Thursday, 30 May 2019

Just deserts for parliament

One thing we Brexiters are good at is whingeing. We can whinge about the EU til the cows come home and we can whinge about withdrawal agreements and we can whinge about politicians and whinge about each other. Collectively, we don't do much else.

Whingeing about the EU is the easy bit. We're all expert at it and on a long enough timeline, in a a one to one debate, most of us can make a convincing argument for leaving. Or at least that the EU is a bad thing. What we have never done collectively is examined what comes next. What the objectives are, what the obstacles are and whether we are any better off for doing it. We always thought whingeing was sufficient. For the most part, it evidently is.

Now that we are leaving, we somehow have to reconcile the fact that the more you travel in the direction of sovereignty the more you sacrifice in trade. Worse still, there doesn't appear to be an optimal balance in that the EU can and does exert considerable influence. As the regional trade and political superpower it can strong arm its neighbours into accepting their way of doing things if they want to do business with the EU. And being that most trade is done locally, they don't have much of a say in the matter.

At some point after leaving the EU there will be a formal trade relationship with the EU where the UK ends up following everything from food safety rules through to data protection laws. We won't be doing much services trade otherwise. This is precisely where Brexiters do not want to be. Pretty much all activity ever since the referendum by Brexiters has gone into pretending these facts of life simply don't exist and that there is some magical scenario where the UK gets to have its cake and eat it.

Here we see just how creative they can be. From MaxFac through to "regulatory alignment" through to creative readings of WTO articles where magically the EU is somehow compelled to break all of its own rules for the sole benefit of the UK. You can try telling them otherwise but it's now an article of faith. A belief system. Course we know the arguments don't stand up (and so do they) so they then shift the debate back to the comfortable ground of "democracy".

This is pretty much their only strong hand. We did have a vote, it wasn't tampered with and it was comfortably in favour of leaving - so leave we must. That, though, does not give them the exclusive right to decide how or when we leave. Since the the ERG brigade how now shifted the goalposts so that only no deal can ever be considered the One True Brexit, despite many of them having campaigned on a Norway/Switzerland/Canada ticket, they seems surprised that they face a wall of opposition.

Essentially they have turned a fairly pedestrian proposition into a hard right radical economic experiment for which they would never win a mandate for in a general election. You might even call it an attempted coup. They're using the 2016 referendum mandate as a smokescreen for an agenda that has no mandate and if parliament serves any purpose at all then it is to defend our country against that kind of attack.

To that extent, it's partly a good thing that we have an immovable establishment. It is right that it does not simply roll over to any passing demagogue. Any movement for change must win through force of argument. Which it has not yet done. The problem, though, is an establishment that is no longer acting in good faith as a defender. Rather it simply refuses to acknowledge any democratic impetus and is now acting in bad faith.

They are right to resist the ERG to the last breath, but at no point have they constructively engaged in the exit process to ensure that we do leave with a deal. This is a parliament determined not to deliver on the people's verdict. In so doing they have further emboldened the no deal radicals to the point where many believe that no deal is the only way we will ever get to leave and there is no basis on which to trust parliament - and that much they are very probably right about.

So it's parliament itself that created this constitutional emergency. If it will not vote to pass a withdrawal agreement, it is acting in direct defiance of the public will. That then makes this a constitutional standoff where all other issues such as trade become secondary.

Nobody is asking them to like the withdrawal agreement. Remainers are never going to like an instrument that takes us out of the EU. But that decision was made for them when they voted to hold a referendum. And whether or not Brexiters like the deal is neither here nor there. They actively resisted having a plan of their own, they failed to seriously engage in the process and now what they get is what they are given.

Irrespective of the noise of the european elections and the Tory leadership contest, it is for parliament to honour its democratic obligations and pass the deal otherwise it is they who hand the ERG everything they want on a plate. It may or may not be the right path for the UK to follow, but it is the inevitable consequence of the decision made in 2016. If parliament is not willing to uphold its obligations then no deal (and the mess that goes with it) is pretty much what the nation deserves.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Nothing much to talk about

Presently the Conservative Party is an empty husk awaiting leadership. That was true the moment David Cameron left office. Theresa May was a caretaker with the sole mission of delivering Brexit. This she could not do and now the Tories are left to confront the double barrelled problem of having not delivered Brexit and having a party devoid of substance. It is now vulnerable to capture in much the same way Labour was.

The problem, though, is that unless either party has a united and coherent position on Brexit, and what comes after, there is no hope of resurgence for either. The only utility in voting Tory is to keep Corbyn out which seems redundant should we go down the path of no deal. There is not much more damage he could do and with neither side intellectually equipped to handle the fallout of a no deal Brexit, it scarcely matters who wins the next general election.

But then for me, the fortunes of the Tory party in the future are of little concern. I see only one pressing political priority and that is to avoid a no deal Brexit. That is the only measure by which I will be assessing candidates. Not that it even matters. The choice is not mine to make.

Of course we will hear the usual array of slogans about uniting the country but that is no so easily done. Brexit is a fault line of its own before we even begin to address the clash of values between London and the regions. I wonder if the UK can ever be a truly cohesive country ever again.

As it happens I don't think we will see a new normal until the culture war has a decisive winner. That will rage on beyond Brexit until a new political consensus wins out. If the complete no show for Change UK is anything to go by then the paternalistic "progressives" are very much out on their own and on a loser. Brexit seems to have purged the values free centrist left before we've even left. It no longer has a powerbase. It never did belong in a left wing party.

Meanwhile, staying the course as a dedicated remain party appears to have paid off for the Lib Dems, or rather they have benefited from Labour's dithering ambiguity. That will eat into Labour's support as much as Ukip 2.0 will eat into the Tories. We may yet be in for another hung parliament of unknown composition.

Either way it's not going to matter since no party in politics right now has a coherent idea of what it wants. For sure Ukip 2.0 wants a Brexit event to happen, but  has no agenda to shape Britain beyond that. Similarly the Lib Dems want to stop Brexit and that alone is enough. It therefore falls to the legacy parties to present an agenda to break Britain out of its political stagnation.

This we will not get. Labour has a few dregs of ideas, but nothing that would directly address any of the problems confronted by everyday people. Renationalising things is largely an ideological hobby horse and they haven't stopped to ask if it brings any remedy to any known problems.

As for the Tories, most of the leadership contenders think there needs to be a conservative renewal but the word has become so meaningless and conservative values so diluted even I wouldn't recognise a true conservative agenda and I'm not even sure I would welcome it anymore. Simplistic mantras about small government and low tax overlook the fact that modern government is complex and necessarily large and is going to cost a lot of money to run. Even at its most efficient it's going to be an expensive affair.

There are then the Priti Patels and Steve Bakers of this world who are ever keen to resurrect Thatcherism, unleashing market forces on the country like never before, in direct contravention of all the lessons learned from Brexit in respect of globalisation, pace of change and identity. Again we are dealing with ideologues who simply believe a dose of their brand of medicine is all that's needed and the rest will sort itself out.

It's actually surprising politics is so wide of the mark when it comes to providing answers. It's not rocket science. Basic needs don't change. People want secure jobs, affordable housing, shorter commutes, better transport and less intrusive government. They want the bins emptied once a week, they want police to investigate crime and they want a doctors appointment outside of work hours within three days of deciding they need one.

For this there isn't really a national solution. It's only going to happen through responsive local government and if real power is in the hands of the people. For as long as we have politics attempting to impose ideological programmes from the centre we will forever be dedicating resources to mopping up the consequences rather than getting on with the real business of government. We won't get anything sensible from Westminster until Westminster realises it is a large part of the problem.

This is why I'm jaded with politics. Forever people are looking to London politics to serve up a saviour who will sort it all out - a messiah who can put things back on track. The politicians know full well how it works so we get demagogues of all stripes singing their populist songs to their respective bases. Some more successful than others. "Give me the power and I will fix it to your liking" - the psiren call of the ages.

Increasingly I am of the view that there are no real solutions the the big questions. There isn't really a way to marry up the culture clash between London and the regions and there is no national blueprint for greatness. The best we can ever hope for is to empower people to shape their own regions so that they are not culturally subordinate to the perversions of Westminster. Big ticket expensive agendas won't fix Britain, but giving people the powers locally to decide their own fate might.

Increasingly I find that Westminster politics has nothing to say to me. The limited pool of ideas falls out of clapped out think tanks, largely home to suburban dwelling politicos with no connection to the outside world, where ideas are the product of a singular mentality of ruling from London. London media has nothing to say to me and I could not be less interested in the scribblings of the legacy media. Their idea of news is not my idea of news.

Ultimately though, Westminster is never going to realise that Westminster is the problem. It is too self-absorbed. It's going to take the wider public to realise it for themselves and demand power for themselves. I live in hope that moment soon approaches. Eventually the penny must drop that we cannot afford to be the plaything of London politicians and we will be waiting a lifetime for them to get their act together.

Until then, there is very little in politics to take remotely seriously. We may get a Tory leader with the maturity and wisdom to resist the pressure to leave the EU without a deal, but that is still contingent on an immovable parliament ratifying a withdrawal agreement, and its refusal to do so could park us in limbo until we bite the bullet. Beyond that it doesn't matter who leads any of these empty husks. Perhaps the system has to fail hard before people realise that we can no longer afford the Westminster circus. Until the fever breaks, there just isn't much more to talk about.

Diminishing hopes

Owing to Theresa May's extension of Brexit negotiations the UK has just undergone fresh elections to the European parliament. Unsurprisingly the clear winner in terms of seats gained was the Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage. Though I am very much in favour of leaving the EU I didn't vote for that party.

I have long held the view that the European Parliament was a fake parliament where members have no meaningful powers and it serves largely as a veneer of democracy thus voting in European elections would lend legitimacy to a fraud. But then I am no fan of Nigel Farage either.

There are two ways to leave the EU. Either we have a negotiated departure or we leave without a deal. The latter involves unplugging from a complex system of governance established over forty years and to do so would have a volatile fallout. No responsible government should even consider it. That, though, is precisely what Farage is campaigning for.

Though I voted to leave the European Union I did not vote for the termination of all formal relations with the EU and very much wish to maintain amicable relations and a comprehensive trade relationship. The Brexit Party, however, takes the view that with so much parliamentary resistance to leaving the EU, the only way to leave is to leave without a deal.

They may well be right in the end, with parliament having refused three times to ratify a withdrawal agreement, but leaving without a deal really is a last resort and every diplomatic effort must be made to avoid such a calamity if possible. But then for Farage and co this is no longer about Brexit or securing a successful outcome to these events. This is now a full blown culture war where outcomes no longer matter. All that matters is that the other side loses. A zero sum game.

I have to admit that I would take some momentary enjoyment seeing the British establishment facing up to its own worst nightmare, but that kind of nihilism is shortsighted. The reality of the situation is that the UK does about half of its trade with the EU and very soon after leaving without a deal, it will become apparent that the contingency measures in place in no way replace a formal trade treaty, Soon we would be grovelling back to Brussels whereupon they will demand much of what they have already demanded in Article 50 talks.

Being that there is no combination of free trade deals with the rest of the world that could possibly replace or even mitigate the loss of the European single market, Britain's choices would be few and though leaving without a deal on paper means greater sovereignty, that's no use if your leverage is significantly depleted. The Brexiters would have their day of celebration but it would soon be followed by a major humiliation.

There is one other thing that bothers me. Were we to take such a bold move, assuming it were a viable prospect, you would need a ruthlessly competent government with an idea of what it wants and a realistic plan to accomplish it. This we do not have. We have a threadbare government with no coherent agenda, massively split with no moral authority and no mandate to speak of. We would be facing a moment of national crisis with nobody at the wheel.

Soon after we would then be looking at a general election, and as soon as the job losses start to mount we would then be looking at a Corbyn led government. Here we would be no better off because the Labour party is similarly divided, and in a similar state of intellectual meltdown over Brexit. To even begin to put the pieces back together you need to have a working idea of what is broken and on recent performance, there is nothing to suggest that Labour MPs have grasped the issues any better than their Conservative counterparts.

Ultimately the UK has never faced a crisis quite like this. Certainly not in peacetime. Much of the day to day running of the country seems to happen without much in the way of political interference, but when you rip away the regulatory and legal foundation, it all starts falling to pieces in ways that are impossible to anticipate - which would soon overwhelm the government's capacity to respond whoever was in charge.

Pretty soon much of the apparatus of government would be turned over to Whitehall civil servants who would be forced to take whatever action was necessary just to keep things working, with very little political oversight. We'd have gone from being run by unelected officials in Brussels to unelected officials in London, which is not a net gain in the democracy stakes and there is no reason to believe London would make a better job of it than Brussels.

It very well could be that the UK enters a near permanent state of administrative and political dysfunction that it never fully recovers from, and politicians would descend into displacement activity, lavishing their energies on any passing triviality rather than addressing the more urgent concerns. This is how a once great nation enters a cycle of decline. Arguably it has already begun.

The issue here is that our political apparatus simply isn't equipped for a change of this magnitude. There needs to be fundamental reforms in the structure of government, locally and nationally and we are not going to get anywhere near those radical changes until Westminster can comes to terms with the fact that Westminster and its political culture is very much central to the problem. This is will not do. Any suggestion of reform tends to produced hackneyed ideas lacking imagination and radicalism.

Should we leave without a deal the UK is looking at decades of political dysfunction, with all the economic harm that goes with it. The lack of political coherence may even spawn a popular movement to rejoin the EU whereupon we would be a far less powerful member and more subject to the diktats of Brussels than ever. The great Brexit revolution would then be erased from memory.

As it happens, I think we probably will leave without a deal in that politicians are unable to break from their entrenched positions. Those MPs who do not want to leave will never vote for a withdrawal agreement, nor will those MPs who favoured a more extreme departure. Yet again we will drift toward the deadline and parliament will fail to ratify the withdrawal treaty and then the executive is faced with a binary choice of leaving without a deal or cancelling Brexit entirely. Both sides are playing double or quits so this will go right to the wire.

Which way this goes is now entirely contingent on who replaces Theresa May which may well be influenced by Farage's victory at the euro-elections. Parliament can do little to stop a Tory prime minister determined to leave without a deal and the EU may very well be glad to see the back of us. Only time will tell. Between now and then the UK hangs in a state of Brexit limbo, hemorrhaging political authority and credibility.

My hope is that sanity will prevail and a withdrawal agreement is secured but that now seems too much to hope for. Only a freak of circumstances that sees us remaining in the EU seems likely to stop a no deal outcome. I do not discount the possibility but that has political risks of its own that could see a populist party replacing the Conservative Party where we would soon find ourselves back here again. One way or another, Brexit fever will have to burn itself about before we can see what the new normal looks like.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Back to business

There seems to be some dispute over who "won" the euro-elections. You can cut the results any which way so they say what you want them to say. The only statistic that matters is the pitifully low turnout. An election and a parliament with zero legitimacy.

We could go into some depths trying to extrapolate some kind of trend but at the end of the day it's all guesswork. This is why we have referendums to settle this kind of thing and we've already had one with twice the turnout. All we can say for sure is about half the country still wants to leave the EU and the other half wants to remain.

What that tells you is that neither side has a viable or sustainable proposition for the UK to build on. Remaining is an unsatisfactory answer with political consequences of its own and a no deal Brexit is far from the end of the process where in all likelihood we end up grovelling to Brussels from a far weaker position to end up with a deal equal or worse than the one presently on the table.

Were it that we had a functioning parliament there would be a realisation of this and we would see a renewed push for a negotiated outcome. But then the politicians won't have learned anything at all and will construct their own tribal narratives based on the results and the arithmetic won't substantially change.

Much is now going to depend on who the Tories appoint as their next leader, and whether there is a final push at securing an agreement. I won't waste your time with my speculation save to say the prognosis is not good. The offerings thus far give us little hope. It's a choice between the deluded, the mendacious, the profoundly ignorant and the irrelevant. And it's not even our choice to make. We are spectators.

Until such a time as we do have a new PM, we are once again marking time with no new developments to reflect on and as each day passes the euro-elections will fade in significance (for all that they were significant to begin with). The Farage party will crow and the media will trot out all of the tiresome recycled narratives but Farage has no more power over the events than he did yesterday. 

If the euro-elections have served any function at all then it is to prick the egos of the Change UK brigade and remind parliament that leave sentiment has not gone anywhere but there still remains for parliament all of the dilemmas they've been ducking for months. 

Insofar as what can be done, I'm using my own limited influence to continually restate that no deal is a path to nowhere and can lead only to a major national humiliation when the flimsy free trade theories of the Brexiters fall apart. A new Tory leader may have a walkout in mind but none of us have to take it lying down. 

The conventional wisdom is that unless the Tories reform as a hard Brexit party they face electoral oblivion, but in the real world, with the UK facing standard third country controls, new impediments to trade and exclusion from a number of services market, the Tories will have to carry the can for a major jobs blow that cannot be swept under the carpet. A negotiated exit may infuriate the Tory grassroots, but it may be the only thing that stands between them and extinction. No floating voter will ever forgive the Tories for a total wipeout Brexit. Perhaps that thought might focus the minds of moderate backbenchers.

Ultimately parliament is where the real business happens now. Farage and his entourage of replacement lackeys are little more than noisemakers. They can be safely ignored. Their polling wasn't an advance on the last go around and their impact in a general election, after a bout of infighting no doubt, will be similarly unimpressive. They have shown us that for them this is not about a viable or successful Brexit outcome. This is now a puerile culture war against the likes of Soubry and Umunna, and winning in polls is more important than actually achieving anything. It should be treated as the empty sideshow it is.

Whether or not the withdrawal process gets a new lease of life is the only question that should now concern us. If it can't be the withdrawal agreement on the table then something has to give and we should look to a far longer extension until the UK has a consensus on how to proceed. Avoiding a no deal Brexit is the paramount concern. Nothing good can come from it. 

Friday, 24 May 2019

Another one bites the dust

May came to power as the least worst option. The one least tainted by the referendum. She came to the job with the utmost sincerity in wishing to deliver Brexit. She faced down the Lords and rammed through the necessary legislation and got the ball rolling.

Sadly though, she never understood what she was dealing with and chose her advisors poorly. She struggled to comprehend the sequencing or the structure of the talks and repeatedly failed to read the landscape. She sought to skirt around the process with ill thought out alternatives, facing repeated rebuffs from Brussels.

By the time she got to grips with the realities of our predicament, the EU was calling all of the shots. It was then for May to reconcile the demands of Brexiteers with the stark and uncomfortable truths of leaving the EU.

Eventually she came to understand that this was not a negotiation, rather she was confronted with an array of difficult choices with outcomes that would satisfy nobody. She came to terms with it and made her best guess. The party, though, still harboured a number of delusions, believing the EU could or ever would bend to the high fantasy ambitions of the Tory right.

Though she made many avoidable errors, many of them were dictated by the wider political landscape where she could have made no other choice thus further limiting subsequent choices.

She carried out her duty with stamina and determination but in the end could not bring the deal across the line. This is ultimately the fault of parliament which has been vocal about what it doesn't want but less forthcoming in what it does want. She was herding cats the whole time with impossible demands placed upon her. There is no way her premiership would not end in failure.

Though many of her errors were of her own making I have no time for the cruel and spiteful things said of her by Brexiteers. Nobody has been more determined to deliver Brexit. Her deal, though unliked, is simply what a technical treaty looks like in dealing with 45 years of legacy membership issues. It was never going to be pretty and the balance of power was always going to favour the regional trade superpower.

Leavers accepted this when they voted to leave. Scapegoating May because they don't like the taste of the soup they ordered is a little rich. This is a PM who worked to the best of her limited abilities in totally unfavourable circumstances at a time when parliament and politics as a whole has never been more atomised.

Though I am saddened by her departure, not least because the alternatives are worse, it is right that she leaves now. She has run out of road and now we must follow another path whatever that may be. They say, unfairly in my view, that she will go down as the worst prime minister ever. All I can say is you ain't seen nothing yet.

Say what you will about Theresa May but she did at least attempt to balance the equation. Likely her successor will be a bombastic fantasist with a slender grasp of reality and zero command of the issues. With bluster and beligerence we will see our relations with the EU slide into oblivion. History will then look more kindly on Theresa May. We needed a dull technocrat like her to get this part over with. We just needed one who was better at it. So with that, though she was ultimately a failure, I thank the lady for her dedicated public service. She deserves our respect.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Election day.

I might have liked to have sent a message in these elections confirming my desire to leave the EU but the Brexit Party set itself up as the party of no deal thus stands atop a mountain of lies and collective self-delusion. A mass retreat from the real world. Not in my name.

To acknowledge the risks of no deal and argue that the political landscape demands more radical action (and having an idea what to do after) might be persuasive but these people are pushing the idea that Brexit can be fudged without grave consequences. That makes them irresponsible liars and propagandists waging a zero sum game culture war which everybody loses. They are no longer interested in the outcomes. They are only interested in winning for its own sake even if that leaves Britain weaker and poorer.

Being that the Brexit blob never defined a viable outcome they will always cry betrayal which tells you that this is a demagogue's crusade interested only in massaging grievance while masquerading as democrats.

Theirs is the belief that leaving the EU leaves us free to act unilaterally without consequence; The notion that what we do is in isolation from world politics and that we have the might to withstand global forces even superpowers struggle to bring to heel. A fantastical notion of glorious sovereignty where the world will look the other way as we throw international conventions into the bin, expecting that we retain the same levels of carefully nurtured soft power. All you have to do is believe hard enough.

This delusion is no basis for a decision of this magnitude with repercussions lasting through decades. If this pig headed anti-knowledge obstinacy is the thing that ultimately costs us Brexit itself, there will be none more deserving of defeat. It won't be the forces of remain that defeats Brexit. Rather it will be our political system as a whole that probed the inconsistencies and found no satisfactory answers. Much though I would like to leave the EU, it would be a rare example of the system working if no deal is defeated. If the price of that is no Brexit at all then it will be the likes of Farage and Mogg who take the greater share of the blame than May or even the useless remainer bunch.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

The no-deal grand delusion

There was a time when I would entertain a no deal Brexit as a last resort. Just recently though, I have taken the view that every effort must be made to avoid it even if that means further delay or even a confirmatory vote.

The arguments for trading on WTO terms have never been convincing. The Tory right and the Brexit blob have popularised some very deliberate distortions to cloud the debate and now the generally understood scenario is a work of political fiction.

We can debate til the cows come home what the initial impacts would be and while there have been wild exaggerations, the longer term damage in terms of trade and our political standing is a price too rich for my blood.

To go ahead with such an enterprise you would need a ruthlessly competent government with a plan and an exact idea of the policies it would execute on day one. The ERG likely believes they could sweep into power and do that job. They've been plotting for a while.

This has not gone unnoticed by the international community. The process of rolling over deals we have via the EU is stalling because some are wondering what levels of unilateral action the UK will take on tariffs. They're not about to offer us trade preferences if there's a chance they can get what they want for free.

As to contingency plan execution, you're dealing with people who deny the problems even exist even when they are clearly outlined in the EU's own Notices to Stakeholders. Pretty soon the government will be slapped with an avalanche of policy emergencies beyond the absorptive capacity of the cabinet meaning everyday governance is handed entirely to the civil service with virtually no political oversight.

Pretty soon you have a government mired in an omnishambles with zero political authority and wildly hated in the country. The next administration is then formed of either a LabLib or ConLib coalition after a hung parliament. Before we know it we're grovelling back to Brussels whereupon they demand pretty much everything now demanded in the current withdrawal agreement and quite a bit more... because they can.

There is no combination of new FTAs that can possibly offset the loss of the single market and the only thing halfway close is a US deal that requires massive asymmetric concessions. It's a net loss to trade and a substantial loss of face. It's also highly risky in that any deal has to get past a Democrat congress. Good luck with that.

I have previously argued that there can be no economic revival until there is a political realignment but from the looks of the habitual cycles our politics is falling into, this state of dysfunction could well become the new norm as it did for Italy and we never manage to recover politically or economically. Britain will become a further deluded basketcase with a legacy sense of self-importance that's even worse than it is now. A no deal Brexit as a tool of political reboot may very well have the opposite effect and further entrench all of our worst habits.

Put simply, pulling off something like a no deal Brexit requires a level of political talent that we just don't have. It would lack a majority government and a public mandate and in no time at all the only coherent movement in politics would be a coalition to rejoin the EU on worse terms than now. Taking back control? Methinks not.

Ultimately there is a deal on the table to get us out of the EU but if Brexiters MPs won't vote for it and campaign for it then they are passing up the opportunity to leave in an orderly amicable way in such a way that we maintain our international standing. If they prefer to chase "fwee twade" rainbows they are going to face a wall of opposition and ultimately lose the prize.  I'm not lifting a finger to dig them out of that hole. If they balls it up now it's entirely on them. Why should any of us have our lives tipped upside down for such a very obviously poor decision?

Spare a thought for Brexit Derangement Syndrome sufferers.

These days it is not uncommon to see formerly sane individuals losing the plot completely over Brexit. Brexit Derangement Syndrome has claimed its fair share of high profile victims from the ridiculous AC Grayling through to Alastair Campbell. They actually deserve their self-imposed torment. Poisonous vindictive silly little men deserve what they get.

But then as someone who wants to see a successful managed departure, I'm somewhat prone to losing my shit too. For a long time we've had the likes of Spiked and The Spectator telling us "we have nothing to fear from a no deal Brexit" calling on some of the most wildly wrong interpretations of WTO rules and seriously misreading how the EU trading system works. As much as they are demonstrably wrong, they cannot be told anything.

Typically there's the dribble about EU tariffs, often failing to understand that EU tariff rates are the default for those nations with no formal preferential agreements and in terms of developed nations and the oft invoked "poor African nations", that amounts to very few. The narratives just don't stack up.

Then there's the guff about "mini deals" in place of a withdrawal agreement. What they refer to is a limited number of unilateral contingency measures taken by the EU on the condition they are reciprocated. This may well offset some of the worst predictions made early on, but with a whole tranche of authorisations ended, and a number of additional third country controls detailed in the Notices to Stakeholders, that's still a very serious impact on trade.

Then there's the general misapprehension of what trade means. Trade in services is not just a banking concern. This is a question of being able to support goods sold all over the continent where we need visa arrangements, recognition of certification and a number of other market freedoms where agreements on tariffs (assuming the could be rapidly sorted out under Article 24 WTO) are neither here nor there. You need a whole stack of treaty instruments for the free circulation of goods and services up to and including recognition of driving qualifications. They prattle on about tariffs when tariffs are less than a tenth of the issue, emphasising how tinkering with tariffs somehow offsets the damage of trashing a complex integrated market system like the one we are presently part of.

For the no deal devotees, there is no problem to which they do not have a pre-prepared nostrum or slogan which either ignores the issues or ducks the question entirely. But then after three years of intense public debate, it's getting harder for the likes of Tice and Farage to make these assertions without being humiliated. This is perhaps why there has been a subtle shift in rhetoric, and perhaps explains why they have brought the Spiked groupies into the fold who persistently bleat about democracy and sovereignty.

Now this blogger certainly does not discount those issues. It is fundamentally why I am a leaver. But then democracy and sovereignty as objectives are problematic. You can have absolute sovereignty and jealously guard it but in so doing lose all of the trade advantages of coordination, harmonisation and cooperation. And then if we are simply transferring cack handed decision making from Brussels to the London bubble then that is no improvement for democracy either. In respect of technical governance it could even get worse.

And then there is a general failure to recognise that the exercise of sovereignty is not inconsequential. For sure after Brexit, especially in the even of a no deal Brexit, we will have the sovereignty to do a great many things as suggested by lexiters. The problem here is that the EU does not stop existing after Brexit and as the regional trade and political superpower, it can and will respond to the UK unilaterally subsidising things. As much as we are likely to breach a number of international conventions upon which EU rules are based, others will react to any behaviour they see as anti-competitive. Pretty soon you have a tit for tat war of frustrating measures which the UK loses most of the time.

The lexiters reside in non-interconnected world where economic policy can be imposed unilaterally without regard to global context, where increasing tax on upwardly mobile corporates and high earners inevitably leads to increased revenues without risk of relocation. Where the City's hegemony is inevitable and can be squeezed for new revenues as though other nations are incapable of competing for business. Where Government can pick and choose which international laws and regulations it deigns to adhere to without losing global influence in making those laws. Where the government can nationalise and subsidise industry at a whim without fear of reprisal or economic consequence. Like their ultra right bedfellows, they live in a world of their own.

Those of us who have factored in these realities recognised early on that much in the eurosceptic canon was obsolete baloney and that the march of globalisation means Brexit is only a partial remedy. For instance, it can be argues that the single market creates structures that favour corporates as only they can afford to the compliance. I have made that case myself somewhere on this blog, detailing how the EU has changed UK business culture in many subtle ways over the years - and not for the better. 

The problem here is that even in a WTO Brexit we are still signatories to the WTO Government Procurement Agreement and still independent signatories to a number of environmental conventions which create many of the regulatory requirements in the contract bidding process. We can leave without a deal but the scope for deregulation is nowhere near what is believed without dismantling a number of global accords - which is not going to happen. All that would happen is that we could fiddle round the edges to make marginal improvements but the net result is a reciprocal response form the EU and the loss of access to EU markets.

Then there are certain facts of life the Brexit blob choose to ignore. The dilemma of regulatory and trade gravity where the larger customer usually dictates the regulatory conditions where there are often clashes with other systems. This is where it gets to a technical level that the flapping mouths of Spiked Online cannot cope with. 

If you are going to leave the EU you at least need to have a destination in mind and a comprehensive overview of the potential obstacles, but in the binary brains of the Brexit blob we are moving out of the EU regulatory sphere and into an unregulated wild west inhabited by buccaneering free traders. If that was ever the case then it was a very long time ago. In the modern world there are dilemmas to which there are are no satisfactory answers and to arrive at an optimal outcome will will have to engage on a number of multilateral platforms seeking a global consensus - which is not at all easy. 

Those of us who have done the thinking arrived at the conclusion that the Efta EEA system was the best balance of outcomes between trade and sovereignty - and though suboptimal, the UK would still be sufficiently influential to rebalance the Efta-EU equation. But this wouldn't do for the headbangers. Spiked called it a "third way non-Brexit". Only a total self-immolation can be considered the One True Brexit.

After some years of trying to explain these facts of life to their devotees, I am now bordering on Brexit Derangement Syndrome myself - driven to the brink of insanity and dismay as they invent any flimsy excuse not to plug into Sanity FM. So now we have to go over the cliff for the sake of their education at a major cost to the UK economy and our political standing in the world. And even then they will still make excuses for themselves.

Now you can credibly argue that a no deal Brexit has certain beneficial social impacts (which I won't go into) - if your objective is to wholly transform the UK into a less dynamic and more austere country. There's no shame in that. There are reasonable moral arguments for doing so, but that tends to come from the more dour CofE wing of conservatism and it's certainly not what the lexiters have in mind. I've made some of the arguments myself and have been suitably ridiculed for them. It requires people give up a lot of the perks they are currently used to and that is not something people like doing.

You can also argue that we don't get anywhere near a new economic settlement without first resolving the politics, and the so-called WTO option certainly does open a window for seismic political change, but there are certainly no guarantees it will resolve anything and could in fact send our politics into a state of permanent dysfunction until such a point where there is general agreement that grovelling back to Brussels is our only salvation. We may want to govern ourselves but it may transpire that such is beyond our abilities when faced with the avalanche of problems created by a no deal Brexit.

None of this though is what they promise us. What they offer is a buccaneering "fwee twade" future free of the shackles of the EU - and as a reasonably well respected trade commentator I can tell you it doesn't have even a passing relationship with reality. The extent to which the no deal headbangers dissemble and obfuscate would send any reasonable person round the bend.

Worse still is the cynical tactics they employ, doing the rounds of northern working men's clubs to drum up support for their ill conceived venture. There is nothing about a no deal Brexit that will improve the fortunes of the northern slum towns and dead end seaside resorts. When the mines shut, the ones with nous retrained and used their substantial redundancy money to invest and get out of dodge. The ones who squandered it in those very same clubs on card games and horse racing are still whining bitterly even today.

The Working Mens Clubs are not representative of the north or indeed the working class. They are the fag end of the 70's working class and no longer a cornerstone of northern culture, which these days is not a million miles away from culture in the south. Bradford has its own craft beer offerings and Saltaire village is almost hipster insofar as anywhere in Yorkshire can be. The north has moved on yet we are to believe beer bellied northern rugby nerds are northern lions and the authentic voice of working class Brexit voting Britain. Well, that can fuck off basically.

My family home was less than fifty yards from an infamous working mens club, often the subject of television poverty safaris. You have to hunt pretty hard to find one these days so it's not surprising TV producers always land on the obvious. I never went in the place and nor did my dad. We had a crap Vauxhall Astra and a Fiat Regatta estate which I still regard as the worst car ever made and even worse than anything made by British Leyland. Middle class we were not. 

My parents just found nothing particularly edifying about the slovenly local behaviour and educated me to aspire to more. I went to the same mediocre schools and worked the same local chemical plant. Nowhere, though, does it say by beginnings dictate my political leanings or that I should be a slave to them and I fail to see why complex and consequential decision making must take into account the issue illiterate grunts of ignorant northerners who get their information from the likes of Farage whenever he's on the telly. 

That is not to say they should have no voice at all, but we cannot allow a populist fever massaged by demagogues to shunt reality into the sidings. The lionsation of a tiny fragment of an increasingly diverse and increasingly affluent working class is little more than narrative manipulation. But then of course this makes me an elitist! See how this works? You're a snob if you don't bend to the ignorant grunting of Ukip 2.0.

But then we need a little history lesson here. Brexit was never specifically about the WTO option. The Tory Brexit machine didn't really go hot on that until after the referendum. They popularised it by way of having enormous influence over London prestige media. It's only because Farage, being idle, knowing little and having no ideas of his own, that he adopted no deal as a populist default. So then a narrative engineered by a band of powerful Tory donors is now being sold back to us as the authentic voice of the working man in the north. Well, is it bollocks!

The average northern working man has no concept of the WTO and has no well defined concept of trade governance and it is fair to say they have virtually no idea how the EU system works because Brexit has shown even the experts aren't exactly sure. So to say that this would be anything like an informed and authentic decision is a twist of the truth. The referendum win in 2016 does not give Brexiters a blank cheque either.

I confess to a little intellectual snobbery on this subject but then few can say they have examined Brexit through as many sides of the prism as this blogger, where different examinations have brought me to varied conclusions. At some point you just have to call it how you see it. A no deal Brexit is the worst outcome. People often say they are willing to endure the disruption and knuckle down and get on with it, but then how does that play out for those starting their careers and their families to be facing a ten year jobs drought? If that is a possibility then politics has an obligation to do all it can to avoid it.

There are high principles we can proudly nail to the mast as we leave without a deal, but as the predators close in and we find the useful exercise of sovereignty is not nearly as potent as was assumed, we might then wonder if there really was anything so bad in Mrs May's deal that was worse than the predicament we may soon face, when it won't just be the aggressive moves of the EU we are fending off. But the Brexit mob will never ask themselves these questions. The madness prevails. So if you find me succumbing to a bout of BDS, you'll have to cut me a bit of slack. At this point I've earned the right to go a little mad. 

Alive and kicking

I'm very probably the luckiest man alive. I've never been in a hospital in my adult life. Until now. Two nights ago I felt my throat swelling up to the point where I could no longer swallow and was gagging on my own saliva. The NHS 111 hotline was pretty useless with a long list of annoying questions and at the end of it the operative did not seem to get that I was suffering quite badly. I hung up. Some moments later my call was returned, this time by a chap who seemed to think it might be something serious and advised me to go to Southmead A&E.

Southmead is a new hospital in North Bristol. It's clean, extremely efficient and actually quite pleasant. I was seen in a timely way, first by a triage nurse who had a reasonable good guess what was happening. I was then directed to be examined by a doctor once I'd been fitted up to an IV or paracetamol. Instead of beds they had large leather arm chairs with motorised reclining and wide enough so you could curl up and sleep. I have to say the staff were brilliant. If all hospitals ran like that then you would say there simply isn't a problem with the NHS.

But my condition was a bit more serious and needed to be transferred by ambulance to Bristol Royal Infirmary in the city centre. That was an eyeopener and more in line with what I had imagined a hospital to look like. BRI is a bit of a cavern of despair, especially when delivered to the subterranean bunker like ENT ward, where there were some seriously poorly people from all walks of life. I actually felt like an imposter, thinking I should just go home. The nurse practitioner told me not to think like that and that I would be seen to.

My initial consultation was in the corridor as the ward had no beds. They were at capacity and there were others on trolley beds being treated in the somewhat grubby corridor. They had to activate their winter emergency procedure even though it's a warm mid May. It would seem they have problems adapting to unanticipated surges. When I was finally seen, I was seen by a very smart, very credible doctor of African origin and a trainee doctor. Diagnosis was quick, and was soon allocated a space for treatment albeit at the opposite end of the hospital in an unrelated ward. They put me wherever they could find room for me.

In fairness, once you move out of the emergency reception wards, the rest of BRI is tolerable and clean enough. It's true what they say about the NHS being dependent on immigrants. There were a lot of foreign nurses, mainly agency nurses from Hungary to Africa and beyond. The Hungarian nurse was great. Very jaded but very funny and very kind and turned a blind eye to my vaping. That really made a difference. They really did treat you like an adult human.

If I had any complaints, I'd say there were long waits with no information and I wasn't really being properly informed, and the nurses had only basic information. But then they were busy and had more urgent cases than me, so I waited my turn. I think perhaps some who complain about the NHS have over-inflated expectations and a belief that their own case is more important than anyone else's. I can understand that to a point. When you are in a hospital your first and main concern is to get treated and get out as soon as you can.

The sense you get is that a hospital is a universe of its own and its own ecosystem where it's only as good as the people in it and results will vary from hospital to hospital. I think Bristol is very lucky. I don't think it's the sort of thing that lends itself to miracle solutions where every customer has requirements that differ to the next. Politicians on all sides will tell us things are worse than they are because they have their own agendas. Some want it to be cheaper and more efficient but this business is by its very nature inefficient and very very expensive.

From the high tech snake camera they rammed up my nose to the multimode beds and monitors, you're looking at tens of thousands worth of equipment and man hours and that's before you get into the expensive treatments. Ensuring everyone gets the treatment they need, whoever they are, when they need it, on a a walk in basis is actually something to be in awe of. Whether or not the NHS is the only way to deliver this is another question, and though I had an entirely satisfactory experience, one can see how those with special requirements may fall between the cracks.

Casting my mind back to the Mid-Staffordshire scandal where we heard reports of patients drinking water from vases seems wholly plausible. There are times when all the staff are busy and even if you press the summon button you can be waiting a while to be seen for something even as basic as a glass of water. It could be argued that some wards are understaffed and could benefit from a few more gophers to deal with basic care needs. When you have no relatives nearby to call on the whole process can be quite frightening and when you're conscious you're taking up space, your instinct is just to wait your turn. There seems to be two extremes of patient. The overpolite and the totally impolite. Sometimes you need to be a bit of both to get what you need.

I therefore arrive at the conclusion that the NHS question is one much like Brexit, where anyone offering up simplistic and pleasing solutions is one who hasn't really understood the issues and is probably not even interested in them. Improvements happen with multiple intelligent policies from HR to care policy. In many ways the NHS makes life harder for itself by having incredible high care standards. They follow process to the letter and though this could be interpreted as unnecessary bureaucracy, very often it preempts the sort of errors that could be made otherwise and is a life saving influence. A well functioning administrative system makes all the difference and there is always room for improvement.

Of course, one stay in an NHS hospital does not make me an expert on the NHS, nor indeed is this post meant to influence the debate one way or the other. All I'll say is that the system worked when I needed it and all this experience cost me was £16.50 in parking and I'm not now having to fill in a stack of forms and guessing what will or won't be covered. The NHS most certainly needs its critics and the cult like devotion to it is politically unhealthy, but a system with those outcomes has intrinsic social and economic merit which is perhaps not factored in by beancounting Tory economists. Either way, I'm alive and on the mend. And I am thankful for that.

Why I'm saying no to the Brexit Party

As a leaver you'd expect me to back the Brexit Party but I've concluded that these people aren't interested in Brexit at all. For sure they want a Brexit event to happen but largely for its own sake. Once it happens they'll lose interest and and blame the fallout on whatever the next government does. They're not actually going to own up to their shit when it goes wrong.

To demand that we leave without a deal is the demand to terminate all formal relations with a peacetime ally. As damaging as that is, it is also not a viable destination for Brexit. At this point we have to confront the reality that after Brexit the EU still exists as a regional economic and political power. It can and will flex its muscles and when the UK realises it wants mutual access to markets, the EU is in a position to set the rules and make demands where we as the junior, and not a global standard setter, end up doing as we're told.

Since we'll have flushed a trade package worth £270bn down the toilet and are then racing to rollover deals with others on the same or inferior terms, we will end up signing whatever is put in front of us without much parliamentary or public debate which to me is counter to the whole spirit of Brexit. Taking back control it is not. Though Boris Johnson promised "bumper deals", my lengthy discussions with our trade ambassadors suggests the contrary.

The Brexit Party have proven adept at propaganda and sloganeering but all of it is geared toward one objective; being out of the EU as fast as possible irrespective of whether that puts us in a better or even recoverable position. It is a single minded crusade by the self-hypnotised who believe the world will bend to their overly optimistic imaginings. They're operating a scorched earth policy which explains their alliance with the nihilistic revolutionary cult known as Spiked.

Many think that there must be a strong showing in favour of leaving at the euro-elections but I think the low turnout tells its own story about EU legitimacy. I wouldn't be voting anyway but I certainly couldn't vote for a pack of sloganeering demagogues with zero subject knowledge and zero idea what comes next.

The short of it is that there is an exit deal on the table, and though it's not what I'd hoped for, I can see how many of our global level commitments would lock in policy in much the same way so there is nothing to be gained by a petulant walkout. It can always be refined over time. Brexit was always going to be a lengthy, detailed process.

The Brexit Party are spoiled children demanding the adults suspend their adult faculties because "democracy", but here we must remind them that the mandate was to leave the EU. The question of how we leave was always a matter for Parliament and if Farage and his newfound communist bedfellows wanted to influence that then they should have had a plan and a set of coherent demands. They refused. They actively worked to suppress any kind of deliverable Brexit policy because they'd have to admit that the real world means Brexit can never deliver all that they promised.

I will be disappointed if we remain in the EU but I will not lend my support to this pack of know-nothing con-artists and if they lose the prize at the end of all this then I won't be blaming remainers. Plenty of remain voters would have reconciled themselves to Brexit were there a plan and a credible destination but they are right not to gamble the future standing of the country on flights of fantasy from the like of Tice, Farage, Redwood, Mogg and the latter day Brexit carpetbaggers. Preventing these psychopaths from wrecking the country is the first duty of any serious politician regardless of the EU issue.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Village idiots

Gavin Esler, former BBC journo, is in hot water with leavers for saying "TV news must stop giving airtime to the 'village idiots' of Brexit - the dubious right wing supposed "think tanks" and pseudo-experts among ERG MPs who simply haven't a clue what the implications of Brexit truly are".

He remarks “Brexit is not only not just about left and right. Brexit is about expertise. You cannot and should not have someone who really knows what they are talking about balanced by someone who is essentially the village idiot".

I can't actually see anything controversial in what he says. All too often the case for Brexit is defended by the likes of Chloe Westley and Kate Andrews, both court prostitutes from the Tufton Street end of the bubble who have minimal knowledge of the issues. They occupy TV slots not because of their actual expertise but because of their brand prestige, low cost and high availability.

Any time I happen to catch a political television clip on Twitter, the Brexit advocate will always be a twentysomething telegenic know-nothing reciting scripture, offering up empty slogans in place of credible answers. It's either that or the bluster and bluff of John Redwood and Mark Francois. These people make me embarrassed to be a leaver.

But then if the media really did strike out those inside the Westminster bubble on account of their total ignorance we would be looking at a lot of dead airtime. After all, Remain has its own share of village idiots, not least Femi Oluwole, and as it happens, Esler himself has a minimal grasp of the issues - yet is afforded ample airtime on account of his public profile.

The problem now is that the entire Brexit debate has become a propaganda war where the actual outcomes are less important than ensuring the other side loses. Take Anna Soubry, for example. She wants to put the issue back to the people. We could do that but any referendum would likely end up splitting the leave vote, creating an inherent advantage for remain.

Soubry has no problem with this. She thinks it would be a walk in the park for remain and she might very well be right. But then what does that solve? Such a vote would always be seen a connivance (rightly) and would be a shot in the arm for a new UK populist movement. It would make more sense to constructively engage to ensure a viable Brexit outcome. But these are people who insist there is no such thing thus are not prepared to engage in the process.

I'm of the view that May's deal, though suboptimal, is just the withdrawal agreement. What follows is the real business of establishing the future relationship which will necessarily be the most comprehensive bilateral relationship in existence going well beyond an FTA, and over time could mature into something that balances the need for British political independence with our need for economic cooperation. Is that really so terrible?

When it comes down to it, neither side of the Brexit debate is interested in engaging with the issues. Labour has gone to painful lengths to avoid confronting the issues. They speak of a customs union as a proxy for the single market because they dare not take a coherent position on freedom of movement. Everything they do is electoral triangulation.

The central problem is denial on all sides. With the ink dry on a withdrawal agreement, if ratified, remainers know the game is up. The last thing they want to come to terms with. Similarly leavers don't want to ratify it because it means they also have some uncomfortable truths to swallow, chiefly that the fiction they have weaved from the beginning does not translate into reality. They instead retreat to the comfort zone of crying betrayal. At this point expertise becomes redundant since nobody is is willing to concentrate on the matter at hand.

But then Esler forgets that Brexit is not strictly a matter for experts. This is fundamentally a question of who governs us and where the the real power lies. The more power taken by Brussels, the less power citizens have over their own affairs locally and nationally. Sector experts might well be able to tell us what is in the best interests of business, but governance of a country must take into account the bigger questions.

Meanwhile, with a subject as complex as Brexit, very often the experts are just as likely to introduce critical errors into the debate and every bit as prone to their own personal biases. Being that many of them are dependent on the EU for their fame and prestige, they are the least trustworthy people to give us an honest appraisal of the alternatives. Many of the misapprehensions in respect of the Norway option came from supposed experts, which have on closer and fairer assessment have turned out to be less than honest. This is partly why we are where we are. This is what influenced May's red lines.

The faultline in British politics seems to be that we are run by the "village idiots". Anybody with any sense would have nothing to do with British politics. There are days when I wish I could tell my younger self to choose a different set of interests. I once assumed that acquiring a level of expertise would be an asset in political writing but with politics conducted through media as it exists now, expertise is an exclusionary factor.

Generally the media does not recognise expertise. It trades almost exclusively in prestige. So long as you have superficially impressive credentials or borrowed prestige by way of belonging to a high profile organisation, actual subject knowledge is neither here nor there. We're now at a state where they might as well drag people in off the street - and some networks pretty much do.

Supposing, though, that Esler got his way and that the "village idiots" were excluded from the debate, it would largely be a narrow band of remain functionaries talking among themselves, and while they can comfortably pick apart the risible "fwee twade" fantasies of the Tory right, they still cannot speak to the urgent questions of identity, democracy and sovereignty, which, while only partly addressed by Brexit, are central to the deep malaise in the country. These are issues that remainers routinely dismiss as trivial and archaic. Such supreme arrogance must be tempered by the voice of laymen even if they cannot speak to the intricacies of trade and economics.

Essentially Esler thinks his own brand of idiocy shoud have the monopoly over the debate. What he fails to recognise (or perhaps does) is that he's had it his way for the better part of forty years and this is all what happens when ordinary people don't have a voice and nobody to represent them. Successive governments, guided by our expert class have taken us deeper into the EU project knowing full well that if consent were sought it would not be given. Esler's brand of hubris is why we are here to begin with.

You'll get no argument from me that the Brexit debate is overrun by know-nothing gobshites, and the closer we get to D-day the worse it gets. Anyone treating the issues with the seriousness they deserve does not look to the noisemakers in the media. They are either looking elsewhere or tuning out entirely. The television debate is little more than displacement activity and airtime filler. The central issue remains the withdrawal agreement and whether or not MPs ratify it. The euro-elections are a noisy distraction.

Methinks, though, that Esler should be careful what he wishes for. Were one to eliminate the "village idiots" and move beyond the tedious talking points, we might actually get somewhere near an adult debate about Brexit, whereby he might find that his case for remaining is not the slam dunker he believes it to be. Remain should thank thier lucky stars that the "Brexidiots" are doing their work for them.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

False promises

Over the weekend I went to have a look at the excellent Norfolk and Suffolk Aviation Museum at Flixton. Well worth a visit. Out of curiosity we travelled on to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth just to see what's there. Turns out there's not much. Lowestoft is bleak. There's a sizable harbour but there's nothing in it and most of the utility buildings on the docks are derelict. Much the same can be said of Great Yarmouth where you can still spot Ukip posters in shop windows. Great Yarmouth voted to leave in 2016 by a majority of 71.5% and it's easy to see why.

For sure it's had regeneration cash thrown at it. There are some new facilities along the sea front, though the pavillion pictured above is semi-derelict. It doesn't look like the picture now. None of it does. As for jobs and industry, there are five wind turbine service boats in the harbour and an offshore wind farm that dominates the horizon. The sort of periodic "green deal" regeneration that politicians just love to announce but seldom enquire what actual value it has. At best it's a sticking plaster. Nothing can replace the lost industries and there isn't much commercial potential in the ports that I can see. We're replacing genuine industry with political window dressing - usually with EU funding.

This, of course, is fertile ground for the likes of Farage promising a return to glory for British fishing. With so little to lose, Brexit is worth a punt. We have nothing to lose but our wind farms. But then with fishing having been radically transformed and modernised, there is no winding the clock back as with much of our former industries. There is no return to shipbuilding on the Tyne and the mines are gone for good.

We are told that Brexit presents us with a golden opportunity to rejuventate coastal communities but I don't see that it does. Crap towns with long expired purpose will remain so unless they're within commuting distance of an economic centre. The East Coast is out of luck on that score. It's not even especially attractive coastline unlike Dorset and Devon. A rainy weekend in static caravan has only limited vacation appeal.

But then while we can chastise the likes of Ukip and the Brexit fantasists for selling their own brand of snake oil, that's pretty much all these places get. Promises of regeneration amount to little of value. It's empty promise after empty promise. The real anger will likely follow when it becomes apparent that Brexit is no remedy and Tory trade policy will likely exacerbate the problems. Ending freedom of movement may well eliminate competition for jobs but there will be fewer jobs for the traditional blue collar workers.

We have seen countless articles on how Labour has abandoned its working class base, turning their back on them by not delivering "the full Brexit" but which is the greater betrayal? Chasing after a pipedream of reindustrialisation that cannot possibly succeed, leaving everyone worse off is hardly the way to serve working class communities. The only thing in Brexit's favour in this regard is that it may create the political impetus to invest in the regions, breaking the current model, but places like Great Yarmouth will be way down the list.

At the heart of British politics is a fundamental clash of values but also an ideas drought. Various big ticket schemes cooked up by London think tanks cycle through the Westminster-centric debate, but over sell their potential while seeking to solve problems that really cannot be solved. We are in a new age of unknowns and we are still thinking in old terms.

It's easy to see why the culture chasm is growing wider. Traditionally you could expect to find a job and a home in your home town. Modernity now demands that if you have ambitions you move south, you join the rat race, do long congested commutes paying eyewatering rents and maybe, just maybe, you can get a foothold. For many that's neither practical, affordable or even desirable. The real investment needs to go in housing, public transport connections and infrastructure which is already failing to keep pace and is reinforcing an unsustainable model. It's hard to see how Brexit offers any remedy to this. I don't see it impacting immigration in the way that is hoped.

Though I am still very much in the leave camp, I see Brexit more as a necessary political re-ordering, and the removal of an obstacle that has long kept our politics off balance. I am not, though, remotely taken in my the snake oil of demagogues and pretenders. The day will come in the near future when Brexiters will have to account for the failure to launch. If there is a solution to what ails Britain, it comes from a series of well thought out ideas working to a particular vision. Something our politics is no longer capable of.

For four decades now, strategic direction and development has largely followed a Brussels blueprint, working toward the European vision. This has absolved politicians of presenting their own ideas instead becoming well pampered administrators. We can remove Brussels from the equation but that does not mean the void will be filled automatically. The ideas and the momentum will have to come from somewhere and it seems unlikely to come from within the Westminster bubble.

But then as per my earlier post, the ideas and the vision is not going to come from the Brexiters either. They are little more than wreckers playing dangerous propaganda games and playing with fire. Many have spoken about how Brexit has re-energised politics but unless that energy is well directed and with a purpose then it serves only to further destabilise the country.

The danger being that tribal trench warfare becomes the new normal, where politics fiddles while the country spirals into perpetual decline. Our political culture has proven adept at absorbing or neutralising threats and Westminster culture ensures that voices from the outside are rendered inert. For as long as politics remains a self-sealed, self-regarding bubble (of which the Brexit blob is a part) it would seem that there is no reason to be optimistic about the future. It was always going to take more than Brexit could deliver. The failure of leavers to craft a credible vision of their own will see Brexit turned into a wasted opportunity.

The Brexit Party is fanciful escapism

If there is one theme on this blog of late it is generally how the Brexit debate has stalled, preferring instead to indulge in any and all displacement activity with some corners of the debate regressing, never resolving anything while the propagandists continue to pollute the debate with their wilful misrepresentation of the issues. Being that this is the new normal in politics there is nothing to take seriously until such a time as politicians get serious. That, it would appear, is not going to happen any time soon.

With the announcement that Euro-elections must now go ahead, politics is now consumed with the sideshow of Nigel Farage and his disciples whereupon the chattering classes will dust off their respective pet theories about populism and protest, recycling the usual array of hackneyed talking points about the state of the mainstream parties. It adds nothing.

But then what is interesting is that the populists in the Farage party are no longer making an intelligible case for Brexit. As a movement it is there to hold the government's feet to the fire, but has no objective other than leaving the EU for its own sake. It has fallen back on simplistic crowdpleasing mantras but has no intention of constructively engaging in the process.

Back in the real world, there are are complex and intractable dilemmas none of which return any wholly satisfactory answers. A great many have to come away from this process disappointed and there is no solution that will please everyone. The Brexit Party can massage the betrayal narrative but "the establishment" is no closer to ratifying the withdrawal agreement - which the Brexiters don't want anyway.

That works out well for Farage and his fellow travellers. Their careers would be dead and buried if we were actually on our way toward leaving the EU. One could be forgiven for suspecting these people do not actually want to leave at all. Even if Mrs May's deal were ideal they would invent a reason to oppose it. The goalposts will always shift.

This shows up the Brexiters as the cynical manipulators they are. Say what you like about the quality of the current crop of MPs and their woeful command of the issues, they are at least attempting to reconcile the demands of Brexit with the harsh realities of modern trade. There is no way for them to win when the benchmark for what constitutes "full Brexit" is defined by populists who skilfully edit the complexities out of the script. Since they don't have answers to the problems they simply deny the problems exist.

This is where we bump into the central contradiction of Brexitism, whereby eurosceptics have insisted that the EU is an all pervasive system of government with tentacles in every area of public life, yet somehow our departure is so inconsequential we do not need alternative arrangements to address the multiplicity of concerns.

There is also another dishonesty at work here. Or rather a conceit. They don't want to admit that the Brexit they promised is undeliverable. It was always fanciful to expect that a deal would be mutually palatable. The EU has agendas of its own and as the regional trade superpower with an economy a magnitude larger than our own, it was always going to be calling the shots on the terms of departure. This comes as a mortal shock to those who thought we held all the cards and that a deal could be hammered out in an afternoon over beer and sandwiches.

The problem for the Brexiters is that the game has changed in recent years. The Brexit they demand may well have been feasible twenty years ago (the last time they updated their scriptures) but in the modern age of global regulation and the expansion of global institutions and treaty frameworks, the mirage of sovereignty as envisaged by leavers is no longer attainable. We can certainly repatriate political authority but the exercise of it comes with consequences. You don't get to have your cake and eat it. Actions have consequences.

It is telling that Brexiters continually refer to an ages old Peter Shore speech at the Oxford Union where Shore confidently tells us that neither the Australians nor the Japanese would allow a foreign entity to decide their laws. As it happens, both are subscribed to many of the same international conventions and regulatory frameworks up to and including the Paris climate accords which influence a vast amount of even EU law.

The face of the matter is that the Brexiter vision is one that has stagnated. Long ago they decided they did not want to be a member of the EU and that has become their sole obsession while events have overtaken them. Independence as envisioned by leavers does not exist, the model is obsolete and there is no scenario where the UK has a fully autonomous trade policy. Every decision has economic and political ramifications for existing relationships and we will always have to coordinate our efforts with the nearest and largest trade superpower. Not only because the big economies call the shots, but also because it is in our interests to collaborate.

Here we find that divergence from the regional EU norms results in more of our goods being queried at the borders to the point where there is little or no commercial utility in divergence. We also find there is little scope for noticeable optimisation of third party trade agreements. The free trade ideologues have never fully understood the utility of regulatory harmonisation and have massaged the decoy of tariffs, not least because it provides the basis of a wealth of simplistic arguments for the consumption of leavers.

When the realities of global trade are taken into account the case for Brexit looks ever thinner. I'm still very much in the leave camp largely because the EU is an accumulator of political authority where power travels further away from the people without the necessary checks and balances to ensure such processes are democratic. I do not believe it can be reformed and it will resist all such attempts. But if we are going to leave then we will need to hit the ground running, and you can't do that when you exist in a state of denial about the basic facts of trade.

This is where the Brexiters do us a disservice. Not only are they in denial, they are actively promoting ideas they know to be false in order to achieve short term political objectives without taking into account the longer term consequences where a failure to acknowledge realities now will see us putting out brushfires from a far weaker position internationally.

Worryingly there is no line of defence against this kind of deception. When the media is incapable of adequately reporting the issues and has squandered its credibility through activism, and when rebutting the various misapprehensions requires first explaining a few facts of life beforehand, it becomes impossible to combat the populist canards that spread like a virus. We are, therefore, set to become victims of several institutional failings. Were Westminster politics in better health it should have no problem fending off these demagogues with ease. Sadly, though, the talent pool is exhausted and even those who do grasp the arguments are tainted by their previous loyalties to Brussels.

What is desperately needed is a longer term vision for Britain and Brexit, but it must be one informed by reality, taking into account that the UK outside the EU is only a midranking power and in broader terms, a trade irrelevance. The world will not stand to attention and come to the table on the whim of British politicians. Especially not this bunch. Our path out of the EU must recognise that the EU is still a power and can still weild considerable soft power over the UK in any event. We must therefore ensure the relationship is collaborate rather than confrontational. In any direct confrontation the UK will lose.

What Brexiters don't want to admit is that there is no optimal deal free of binding ties to the EU. Recognition of this fact in the early stages could have resulted in a better deal but the intransigence and wilful ignorance of Brexiters (making petulant and unrealisable demands) has taken us down this path. They have had every opportunity to engage in the process and shape it but instead have clung on to their obsolete notions from 1992. Now the window for a better deal is closed so it's now the deal on the table now or an even worse one further down the line when the fiction weaved by the no dealers is exposed to the cold light of day.

It is perhaps that harsh lesson that Britain needs in order to progress but one is left wondering at what cost and whether the UK is politically equipped to ever recover. For all that leavers presently wail about the relative chump change of £39bn, the costs could end up astronomically more; the true price we will pay for the institutional collapse of our politics that left us vulnerable to chancers and frauds like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson.

But then, of course, one is reminded that the Euro-elections are indeed a sideshow. It is MPs, not MEPs who need to make the call. The result of the euro-election may well send a message but reality is also sending messages of its own that politicians would do well to heed. This is about more than the transient whims of protest politics. This is about the UK's international standing for decades to come. If the Brexiters are not prepared to treat this process with the due sense of seriousness, then Westminster is well within its rights to tell Farage and Co where to shove it. Farage is using the euro-elections as a jamboree for his own self-gratification. He and his followers are owed nothing.