons. MPs acting in concert could at any time have asserted themselves but for the last three years have failed to unite in order to bring the executive to heel. What we have seen instead is a disorganised and atomised rabble each talking past each other, and mainly concerned with saving their own skin come the next election.

But then a a major factor here is that parliament has never really accepted that the UK voted to leave and though MPs have made all the right noises about respecting the vote, they've been biding their time, waiting for an opportunity to derail Brexit. By fighting to preserve the status quo they never invested any energy in imagining any alternatives and instead continue to impress upon us that Brexit is bad nobody voted to be poorer. With each extreme drowning out the middle, all they succeeded in doing was to harden opposition. 

Then, of course, there was the media who have been equally guilty in failing to grasp the issues and treat them with the seriousness they require. There was a time when I would attack the media for its inherent biases, but bias is no longer the central problem. It's the insular and trivial approach to reporting complex matters. All they do is regurgitate talking points and they wait to be spoonfed rather than investigating the issues. I can think of only two reporters who aren't a total waste of time.

There is then the complete collapse of politics as a whole. Not at any time have we seen a coherent opposition. The Labour party no longer functions as a single party. They never accepted Corbyn's leadership (if you can call it that) and at no tie has the opposition had sufficiently adequate command of the facts in order to embarrass the government despite the goals being wide open the whole time.

The problem for Labour is that it has never especially cared about the EU as an issue. It's an issue that has long split the Conservatives and Labour have kept an artificial consensus running as a political weapon. Labour is really only interested in doling out welfare to its respective client votes and has no instinct for statecraft. Now that the EU has become the defining issue, Labour has nothing useful to say about it and in order to keep the alliance between London progressives and the working class northern base, they have avoided taking a firm stance, hoping to be the beneficiary of whatever mess the Conservatives make of it.

This dynamic, I suspect, is largely to do with our EU membership where the longer term strategic decision making on anything from energy to agriculture is done in Brussels, reducing our national parliaments to term administrators there to balance the budget. Politics as as we know it just isn't set up for a long term complex process like Brexit. The mindset of MPs doesn't extend beyond the next general election and they only ever turn their attention to the vote winning subjects, ever chasing headlines and publicity.

It would help if MPs were at least up to speed with the issues but the information channels have long since been corrupted. We now have an activist media and our think tanks have become lobbyists, stuffed to the gunwales with narcissistic twentysomethings who wangled the right internship through family connections. The Westminster apparatus is largely steered by know-nothing chancers with Oxford politics degrees.

There is no single factor that has brought us to this point. Rather it is the culmination of a host of issues brought to the fore by Brexit. It was already apparent but Brexit is beyond their abilities and it really shows. Worse still, it's not going to improve any time soon. No matter how much of a hash they make of Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn is still just enough to stop Labour taking power and we'll be stuck in limbo with a hung parliament for a long time to come.     

This raises serious questions about their collective ability to respond to the many problems created by Brexit, especially in the event of no deal. You can't really expect the system to solve the problem when the system very much is the problem. Worse still, they're never going to admit that. It's going to take a lot more than Brexit before we see the return of good government. We may not see it again in our lifetimes.

Though I have never been especially convinced by any economic case for Brexit I have always seen it as a catalyst in that you have to expose the problems in order to address them. But without the necessary power and those with power obstructing meaningful reform, it seems to me that it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets any better. Voters have to realise for themselves that it's the system at fault rather than who we actually elect.

If we leave the EU without a deal, and at this point I rather expect we will, there will be plenty of wailing from the media and politicians alike, none of whom will examine their own role in bringing this about. They have unparalleled access to knowledge and expertise, they've had all the time they could possibly need and they've had three chances to ratify a withdrawal agreement after voting by a huge majority to set us down this path.

Notionally, MPs are there to serve as goalkeepers to stop bad ideas. Collectively they have enormous power and where they choose to exercise it they can even bring governments down. Instead they've spent the whole time indulging in insular tribal bickering. They didn't have to like Brexit but it was ultimately the legitimate verdict of the public. Had they accepted that and applied themselves, they could have been calling the shots. Instead they dithered and allowed events to overtake them.

Of itself Brexit was never much of a remedy to anything, but one thing is clear; we are not going to resolve anything until we address the deep set political dysfunction. Brexit has become that window of opportunity. The public are in part at fault for this mess in that they have delegated politics to politicians and taken their eye off the ball. If there is one thing Brexit teaches us it is that politics is too important to be left solely to the politicians. Now it's out in the open - and very soon we will feel the real consequences of that negligence, we will see a unified demand for change. That above all is the real Brexit dividend.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Taking out the garbage

For a while now I've been beset by a certain zen like calm. Imperturbable even. It's not that I've stopped caring. This is something else. I liken it with having ascended. A popular theme in sci-fi is non-corporeal beings who've shed their physical bodies to exist on some higher plain of enlightenment where the matter of corporeal beings are not only of no concern, but also off limits.

This is how I feel about the Brexit debate. I've seen just about all of the bullshit from both sides and I'm not impressed with any of it. The right wing arguments for Brexit are crap and the left wing arguments are no better. They trot out the classic tropes about enforced austerity on Greece, and even if I did have any sympathy for Greece, it's just not relevant to our predicament.

I think I have tried and tested just about every argument for Brexit over the course of this blog and I've found most of them unconvincing. Even a few of the stronger arguments have been a casualty of reality over the last two years. This, though, is the process you have to go through to be able to speak with conviction. It doesn't do to spout any argument that suits your case. You have to at least believe your own shtick otherwise what's the point?

But then so much as I can dismantle most of the Brexit arguments I'm still not hearing a compelling case to remain. Nor will I. Aside from propping up the existing regime for a few more years, electing to ignore the structural economic problems and underlying social injustices, there's not much in it.

I'm never going to be persuaded by the supposed perks and benefits for EU citizens not least because most of them are irrelevant to me or can be achieved by other means. This is also the wrong way to look at it. I've turned down jobs before even though the offer a highly attractive benefits package. The decision was taken on what the job actually was rather than the perks they offer. The EU issue is the same. We have to look at what it actually is.

In short, it's a globalising non-state superpower and what it ultimately wants is more power. More power for it and less for us. National democracies are subordinate and actual expressions of democracy are unwelcome and untrusted. It is a power hungry paranoid out of touch entity and it's ultimately more answerable to lobbyists and the NGOcracy than it is to us. It is an affront to democracy and that is the whole of the argument. This is not something any healthy democracy should wish to enmesh itself in.

Beyond that, it's a values thing. If you want to live in a top down technocracy where politics is reduced to consultative exercises for show, so that we are all free to live obedient little lives with professional politicians closing down ever more freedoms, then the EU is a nice and easy off the shelf answer. If however, you believe that the imbalances and problems can only be solved by the people through their own institutions then Brexit, no matter how expensive and inconvenient, is just one of those unpleasant chores like taking out the garbage.

Like most other household chores it's nothing to get excited about. It's just one of those things you have to do and if you don't attend to these things then nobody else will. You can put it off but before you know it you're up to your knees in rubbish and the place is beginning to stink. It's true we could have done it more intelligently without splitting the bag open and spilling garbage all the way out to the bins but we are at least getting the rubbish out of the house.

Now that the decision has been made to take out the garbage, there doesn't seem much point in re-arguing the case. The children are perfectly entitled to make a loud case for living in squalor, and we adults are entitled to ignore them. There is nothing more to be said about it unless those tasked with this chore elect to let the children have it their way. At that point, the debate is no longer about Brexit.

At that point it becomes a question of whether we are a democracy at all and if we are not going to be one, where the votes of working people only need be taken into account provided they say the right things, what legitimacy does government have? By annulling the votes of seventeen million people we are creating a permanent ruling class where the people have no say in who governs them. At that point, the EU has effectively achieved its long term ambitions. The UK becomes a post-democracy society under permanent EU occupation.

From then on, that zen like calm will evaporate. The divisions illuminated by Brexit will become the permanent fault line in British politics. A war will break out between those who are allowed a say and those who are not. Then we begin a new era of overtly hostile politics that will make their EU victory taste more bitter than defeat. British politics can just about withstand Brexit but if votes no longer count then all bets are off.

Back to reality

I almost feel guilty for taking a week off at such a crucial stage of Brexit. I'm glad I did though because it doesn't look like I missed much. For there to be anything worth saying we need to know which direction we are going in and for that parliament would have to make an affirmative decision - which it has not done. It has done everything to avoid making one so we are drifting further toward an accidental Brexit.

Taking time out, though, was valuable. I've been our exploring the Fens and the Norfolk coastline, catching only glimpses of the news and being too busy for Twitter. Like a normal person. That was instructive. If anything it's a reminder that Twitter is only really important to people who use Twitter.

For the most part I even managed to miss out on all the noise about the supposedly million strong protest in London. I certainly didn't miss anything. There was nothing to say about it. It was about as big as the last one and equally incoherent. Apart from being a generic whinge to stay in the EU, it had nothing to say for itself. I managed to catch a few of the vox pops where again Guardian reading simpletons saw fit to tell me I didn't know what I was voting for.

It would have been an opportunity to roll out all the stereotypes about Waitrose warriors, but we've all done it before and there is nothing at all original to say about it. Nor is there anything to say about the five million strong petition. Paul Embrey said it best. "Sixteen million were willing to walk or drive to a polling station to say the same thing. Hardly significant that a third of them have clicked on a mouse to tell us they haven't changed their minds". Within a week, nobody will be talking about it. 

For sure it all had a novelty value for a bored media that needs something to chew on but for the rest of us getting on with our lives there is essentially no change. The remainers were always going to have a massive coordinated whinge in the final hour but the rest of us still expect our votes to be respected and the verdict of 2016 to be honoured.

The far bigger news of the week was the administrative delay where it looks as though the EU has given up any hope of the UK ratifying a withdrawal agreement or coming up with a viable proposal in order for the deal to pass. There is a short window for parliament to get its act together but if it hasn't by now then it never will. The EU now believes the UK will leave on April 12 without a deal.

Instead of seeking to avert such an outcome there seems to be a prevailing sense of futility so our media has retreated to the comfort zone of leadership contests and no confidence votes. We are marking time until fate makes our choices for us. 

If this is how it unfolds then this will be a failure of every political institution. Future historians will puzzle as to how something so undesirable could have happened when almost universally opposed by every branch of politics. It really comes back to the basics. Any idea will prevail in the absence of alternative ideas. 

When parliament voted for Article 50 they knew they couldn't get away with ignoring the referendum. Even now, the majority of them understand that this is now bigger than the Brexit issue. This is a full blown constitutional crisis where democracy itself hangs by a thread. The power, though, was always theirs to avert it. They could have ratified Mrs May's deal or they could at any point in the last three years have developed a more attractive proposal. But they didn't.

There have been pockets inside the Commons pushing alternate plans, but with the opposition writing themselves out of the process, the Lib Dems hell bent on remaining and various MPs attempting to sabotage the process the whole time, they cleared the way for the worst plan of all. The ERG will profit from parliament's own inertia.

If anything I should have stayed on holiday for another week. This slow motion trainwreck is now beyond anyone's ability to influence or control. The ones who thought they could influence and control it saw fit to exclude alternative voices from the debate thinking they knew it all so this mess now belongs to them. They're welcome to it and much deserve it. 

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Nothing to be ashamed of

There has been some talk of late as to when and where it might not be a good idea to mention you voted to leave the EU. Being that it's a subject encompassing just about every area of regulated life it's a difficult one to avoid. Some have told me they prefer to keep it to themselves in the face of the complete mess this government is making of it. Ten days short of Brexit day and we don't have the first idea what's going on. We don't know how, or when or even if. This is ridiculous.

But then Theresa May did say early on she sought to unite the country. This she has done. We are all united in our utter dismay that anything could be executed so cack-handedly. For that reason no leaver need feel guilty. It is simply beyond the abilities of our political class.

There were two ways of going about this; to decide that we wanted to keep a close and integrated relationship with the EU in which case the economic impact could have been kept to a minimum - or that we were taking an absolutist line on what voters said they wanted.

In respect of that we could have made that decision early on, removing much of the uncertainty. We could have set upon Efta EEA as the basis of a "jobs first Brexit" (my preference) - or simply made it clear that we were leaving without a deal in which case there wouldn't have been much to talk about save for the timing of our exit. As much as leaving without a deal is a terrible idea, we could at least have been competent in its execution.

Instead parliament has largely been a pointless talking shop, with MPs and wonks projecting their worthless ill-informed opinions into the void while the executive ran its own secretive agenda. This much is not out of the ordinary. This is pretty much how politics has degraded. The only difference between now and before is the media management. If anything this is all a stark reminder that Westminster is disconnected in every sense.

As chaos descends into farce it has become harder and harder to record these events. In the early days there were similar strains of ignorance which have now become distinct specialisms where just about everyone has their own reading of events all of which have long since turned inward, oblivious to anything said by Brussels. We have dithered to the point where the decisions will eventually make themselves.

The extent to which this political atrophy is attributable to EU membership is debatable, but what we are looking at cannot be put upon leave voters. Even at my most cynical I never imagine our politics was this far gone or that this crop of MPs were this lacking in talent. So as much as I feel no shame in expressing my view that Britain ought not to be a member of a supranational project for the elimination of the nation state, I feel no shame in that we are at least all on the same page that politics as we know it cannot continue in the same vain. That's a start.

For the sake of my own sanity I've unplugged from Twitter and the blog this week and have elected to swan off to Cambridgeshire to nosey round Duxford (pictured) and the Fens. I'm not ashamed of that either. Every normal bloke has limits and I've reached mine. I am left with just one sentiment.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Uncivil is the new normal

To this day it is still the case that among the most vocal remainers you will not find many among them making the case for what the EU project actually is. The remain/leave argument in many respects has become completely detached from the issue. It is a fault line in domestic politics. more generally though, the clamour to put a stop to Brexit is a clamour for things to go back to normal.

That would be the worst outcome for the UK because that normal is unhealthy. We can safely assume that were they to cancel Brexit our political class would rapidly return to its usual habits. That then leaves a lot of angry people completely robbed of their voice with only one word on their lips. Revenge.

Notionally we get to take our revenge at general elections but somehow this time it isn't enough. Already our normal channels of democracy are tarnish and voting is a largely forlorn ritual that gets us nowhere. Those of us who waited decades to have a voice only to have that voice erased would once again find ourselves in the political wilderness having no say in what is done to us.

In recent months we've had the great and the good piling on insult after insult then having the temerity to lecture us about civility in politics. It's interesting that AC Grayling should see fit to lecture us about irresponsible use of social media when yesterday he insults us all by attempting to link the massacre in New Zealand with Brexit. There is no low these fanatics will not stoop to.

It is at this point when I start to see uncivil conduct not only as inevitable, but also a public obligation. When there is no meaningful outlet for public dissatisfaction it will look to other means. If our parliament moves to casually discard a vote of 2016 proportions, then we have no choice but to look at direct action and protest - and with feelings running high, I won't be surprised if some take the view that peaceful demonstration is insufficient to get their attention.

For all that we hear of the need to tackle the spread of online hate, there is nothing more likely to make me hate than to see the same old faces mouthing the same old empty platitudes. Nothing sickens me more than than the endless posturing and virtue signalling. Nothing angers me more than to see these idle wastrels airing their stupidity on a daily basis. What makes my loathing go nuclear is the certain knowledge that there's next to nothing we can do to get rid of them.

I expect in this climate we will see a lot more intimidation of MPs and a lot more vandalism of constituency offices. Politics will become quite dangerous. They are going to need full time protection and hazard pay. Moreover, when they are attacked I doubt very much they shall enjoy much in the way fo public sympathy.

For as long as we have a remote ruling class and a political settlement impervious to democratic inputs, especially while local and national taxes climb upwards, there is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode. They will, of course, attempt to police debate more stringently and call for tougher action on "internet trolls" but this sort of action is really just an attempt to shut down criticism of any kind.

If we want to restore civility to politics then we have to ensure that people do have a voice and a means to use their own power to change things and address the injustices in their lives. If, though, parliament is saying our votes only matter when it suits them, they are saying our votes do not matter at all. From that point they sit with zero legitimacy with no moral authority. There is then no obligation on any of us to uphold the rule of law. If politicians want a return to civility then it is they who must respect us.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

MPs are playing with fire

The biggest problem with any extension is the total absence of trust. We know why the remainers are pushing for an extension. They are hoping this enterprise will run out of steam and by some twist of fate we end up remaining. It could very well be that looming threat that sees the ERG brigade folding at the third attempt to pass Mrs May's deal.

Frankly, I could not be more disgusted that they would put us in this position to begin with. Ok, so the deal is far from ideal, and falls short of what we would consider a good deal, but it is at least a withdrawal agreement that sets us off on the road to departure. Instead of ratifying that, the ERG fools have played double or quits, pitting their widely discredited no deal agenda against a house that has a majority resolve to avoid no deal at all costs.

Instead of gearing up to celebrate Brexit day on the 29th, I can't now say for certain that we are leaving. There is still every chance we could crash out through procrastination or we could delay in order to fanny around for a couple of extra months only to be hit with the same dilemma, but this is now entirely contingent on what the EU opinion on extending is. If we are looking at a longer period and holding European Parliament elections, Then it's anyone's guess which way this goes.

As much as remaining would be a bitter pill to swallow, the bitterest of all pills would be remaining on account of the Brexit hijackers in the Tory party. There are days when I wonder if Rees-Mogg and his ERG cronies aren't deep state plants working for the remain camp. They can wail about the remainers all they like but nobody has gone more out of their way to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.

But no matter. For them, having control of the narrative, they have their own get out of jail free card with the narrative that May's deal "is not Brexit". They will cynically claim that an exit was never on the table. The rank and file will buy it and the culprits will slink away scot free.

But then at this point, I have stopped making the distinction between remain or leave politicians. For the duration of this parliament they had one job. To deliver Brexit, preferably with a deal and preferably without trashing the economy. Collectively they'll have failed. Collectively they'll have dishonoured themselves and in so doing wrecked what is left of our so-called democracy.

From there I don't know how this goes. I don't see a mass protest on the horizon. The Waitrose Warriors are more predisposed to waving placards. That's not the leave way. We vote our way to victory. Or at least that used to be the case. Should we remain the whole deal collapses.

If we do remain I'm not going to riot. I've never seen what smashing the windows of shops is ever supposed to achieve. I'm also not a violent man. I am certainly prone to seething gammonesque rages in a shout at the telly sort of way, but the violent path leads only to a police cell. What I can see happening, though, being that it is already starting to happen, is more and more credible threats aimed at MPs and harassment in the places where they go. Some of them are going to get hurt.

In that case I'm certainly not going to condone it but shan't exactly be brimming with sympathy either. I'm far from alone in saying that Brexit has been my central political preoccupation of my lifetime, and to have it stolen in the final hours by parliament is not a recoverable position for them.

From the looks of it on Twitter, a fair few politicians seem to think that if they revoke Article 50 they can ride out the storm and then wounds will heal over time. That is not going to happen. It's not like leavers are going to start dying off in droves as they imagine. I'm only forty and god willing have at least another thirty years or so to have my revenge. This whole process has been a major recruitment drive for a generational cause which didn't dies in 1975 and it won't die in 2019.

From here there is no question of ever voting for the Tories ever again. My vote was on loan to them in 2015 to get that referendum. The only option will be to vote for whatever party is viewed as the most obnoxious by the establishment. I really don't care what labels they want to use to try to contain it, because it's not going to work this time. If the Tories deny us Brexit then we shall deny them power.

What the great and the good seem to forget is that part of the reason we are here to begin with is an overall disenfranchisement of leave voters. We've been able to choose from the full rainbow of a narrow band of social democrats. Even if they could radically change policies they wouldn't. A failure to leave the EU would be to seal the deal that we don't get a say in who governs us.

Politicians are itching to ditch Brexit. Remaining is the answer to all the technical questions which distract them from their every day trivia. It also kills stone dead any serious discussion about policy reform in a number of areas because it's all decided for them. Banking, fishing, road haulage, agriculture, space policy and much beyond is all done for them in Brussels and to a large extent they don't even have to rubber stamp it. They can enjoy all the trappings of office with none of the actual work that goes with it.

Remaining also removes the issue of democratic reform. For sure they will feel the need to tinker with the voting system and maybe junk the House of Lords, but only as a figleaf of a reform - a bone to throw after they've completely abandoned Brexit. It means their grip on power over us is not in any way threatened and their agendas remain in play even if we vote them out of office.

That may well by them some stability and a stay of execution in that we are largely powerless to do anything about them, except for the pointless general election rituals which seldom ever matter. They are, though, overlooking the fact that our patience with them is totally exhausted. One way or another there comes a reckoning. Too much is wrong in the country to simply sweep this all under the rug and pretend it never happened. They can perhaps pretend to themselves that we've moved on but this is not something we will forgive - or forget.

An extension could be the right move

From the looks of it, it looks like Mrs May is looking to run her deal past parliament for a third time. It is almost certainly going to fail again. David Lidington, Minister for the Cabinet Office, indicated in the Commons that the government would allow MPs to hold a series of votes on possible ways forward on Brexit if MPs rejected the PM's deal for a third time. That all but assures defeat.

At that point, it is possible that we would see a consensus on a softer Brexit requiring a longer extension. This seems to be in line with the thinking in Brussels. This morning Donald Tusk tweeted "During my consultations ahead of EUCO, I will appeal to the EU27 to be open to a long extension if the UK finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus around it".

The general view in Westminster and Brussels is that there is little point in extending unless there is a more concrete point to it than a few extra weeks for the UK government to fanny around. If we are going to extend then we will have to go back to Brussels with a plan and a parliamentary consensus. We no not want to be back here again with everything hanging in the balance.

Though all trust is exhausted with the public, with many now questioning whether Brexit will happen at all, and many more having succumbed to Brexit fatigue, this won't be a popular decision but it strikes me as the more sensible route.

It is clear that there is no love for the withdrawal agreement as it stands and even my support for it is only in preference to no deal at all. It would serve as a suboptimal stepping stone we would revisit down the line. If, however, there is a window to push for a more amicable departure then we should welcome an extension. If parliament gets its act together then an Efta EEA solution could be lodged as the direction of travel in which case we have the basis of a workable destination.

Though this would undoubtedly lead to euro elections and a major domestic row, we would at least have a direction and it would buy time to firm up our external policies including trade for when we do finally leave. Having a direction which then safeguards jobs is likely to further marginalise the remain camp. The scare tactics are the only tool in their box. Once these disappear, they've got nothing.

Much of this, though, depends on trusting parliament - but if the soundings on Twitter are anything to go by, I think many in parliament know perfectly well that the leave voting public will not tolerate being cheated.

Were we to set down an EEA Efta path I would be entirely happy with that - to draw a line under this whole debacle and look forward to developing a positive new relationship with the EU. Those clamouring for no deal don't seem to appreciate that no deal does not bring an end to the process, rather it shifts it to more uncertain grounds where we are still negotiating with the EU but from a far weaker position. No deal is not a destination nor is it the basis for any future relationship.

As far as I'm concerned, any departure that sees us out of the EU, retaining much of our economic strength, while also shafting the zealots of the ERG would be a wholly positive move for the UK. If then we can say the referendum has been respected and we have moved forward on the basis of a parliamentary consensus, rather than leaving by way of a political accident, we are in a stronger position to start repairing the divides in the country. The average reasonable voter will accept Efta membership. It would certainly enjoy more popularity than the EU in the longer term.

As to the chances of this happening, they are not remote. We have seen "Norway then Canada" and "Norway Plus" and "Common Market 2.0". There is a kernel of a clue and between them they at least have a vaguely plausible destination in mind which is more than the rabble do. It stands more of a chance at winning a parliamentary consensus than the year zero approach favoured by the ERG.

If even that much escapes parliament then it looks like we are drifting toward the exit without a deal. This is not something I welcome but reluctantly resign myself to. This is not a consequence of our vote to leave. This is a consequence of the institutional incompetence of our politico-media class. This is the consequence of a deeper more profound decay. If parliament can't get its act together now then it won't until they are shaken out of their complacency.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Parting ways with democracy

Aside from the obvious, there is only one take home point from tonight's vote. Parliament is once again operating in its own private bubble where nothing outside of it exists. They are not actually thinking about governing the country or the consequences of their actions. This is all about making sure the other side doesn't win.

For sure they do not want a no deal Brexit, but that is a secondary consideration. There is no strategy here. We are limping from vote to vote. It hasn't sunk in that the deal is the only deal and that nothing is served by extending. It clearly hasn't sunk in that no deal is the default and if they are not going to ratify a withdrawal agreement then they must make the call as to whether or not they are going to honour the referendum. That's really what this is all about. While they accuse Mrs May of kicking the can down the road, this is precisely what they are doing.

This is ultimately a question of resolving the age old problem of Britain's relationship with the EU. Conniving to remain not only fails to address the issue, it very probably makes it worse. There is no way we can continue our membership of the EU without a renewed mandate. We cannot be the  member that voted to leave but is still a member.

So there will have to be another in/out referendum. To make that happen they would have to revoke Article 50 to set about that long and complex task. If they lose it, we are back where we started. If they win it, with leave starting off with a bigger base before, it will be a narrow win in which case we continue our membership of the EU with only the slimmest of mandates with nothing resolved politically at home. The EU then continues to be a festering sore in British politics.

By then we will have referendum fatigue but the forces of leave with gather once again, holding politics to ransom. Eventually it once again becomes the defining issue of politics, only this time around, nobody will trust the Tories. There will be no referendums, no Article 50 talks. We will just leave. Meanwhile there is no scenario where this doesn't turn ugly.

It won't take very long before we see projectiles thrown at MPs and they won't be safe anywhere they go. They will have to double up on security and conduct their surgeries in public locations. They will be on the defensive and some will even need bodyguards. What we then get a is a remote ruling class operating from deep within the bunker, and a culture where even the mildest criticism of MPs is viewed as potential extremism. Policing of public debate will become draconian like never before.

Politics cannot function in this way. You can't tell seventeen million people that their votes didn't count and expect to get away with it. There is no way that doesn't leave a scar on democracy. You can't drag us all the way to the exit door then have parliament tell us they don't fancy it. You can't keep us locked in a project like the EU without an unarguable majority. Unless there is, nothing done at the EU level will ever be considered legitimate.

What we then get is fring populist parties sweeping the board at euro elections with minuscule turnouts, and increasingly we see the Commission ring-fencing the European parliament to prevent it having influence. Not forgetting that the EU wants to progress beyond Lisbon and cannot do so without a treaty. There is no way the UK will vote to ratify it so they will set about it by stealth. We will be back here again.

This is not to say that leaving is not without problems but at least we can then ditch the baggage of the EU issue and our full political energies are set on resolving those problems independently. Leaving at least lances the boil. At least if the mandate is carried out, the residual trust in democracy remains. That is not so easily rebuilt should we remain.

Ultimately leavers did everything we were supposed to do. We started a party, we campaigned for a referendum and went on to win it. Twenty years of dedicated engagement. To say that this counts for nothing is to tell all those people (who were more engaged than most in the issue) that their vote doesn't count and never did, and will remain voiceless, is to say that the vote is not universal. If that is what they are saying to us then they have finally parted ways with democracy for good.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Terminal velocity

In the last few weeks I could have filled up considerable space with speculation. This is tedious on two counts. Firstly it adds nothing, and secondly it presumes to tell you what you can't work out for yourself. But now all we can do is speculate.

MPs have voted by a decisive margin not to back the withdrawal agreement. The ERG looks to have voted with the SNP and the Lib Dems in blocking our scheduled exit from the EU. Being that we know there is no majority for no deal, we are looking at an extension, and though the EU would likely grant one, it rather begs the questions what for, and how long?

This we do not know. We know that the same deal cannot go before the house again and we know that the deal cannot be reopened. Some MPs will see this as a window to completely change tack - but that is not going to work. Whatever they have in mind is not going to happen without a withdrawal agreement.

Essentially this leaves us with two options. We fanny around for two months allowing the EU further time to prepare before we crash out, or the executive caves in and revokes Article 50. If there is any sign of the latter, the Tory party will be furious. There is no chance the Tories could revoke Article 50 and expect to survive. In so doing they would be handing the keys to Number Ten to one Jeremy Corbyn. Being that the Tory party always puts its own fortunes ahead of all other concerns, it rather seems that we are going to leave without a deal.

If that be the case, I won't have much sympathy. All those MPs who didn't want to leave without a deal did at one point vote to trigger Article 50 and to pass all the relevant legislation. They're the ones who joined the chorus of voices demanding there be no border in Ireland and they're the ones who wanted certain assurances from the withdrawal agreement in respect of citizens rights and workers rights. May's deal gave them that. In the end, though, it is clear they never had any intention of respecting the referendum.

But then at the same time, if we end up remaining, I have little sympathy for the leavers either. Defending May's deal is a largely futile endeavour and all too often I'm told "That's not Brexit". Except of course it's a great deal more Brexity than remaining. Leavers had a withdrawal agreement on a plate and they turned their nose up at it. As far as parliament goes - each side is playing double or quits.

At this point, either way has serious implications. Certainly there is a major constitutional crisis if we remain. Not only does it raise questions about the legitimacy of our continued membership - but also any subsequent law from the EU. At some point, a government has to go back to the people to secure a mandate for continued membership of the EU. It is not sustainable to have a situation where we have a referendum, vote to leave, then after two years of fannying around have our parliament decide it's all too much hassle.

My hunch, though, is that we will leave simply because the default option doesn't actually require a decision from anybody. Politically it is the most convenient, and they can try to offload some of the blame on to the EU for refusing to reopen talks. The remainers can blame the ERG and the leavers can blame remain MPs. No deal then becomes nobody's fault.

Between now and our departure, whenever that may be, we now face the tedious bickering over process and procedure and questions over how long Mrs May can stay in her post. Tory leadership speculation is the go-to displacement activity for our media. More than likely May will be left in post to carry the can for whatever comes next. There is no utility in replacing here because new leadership does not change the facts on the ground.

It would now seem that there is no nothing much to be done save for going through the motions. The only sure bet to take is that if there is a way to kick a can down the road then the can will be kicked. This is entirely consistent with the entire Brexit process. When the tale of Brexit is told it will be a tale of how parliament simply couldn't get its act together when it mattered. Now we confront the consequences of our long term political decline.

Remaining has its own dangers

Mrs May has lost her vote. We are back to a possible delay, leaving without a deal or not leaving at all. What grates in all of this is that the Brexiters could have made damn sure we left the EU by voting for the deal. Instead they are playing double or quits which could end up with us not leaving. That will will spell the end of politics and the end of democracy. This is more than just about the consequences of parliament ignoring a vote. It's about what the EU is and what it is likely to become in the near future.

Remaining in the EU essentially means that more powers will be handed over. Any new local or national laws will have to be submitted to Brussels for approval. If those laws are not in line with the ambitions of the commission and do not fall within the provisions set out by corporate lobbyists then the answer will be no. As pointless as local politics is already, this will spell the end of local democracy.

But then when it comes to the larger questions of foreign policy and trade policy, that too will end up entirely in the hands of Brussels. This is the real vassal state stuff. From there our politics can only degrade as they revert to the usual bread and circuses and retail politics. They will quickly draw a line under Brexit and get back to debating banning plastic straws.

At that point, you and me will have to find something else to do entirely because politics will be little more than a hobby indulgence. We can discuss things and even conclude things but if the people do not have power and cannot meaningfully influence the laws we live under then politics becomes a waste of time. The economic and social model will be set in stone and there is then no point voting for any party representing a different set of ideas. At this point, parliament is there just to gift wrap decisions made in Brussels.

Whether or not this sees a populist surge remains to be seen, but the system has ways and means to prevent it having a meaningful influence. We've already seen how that works and how upstart movements tend to self-destruct. And what of those who simply do not subscribe to the populist ideas of the hard right? We go back having no say at all.

If we remain in the EU, both Brussels and Westminster get what they want - a demoralised, disengaged population to boss around. You are free so long as you stay within the parameters of politics deemed acceptable to them, and anything else will simply be kettled up as extremism. From politics you can have anything you want so long as they agree with it.

This would suit a lot of people down to the ground. The imminent threat to the economy would be over and we could enjoy a few more years of inconsequential and safe politics, free to graze and earn a wage month to month, and things would soon settle down to the usual routine. The media could return to its comfort zone and politicians could go back to preening and virtue signalling. We go back to ignoring the structural defects in both our politics and our economy.

There's a lot to be said for this. I could live out the remainder of my life in relative comfort without a care in the world, knowing that every nanosecond invested in politics is waste of time. There are any number of ways I can occupy my time instead. I can join the masses is leaving the politics to politicians. That, I suppose, would make for a fine life for most.

There is, though, a price. Brexit has shone a torch on just how debased our politics and media has become. We have seen how the politico-media establishment is totally ignorant of EU affairs and how EU diktats become law without them ever understanding their purpose and origin. Remaining in the EU puts us permanently at their mercy. Little by little our politics is robbed of its potency, vitality and gravitas until the voice of authority has no legitimacy at all. That has deadly implications for the rule of law.

Should we remain I don't anticipate mass marches on London. There's nobody bankrolling the coaches. We'll see a few thousand disgruntled yellow vest types but the majority will simply conclude that democracy is dead. From there, with the social contract ripped up, politics becomes adversarial, not between ideas but between the people and their rulers. Disobedience because a moral obligation. As rule rule, Brits don't riot. They plot. Politicians will hae set in motion a countdown to a face off where the normal rules simply won't apply.

The only time I voted prior to 2015 was when I stood as a paper candidate in 2001. It was the very least I could do to vote for myself. Since then, though, there has been nothing to vote for. There have been no options on the ballot paper that reflect my values and ambitions. The referendum was the first vote I have cast that genuinely meant something to me. If Westminster is now saying that even that vote had no meaning, then voting itself has no meaning. Message received loud and clear. For that there are consequences they will not like. It won't be too long before they regret how they voted this evening.

Monday, 11 March 2019

For freedom.

I think Theresa May's withdrawal agreement is flawed. I am not a fan of it. But I think it is best if we ratify it. It will clear there air and start the debate afresh as to the future relationship without having to go through the disaster recover process of no deal with all the unpleasant politics that goes with it. The deal is suboptimal but the worst facets of it cease to be an issue over time. It's tolerable if you look at the bigger picture.

If, though, the deal is not ratified, and we leave without a deal, I can live with that too. I will be angry at the political failure and more so at the people who told endless lies to bring it about. There are days when I look at the Rees-Moggs and steve Bakers and wonder if I am on the wrong side. But then it only takes a glance across to the other side for a quick reminder why this has to be done.

We leavers are supposed to be the thick ones who don't understand how things work. It's true that leave MPs struggle with the basics of trade, but even now the remainers are ranting and wailing about the economic effects of Brexit. The finer principles are completely lost on them. The notion of sacrifice is met with a blank stare. These are people for whom democracy and sovereignty are just empty words.

These are the people who would use their power and influence in the courts to overturn Brexit if they could. These are the people who would do it in a heartbeat and be proud of their accomplishment. They could live with themselves if they got their way and half the country was left voiceless.

If they managed it they would tell any number of self-serving lies; that Brexit was always undeliverable - that they acted in the best interests of democracy and that the good guys have won because Brexit was really a europhobic racist endeavour. Then once they'd done it they would take steps to make sure we never get to vote again. It will be treated as a moment in history where the elites almost lost their footing and they will not be threatened in such a way again.

They've already tried their best to re-write history and have used their media influence to delegitimise the vote. If they overturn Brexit they would ramp up that narrative that the vote was stolen by Russians or some other dark forces. They will concoct virtue any story that gives them the ground cover to carry on ignoring the voices of leaver voters. That is partly why we are here to begin with.

Soon after comes the active censoring of the internet. For the moment it's just oiks like Tommy Robinson, but once they have established the means and the pretext, that will extend to independent bloggers and tweeters. We've already seen parody accounts go missing, and we have seen how one lead remainer in particular will use his money to bring the full violence of the state down on the individual because he was offended by a tweet.

I can find plenty of reasons to dislike Tory Brexiters; the arrogance, the ignorance, the jingoism but at the end of the day we're just dealing with run of the mill Tories. We've survived them before and we still have general elections at our disposal to keep them in check. What we are dealing with where remainers are concerned is a paranoid, vicious authoritarian elite - and the reason they want the EU is because it serves as a backstop for those times when they are voted out of power.

Ultimately, if not defeated, these people are not going to tolerate democracy. They talk about freedoms but only within the parameters defined by them. The basic freedom to choose who governs us is the one freedom they never speak of. Sooner after, they will attack the basic freedom to criticise and lampoon our rulers. In this they will not stand in the way of corporate attempts to take control of the internet and stamp out media competition - not least because it gives them a means of controlling the message too.

What makes these forces dangerous is that they have enlisted the support of people who see themselves as good people. And for the most part, your average well meaning remainer is decent enough - believing all the fluff about peaceful cooperation and and common values. But that same naiverty can be manipulated to do quite monstrous things in support of authoritarian agendas. They believe that silencing ugly opinions makes them go away and they'll applaud the government as it chips away at our freedom of expression.

The EU is a relatively benign entity and most of its evils are done with the best of intentions. But when I look at the British remain movement, I don't see it as EU advocacy, rather I see them as the centurions of the status quo - who are very much threatened by change and angered because they believe they have a divine right to rule by way of having more noble motivations than the ignorant plebs. That's what makes these people dangerous. The greatest evils are always committed by those for whom the ends justify the means.

In respect of that the stakes are far higher than trade or whether the shelves are stocked with seasonal fruits. This is about taking the power back so that we can preserve the most basic of freedoms to which the perks and entitlements of EU membership are a distant second priority. In these terms, the economic costs of Brexit are of far less importance. Trade can be rebuilt, as can influence, but if we do not prevail now then we face a long, slow struggle against our elites which can only get uglier - and as government become more fortified in it s position, the more dangerous it becomes. The costs are then unthinkable.

Our future prosperity is contingent on finding a political and economic resolution that works for all. Brexit is the beginning of that long and difficult process. It is no small undertaking and it comes at a cost to all of us. Some would rather not go through that process because the status quo is sufficient for them. They have the power to ensure things do not change. But if we want peace and liberty for all then change must happen. If they interfere with that process then Britain will be on a path to self-destruction. We must not let them win.

Exactly what you'd expect

The withdrawal agreement was a non-amendable instrument. Being that it is non-amendable, it has not been amended. As anticipated though, by just about everybody, Mrs May has flown out to Strasbourg at the last minute to create the pretense that there has been a breakthrough - when what we actually have is "additional reassurances" which do not really amount to much. We are all now to pretend that black is white.

But then everybody was anticipating this ploy and nobody is buying it. The PM even knew nobody would buy it. But all the same, this is politics and she has to go through the motions. So at some point, perhaps this week, perhaps not, MPs will have to vote and decide whether it is going to be this deal, no deal or very possibly no Brexit.

At this point it is totally futile trying to persuade anybody that this deal is the best way forward. Brexiters hate it and the ERG won't vote for any deal. There is no debate to be had. More to the point, such a debate is a waste of time since it does not impact on the decision makers who are living in their own alternate realities and playing their own little games. For as long as each extreme believes they have a chance at getting what they want, they will push it all the way to the wire just the same as the PM.

So while we notionally have an event to churn over, the situation is pretty much as it has been for some time and any analysis will add nothing new. We are now only seventeen days to Brexit day and we still have no idea which way this goes. We can perhaps kick the can down the road for a while longer but the message from Brussels is clear - this is the deal - take it or leave it. It is up to the UK to decide what it is we are doing.

Friday, 8 March 2019

Politics without honour

I'm a massive Trek head. I was raised on it. In the Starfleet world the general rule is that whatever it is you're doing, if you have to take moral shortcuts to do it, it isn't worth doing. That's really what the show is all about - the crew finding their way out of tight spots without trampling on their own system of values. It's always a quest to do the right and honourable thing.

This perhaps explains my politics and attitudes to politicians better than anything else. It's why I don't flinch from pointing out the lies and hypocrisy on my own side. This is what has won me the respect of a great many remainers. This is why I find the games politicians play with semantics so utterly repellent. This is why I have zero tolerance for the sort of weaponised offence taking we see.

I'm often told that I might know my stuff but I don't understand politics. I don't agree. I think I get it better than anyone. Frontline politics is, and probably always has been, doing whatever it takes to achieve the immediate objective. That's why they lie, that's why they create wholly fictitious narratives to the point of creating their own parallel universe. Black is white if the objective demands it.

But this is politics without honour. Especially now. Now politics has become a war of attrition - where it's less about objectives as it is knocking out the opponent by any means necessary. Takedown culture. That's why it's turning nasty.

This is also why the details cease to matter. Details are truths, and truths are inconvenient to narratives. And politics is all about narratives. This is why the official record is so very often far out of kilter with what is actually happening. When truth becomes useless, investing time in understanding the facts is a redundant pursuit. Whether or not you are seen to "understand politics" is contingent on one's willingness to participate in their parlour games. I won't.

I am of the belief, perhaps naively, that politics does not have to be like this. I don't expect it to be perfect, but I think it can be and should be better than it is. What's lacking in our politics is a sense of self-awareness. This is very probably the worst facet of the Westminster bubble. For sure, there are a few who act with honour and integrity - but that doesn't seem to get them anywhere. In a system like Westminster there is too much temptation to act without honour.

It doesn't help that our media is similarly twisted. If there is any point to having media, especially a state broadcaster, then it is to shine a light of truth on their sordid little games - to explain without prejudice what is going on and to cut through the bogus narratives. This it no longer does. They are complicit. Each have their own agendas. It's worse now than ever. Journalism has become activism or simply agitation for its own sake. All it does is add to the noise.

This explains, perhaps better than anything, the divisions in the country. Our normal is not their normal. Looking at it from the outside, it is hard to see anything other than a swamp of deceit. When MPs wail about the lack of civility, it is hard to see what is worthy of civility. There is no respect because there is nothing respectable about it. They do not listen; they transmit. They do not ask, they tell. No lie is too big and any lie will do.

For as long as politics is conducted through the prism of that media, centered in Westminster, the gulf between the people and politicians can only grow wider. We have run out of patience for their connivances and chicanery. This is why Brexit is so pivotal. Parliament is now the only thing standing in our way. If they prove once and for all that our votes can no longer change things then a whole new chapter of politics opens up. An ugly one.

We have a parliament who decided to turn this decision over to the people. Powerful forces took every possible action to stop that decision from being carried out. But parliament once again voted to abide by that decision. Now we arrive at that final test. Does parliament respect the verdict of the people? Are we a people with agency who took a constitutional decision or are we viewed by them as hapless dupes who need protecting from our folly? If it's the latter then we no longer have a parliament. We have a partially elected aristocracy. That will say more about who and what we have become than any other test.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

The rush for censorship is the swansong of the establishment

I don't knowingly follow any journalists on Twitter unless they follow me. Generally they are not useful. What they offer is speculation and gossip. The speculation is generally based on a misunderstanding of the issues while the gossip tends to be Westminster-centric noise or based on the alleged comments of an "EU diplomat".

This is stuff is rather less news as it is a pollutant. Most of what we need to know can either be found in official EU press releases or from the horse's mouth on Twitter. They are not telling us anything we don't know and seldom tell us what we need to know, not least because their priorities are in a world of their own. There is a good reason why people now look elsewhere for news and analysis. They've also excluded themselves by hiding behind paywalls.

Consequently the public debate is increasingly bypassing the media whose narratives we no longer have to buy into. They no longer control the message. This has the establishment in a blind panic. This is what's behind the EU's new found concern about "fake news". As tweeter Capel Lofft puts it
Liberal centrists/establishment politicians can find only one explanation for Everything Kicking Off that they can psychologically cope with: 'fake news', social media bots and the 'abuse' of freedom of speech. Crack down on that = 'Bang! And the populism is gone!'
There are 2 theories for why this is: 1) It's a displacement activity - they don't really believe it, but hope it will provide them with something to say until 'normality' returns. 2) They *do* really believe it. Not sure which is more worrying, that they really don't see that there might be a few other issues, like, oooh, I don't know, the systematic rigging of the economic system to benefit wealthy corporations and corrupt hacks, the systematic spitting in the face of the culture & social mores of the majority of ordinary people. Stuff like that.
Or...that they do, but don't care, and think that if they batten down the hatches, all of these icky populists (that is, anyone who doesn't accept the tiny framework within liberals want politics to be constrained) will just magically disappear. Stupid or deluded? Bit of both?
Sadly, in the meantime, legitimate freedom of speech could be seriously imperilled, with anything deemed 'populist' (i.e. shit Macron doesn't like) banned. Sure, there's a lot of weird conspiracist quackery out there, but don't conflate that with legitimate non-liberal opinion.
But that is exactly what they will do. They will attack from all angles. There will be larger regulatory initiatives to "take back control" of the debate, compelling social media platforms to strangle the life out of debate. There will then be a raft of criminal measures they can liberally enforce whenever an MP feels insulted. This, as ever, is coupled with demands for "civility" in politics.

Civility, though, is just code for uncritical. Any criticism at all will be deemed as crossing the line. Ordinary people can expect to have the plod hammering on their door at 6am on account of a tweet. A few exemplary cases will make the plebs think twice before mouthing off. This is also why we will see more abuse of the libel system by rich political figures.

This is essentially why I've been sued by AC Grayling. He said so himself. "Prof Grayling had felt the tweet was so insulting 'he could not simply ignore it'. He explained after the court hearing that his case was partly driven by 'a wish to put a marker down that social media should not be used in this incredibly irresponsible way'."

This actually a grotesque piece of fakery on his part. When viewed in the original context, no reasonable person would see it as a serious allegation (which it wasn't) nor would it otherwise have been seen by many people, much less harmed his reputation. As it happens there was a recent case where an ex-Ukip chairman was sued for making a serious allegation of paedophilia, in the from of a tweet which was then retweeted by one Tommy Robinson (NHRN). There, there is potential for harm. Context, though, has been disregarded in my case.

What this is really about, is making us plebs think twice about mocking the great and the good. Grayling's submission to the courts was a full CV to demonstrate his stature as an upstanding citizen - leaden with prestige, and no doubt he impressed upon the judge just how hurty my tweet was.

Grayling would have known full well that he won't see a penny from me, but what his £26k in legal costs has bought him is an article in The Times and the Daily Mail. As it happens, it didn't do my hits any harm either. But then this is not the first time I've been at the centre of a Twitter storm. I think this is the fourth of fifth time. There is a two day spike in hits and then it all goes back to normal. In a week nobody will remember and and the mob will lose interest. Hence I'm not losing any sleep over it. 

The precedent set here though, is that if you have the money you can hoodwink the legal system to leverage the power of the Twitter mob against an individual. That's why the culture wars are only going to get worse. Like Grayling, Countdown presenter, Rachel Riley, has taken to Twitter to dish it out and is now suing half a dozen people. We will see more of this. It can only become more "uncivil" when the rich and powerful go to war against ordinary people. 

Course, being that I've made my fair share of enemies over the last few years, I've had a procession of gloaters descend on my Twitter notifications and in the comments, all telling me I deserved it and it's my fault for not filing a defence. There was, though, a precedent that predefines harm, so even though there was zero harm done to Grayling's professional reputation, so I'd have been wasting my money. 

It's also the case that libel cases are a rich man's game. Lawyers fees are expensive and then there's the travel and the cost in time. The whole point of Grayling's vendetta was to cause me to worry and spend money I don't have. I wasn't going to give the prick the satisfaction. He'll just have to settle for making an example of me. I won't pay the damages but people will believe I did. They won't look at the context. They will simply believe the Daily Mail's version of events - which is not without irony.

The establishment is not happy about Brexit. They really do not like it that ordinary people have a voice. They don't like it that they do not control the narrative and people look elsewhere for information. They're not going to let go without a fight and they will bring the full weight of the state down on anyone they feel threatened by. 

There was a time when I thought the splash headline of "Enemies of the people" was a bit much. But when you watch what these people do and how they behave, they very much are. If it isn't weaponsied offence taking and spurious court cases, they're grovelling to Brussels to sabotage Brexit. These people have power and they won't stand for it being usurped by democracy. 

There is, though, a flaw in the plan. As far as the law goes, and as far as the politico-media nexus goes, this is all above board. We plebs should not step out of line and if we do then we have it coming. But this assumes that people cannot see for themselves the game in play. You don't have to be a supporter of Tommy Robinson to see the see the way the media operates and the double standards in play. And anyone who looks at the primary evidence objectively will see it. 

The same applies with this case. Anybody who looks at it objectively will see that this fits the pattern of Grayling's unhinged vindictive crusade against Brexit which has done more to damage his public reputation than I ever could. Before Brexit he was a relative unknown. Now he is known as an utter fruitcake, a quisling, and a crank.

Ultimately the establishment has lived in its own cosy disconnected little bubble where their ideas go unchallenged and its denizens have been insulated from criticism and mockery. Now that the plebs are finding their voice they will do anything to put the genie back in the bottle. It's telling that we are 22 days from Brexit day and we still do not know for a fact that the vote will be respected. If, though, they think reversing Brexit will put dissent back in its box and we return to the cosy consensus of 2015, they are quite wrong. They have declared war on us. They started it, but we'll finish it. 

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Brexit is not enough

Every now and then we see television pictures of massive crowds marching on their governments. The sort of crowd sizes we just don't see in the UK. We've seen some sizable demos but nothing like a mass march. Generally the point of these mass marches is to bring down corrupt governments. They are revolutions - a show of force to remind the powers that be that there are more of us than there are of them.

Thankfully, we don't have to do that. We have general elections which on occasion are minor revolutions. You could say Blair's victory in 1997 was something of a revolution. Certainly in terms of how it shaped the governance of the UK, it really was. But ever since then, voting has become increasingly meaningless. General elections have been robbed of their revolutionary potential because all we have left are two burnt out husks for parties and the rotten excretions calling themselves The Independent Group. We may yet find ourselves taking to the streets.

Brexit has brought some remedy to this in that there is at least a vague distinction between Labour and the Tories. The widest gap there has been for two decades. Still, though, we are looking at two Westminster centric parties both competing to rule rather than govern - with the Tories being only marginally less dreadful than Labour. In the face of a Corbyn rabble, no matter how badly the Tories perform, we might well be lumbered with them for a while to come.

Whoever wins at the next election, though, Westminster will still be in charge. Our politics will still be conducted through the prism of the London politico-media cesspit. That general election, therefore, will have no revolutionary potential. At best it's a change of management.

This, as we know, is unsustainable. Removing ourselves from the odious empire, itself a democracy inhibitor, was simply not enough. Being run remotely by London morons is no improvement on being run by Brussels lobbyists. In a lot of ways I can hardly blame the Scots for wanting to dissociate from the UK. They prefer subordination to Brussels over London incompetence.

They could very easily go their separate ways, rejoining the EU or perhaps Efta, and at this point you could understand if they did. What the Scots fail to appreciate, however, is that much of the country feels exactly the same way they do about the Westminster shambles. I just don't think grovelling back to Brussels is anything close to a solution for either.

Here is where we need to reframe the debate about sovereignty. By leaving the EU we are notionally reclaiming our national sovereignty but that has never been the precise problem. Parliament is now claiming that sovereignty for its own purposes, and if parliament is sovereign then we are not. That is the essential problem with representative democracy. It isn't democracy. We are allowed to vote for our London dictators from a very limited stock of identikit dross to whom we are subordinate. Between elections they can do pretty much whatever they like to us and we cannot stop them. That's why they ratified the Lisbon Treaty.

If there is any destination to the Brexit process that makes this worthwhile it is the constitutional reform necessary to ensure that they never get to do this to us again; to recognise that we the people are sovereign and anything London wants to do to us must be done with our direct consent. Anything that does not warrant a national consultation is not the business of London at all.

Whatever political thinkers in the Westminster bubble dream up, they are never going to arrive at a solution when any real solution involves Westminster giving up control. Our politicians are control freaks. Whatever crosses their path they tax, subsidise or ban. This is the fullest extent of their toolset. None of these crude instruments are capable of resolving the intractable divide in the country.

The answer, of course, is not to try fixing it. It is not fixable. There is no way to marry up the values of a metropolitan global city like London with the regions. Similarly solutions devised for Scotland have little relevance to the Devon/Cornwall peninsula. These are fundamentally different places with their own distinct needs where really only they can decide what is best for them.

Very often we talk of London as though it were another country entirely. That's largely because, in effect, it is. It's an independent global city state that just happens to tell us what to do when it has no more right to tell us how to live than Brussels does. For as long as our electoral process only decides who rules us from London then we cannot say we have meaningfully resolved anything.

In respect of that, the next stage in the struggle for democracy after Brexit looks and sounds pretty much the same as the campaign to leave the EU. We need to "take back control" and restore our individual sovereignty, taking powers back from the faceless bureaucrats of Whitehall. If we want regime change then we are going to have to go further than simply leaving the European Union.