Friday, 16 September 2016

On Populism: What do we do? vs Who do we blame?

If you ask the wrong question, the answers will not work.

"Populism" is, like pornography, hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Wikipedia defines it thus

"a political ideology that holds that virtuous citizens are mistreated by a small circle of elites, who can be overthrown if the people recognize the danger and work together. Populism depicts elites as trampling on the rights, values, and voice of the legitimate people"
It's clear Farage's lauding of a victory for "mediocre ordinary, decent scum people" he was speaking in this vein. But I don't think this captures the essence of populism. Mainstream politicians "Managerialists" in the Populists' vernacular ask "how do we solve this problem". You can be a capitalist, or a socialist, believing in different answers, but at least you agree on the question. Populists aren't asking this question, but instead "who do we blame?". The answer given by Momentum and UKIP may differ: Bosses vs Immigrants, Capitalists vs the EU but the question is the same.

There's also the populists view that MPs rather than being representatives paid to exercise judgement, are delegates paid to vote on someone else's behalf. In this, Paul Mason and Douglas Carswell are in agreement. But this is simply mob rule and behind it is a fear that legislators may Go Native, if they're allowed thanks to the corrosive influence of "[insert boogeyman]" in their long-running campaign to keep the "real" people down. But perhaps legislators know best; they have exposure and access to what passes for facts in this field, and are paid to study it, maybe there's something in the idea of representative democracy after all.

It's always easier to imagine you're the victim of an elite conspiracy, subject to "discrimination" on the grounds of class or race, or at risk from being "flooded" by immigrants, than it is to answer the question "what to I do?". Whether you're running your own life, or that of a nation, what to do is hard, and one of the stresses of modern life is the extent to which people are free, which means they have to make choices. No longer can you just follow dad into the Factory. Because many suffer from crippling loss aversion, these choices are scary, which is why stupid people yearn to be led. They look for leaders who offer answers which fit their prior prejudices and make sense of a complicated world. Corbyn and Farage have made careers finding and stroking a tribe's prejudices, soothing their people's indignation against a world they feel is against them.

The reason populism is so toxic to political discourse is that in apportioning blame, they create a slipway for the launching of vastly damaging ideas. "It's all the EU's fault" leads to Brexit*. "It's all the Fat Cats' fault" and you have a country that looks like Venezuela. If you start blaming immigrants or minorities, well we saw where that went in the last century. It's also why the Brexiteers ran from office at the moment of victory. Delivery isn't in the populists' skillset. The permanent masturbatory pleasures of opposition are what they crave, always losing so they can keep telling their people the game's rigged against them. If they win, then all those inadequate people will have to start making choices and they feel completely lost again. Much easier to simmer in resentment against an immovable object which allows you to blame it, rather than yourself for your failings.

*This isn't a place for a debate on the merits or otherwise of Brexit. Any comments on that subject will be deleted.

One of the reasons for the Populist's success (please note the "one of" at the start of this sentence) is Russia on the internet. The internet allows people to form much denser ideological defences against reality. And into the internet, there is a wounded superpower, pouring poison, poison which people use as ammunition in the defence of their ideological redoubt. Putin's toxic little propaganda swamps like RT and Sputnik are manufacturing and promoting stories which appeal to the populist mindset. Notice how Racists will share RT stories about Immigrants raping white women while members of the Green party will share horror stories about fracking from the same source. Some of these stories will be true. But many are manufactured, exaggerated and twisted specifically to support any party or idea that causes problems to the democratic governments of the west. This is not a random process. It is directed and controlled by the intelligence agency which has captured Russia. Maskirovka raised to a governing principle.

One of the reasons for the UK's relative success as a nation is that up until now, we have been mostly immune from the allure of the populist demagogue. We simply don't have it in us to put too much belief in one man, whether as protagonist or antagonist. Let's hope Brexit is a flash in the pan, and not part of a widespread descent of mature democracies into populist demagoguery. We'll know in 12 months whether democracy can survive or whether, thanks to Trump, Farage and Le Pen, we're going back to pogroms and a summer "campaigning season".

Please let's stop listening to Putin' useful idiots pedalling fallacious simplicity, and start listening to fallible and all-too-human experts again. At least the experts are asking the right question.



Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Banning the Burkini

The Mayor of the French town of Nice has passed a law banning the Burkini, a full body cover designed for swimming. Quite how you define this is beyond me. I for example am luminously pasty and often cover up on the beach because while I CAN go out in direct sunlight, I don't like it. I might, wear a rash suit rather than deal with suncream, especially if on my own. Would I be asked to disrobe, and risk sunburn?


There's the hypocrisy too: Pictures of armed french police demanding a woman disrobe are uncomfortable. I thought we in the west were about female emancipation?


Nuns, bathing in even less revealing clothing inspired ultimately by the same abrahamic exhortation to female modesty, will, I presume remain unmolested.


This isn't about the Burkini, of course, but about muslim integration. There's no doubt muslim immigration has unsettled large swaths of the population of Europe. It's not about terrorism. It's about feeling a stranger in your own country, surrounded in some areas by people who speak a different language, wear different clothes and do not mix or integrate with the native population, and it's these feelings that are driving people to le Front National, Brexit, Swedish Democrats and so forth. 

A Burka ban is clearly silly, unenforceable but eye-catching. A symptom of something we have to address. Perhaps Islam IS incompatible with western ideas, especially where the immigrants are poor and in large numbers. But I don't think this to be the case. The USA, with far fewer, better-educated muslims has done a much better job of integrating than Europe or the UK, where ghettos have been allowed to form, and the 2nd and 3rd generation are, in contrast to previous waves of immigration, no better integrated than their parents and grandparents. If anything in places like Bradford, or the poor areas of Brussels some muslims are becoming increasingly radicalised as immigrant communities and the native population reject each other.

What the people voted for in Austria when they nearly elected Norbert Hoffer, In France when they nearly elected Le Pen, in the UK when they voted for Brexit is an end to immigration, especially of people who don't share our values. And Muslims far too often don't share our values (nor, brexiteers, do they come from the EU...).

In wearing a Burkini on the beach, or the Niqab in town, a woman (or her husband...) is visibly making a statement rejecting French culture. A man in a Shalwar Kameez makes the same statement. If he's in a local majority, these clothes subconsciously say "this place is ours now, not yours" and this can feel profoundly threatening. Especially when combined with a wave of Islamist-inspired terrorist outrages. The difference between me wearing a rash suit on a beach, and a woman wearing a burkini is one of intent. The only statement I am making is "I have very pale skin".

These feelings are inchoate, but they are real. The rejection of western society represented by the people wearing these clothes is real. I don't like seeing a woman in Niqab, which makes me profoundly uncomfortable with the alien creed behind that outfit. Clearly I don't think I should have a right to do anything about it, and the problem is mine more than theirs. The state controlling how people dress is clearly absurd and illiberal. There's little that can be done beyond an exhortation to the locals to exercise a bit of tolerance, and to the Muslim population of Europe to make an effort to fit in. Blaming "islamophobia" will just make matters worse because radical Islamism as practiced by a small minority is the main terrorist threat and the isolated, unintegrated communities of overwhelmingly decent muslims is the water in which the islamist sharks swim. Fear of unintegrated muslims isn't irrational. Multiculturalism doesn't work. We all need to share the same values, and isolated, inward-looking communities which reject mainstream society don't work for anyone.

Integration is as much about appearance as behaviour. So, yes, in France, 'making an effort' probably does mean getting the girls out on the beach. And Muslim chaps: perhaps save the Shalwar Kameez for the Mosque on Friday, try to look like a Frenchman the rest of the time? That way the locals will feel less threatened, and muslims will be less isolated. Ultimately a law banning Burkinis represents a failure of European society to persuade immigrant communities our society is better. Do we even still believe it is? And Finally, les Gendarmes: have a look at the Peelian principles and leave innocent women on the beach alone, whatever they choose to wear. This sort of thing is about persuasion, cultural change and shouldn't be enforced by men with guns.

Now, where's my leopard print thong, and the factor 50?



Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Brexit: Four scenarios.

There has been a significant rally in markets, if not yet in business sentiment since the Brexit referendum. Much of this rally is down to currency, as the UK local (stocks with >60% UK earnings) remains down, especially if you measure it in $ terms. But there has been significant relief that the chaos of the first few days didn't last. A remainer with a safe pair of hands promised to deliver. "Brexit is Brexit" became the mantra of the prime-minister after she won in a contest which reinforced the Conservatives' reputation for ruthless efficiency. I doubt May wants to go down in history as the PM who ended the UK by triggering article 50 and precipitating Scottish independence, but nor does she want to go down in history as the PM who "stabbed UK in the back" and split the Tory party for good by refusing to deliver on the referendum result. So she's done, skillfully, what all good politicians do in a tricky spot: Act like a Rugby full-back: take a sidestep and boot the ball into touch.

To this end, David Davis and Liam Fox, two prominent campaigners for Brexit have been given their own Brexit playpens to try and thrash out what they want. They are, of course learning on the job. Brexiteers are the dog that caught the bus: they don't know what to do with it and many of them, like Michael Gove are being scraped out of the tyre treads as we speak. It's clear neither Davis nor Fox have any clear idea what "trade deals" can deliver, or what the single market is, or why it's valuable. But they've been barking their half understood points now for so long, that when asked by grown-ups "what do you mean?" they blink stupidly and repeat the same turgid tropes as if that will solve the many manifest problems that were pointed out at such length two months ago.

Brexit is, remains and was always going to be a terrible idea. This will slowly dawn on the people charged with delivering it. It's going to be very very hard, will require the total commitment of the entire UK state to deliver a good outcome, as well as skilful diplomacy and the goodwill of our European partners. The Brexit Referendum was not binding, it was explicitly advisory. The apparatus of the UK state has little enthusiasm for Brexit: not the civil service, not the PM, not the diplomatic corps and there's little goodwill towards the UK in European capitals. There are a great many who will try to overturn the result. And there is more than an outside chance they (we) will be able to do so. "Brexit" may mean Brexit for now, but no-one's defined Brexit or our post-brexit relationship with the EU. Because "no relationship" isn't an option. 

Several things are already clear: Article 50 is not adequate for the task. Greenland (population: several polar bears) had one issue, fish, and leaving the EU took three years. Do you think the world's 5th largest economy can successfully extricate itself in two after 40 years in the club? No. Article 50 was inserted into the lisbon treaty in order to appease UK brexiteers, and was never intended to be used. (The moral of the story: never try to appease the unappeasable),

Every month, the triggering of article 50 gets pushed back, from "by the end of the year" when May came to power to "some time in 2017". As 2017 draws nearer, and the UK is still no closer to working out what it wants from Brexit, people will realise that the French and German elections will enable the UK to *start* pre-article 50 negotiations with the new Governments in late 2017. This pushes article 50 back to 2018 at the earliest. This is the Head-Banger position: "Article 50, come what may and to hell with the cost".

But once you get into 2018, the UK general election is hoving into view. As should be clear, Triggering article 50 is likely to provoke a recession, and if you want a discretionary recession, it's probably best to get it out of the way early in the parliament. Few parliamentarians want to lose their seats because of an angry electorate being given what they asked for. The electorate's memory is short, and you can take credit for the recovery afterwards. So it is more likely that the Conservatives will go into the 2020 election (which they will probably win comfortably) with a manifesto commitment to trigger article 50 (or leave in some other way) in that parliament. Ironic really, because the person who made the party electable after 13 years in the wilderness asked one thing of his party: to "stop banging on about Europe". His legacy: a decade of talking about nothing but.

And by this point the rest of Europe will really rather want us to shit, or get off the pot rather than having Brexit clog up the machinery of EU governance for another decade. Anger at the UK for having the temerity to leave will have faded, and cooler heads who see a mutually beneficial solution will be best all round, will prevail. Already Germany is making friendly noises about a special UK deal. Martin Roth:
‘Given Britain’s size, significance and its long membership of the European Union, there will probably be a special status which only bears limited comparison to that of countries that have never belonged to the European Union’
This seems reasonable. But it won't be delivered quickly, nor will it be easy to deliver it via article 50. More likely it will be delivered via a new treaty with the EU some time in the next parliament.

By which time the deal we're likely to get is taking shape. And It's looking likely that the best deal on offer was the one we already enjoyed, perhaps with some bone thrown to the UK on freedom of movement. But remember we're talking about a situation in which a New Parliament, unbound by any constitutional obligation to trigger article 50 beyond the manifesto, has negotiated a new deal within the EU. The 2016 Referendum would be ancient history, and there will be calls for the new deal to be put to a referendum because "a mandate is needed". And the madness stalking democracy will have passed. And so if there is a second referendum, this time, remain will probably win. But that happy outcome remains an outside chance.

Article 50 delivered some time this parliament: 20% (& falling)
Article 50 triggered early next parliament: 30%
Leaving the EU, but not by article 50, possibly following 2nd ref on "the deal": 20%
Second referendum on "the deal", remain wins: Article 50 not triggered at all: 30% (and rising).

The longer we wait for article 50, the less likely it will be triggered, the less likely we leave, and the greater the likelihood, if we do leave of a good deal, mutually beneficial to all concerned. Those clamouring for "Hard Brexit", now are mainly Turnip Taliban, obsessed by immigration and unconcerned by the economy. Thankfully, May seems to be in no hurry, the Chancellor said Brexit would take 6 years, and most of the Brexit hardliners have already vomited themselves into an increasingly irrelevant bucket called UKIP. Either way, in or out of the EU we're probably watching the slow-motion betrayal of the most fervent Brexit voters. Their howling at the EU was nothing more than resentment of the modern world, and so they are unappeasable. So there is no point trying to please people who simply voted to smash something people they resent, valued.

This is as it should be. No country which aspires to greatness can for any length of time have its agenda set by ill-educated, elderly losers, waiting to die in depressing hell-holes at the end of the line. Thankfully, with sensible people back in charge, the outlook is improving in inverse proportion to liklihood of Brexit.



Monday, 11 July 2016

So We Have a New PM. Yes, this is Democracy.

So Theresa May is going to be Prime Minister soon. We live in a representative democracy, not a direct one, and the Conservative party was elected by an electorate who (could have) had the full knowledge that Cameron wasn't going to contest the 2020 election. May is part of his top team, and represents continuity. There is no need for an election, and she has a job to do.

I suspect Brexit is going to happen, but May will be more likely to manage to remain in the single market. The worst elements of the Brexit camp have now been sidelined. If the immigration obsessives can be thrown under the bus in favour of "passporting for the banks", so be it. After all, immigration wasn't on the ballot. "Democracy" you see...

If there is to be a bright economic future for the UK, the single market is probably part of it. Quite what benefits this brings compared to being in the EU is beyond me; the faith in "free trade agreements" to be part of this are likely to be overdone. Within the single market, we will still pay in, and obey all those rules that so "hamper" the UK (which was until a couple of weeks ago was... um.. the best performing developed economy, and no brexiteers could point to unnecessary rules). What the UK still exports are unlikely to be particularly hurt by small tariffs, and FTAs rarely cover services, which the UK is good at.

If we can remain in the Single Market via some sort of bespoke deal, with some token bone thrown on free movement, then that might be a compromise which will end the issue that has poisoned politics for so long, for good. The crucial negotiations to withdraw from the EU are going to be handled by grown-ups. rather than a tryo of questionable competence.

My guess - a framework for Brexit will be negotiated with partners after the French and German elections in 2017, with article 50 to be triggered at some point within the parliament. However, I see no reason why those of us who want to remain, should stop campaigning for it to not be. Democracy, after all, is a process, not an event. One man, one vote, once is the "democracy" favoured by dictators. If we can get a new deal with the EU, perhaps one with a significant changes to the relationship, there might be grounds to stay in the EU.

I suspect the one risk is that this process will not be quick enough for the "bastards" (John Major's description...), who will want article 50 triggered more or less immediately and who will sniff betrayal at every step. The "Remainiacs" may well get stronger as time passes, and of course the bastards have a point that the longer before article 50 is triggered, the less likely it will be. If you don't like this, UKIP is over there, folks. You know what to do. Don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.



Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Mary Whitehouse Experience

The "Bastards" who see the British membership of the European Union as the central question of politics are not only petty-minded nationalists. They are also mostly small-minded, authoritarian christian bigots. They aren't just coming for free movement, they're against gay marriage too. They're against most of the modern world. It's true, I do agree with them on the economic questions of the 20th century, but that no longer matters, the economic liberals' victory is pretty comprehensive.


Leadsom represents the conservatism of Mary Whitehouse, not Margaret Thatcher. This is why Leadsom has such enthusiastic support from UKIP. She is the culture war, as well as the brexit candidate. This isn't about Europe. It's not about economics. It's not left and right. It's open vs closed society. 

They don't just want to reverse the European Union, but roll back the "permissive society" of the 1960s. These are the purse-lipped miserablists who write into local papers complaining about "filth" on TV or "hooligans" in the street, who in reality are just boys playing football. This is the racist aunt, who now feels confident to say she doesn't like Mrs Patel in no.34 because she smells funny. This is the Daily Mail (Paper, not website) made flesh, obsessed by what other people do in the bedroom, and absolutely terrified someone, somewhere might be having fun.

This is where we are, when Theresa May is the standard bearer for the liberal cause. What a time to be alive.



Saturday, 2 July 2016

Labour and Tory are Electoral Coalitions Which Have Been Broken

The referendum last week as a fundamental break in British politics. While article 50 remains uninvoked, I remain hopeful it won't be. There is now a pro-European backlash representing nearly half the country. Maybe more, given the buyer's remorse from leave voters who didn't expect to win and now realise the consequences are potentially vast.

Whatever, the die is cast. There were 2 leave campaigns. One, an open-society, free-trade vision with which I have some sympathy. Already, the USA, Canada, Australia and Ghana have reached out for free trade with us. New Zealand, those dear, distant friends (except during the 80 minutes of a Rugby match) have gone further and offered their trade negotiators to boost the UK's corps of 12.

This is welcome, and it's a start. But it won't go close to replacing the benefits of the single market. Not least because many of the benefits of free trade with these Nations we effectively enjoyed or will have enjoyed anyway one day within the EU.

This free trade vision of post-brexit Britain was not the loudest voice, and the main effect of the brexit referendum was to draw the battle lines between those who desire and open Society, and those who desire a closed Society.

If the Tory Labour split was mainly about economics, taxation and redistribution, a battle the free market privatising Tories comprehensively won. the new culture war is about what sort of society we want to be. Imagine this split looking something like spectrum between the Liberal Democrats, and UKIP. The current electoral coalition is no longer fit for purpose.

It looks like the party that has brought this catastrophe upon us, will end up being the chief beneficiary in electoral terms, at least in the short term. If the Tories manage a coronation of Theresa May and not go to the party in the country with a final shortlist of two, they will have achieved a vision of competence that perhaps they no longer deserve.

Assuming no major disaster beyond that expected, labour being in complete disarray will be unable to capitalise on the chaos of the brexit negotiations. Furthermore labour have been abandoned by large swathes of the electorate in the Heartlands of the North, adding to their wipeout in Scotland.

John Major's "Bastards" however, are working hard. Having won the first battle in the culture War they are looking to press home their advantage and install one of their social conservative candidates as prime minister. UKIP candidates already rejoining the Conservative Party.

However it is premature to write off the Conservative Party to the morlocks just yet. UKIP will become an electoral Force across large swathes of England. Corbyn will have achieved his function and destroyed the Labour Party reducing it to a few hold out in a few cities.

If UKIP does indeed become electrically successful, expect to see the right of the Conservative Party move that way. This leaves a space within the Conservative Party for the sensible elements of the Labour Party who have come to terms with the twentieth century's economic settlement to make common cause with their fellow open Society advocates across the floor of the commons.

Just as the Labour leadership election going on at present is about the ownership of the Labour brand, (does it belong to hard left socialist, or the social Democrats of the centre?) so is the Tories'. If Leadsom wins the leadership election, then the Tories will move right and absorb UKIP. May, supported almost exclusively by the Tory MPs who favoured remain, Leads the liberals, but whichever way The Tory Party will dominate politics for the foreseeable future (about 3 days at present...)

The Be.Leavers may think this choice of Prime Minister is about Europe, but actually it's about an open vs a closed society.

The European Union was a hard institution to love. I was certainly a harsh critic of it. It's hubris in assuming the trappings of a state, are a large cause of the resentment. Unbecoming arrogance from the panjandrums of Brussels didn't help.They revelled in the myths of their omnipotent Power, myths which fed the Paranoid delusions of the people who want to leave.

However I never felt compelled to make destroying it my life's purpose. I suspect the EU is an institution who's value only becomes apparent when it's gone. It seems that the Scots viewed Europe as something of a counterweight to the hegemon to their South. As such the European Union had become one of the ties that bound the Union together. The the European Union was Central to the Anglo Irish settlement.

Above all above all the European Union was a crucial part of the Post cold war security architecture of Europe. It seems likely that Russia under Putin will get a much easier ride from a European Union that does not contain the United Kingdom. We are weakened. And Putin is emboldened. As are the idiot populists of the democratic world, who seek to thow up borders, pull up the drawbridge and sulk at the modern world.

I've seen this flick before, and it doesn't have a happy ending.

This also comes down to identity. We have seen a rise of English and Scottish identity, and a fall of British identity. Britain is the loser. British is an identity into which it is much easier to assimilate  new  citizens. And as for me, I am not English. I am British. I am not European, I am a man of the West. Brexit has divided Britain. It's risks dividing to West. And it almost certainly will makeus  poorer weaker, and less able to confront the new threats of the world. It is, for most people who voted for it, a vision of little England, not caring about the Scots, or the Irish, or our friends and allies accross the continent. This isn't the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland I have served most of my adult life.

I Lament the loss of the world European Union was trying imperfectly to create: one of trade openness and political stability. A Unified West Staring Down our enemies and keeping the world free. If there is one lesson of history it is that revolutions eat their children, and nothing good comes from smashing functioning institutions.

Pour your bile into the comments. I have chosen my side. It's whoever stands for an open Society, free trade, low taxes, constitutional conservatism and economic competence. That half of the Conservative Party still exists.

Just.

My Great Britain still exists.

Just.



Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Upsides of Brexit

For weeks I have been asking for an upside to Brexit, some benefit to me that justifies the destruction of the UK and a significant fall in our prosperity.

We're all agreed the "it will have little effect" argument was nonsense? Good.

First up "Democracy". Well the EU was a club of democracies that tried hard to be democratic itself. Power rested with the council of ministers who were elected by the people of the countries concerned. The commission was akin to a civil service, advised. Such bodies are never elected anywhere in the world. Then there was the parliament, who chose the president. Above all, the EU basically dealt with issues concerning trade. So we have democratic control over issues we're going to have to accept what the EU says anyway. Good one. We are no more "democratic" now than on Thursday.

"Freedom"? For whom? To do what? I can think of several freedoms I've lost.

"Trade deals" If you think a trade deal with even the US (which won't cover services) even remotely compensates for the single market, then I've a bridge to sell you.

"Immigration?" Well it will only fall if there's a big recession resulting in mass unemployment. Besides the official campaign won, not the hateful UKIP bigotry, and the Government will probably keep us in the single market with (basically) free movement. The bigots will be betrayed.

The upside to Brexit is, for the people who supported it, the satisfaction of smashing something someone you hate holds dear. I hope you're proud of yourselves.

I welcome comments suggesting other upsides, but any comment that boils down to one of the answers above, will be deleted.




Saturday, 25 June 2016

Well, The Wish Has Been Granted

So, the polls were rightish, and the Turkeys did vote for Christmas. A sledgehammer has been taken to the post-cold-war security architecture, and Vladimir Putin is happy.

What Next?

Well. There is much that can happen. Article 50 will be invoked by the next Prime Minister, but still needs to be ratified by Parliament. So it is possible a General Election could get in the way. A new parliament will not necessarily be bound by the referendum result.

In the looming crisis, I reflect on this: The Tory right couldn't help but pick at the scab for 40 years. All they needed to do was, as Cameron asked, stop "banging on about Europe", and they coukd have been in government for 20 years. But the Tory right's mania about Europe couldn't be assuaged. And in giving in to it, it seems likely they will shatter not just the EU but the UK. Scotland is Angry. The Dutch, Danes, Swedes, Greeks and others will want a referendum too. Which is why I don't expect the EU to play nice.

Welcome to the fun new Zero-sum world. It's probably now in the UK's interest to see the European project fall. No-one will be better off as a result.

Let's negoitate a deal with the EU. Put it to another vote (so we know what we're voting for this time). Obviously the Be.Leavers who believe so fevervently in "democracy" will understand, then invoke article 50.

Or, an EEA-style agreement with free market access and free movement satisfies the demand to leave the European Union, with less damage. The people who thought the referendum was about immigration will be disappointed, but I really don't care what such people think.

There are no upsides to what has happened. I hope the UK survives. I hope there isn't a knock on populust surge around the democratic world. I hope Vladimir Putin doesn't get tempted to try to break NATO too. I hope the recession isn't too bad, but it's probably just that it falls hardest on the areas that voted for it. Which it will. The one part of the the UK that will be fine no matter what is the city. The government will protect its interests, and being "offshore" may even help it.

As for the Tory party? It has got what it has long wanted. There will be a recession. The reputation for economic competence, hard won by Cameron and Osborne, has been sacrificed on the European altar. Again. Be careful what you wish for.



Thursday, 23 June 2016

Referendum Prediction: On Polling Day. And After.


You know my views on this, and it looks like sanity will prevail over the dread forces of nativist populism.

I think a few Tories who threw their lot in with Leave will wake up relieved, as if from a fever, that their frenzy didn't result in too much damage. There hasn't been all that much Blue on Blue action whatever the papers say. I think Gove will not be welcomed back. His hyperbole was too great. But Gove aside, the Tories will find it easier to put the party back together than pundits suggest.

Farage will try to do to England what Nicola Sturgeon did to Scotland. He will tour the country whipping up anti-establishment feeling in all the worst places. Mostly, he will fail, but It remains to be seen whether UKIP can supplant the Labour party in its abandoned heartlands. The habit of voting and activism may have been regained amongst the working class. This is a cure to the ennui they feel, in and of itself. They do matter, and can change things. After all, whatever happens, they just have.

As for Labour, who went AWOL under their laughable leader: well quite a few of the grown-ups will have been working with the saner Tories, and these tribes may find they don't hate each other quite as much as they hate the more extreme elements of their own parties. This is the new divide in politics: Cosmopolitans vs Nativists, Mangerialists vs Idealogues, those asking "what do we do" vs those asking "whom do we blame". This fun new culture war doesn't tie down nicely along party lines. It spreads across groups more used to voting on economic solutions, not matters of identity.

This yawp of dissatisfaction, mainly by people which Labour elite once thought they could rely upon, without having to listen, represented a great wail of anguish at the modern world, which settled upon the EU as a scapegoat, may well sweep the Labour party away.

There are too many working parts, tribal loyalties run too deep. Personalities too difficult to see from afar. UKIP, Tory right and Labour left are not a comfortable coalition. Tory and Labour centrists? Or maybe there will be a new Social Democratic party. Or maybe Labour's centrists may attempt a takeover of the Liberal Democrats....

As for the EU, the panjandrums know deep down, they narrowly dodged an existential crisis, brought about by arrogance, hubris and a tin-ear. They would do well to read this.

But sanity prevails. The broad west can now get on with being the shining light on the hill, the example to other societies for riches, productivity and freedom, to which huddled masses not lucky enough to be born in one of our countries will struggle and risk death to get to. Immigration will remain a fact of life, for as long as the UK is a better, freer, happier place to live, offering more opportunity than elsewhere. All we need is the French to reject Le Pen, and the Americans to reject the Trump. Luckily both look like they will do so comfortably.

Nothing's perfect. Here's my Rallying cry:

WHAT DO WE WANT?
GRADUAL IMPROVEMENT!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
WHENEVER ECONOMIC CONDITIONS ALLOW.

Not one to get the masses to the barricades, but it's delivered more wealth, happiness and prosperity than any other.



A Former UKIP Branch Chairman Backs REMAIN

Cards on the table. Many moons ago I was a member of Young Independence and established the Bolton Branch of UKIP. I was a member when UKIP was in favour of a flat tax, slashing the size and scope of government and was at least pretending to be libertarian. I left when I saw the writing on the wall; that UKIP was turning in a 1960’s Labour tribute band of social conservatism and big government paternalism (my two least favourite things).

I was and still am anti EU. I think it’s officious, bureaucratic, inefficient, meddlesome, nannying, bloated and expensive. But guess what – so are all governments. Long before the EU we were bribed and coerced by unelected faceless British civil servants, so I don’t buy the argument that Brexit would result in some miraculous purging of pedantic officialdom.

But that’s not my main reason for opting for Remain, rather history, the economy, and British values seem to point that way. Brexit advocates seem to want to fight the tide of history. The story of humanity’s political entities has been one, dare I say it, of ever closer union – groups of gathers came together to form small tribes, which came together to form communities, which in turn grouped together to become towns, which became cities, which united to become small kingdoms, which in finally came together to form the nation states we know today. Europe is now trying to forge the next step – that of bringing nation states into something larger. Being the first attempt it seems new and scary, just as there would have been those in the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex who resisted this new-fangled ‘England’, with its distant rulers and burdensome taxes and laws. It’s going to happen, so we can try and influence that as it’s evolves, or we can re-join in a few decades time as a junior member on much worse terms than we have now.

By far my biggest concern is that of the economy. Markets can deal with democracies and dictators, they can handle with Tories or Labour, but what they don’t like is instability and uncertainty, and Brexit negotiations are uncertainty incarnate. Nobody knows how long negotiations will take. Nobody has any idea as to what sort of deal we’ll get. Nobody knows what EU rules we’ll have to abide by and which we’ll be able to ignore. Nobody knows if we’ll repeal existing EU legislation and if so how much. All this is an anathema to business deciding where to sink investment. The best and brightest of the world flock to Britain because their skills and talents have an unrivalled platform and outlets through our links to Europe, the Commonwealth and North America. Brexit and the subsequent reservations about visas and free movement would throw this into doubt. “But it’s in the EU’s interests to give Britain a good deal, we do too much trade for them to jeopardise it”. This message has been the crux of the Leave camps economic case, but it’s tragically naive for it rests on the assumption that EU leaders act rationally. They don’t. The history of the EU is one of making political decisions that go against economic sense. The Euro, the madness of monetary union without fiscal union, was a political project, not economic. The CAP is a political settlement that runs against all but the most projectionist economic rationale.

If Britain opted to leave left the EU Brussels would have to make an example of us. Negotiations would be tortuous, dragged out for years with every line of the settlement debated and revised and amended purely out of spite. Just look at Greece. Every sensible economist pleaded for some form of debt write-off, but no. Greece had to be made an example of, especially after the defiance of the anti-austerity referendum. The vanity and pride of those behind ‘The Project’ cannot be over stated, and EU chiefs really will go out of their way to cause an independent Britain as much trauma as possible if it meant deterring other would be separatists. This is partly why the EU needs Britain. An EU without Britain would mean all the worst aspects of the bureaucracy would be let loose, with little or no restraint. Those members who tend to side with us, like the Nordic nations, would find themselves without a large ally, and would be cowed and bullied into meek compliance. A Britain-less EU would also be a more insular, inward looking beast.

During the 1990s it was Britain that led to the push to see the ten Eastern European states of the former Warsaw Pact brought into the EU, much to the annoyance of the French who argued attention should be focused on deepening integration among the existing members. But Britain triumphed, correctly insisting that without EU membership anchoring these new democracies to the West, they’d succumb to a gradual economic, then political slide back into the Russian orbit. And this is the rule rather than the exception – for Britain gets its way a lot in Europe, especially on the big issues. The very fact the EU is a free trade area is largely down to us. The European Court of Human Rights, though not part of the EU, was created almost at the British behest. That we don’t have an EU Army is down to Britain thwarting the idea every time it rears its head.

 And it’s not just our friends and allies in Europe that want us to stay. The Commonwealth nations, to whom Brexiteers point as an alternative trading bloc to the EU, want us to remain. Our closest ally, the United States, wants us to stay. Both recognise that our membership of the EU is the unique bridge that binds the Anglosphere and the continent of Europe together. Our place in the EU reminds Brussels that there’s a world outside Fortress Europe and that globalisation is an opportunity, not a threat.

It’s no coincidence that the only world leader who supports Brexit is Vladmir Putin, a man itching to divide and weaken a united West that’s hemmed in and punished his geopolitical trolling. I get the frustration with the EU, I really do. I too hear the siren song of Brexit, the temptation to stick two fingers up at Brussels and reclaim sovereignty. But every year nation states get less and less relevant. True sovereignty hasn’t existed for any state since the Second World War. If we took the Norwegian option we’d still have to follow EU rules, but we’d have no say in how they’re made. Leaving would be to ignore the pleads of our oldest friends. Brexit would be an economic roll of the dice that really don’t need. Much like the Scottish Nationalists, the economic case for Brexit rests on hopeful scenarios and keeping our fingers crossed – I’m sorry but the world’s sixth largest economy is too important to gamble on a wing and a prayer. The perfect is the enemy of the good. The EU machine is infuriating, but Britain, the West, and the world is a better place through our membership.

A guest contribution by Lee T Jenkins



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