Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Brexit is the birth of a new era for Europe

The Berlin Wall

History can be read in many ways. It’s all a matter of interpretation in which case names, places and dates take on their own significance and become era defining. Though the Second World War dragged on for some months after the fall of Hitler, the defeat of fascism is the landmark that has the most significance to the UK; VE Day. By normal reckoning this is viewed as the end of the war in Europe.

That war though was never completely resolved. General George S. Patton wanted to continue the war and fight the Russians. He may well have been right. It might have resulted in a united Europe that included Russia. But Europe was war weary. The defeat of Hitler was enough for us to call it a day.

Consequently, a cold war raged until 1989. As a child of the 80s I remember sitting on the Yorkshire moors watching the Tornado jets practicing for the event of war. The skies were seldom quiet. For a young boy with dreams of being a fighter pilot these were exciting times. The cold war influenced popular culture in many ways. It spawned the James Bond spy series along with films like Rambo and The Fourth Protocol. It was a good time to be a boy.

For the adults though, life was more frightening. My grandparents had known the horrors of World War Two and they knew, like my parents, that war could once again erupt at a moment’s notice. Only this time far more deadly.

This, though, came to an abrupt end in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down. As a ten year old I have only distant memories of it but I was old enough to know I was witnessing something significant. As much as it marked the fall of Communism, it was in many respects the real end of the Second World War.

In that time between 1945 and 1989 all of our foreign policy and international institutions had been built as part of the post-war settlement as part of Europe’s “peacetime” architecture. In many respects life had been much simpler. We knew who the enemy was and our culture was bound by a recognition that we all faced a common threat and forged a common bond in the face of it.

From that Britain had great pride in itself. The institutions of state were dripping with prestige and authority. We had what was perceived as one of the finest navies in the world and one of the most active. Britain had a presence that was felt the world over and I knew I was growing up in a very distinctive country that I was proud of.

But when that wall came down, that common threat and that common binding began to slowly disintegrate where national pride became unfashionable and in fact something to be scorned. The new altruism of European Union became fashionable. The nineteen nineties were marked by stuffy old Eurosceptics fighting the tide of history as we signed ever more elaborate treaties building the new Europe.

Back then there was a real energy to the EU as we realised something big was being built in our name. One that threatened to subsume the Britain I had always known – the Britain that had defeated Hitler and faced down Communism. The EU introduced its own passport, its own flag and anthem and British debate was centred on whether we were going to join the Euro to become part of a federal Europe.

The ideology at work was that for our future to be forged in unity, our past must be erased. For Germany to depart from the stain on its soul, the old Germany had to be erased along with the British Empire that had defeated it. It was an attack on national identities with a view to forging a new European demos. So grand was this ambition they weren’t going to let a thing like public consent get in the way.

But we Brits were never on board. We wanted open and free trade with Europe but we did not want to end our island story there. We didn’t want their blue flag on our car registration plates, we didn’t want their purple passport and we definitely didn’t want their currency. Had the EU been content to be a Europe of free trade and customs cooperation we would not now be leaving.

Instead of heeding the people successive governments signed away ever more power to this emerging supreme government of Europe. In 2008 the Treaty of Lisbon was ratified on the basis that it was a mere “tidying up exercise” when in fact it was a constitution bringing about a Europe only one treaty away from being a superstate. We were taken in on a deception by a government that had no intention of seeking permission via a referendum, not least because they knew we would say no.

The then Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague said the prime minister had "no democratic or moral authority to sign Britain up to the renamed EU constitution". It was "a total breach of trust with the British people and a flagrant breach of his solemn election promise to the British people", Mr Hague added. From that moment in history Brexit became a certainty even if we didn't realise it at the time.

Not long after the EU would face would face its first real test as the full force of the global financial crisis made its mark on the Euro currency. Subsequent events showed how completely incapable the EU was in forging a coherent and unified response. For a moment it even looked like the Euro itself could collapse.

A row then broke out at the suggestion that Britain may have to contribute to the bailout of Greece and prop up a currency we advised against to begin with. That has remained in the British consciousness ever since. It was the moment British voters realised the EU was an authority in its own right and we were indeed subordinate. I think this is when the prospect of an in/out EU referendum became a political certainty.

What was once a fairly anodyne political project ticking along in the background was suddenly very real in the minds of voters. We were being asked to pay for the hubris of our political masters - to bail out their vanity project that nobody ever asked for and didn’t want to join and were taken into without seeking consent. Fast forward to 2016 and at the first opportunity to have a real say in the matter and we voted to leave.

In that regard I think the 23rd of June will in the future be viewed as a turning point. Perhaps not as significant as the fall of the Berlin Wall, but as the beginning of the end of the EU - and consequently the end of the post-war settlement.

The lesson here is that humans form communities and institutions of their own. Only the people themselves can bring legitimacy to those institutions. Legitimacy is not won through voting rituals. Legitimacy is through consent.

An ideology was superimposed on the peoples of Europe and was advanced by deception. You can, for a time, subvert the will of the people and deny them a voice but in the end the people will have the final say, one way or another.

What is won in war is a distinct shared bond, through experiences and through family and through joint struggle. It is integral to that identity and from that is born a national story and a sense of shared values and purpose. It is stronger and longer lasting than the machinations of bureaucrats. It passes down through the generations and weaves its way into everything we do.

Zealots looked down upon this as old fashioned, primitive, even racist and sought to replace it with something fabricated, assuming that the baubles of statehood would forge a new story and a new people. They were wrong.

Rather than bringing peace through forced integration they have shattered the unity of the UK, bankrupted Greece, endangered Ukraine and hung eastern Europe out to dry. Having antagonised and alienated Russia, we are once again sleepwalking back into a new cold war.

In this, it is our collective memory of who we are and what we can achieve that will deliver us from another destructive war, not the artificial constructs our rulers impose upon is. Like 1945 and 1989 we are turning a corner into a more uncertain world but this time we really are departing with the past. We are free and clear of the old dogmas and the stains of our past have faded. Now we get design a new future of our own. As we move forward we must never forget that democracy is our best hope for peace and prosperity. Trust in the people and we will have peace. Push them into a corner and they will fight back.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

I would (very reluctantly) vote for Trump

I have semi-deliberately tuned out of the US presidential election. In years past I have paid very close attention if only to learn about the US democratic system. This year though I have largely tuned it out to experience what it is like to be a disconnected voter who doesn't take much interest in politics. I know I can take my eye off the ball because blogger Samuel J Hooper has provided extensive and thorough coverage.

As a deliberately uninterested party to it all, I only really pick up on the surface noise. I know that Clinton is a warmongering, corrupt tyrant and I know that Trump is a shallow, manipulative attention whore.

Policy wise, assuming either would actually adhere to their stated policies I actually find Trump's general thrust to be more appealing largely on the grounds of non interventionism and attempting to open up a dialogue with Russia. I reckon the racist crap is all for show and there is no way the US constitution would let him do half the things he wants to. I also reckon that the UK would get a better trade deal from Trump than Clinton. But that's an abstract assessment as a Brit.

They reckon that Trump could be dangerous but then Clinton is a hostile hawk in a long line of them who have created a singular mess from Libya to Iran. I wonder if the world might benefit from the US parking its army toys for a few years.

But what has swung it for me is the general anti-Trump smug superiority in the media. Were I an American I would be very tempted to give the whole sorry bunch of them the two fingered salute. I think possibly it could open the door to open racism and it would lead to a period of soul searching for the US establishment and it may lead to a corrective rather than maintaining the status quo - which is an ongoing pretence that the US is a stable country. America never really resolved its race problems and democrats have used blacks as an electoral crutch and have kept them in sustained poverty for decades.

In this I don't see Trump doing anything useful but he could break the cycle where the pretence is dropped, the peace disturbed and a new settlement could come out the other side. I think Trump is about right in that he is "Brexit times five". He is so offensive to the US liberal establishment that they would go into full blown hyperventilation as our remainers have. This is very much a democratic cleansing exercise in that you really do get to see the contempt they feel toward ordinary voters.

I would see a Trump presidency as an act of creative destruction that the US needs about as much as the UK needs Brexit. It's not that I think he is a good man or a competent man I just think that Clinton is the last dregs of a dynasty which has opened the door for US corporate power to effectively take over government. If it isn't Trump this time around then next time it'll be someone as bad or worse simply because the US is crying out for genuine democratic reform as a corrective to a system that has lost its way.

I don't know what the email scandal is all about. That's another of the things I have tuned out but in this age of cyber warfare the thought of a commander in chief playing fast and loose with data protection is sheer incompetence. And the worst thing about Hillary is that people assume she is competent when she is about as thick as Trump. At least with Trump there will be government officials and supervisors watching him like a hawk. They will give Clinton too much leeway.

In the end I don't really care either way. America is rotten and very broken and in need of its own Arab Spring. If it doesn't happen now then it will happen next time around. Like the UK, America has stored up a number of deep running problems that cannot be solved without airing them all in public and having a serious debate about the nature of power and who wields it and for what ends. That debate is unavoidable and we will see civil strife the likes that we saw during the 1960s. Trump will be a catalyst to that. I would rather see America start that process now.

Democracies are always better off airing their demons rather than pretending everything is fine. The EU for us as been a linchpin so that we can sweep our problems under the rug. It takes a moment as seismic as Brexit for it all to come out. That's what we needed and that is what America needs. The US "liberal" left offend me in more serious ways than the utterly superficial Trump. Their influence has been corrosive and insidious. At least Trump will be brutally obvious.

Were I an American I would be pretty depressed by the choices in front of me, and I would be reluctant to gratify the process, but if I wanted change, I would cast my vote for Trump just to set the ball rolling. I would not enjoy doing it, but in the long run, this is a cultural dispute that needs resolving and America should not shy from starting that process. I just feel sad that it has come to this.

Controlling our borders shouldn't be controversial

The Sun, the Guardian and the Mail are all running variations on the same story about segregated communities. It was front page news for the Guardian yesterday. To anyone who doesn't live in medialand, it isn't news.

The Mail takes it as a cue to print pictures of Savile Town in Dewsbury which is pretty much a Pakistani tribal ghetto. It's a shithole and it is dangerous for white people. If you're in the mood to be mugged or beaten or generally abused that's where you'd go. The men from that community control it and they make sure everyone knows it. They use intimidation to drive whites out.

This is a particularly northern phenomenon. I know of no equivalent in Bristol. I have been a victim of it. When I lived in Manningham in Bradford I used to get death threats.

These are people who have no intention of integrating or participating, all of their major transactions are in cash, they launder money and exploit holes in the immigration system to bring in whoever they want. The lousy impression Brits have of Muslims is because of these people and people like them. That's why the "left behind" want immigration controls because they do not want their districts fully colonised and they want their streets to be safe. Like they used to be.

Immigration is something that isn't measured. It is experienced. Everyone has different experiences. London professionals will likely meet other young professionals from elsewhere and will largely welcome open borders. These will tend to be fairly well off folks who don't venture into the scarier parts of London where there are Somalis battering each other with wooden bats in broad daylight. This I have seen with my own eyes.

There are some districts in Bristol which are mixed communities where the whites tend to be working class or students. The divisions are not as acute. However when the white liberals who live there start a family and mummy gets baby-brain she insists they move somewhere like Filton. A white area which is ultimately boring but very very safe. The foreigners in Filton are mainly aerospace contractors working at Airbus. They aren't a problem to anyone.

As with Eastern European EU migrants, nobody really cares that I know of. They do integrate (apart from their shitty taste in music) and nobody but the absolute thickest in society claims that these people are stealing their jobs despite what some slovenly fuckwit at the Financial Times says.

As to the Black community, it's interesting that we still commonly refer to them as "the black community". They do seem to have their own shindigs. In London and Bristol you find entire clubs which are almost exclusively black. I don't know what that's about and I don't really care either. Generally they don't appear on my radar. I expect these would be Jamaicans and the descendents of 1950s immigrants. For the most part they have assimilated if not integrated. Nobody really gives a shit that there are still black areas. Nobody writes double page spreads about black ghettos because really there aren't any. Not that I know of anyways.

So really the elephant in the room that the Guardian has gone to lengths to avoid, and the Daily Mail has talked about non-stop is the Pakistani/Bangladeshi Muslims. How relevant the faith is I can't really say. What I do know is that a mosque in a community can be disruptive and the frequent congregations are antisocial.

And that is what really offends me. These people are generally all round antisocial. Not knowing much about Jewish communities in London I wonder if Londoners have the same impression of Jews. I tend to find when any tribe dominates one area then there is an inherent belligerence. I really don't know, I'm just talking about my own perceptions and experiences.

When it comes to northern ghettos though I can't help wondering why we are open to importing more people from these regions where the people who come are barely toilet trained and intermarry to such a degree that Bradford Royal Infirmary has a specialist unit for birth defects.

I know I am supposed to marvel at how culturally enriched that makes us but it seems to me like allowing more of them to come will ultimately result in Northern towns becoming absolutely alien, less safe, uglier, more crime ridden and dirtier.

Having said that I have to balance that with the fact that as they become richer they, like the rest of us, improve their own communities, smarten up shop fronts and gradually learn to take better care of their immediate environments. But then there is an inherent disadvantage for working class whites.

One thing one notes is that the Muslim communities in the north are not actually short of cash by any measure. There are reports of them buying houses with carrier bags full of cash. I believe that. Whatever they are doing to get that money, it certainly isn't legal. And that is what offends the "left behind". The left behind have the not unreasonable expectation of a quiet life if they work hard play by the rules and get on with things. But then in comes a tribe of Muslim immigrants who don't play by the rules, don't pay taxes, generally wreck a neighbourhood and then take it as their own. Obviously if you complain about this you are a racist.

We are told that we should not discriminate. But the glaringly obvious fact is that we should discriminate quite heavily and though tolerance is generally considered a good thing there is no reason why we should tolerate an immigration policy that simply pours more petrol on the bonfire. These people may contribute to GDP but they contribute nothing to the community. They set up communities within communities and then gradually take over as they make life less pleasant for everyone else, parking where they like, making noise at all hours of the night and spitting on white women.

We really do need to be quite hostile toward that kind of behaviour. We're not because we are still haunted by holocaust guilt. We have the holocaust drummed into us at an early age as though the actions of Germans more than seventy years ago has any bearing on British contemporary culture. The thought of taking a robust stance against a minority community fills us with hesitation.

I am by nature fairly libertarian but the liberties we enjoy such as safely walking down the streets in our own towns is one we should fiercely defend. If that means compulsory purchases of property to break up ghettos and tightening up immigration from countries whose exports are clearly and deliberately incompatible then that is what we must do.

I would rather we had a liberal immigration policy but being liberal should not mean we abandon any sense of self preservation. We not not want the riotous knife wielding thugs we see attempting to board lorries in Calais. We don't want London turning into Paris.

It is not unreasonable to want an immigration policy that is mindful of the social pressures that immigration does create. It's all very well for virtue signalling politicians to hold up placards welcoming refugees but the councils are telling us they have nothing in the budget to house them. It's not unreasonable to want to keep your hometown safe.

When Michael Gove said that "we've had enough of experts", he's absolutely right. The data might say one thing but our eyes tells us something else. We do not hold these views because we are mindless zombies who slavishly absorb everything the Daily Mail tells us. These are the places where we live - and data crunching academics do not.

We can enjoy the vast melting pot of London and celebrate its diversity as a global city but most of us do not live in London and we are the ones who absorb the consequences of policies made by London.

It is said that Brexit has emboldened racists but really all it has done is remind people that these views presented are not the domain of jackbooted fascists. They are the views of the majority of people and what they want is a bit of fairness. These are not racist views. If you have a better idea of how to deal with these social problems then go right ahead and make your case but don't pretend that these majority views are those of unenlightened backward provincial types.

In fact, the fact we want our streets safe for people to live their life free from intimidation, regardless of gender of sexual preference shows that we are more willing to defend liberalism than those who would call us regressive and reactionary. But then I can live with being called a reactionary. Reacting is absolutely necessary and it is long past the time when we reacted.

Brexit will probably not see much in the way of restrictions on freedom of movement - and that's really a good thing - but if the government wants to take it as a cue to deal with immigration then its non EU immigration we should be concerned with and we should not be afraid to discriminate against countries whose human exports threaten our safety and store up problems for the future.

We were told that these northern ghettos over time would dissipate. It's not happening. So now we need to act. Policymakers are engaged in forelock tugging asking what we can do, looking to se if we can bend over any further. We are worried that we may infringe on their rights. No bad thing you might say, but what about the rights of everyone else? If there is an obligation it is on the residents of these ghettos to respect the fact that we are an open and liberal and tolerant country. If they feel no such obligation then we ought to remind them that our tolerance does have limits.

The reality is, in the absence of better ideas, that we need a robust immigration system, the pace of change needs to be managed and we have a right to expect that our doors are not open to people who have zero interest in contributing. This isn't about hating foreigners. This is just the basics of civics. We have a decent, safe country and we want it to stay that way. Why is that so controversial?


Some interesting counterpoints to this rant about foreigners can be found here by Bradford Councillor, Simon Cooke. 

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Uber is a problem and petulant Londoners should suck it up


I hesitate to wade into the Uber ruling debate. I take the view that Uber's very existence is a testament to a dysfunctional regulatory regime in need of a major rethink. The service is effectively a cheat to subvert the regulatory regime which actually exists for very good reasons.

On the surface of it, Uber is an example of market dynamics where innovation threatens an ossified market monopoly which is why libertarian minded people celebrate it. In practice it is a means of subverting a mass of long established law and good practice developed over decades, where any Tom, Dick or Harry can enter the market.

What this creates is market oversupply whereby dedicated drivers cannot make a reasonable living. The consequences of that is that the official system then collapses and provision then becomes unstable, erratic and unable to provide for special needs.

Worse still, with a truly free market, you get oversupply at peak times meaning the busiest time is the least profitable time. It means that everyone with a Friday night spare is chasing the same dollar, clogging up the roads, increasing journey times and creating congestion.

So this isn't simply a libertarian wet dream of the plucky upstart sparking healthy competition. It uses the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law. In any real and practical and honest interpretation, Uber is a taxi company exploiting a loophole and the result being that established law abiding companies cannot compete fairly.

This causes libertarians to moan but one tends to note that these such libertarians are usually fairly wealthy, male and able bodied. What they fail to note is that taxis are in fact part of the public transport system. In all other cities the normal market competition sees a healthy competitive market in private hire and the demand is such that Uber is not really needed so in fact the Uber debate is very much a London debate. It is a local issue, not a national concern.

In London though, it suggests that an overhaul of taxi regulation is needed and public transport provisions need to adapt to a more round the clock ethos. Were there a functioning regulatory regime then Uber would simply not exist.

What the Uber ruling does is effectively stymie the Uber technique of subverting the system, taking the profitability out of regulatory evasion. If the system is then one that is still dysfunctional it is really up to Londoners to get engaged politically and demand that much needed rethink of public transport strategy. The London transport unions could also start pulling their weight.

The resistance to the ruling is actually a very typical London problem. Cosseted citizens whining that their lifestyle choices are expensive. Uber is the cheat that meets their needs at the expense of everyone elses. This rather cements my view that Londoners are overly spoiled, self-entitled and generally a bit thick. Hence why London voted to remain in the EU.

I appreciate the right wing argument that the ruling leaves the causal drivers less well off but if a system is to function then it needs a few certainties and stability. That is what the regulatory framework is for. It ensures continuity where a laissez faire approach cannot. That necessarily means that taxis in London are expensive, but then so is everything in London. If you live in London that is part of the deal and having no disposable income is something you accept when you move there.

If there is an issue here it is that it has taken a court ruling to decide policy. My view is that this is an issue for politics, not the courts and the ruling should be something for the London Assembly to review. This is where London needs to formulate its public transport strategy, taking into account the ways that Uber can contribute. I feel that a court ruling is trespassing on the political process. Uber does have a role to play and we would be foolish to ban it, as per this ruling, but it is the duty of regulators to find ways to successfully integrate it into the market while reducing the negative externalities.

This may mean modernisation and deregulation of taxis, and that would see the competitive advantage of Uber slashed. We should view the existence of Uber not as a solution to a problem, rather it is a canary down the mine. That we have ignored it since 2009 gives you some idea of how incapable the political system is of responding to changes in the market.

To me that suggests the need for a radical overhaul of London transport authorities and the need for a permanent regulatory review body along the consultative lines of the International Maritime Organisation. Given that London is not alone in facing these exact problems, there is every reason to look at a specialist global entity for managing taxis in international cities.

In this, the only thing I am certain of is that the petulant whining of Londoners is best ignored. Some markets do need intervention and this is one of them. The simplistic mantras of libertarians should be disregarded. Like Brexit, there are no easy answers.

Monday, 26 September 2016

A crisis of competence

So then, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mr Jeremy Corbyn! And how could it have been any other way when his opponent was so utterly ghastly? What were they thinking? The troubles though do not end here. It does seem that Labour is in a real mess.

Alarmingly the Labour party elected not to have a debate about Brexit at their conference and all we’re getting from them is mixed signals based on a shallow understanding of what Brexit entails. Nearly all of Labour’s key people cannot make the distinction between the single market and the customs union and none can specify whether they want access to the single market or membership of it. We can read a lot into that.

What that says is that the left as a whole don’t really care about Brexit as an issue and have no real intention of forming themselves into a coherent opposition. That’s a problem. I am all in favour of Brexit but there are many different paths to achieving it and I do not want the Tory right setting the agenda with their obsolete ideas. This is a shameful dereliction of duty.

Instead, Labour has spent the week bickering over Trident, the UKs nuclear deterrent. What this tells us is that Labour is engaged in an ideological retrenchment. The issue of Trident is not actually the subject of any rational analysis. It’s just a totem of the old left. Mr Corbyn wants to reshape the party in his own image and is willing to shed support in order to do it. It’s a bold, if flawed strategy.

David Wearing remarked in the Guardian this week that there are two competing approaches as to how Labour should address the question of electability: marketing, and movement-building. The marketing approach treats the electorate as consumers with fixed preferences, where the ideal politician is a polished salesperson armed with a perfectly calibrated retail policy offer. The movement-building approach treats public opinion as a changeable landscape, where elections are won not only by competent politicians but by social forces mobilised in support of a transformative agenda.

The marketing approach is the approached favoured by centrists and was successfully employed by Blair and Cameron. The pitfalls of such an approach are that politics becomes a hollowed out shell where politicians of principle are replaced with identikit anodyne clones. It spawned a substance free politics that we are all uniformly sick of. This in some way explains Mr Corbyn’s appeal. You may not like his politics but he is at the very least an authentic leftist who believes in all the things leftists are generally supposed to believe in.

It has been a long time since anybody can say that. It has been a long time since there has been any real choice but the status quo at the ballot box. That at the very least is a welcome development. The problem though is that Mr Corbyn’s transformative agenda is an old fashioned one. I could very well see a movement-building approach working but at the heart of any revolutionary movement there needs to be a tangible set of relevant demands and ruthless political competence. This cannot be said of Mr Corbyn.

From Mr Corbyn I’ve heard all the classic leftist mantras such as renationalising the railways, building social housing and dropping university tuition fees, but he suffers from that time honoured leftist ailment; an inability to specify how it will all be paid for. We are told that he intends to borrow the money - but what that tells us is that he is formulating a fantasy agenda without any reference to what is happening in the real world. Likewise the suggestion that we should reopen coal mines - at a time when we are closing down our coal fired power stations. It tells us the man has only a passing relationship with reality.

Had this suggestion come from anyone else I might think that it was a piece of devious populism but I genuinely believe he thinks it’s a viable idea. It is now inescapable that Mr Corbyn is caught in a timewarp and has little to say to modern Britain.

It also raises a lot of serious questions about his political competence. Brexit is the single most significant change in the balance of power since World War Two and he has vacated the field entirely, leaving it for the Tories to do as they please. In all my days I have never seen such criminal impotence. If the role of the Labour party is to stand up for the working class then it has abandoned that role in order to indulge in philosophical navel gazing.

As it happens Britain is quite safe from the fantasists on the Tory right in that they are so completely unhinged that Mrs May can safely ignore them and we will get a more moderate Brexit – but that will be no thanks to the Labour party. In that, though, Mr Corbyn will have missed a genuinely revolutionary opportunity.

The truth is that Mrs May does not want to leave the EU. Few in the establishment do. They know they won’t get away derailing Brexit or holding a second vote but they can engineer a Brexit so that things stay pretty much as they are. If Mr Corbyn wanted a window of opportunity and a genuine “democratic moment” then this is the time to engage fully in the process.

Brexit in the very first instance gives the UK control over trade, aid, fisheries and energy. These are the polices areas that could redefine everything. There are massive opportunities for increasing wealth and reducing the cost of living. This is where we could see a transformation of public administration. The referendum campaign was fought on the promise of “taking back control” and if that applies to Westminster then why should it not apply to our local authorities too? If Labour wanted to make themselves relevant then this is the golden ticket.

But then we are suffering a wider crisis of competence in government. Throughout we have lost any sense of political maturity. Public scrutiny is a dead art. MPs are no longer capable of focussing on grown up issues and applying their intellect. Everywhere you look adult areas of policy, Brexit especially, are dominated by show-boating imbeciles playing to the media for political advantage. This is not sustainable if we wish to remain a first rate power in the world.

It was said during the referendum that an issue like the EU was too complex for the public to be able to vote on and that it should instead be left to the deliberative process. What we have seen though is that our politicians on both sides of the divide have an embarrassingly limited notion of what the EU is and what it does - and that they are ill equipped for such a momentous task. It seems that political competence is a thing of the past – if it ever existed at all.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Brexit is only half the job

The "alt right" is just another iteration of libertarianism popularised after the 2008 crash. It morphed into the Tea Party and has now become an amalgam of right wing nationalist themes. It's remarkably tedious.

What is interesting though is that talk among the "alt right" in Canada and the US is picking up on the globalist theme. I've just sat through an interminably dull video blog of some Septic banging on about global government. Imagine that. Americans complaining that they don't make their own laws anymore and their sovereignty is under attack. Does this sound at all familiar?

And that's what I've been drilling into Brexiteers all these months. You can grunt "invoke Article 50 now" until the cows come home but it's not actually going to do you any good. Once we're out of the EU we are just a parallel node under the same umbrella. If there was a European demos (which there isn't), like the septics, they would be moaning that the EU doesn't make its own laws.

It may actually be that the principal benefit of leaving the EU is that Brits do actually wake up to what is going on and realise Brexit makes no difference. We've had a horribly stultifying EU debate around the thin gruel notion of sovereignty when it turns out that nations very much famed for not being in the EU are having similar complaints. Just about every Western nation is now spawning its own Ukippy movement. With good reason.

In most cases, the EU adopts international rules and regulations on our behalf and tells us how to vote, but now we are leaving the EU we will have our own vote. But leaving the EU while keeping the same establishment in place means they are more than likely going to vote along with the EU at the top tables with or without a diktat from the European Commission.

And then of course we have our own version of the Executive Order known as statutory instruments - which means we still end up with laws on our books that go nowhere near parliament for any kind of meaningful scrutiny. That is where we need serious domestic reform to make sure they can't do to us what they did when they took us into the EU.

And while folks have been getting their knickers in a twist over TTIP, TTP and CETA, these are the decoys. In most respects they deal with convergence of legacy regulation - which will never be fully aligned - and so they have set about a process of gradual equivalence based on recommendations from Transnational Private Regulators and International Organisations. They may fail for now, but they will find a way.

In respect of all new regulation and lawmaking though, they are already signed up to a global harmonisation agreement. So that then gives all of these private regulators serious power. They claim in public that they are not governmental organisations with the power to dictate but through unrelated treaties the "guidelines" they produce become articles of soft law. Nations then become harmonised by way "guidelines" being implemented by national parliaments. And nobody bats an eyelid.

While something may look superficially like it is homegrown law, if it is anything remotely technical, you can bet your ass it isn't. From food safety to internet governance, it did not come from a domestic source. By contrast, the EU is fairly straightforward and transparent.

As far as I can work out, apart from instruments like the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade agreement, there are no hard and fast treaties to bring this global governance into being - and it has no real name. Unlike the EU it has no headquarters and no flag and no expansionist agenda. It's just a morass of bland, seemingly innocuous items of legalese and technical minutiae which is so tedious that nobody in their right mind who isn't directly involved in it would give it a second look. This is the domain of Transnational Private Regulators - and there are more popping up all the time.

A reader yesterday pointed me in the direction of ICANN. I have no real idea what it does. Wikipedia says it the "Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a nonprofit organization that is responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces of the Internet - thereby ensuring the network's stable and secure operation. ICANN performs the actual technical maintenance work of the central Internet address pools and DNS Root registries pursuant to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function contract".

As I understand it, it resides in the US operating under US laws. There is a huge push from Facebook, Twitter and other big internet players to drag ICANN out of US control in order to make it a multilateral system. There is presently a huge row as to whether such a move is legal. America has very strict laws on the transfer of powers. No nation on earth more keenly guards its sovereignty. (This though is as much a mode of trade protectionism as it is anything else).

Should ICANN become one of the many Transnational Private Regulatosr (TPR), the corporates themselves author their own codes of governance which then become codified into law independent of any scrutiny. This has prompted concern over internet privacy, freedom of speech and net neutrality. Some are in favour of this move in that they don't like the idea of the USA being in control of the internet. Some however, prefer China having a hand in it. "The capitalists will sell us the rope we hang them with". We've had the same debates about GPS and Galileo.

Chances are, ICANN will become a TPR - and unlike things like ITU and Codex, they will not involve governments. Dispute resolution will be on a pay to play basis where corporates have the same rights as governments. The richest wins. This is where we might want the ITU to intercede. But then the USA feels pressured to go along with this move in that if they do not cede control of ICANN then a corporate competitor will spring up. It's unstoppable.

If at this point your eyes are glazing over, then you now know how they get away with it. Like I say, it doesn't have a flag or borders or a headquaters. It's not even hidden. It just exists. In many respects the EUs mistake was to ever have a public face. If they could have resisted the urge to form European superstate and instead simply built the treaties without a parliament and all the fluff that goes with it, nobody would be any the wiser and nobody would have campaigned to leave the EU, (same as hardly anybody is making any noises about global governance).

Now that we have left the EU, Brexiteers think that means we have carte blanche to "take back control" and that post-Brexit we are moving into a free trade world of unicorns and rainbows. We're not. We are moving out of a sub domain and into the parent domain. And that's where things get tricky. We could start feeding all the EU laws into the shredder but would soon find them replaced with practically the same thing only from the original source.

So if you voted to leave the EU to be free of technocracy we're not even started yet. This is a global problem where governance is becoming so complex and so technical that governments cannot keep up, they cannot control it, and increasingly find it hard to even influence it - even if you are a giant like the EU. To stop something happening you first have to know that it is happening, and there are now many creative ways for corporates to back door the legislative procedure. The EU is slowly realising this and has an agenda of its own.

In a recent report on global governance the Commission states that "The EU is committed to a global order based on international law, which ensures human rights, sustainable development and lasting access to the global commons. This commitment translates into an aspiration to transform rather than to simply preserve the existing system. The EU will strive for a strong UN as the bedrock of the multilateral rules-based order, and develop globally coordinated responses with international and regional organisations, states and non-state actors."

This is EU-speak for turning global govern-ance into a global govern-ment. A top-down EU on steroids. A horrifying thought when you look past the rhetoric. That is why it is necessary to leave the EU and this is why I'm hoping Brexit will kill it. The monster of global governance we have created cannot be destroyed but it can be tamed. Governance is no bad thing in that it can improve our lives, but only if the people have supreme authority and veto. If however, we have that same establishment who sees no evil then that veto is useless. It must be a people's veto.

But this is why the post Brexit debate lacks any coherence. I see Brexiteers putting on meetings all over the shop, debating what Brexit means for Britain, assuming that we are now free to enact compulsory serving of asparagus at breakfast, free corsets for the under fives and the abolition of slavery. We're not. There is no rowing back on the technocracy and there is no way we are going to simplify the inherently complex. I did not vote to leave the EU so we can nationalise railways or abolish health and safety laws. The point is that the EU is a useless line of defence against global governance and it revokes our only safeguards.

What we need to do is re-establish our system of safeguards and put more power of veto in the hands of the people. We also need some constitutional constraints on the government to stop them handing powers away, and to stop laws getting in by the back door.

We need to modernise our constitution so that we have better protections against laws we did not make. We are always going to be the recipient of laws and as a matter of fact there is no way we can scrutinise all of them. We can however have a system of opt outs and exemptions and a means by which we can make the implementation fairer. What we need is a system of politics that serves as a goalkeeper rather than a striker for the other team. It is that which makes Brexit necessary, but Brexit alone does not achieve that. The enemy, as ever, resides in Westminster, not Brussels.

Friday, 9 September 2016

The debate beyond Brexit

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has slammed David Cameron and George Osborne for their conduct during the referendum campaign. In great detail, he criticised them for failing to see the "political chaos" that continued membership of the EU - which he dubbed "an organisation of Byzantine complexity, run by five unelected presidents, with input from numerous other parts of the many-headed Hydra" - would create for Britain.

He's actually got this wrong. The EU is one of the head of this "many-headed Hydra". Normally when dealing with reptilian creatures if one cuts off the head the body dies. In our scenario though, cutting off this particular head causes it a good deal of pain and some considerable inconvenience But it it still a many-headed Hydra.

And the problem with describing the EU as an organisation of Byzantine complexity implies that to leave it that one is also leaving behind that Byzantine complexity into a simpler, more easily understood world. Thus you can understand the appeal of Brexit. But this is where the Brexiteers have it ass backwards. There might have been a time twenty five years ago when that other world existed but as we have headed down the EU cul-de-sac, the rest of the world has been arranging itself along similar lines.

They each take their technical regulation from the same organisations using more or less the same structures. What makes the EU unique is its supranationalism where there is a central authority with a monopoly on trade powers where member states have none of their own.

The problem though is that many newer regional integration bodies are gradually forming themselves in the EU's image whereby member states opt for bloc deals, which use the globalisation agenda to further regional integration - so this notion that post-Brexit the UK will be banging the drum for bilateral deals with independent states is looking increasingly spurious.

What we are actually going to have to do is engage on a multilateral basis looking at a universe of different agreements. Anyone talking about "free trade deals" is at the Janet and John level and they are in for a rude awakening. The agreements we have through the EU will have to be replicated and broken away from one system in order to join another. Through a series of negotiations we establish our own customs code, our own subsidy quotas and re-establish ourselves as an independent entity. But in so doing we being to participate in systems and organisations which did not exist when the EU was conceived.

And this is why there is not going to be this renaissance of sovereignty. It simply does not exist anymore unless you go the way of North Korea and have an internal economy. Some things won't change, can't change and if we did change them we would soon change them back to how they were because much of our technocracy is designed for the removal of obstacles to trade.

All we really get from Brexit is an enhanced voice in shaping that "Byzantine complexity" at the global level with some greater powers to refuse but in most cases, we probably won't. If you have a say in designing the rules then you don't need to veto them. If people think we need to leave behind this complex and tangled web of governance then our only option is to somehow relocate the British Isles in outer space.

And if people really do want to be taken seriously, and indeed if Britain is to make the best of Brexit, then we need to be having a realistic conversation about the world as we find it rather than the one that existed twenty five years ago when John Redwood last read a book.

Brexit to my mind has always been about taking a different path to the EU and navigating the global trade system in a new way. The classic arguments about sovereignty and democracy don't quite fit the mould anymore. This prompts a new debate about globalisation and whether we are in a post-democratic age where technocracy has a place and cannot be easily dispensed with.

It sounds superficially appealing to depart from technocracy but the consequences of doing so, when you give it any serious consideration, are less appealing. Those who argue for it do not seem to have thought it through. To my mind they sound like survivalists who want to live out their lives in a faraday cage and a tin foil hat.

But then of course we now we need democracy as a periodic corrective. So Brexit does present some interesting opportunities and a chance to redesign participation but that debate must include a debate about the limitations of it and a recognition that the people, generally speaking, do not want as much control as they say they do. Their actions do not match their words. That begs the question of whether we accept this dynamic or arrange our affairs so as to encourage greater participation. How much democracy is too much democracy and where do we draw the line against globalisation if we must draw one at all?

Brexit is not a transition from the complex to the simple. It is simply a reconfiguration of a complex machine that will stay complex. It is now complex to a degree where no single individual can possibly comprehend it where some of it works better for the absence of democracy.

Systems that run themselves often have no need of politics and do not benefit from the application of collective ignorance. This might offend the purist democrats but many of these systems enhance our wealth and our liberty And we need to start asking if part of the function of democracy is to defend those things against the extremes of political ideology. In some respects technocracy has abolished socialism and mutes the externalities of capitalism. It would appear we are creating a self-governing machine for the running of the planet that makes our short stay here materially wealthier. Is that really something we should take a wrecking ball to?

But then there's the rub. Humanity thrives on reinvention and renewal. We are not designed to cope without conflict and struggle because conflict and struggle is what defines us and gives our spiritual lives meaning. Like in the film The Matrix, the first Matrix failed because humans were too happy. Perhaps we are a species ill equipped to adapt to a utopia where we want for nothing. Perhaps we should write it all off as a bad idea? I would like us to be sure before we do though.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

There are no good reasons to leave the single market

The main reason we should not quit the single market aspect of the EU is because people are fucking liars. Brexit-o-mongs keep telling me that we should take back full control because democracy. Which is a fucking stupid argument. I am told that "In a democracy you are allowed to have, and even implement if you have enough support, a variety of ideas about how to run things. The single market membership does not allow for this. It puts certain things beyond debate".

Yes it does. And that's a good thing. In a modern, hyper-globalised trading environment we accept that something just work better if they are harmonised. This is the daily grind stuff that nobody gives a tinkers fuck about. If I give you two choices of things to debate, one being something to do with the Black Lives Matter protest and the latest convention on shipping container weighing regulations, an overwhelming majority of you will choose the former because it's idle chatter and you do not have to apply yourself to the subject.

But in terms of which is more likely to have a direct impact on you and the availability and affordability of goods you buy, it's the container regs. Because you are normal people with normal lives and normal concerns and fairly pedestrian desires you do not give a solitary toss. You may say we want to take back control but in actual fact you don't care who regulates these things, why they are regulated or even if they are regulated at all.

And please don't take this as an insult. People are (for reasons that escape me) social animals and prefer the social politics over the technical. You are never likely to get outraged by a trade deal that decides there must be a higher minimum sugar content in strawberry jam unless you are one of the intellectually subnormal Kiptards who think this is a threat to Western civilisation and proof that Sharia law is on the way. There is a good reason we point and laugh at these people. If this were the middle ages we would appoint them as village idiots. In the modern era we just elect them to the European Parliament.

I didn't vote to send Britain back into the stone age and so that we have the freedom to buy a bag of stoats ears in pounds and ounces. There are some things that politics can let slide. We went through the pain of the Single European Act in the 1990's (installing the EU regulatory regime) and it cost a lot of money, killed a lot of businesses, and it was to small producers what Mrs T was to the mines. It was done shabbily, in a rush and without proper consent. But it's done now. Trade has been modernised, regulations have been harmonised and they have been refined over two decades. They are now embedded. Everybody knows how to work with them.

The only reason we would pull out of the single market is if we wanted to go to the massive hassle and expense of reversing that process. Inspectors would have to retrain. Universities would have to completely change their syllabus. Factories would have to run two productions lines; one for the domestic regime, one for the export market. Inspectors would have to train in both regimes. We would lose our automatic mutual recognition agreements and have to be assessed individually by every third country we trade with.

We would also be the odd one out since the EU, as I have outlined time and again, stopped being the driver of regulation some years ago. It now only implements global rules. So if we are moving away from the EU standard then we are also moving away from the global standard. So what you are proposing is a completely pointless revolution in regulation for no commercial advantage over areas of technical regulation where politicians haven't the first clue and don't care either. More to the point, nor do the public. Nobody is going to go to the barricades over the right to sell misshapen fruit.

Britain is part of a modern, global rules based trading system. Pulling out of it would make no sense. Regulatory harmonisation reduces red tape, makes trade faster and consequently makes food and other consumer products cheaper and higher quality.

By leaving the EU we have ended EU legal supremacy. It means we are no longer subordinate to the EU and we have the right to refuse rules we don't want. That's fucking awesome. We have safeguard measures we can invoke as part of the single market and we get an enhanced say in the rules. In the process we are no longer subject to EU supranationalism. But that does not mean we want to end economic integration nor do we want to turn the clock back. Free movement of goods, services and people is a great thing.

What matters is that we are free of the common agricultural policy and CFP and that we are no longer bound to EU directives on energy production and other environmental legislation. We take back control of trade policy and aid, we no longer let the EU make our choices for us and we get to design our own rural and habitats policy. We also bin the "social Europe" nonsense. That to my mind is more than enough.

So again I ask why you are willing to throw away the single market for no reason? Is it that you want to pay more for goods? Do you want us to lose our exports? Help me out here. I don't understand why you would do such an irresponsible and nihilistic thing. Is resetting the clock back to 1991 really that important to you? No.

The fact is, there will always be technocracy. Life is never going to get any simpler and protectionist measures are not going to bring back manufacturing or mass employment. Harmonisation and specialisation is the way things are done now and that is about to explode beyond the confines of the European single market to become a global phenomenon. If we give ordinary people control over technical rules and regulations we'll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner.

What matters is that we create better early warning mechanisms for new laws, that we have better consultation and a better, more democratic means of dispute resolution. The EEA agreement gives us exactly that whereby we can be outside of the EU but still, for the most part, trade freely and maintain present levels of trade.

Cutting ourselves off from the single market and erecting barriers serves absolutely no purpose. For sure we would notionally gain control over our laws down to the granular level but you wouldn't take the slightest bit of notice and it really doesn't matter who makes them. Not least since most of what you think comes from Brussels actually comes from Geneva.

If I genuinely thought for a moment there would be a level of political engagement in these things and that what was happening is sufficiently harmful I would says so. In fact I did during the referendum. We're going to get back that vital power of veto.

The truth is though, for the most part, you are all lying bastards and you don't care who is making the laws and when it comes to the test, on any platform you care to mention, this kind of lawmaking is the thing you give the least fucks about. So puhlease, don't give me that "democracy" crap.

People having power over their lives matters but only over the stuff they care about. The rest they are happy to roll with. Nobody has cared about regulation since the 1990's except for Toryboy mouthbreathers and kippermongs. That, if nothing else, is reason enough to think the system doesn't need to be changed. We could leave the single market but there aren't any good reasons for doing so. Not one.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

It's time to confront Brexiteer dishonesty

There's a lot of intellectual cowardice around at the moment. There is an ongoing pretense that Brexit is simple. It isn't. It's fraught with uncomfortable compromises and dilemmas. Much of EU integration was designed to be irreversible and if we want to do it properly we have to do it slowly and by the book.

Some would have it that the Article 50 process is designed to prevent us from leaving. It isn't. It's just that forty years of global evolution in trade law presents us with choices none of which are encouraging and whichever way we turn the options are not good. We still have a very expensive and time consuming process on our hands.

We are told Brexit means Brexit but in truth the government has no way of satisfying the expectations of leavers without inflicting a good deal of unnecessary self-harm. People think we are leaving a European legal system but it isn't that simple. We are stepping out of a partition and into a broader global legal system where we have to reconfigure our own laws while honouring legacy commitments and also being mindful that close cooperation is still a necessity for the normal functioning of business.

The leave campaign has caused a number of problems. They pretended that sunlit uplands were only a single bound away and that the alternative is instantly preferable to EU membership. It isn't.

The alternative is something we have to build over a long time. The process will be costly and time consuming and it doesn't come simply by waving the Brexit magic wand. Embarking on the Brexit process is the beginning of a long journey which does have a high risk of failure. I still voted to leave because I think that culturally it is necessary and because it's a festering sore that won't go away. Also because Britain does have the potential to be a world leader in global trade - but I won't for a moment pretend it's simple.

Over the years the EU has made some impressive inroads in its trade agreements and if we adopt the EU bilateral approach we could never in a thousand years hope to match them. I believe the alternative approaches are where we can made smaller steps and progress incrementally and in the end surpass the EU while it's still negotiating big bang deals like TTIP to no avail.

I am however becoming increasingly intolerant of Brexit-o-mongs who think we can just rip up treaties, contracts and agreements and then "free trade deals" will just materialise out of thin air. They won't. They will come but we'll have to invest to get them and we're not going to get them if we're sudden breaking international treaty law for shits and giggles. There is no unilateral Brexit and there is no complete restoration of sovereignty. In terms of laws made outside of London we are exchanging Brussels for Geneva and the volume of laws we accept will be about the same if not more. All we get is the power to refuse them, which in most cases we won't.

The Brexiteer vision of Brexit is a child's fantasy filled with rainbows and unicorns. It is a dishonesty of epic proportions and these pet theories belong to 1975. Since then globalisation has happened and nobody gets to do as they please anymore.

Worse still, if you thought Brussels lacked transparency wait until you try deciphering what the nexus of global governance is up to. It's all hidden in plain sight but you have to know what you are looking at. It makes TTIP look transparent by contrast. Brexit will mean that eventually we are in control of that agenda but for the time being we'll be taking baby steps and we're not going to get there without considerable cooperation with the EU. They are not going to help us if we start tearing up agreements and breaking the rules. So please, put your pet theories away and try to engage in the real world - or at the very least pipe down so the adults can get on with it.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Technocracy is here to stay

I'm not so concerned by calls for a second referendum. There isn't going to be one. Democracy is not "hanging by a thread". There are no dark forces amassing to derail Brexit. What we have are sore losers who are presently incapable of organising themselves into a coherent movement. Lib Dems, Labour and the remains of the remain campaign. They cannot tell Mrs May she cannot invoke Article 50 and there is no appetite for a second referendum.

There is only really one choice left to be made. One between a careful measured Brexit that allows us to evolve slowly out of the EU - and then a Brexit that needless completely fucks everything with little chance of bouncing back to our present standing.

The latter is on the table because some think that Brexit offers us a choice between "Brussels bureaucracy" and the free world. But as we find with most things, if we scrub away the Brussels bureaucracy we find Geneva bureaucracy. There is no wiping the slate clean nor is there any buccaneering "free trade". There are global rules for trade which are just as extensive, just as bureaucratic and just as opaque as anything produced by the EU.

The nexus of international organisations create a worldwide rules based systems governing everything from customs to tariffs all the way through to marketing standards and agricultural practices.

What makes Brexit complex is that even out of the EU we still have to play by the rules. There are legacy rules we must conform to and there are rules that countries not in the EU must obey in order to trade with the EU. Then there are those rules that apply to everyone only they come to our statue book via the EU which have to be re-registered with a number of global organisations.

Some believe that Brexit is simply a matter of sketching out a free trade deal and then we are free to slash and burn regulations like they never existed so we can trade with the lesser developed nations who don't have all these pesky rules. Except that world has not existed for two decades now. Even Bangladesh follows the same health codes and regulations as the UK and they can't export unless they can prove the conform.

And so this notion that Brexit is becoming the province of "educated nincompoops" trying to manage away the Brexit process is a bogus one. The fact is that we have to be global citizens now and Brexit has to be by the book. If we want trade agreements once we have left then our ability to get them depends on our reputation for upholding international law and honouring our treaties. Simply ripping up contracts "because democracy" is not on the cards if we wish to maintain our current level of exports.

We really have to navigate one of the most intricate legal systems ever devised coming from a position of having completely abandoned that kind of administration for four decades. Almost everything to do with trade and regulation has been surrendered to the EU and the process of bringing it back under our control is a mammoth task.

In this we are discovering systems and subsystems that we never knew existed. I was only dimly aware of the TIR system until recently and now I find that there is the AEO system and all of the customs processes developed since 9/11. As to banking rules and trade in services, you will notice that I seldom speak on such matters. Better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

But in this age where cross border trade in goods is diminishing while we increasingly export innovations, the issue of digital rights and intellectual property and patents comes into play. This is a major sector that makes up a significant portion of our GDP. It is governed by the EU as well as WIPO, ITU and the EU. Not to mention the WTO at the centre of it.

If you have been following recent developments then you know that the process of breaking away from the EU to become an actor in our own right at the WTO is no small undertaking. The problematisers make out that it is next to impossible as it requires approval of all other members - which isn't actually true but it is a serious undertaking which has the potential to stall the Brexit process.

Effectively, a unilateral withdrawal would be like bulldozing a house without checking for occupants. As much as it is murderously negligent it doesn't make you very popular in the wider neighbourhood. The people who advocate this do so from a position of complete ignorance. They would gleefully pull the plug on the whole thing just to see what happens in order to rebuild it in accordance with their own dogmas.

The truth is that if we really wanted to depart from all this bureaucracy and go back to a world where things were simpler we would not only have to leave the EU but withdraw entirely from the entire international order and pull out of every multilateral agreement. If you want to make that case I am sure a compelling case could be made but the fact is that if your aim is to move away from technocracy and complexity then Brexit does absolutely nothing for you and would put us in a minority of nations where the nearest comparable nation is Zimbabwe or North Korea. Even China is a fully signed up to the global rules based trading system. There is no winding the clock back.

Brexit is about asserting ourselves as an independent actor within a global community. It means making our own decisions free of EU interference and it means the EU cannot tell us how to vote. It does not mean that the UK is free to do as it pleases and though we have a considerably large economy it is largely built on the basis that we do follow the rules which is why the banks keep their money here.

So really it is not a matter of stalling Brexit. What matters is that we disabuse hardliner Brexiteers of their daft notion and win the battle for a managed and well executed Brexit that doesn't collapse our exports and ruin our international prestige. I am in no rush to press the Article 50 button until this dispute is resolved.

If Brexit is going to work for Britain then we will need to engage more on all the multilateral forums and be a leading global citizen within the institutions that govern trade. We will need to be a leading light in exporting the methods and tools for implementing good governance. That is how we prosper.

And though Brexit will cost us in the interim, this is ultimately why Britain will be richer and and more influential outside the EU. Right now we are having a very serious debate about our trade strategy, exploring the methods and tools at our disposal. It is a debate no longer confined to the tatty offices of the Commission in Brussels. It is a nationwide debate which participation form every sector, with just about every industry engaging with the government to ensure we get a good deal.

In this we are building consultation mechanisms that will outlive the Brexit process and business will get used to the idea of steering trade policy same as the wider public will reacquaint themselves with the topic as a facet of our politics.

Until then managerialism reigns supreme while we work out what has been done to us and how. There are no shortcuts and there are no magic wands. It will be a slow deliberative process and there will be little room for ideologies and political mantras. In most respects the political battles have been made obsolete by way of having a developed system that needs no politics.

As much as anything our rules trade rules exist to prevent conflicts and to resolve disputes. And they work. If you want it some other way you will have to develop a viable alternative and quickly - but you won't find many takers. In the final analysis the world is better now than it was before all this "red tape" and you'd miss it if it were gone in ways you never anticipated. This is the era of technocracy. Get used to it.

Monday, 5 September 2016

A process without a destination

If you were outside of parliament today you might have been inclined to shout "Invoke Article 50 now". If however, you were live-tweeting the proceedings on the inside you might well be so horrified you switch sides entirely. I must confess, my commitment to project mayhem was almost in doubt this afternoon.

You see it's all true what the remainers say. Most Brits have no idea what the hell they were voting for. The nuance is that remainers don't either. And though that is nominally an argument for not having a referendum our politicians enjoy no greater enlightenment.

Some people voted for immigration control. Some people voted to cut off payments to the EU. Some voted in order to deregulate. Some voted against technocracy. Some voted for absolute sovereignty. Some voted simply because they hate the EU. Some voted mainly because they hate our politicians and the establishment. Some voted against globalisation. Some voted for more of it.

So how do you reconcile all these conflicting opinions and how do you produce a Brexit that is sufficiently brexity to satisfy the masses while preserving good relations with our allies?

In this, ignorance reigns supreme. Nobody really has a cost effective idea how to reduce immigration. There are only marginal gains to be had from deregulation, everything falls to pieces if you don't have technocracy and in this age of global regulatory harmonisation there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty.

I would venture that voting to leave because you hate the EU is a perfectly valid reason. There isn't much to like about it or its advocates. But then having dealt with most kind of leavers who seem to take pride in the ignorance it s difficult not to despise both sides of the argument.

What's worse is that every stupid assertion requires a detailed and technical rebuttal. In this nobody really wants to know. All they know is they want Brexit as soon as possible yet nobody as yet knows what that is supposed to look like.

The problem is that most people imagine Brexit means going back to that state of independence that existed before the EU. I don't want to be patronising and say people want to wind the clock back but they do want things to be a certain way in a way they can never be again. Supply chains have become ever more sophisticated and integrated where there is simply no value in divergence. Internet has brought people places and things closer. We could dismantle the EU and erase it entirely but the world would still have to turn and it would still require cross border governance in place of the EU.

If it be the case that people want the simplest and most literal Brexit possible then that would be to simply move into the EEA and leave as much in tact as possible. That would on paper accomplish Brexit. And who is going to argue? But then people also want political change. People want a Brexit that is more than just Brexit on paper.

So how is that defined? How much integration do we want, what are we willing to pay for it and what are we willing to sacrifice to have our cake and eat it. Everybody enjoys the product of free movement of goods and services yet politically they oppose it.

And this is the problem with such an open ended and ill conceived referendum question. We voted not for an alternative. We simply voted to dismantle the status quo without specifying a destination. Thus we are in a limbo. We must devise a Brexit that avoids economic chaos that also appeases the unappeasable. It is likely we will be no closer to defining that even by Christmas.

It's all very well saying we should just get on with it but we must first learn the anatomy of the beast and understand its functions before cutting away at the many strands of integration.

As it happens, some of us did go to the trouble of doing exactly that and we did produce a plan but a certain anti-intellectualism grips the land whereby people would rather not engage in the complexities and have absolutely zero interest in shaping the outcome. They seem to think that building a new model for government comes after the Brexit process. Not so. A transition has to go from one state of being to another.

If it were all down to me I would be invoking Article 50 sometime next year but that's after two years of extensive analysis of the issues. But it's not up to me. It's up to a political process involving one of the worst crops of politicians in living memory. One that is impossibly attached to obsolete narratives and incapable of comprehending what has been built over the last forty years at a very granular level by technocrats, lawyers and experts.

This is like asking cavemen to reverse engineer a jumbo jet. They could conceivably break it down into its components but would have no greater understanding of how it worked and would have no real ability to reassemble and fly it.

But then we are are told that the same time that expertise is neither trusted nor demanded. So what's to be done? Without answering the very basic questions you cannot conceivably commit to a negotiation.

For sure would could just pull the plug and let this civilisation of ours grind to a halt but I don't imagine for a moment this is what the majority voted for and never imagined Brexit had the capacity to do that. Well, it does.

Foolishly the remain camp overplayed their hand to the point where nobody believed them. There's always a problem with crying wolf. But there are risks if we pull certain levers and we need to be clear that everyone is clear on what happens when we pull on them.

The ultimate joke is that if people do not want to understand the issues and do not wish to participate in that deliberative process then once again we surrender the process to the technocrats to simply reconfigure the system according to their best guess.

Ironically, the Spiked "Invoke Article 50 Now" protest in London today was a a group who largely celebrate the mass availability of consumer goods. This does not happen without technocracy and systems of good governance. The very thing they oppose. The group is also broadly in favour of freedom of movement. Yet most would say if we are leaving the EU then it must be curtailed. It seems to me that if the public cannot reconcile their own basic hypocrisy then how can they expect the same of their politicians?

How can one say one is defending democracy when one is perfectly at ease with abdicating the details to the politicians. Is there any real advantage in transferring the technocracy from Brussels to London if the same basic lack of engagement exists?

The notion that we simply instruct our politicians to "get on with it" without defining what that means is to simply abdicate the running of our own affairs to government - which really makes our predicament entirely our own fault. In which case, what am I expending another nanosecond on this for? If the people themselves are not defining what Brexit means then we might as well not bother at all.

Friday, 2 September 2016

My brexit, your brexit or their brexit?


The reason the government does not have a direction on Brexit is because there is a battle going on to define what Brexit means. Hard liners think we can get by with no deal at all. Then there are those who think we can spend years coming up with a custom arrangement and then there are those moving for something more pragmatic. An off the shelf solution.

And there really is no compromise on this. one is a complete departure from international law and a complete reset of everything, the other is a limbo and the EEA is something workable but not too far removed from what we have.

A complete reset of everything as per what is known as the WTO option seems superficially appealing but when you start to look at the real world consequences it looks far less appealing. We might complain about regulation and technocracy but in the modern age it is as certain as death and taxes. There is no escaping it. More to the point, it doesn't deliver on its promises. There are no sunlit uplands of "free trade" and there is definitely no money in the kitty for firehosing on the NHS.

The limbo model, the model which is "some form of free trade agreement" is one that ignores the highly technical and complex peripheral concerns which dwarf the issue of trade. That is what takes years to sort out. It seems that this route is becoming the more popular largely because it is vague by definition. It is only defined by what it isn't. It is neither the WTO option nor is it the EEA Norway Option.

Then there is the EEA Norway option which is adequate - but hard liners see it as Brexit in name only and not sufficiently brexity.

So like I say, there's little room for compromise. It seems the government is also quite determined to make immigration a red line even though it was not the lead reason for voting for Brexit. This is the power of narrative at work. There is also a lack of political courage in speaking up for the truth that ending freedom of movement largely accomplishes very little at great cost.

So it seems, in the absence of a champion, the EEA route is struggling to win traction among opinion formers and those in power. We will manage to fend off the hard right who want to pull the plug on all of it but the course will be set for a magical mystery tour of of this unspecified third way.

That means we are presently looking at several years just to negotiate and then several more years to transition. As it happens this could be avoided by negotiated in the EEA terms up front as is our right as an EU member and then invoke article 50 to deal with the rest but this is a point lost on MPs and commentators.

It would seem many options MPs are quite keen on the EEA option and so is the new incarnation of the Stronger In campaign. It does have allies but none in any position to wield much influence. Now is about the time where it might have been useful to have a functioning opposition party but restoring the railways the to glory days of 1989 seems to be their leading concern in all this. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems see an urgent need for a 5p tax on coffee cups. That should see them roaring back to life imminently.

The ultimate enemy in this is prestige. There are supporters of the WTO option who are wrong, know they are wrong but will not speak against the consensus of the group. None wish to be an outsider. In this it's perfectly acceptable to write complete and utter drivel so long as it is not a threat to the orthodoxy and is not in conflict with the words of prestigious sources.

Then there are those who know full well that the EEA option does give us much of what we want but are afraid to challenge the normalised lie that Norway must accept full freedom of movement and has no say in the rules. Again, it is cowardice.

And so politics being what it is, we will attempt to negotiate something else. We don't know what that something is, how extensive we want it to be, what we want it to cover and if possible we want to be outside of the single market while participating in all the features we like, none of the ones we don't and paying nothing into the budget. That is the only politically acceptable position within the bubble yet Mrs May cannot press the button because absolutely everybody privately agrees that this nonsense is for the birds.

This is why we absolutely must have a parliamentary vote on which path we choose. In this I have every confidence that opposition MPs can defeat the Tory right while at the same time collectively bringing some sense to the proceedings. Looking at the mess in front of us, you can hardly blame remainers for wanting another referendum regardless of how implausible an idea it is.

What it now looks like is that no agreement will be reached before invoking Article 50 and Mrs May will have to choose a path of least risk - but this will be in the final hour where we will pay severely for not having a coherent plan or an endgame in mind. It may be that we won't know what Brexit means until we are actually out.

This of course does not change my view that we should leave. This is just the process we have to go through to correct a historical mistake. It's just a pity we will harm ourselves in ways that could have been avoided. People will look back and ask where it went so wrong. Well, mark this moment in time. Because this is where it went wrong. The bit where people should have been engaged and making a saner case rather than waving placards saying "invoke Article 50 now!" Ho hum.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

There is nothing at all radical about Corbyn’s Labour

Everybody looks forward to summer. Unless of course you’re political animal in which case you’re in for six weeks of pure tedium as the entire political machine shuts down. It leaves us news junkies with little to cogitate. As far as politics goes there are only two stories. Brexit and the labour leadership contest.

The latter is of diminishing interest. It rather looks like Mr Corbyn is going to see off the challenge comfortably. And it’s easy to see why. Labour’s big beasts are more concerned with their career prospects than mounting an effective challenge. Losing in 2020 is a near certainty for Labour and none of them wants the job when it means a wipeout. Consequently the challenger is nobody with all the charisma of flat-pack furniture.

It seems that Labour has no-one to challenge Mr Corbyn’s appeal. He is well liked because he is a figure people can relate to. It’s not what he is. It’s what he isn’t. British politics in recent decades has been beset by a dismal ratings chasing trend whereby policy announcements are made on the basis of what their focus groups have told them – fighting over the centre ground.

The product of this has been bland managerial policy devoid of any principle or ideology pushed by anodyne people. You can barely tell them apart. There seems to be little point in voting when all of the major parties are chasing the same handful of voters and why bother with a political party chasing power for its own sake?

Labour as a party has largely forgotten who it serves and what it is for. A genuine movement is one that decides what it believes it, defines what it wants to accomplish and then goes out and sells it. Whether the agenda is popular or not should not matter. If you have the courage of your convictions you stand by what you believe and you build your movement over time. If it has something to offer then through persistence it will succeed.

Contrast that with Blairism. The Blairite way it to hold one’s beliefs cheaply – to ditch principle depending on the basis of what the most recent poll says. That may well be a shortcut to power but power without a real agenda is simply administration.

In that regard Labour should be bold and not afraid to lose support. It is better to have a coherent movement where voters know what you’re about than to have a generic umbrella party full of ambitious charlatans climbing the greasy pole. The test of whether it succeeds or not is really down to the ideas on sale. That is ultimately why Corbyn will fail.

Labour is supposed to be the party for the working class – but that is an increasingly nebulous term. It can apply to those on minimum wage with insecure jobs or it can apply to families with a mortgage and two cars. The latter being aspirational working class who have increasingly conservative views on taxation – and though largely socially liberal, not as permissive as the progressive left. The idea that the working class is a huddled mass of hapless serfs in need of rescue is an obsolete one. Labour continues to misdiagnose Britain.

Labour’s article of faith is that zero hours contracts should be abolished. While that may be noble in intent it’s not actually that big a problem and affects comparatively few people. Some even prefer the flexibility it offers. The insistence by Labour that Britain’s working class are necessarily poor and living in Dickensian poverty paints a picture that simply does not exist and is not recognised by ordinary voters. It cost Miliband the 2015 election. The patronising paternalism that comes with Labour’s anti-poverty crusade is also a big turn off.

And then we must look at Mr Corbyn’s bizarre fixation with nationalising the railways. Who owns the railways is neither here nor there. What people want is clean, affordable rail that turns up when it says it will. That’s all they care about. Presently it achieves none of these things.

But rail is beset by two problems. Overcrowding and price. Subsidise the fares and you create more overcrowding. Moreover, if you’re subsidising fares for London rail commuters then chances are that’s not a way to help poor people. You’re more likely subsidising middle class higher earners in London. It’s not a policy that speaks much to Labour heartlands like Sheffield where people take the bus to work – or walk.

What this tells us is that Corbyn has failed to understand Britain’s ills. Rail nationalisation is a solution in search of a problem. Britain needs bigger ideas than throwback socialist ones. The fact is we could spend a trillion on creating new rail infrastructure and not make any real impact on our capacity crunch. Rail is an expensive business. What we need is fresh thinking.

In Britain it’s not actually that difficult to find relatively good wages. The issue is how much of it we get to keep. After we’ve paid income tax and national insurance we’ve already taken a big hit in income. Add to that commuting costs and all the other costs associated with work and even a highly salaried job starts to feel like a mugs game. We need to rethink the very idea of work.

For starters, commuting is an absolutely absurd waste of time. We spend at least two hours in the day travelling – usually at the same time as everyone else – creating congestion along with all the health problems that go with it. Why? And if you’re not spending money on rail fares then it’s parking fees – often to do desk work we can just as easily do from home. This makes no sense. If we can get the workforce working from home then not only can we reduce spending on infrastructure we can end the spiral of wage inflation. This is where we can make tangible gains.

Instead of this, the Labour party under Blair introduced income support benefits and the minimum wage – but all of this is increasingly gobbled up by the cost of living – while at the same time adding to the overall tax burden or debt mountain. This is not sustainable – and the Tory national living wage is the same kind of thinking; inflationary measures which sound good but do nothing to increase our spending power or our ability to save.

What we need is radical ideas to bring down the cost of living and the cost of doing business. Nearly half the country can’t afford to save for a pension. We can live fairly comfortable lives on a day to day basis but it’s increasingly insecure with most of us being only two paycheques away from financial oblivion. The pound in our pockets is the key to electoral success – not who owns the railways.

In that, the government is going to have to do something about how much it takes from our wages. We have done a lot to take the low paid out of general taxation but you can’t have a dynamic economy unless people have money to spend, save and invest. But this is something that is alien to Corbyn. He thinks we are not taxed enough. It’s difficult to see how that message can connect with middle Britain. In that regard, Labour’s centrists have a point.

But then it’s Brexit that really tells us what’s going on. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU. That in its own way is a judgement on London. There is a lack of trust that London will do right by them. The rest of England voted to leave – again in defiance of London.

Politically, economically, socially, London is increasingly divergent from the rest of the country. The political narratives are forged in London. Banking, media and government is all based there. It has spawned its own insular culture that lives in a parallel universe to the rest of us. The political debate in London is one alien to the one happening elsewhere. Policies imposed on the regions have little or no relevance to the distinct problems of the north of England. London has too much power.

While we have seen a largely platitudinal effort to devolve powers to the north the new authorities are again imposed by London and in all likelihood will take power away from councils. Labour should have opposed this, but to them it’s just another elected office to fill and Andy Burnham couldn’t wait to give it a bash. The inherent paternalism of Labour will ensure it is yet another rotten borough just like Birmingham.

We need an agenda to restructure power in Britain. One that gives the public direct control over taxation and spending so that they are in control. An agenda whereby people are trusted to manage their own affairs and give themselves a break when the politicians won’t.

We need a movement that seeks to take the power back to give to the people rather than to take it for themselves so that they can pull the levers of power. And that's not Corbyn. There is nothing at all radical about Corbyn’s Labour. They are the same old paternalists who think things would be better if only they were in charge. It never occurs to them that people are perfectly capable of finding their own way. They are every bit as establishment as Mrs Thatcher’s Tories.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Education needs better ideas than grammar schools

There seems to be a debate about grammar schools. I don't think it matters. A childs education is largely contingent on the amount of effort put in by the parents. A school can make a difference but only if the teaching is good. Grammar schools are no guarantee of that. It just so happens that if parents care enough to get their kids into a selective school they will be mixing with other kids whose parents also give a shit. Obviously that will bring about better results.

Personally, I don't like the idea of grammar schools. I think it leads to social warehousing where the comprehensive schools are stripped of their bright pupils, creating sink hole schools full of kids whose parent simply do not care. Meanwhile, grammar schools gain prestige where it is assumed that one is necessarily better educated by way of what school you went to. This is how we get the "Tim Nice-but-dim" types in the civil service and in all of the top jobs. Stratification in education ultimately damages social mobility in my view.

I think what we have to look at is improving all schools. That is somewhat more challenging. A bad system will lead to bad teaching. If teachers are forced to teach to a test, and to satisfy tick box criteria then stats culture takes hold where it doesn't matter if kids are leaning anything just so long as the metrics say they are. It leads to uninspiring teaching and it drives good teachers out of the system completely. And that is usually the product of state run and maintained schools. They become political footballs to me measured and played with, much like the NHS. Ultimately it is for the parents to judge whether the teaching is effective, not the state.

Somehow we have drifted into a situation where parents withdraw from their role as educators of their own children and consider education the job of the school. The school is only half of it and is mainly there for the purpose of socialising children. A good education comes from knowledgeable and active, curious parents.

Ideally schools must engage pupils. Many drop out of the system not because they are incapable but because they are not challenged, under-stimulated and bored. How can schools adapt to the needs of children when they also have to satisfy a state criteria?

My own education informs my view of stats driven teaching. I was never at all interested in space and astronomy. To this day I find it a deeply dull subject. But somewhere there is a report card showing that I have understood the concepts and and passed the "learning objectives". This is because a science teacher under pressure to push up her averages sat down with me for an hour and explained all the concepts in list form and ticked off the boxes as I confirmed my understanding. None of it has stuck with me and that is not teaching.

Nor is squinting at an OHP to copy out notes about oxbow lakes. I failed Geography simply because I regarded it as thoroughly tedious, yet when taken as a whole the field of geography is and should be one of the most fascinating. It dips into the deeply political and the social and the historical and it ought to be exciting. Having some dullwitted junior teacher have us watch dated Open University videos is an abandonment of a vital subject.

To teach anything effectively you have to have a passion for a subject. It's the only way you can bring dry subjects to life. Conveyor belt teachers straight off the production line who have no real experience outside of the education system are neither role models nor especially inspiring people. Children need far more exposure to real experts in the same way that university students are. Half the challenge of teaching anything is getting kids to see the point of it. Learning is addictive if you are learning toward an objective. In that regard kids need to be able to set their own learning agenda and teachers should be making core subjects relevant to their interests.

What we need is to pull education away from managerialism and integrate schools the wider community and the world of work. Presently they are run as sealed off units that barely interact leaving young people completely bewildered and directionless when they leave school, not knowing what is out there and not knowing what is even possible. Hence why so many are so lacking in ambition.

It seems to me that resurrecting grammar schools is yet one more sign that the establishment is completely out of ideas. Everywhere you look politicians are dusting off tired ideas like renationalising the railways or introducing proportional representation. There is no radicalism or originality and no political courage in seeing through new ideas. As it happens I really like the idea of free schools but I think they will need time to establish and will have to fail a few times in order to learn from their mistakes and innovate.

The problem, as ever, is that those working within the system have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. Politicians and authorities cannot resist meddling and the idea that education would be out of state control is anathema to them. And so both sides of the debate dust off their tired old canards and we never see any real improvements.

To get the best education system possible we are going to have to free it of state control and we are going to have to slaughter a few sacred cows. We are also going to have to change the culture where parents are held to account for their lack of input. Schools are only as good as the parental involvement and far too many think that just throwing money at the problem will fix it. That doesn't work. All we get is more waste while we end up overpaying bad teachers who should be drummed out of the profession.

Ultimately I think social mobility should be a main concern. There are too many glass ceilings where your potential is governed more by your class than your ability. We are wasting a vast natural resource in letting talented people slip through the net and condemning them to mediocre lives just because they didn't go to the right school.

I think on balance that if we return to grammar schools we'll just promote middle class ghettos which through sharp elbowed parents will get the lions share of the resources which will be yet another middle class subsidy. Ordinary schools will suffer and we will be engineering an underclass that will ultimately lead to a resurgence of inner city slums where crime is rife.

You can try and persuade me to the contrary as I am open minded about this but it strikes me that grammar schools is just an obsolete sticking plaster idea when what we actually need is a bold revolution in education with some completely fresh thinking.