Monday, 13 January 2020

An open goal for Labour


I actually wish Labour would just crawl under a rock and quietly die. It will survive though, because it's just an empty brand name whose values are wholly contingent on whichever faction happen to be in charge of it. For as long as there are enough activists who think it's a vehicle with which to advance their agenda there will continue to be a fight over the brand ownership. Whether it's electable is wholly contingent on whether the people running it have a passing relationship with the voting public.

One thing we can say with come certainty is that they're not going to win the next general election. Corbyn's clan has done a lot of damage and Labour now has to think long and hard about what it wants to achieve in politics before it can rebuild. I don't think that can be done for as long as the far left have any influence in Labour. Their values are too at odds with normal people. If it is to survive, however, it needs to make a good go at opposing the Tories.

Luckily for them the Tories have left the goalposts wide open. I get the sense that trade policy is now being steered, if not directly controlled, by the ERG. They're pushing hard for full regulatory divergence. Steve Baker asserts on Twitter that "If the UK becomes an EU regulatory satellite, we've failed".

In due course that become the accepted wisdom in the Tory party (if it isn't already) and that likely means taking a massive hit to UK services and anything that relies on frictionless trade. One notes that those countries who are "regulatory satellites" are so because they have a border with the EU and basic gravity principles dictate that we need a higher level of technical and regulatory integration than most.

Then, of course, there's the "Brussels effect" where essentially most of the EU's core trading partners have aligned to EU rules as far as they can and the foundation of those rules are global standards, so in taking us out of the EU regulatory ecosystem the Tories are essentially unplugging us from the global stream of regulation with a view picking and choosing on an ad hoc basis. For the Tories, the last three decades of global regulatory convergence just didn't happen.

In this they have their sights set on the USA, which is problematic since the USA's influence in regulatory affairs is declining being that it is largely a closed market and one that has fallen behind in the global race to export standards and regulations. Moreover the USA is not a contiguous regulatory area. the disparities between states make it difficult for Washington to make uniform comprehensive deals with other countries. A lesson the EU has already learned which is one of the many reasons TTIP stalled.

Then, of course, there's those "WTO rules". The UK is a signatory to the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade meaning we essentially stay aligned to ISO, Codex and all the familiar standards bodies. When you add up all the complications, divergence starts to look like a fool's errand. It doesn't open up any new markets.

Being generous we could say that, were there a joint strategy between the UK and the USA to work toward a rival regulatory framework, using the UK's residual influence with Commonwealth states, there is a basis for divergence but that would be no small feat and would require a twenty year plan between the two at a time when it looks like there isn't even a plan to get us to then end of the year. If such a plan existed, in all likelihood would look like high fantasy.

Whatever the Tories have been smoking there is no chance reality is likely to intrude any time soon. If the UK follows the expected trajectory then there are sure to be some hard lessons and some red faces. Likely it will take less than a year into the future relationship before the effects of a hard Brexit are felt. That means there are four years of bad press ahead for Labour to capitalise on. These are not necessarily the effects of Brexit of itself, rather the culmination of poor decisions made on the basis of Tory fantasies.

Among these is the Tory fixation with free ports; a wholly obsolete idea now superseded with similar exemption status for individual companies within ports which we could have promoted while in the EU at any time. Free port status worked for Singapore in that it's a maritime hub in a region of disparate economies and regulatory areas, whereas the UK is on the doorstep of a powerful contiguous regulatory bloc which might have a thing or two to say about it.

In this Labour needs to recognise that it's going to spend at least one election cycle in the sin bin so should spend the next few years grooming a viable leader, developing a coherent recovery plan while selecting an interim leader like Starmer who can continually give the Tories a bloody nose at the dispatch box and hammer their majority down a little at the next election.

What I expect will happen is that the Tories will get their cut and run minimalistic deal but will end up in negotiations with Brussels for the next decade or more that will eventually see us reintegrated into the EU regulatory ecosystem. Steve Baker believes a US deal is the one guarantee against such an eventuality but he's being optimistic about the scope of any future deal. It's ironic then that Baker should want us tied up with a US deal to prevent any future government changing tack.

A leader like Starmer can't win the next general election. I doubt any of the current contenders could. Anyone taking the reins has to accept their role as a caretaker whose only job is to discredit the Tories as much as possible, making it feasible for the next leader to win. If the opportunities are exploited (and there will be plenty of them) then the Tories could be in for a rough old ride.

The first question off the bat is how all the new regulatory barriers between the UK and the EU (and consequently all the other countries aligned with the EU) can possibly be consistent with Tory promises to revive the economic fortunes of the north. We're about to put a serious dent in our exports of goods and services to the EU without anything approaching a coherent strategy for the rest of the world. It's open season!

This is where Labour needs someone vaguely clued in, and of the available matter, that's Starmer. If Labour selects one of the intellectually subnormal females on offer out of some misguided diversity agenda then they're not going to focus on the issues of immediate importance, are not going to credibly oppose and are not going to get to grips with the dry technical detail that opposing requires of them. They'll declare themselves irrelevant for the next parliamentary term and beyond.

Labour couldn't have picked a worse time to go into meltdown. They've essentially given a reckless Tory party a free ride to impose their economic experiment without any regard to the basic realities of trade and globalisation. These issues might not be of interest to the man in the street who is bored to tears by this stuff, but the consequences certainly will be of acute interest. If Labour abdicates from opposition now then they deserve the extinction that awaits them.

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