Tuesday 30 July 2019

Yes, Brexit is a shitshow, but my conscience is clear

Just lately I'm getting a lot of finger jabbing remainers telling me that I contributed to unleashing this "shitshow" and though I am in complete opposition to the ERG and no deal, I have in some way "climbed into bed with them" - and that I was naive to believe it would go any other way.

In answer to this we need to separate out the issues. I believe to my core that Britain should not be in the European Union. I do not support the aims of the project or its methods. That is about as much common ground as I could have with either Tory leavers or Lexiters. I do not subscribe to the dogmas of either camp.

Furthermore, this blog shows a record of fierce criticism of Vote Leave and Leave.EU before, during and after the referendum. I was warning about the ERG coup long before the remainers started to run with it, and was alerting readers to the shady linkage to Tory think tanks before they got to it too.

Those issues, though, are fundamentally separate to the question of whether we should leave the EU and largely relate to how we leave the EU and what comes after.

This blog was as much concerned with the question of how we leave as the question of whether we should. In that, I argued strongly in favour of a an EEA Efta based solution, and I have never subscribed to the free trade sunlit uplands dogma of the Brexit blob. I have been an outspoken part of the leave campaign the whole time.

My view is that the case for leaving the EU largely makes itself when framed in the proper context of whether EU membership is compatible with a healthy, functioning democracy. There was never any reason to lie. Some things I have written turned out not to be true but I am not immune from error. What I did do, though, was make the effort to explore all of the options impressing upon readers the consequences of each avenue. I have never sugar coated it and have always maintained that even in the best case scenario there would be economic harm.

In respect of that, though most of my readers are leavers, a few people have told me that it was this blog that persuaded them to vote remain. I was obviously disappointed to hear that but in a debate full of noise, I wanted to present the issues as honestly as possible and I can at least say those I influenced made an informed choice.

But then, of course, this "shitshow", was not inevitable as remainers often assert. They told us that if we voted to leave we'd end up crashing out and stuck with Boris Johnson as Prime Minister. Only by way of a freak set of circumstances has that turned out to be true.

For starters, nobody anticipated the wholly unnecessary snap election that pruned the Tories' majority, and if parliament had got its act  together it could have done far more to direct the process - and in the final analysis, if those who said they intended to honour the result of the referendum had meant what they said, they wouldn't have gambled our future by refusing to ratify a withdrawal agreement. It is that, more than any other factor, that brought about this freakshow of an administration.

As it happens, the working assumption of Leave Alliance bloggers during the referendum was that with a two thirds majority of MPs preferring to remain, they would have exerted their authority to soften Brexit, but that, for multiple reasons didn't happen.

This is as much to do with the dysfunction in the Labour Party as anything else which had been in a state of civil war ever since the election of Jeremy Corbyn. This dispute showed that the Labour Party was an uncomfortable coalition of cosmopolitan London liberals and northern working class communities. One clan voted remain, the latter voted to leave. From thereon in Labour's position was irreconcilable.

Being that the leave sentiment strongly suggested that freedom of movement needed to be terminated, and with the media unable to entertain the notion that freedom of movement was negotiable under the EEA agreement, Labour couldn't bring itself to support the single market option, but instead euphemistically spoke of the need for a customs union when they really meant single market. This added further confusion and with MPs being so hopelessly out of their depth on basic terminology, they we unable to come up with a coherent policy and subsequently were unable to act as an effective opposition.

This was not in any way aided by the Lib Dems taking a wholly opportunistic approach by declaring itself a remain party more interested in reversing Brexit that working toward a viable and democratically tolerable outcome. Then of course we had the psychodrama of Change UK. When the chips were down there simply isn't enough coherence, wisdom or knowledge to be found anywhere in parliament to make the difference. Some of this could have been anticipated but it's easy to say that in hindsight. Much of this dysfunction has only been exposed because of the vote to leave.

How and why parliament became so inert and inept is a whole other debate but it is not entirely divorced from our membership of the European Union. London liberals have done well from the opportunities afforded them by EU membership, and the cheap labour and services that go with it, but not so much the people of the North who live at the sharp end of mass immigration and live with the consequences of those trade liberalisation measures that ultimately destroyed their jobs.

This has contributed to the widening gulf between the ruling class in London and the wider UK and with politics conducted largely through a London media through the prism of London metropolitan values, we have developed an indolent, narcissistic class of politicians whose primary occupation is virtue signalling and grandstanding which made them wholly unequipped to tackle a seismic event like Brexit.

There are any number of peripheral factors we can also explore, but the fact remains our politics is fundamentally broken and the relative stability of EU membership had masked a long running decline. Furthermore we have to ask why we have a hardline core of ultra Brexit zealots. That's an easy one.

It starts pretty much with David Cameron who, from the moment he took office, decided that the traditional Tory base were votes he didn't want and instead went chasing after the mushy middle, pretty much abandoning core tenets of conservatism. Instead we were hugging hoodies and posing with huskies in the North Pole. A continuation of Blair's public relations style government, which resulted in Tories decamping to Ukip, forcing Cameron into a LibDem coalition.

Basically, anyone with eurosceptic views and a desire to see a slowing of immigration was told to get stuffed in precisely the same way Tony Blair had. So at least a third of the electorate had been marginalised, Lisbon had been ratified without a referendum and then when it came to Cameron's famed renegotiation, he told us that he had reformed the EU. Put simply, those who have been disenfranchised for so long have no trust left.

As fringe campaign, pushed to the sides by the Brexit blob in London, the Leave Alliance didn't make much headway in pushing the EEA Efta option into the mainstream debate, but the option was attacked on both sides. Remainers wouldn't admit there was an entirely viable solution and the ERG used more or less the same rhetoric in that an EEA deal would scupper their deregulation fantasies.

The option only really got traction when it got a parliamentary spokesman in the from of Stephen Kinnock who did a reasonably good job of articulating the merits of it, but being in the Labour party and having to demonstrate that he was not running his own leadership bid, he had to toe the line and adopt the Corbyn position. Subsequently he added a customs union to his EEA proposal which meant no leaver could ever back it.

Latterly the option was then picked up by one Nick Boles who made such a hash of it that it ceased to be a credible proposal when he turned it into a "Norway then Canada" solution - which was immediately shot down. The option was then permanently associated with remainer moves to "water down" Brexit. Unless the proposal came from an MP associated with Vote Leave it was never going to fly. It is worth noting that in the run up to the referendum that the Leave Alliance did have Owen Paterson on board and the Bruges Group, but they jumped ship when they saw which direction the campaign finance was headed.

So there were plenty of roadblocks, none of which could have been anticipated, and this failure is ultimately a collective failure of British politics. Somehow it seems fitting that a total failure of intelligence, integrity and decency would result in Boris Johnson as PM.

But being that it now has turned into the precise "shitshow" that remainers believed was a dead cert, I am still not inclined to humble myself and back remain. Nothing in all this time has persuaded me that we should be members of the EU and a botched Brexit is not reason enough to give up on democracy. This rotten sequence of events is the culmination of decades of internal political decay to which remaining in the EU provides no answers. To do so would be an invitation for politicians to sweep it all under the rug and pretend it never happened.

If Brexit has demonstrated anything it is that our political institutions are broken, the economic status quo is not working and the political settlement is far from the glossy Olympics love-in we are encouraged to believe was true. We need to have this out. This is a political reckoning we've needed for a very long time, and though we could kick the can down the road, the consequences could be worse even than a no deal Brexit.

But then this is as much as much the fault of the British public. We have chosen to live disengaged and obese lifestyles, deferring politics to the politicians, not bothering participate an that is what has left the party system so utterly weakened so that they can be captured by ideologue zealots on both sides. Even our own MPs would rather watch Love Island than get to grips with the issues. That too is in part a consequence of EU membership where technocracy actively encourages political disengagement. It seems we are all in need of a wake up call and, folks, Brexit is it. We are collectively responsible for it and we all own the consequences.

Johnson's yobocracy is not a Conservative government

Say what you like about Mrs Thatcher, but she not only had a vision, she also had a plan. But more than that she did not believe in free markets as a cold economic instrument. She had thought deeply about what sort of society she wanted to build. She believed that left wing policies and obese liberalism would result in a lazy, feckless and decadent culture.

Whether she was right or not is not the topic of this post. The point being that her version of conservatism had a moral foundation from which all other policies flowed. She believed in certain radical economic policies as a means to an end. Whenever she spoke, she spoke with determination and precision. She knew her own mind and was anchored to her ideas.

This we cannot say of Boris Johnson and his entourage. His entourage resemble more a teenage tribute band - too naive and fame hungry to understand the nuances of the song lyrics. Then there is Johnson himself who will do or say whatever it takes, including a reckless no deal Brexit, to cling on to power. They sing all the same songs but as a siren call to those Tories who have long complained that the party lacked a moral mission and a clear cut conservative agenda. They've been so starved of meaningful conservatism they've forgotten what it actually is.

To a large extent, conservatism has mutated over the last twenty years, largely as it festered on the fringes. Some now take it to mean making all the grunty populist noises about immigration and law and order while the "liberal" wing (largely young London tories) take it to mean low taxes and pruning back the state. These are mantras, not ideas.

It's actually Roger Scruton who distills conservatism to its essence. "Conservatism", he says, "starts from a sentiment that all mature people can readily share: the sentiment that good things are easily destroyed, but not easily created".

From this flows the need for immigration control. We have established cultural norms that make for a safe and liberal country but after years of mass immigration we are in serious danger of losing that. From this flows the need to leave the EU, in that we have a long standing tradition of (relatively) good governance tempered by democracy of a sort. From this flows the need to keep government living to its means so that it does not overstep the boundaries and trample on our basic liberties.

But I would go further than Scruton to say that Conservatism as we know it is particularly configured to a very British operating system for government in recognition that there is an essential instinct for fair play, where we recognise the power and vitality of markets but also recognise its excesses and the dangers of untrammelled greed. This is perhaps where Mrs Thatcher overstepped the mark. That's for you to decide. We can either blame some of her policies or the manifest failures of her successors. I lean toward the latter.

So when I look at Boris Johnson's thugocracy, and his government full of cronies and zealots, I do not recognise anything that I would call conservative. This is a government that, unlike Thatcher, does not seek to explain the agenda and win the argument as Thatcher consistently did. The agendas are all concealed. Political and commercial. Instead of seeking to persuade, they're relying entirely on political arithmetic and massaging the ignorance of harliners, feeding them what they want to hear.

Here there is no statecraft. Johnson is a punk - in the American sense of the word. He is lying through his teeth to bring about the single most damaging act ever done to the United Kingdom, in contempt of fact, with total disregard for the integrity of the Union and indeed democracy. Were this agenda ever on a manifesto there is zero chance it could ever secure a mandate from the British public. He knows it which is why he will do all he can to evade a general election for as long as humanly possible.

What we have here is the very worst of populist demagoguery. Britain doesn't fall for hardline fascists and never will, but we always have a soft spot for prestige and cheeky chappy antics. Both of which are embodied by Johnson. All he really has to do is vomit the obligatory slogans and to have the Troy right eating out of his hands.

With the appointment of Dominic Cummings, with his long standing vendetta against the civil service, and with hardliners and yes men parachuted into all the major offices of state, we can see what this is really about. This is little more than a nihilistic wrecking spree, after which the corporate predators can move in and hoover up British assets. This is more like an elaborate Ocean's Eleven heist than a revolution. Call it what you like but it isn't conservatism. It has no moral centre and no intellectual foundation. This is all about the narcissism of one man and the greed of those not far behind him. 

Brexit: expecting the worst

I'm back in the video blog groove again.

Monday 29 July 2019

No special favours for Johnson

You don't get very far in any political analysis unless you try to see it from the other side of the argument. It's easy to see where this is going when you understand the EU's point of view.

The Tories think this is all one big game of chicken, believing the EU will blink first. They've convinced themselves that a bit of tough talk will scare the EU because the EU needs a deal as much as we do. This, though, is to misread the EU. The EU primarily is a rules based system that only functions by way of unity of purpose. It has put great stock in standing by Ireland. A member state.

Consequently, even consenting to reopen the withdrawal agreement for further negotiating, rishing the whole thing unravelling, is too much of a political risk. They'd be favouring a departing member over an existing member. This it will not do. This is not a commercial question. For the EU this borders on the existential.

As much as Brexit is an issue for the EU, the EU is attacked on all sides by populists and demagogues and they especially view Boris Johnson as one of them. They will make no concession for him, lest they embolden such ultimatums from others.

But then on the technical side of this argument, the backstop really is the most efficient, cost effective way of doing things. The UK has never been able to propose and alternative that is compatible with its own legal order or one that would not place onerous burdens on Irish business thus interrupting normal daily life.

But then there's the ultimate truth of the matter. Brexiters don't really care about the backstop. They don't really care if Ireland unifies. The backstop whinge is really just the convenient whipping boy. If it didn't exist they would find something else to complain about. The ERG have already stated that they won't vote for the deal even without the backstop.

There are also other agendas at work here. The ERG knows what the rest of us know. The only way to avoid the backstop kicking in is to forge a future relationship based on a high level of regulatory integration which upsets their deregulation agenda and very much interferes with the commercial agenda of their Washington sponsors. US interests have invested serious money in Brexit propaganda via the IEA etc to secure their preferred outcomes. This explains why the ERG is so insistent on skipping a withdrawal agreement and instead going straight to talks toward a CETA style comprehensive FTA.

Being that this was never an option, despite their claims to the contrary, they believe the best way to circumvent a withdrawal agreement and skip ahead to FTA talks is to leave without a deal. This is a miscalculation in that most of the EU diplomatic corps believes that the price to reopen trade negotiations will be a backstop style agreement as a starter for ten.

At the more extreme end of the extreme end there is the belief that they need them more than we need them and we can tick over on WTO terms until the EU drops its unreasonable demands which they see as an annexation of Northern Ireland. Paranoia, fury and loathing drives the hard right Brexiters and they can never be placated. The Brexit blob has done everything possible to nurture that ignorance.

Put simply, there is zero incentive for the EU to budge from their position even slightly. The binding political declaration commits both sides to phasing out the backstop should it ever be activated and if the Tories are so confident that there are alternate solutions then they shouldn't have any problem committing to that process. The EU doesn't see how they can be more accommodating, and when the backstop gripe itself is a strategic decoy, they gain nothing by playing into it. 

Both Barnier and Tusk remind us that no deal is not the EU's choice. They would prefer a deal and a deal is on the table. It's really up to the British government to decide whether we have a managed departure or the self-defeating mess of no deal. If it's the latter then the EU has taken all the necessary steps to insulate itself from our decision and anything on top of that is more our problem than theirs. It's only a matter of time before the UK comes crawling back for a deal. At that point, the EU can make any demand it fancies.

The rest of the game really all depends on sequencing. If Johnson waits til the bad news starts rolling in before calling an election, it could be Corbyn crawling to Brussels. But then if Johnson wins we're in for years more bickering with the EU while we're up to our necks in disputes and court cases, and then it won't take long for the Tories to tank in the polls. It'll be the next administration doing the deals with Brussels. And Brexiters are not going to like that at all

Denying reality has a price

There are two debating silos on the matter of trade. There are those who accept the reality of our predicament and those who do not. There are those doing analysis and those producing propaganda. The latter spend much of their time dreaming up reasons why we can trade on WTO terms and cooking up counter arguments to those who say we are totally screwed.

The former are realists, usually trade professionals, academics, NGOcrats and think tank wonks from the remain side of the argument while the latter tend to be Tory politicians, snake oil merchants and Brexiter blowhards who think they know about trade because they once posted something to China. For now the latter has the ear of government. This is a government that wants to be told what it wants to hear. For the time being that's a good business to be in.

There comes a time, though, when the propaganda is put to the test. That moment is racing up on us. Here we will find that the crack in the dam becomes a breach as wave after wave of reality washes over us. We already know that some of the worst impacts will be mitigated by way of the EU's contingency measures and I don't completely discount the effectiveness of domestic preparation, but it won't take very long for the penny to drop that the UK really did need a deal.

By that point nobody will be listening to the Brexiters who said everything would be ok. Brexiters simply won't have a dog in the fight. Instead, all trade discourse will focus on the adults - primarily the remain inclined technocrats who see those whole debate only in terms of  maximising trade volumes who unquestioningly accept that if you want trade with the EU you have to cave into them on their terms. Not only do they favour the single market, they also agree that the UK is better off inside a customs union.

Between them, the "rescue package" they concoct when it comes to any future relationship will be maximum vassalage, leaving Brexiters to bleat from the sidelines. Also keeping in mind that to even open talks with the EU we'll have to sign up to an NI backstop type agreement as a starter for ten.

This is essentially what happens when the opposition do to the Johnson administration what Johnson has done to May's; purging the ranks of anyone who had a hand in it. From then on, UK trade policy will be its own private domain of technocrats who all think the same way. They for whom the term "direct national interest" is an alien concept, who largely subscribe to to the trade groupthink that sovereignty is both obsolete and unobtainable.

This is where we will see EU membership rebuilt a brick at a time rather than a re-accession process to the point where we are essentially non voting members. Much like the EU modus operandi, the reintegration will be done quietly by stealth. We'll probably join a new customs union but we won't call it that. We'll have a single market arrangement but we won't call it that either.

It'll take years do do it at enormous cost (while UK trade bleeds away) and between then, they'll do pretty much anything they can to put the brakes on any global ambitions. To a large extent this is a case of all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't put Humpty together again - but they'll damn well try and there won't be much to stop them.

This is essentially why we needed the withdrawal agreement. I'm the first to admit that the deal is suboptimal but it represents a scaffolding for a controlled demolition. By using no deal dynamite, the ones who initiated this process won't be around to complete it.

This is why Brexiters needed a plan. This is why it was essential to look at the world as it really is, taking into account the limitations of our predicament. The Brexiters, though, made the mistake of believing their own propaganda. It was enough to win the vote but not enough to win the argument. By inflicting a massive no deal blow on the UK, much like Iraq, you'll be hard pressed to find anyone who says they were in favour of it. Leavers will again be out of power and without a voice.

All the crapola about a "Global Britain" could have found a basis in reality had the Brexiters been aware that we first needed to secure a foundation to ensure our EU trade is preserved. A collaborative relationship with the EU, restoring trust would have resulted in a far less confrontational post-Brexit environment where coordinated divergence would have been possible. Now the EU, as much as any domestic force, will be looking to frustrate the UK's overseas and trade policy.

One can certainly say Boris Johnson is right that we have needed a little more Brexit optimism, but optimism without regard for the facts is better described as gullibility and self-deception. A vision without a plan is just a pipedream and a plan without an intellectual foundation, without regard to all the facts, is a kamikaze mission.

Ultimately the free trade ambitions of Brexiters will hit the rocks because they were not founded on solid research. This is an agenda derived from partisan dogma and party scripture, all of which plays well with free market Tory audiences but that little drip of approval was a substance they became addicted to. They then set about preying on the ignorance of those audiences, further cultivating that ignorance through a steady feed of misinformation.

At the core of this is that galactic Tory arrogance and mendacity that only a Tory could muster. You can't tell them anything because they believe they already know it and any voice that doesn't toe the line simply does not exist or is working in the interests of the "enemy". This cultivates its own paranoid little echo chamber that is open only to true believers - where facts go to die. That is the folly upon which Brexit crashes and burns.

Sunday 28 July 2019

The real betrayal of Brexit

Primarily a no deal Brexit is going to be total shambles because all of our external relations and our regulatory affairs are all tied up in a single treaty construct. Article 50 is a dead man's switch. Politicians were warned ratifying Lisbon wasn't a good idea but they went ahead and did it anyway. They didn't even read the treaty.

That right there makes the British establishment the central problem and our EU membership is a symptom of it. The EU is not the only issue where successive governments sign us up to any number of international agreements and conventions without there being a meaningful public debate and without seeking direct consent. We are ruled, not governed.

Finally we have had a referendum on EU membership so that at least stops us being further subsumed into a technocratic supreme government and stops the further erosion of democracy. But only to a point. It still does nothing to address the essential problem outlined above.

This is why the Brexiteers should have had a plan. Now that they've got hold of the levers of power they haven't the first idea what to do next. They can't even come up with an exit strategy so instead they're simply going to push the self destruct button and hope for the best.

Brexit should have been the window of opportunity to fundamentally modernise the British constitution and to cast off the remnants of feudalism that we euphemistically call representative democracy. It should have been a chance to radically overhaul our politics. It should have been a chance to ensure that narcissistic politicians never get to do this to us gain. But it isn't.

By failing to have a plan, with the only objective being leaving the EU, all we've really done is created a vacuum. Thanks to our own ineptitude we've left the door open for Brexit to be hijacked by the Tory right so they can turn the UK into a sandbox for their obsolete "free trade" experiment.

Instead of setting about dismantling the sort of command and control governance where we the public have no say in between elections we are simply handing all of the power to a set of right wing ideologues who are just as prone to doing as they please, ignoring the need for both public and parliamentary consent whenever they can  get away with it.

As we watch Boris "Borisconi" Johnson fill his government with cronies from the Tory think tank set, this government is starting to resemble a hard right version of Tony Blair's government where everything was public relations while the cronies and special advisers got to work behind the scenes. This is not progress, We didn't need to leave the EU to do that. What goes around comes around and a general election would have been sufficient. So with Borisconi's cronyocracy in power, what is Brexit likely to achieve if anything? Answer; not a lot.

Already we can see how this goes. Johnson goes up north to pledge a few billion;s worth of investment in the northern railway system - a political signal in response to the narrative that Brexit happened because of underinvestment outside London. So already we are in firefighting mode. Doling out money we haven't got to wherever politicians think it might be needed. So business as usual.

But then as much as we don't have the money to squander now, we're especially not going to have it after Borisconi hits the nuclear button. British exports will be subject to tariffs and all manner of regulatory overheads making our goods and services less competitive while the price of energy and food creeps upwards. Those "bumper" free trade deals we've been promised are not going to materialise any time soon, and if they do materialise will be substantially inferior to the ones we already enjoy via the EU. Not forgetting that our most important single trade destination is still the EU.

Pretty soon the promises made by Borisconi will evaporate, as ever they do. Dreams of sunlit uplands turn to ash. This government then has to contend with major job losses, collapsing exports and massively reduced tax revenue. We will have to borrow just to stand still and the left are about to find out what the word "austerity" really means.

Course, Brexiters have convinced themselves that trade carries on as normal under a no deal Brexit and that so long as we throw enough money at preparing for Brexit then we can function as ever we did on WTO rules. No serious analysis supports this view but when it comes to politics, people like to be told what they want to hear and there are plenty of vessels such as The Spectator and Daily Telegraph ever ready to sing them their favourite tunes. We are, therefore, racing  toward a brick wall and the Brexiters won't know what hit them. And, of course, with a shyster government like that of Borisconi, it will be everyone's fault but theirs.

So as much as Brexit will not mark the dawn of an economic revival, it could very well lock in the same political stagnation. As a leaver voter I never claimed that Brexit has any particular economic benefit. I never really saw it in those terms. We don't make any real savings by leaving and if the UK was to retain its status as a serious player in world trade it would first have to secure the best possible relationship with the EU. That's not longer possible as we're leaving without a deal and in so doing handing all of the leverage to the EU in any future dealings.

I came at this from another point of view; that Britain was in dire need of political renewal and that EU membership is incompatible with a democratisation agenda. You can't give people more powers locally if those powers belong to Brussels and we have to ask permission to change our own laws. But having failed to set out demands for constitutional reforms all we really do is shift the unaccountable technocracy from Brussels to London, where the power is still concentrated in the hands of the wealthy few.

Depressingly, though, Brexiters don't seem to mind this so long as Borisconi rattles off the right slogans and panders to the Brexit crowd. When it comes to "big vision" demands, the best the Brexit Party can muster is the usual gripes about foreign aid and immigration. They are completely without vision, let alone a plan. They never properly diagnosed the problem, believing Brussels to be the essential problem, thus have no agenda to take us forward from Brexit day. Brexit has become an end in itself.

For now, Borisconi's government is enjoying a honeymoon period and Brexiter politicians have more power now that they've had in the last forty years. They will squander that power, delivering a total shambles that will turn the public against them very rapidly indeed. After that the momentum drops out of the whole thing and any further demands from that quarter will fall on deaf ears. The inevitable consequence of that is that the next administration, keen to restore our exports and fix some of the damage, will end up signing a quasi-membership accord with the EU, ensuring much of what we hoped to achieve will never happen. That, more than anything, will be the great Brexit betrayal - but the blame lies squarely with the Brexiteers.

Borisconi is the real heir to Blair

Since the referendum there have been all manner of grassroots leave organisations popping up. I can't tell you for certain which of them are genuine and which are sock puppets with links to the Brexit blob. They're all singing from the same hymn sheet. The usual grunts about the WTO etc.

As a leave campaigner this leaves me feeling somewhat alienated. Though I think the UK should leave the EU and despise the politics of the remainer "progressives" there is nothing left in the Brexit movement I can support. I've started to hate each camp with equal measure - especially now that it's so polarised you have to be one or the other.

There are two central reasons I cannot call myself a Brexiter. Firstly, the destination is unsupportable. We're about to leave without a deal which will needlessly inflict major damage on the UK economy for no discernable gain. Brexiters have got it into their heads that a no deal Brexit means no ties of any kind; the "clean Brexit".

For instance, Fishing for Leave would have it that on Brexit day no foreign boats will fish our waters and all the catch quotas fall to UK boats. They're dreaming. Once we break out, what we will find in our relations with the European Union and its Member States is that we are then bound by international law, which in many cases will take the place of and, in part, replicate provisions of the treaties.

One of the main instruments, in respect of fisheries management, will be the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and in particular the likes of the Straddling Stock Agreement. But also of huge significance may be the doctrine of acquired rights, which carry over rights acquired through a treaty to an indefinite period after the treaty has ceased to have effect. If the UK attempts to "take back our fish" we are going to be up to our necks in court cases. How we then go about selling fish to Europe remains to be seen.

It would seem to me that the average person cannot conceptualise the sort of damage a no deal Brexit will do since there's a failure to appreciate the extent of EU integration and also how international relations are now heavily governed by rules that complicate negotiations. By leaving without a deal we hand all of the leverage to the EU. It can and will exploit that position. With the US ever more hostile to the WTO and developing countries turning elsewhere, the organisation we're putting so much stock in is turning into the EU's poodle.  

We are, though, supposed to embrace exciting new opportunities instead. As yet I'm unclear on what these actually are since a no deal Brexit put us in firefighting mode where we are throwing money at problems just to stand still. Had we secured our EU trade through EEA Efta we'd have been able to gradually build on that, but now we'll be chasing any deals we can get in a state of desperation - if not for economic reasons then in search of propaganda wins.

But then, as any Brexiter will rightly point out, Brexit is not just about the economy. Again, this is where I part company with Brexiters. Politically we are supposedly turning over a new leaf. But as it happens, it turns out that the core of Brexiters never really had a problem with the establishment, just so long as the PM grunts right wing slogans and sloshes a bit of dosh in the direction of northern trains. Borisconi is the real heir to Blair in that his government looks to be exactly the same sort of command and control cronyocracy. It has a blue logo instead of a red one so it would seem Brexiters are happy. That's all it takes to buy off the likes of Brendan O'Neill.

On current trajectory, Brexit is going to turn into a giant wet fart. By way of having no coherent objectives the Brexit movement has allowed Tory predators to move in and take the grown from them. Never have eurosceptics had more influence in the running of the nation, when asked what they want, they mutter something about cutting foreign aid, cancelling HS2. Oh, and something about hospital parking charges. That's really it. That's what we campaigned for thirty years for.

What I don't see are any calls for real constitutional reform or any plan to usefully exploit any sovereignty gain, much less an idea of where we can exercise it. Instead, if there is to be any "reform", it will come in the form of a Dominic Cummings wrecking spree in Whitehall, while Borisconi attends to the usual public relations government that's been the norm since 1997. Though there has been a clean sweep in government, chucking out all Mrs May's grey suits, what we get instead are obsequious toads who utter the right slogans.

Depressingly, this is probably all it takes for Johnson to win an election. Labour is not going to unite the remain camp or show anything like leadership, nor is to going to usefully oppose the Tories. There is nothing to give Borisconi a run for his money. The Lib Dems can hoover up the centrist votes but apart from stopping Brexit, their agenda is to revive the corpse of progressivism right about the time when nobody wants it. These days it just means opening up the women's loos to sexual predators and something about solar panels.

Sadly the Brexiters aren't going to realise they've been had. They're cock-a-hoop. They're strutting around like the proverbial pigeon on a chessboard. But all they've really bought themselves is more of the same but with half the clout and no money to spend. It won't take long for those empty promises to evaporate. 

As far as the average Brexiter understands it, all FTAs are the same and they take between one to nd six months to sort out. Arron Banks thinks this and so do a number of Tory SpAds. There seems to be a view that sorting out our trade with the rest of the world just means a few days at the photocopier with a bottle of Tippex. They are going to learn the hard way that it's a long and delicate process and even in the best case scenario, including a deal with the USA, our best efforts go nowhere close to rivalling or replacing the single market.

Soon after, that regulatory sovereignty starts to look useless in that the more we dverge the more we destroy our export potential and since just about every regulatory system following a no deal Brexit will be a dumpster fire, any new ideas (of which there are none) will have to go on the backburner while the civil service gets things back on an even keel.

I was warning long before anyone on the remain side worked it out that Brexit was turning into a Tufton Street coup, and though I thought it had failed with the appointment of Theresa May, that coup has a second crack of the whip and no looks like it has succeeded. All the worst ideas from the Tory think tank sewer will come belching out. For the Tories, Brexit was never about democracy and sovereignty, rather it's just a window to put all their obsolete economic theories to the test. 

Pretty soon we're going to be looking at a new round of austerity - or massive borrowing. Tory free trade fantasies might have had a chance of working maybe thirty years ago but now global trade is now governed by an elaborate system of rules and and conventions specifically designed to curb unilateralism and anti-competitive practices. Free trade does not mean what they think it means.

None of this will register until it's too late. Such is Tory arrogance. Sceptics are told they are just not believing hard enough. Expertise of any kind, even from sympathetic corners is rejected wholesale. The levers of power now belong to the true believers. 

This is where I get off the Brexit bus. I do not think we should remain in the EU and botched Brexit is not reason enough to stay a member, and if we don't get out now then we likely never will, but I clearly have no place in the Brexit movement. That much is abundantly clear. I'm not salivating for the wreckage of a no deal Brexit and I'm not on board the Boris bus either. The sooner we are rid of this oaf the better - but the longer he stays the more futile Brexit looks.

Eventually it might dawn on the Brexit brigade that to make anything of Brexit they actually need to come up with an agenda for change but sadly, by the time they do, the momentum will be lost and Britain will have demoted itself in world rankings to become a squabbling ungovernable mess and we'll be back to winner takes all kleptocrat tribalism.

Insofar as what is understood to be a Brexiter, I no longer count myself among them. Brexiters are not interested in objectives, rather they are much the same as Corbynistas, always on the lookout for a hero to worship, be if Farage, Johnson or Rees-Mogg. They want to be led and they want to be ruled just so long as it's the right demagogue who grunts the right slogans. This is not what I signed up for.

Thursday 25 July 2019

Whatever it takes

It's been an interesting couple of days on the Brexit front. The new government is essentially Vote Leave Ltd. Borisconi has appointed all the cronies up to including low fact Chloe. All the spivs, party hacks and court prostitutes get cushy non jobs inside the Borisconi apparatus.

Generally I have the political constitution of a concrete elephant. As a "notorious curmudgeon and misanthrope" who's had all kids of hell thrown at me, very little gets to me these days. But today I felt genuinely sick to my stomach. I now have an idea how remainers felt back in 2016. Just when you think it cannot possibly get any worse, it does.

But then I remind myself that, though it has to get worse before it gets better, this is only temporary. This government isn't going to hold together. It can't. For a tme Johnson can get away with quite a lot. His key promise that we will get a better deal doesn't really matter to the Brexiters because they don't want a deal anyway. He could come back with a deal sans backstop and Parliament still wouldn't vote for it. The remainers won't. The ERG won't.

As it happens a better deal is out of the question since Barnier has no mandate from the Council and wouldn't get one. The EU position is not going to change. Politically there is no advantage to giving a populist like Johnson even an inch. Moreover, they have made promises they intend to keep.

This is what puts us on course for no deal. Johnson has made a big deal of leaving on October 31st and he cannot extend unless there is a deal in sight. Which there won't be. I don't see how parliament can stop no deal so no deal it is. This I have been resigned to for a little while now.

What's clear though, is this administration cannot limp on with a majority of two or three. It needs a renewed mandate and it needs to go to the polls sooner rather than later or it'll be a lame duck administration. They're going to have to do this before the bad news starts to roll in.

Previously I've worked on the assumption that the Tories would hang on for as long as possible and then be kicked out, but with Labour in such a shambles and lacking any leadership, and with floating voters from Labour and the Tories drifting to the Lib Dems, by accident of numbers we could end up with a Tory landslide.

This doesn't fill me with delight, but I certainly will enjoy watching the wheels come off. For starters, Borisconies cronies will fight like rats in a sack, not least as they line up to replace Johnson, but this will also be an administration plagued by scandal. There's a lot of bad blood in Vote Leave's wake and a lot of eyes trained on them. Corruption probes will eventually unearth something.

But then there's Brexit itself.  This is where they're seriously painting themselves into a corner. They're making promises they can't keep. As much as we cannot go without a formal relationship with the EU, they cannot promise to "take back our fish" nor can they make all those "bumper deals" appear. Sooner or later, this government will be force fed slice after slice of humble pie. The grotesque incompetence will soon be noticed even by the most die hard Johnson supporter.

Then, as we know, once we do go back to Brussels and ask for a deal, it will come with terms and conditions not unlike the withdrawal agreement. Again the EU will play hardball and string us out to dry for as long as it takes. Being that the Tories would lose too much face, it will be their decision to keep us out in the cold while we haemorrhage exports.

Sooner or later the opposition will get its act together, not least because Corbyn will have to go if they lose and election to Johnson. The pressure will be on and all the while everything around us will be falling apart. Every one of the ERG assumptions and misapprehensions will crash into the rocks of reality, leaving them utterly discredited.

This is going to be a five year long humiliation of the Conservative party, where the bumbling bluff and bluster of Johnson is not going to win over an increasingly angry public. The boyish charm and "refreshing optimism" is not going to work when exports are collapsing and every promise made by Tory Brexiters turns to ashes.

This is going to be exactly the sort of political enema the country needs. We are going to have to learn the hard way that uncompromising tribalism and political hero worship leads to ruin. And what better place to start over than with a purge of the "free market"right? These psychopaths have been stalking British politics for three decades waiting for their moment to strike. Well, they broke it, they own it. We'll see them wiped off the face of politics for a generation.

Though I had hoped to see the UK reagin its position as a sovereign independent state, I no longer think that's going to happen. By the time the Tories are kicked out of office there will be a more EU friendly opposition in power that will sign virtually any deal to rebuild our trade and cooperation with the EU and it will involve the slaughter of all of the Brexiter sacred cows and Brexiters probably will, quite correctly, wail about us becoming a vassal state. But they should have thought about that before anointing Boris Johnson.

But if the second prize of Brexit is to destroy the Tory party and marginalise their ideas again then I'll take it. All my life I have never known a more intellectually or morally bankrupt entity (and I lived through the Blair era). If this is what it takes to bury the ghost of Thatcher then this is what it takes.

Wednesday 24 July 2019

Cummings; legend in his own lunchtime

Whitehall, we are told, is braced for revolution. The great Cummings is out to slay the popular folk demon of the self-interested civil service. The "genius" will strike fear into the hearts of self-serving Whitehall mandarins.

Course, the media, having bought into his own projected self image as a radical and a maverick have actually missed what this man is really all about. If you pull any of his tract out at random, he always makes space to bang on about his hobby horse; that the civil service is completely incompetent, dysfunctional, self-interested and it could all be so much better if only he were in charge. I didn't even have to hunt for this little gem.
But one of the most fundamental and striking aspects of government is that practically nobody involved in it has the faintest interest in or knowledge of how to create high performance teams to make decisions amid uncertainty and complexity. This blindness is connected to another fundamental fact: critical institutions (including the senior civil service and the parties) are programmed to fight to stay dysfunctional, they fight to stay closed and avoid learning about high performance, they fight to exclude the most able people.
By "most able people", he means Dominic Cummings. Here you have to look at some of the mythology he's created around himself
An Oxbridge history student who taught himself maths to post-grad level on the side and likes to read Russian novels in his spare time, Cummings is not your average resident of the Westminster village. Former colleagues speak of his ferocious loyalty to colleagues and ability to get things done, and say he works best when swimming against the tide. "The things he admires are numeracy and an ability to ignore rules," one source tells PoliticsHome. "He is a total outsider, and despises any in-crowd. The people he works best with are also outsiders."
One rather suspects with his personality (or the lack thereof), Cummings is an outsider for a reason. Famed for bullying and intellectual yobbery, no serious organisation would tolerate his conduct, except of course in politics - and particularly as a SpAd with no place in the official organisation hierarchy. That these hierarchies do not recognise his brilliance is what makes them incompetent, you see. We got a hint of this superiority complex during the referendum when the Guardian reported "The main campaign group seeking to take Britain out of the EU is in danger of losing the referendum unless “damaging and unnecessary” bickering is stopped, according to a leaked internal email."
"In a sign of the bitter infighting in the Vote Leave group, one of its main supporters has accused campaign director Dominic Cummings of undermining the organisation by generating “ill feeling” among workers." 
John Mills, the multi-millionaire Labour donor who is the group’s deputy chairman, said that the feuding has prompted the MP Kate Hoey to stand down as co-chair of the Labour Leave group. Hoey, who is now supporting the separate Grassroots Out (GO), has agreed not to say anything publicly about the split. 
Mills turned on Cummings in an email sent on Tuesday. Mills was infuriated after Cummings reportedly sent a text which made allegedly disparaging remarks about the former Labour minister and Gordon Brown supporter Nigel Griffiths, who is a leading figure in Labour Leave. 
In an email to Cummings and the Vote Leave chief executive, Matthew Elliott, Mills wrote: “What on earth are you doing, generating more and more ill feeling like this entirely unnecessarily? I thought you had promised to stop doing this sort of thing. Don’t you realise that this kind of behaviour puts more and more damaging and unnecessary strain on everyone?”
Nick Cohen got his number, describing him as a "an arrogant, aloof, pretentious, self-aggrandising, domineering, vain and thuggish zealot who will listen to nobody". "Cummings is determined that everyone knows that he is the cleverest person in the room,” one Conservative politician told me. “He has absolute contempt for those who disagree with him. It’s not enough to beat them in argument, he has to destroy them."

But here comes the self-serving toss from his blog.
I wrote about some reasons for this before the referendum (cf. The Hollow Men). The Westminster and Whitehall response was along the lines of ‘natural party of government’, ‘Rolls Royce civil service’ blah blah. But the fact that Cameron, Heywood (the most powerful civil servant) et al did not understand many basic features of how the world works is why I and a few others gambled on the referendum — we knew that the systemic dysfunction of our institutions and the influence of grotesque incompetents provided an opportunity for extreme leverage.
Again, only he understand how things work. That turned out not to be true when subjected to a grilling in select committee where he was unable to even offer a working definition of the single market let alone a credible critique of it. But as it happens, Heywood was intimately aware of how things worked, so too was one Ivan Rogers who thus far one would struggle to disagree with on any of the essential facts.

But as long as the media keep pushing this "genius" narrative, repeating the man's own propaganda, he will remain the darling of the Tory right who instinctively have a knee jerk predisposition toward the civil service and have for all time believed that it can be pruned with a chainsaw to deliver a lean and cost effective government - but now also believing the civil service to be a remainer fifth column.

The latter we can disregard as the usual run of the mill Brexiter paranoia, but when Cummings or any bloviating right winger drones on about the civil service, it's the usual litany of complaints about bureaucracy. There is always a belief that we can do away with it.

Bureaucracy, though, is just how humans organise their administrative affairs. If there were any other way of doing it we would have done it by now. But this bureaucracy is a fact of life same as gravity. There are structures and rules and chains of accountability, and yes they get set in their ways and without new energy to shake things up and modernise them, they start to underperform. There's always dead wood to get rid of.

Like any large organisation there are people fighting for their own survival and to preserve the sort of non-jobs that keep them busy. Any bureaucrat builds up their own particular dungheap to make themselves look more indispensable to the organisation but in fact their jobs could very often be automated or deleted entirely. I have seen this in every organisation I have worked in be it public sector, local government, corporate or SME.

As far as effective decision making goes very often good ideas are thwarted by organisational structures or the interference of people trying to preserve their own functions. Accomplishing change, therefore, becomes a slower and intensely political processes. To get anywhere you usually have to go around the hard points until those more senior notice the inherent redundancy of certain functions.

This takes a certain talent. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It's all in the game. But we all have those Cummings moments where we think everyone who hasn't recognised how our approach is superior is simply an idiot. The secretary thinks this, the computer programmer thinks this, the middle manager thinks this and so do the consultants. Everybody in a bureaucracy is trying to shape it according to their own designs and very often those designs will conflict.

So then from the outside looking in you see dysfunction everywhere you look. It could be sorted out if only there were a supreme dictator who could identify all the follies - and everyone thinks they could be that supreme dictator - but actually, whenever you try that, you upset a delicate balance of interests where things you don't necessarily see the importance of end up broken. These we see time and again with council restructures that interfere with project development with longer term goals.

Cummings, though, thinking he is the second coming, and an oracle on all things civil service, thinks he can plough in and make sweeping changes to things he couldn't even begin to understand (not least the MoD) and deliver a civil service according to his own grand design that will finally have things running like clockwork. Because Boris Johnson evidently believes him, he'll get his shot. He gets to be supreme dictator over all those he despises.

But we know which way this goes. He will leave in his wake a path of destruction and resentment and an exodus of all the people who make up the institutional memory that helps a bureaucracy function. Without that they start repeating all of the classic mistakes because there is nobody there to remember why it didn't work last time.

The bottom line is that the civil service will always be a bit crap. You get occasional bouts of excellence where very occasionally there is energetic leadership but it never lasts. It just limps on doing what it can with the limited resources it has. Frankly, if it produces expert diplomats like Ivan Rogers and Julian Braithwaite then I don't see what the problem is. 

Or rather I do see what the problem is. These civil servants keep telling shysters like Cummings why the ideological proposals won't work and why he'll have to persuade the minister to order them directly to carry out his instructions just so they have it in writing. This, I suspect is the source of Cumming's resentment and why he feels so bitterly excluded. Just occasionally, it seems that losers get their revenge. 

Draining the swamp?

The news that will occupy our media the most will be the selection of a new cabinet because this is standard fare for them and well within their comfort zone. It's worth some examination in that it gives us an idea of what footing the new government will take, but right now the only thing that really matters is Brexit; when and how it will be delivered. The real cause for alarm is not the selection of ministers, rather the SpAds and advisers. In this case Dominic Cummings.

I strongly suspect his appointment is to do with the "drain the swamp" mentality among the Brexiters who seem to think, as Cummings does, that the Civil Service is a dysfunctional mess, but more importantly, a fifth column seeking to thwart the best efforts of Brexiters.

This really plays well with Tory voters. One of the oldest mantras in the book is how we need to rationalise a "bloated civil service" to deliver a lean and efficient government. This is one of those things people causally repeat without any direct experience and wouldn't have the first idea what to cut or where. If you did actually let them loose things would grind to a halt in no time.

In this instance though, civil servants are becoming a serious problem. They have a nasty tendency to tell ministers that what they've been telling the public is at best undeliverable and at worst, completely out of touch with reality. We have a situation where politicians are saying we can hammer out free trade agreements in a matter of months when it actually takes several years. Obviously the civil servants who point this out are being obstructive and they have to go!

Similarly if experts are saying that there are no magic wand solutions that will solve the border issue in Ireland then we obviously need new experts who will tell us what we want to hear. For the same reason Theresa May had to go, we can't have a situation where policy is made in recognition of the restraints we must operate in. No, we need people who believe. We need SpAds who really know their stuff. We need true loyalists who have never questioned scripture. But it's not enough to just have a purge. Any political hack can do that. We need a real genius at work!

But of course Dominic Cummings is no genius. He's just a political stooge who knows how to act the part of a maverick - dressing like a tramp, throwing his weight around and abusing the staffers. People think he's important because his political masters let him get away with it so it is therefore assumed he's the free thinker who needs a certain licence to get results.

In this instance he serves a strategic purpose. As much as this government wants to bee seen to be radical (draining the swamp of those pesky fifth columnists), a no deal Brexit will cause any number of upsets and technical problems, all of which have been anticipated, but are flatly denied by politicians. They need a scapegoat and the civil service is it. The politicians need heads to roll.

Far from being radical conservatism, this is really just a wrecking spree. The net result will be a number of high profile resignations and transfers leaving the core political apparatus denuded of any expertise whatsoever. But then the Brexiters are fine with this. They already think they know everything and can't be told anything. They still think we can function on WTO rules alone and Brussels will come running at the last minute. Anyone saying otherwise just doesn't believe hard enough. They best be careful how many they cull though. Sooner or later there'll be nobody left to blame.

Course set for failure

Theresa May once said "no prime minister" could ever sign up to the backstop, all the while repeating "No deal is better than a bad deal". Not long after she was pushing a withdrawal agreement with that same backstop in it, and went quiet on that infamous slogan. When asked then if no deal was still better than a bad deal she would duck the question entirely. "What I have said, is that we are working closely with our European partners to blah blah blah..."

So what changed? Quite simply, reality caught up with her. She realised we have no leverage and even a bad deal is better than no deal. The delusion could not withstand the barrage of reality.

Of course the Brexiters would not put up with this. They deal only in delusion and self-deception and if ever there was an ideal figurehead to represent such a position it is Boris Johnson, here and now. The man who famously does not do detail, instead imploring us to believe harder in the greatness of Britain. He's singing their tune and they love him for it. Now he's in command he's making all the same noises as Theresa Version 1.0.

The question is now whether we will get as far as a post-realisation Boris Johnson. Ordinarily a PM making his way into Number Ten would have the facts spelled out by a senior civil servant or adviser, but as we know, there has been a gradual purge of anyone who knows the ropes and Johnson has now recruited one Dominic Cummings. That should keep reality at bay for a time.

There is really only one crucial difference between May and Johnson (insofar as it matters). Johnson believes that no deal is a credible threat and that we have nothing to fear from no deal. When you deal only in rhetoric and bombast, why would you accept for a nanosecond that things might be a little more complicated than they appear?

But then Johnson is also operating on the assumption that we have a report written by a very clever important person from the Institute of Clever and Important People saying we don't need a backstop so if the EU won't do a deal the fault lies with beastly intransigent foreigners. We need to show them who's boss.

That then puts us firmly on a no deal footing. By the looks of it we're getting a cabinet of true believers which means we will essentially have an anti-knowledge government hell bent on executing all of the worst ideas to leak out of the Tory right think tank sewer. Even Liam Fox faces the chop for the crime of acknowledging the reality that those "bumper deals" are not coming any time soon. 

Meanwhile, the message from Brussels is not so warm. Donald Tusk writes "On behalf of the European Council, I would like to congratulate you on your appointment as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I look forward to meeting you to discuss - in detail - our cooperation". That "in detail" is hanging there, heavily pregnant with unambiguous ambiguity that only a career diplomat could muster.

I take it to read that the EU side is not in the mood for bombast and bluster, and if there is to be a deal then it requires a serious commitment by the UK, and one which they seemingly assume Johnson is not capable of.

If Twitter is anything to go by, the Tory party faithful seem to think that because Boris believes in Brexit, the EU will climb down from their position and reopen the books on Article 50 for the sole benefit of Johnson. Not in a billion years do I see this happening. But then this is no longer about outcomes. The right are cock a hoop today, not especially because Johnson is their man, but because he "triggers" all the right people. We have regressed to pure tribalism - which is why this handover looks more like a tinpot junta than a British government. 

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Still on for no deal.

The thing about Boris Johnson becoming PM is that absolutely anything could happen. This is a man with no deeply held beliefs whose only objective is seeking and retaining power. Consequently, nothing this man does is likely to surprise me. Leaving the EU without a deal wouldn't surprise me, but then passing the withdrawal agreement wouldn't either.

Were it that the parliamentary party felt the same way as the membership there probably wouldn't be much of a debate, but being that the Tories have only a tiny working majority, this could be a short lived administration if there isn't a sincere effort to close a deal. It all hinges on whether a handful of saner Tories see the severity of the no deal fallout.

In any case we are likely to go through the theatricals of a new round of talks with Brussels as Johnson attempts to persuade them to drop the backstop. Categorically this is not going to happen. The Alternative Arrangement Commission has come up with nothing at all bankable. We are therefore likely to see a staged showdown with accusations of intransigence thrown in the direction of Brussels.

With The Telegraph and Daily Express lining up behind this narrative, the Tory grassroots will buy it wholesale, failing to recognise that the AAC report is little more than a smokescreen. Their proposal cannot work but then it was never designed to. It's a stage prop in a piece of theatre.

At best, some of the proposals could be written into the political declaration but it wouldn't substantially change the nature of it in that the PD already creates the space to phase out the backstop being that neither side wants it as a permanent feature.

Depending on the electoral arithmetic, Johnson may have to sell this as a major breakthrough. This is where his capacity to tell bare faced lies may well be a national asset, and if Johnson declares black is actually white then the sycophants of The Spectator etc will support that view. The withdrawal agreement may yet limp over the line if MPs realise it really is their last chance to avert a no deal Brexit.

But then with things being as they are, and with Johnson drunk on his party mandate, it could just as easily go the other way where there's a last minute drama where the EU shrugs off the intensity of threats and then as the clock ticks over midnight we are no longer in the EU while parliament vents its impotent rage. It's difficult to see how they can prevent it. They could perhaps register a protest vote, but it's unlikely to be heeded by Johnson.

Were I a betting man I would say we are still on for no deal. It's not just the politics of the situation. As much as the ERG brigade are indeed mendacious shits, ultimately, they and those close to the PM genuinely believe there is nothing to fear from no deal. Nothing anyone outside that immediate bubble says is likely to penetrate. The fever has taken hold and it seems there is no cure.

Femi gets the Grayling treatment.

Remain activist, Femi Oluwole, apparently to be sued by Richard Tice of The Brexit Party. Oluwolue quote-tweeted a 2018 tweet from Leave.EU, which he called "anti-Jewish". The Leave.EU tweet he accuses of anti-Semitism depicts Jewish Hungarian investor George Soros manipulating Tony Blair like a puppet, with the comment: "The face of the People's Vote campaign.".

Categorically, Oluwole is wrong on this. There has never really been an antisemitic strain in euroscepticism that I know of, and I've been on the scene since the days of Alan Sked. The closest we got to it was the silly Bilderberg conspiracies of Rodney Atkinson and his entourage. Even Farage was sensible enough to steer clear of that. The image tweeted by Leave.EU really only speaks to the financial clout George Soros has over key remain spokesmen, including, as I understand it, Femi Oluwole himself. Both Blair and Soros very much represent the globalist voice which is the general thrust of the Leave.EU tweet. Foul natured it perhaps may be, but antisemitic it is not. 

But this does not belong in a law court. This is Twitter politics. Twitter is a self-contained sewer and nobody would know or care what went on there if the media itself did not believe it to be the alpha and omega of politics. I am reminded of that Jonathan Swift quote... "It is the folly of too many to mistake the echo of a London coffee-house for the voice of the kingdom".

You might expect me to enjoy a certain amount of schadenfreude over this, and indeed I do, but only to a point. What we have here is yet another example of rich men using the law to silence political opposition. It was wrong when AC Grayling did it and it's wrong now. When the verdict came through over my own case, when I playfully suggested Grayling had a hard drive full of "underage botty sex videos", I warned "This is not the first case of its type and it won't be the last until the law is repaired or reformed".

This sort of vindictive, tribally motivated lawfare is deeply unhealthy and threatens to spiral out of control to the point where you have to check how much someone is worth before daring to criticise or mock them. If Tice goes ahead with this then he stands to bankrupt Oluwole for the crime of interpreting a cartoon. Pretty soon Twitter then becomes a major source of income for the libel lawyers and this becomes a lucrative way to shut down debate and silence criticism.

My own view is that Oluwole is best ignored. As aleaver I do not in any way feel threatened by anything he says and does. At my most charitable I would describe him as a bit of a prat - but one who occupies our time largely because our media sees him as the voice of remain yoof. I don't doubt that being black has something to do with it too. Diversity quotas and all that. It's not because he has anything particularly intelligent to say. 

The crucial point, though, is that this is asymmetric warfare. The rich versus the poor. Richard Tice and AC Grayling can afford to throw away £30k on a frivolous political assassination for the entertainment of their supporters, hiring the best lawyers in the business to do it. There is no point even filing a defence against that in that the law does not take into account to politically motivated nature of these cases - or even whether any real harm was done. The legal system is weaponised and consequently tainted. Powerful men who want for nothing can strip another of everything he has. Sounds like a great way to discourage the plebs from participating in politics. That's not a society I want to live in.

NB. I told Grayling's hired thugs to fuck off and they're still not getting a penny of the £50k they're demanding. 

Home to roost

I am not exactly Boris Johnson's number one fan. Today ought to be truly horrifying but instead I greet the day with the usual sense of resignation. There, is though, some cause for wry amusement. The chickens are certainly coming home to roost.

The fact of the matter is that for all the malevolence of the ERG, they have always been in the minority and "no deal" has never had majority support. Parliament could very easily have turned that to its advantage. There have been at least half a dozen opportunities to avert it.

In the end, though, Parliament took a gamble. I'm not sure what they thought would happen when they refused for a third time to ratify the withdrawal agreement, but it should have been obvious that Theresa May's position would then be untenable. Did they believe a white knight remainer would rise from anonymity to save the day in the final hour? What did they seriously expect would happen?

So having dumped the only deal on the table for a managed departure, with Mrs May making it quite clear that it was this deal or no deal, we are now lumbered with Boris Johnson.

From here on in we can only expect failure. The new Tory government seems to think all we need do is believe hard enough and the EU will come around to our way of thinking. It will drop its historic opposition to ditching the backstop and back down despite every message since May's resignation announcement saying categorically they will not.

As it happens I am not a fan of the withdrawal agreement. My first reactions on this blog were not too far removed from other Brexiters. the only difference being that I realised that the deal was about as good as it was going to get  and even this deal is better than no deal. The balance of leverage was always going to be in the EU's favour and to get out of the EU in one piece we were always going to have to take a hit and hope to claw our way back to some kind of equilibrium.

Instead of facing reality, the ERG brigade threw a massive tantrum, and it was easy to see where that was going. Through the force of propaganda "no deal" had become The One True Brexit, and the only Brexit they would accept. That should have been enough for Parliament to realise that we'd run out of road. Instead they played double or quits while the Labour party sat on its hands.

The excuses for doing so are pitiful. Labour claim the deal did not do enough to protect workers rights. Scuse me, but isn't that sort of the point of a The Labour Party? They expect an external treaty to do the job for them? This is exactly the sort of bovine tribalism that brought us here to begin with.

At the heart of this is a Parliament that never intended to deliver Brexit. They mouthed all the platitudes about respecting the vote and begrudgingly voted to trigger Article 50 but ever since have done everything possible (albeit ineptly) to frustrate the process. That's what made this a them and us fight to the death.

So, as you can imagine, with my Twitter feed this morning full of distraught remainers asking "How did we get here?", my sympathy is not vast. The balance of parliamentary power was always in the favour of the remainers. All they really had to do to avert a no deal Brexit was to simply have accepted that Britain did in fact vote to leave the EU. This they could never do, so today they meet a little thing called consequences.

Saturday 20 July 2019

Brexit: decline and fall

I occupy an unusual space in the Brexit continuum. I don't think we should leave without a deal but I sort of don't care if we do. I will continue to point out why it's bad news and why Brexiters are wrong about EU trade but at this point, with no hope of salvaging the situation I might as well give in to my inner nihilist and say let the chips fall where they may.

I've felt this way for a while because I don't think remaining in the EU leaves us any better off in the long run. We could actually be worse off if we remain. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to tell you how leaving the EU on WTO terms frees us to do "bumper deals" with the rest of the world. I don't take you for stupid. I just ask you to consider for a moment that not all is well with the status quo. Here I point you to blog extract from 2017.
A report in today's Telegraph has it that the number of "silver renters" in England is set to treble to a million, analysis of official data shows, as more people are leaving it too late to buy their first home. According to analysis carried out by campaign group Generation Rent, the number of private renter households in England headed by someone aged 65 or older is set to increase from 370,000 in 2015-16 to 995,000 by 2035-36. The rise will come as the result of more people reaching their forties without having made their first step onto the housing ladder, at which point it becomes increasingly difficult to get a mortgage, the report said.
Meanwhile, other reports indicate that about 15 million people have no pension savings and face a bleak future in retirement. The Financial Lives survey of 13,000 consumers by the FCA, the biggest of its kind, found that 31% of UK adults have no private pension provision and will have to rely entirely on the state in their retirement. The full state pension is £159.55 per week, but that is only available to individuals who have a complete record of national insurance contributions.
Of particular worry is the group of people aged over 50 who are not paying into a pension and have few years left to build one up before they reach their 60s. When the FCA asked why they had made no provision, 32% said it was too late to set one up, 26% said they could not afford it and 12% said they were relying on their partner’s pension. Auto-enrolment has brought millions of people into pension saving for the first time, but millions of self-employed and part-time workers are not in the scheme. Then turning to another report in The Guardian we see that British workers can expect among the worst pensions in the developed world. This is as councils are set to spend more than 40% of their budgets on adult social care.
Piling on the woes, we then get this from The Guardian yesterday.
More than 600,000 members of so-called ‘Generation Rent’ are facing an “inevitable catastrophe” of homelessness when they retire, according to the first government inquiry into what will happen to millennials in the UK who have been unable to get on the housing ladder as they age. People’s incomes typically halve after retirement. Those in the private rented sector who pay 40% of their earnings in rent could be forced to spend up to 80% of their income on rent in retirement. If rents rise at the same rate as earnings, the inquiry found that 52% of pensioners in the private rental sector will be paying more than 40% of their income on rent by 2038. 
This will mean that at least 630,000 millennials are unable to afford their rent. They will find themselves homeless or with no choice but to move into temporary accommodation, at the state’s expense, according to the report by the all-party parliamentary group on housing and care for older people. The report also forecasts that, in terms of quality of accommodation, the number of older households living in unfit and unsuitable private rented accommodation could leap from about 56,000 to 188,000 in 20 years’ time and to 236,500 in 30 years’ time. And it warns that the UK is headed towards an ‘inevitable catastrophe for the pensioners of tomorrow”.
These are massive problems and they have major secondary implications for the wealth of the nation. We are sitting on a time bomb. And being that my instincts on this sort of thing are usually pretty good, I think it will pop a lot sooner than anticipated.

Here you might ask what does any of this have directly to do with the EU? You can argue not a lot, or you can argue that the EU in many subtle but important ways neuters democracy, diverts resources and places constraints on what government national and local can do, to the point where we have a managerial culture in government that never steps over the invisible boundaries and wouldn't have the imagination to do so. I could argue a convincing case but it's really down to which side you stand on as to whether you buy it.

Supposing we did start building houses to an extent that outsrips demand, that's not actually solving a great deal. Look at the building currently going on. Massive expansion of Didcot and developments all the way through Cambridgeshire all the way up to Wisbech. London commuter belt - to channel evermoor people into London each day on creaking infrastructure - to face longer commutes if they stand any chance of an affordable mortgage.

It is difficult then to see how people can start saving for their old age and, or even a deposit for that matter. But even then the problem is more nuanced. My generation and those that follow lack the austere mindset of our recent ancestors and have expectations of a decent life without having to save. There are more temptations than ever, more booby traps like car finance, and greater availability of luxuries. I'm not in the least bit surprised that the natives are outperformed by immigrant labour which is often willing to work for less and make greater sacrifices in standard of living.

That, though, brings us to the central questions... is it fair, and is is sustainable? No and no. We can keep infilling the south east, placing ever more burdens on the transports and water infrastructure, not forgetting the energy demands that go with it, but we are not going to keep pace thus the structural problems outlined above are unlikely to be addressed. Moreover, we have multiple crises emerging in terms of access to GPs, access to justice, schools and access to elderly care. It's no use adding thousands of homes to commuter belt ruralshire if there are no school places or GP surgeries.

But then the problems are not strictly economic either. Everyone complains about politicians at the moment for being lazy, venal, incompetent and thick, but actually, I don't think they are a breed apart. They just the product of the society we live in. An overly indulged, self-absorbed, selfish and privileged society all too used to do as we please assuming someone else picks up the tab. We keep complaining about the politicians but we still go out and vote for whichever hapless biped on the basis of their rosette colour. Just look at Peterborough. The deposed MP is a lying criminal and is replaced by a thicko antisemite from the same party. That Boris Johnson is about to become PM ought to ring alarm bells.

I actually think civics and citizenship as a concept has collapsed in British society. On occasion I am accused of having a rose tinted view of the past and I am sufficiently self-aware to know there is some truth in that, but I still think we have a more transient, atomised and selfish culture. People park where they like, fly tipping is epidemic, and generally people would prefer to dump granny on the council than look after their own.

Speaking of councils, local government has also lost it. These days I don't even answer the door because it's going to be either a Crapita goon pretending to be a TV inspector or a council bailiff for some or other fine or forfeiture. Just recently a couple of thugs in stab proof vests impersonating police officers because a snowflake was offended by a tweet.

More worryingly we are increasingly seeing politics done through the courts, ranging from petty political vendettas to matter of national importance from Brexit to the NHS. That's indicative of something and it's not good. Then there's the media. Worthy of a much longer discussion but just when you think it couldn't get any more asinine and banal they go and prove that it could, by a country mile. A healthy democracy cannot function this way.

I wish I could say this was the ranting of a middle aged fart, but I'm only just forty and I've thought much of this for several years now. This litany of grumbles is not exactly new to my readers. I think we are seeing a slow motion implosion of British society - and it is connected to EU membership - and it it really shows when you start to look at the details of governance where the basics are only just functioning and won't withstand another shock like 2008. 

But, says the remainer, there is no way we can address these issues if we vote to make ourselves poorer by leaving the EU. But the problem is only partly financial. It is also a question of whether we have the political talent to bring to bear on these problems. You know the answer to that.

This is part of an ongoing discussion on this blog as to whether Brexit really is the political reboot I hope it will be. On some days I'm optimistic but on other days not so much. But I do know one thing that's an absolute certainty. Remaining in the EU would see a very rapid reversion to business as usual. The worst crop of MPs in living memory -  they who utterly failed at every milestone in the Brexit process, they who just voted to give pensions to IRA terrorists, will go back to their usual routine as though nothing ever happened - and back to their usual virtue signalling indulgences.

There are four basic points to make here.

1. The economic model is not working.
2. The political model is not working.
3. For us to have a functioning economic model we must first have functioning politics.
4. Remaining in the EU sees one and two worsening with no resolution in sight.

We are approaching a societal cliff edge as much as an economic one. So I have to ask, what has the status quo done for me lately?

Thursday 18 July 2019

More hidden Europe.

Like many a weary Brexitologist, I didn't want to spend the day debating smoked fish regulations. As eureferendum.com notes, whenever we hear flatulence from Boris Johnson in respect of regulation, it's safe to assume that he is wrong and very probably making it up. This is also, justifiably, the assumption anyone in the media makes and in this instance the EU has sought to correct the record.

Typically, North senior was first on the scene to point out that, this time, there is a requirement in EU law for these such products to be refrigerated in transit. The full explanation goes much further than the research of the BBC or The Telegraph (as per usual), but now the media caravan has moved on, the record will likely never be corrected. Now that the EU Commission has spoken, that will be taken as gospel and that is that. You can't win in this game when you're below the line.

What's interesting is how the EU denies any responsibility whatsoever, so in one tedious iteration of the great regulation debate, we have a macrocosm of the Brexit debate as a whole. Each side of the Channel is blaming the other, with no clear line of accountability, and only if you have the depth of experience necessary (and the memory) can you really tell what the score is. Of itself that is sufficient reason to leave the EU.

What's interesting though, says Eureferendum, "the Commission spokesperson talks about "national rules" as if they were something separate, standing clear of Union law, entirely under the control of the Member State. Yet any such rules must be directed at implementing the EU's hygiene package, and they must be submitted to the Commission for approval before they apply. They are, therefore, determined by the framework of EU law, even if there is some flexibility afforded in the wording. Effectively, even "national rules" are EU mandated. [...] In any event, it would be unlikely that the commission would approve any national rules that had no provision for temperature control of mail order foods".

Though I couldn't nail the specifics on this one, I was earlier forced to ask whether there really was such a gaping hole in EU rules where it would allow full the discretion of member states on a very specific product type. It didn't smell right. A bit fishy, one might say. But again this is "hidden Europe" at work.     

This relates to one of the oldest debates in the history of euroscepticism. You will remember in the early days, it was claimed by some that Brussels made 75% of our laws. This spawned a similarly tedious row where remainers did some number crunching of their own to produce an entirely different figure suiting their own narrative that EU influence was minimal.

Again that was an entirely pointless debate and fodder for the usual tribal trench warfare which totally misses the point. So much of our law may well have been drafted and passed by Parliament, but Parliament has done so because it is instructed to do so. The 2008 Energy Act is one such example, where notionally it is domestic law but enacts all manner of instruments as mandated by the EU and subject to EU approval. It is, therefore, pretty much impossible to fully understand how many laws truly originate in the EU.

Then as much as our own parliament is an implementing agent, any new technical measures must be approved by the EU - and there are always associated reporting requirements. This is how the EU functions past, present and future. A recently defeated Commission proposal was the Services Notification Procedure (a follow-up to the 2006 Services Directive). The measure would have allowed the EU to annul new laws and regulations developed by national parliaments, regional assemblies, and local governments across Europe if any such measure created a barrier to inter-EU services provision. In effect, any new law at any level, on virtually any subject would be subject to EU approval.

This attracted an unusual level of pushback in mainland Europe but it barely registered in the UK debate. That it was defeated in the European Parliament, though, is neither here nor there. EU proposals never die. They just hide for a while and then sneak in by the back door; a piece at a time if necessary. Being that the EU is forever redefining trade, eventually the Commission will find a way to make it stick.

The truth of the matter is that there is no longer a clear delineation between EU and national competences. The two are intertwined and while we are in the EU, the EU is the supreme authority. Though Eureferendum notes that there exists a perfectly reasonable and sensible requirement for mail order foods to be kept chilled, we couldn't get rid of it even if it were, as Johnson asserts, "Pointless, pointless, expensive, environmentally damaging 'elf and safety'".

Though one is never going to go to the barricades of fish refrigeration regulations, and this blog recognises the necessity for regulatory harmonisation, it should again be noted that this dynamic applies throughout on all measures over and above trade governance where the parameters of our society, the invisible bars of the cage, are defined by the EU where notionally we have sovereignty, just so long as the exercise of it falls within those parameters. Being that the case, we cannot say we are a democracy until we have left the EU.