Wednesday, May 17, 2017

We don't need Corbyn. We already have a command and control economy

You can tell how debased politics has become by the state of party manifestos. Labour;s being a prime example. In days of yore you would set out your goals but reference papers on how you would achieve it. This would go beyond the fag packet paths we see. These days they spend nothing on research, they don't know how to enact their policies nor are they aware of the many obstacles created by regional and international agreements.

Corbyn being a socialist has decided to say socialist things. Ok, fine. Makes a change. He wants to nationalise utilities. As one might expect. I could be persuaded. But then these people only really know a little bit of history.

As it happens utilities used to be property of local corporations - or as we now call them, councils. Nationalisation was essentially the theft of property. We privatised it because nationalisation had turned it into the unwieldy mess that it was. Corbyn wants to reverse that to a state where it functioned less well than it does now when what we actually want, if we want to bring it back under public control, is re-municipalisation.

In this, you don't have to be a big borrow and spend government. You can simply give councils the power to run their own energy operations. Some councils already act as wholesale gas and electricity buyers and some have reserves large enough to invest in small modular reactors where they could very easily undercut the big power stations by investing in CHP. Using the waste heat water for municipal heating. You then collapse energy demand over time and drive the corporates out of the market. The result is a public controlled hyper efficient energy system that even central government cannot meddle with.

The corporates presently control the market because in effect the grid is still controlled by the government and depends on centrally mandated policy. A genuinely free market wouldn't build Hinkley Point in a million years. This is a government white elephant largely to create jobs. In that respect Tory energy policy is not a million miles away from the socialism Mr Corbyn prefers.

If we adopted municipalisation we could very easily have a mixed market that would ensure genuine competition to the point where central government could be taken out of the picture to a large extent. Energy is presently expensive because of the command and control diktats from central government - largely working to a moonbat climate conspiracy theory. If Corbyn actually wants command and control energy grid that we spunk billions on for the sake of creating jobs he would be just as well leaving it alone.

But this is all so very typical of modern politics. The SNP did very well in the popularity stakes but are now receding because it turns out that they have no idea how to govern. Ukip failed for the same reasons. They had ambitions but no idea what to do when they got there and consequently could not turn popularity into power. The only reason the Tories are deemed competent is because, to a large extent, they are a continuance of the same regime and have no real reform agenda. Better to leave it as it is than hand it over to chimpanzees with no clue at all.

Ultimately, whenever you hear anyone talking about nationalisation you're just hearing sloppy left wing anti-Thatcher grudge politics. Utilities were always local, they were never meant to be nationalised and they suffered because of it. The joke of it being that the hyper-nationalisation of public utilities was driven by the Tories. Despite conservative propaganda, the 1980's and early 1990's saw a great increase in the centralisation of power. Despite privatisation, mythical deregulation and devolution, the government asserted its control over schools, universities, the courts, local government, and the NHS in the same way they had with energy prior to privatisation.

If Corbyn wants to wind back the clock he actually needs to wind it back a lot further than 1970 if he wants workable policies - but he will have to use the methods available in the modern day - by playing the market. No way in hell can we borrow that kind of money and a buy out wouldn't improve matters.

But then in the end, for all that you can say that privatisation failed in its aims to bring down costs and increase efficiency, successive governments have imposed their eco-lunacy and political vanity on the energy industry and taxed the bejesus out of it. Little wonder that bills are eye-watering. If for five minutes markets were allowed to behave as markets do then perhaps we wouldn't have this mess?

But that isn't going to happen is it? Let's get real. Even Brexit won't break our establishment of its vanity and venality. It will remain a command and control system for as long as it can be used to warehouse middle class workers - and as a cash cow to finance the greedy NHS. In that respect you need not vote for Corbyn because May will preside over a modern day model of the centralised state. One way or another we end up paying through the nose. If we're not firehosing money at foreign corporates then we're paying it in interest on the national debt. Wake me up when there's something worth voting for.

Questions to which the answer is "no" #856

From Conservative Woman...
The time has come to execute the outdated NHS and let a more streamlined, functional and sensible reincarnation take its place. Will Theresa May be brave enough to do this and help millions of British citizens suffering pointlessly from such a useless, wasteful and inadequate healthcare system?
Theresa May is a fascist, and is thus not going to remove the state from anything—and certainly not from a system that many British people, inexplicably, see as some sort of religion.

Monday, May 15, 2017

What Conservative Party?

There is term often used to describe EU activity. Mission creep. Gradually taking over areas of competence which should be the sole domain of the member state. When it comes to trade, regulation is increasingly becoming the defining factor where extraordinary decisions affecting the lives of many are taken by courts. Gradually we are seeing agreements encompassing standards on social welfare and workers rights.

As far as the EU goes though this is not mission creep. This is the EU's mission. To establish a Europe wide demos where it alone dictates the framework for social policy. The EU was never intended to be a trade bloc alone. This is why I see Brexit as very necessary. If decisions as to who is entitled to what do not rest with national parliaments then you have lost control over a substantial part of governance. More to the point, these decisions - and the power to press for change is taken away from the people.

I have always taken the view that nation states need the ability to set policy according to their own distinct cultures and working arrangements. Where workers rights are concerned, that is a matter for people empowered by political organisations and unions. As much as this is the most democratic means, it is also the best way to safeguard rights. What we have seen when such matters are pushed out to the EU is that the more entitlements we get the worst working conditions become in reality. There is a disconnect between lawmakers and the public whereby the unintended consequences of centrally mandated policy ultimately erodes competitiveness.

One of the defining features of my earlier career was watching dynamism all but disappear  in the jobs market where decent paying temporary work was regulated out of existence. As a result people are increasingly compelled to stay in bad jobs no matter how awful they are. The rights granted to individuals by the EU have, over time, become anti-freedoms.

Were it the case that the disparate and economies of Europe were convergent, you could perhaps make the case of a uniform social policy. That though is not, and never will be the case. Therefore pressing ahead with such incursions for purely ideological reasons can only ever be harmful.

It is this "social Europe" I am the most fundamentally against. I cannot and do not object to economic and regulatory integration for the purposes of free trade but it is more important than ever that we are free to compete and it is for the good of democracy if the social agenda is one steered by the public and not the faceless officials in the ILO. My beef with the EU has always been political integration.

This is yet another reason why I cannot bring myself to vote for this Conservative Party. If there was any point to Brexit at all it is to set a clear line of delineation between integration necessary for the betterment of trade and that which is nobody's business but ours. In fact, one would argue that Brexit was largely pointless unless the government was going to set about a fundamental rethink of employment and social policy hitherto dictated by EU directives. But what do we see instead? Continuity New Labour.

In some respects the Tories are to be commended for various policy tweaks, especially the so-called "bedroom tax" in that it has nudged welfare dependants into making tough calls which will in the long term improve their prospects. What we need to see though is a far more radical shake up, dismantling the many EU mandated entitlements. For starters the Agency Workers Directive should go straight on the bonfire.

I don't doubt for a moment that this would cause a howl of rage from the left, but why should this government give a tinker's damn? It enjoys a bewildering popularity and will soon have a mandate to do as it pleases. It has never been in a better position to initiate reforms. We are leaving the EU which of itself gives us considerable new powers, and secondly Brexit necessarily will require a fundamental rethink of just about every economic policy in the book.

What it looks like we are getting, though, is yet another cowardly centrist party afraid to stand up to the left when the left has never been weaker. If there was any mandate at all to be found in the Brexit vote, aside from the instruction to leave the EU, it is to bring about policy reform to restore our competitiveness. If we are going for a full blown Brexit then it is absolutely and immediately necessary.

One could argue that in a time of of transition, this government needs to play it safe and not spook the horses but actually, in voting for Brexit, the public have displayed a degree of political courage not generally found among our political class. Why treat them like children? Change is what we voted for - and we're not voting for the politics of Jeremy Corbyn.

The truth of the matter is that this is not a Conservative government. The narrative that may is on the hard right is laughable. The electoral bribes we see this week are every bit as statist and timid as those we came to expect from the Cameron administration.

Brexit of itself achieves very little unless we have a government with the courage to make unpopular choices. Why even bother seeking power if you're not going to make the changes you believe in? But that's really the central question here isn't it? Do these people even believe in conservatism or are they simply seeking power for its own sake?

The media mistakes the authoritarianism of May as "right wing" which is a typically immature interpretation. She is an authoritarian for sure, but no more authoritarian than Tony Blair and has no more intention of reducing state intervention.

As much as this government cannot be trusted to deliver an intelligent and pragmatic Brexit, we cannot even depend on them to do the necessary things when they do make a complete hash of it. They will continue with the same stultifying social democrat policies only without the means to pay for them. In this it is hardly surprising that Labour has reformed as an ultra leftist party because the centre left is occupied by May.

One thing that Brexit will not cure in our politics any time soon is the Stockholm Syndrome that has infected Westminster. Brexit is of no use to us if our politicians continue in the same mindset as the Eurorats. If our domestic policy is going to mirror that of the EU then why go to all the bother?

What I would like to see more than anything from Brexit is a newly dynamic labour market and a political environment where workers reject the old and ossified unions and start their own initiatives. We need to see a restoration of combative politics between the people and their government. We need to see people fighting for and defending their own rights rather than waiting for new EU entitlements. A restoration of real public debate. That can only come about by way of a properly radical Conservative party. When such a party exists, I will readily vote for it. That, however, is not this one.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017


And so to a vital article about which group of tedious fuckers is the most prejudiced...
These findings confirm that conservatives, liberals, the religious and the nonreligious are each prejudiced against those with opposing views. But surprisingly, each group is about equally prejudiced. While liberals might like to think of themselves as more open-minded, they are no more tolerant of people unlike them than their conservative counterparts are.

Political understanding might finally stand a chance if we could first put aside the argument over who has that bigger problem. The truth is that we all do.
No we don't, you wishy-washy, tree-hugging, cod-philosophising, hippie fuckwit.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Brexit is not a quibble over money - so stop treating it like that

What is owed to whom seems to be topical. The figure bandied about this week, based on idle speculation from the FT is a hundred billion Euros. We can expect more of the same guesswork as the French and German elections ramp up.

There are those who assert that nothing is owed and that as net contributor they should be paying us. But of course spent money is spent money. To get an idea of why money is owed we have to look at what we actually pay for. In this context it is our obligations as part of the Multiannual Financial Framework 2014-2020 whereby the various agencies of the EU are funded in order to perform certain functions.

Those agencies in turn have their own overheads and costs. That means they have contracts and since we are a party to the treaties and therefore stakeholders in these agencies, some of the liability falls to us. Not forgetting that Brexit will take a bloody long time and these agencies will be performing their functions in the interim.

Just as I was looking for a good example of what this actually pays for we learn today that three teams of European health inspectors are to conduct audits in the coming weeks to evaluate Brazil’s export control systems for export to the EU. It comes following last month’s revelation that 1,000 police raided 30 companies in Brazil with accusations of rotten and dangerous meat having been sold and public officials bribed.

Officials from the EU’s Commission for Health and Food Safety have confirmed that the inspections will be with specific regard for the measures taken following the outcome of the police investigation. These are all part of the multi-tiered EU surveillance systems for biosecurity, food safety and disease control. There is also Europol which works with international police networks to tackle people smuggling, food fraud and counterfeiting.

And this is where I get seriously bored of the Brexiteer narrative that we should not have to pay to trade with the EU. We don't. It isn't a market entry fee. It is the cost of operating a Europewide system of market controls. This is why you can be reasonably assured that when you get your prescription form the chemist you are getting the real deal and not bleach powder. Fake medicine accounts for nearly 70% of the pharmaceuticals market in parts of Africa.

As to legacy payments made to the EU for the purposes of bailouts etc, these are made as part of separate agreement and largely done in the common interest. The politics of that are disputable but as a matter of accountancy, they are not linked to our overall budget contributions.

The short of it is that there are financial obligations and member states sign off on the Multiannual Financial Framework which makes us a contracting party. How much that actually runs to and how we pay it is the subject of much debate and there will undoubtedly be an amount of haggling over the final sum. It has to be based on some kind of quantifiable expenditure rather than numbers plucked out of the air by EU official or FT hacks trying to stoke up a scare. Conventional thinking puts that at somewhere between 40-60bn (£). Interesting that the FT runs with the figure in Euros.

The suggestion that it is a lump sum to be paid up front is also, as far as I can tell, spurious since the thing about a Multiannual Financial Framework is that it is a Multiannual Financial Framework. It may become a thing, but probably not. The short version, there isn't really a story here yet except that which the Financial Times manages to manufacture. Unless you hear it from the horses mouth, and that horse is speaking in an official capacity, it's best not to get carried away.

But what's really getting my goat is the eye-popping belief system of Brexiteers that says the UK can casually dispense with the EU and do as it pleases in the international arena without any repercussions. What do they suppose will happen to our credit rating should we walk away?

Worse still is the assumption that the EU cannot adapt to our departure. There is no doubt that Brexit will cause significant disruption to the EU and it will have to scale back a number of its operations - and that will be to its own detriment, but it still has its own systems and agencies to call upon. Our own will be in their infancy, a lot less influential and an order of magnitude more incompetent for the foreseeable future.

A lot of people actually want this to happen because it is the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off inside the state where any normal operations just cease to function. Believe me I really can see why that would be an attractive proposition, but actually that has very real world consequences for all of us. Suddenly invisible government that we are used to functioning quietly in the background stops working and we very much notice its absence. Funds will have to be diverted from every day governance. And yes that does mean social care. No budget will be safe. That's great if you're a nihilistic libertarian. Not so great if you're at all normal.

People think I'm being overly pessimistic or exaggerating but the apparent lack of flexibility we see up front in these negotiations is the exact same inflexibility we will see after the fact, only we will have squandered all good will with the EU while landing it with enormous costs. They will not be inclined to break their rules and they won't be in a rush to do us any favours when we realise that market participation was actually necessary. If you think they are seeking to punish us now, wait and see what happens if we pull the plug.

One way or another we are going to be making payments to the EU for some years to come. If not as part of the final settlement then as part of an ongoing relationship. It's just how the system works. Are we really going to quibble over money? If we are then what was the point of all this? I didn't vote to leave for £350m a week - and what we pay to the EU is a fraction of what we spend elsewhere. A few years more won't hurt. Unilateral Brexit most certainly will.

If you thought Brexit was was a short-cut to saving a few quid then you really were born yesterday. Much of the single market exists to remove red tape and reduce duplication. In areas of technical governance there is more good than harm in it. To get the best from it we contribute toward its upkeep and that saves us money. Who cares?

The reason to quit the EU was to stop harmonisation and integration for its own sake - to stop the transfer of vital powers. We can do that without rowing back on a lot of developmental progress. It's unnecessary. If we walk away however, we will pay in more ways than I can imagine. A hundred billion will seem as chump change compared with losing our European trade. And no, shit for brains, we can't trade on WTO terms. Do I really need to keep saying this?

Friday, April 28, 2017

Technocracy must be subordinate to politics

Experts. The problem with experts is that experts are people too. They can know stuff but they can still also be malevolent, biased and selfish pieces of shit - so please don't tell me that we should listen to the experts. More to the point, for every expert you see there are experts who don't have a platform specifically because of what they say. Politicians and media are very selective in the experts they choose.

Does this mean we should stop listening to experts? No. I do. I listen to as many as possible. In fact I get some of my information on trade issues from avowed Europhiles many of them working in the EU. These people are technicians and lawyers who have some useful and interesting things to say.

What they can't tell me though is who I want as my government. The choice is to have corporates, NGOs and foreign governments steering the agenda on a ratio of 27:1 presenting agendas to a toy parliament for rubber stamping, or we can have politicians elected by us.

As members of the EU we have some influence but as we play by the rules, if the supreme authority overrules us then we have no say in the matter. That happens more often than I would like. In some instances it wipes out entire sectors at the stroke of a pen for entirely spurious reasons and sometimes based on junk science. As members we basically waive the right to say no.

This is actually why I am comfortable staying in the single market. There is a lot to be said for having common policies and harmonised approaches. It facilitates certain liberties. For the purposes of trade I see no real harm in that. It's when those agendas overreach into those areas that are not and should not be the concern of the European Union. That means we need two things. The right to say no and the right to change our minds.

When it comes to things like management of the land and our seas and labour rights I rather think it best if we have ultimate veto over what happens. After all this is our country and our environment. Installing one size fits all policies for the sake of a federalist ideology is not only antidemocratic it can also be damaging to livelihoods and landscapes.

Those who say we should listen to experts, typically remainers, actually mean that the experts should be in change and we should do as they say. This is a clinical and depressing world view. Very often experts deal in specifics. Economists spend their time on devising ideas to create wealth and how to remove barriers to it.

The problem is though that this is their only concern that fails to take into consideration certain basic human needs, be they community, identity and security. They can provide templates to guide us and parameters to work within but we can never be slaves to numbers on a screen. As humans we must shape and control our own environment according to our local needs and customs. That is what brings about diversity and innovation. It is we who should be instructing the experts. Cold logic may dictate that capital has greater freedom if we eradicate all those inconvenient things like borders and local by-laws but the needs of people must come over and above the needs of capital.

When it comes to international law and regulation it is very much to facilitate the activities of multinationals from banking to shipping and agriculture. It is in our material interests to ensure this activity can advance with as few impediments as possible. Globalisation, however, assumes they have an absolute divine right to operate as they decide and have enlisted our politicians to work in their favour rather than as servants of the public. This is why they were so keen for the UK to stay in the EU and this is why the EU favours technocracy over democracy.

This is at the very heart of Brexit. Ultimately it is a question of who our politicians serve. If there is any point to government at all it is to ensure that there are entities capable of wielding authority in order to curb the worst excesses of capitalism. The excessive greed, the dishonest practices and the exploitative methods. If instead we find that government exists to facilitate it then government has become the enemy.

But then as much as corporates love the EU, so do tyrants. By this I mean the many global NGOs who have found that in the EU they have a vehicle sat their disposal which allows them to subvert the democratic process. Rather than having to go the long way around and persuade people of the need to change their ways or to vote for certain changes, they can go to the EU.

This is the inherent problem with the EU. It is a top down system far removed from the people it notionally serves while robbing them of any meaningful powers. The ritual of electing MEPs is a decoy to distract an unwitting public who believe this to be an adequate line of defence. What we find when we take a closer look is that MEPs are neutered, without influence and very often lacking the ability or opportunity to influence the agenda.

In this you could argue that it has all been in the common good. After all the EU has enhanced certain liberties and facilitated trade in ways we could not have done otherwise. But in the end it is we who must decide what is in the common interest and what is in the common good, not a selection of bureaucrats, officials and corporates. Ultimately it is that lack of consent that leads us to Brexit in the first place. Forty years of stored up resentment of things that have been done in our name without being allowed a say. This is not government by the people of the people.

As we move into the era of a global economy we find that there are any number of authorities. It is a marketplace of conflicting interests seeking out their own fortunes and carving out their own influence. Nation states are but one type of actor in this arena. To that end our government must be our representative capable of forging alliances as a means to defend the people against unwelcome intrusion. In this the EU has become so big, so unwieldy and rudderless that it has become one of those authorities we need to defend against.

Democracy may be imperfect and the judgement of people may at times be unsound but ultimately the public live with the consequences of their choices. This is part of the bargain. They may not always act rationally or even intelligently but they are acting according to their own will in collectives chosen for themselves. That is how they shape their environment as is their right. And that's really how it should be. The people may not be economists or scientists but they are the experts in how they want to live.

The EU as a construct is ultimately one which thinks it knows what is best for us. And this is why the modern left love it. They have long since made peace with capitalism. Standing up to it is no longer their concern. There is mutual understanding that corporates get to do as they please so long as part of that bargain is that the left get to tell people what to do and how to live. They are entirely comfortable with the removal of choice just so long as they are in control. This is why Brexit brings about such autistic screeching from the establishment left. They feel the power slipping from their hands - and into the hands of the people. Up with this they will not put.

I don't deny that there are costs and distinct disadvantages to leaving the EU but these are short term considerations. The economy will eventually recover and we may yet avert a Brexit trainwreck. We will work it out somehow. What we do here is in the name of democracy. That is why us leavers ultimately believe almost any price is worth paying.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Brexit is no miracle cure, but it gives us the tools we need to succeed

To explain the modern trade environment I would describe it as thus. Imagine you were a small business and you found that there were bureaucratic barriers between you and your customer. You bring this up with your trade association and they go to the government. In theory the government then acts as your business lawyer to intercede on your behalf. It looks at any barriers it has which is can remove in exchange for the removal of the barrier that affects you.

Big comprehensive trade pacts like TTIP are when several issues have been highlighted and the government seeks a comprehensive package of reforms. Modern trade agreements though are considerably more than just a series of agreements on non tariff barriers. Very often what is worked out in negotiations does not work in practice. You may be able to sell to a market or import certain goods but if by doing so you radically alter other deals you have with other countries then you cannot trade under those terms. This is why we have a system of waivers built into most modern trade agreements along with dispute resolution systems. Usually a court of some kind.

A recent example of this was when Canadian beef producers found that if they sold beef produced to EU standards then it raised the risk profile for food poisoning with the Americans and subjected them to more expensive border inspections. Naturally there needs to be a system to resolve these disputes otherwise these trade agreements cannot be fully utilised.

One thing that could resolve these such issues in future is a global standard on food safety risk assessments which is why we have global bodies for standards and practices. What you will also find in modern comprehensive trade deals are boilerplate statements to the effect of further cooperation toward regulatory harmonisation. Usually the text is a copy and paste from the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade. More often than not, these such deals establish working groups or joint committees where our own trade ministry will have an office dedicated to serving that exact trade deal. We have one that deals only in cooperation with China. Very often these offices have certain unilateral powers to make temporary concessions and these are brought up for periodic review. Where you have insoluble disputes we have the WTO courts.

Given that any given country can have multiple comprehensive trade deals, each committed to regulatory harmonisation you find the difficulty is in trying to ride two or more horses. More often than not you are forced to align with your largest and nearest trading partner. In this there are three regulatory superpowers. China, the EU and the USA. TTIP was the most ambitious deal ever in that it sought to iron out the many disparities between the systems. Where harmonisation could not be achieved we would seek out mutual recognition.

Unfortunately due to the secrecy and complexity TTIP failed to pass, and also because certain vested interests really don't want to open up to competition. When it comes to trade deals, the bigger they are the harder they fall.

This is why I voted for Brexit. The EU likes big flagship gestures like TTIP and what that means is we spend seven years or more in complex negotiations to achieve, well, fuck all basically. Moreover it is unlikely that there will ever be a properly comprehensive trade deal with the USA. As much as anything the USA doesn't really want one and is big enough and diverse enough not to need one.

What remains though is a system of automatic adoption of global standards where over time we remove the disparities between the regulatory regimes. This is where the UK needs to be an active player in setting the agenda, to bring the resources to focus on those standards that would most benefit UK trade. As an EU member, what we find is that we lack the ability to launch such initiatives. Any initiatives have to be cleared with Brussels first and if EU member states object then we are prevented from acting. In this regard it would be like hiring a lawyer to work your case who then outsourced it without telling you and nothing is done.

For the EU the priority is not lubricating trade, rather it is focussed on preserving the integrity of its own regulatory system and the uniformity within the single market. All other concerns come secondary to that. We don't call it "fortress Europe" for nothing.

The real game changer is the WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade where the EU of its own volition has surrendered the regulatory agenda to those global bodies and adopts the findings of standards bodies outside of its own control. Outside of the EU we are able to participate fully in all of those bodies without first asking permission from the EU commission and without having our vote or veto overturned. That way we still get to influence the rules of the single market even if we are not in it.

As I outlined over on my last blog the purpose of Brexit is to shorten the chain of accountability and ensure that our trade representative is actually our own government. Britain is increasingly a services economy where we need to focus on niche financial services and internet services where the regulatory systems are still in their infancy. If all our trade activity is tied up in bundled deals where manufacturing is included we can end up losing out on services liberalisation because of German manufacturing concerns.

The view is that we can achieve more incrementally than waiting year after year for the EU's next miracle cure. By going in at the very top end and influencing standards and practices we can edit the DNA of trade deals that already exist and any future ones even if we are not a party to them. The future of trade is mulitlateralism.

The other issue we have is utilisation rates. Most of the deals we achieve in the next few years will be replicas of the deals we already had via the EU. That though does not improve or enhance our position. Unless partner nations are capable of meeting the standards we set then they cannot participate. This is where we need a concentration of aid efforts to promote good governance and assist in the implementation of standards. This does not immediately boost UK trade. All it means is that other countries can trade more and sell more goods. It does not necessary mean we can export to them. What it does mean though is that globally trade volumes increase and as a supplier of business services, the more trade there is in the world the better we do.

Jetting off round the world securing free trade agreements doesn't really accomplish very much if the infrastructure and capacity is not there. To boost trade we must invest. That is why DfID must be central to our trade policy. Trade utilisation rates have remained pretty static. If we make internet connectivity our focus in lesser developed countries then we are connecting more customers.

We can have all the officials and bureaucrats in the world working on hammering out agreements and they may make marginal improvements but ultimately we need to be out there making trade possible.

There are plenty of Brexit naysayers out there saying Britain can't be a player. I couldn't disagree more. Free to build our own sectoral alliances and without having to clear everything with Brussels we can be a more agile actor. We can act incrementally and we can act globally and we can steer the agenda by way of what we bring to the table in terms of knowledge, finance and governance. Norway is far more influential than is given credit and there is no reason why we cannot play the game the same way.

Brexit of itself does not do anything. It gives us the tools to succeed should we promote new ways of acting on the world stage. International development is absolutely crucial and ensuring British unions, business associations and trade guilds are up front and participating in global bodies is an absolute priority. This is how Germany manages to set the agenda. We must replicate that experience. We must invest in the best possible research to ensure we are leading the field in knowledge driven standards and we must fly the flag for multlateralism. 

All the Brexiteer talk of a free trade bonanza is pure gibberish. There will be no bonfire of regulations. There is a system, we are committed to it and there is a game to be played. Free of the EU we are free to redefine how we approach trade and we can re-write the rule book. Literally. But making a success of Brexit requires that we ditch the Tory free trade dogma and work with the WTO rather than against it. If we play it smart there is no reason why Britain cannot be at the forefront of regulatory innovation and in so doing be the shot in the arm global trade has needed for a very long time.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Brexit: the future starts now

Every now and then I see a clip of the TV show "The thick of it". It's one that passed me by when it was first aired. It's a shame as I think I would rather have enjoyed it. In fact I think I would appreciate it more now in light of my referendum experiences. The programme paints a picture of jumped up spads managing every last communication with the outside world, maintaining a firewall between politicians and the public. Everything that so typifies the Blair-Cameron administrations. Everything I have hated about politics in recent years. It's good to have a periodic reminder.

Over and above the normal message management, though, was an integrated array of policies - not actually designed to address a particular problem, rather they were geared toward reinforcing a brand image. A faux-progressive veneer that appealed to the narcissism of the London liberal set. It really stands to reason that further EU integration would be part of that shallow agenda.

Latterly this political culminated in the further Americanisation of politics where we saw televised leader's debates, with everything reduced to soundbites - where the PM's hair stylist was as important to have on staff as a senior political advisor.

As this kind of politics became more entrenched, so did the counter narrative of an aloof, remote class of professional politicians - the ideal bogeyman for any counter-establishment campaign. In many respects the then establishment was the architect of its own demise. Bland and sterile centrism was on borrowed time.

Fast forward to now. Brexitworld. How things have changed already. Personally I am not all that impressed with the PM as a political thinker. She is easily led, badly advised and out of her depth. She is not, though, a presentation politician. Or at least not by the standards set by her predecessors. She does not court the media so frequently and she has already made it clear that she will not participate in any televised debates. She speaks to the public, not the media.

This, of course, prompts a number of howls from the Greens and Plaid Cymru as though these tawdry media circuses were a cornerstone of our democracy - despite them only appearing in 2010. If anyone is out of touch it is they. Left wing populists who haven't worked out that their time has been and gone. Throwbacks to that era. We do not want these televised sideshows, we never wanted them, nor do we want the vapid media blather that goes with it. You can keep your asinine Guru-Murphys too.

In this respect, thanks to Mrs May, we are already seeing a restoration of some of the gravitas our politics has lacked over the last twenty years. That is to her credit. I wouldn't go as far as saying Mrs May was anything close to Mrs Thatcher, but her dignity is what I have missed most in politics. I appreciate this could still be the product of sophisticated message management and it's just that my bullshit radar is getting weaker as I get older, but I do think this sets the right tone for the new era. This is a time of serious politics the like we have not seen for many years.

Arguably this is a consequence of the vote to leave the EU back in June. I don't see that it was going to change any other way. Cameron and Osborne would still be in charge, striking their ridiculous poses and staging visits to northern factories. Instead I now get a sense that, in her own cack handed way, Mrs May is seeking to connect with voters, fashioning her approach according to their values rather than the Twitterati and the Westminster bubble. It's a touch illiberal for my tastes but if the polls are anything to go by it's popular enough.

If there was one thing most voters agreed on in recent years it was the need for a new politics. Many politicians have claimed to be the manifestation of that, be it Farage or Corbyn, but actually the real manifestation happens to be Theresa May. This is not to say that Mrs May is a radical. She is about as ideas free as her predecessors - but then Mrs May does not need to be a radical. Voters have been radical for her. Brexit is about as radical as we need for now and all she has to do is deliver it.

One is then puzzled why anyone would want to wind back the clock on Brexit. Whatever happens now we will get our new politics. Already business as usual is disrupted, non-essential lawmaking is on the back burner, and public debate is focussed on matters of existential substance. The next ten years or more will be devoted to revisiting our statute book; redefining the structures and institutions of government. It will be the first comprehensive review of the UK constitution since the war. What's not to like?

We do not as yet know what Brexit will look like but we can safely assume British fishing will be up for review along with agriculture and labour law, and for the first time in a very long time we will have our own trade policy. We'll be having debates about issues buried for decades. Why would you want to go back to the stagnant universe of pre-Brexit politics?

It's early days yet and I am still not convinced for a fact that we will leave the single market. Certain realities are starting to dawn on opinion formers and politicians alike. Nobody is expecting sunlit uplands and rainbows. Outside of the government and the readership of the Daily Express, the strawman Brexiteer does not exist. Of the fifty two per cent who voted for change there were no homogenous traits. Most recognise that there will be trade offs between trade and control, democracy and liberty. British voters are treating this with the gravity it deserves.

The reason I can tell is because they're not voting for Labour. They know that Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to offer, nor indeed does his party. It would also appear that those seeking to wind back the clock are putting their faith in Tim Farron, a pinch-faced worm bent on taking us back to that era of narcissistic presentation politics and centrist political deadlock. Back to those days of asinine and trivial politics. Back to those days where mainstream politics wallowed in its own inward looking insular bubble, completely oblivious to what they have signed us up to.

For the first time in my adult life politics is finally getting real. When I do vote Conservative in June it will be reluctantly, in the absence of any new movement with good ideas, but in the subsequent disarray space will be created for new ideas and new innovations out of necessity. This is the democratic renewal I voted for. Something interesting may arise from the husk of the left - and maybe the Tories will implode as Labour just have. By 2025 we could be looking at an entirely new edifice of politics and entirely new debates, long departed from the vexed question of EU membership. A genuine new era of politics.

It is said that we leavers are the inward looking ones seeking to wind the clock back. I couldn't disagree more. For me I can imagine little more stultifying than carrying on the same tedious debates from our parents generation. Nor could I stomach any more of the same cloying sycophancy of media driven politics. Brexit is about change, it's about moving forward and dealing with the world as it really is rather than reinforcing the failures of the last century. We have really started something here and I don't want to put the genie back in the bottle. Luddites and naysayers be damned. The future starts now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

On the circumstances of Brexit. Again.

Over on Facebook, John Band linked approvingly [FB link] to a lengthy article by Fugitive Ink (FI): this post started as a comment in response but, it becoming somewhat lengthy, I have decided to post it here.

The FI article, written by someone who was involved with Ian Duncan Smith's leadership bid, is interesting and thoughtful; however, it also betrays much of the thinking that has led to an increasing disconnect between the political parties and their voters—and, thus, some of the reasons for the vote for Brexit.

Apart from the author's slightly tongue in cheek opinion on referenda—"… they’re mob rule! indirect democracy is the only non-disastrous form of democracy! etc, etc.…"—my original comment was sparked by two passages, the first of which is this:
Let’s be clear about this. No one, during the course of that 2001 campaign, was arguing that we should leave the EU. No one was arguing that we should give up the Common Market.
The second is this:
We had, self-evidently, settled the issue of Europe within the Conservative party for a generation—perhaps even forever. By demonstrating beyond argument that a charisma-free, intellectually limited, personally disorganised and badly-staffed unknown could defeat all sorts of proper candidates, purely because he did not want further European integration, we had paved the way for healing our painfully divided party.
FI's aversion to referenda is justified by his statement that "[n]o one, during the course of that 2001 campaign, was arguing that we should leave the EU"—but, of course, many Conservative voters absolutely were (and continued to do so): whilst the issue may have been put to bed as far as the party was concerned, it wasn't for a great many voters (and my parents, for instance, were not knuckle-dragging neanderthals desperate to kick out the dirty foreigners).

This complacency within the political bubble, and unwillingness to engage with decades-held concerns of nominally Conservative voters, simply encouraged those same people to believe that no party shared their concerns. Which, of course, explained the increasing rise of UKIP (organisationally shambolic though they were (and are)): increasingly, people reluctantly gave their votes to the Conservative Party at the General Election (largely because they feared a return to a 70s-style Labour government and union tyranny), whilst increasingly voting UKIP at European Elections.

There is an argument, of course, that this state of affairs could have carried on indefinitely—and it might well have done. But then came Cameron and his personal speciality of making un-forced political errors. Rightly or wrongly, a number of unfulfilled promises—around hunting, inheritance tax, and others—and, of course, the gay marriage issue, meant that the Conservatives were losing voters and activists at the margins. And, given the number of safe seats in the UK, the margins are where elections are won.

And so the promise of a referendum was given—to try to win back those voters, and to neutralise UKIP (the latter being effective in terms of Parliamentary seats—but less so on the pure number of votes). Cameron held the referendum, genuinely assuming that he would win: this was partly because he ignored the fact of those 4m UKIP votes—many of which came from Labour's heartlands.

Whilst IDS's campaign, and Fabricated Ink himself, seemed to believe that the issue of further integration had been put to bed—i.e. we don't want it, thanks very much—no one bothered to tell the European Union. As such, the EU has continued to press ahead (sometimes subtly, sometimes not) with the integration agenda: it continued to arrogate to itself new competencies, e.g. over energy supply and bin disposals through its environmental remit; over tax arrangements through state aid regulations, e.g. Ireland and Apple; .

And the EU did these things with, it sometimes seems, an almost wilful lack of regard, or care, for basic public relations nouse—seeming not to care about gross violations of traditional UK rights such as habeas corpus via the European Arrest warrant, as highlighted by the Andrew Symeou case; and, at the other end of the scale, ludicrous micro-management—such as deciding that the sale of powdered milk formula means that UK supermarkets cannot offer their customers free parking.

At the same time, the British government engaged in what many perceived as chicanery, and complicity with the EU, over such things as the European Constitution—sorry, the "Lisbon Treaty" (after the breaking of what voters perceived as a promise, both by Brown and Cameron, it almost didn't matter what the treaty actually said anymore).

Of the IDS campaign team's opinion of the EU in general, FI also says…
True, a lot of us wanted a looser, less standardised, less integrated Europe. We wanted a Europe that was more about free trade, liberal rather than corporatist, not over-burdened with fiddly regulations and tolerant of historic differences.

Some of us very much liked the idea of EU enlargement, if only as a way to mandate that looseness, the lack of standarisation and ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ variety.
Had the EU been able to say, in 2001, "alright chaps—you in the UK can stay as you are, and you're automatically exempted from any new Directives or Regulations", then we might still be in that organisation. But, of course, that would have been impossible—without continued compliance with EU laws, remaining within the Single Market and the Customs Union would have become increasingly difficult. A compromise might have been made by allowing firms who wished to trade with the EU to sign up to all of the regulations would, of course, have been satisfactory to the British—as it still would be, I believe—but it was not, and is not, to the European Union.

Furthermore, Cameron's inability to bring anything meaningful back from his key negotiations—despite repeatedly watering down his stated aims and declared red lines—gave the impression that the EU simply was not going to make any concessions. As such, by the end of 2015, it became abundantly clear that an EU "that was more about free trade, liberal rather than corporatist, not over-burdened with fiddly regulations and tolerant of historic differences" was not on the table—and it never has been.

From a UK point-of-view, the European Union has never really helped the pro-EU cause. Perhaps its functionaries thought that the "Little Englanders" would not notice the Irish, and the Dutch, and the French (the French, for god's sake—supposedly one of the pillars of the EU!) being forced to re-run referenda until "the voters gave the right answer"? But how would they not, given that some of those were in the context of a UK referendum promised—and then reneged on by British politicians?

This kind of bombastic and arrogant refusal to countenance that the peoples of Europe might not be quite as keen on a "United States of Europe" as its architects, led to a perception that the EU simply didn't care what the citizens' actual opinion might be. As such, the EU continued—and continues, even now—to announce further integration measures, often in direct contravention of UK politicians' frenzied denials, or attempted evasions, e.g. plans for a European Army.

Similarly, had those inept British politicians not given the impression that they were lying, dissembling, breaking promises and generally covering up the true scale of the EU's ambitions, then we might have voted to Remain. Or, of course, the vote might not have occurred at all.

But, once Cameron had promised the referendum, it is unlikely that his personal pride, if nothing else, would have allowed him to cancel it—after all, was he to be the Prime Minister who had twice broken his "cast iron guarantee" of an EU-related referendum?

Further, as FI asserts, EU membership has made the British people more internationalist in their outlook—or, at least more Europe-centric. This proved particularly unfortunate after 2008, especially given the timing of the referendum, as both Left and Right deplored the on-going train-wreck of the southern European economies—Italy, Spain, Portugal and, particularly, Greece.

The Progressive media decried the cuts in Greek benefits and pensions demanded by the demons of the "Troika", and the horrendous unemployment rates (particularly amongst the young) in Greece and the other countries. The excitable media of the Right were able to conjure more immigration horror stories about people from the southern economies flooding into the UK, looking for work.

And, for slightly different reasons, both sides became incensed at the possibility that the British taxpayer would have to stump up for the Greek bail-out; this forced George Osborne to deny, categorically, that this would happen: his subsequent humiliating climb-down (originally denied by the Chancellor, and counteracted by the EU), simply provided more ammunition for those who maintained that membership of the EU meant that we were no longer in control of our own destiny.

In many ways, these crises shot down one of the Remainers' key arguments: that membership of the EU meant political stability and economic prosperity. How were people to believe this argument, when the newspapers were full of stories about EU member states where this was obviously not the case? The newspapers did not have to explain "complex" ideas such as "internal devaluation" or "fiscal transfers"—they just had to publish pictures of Greeks rioting against real austerity, and stories about 50% youth unemployment in Spain.

Our politicians and other campaigners rushed to explain that, of course, this economic nightmare couldn't happen here—because, our "Anglo-Saxon" economy and legal system were uniquely conducive to business. This, of course, tapped into the British psyche about our unique brilliance and fitness (a jingoistic reflex that is, in fact, present in most peoples) and thus reinforcing the mindset of "well, why can't we be bigger players on the world stage, rather than a province of the EU"?

In this climate, what might be seen as surprising is that Leave won so narrowly (and I've barely even touched on the migration issue). Rightly or wrongly, the British people is not one that likes to see itself as subordinate—and, yes, one can blame the British for being pig-headed, nostalgia-driven, xenophobes if you wish—but, in the circumstances, a rift was more likely than not. Indeed, given the many exemptions that the UK already has, one could argue that it was inevitable because it was already happening.

Probably the only way to ensure that the UK voted for Remain was simply to wait another thirty-odd years for all those people who viewed themselves as British (as opposed to European) to die. One might argue that holding the referendum in 2016 might be the only way in which Cameron was ahead of his time.

Whatever happens next—and I don't necessarily disagree with FI's assessment of Theresa May—it is likely to be a bumpy ride. I remain optimistic but—in my more cynical moments—largely because May's vast ego won't let her be the Prime Minister who fucked up Brexit.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Brexit: escape from the progressive prison

Teflon Tony they called him. The untouchable prime minister. I don't know if you remember why they called him that but I do. It's because in the first term of New Labour we saw a number of scandals and failures on the front benches and yet still we saw no u-turns, no resignations, no reshuffles. Electorally, they were untouchable.

I also remember the political culture that came with it. Spin. Behind that was a ruthless competence in imposing a political agenda. That was a government that could do as it pleased. It was the era of political fuckyouism.

By the end of that Labour administration public finances were in a mess, the public sector was bloated and a corrosive welfarism had taken root. Qualification inflation had all but nullified the value of a degree and personal debt was reaching crisis point. We were also bogged down in two unwinnable wars. Amidst all that mess the Treaty of Lisbon was pretty much rail-roaded through parliament with less dignity than an Alabama shotgun marriage.

Enter Cameron. The Eton coup. The Tories had demonstrated with Michael Howard, IDS and William Hague that a traditional conservative party could not win. Or so the narrative goes. Cameron had bought the line that in order to win you had to occupy the centre ground and shape the party in the image of the soft left social democratic consensus.

Many would credit Cameron with making the Tories electable. This ignores the fact that Cameron did not actually win the 2010 election and instead formed a coalition. The reason being that the right of the party had deserted Cameron and instead backed Ukip - or didn't bother to vote.

The change of Conservative party logo to the scribble tree was significant. It marked a change of values. Moreover it was continuity fuckyouism. It was a clear message to the right that they were not wanted or valued. The message was heard loud and clear. Fast forward to 2015 and we would have seen Cameron lose to Miliband were it not for the promise of a referendum. Ukip would have done just enough damage in the marginals to swing it for Labour.

Underlying these tides was a sentiment that whoever you voted for nothing would change and there was little to choose between the main parties. Moreover they were parties who would continue to pile on insult after insult and rub our noses in it. This is ultimately where the anti-establishment revolt came from.

What we saw during this time was a series of leaders attending all the international jamborees signing us up to ever more improbable and costly environmental targets. The international stage had become a platform for climate change virtue signalling. Meanwhile, climate change narratives had woven themselves into all walks of culture and public life. What became clear was that government was something done to us, not something we were participants in. The way in which the EU bribed the affections of NGOs and institutions using climate change as the vehicle to capture activist bases was symptomatic.

All the while we were subject to pious climate moralising and it became increasingly clear that there was a gulf been the governors and the governed. Our concerns were not theirs. This became acutely obvious around 2008 when everyone was struggling financially, when petrol prices were soaring and our government saw fit to pile massive costs on household energy bills. When we complained they merely said "switch your supplier". This policy continued into the Cameron administration. The modern day "let them eat cake".

We shouldn't forget also that somewhere along the way the motorist became the favoured cash cow. Road tax sky-rocketed, and Londoners were hit with the congestion charge. You can argue that the system has some merit but behind it was a ruthless and malicious enforcement system administered by law breaking thugs. Oh and let's not forget the explosion of gatsos and CCTV. The hallmark of the Blair era.

In a lot of ways the banking crisis was the best thing to happen to the UK for a very long time. The only thing worse than an underfunded government is a well funded one. The cuts to national and local government brought about more conservatism than any conservative party has in recent history. The constant harassment by the state seems to have abated somewhat.

The era was marked by an oppressive bureaucratic authoritarianism where a minor infraction could see you dragged through the courts and hit with fines. It eroded the very fabric of public life, with people widely believing the police were little more than revenue collection agents. Effectively, the missing component was government by consent.

Totemic of this was wind turbines. No government ever sought to win the argument. The policy was simply rail-roaded while fat cats creamed off a subsidy and vain politicians met their EU targets. We have seen two decades of abuse of power and government we have no say in.

Often when I go off one of these tangents (for it is far from the first) people point out that the EU is not responsible for this. In part it is, but for the most part, the EU is a symptom. It has evolved into a construct for global elites where they concoct ever more virtue signalling gestures - which ultimately eat away at our disposable incomes and transfer our wealth into the hands of energy companies and other corporates. The government takes its cut which it then uses to imprison and coerce us. It's no coincidence that this era spawned a populist form of libertarianism on the right.

Meanwhile, when I now look at local authorities I effectively see EU regional management agencies. They are not doing as we instruct them. They are dancing to someone else's tune - fulfilling statutory statistical exercises and promoting political agendas in public services. The whole edifice of government is infected with a hectoring and nannying psychopathy. This is the experience that shaped my politics and this is why I voted to leave the EU with out hesitation.

Unlike many brexiteers I do not believe Brexit is an economic remedy and for the time being I do not see much economic benefit from it. I see it is as massive spanner in the works and a means of snatching their toys away from them. It's a little "fuckyouism" of our every own.

I actually think the UK is going to be quite a bit poorer for having left the EU, not least because of the manner in which we leave. I think this government is incapable of securing a workable deal. We'll be taken to the cleaners. I don't care though. Like the banking crisis it will de-fund government and force our politicians to focus on priorities rather than the displacement activity we have seen in recent years.

The UK does not have a constitution as such. There is no system that limits the power of government. There is no means of ensuring government by consent. The only way to rob it of its power over us is to hit it in the wallet. In this I would hope that the politics that follows Brexit will present the necessity to rethink our constitution and make damn sure they never get to do this to us again. That is why I will continue to promote The Harrogate Agenda.

Brexit creates a number of headaches for the UK. This government's approach to leaving will result in a number of avoidable body blows. It will force us to completely reconsider how we do things. It will see a number of white elephants go on the scrap heap and it will force us to rethink the NHS too.

Leaving the European Medicines Agency will likely increase the price of drugs and reduce their availability. Even if the NHS were to see an extra £350m a week (which it categorically won't) it's going to be swallowed up on pharmaceutical certification costs on top of the cost of transitioning to a new regulatory regime. The NHS is going to have to do more with less.

In fact I can see a number of services and facilities cut to the bone. I might even go as far as saying that the NHS will survive in name only. It will have to go the most radical shake up in recent history. Those with means will be expected to contribute to certain treatment costs. This will likely see a new boom in health insurance and non-profit friendly societies. This is already the underlying trend, but this has been a slow drip revolution. Brexit will probably open the floodgates.

We might even GP services to be fully marketised. I don't see that as a bad thing at all. It will more than likely increase availability while creating a genuinely competitive wage structure. The way I see it is that the NHS's days were always numbered. Eventually there would have to be a correction to a system long overdue a rethink. It didn't happen when we had a banking crisis and it wasn't going to happen any other way. Politically it won't be popular but then asking voters to face own to their own hypocrisy never is. People want the world on a stick for free. There's a bubble that needs to be burst.

There are other ways we will see corrections. Morgan Stanley seems to think office values in London will drop by a third. They say that if potential property buyers lose confidence in their ability to charge more for vacant space when it becomes available, prices will drop sharply, especially given the new supply of offices under construction.

This is apparently a bad thing. Personally I'm not seeing a downside to prime real estate becoming affordable. It will bring renewal and it will be a boost to start-ups. More to the point it will close the economic gulf between London and the regions - a dynamic which is doing more to damage the Union than any other factor. The cultural and economic disparity needs to be bridged urgently.

From a purely economic perspective, at face value, Brexit doesn't have much going for it - but it is a corrective to some unwholesome political trends - and it is the shake up we need. It isn't a silver bullet, and if we want to make good of it then we will have to work at it. I think Britain will be a better and happier country for it. The political stranglehold of the centrist consensus was toxifying British politics and eroding public life. Brexit is the wake up call - and not before time.