Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The law is what we bloody well say it is


Simon Cooke's blog is the sort of blog I would try and run if that space was not already occupied by someone more capable of doing it. It covers necessary ground I don't really have the time or patience for, but am very grateful it exists and that people read it. One particular piece I keep drawing your attention to is one entitled "So how much power do your councillors have". It is a worthwhile piece and I urge you to read it.

However, Simon remarks today on Twitter, presumably with reference to the Oxford child grooming report, that "politicians - who can exercise almost no control over the actions of police or social services - are first in the firing line."

Indeed they are. But I actually don't have a great deal of sympathy for them. Not least because it is their job - or part of it. This "we don't really have the power" narrative needs a little revisit. Councillors have been told what the limits of their powers are by those above them - and have willingly accepted these limitations without challenge. They continue to go along with it and continue to hide behind it. It's all very convenient.

Councillors get to enjoy the small amount of prestige it affords them but have a nice fallback position that excuses them from representing the will of the people (or indeed the will of the council). And if they ain't doing that, then they are the break in the democratic chain.

If a council were to agree among themselves that they wanted to influence policy and practice within the local health or police services then they could do that if they were united enough and determined enough. They can summon a minister, the local MPs and anybody else they wanted to bend the ear of. They can demand an audience with the PM, they can even blockade and strike. They can demand the sackings of CEOs and section heads. There are many ways to be bloody awkward and a council essentially rebelling in full unison would be a major national story - and we might actually get somewhere. That would be real democracy.

Too often we see council chief executives waltzing off with the lions share of a million quid in the face of a massive failure - and why is this? The councillors themselves sign off on it. I'm not wishing to cast doubt on the character of Simon Cooke, because he's a sound fellow, but he has fallen into the routine of obeying the rules - same as every other councillor in the land. It is said that we are treated the way we allow ourselves to be treated, and at the front of this is our councillors who willingly oblige central government without ever kicking up a stink.

Basically, we get the government we deserve and if your councillor isn't kicking up a stink, you need to be asking why and you need to be making their lives hell. You're not going to get change simply by electing a Ukip mouthbreather. We are going to have to drive it ourselves and stop being so bloody cooperative.

A mature look at housing and immigration


Politics: that which happens when there are no solutions to please everybody. On this blog I am keen to remind readers that every aspect of policy is interrelated and that all domestic news scandals tend to be a result of policy failure but also a failure of government on a more fundamental level, where the issues are many and complex and something obvious got missed.

Course, some obvious things get missed because our media is not up to the job, and it's hardly surprising that so few journalists bother with real journalism anymore because there isn't actually much mileage in doing the job properly. It takes more work and it means disagreeing with the self-referential London circle-jerk on whom paycheques depend. The public like easy and simple answers so why not just give them what they want?

Rarely do you see the issues of housing and immigration treated with any seriousness, where only really the Guardian makes a serious stab at it, often failing to see that housing and immigration as intricately intertwined, involving issues where most fear to tread - and I don't blame them either. There are no solutions that won't piss somebody off.

There are few more politically contentious issues than housing, with the word "affordability" on everyone's lips. Firstly we need to put this notion to bed. The first question to ask is "affordable to whom"? If we do compel developers to build "affordable" homes we end up with ghastly, unfit for purpose living spaces coming in at about £80k outside London. Is this affordable to someone with no credit rating? No. Moreover, you're assuming people earn enough to save a deposit. And are mortgages at this end of the market even sustainable with the job market being as volatile as it is? Certainly not for everyone. Thus giving anyone a house at a knocked down price in the name of "fairness" is distinctly unfair to someone, not least those toiling just to pay the rent.

So we acknowledge there is always going to be a high demand for rented properties. These "affordable" properties then have rental potential which drives up their price - unless of course you ban them from being let out, in which case there is little merit in improving or developing them. The result being dilapidated sheds nobody cares about and won't invest in. Why do we know this? Well, because we tried it in the late eighties in Woodhouse in Leeds. Those houses have since been bulldozed - and good riddance to bad rubbish. They were dreadful and ended up being crack dens. (Ah memories!)

The Tories have rightly junked any compulsion to provide affordable homes because it's a non-starter. Developers will pitch at what the market can tolerate. They have also thrown caution to the wind planning wise which is good news and bad, in that it might bring down the cost of construction and it might stimulate house building. But then of course it opens up a whole raft of new problems later down the line. Something had to take a hit and it was going to be planning - and that will form the foundation of the next national panic.

This former measure prompts wails of "it's not fair", but let's suppose we did saturate the market with affordable homes. Nobody is then going to buy your two bedroom house at the price you need to get for it because buyers can have better, newer, cheaper - which then puts a whole swathe of homeowners in negative equity and stuck with a near worthless asset they don't even want. That is politically unpopular so houses are built at a rate the local market will bear - not least so that developers can make a profit. They are not going to build houses if they can't.

So the libertarian free market mantras starts to fall apart here. But then so too does the socialist solution of a mass house building programme. There's that first question of who pays for it, and whether government is capable of learning from the colossal failures of the sixties where many estates built during that era have now been demolished, except of course those which prospered thanks to right to buy - which the left is fundamentally opposed to.

Supposing it could learn the lessons, there's a problem. Immigration. People want something done about it. They ain't too sure what, but something must be done! Some have suggested closing the borders or placing heavy restrictions on who can work here and who can stay. There is scant evidence this would work, not least because we already have those kind of restrictions and enforcement and, like everything else government is tasked with is failing in every conceivable way - and will only improve with a massive injection of money, of which there isn't any - not if people still want lots of other free stuff too. So then what?

Marxists and some libertarians would have it that we should simply open up the borders completely. This raises the question of what would happen if we did? The answer of course is, we have no idea, not least because we already do have open borders to an extent, and as much as the newspapers like to kick figures around, we're actually working on best guesses, where even a census will tell us nothing due to over-occupation of HMOs and beds in sheds - because it happens to be illegal.

So what effective border controls do we have? House prices. This keeps inflow to a manageable level - and restrictions on the green belt is having an overall positive effect for our other cities. How can we say it's manageable? Because we are managing - just about.

It then follows that more effective policing of planning, preventing over-occupation of HMOs and "beds in sheds" would actually prevent foreign labour undercutting domestic workers. As much as this is a safety matter (we didn't cut house fires by 50% in a decade by accident) and a planning matter, it is also a quality of life matter, and nobody really loses by having local authorities doing their job properly, which they manifestly are not doing presently for reasons I outline here.

It's the best compromise we have to actually enforce the law as it presently stands. Fix what's wrong with councils and you'll basically fix all the immigration associated issues (and perceived issues) along with solving most of what's wrong with the rest of our crappy government services.

At the moment, when balancing all of these considerations we actually end up with something close to what we have now, where if you're achieving a state of mediocrity you're actually ahead of the game. These are never going to be easily resolvable questions, to which simple answers will always be stupid answers, and the truth is there's no way of making it fair on everyone. You're going to have to rest on the idea that housing is an expensive thing - especially if you insist on living in London. You pays your money, you takes your choice.

Some have it that this here above is mere "problematising", but as we have seen in Rotherham, more people from the wrong places does indeed create problems on top of already acute problems and the public will not tolerate more of it, and demand that immigration be reduced to a rate whereby integration can happen without stressing the system and reducing quality of life.

Mass influxes of people do create problems especially if they come from regions barely progressed out of the dark ages. The people we import are not only a drain on their own families but society as a whole in the short to medium term, and if we continue to call people racist for being utterly fed up with it, then you get the likes of Ukip - so we are going to have to tackle immigration somehow.

Like everything else, the public wants to have their cake and eat it. Everyone wants everything for free and everyone thinks somebody else should pay for it. They want cheap goods, cheap labour, cheap houses, free healthcare, low taxes and government that works. That's a fine thing to aspire to, but I can't be the only one who thinks the public needs to grow up a little bit? 

Monday, 2 March 2015

Vindicated


You all know how much I think Brendan O'Neill is a prat for joining Ukip in their lazy assumption that political correctness is to blame for the Rotherham scandal. I have said from the outset that if it's happening in Rotherham then it's happening in every Northern shithole and quite a few southern ones too, including Oxford. A report is due to be released tomorrow where Oxford comes under the spotlight for not having a Child Sexual Exploitation policy - and the Council CEO will walk off with £600k for her failure. We are about to see similar from Doncaster. 

I concluded that if Casey says Rotherham council is "not fit for purpose" then that is true of all of them. And now, if our journalism machine works as it should we will see more of the same unfolding, and if they are as thorough as I would be if given the resources, they would find it is not limited to Pakistani Muslims and is indeed endemic across the North, because basically, our local authorities are failing in every single conceivable way and refuse to admit it. That is nothing at all to do with political correctness and everything to do with a fundamentally bent, self-serving and corporatised public sector.

Oh Puhlease

As a eurosceptic, you would expect me to write a blistering and fuming article on such naked propaganda by the BBC in their Great European Disaster Movie but to do so I would have to assume the majority who watched it were terminally thick and gullible. As a misanthrope, my faith in humanity is not especially high, but even this is stretching it a bit.

I credit Kippers as being thick as two short planks, and if Kippers can see it's utter drivel, everyone else will too. Which they wouldn't, because they have better things to do than watch it.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Ukip's funding ideas are childish fantasies


I've lost count how many times over Ukip has spent the foreign aid budget, or how many times the annual budget contributions has been spent on more nurses. They haven't thought it through, that much is clear.

Kipppers would rightly dispute fullfact.org's sincerity and accuracy, as indeed I would if I could really be fussed with digging into it. But where they do have it right is that even outside the EU we would still have to finance agricultural subsidies. Ukip does advocate a Single Farm Payment approach. There are also plenty of other things that would need replacement domestic funding.

Leaving the EU does close a lot of the corrupt administration loops that cost money and serve little value, but there's one other urgent consideration. Immigration. Ukip does like to bang on about immigration as though that we were the only country it affects. Not so. If Cameron ever does go to Europe to renegotiate on immigration issues, as EUreferendum puts it, he'd be "kicking at an open door". It's all of Europe's problem - and a big one too, with Islamist eruptions breaking out all over, and civil wars all over the shop.

We are going to have to take our share of refugees and immigrants in any case if we want to keep good relations with the EU, in or out of it. More than this, as much as there are many things we can do to dampen the pull factors we can also do a lot more to stop the push factors. But this is going to take a lot of inter-agency co-operation with Europe and it's going to cost a lot of money.

That may mean buying favours from Turkey and Algeria. It may also mean development aid. We don't yet know what the costs will be, but we can bet it won't be cheap and you can guarantee Ukip hasn't thought of anything like that. Has anyone even seen a foreign policy from Ukip? They don't even seem to understand what foreign aid is for or what can be achieved with it. I don't want to see it go to India any more than they do but I do want to see it put to good use in the natonal interest.

We would do a great deal of damage to tourism and the economy if we closed our borders and started piling red tape on businesses to become proxy border agencies. That's the only way a quota system could really function. (Yet Ukip wants to reduce red tape burden on business). But that does not mean we don't have tools at our disposal to stem immigration flows.

We can either spend the money on closing the borders as Ukip suggests or we can spend it on reducing the need to come here in the first place. That's what it will take. That's the forward, global minded thinking I would wish to see. It will require a rethink of our foreign policy, our defence and defence procurement and our approach to aid. And it certainly won't happen without the co-operation of our friends in the EU.

Ironically, that is the vision Alan Sked had for Britain when he started Ukip. But now, the Ukip approach to everything is informed by a narrow-minded Fortress Britain mentality. It is parochial, myopic, stupid and infantile. But then this is Ukip we're talking about.

Greece is getting what it deserves


John Redwood is not an often quotable individual but in his own superficial way makes a half valid point.
In that sense Syriza has done us all a service. They have highlighted how in the Euro a country cannot have an independent economic policy. As economic policy is one of the main things electorates wish to influence and change, the loss of those freedoms is a major blow to a national democracy. Many of us in the UK find there are too many constraints on our national democracy from membership of the EU outside the Euro. It is many times worse for those in the single currency.
Course, this is what we like to call extruded verbal material. There hasn't been any democracy in Greece since the fall of Athens in BC whatever. The government is totally dysfunctional and corruption is rife, the tax system is so bad that paying tax is optional, which makes the Greek state systemically bankrupt, on top of which the entry into the euro was fraudulent. Greece is now getting its comeuppance and is being forced meet standards imposed from the outside, because it is incapable of imposing its own disciplines. This is nothing at all to do with democracy and everything to do with the fact that Greece is a failed state.

The EU cannot afford for Greece to be a failed state in or out of the Euro thus Greece will have to do as it is told. For sure it loses its freedom to be a bankrupt basketcase where nobody does any work and everyone has their hand in somebody else's wallet, but life is unfair sometimes.

It does demonstrate is that inside the Euro you cannot renegotiate your relationship with the EU mainly because you are a part of it. It's like saying my arm would like to renegotiate its relationship with my body. But this is not the reason we should leave the EU. We're not in the Euro. The reason we should leave the EU is because the Eurozone is the EU. It is a single entity, a country of its own now, as was always intended, and us being shackled to it actually serves no real purpose since we will never join the Euro and don't even want to.

In most respects we are already out of the EU, excluded from any Euro currency decisions only for some bizarre reason we pay a membership fee in order to get the benefits we would have just from being an EEA member, where the single market rules and regulations mostly come from global entities anyway.

Europe made up its mind that it wanted to be united by a currency forever. When the currency was born, a nation was born. That is the reality. I wish it well, but being that we are already as in the EU as we are ever going to be, the EU would be much better able to govern its affairs without us, while a partner block of EEA/Efta members, lead by the UK, can enjoy strong relations with it. Nobody "goes it alone" and the strength of the single market remains. Leaving the EU is really no big deal for us because it just formalises what is already the case.

Greece is just a glimpse of what could have been for us had we not reformed under Thatcher and later joined the Euro. We avoided that fate, where the EU would rightly have had to intervene (so much for the EU being a socialist Marxist plot), but we're not run by Europe in reality. We're just restricted by it unnecessarily when the EU could benefit from us being free to open up new markets and perhaps we can show the EU a little leadership. Why we have to make such a song and dance about it beats me.

Collapsing narratives in the bubble


Another sycophant from the Tory circle jerk (TCJ) is at it again, postulating on their collapsing narratives.
These different election campaigns in different parts of the United Kingdom will compound the fracturing of our politics. But they also highlight the fact we have no national party in our politics any more, no party that can be confident of competing the length and breadth of Britain. That is why no one is likely to win a majority.
Now, I'm not one to read too much into just one poll, but a poll today puts Ed Miliband on course for an outright majority. This blog has long predicted a reversion to a two party squeeze closer to the election and this could be the start. It could be that we're now no longer talking about coalitions here or who holds the balance of power.

That will focus a few minds who were thinking of voting Ukip. It's not a case of vote Ukip, get Labour. It's not quite that straight forward, but in blunter terms, if you don't vote Tory, you most certainly will get Labour. That is the feedback loop that causes the emergence of that two horse race.


So rather than being a new era of unstable government, as suggested by the TCJ, it rather looks like a drift back to business as usual with two big parties but with a rabble of incoherents occupying the space where the Lib Dems used to be (who may form a party of their own).

I have already put my money where my mouth is several times in that Ukip is going to be sorely disappointed. My assessment of Ukip is looking at the convergence between all of the polls, in that Ukip is definitely sliding, and while it should by rights get a bump from their spring conference, it does look like it has fallen flat, not least with it being utterly shambolic and having failed to release a manifesto. But that's only part of the story.

While Ukip reeks of death and despair, the Greens are bonkers and totally unserious, nobody really cares what happens in Wales and the only serious non-establishment contender is the SNP. That is really anybody's guess. It could go either way for them depending on who the feedback loop favours.

I'm drifting toward the view that the TCJ is going to be spectacularly wrong about everything in their present set of assumptions. This tells us that all the rune-reading and number crunching has turned out to be fairly worthless so far, and the last two years worth of hyperventilation on the right and the broader media is going to look very silly.

Only one thing is absolutely certain. If the Tories lose, you will see a civil war on the right the likes my generation has never seen. Tories split three ways at least and Ukip at war with itself. That's when things will get very, very interesting. Just for the spectacle I might just be tempted to vote for the enemy. We don't really do serious politics anymore so we might as well treat it as light entertainment.

Carswell: getting it wrong Ukip style


Douglas Carswell is acutely aware that his mouth-breathing compatriots are a liability. I think if he'd understood Ukip and thought this far ahead he wouldn't have defected. Like everyone else, he mistook it for a political party. But the poor lad can't admit that now. The deed is done. Here we have him setting out his stall on what his agenda would be for Ukip. He knows the immigration schtick will wear thin and that Ukip needs a better platform if the party is to escape from the cul-de-sac.

It's a waste of breath because the party will continue to bang whatever drum Farage is beating and he'll be out there on his own with his electoral reform agenda until such a time as he inherits the party - by which times such a colossal shambles will be beyond repair. Not that it isn't already. Moreover Farage has stated this weekend that he will continue to lead Ukip for the long term - so it rather looks like Carswell is going to be out in the wilderness for a long time unless there is a coup. I'm not sure Carswell has the stones.

But let's suppose for a moment that Carswell inherits party and not a demented rabble. Sometimes having only part of a clue is worse than having no clue at all. Carswell said "fundamental change was needed to reconnect politics with the public". In that he's not wrong but if there is a wrong end of the stick to grasp, he will grasp it with both hands. He insisted voters should be able to sack their MPs between elections, and argued that Commons committees should have to sign off on ministerial appointments – as happens in the US.

It's easy to see what he's getting at. As we outline in The Harrogate Agenda, typically, there are around 140 ministers, whips and other office-holders in the Commons. Collectively, they are known as the “payroll vote”, people who may be assumed to vote with the government, and to defend it policies and actions. But the problem is far worse than this basic arithmetic would suggest. Add the Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPS) and the “greasy pole climbers” who have hopes of preferment but have not yet been promoted, and the number climbs to 200 or so on the government benches. When it comes to holding the government to account, all these people are compromised. 

Even then, this is by no means the full extent of the distortion. The fact that the Commons is the main pool for recruiting ministers - and the only prime ministerial pool – also changes the dynamics of the institution. A goodly number of people who enter parliament have no intention of remaining MPs for their entire careers. They want to join the government. For them, parliament is not an end in itself, but a means to a different end, the first step on a career path which ends up in ministerial office. This should not be the case. 

We thus concede the obvious - separation of powers: ministers and other office holders cannot be members of parliament. If members become ministers, they must resign as MPs. As a consequence, prime ministers must appoint their own ministers – from whatever source they choose – subject to parliamentary confirmation and dismissal. This has the added advantage of widening the recruitment pool. But nothing so radical from Carswell. In Carswell's model MP's are merely rubber stamping their own ministers. What this actually solves escapes me.

Carswell goes on to assert that parliament is a fix. A cartel. “Too many MPs become MPs by working in the offices of MPs. We want to open things up. We want MPs that answer not to party whips, but to people. That is why we want to bring forward a proper recall bill to give voters the power to sack their MP. Unlike the coalition’s ‘sham’ recall legislation, the Ukip plan would trigger a local vote if 20% of the electorate signed a petition.”

The recall bill he proposes is merely decoration. It's unlikely it will be used but for the most dreadful of offenders, but could actually be used as a vexatious means of removing perfectly good MPs. Assuming you could devise a recall mechanism immune from abuse, it's still a fairly pedestrian measure and hardly radical. Open primaries to improve the range of candidates in seats is certainly no bad thing but his own party certainly demonstrates no commitment to this principle. There is nothing stopping any of the parties doing this without legislating for it, but as it happens, they don't, not least because governments want their own people in ministerial positions. Separation of powers actually eliminates the necessity to parachute in PPS clones. Carswell simply hasn't thought it through.

Not only that, there is a gulf between perception and reality. Very few candidates are central party appointments, and when they are they are often rubber stamped by the local party association. Moreover, plenty of MPs are perfectly ordinary people and frustratingly so. I would argue it's the lack of exceptional people in parliament that makes our parliament so utterly unbearable. Is anyone seriously telling me the likes of Jo Swinson represents the iron fist of the elite?

Stressing the problems of safe seats in the current first-past-the-post voting system, Carswell said change should not be ruled out because the alternative vote system had been rejected in a referendum. He said: “If we are serious about choice and competition in politics, I think we need to think seriously about electoral reform. Just because Nick Clegg’s idea of AV was a bad idea, just because the Liberal Democrats are such a bad advertisement for reform, doesn’t mean we can’t do better.”

No doubt we do need to think seriously about electoral reform. Carswell hasn't. AV didn't win out because it's incomprehensible. The common man has absolutely no idea how it works. Even I go cross-eyed halfway through reading even the simplest definition and the fact it has been resolutely rejected in a referendum (67%) is a pretty clear signal that it should be ruled out.

In The Harrogate Agenda, we view our six demands as an integrated package of reforms rather than tinkering around the edges. It is real local democracy that will tackle the rotten boroughs and the safe seats. What's needed is a revolution in our relationship with government and that is what will breathe new life into our democracy and get people engaged again. All we see from Carswell is a mixed bag of unconnected measures, half-formed and only half understood. What's more, the "establishment" could quite easily nick his ideas, ram through a couple of sham bills and steal his thunder - and it would be no real threat to the status quo, once again leaving Ukip standing naked.

If anyone thought Carswell could be the white knight who will save Ukip they're in for a big disappointment. What we see is pretty much typical Ukipism. Timid, bad ideas dressed up as radicalism, presently badly by someone who hasn't understood the problem. Kippers might fall for it, but it lacks the ambition and credibility to form the basis of a real movement. It's just not a big idea and it's nothing to write home about.

Why the bubble doesn't get Ukip


James Forsyth, Mark Wallace, Tim Montgomerie, Matthew Goodwin and all the Tory circle-jerk (TCJ) claim to understand Ukip but they don't. We see florid articles about the "left behind" and the disaffected and how Ukip taps into that, speaking up for the long ignored little guy - and that's why Ukip, apparently will go on and on and on. Tim Mongomerie is starting to get a clue, but the prestige of the rest is tied up in the narratives that really belong to last May.

Some of the base assumptions are true. In a complex, bewildering world where change is constant, things just accelerate beyond the capacity for many people to comprehend. So simple solutions are appealing and that's what Ukip offers. Close the borders, leave the EU, ban political correctness, deport illegals, stop foreign aid, save the NHS. Motherhood and apple pie.

Were things that simple, the "establishment" would already be doing it. But a little research in all these areas shows there is nothing simple about any of it. Because the main parties of government are not enacting any of these simplistic policies it gives the impression that the "working class" are ignored and undervalued. And cornering that market is the one thing Ukip succeeded at.

Every era of progress has its casualties. Some can reinvent, but some stagnate. The psychology of Kippers is they are confused and alienated by modernity. I have some sympathy with that view. Who isn't a little bit bewildered? But that is a highly fragmented constituency with old loyalties dating back decades. And they're a fickle bunch.

As much as there is no great love of Labour in the North, the Tories are still hated. I'd sooner declare myself a storm-trooper of the Third Reich than a Tory in Sheffield. If there is any danger of a Tory win at the general election, they will vote Labour same as always. That's why we're seeing a two horse race emerging. And we will see that dynamic magnified over the next month.

So one might ask why Ukip has such a fickle following. Simple. It's a brand. Brand loyalty has always be fickle. Were Ukip a movement that had issue specific local campaigns, not least a long running campaign to reform local government, using the influence it has in councils and feeding back to the party machine, it could show real achievements and demonstrate that it is here to stay. But Ukip doesn't do any of those things. We get the feeble excuses that Ukip does not whip its councillors but that just means the leadership (Farage) has no idea what to do with them or even how to task them to an objective. Many mistake Farage as a good leader, but in reality, he is a very poor leader and a very poor strategist.

Farage wings it on every occasion. We're in a general election campaign and there's still no manifesto, and policy is still whatever Nige says it is and as for strategy, it's more about bums on seats than actually achieving anything and demonstrating competence. And this is why so many read Ukip wrong. They are used to analysing parties like the SDP, the SNP and the LibDems, all of which were or are parties in the traditional sense. The SNP has strong, independent local branches gradually eating away at the influence of Labour by engaging in the local politics and securing victories and meeting objectives. But Ukip councillors are just flapping in the wind.

If you apply normal political analytical methodology to Ukip as indeed Goodwin et al do, you can see why they arrive at the conclusions they do. Their logic is perfectly sound were they dealing with a political party. Were Goodwin to apply his considerable psephological skill to the SNP, his conclusions would probably be bang on the money and I wouldn't argue, but the key to understanding Ukip and how it will behave requires something more than rune-reading. It requires an insider insight into Ukip's history, some of which is emerging, but ignored as "sour grapes", but also an examination of Farage's psychology. For he and Ukip are the same thing. Ukip IS Farage.

The critical misapprehension is that Farage is a leader - and one who strategises. The Tory circle-jerk think that the expansion into BNP territory was a strategic move. It wasn't. There was money on the table with conditions, and when Farage should have said no, he said yes and that's what's behind the immigration posters and the immigration agenda. That is what ruined Ukip for reasons I have already outlined. There was no strategic thinking to it. It was all about Farage's ambitions for publicity over building a strong and coherent movement.

Now, as several commentators, including the TCJ, have cottoned on to the fact that Ukip is riding two horses, but continue to postulate that Ukip will strategise on how to grow that Northern agenda. Because Goodwin has forged a seemingly credible interpretation of Ukip's "strategy", that is now the figleaf Ukip now adopts to explain its clueless flailing. In effect, Goodwin is the architect of Farage's excuses.

All of this gives him a veneer of credibility which rests on the prestige of Goodwin, who then benefits from the subsequent feedback loop. It's symbiotic. And because the TCJ won't entertain the likes of me where new information and different insights are neither welcome nor tolerated, it's a closed loop - and that's why they get it wrong. The only one among them who has a hint of self-awareness is Mark Wallace, but is too fond of himself to fully comprehend what is happening around him. Tim Montgomerie half understands it, but will blow whichever way the wind blows him. They will speak only among themselves. This closed loop is precisely why their perceptions are so wildly abstract from reality. As an outsider, it's fascinating to watch.

Meanwhile, outside of the Westminster TCJ bubble, Ukip is in the full beam of the media spotlight advertising its deficiencies. That the TCJ think Ukip will go on and on and on is to underestimate the intelligence of the British electorate. We may be pretty dim sometimes but we really know a charlatan when we see one. Farage can fool a lot of people a lot of the time, but we can see from his national approval ratings that he is a busted flush. His energy and ego can keep the juggernaut rolling but he can't grow it, nor can he keep it up forever. It could survive beyond him if it was acting like a real party and achieving things in local government and establishing a reputation, and it could grow if it were winning over constituencies like farmers and fishermen and nurses, but it's doing none of those things, so when he goes, the house built on sand collapses.

Farage has denied his health is failing. I will give him the benefit of the doubt, but his lifestyle of winging it and jetting off round the world and driving round the country is not sustainable forever. Many have remarked he looks and sounds jaded. In that I don't blame him. I was once a touring DJ and the glamour gets old real quick. Farage has been going at it for years and sooner or later the cracks will become more obvious. When the underlings and minions sense the fatigue and smell blood they will start setting out their own stalls and a very bloody and public civil war will take place. Whoever follows Farage will be incapable of keeping a lid on it. All of them are Farage lackeys and all of them are deliberately lightweight by design.

My own assessment is that the bubble will burst before the election if it hasn't already, but even if I did bend to the Goodwin assertion that Ukip will make major gains, they will be such odious people, consistently in the limelight that their first term will be their last. Goodwin is right in that there are numbers enough to form a coherent movement, but be under no illusions: Ukip is not that movement. If it was, I would be part of it. Politics is a repeating cycle. Ukip is the second incarnation of a what the BNP started. It won't be the vehicle that brings us the revolution, but what arises from its ashes just might.

We haven't seen the last poll bump from Ukip in that they now own the immigration issue and Cameron's poor performance on this will give them some gravitas, but single issues are knocked off the news agenda in less than a week these days. They can't keep banging that drum, and as with the BNP, as the economy improves, the public will get bored of it. I am.

Friday, 27 February 2015

Ukip spring conference


From the Mirror we get this today: "The party had vowed to publish its programme for Government at this weekend’s party conference in Margate in Kent. But the party’s Deputy Chairman Suzanne Evans, who is responsible for writing the manifesto, could not produce it today."
When Ms Evans took over producing the document in January, she said: “I relish the task of putting together the final details and presenting a sensible, radical and fully costed manifesto at our spring conference in Margate.”

But the manifesto is still not ready, undermining Ukip hopes of using the conference as a spring board for the election campaign.
I am Pete North's complete lack of surprise. A couple of months back, I might have written an elaborate post on yet another predicable (and predicted) failure, but I notice Kippers have gone awfully quiet, here and on Twitter - which is really no bad thing.

I certainly wasn't holding my breath for it. We have seen the character of Ukip, we have seen what they think constitutes policy and we have seen what they are made of. It's not even worth the bother. At this stage of the game, going into a general election and failing to produce a manifesto at their spring conference tells you all you need to know. Not fit to run a whelk stall. And if I can't be bothered to attack Ukip anymore, that really tells you something.

If ever there is a film made about Ukip it will be called Carry On Losing.

Learning from failure


One thing Matthew Goodwin is right about is that, on paper, there is a large enough constituency of people in this country to form a movement that could threaten the balance of power. Goodwin thinks that movement is Ukip. It isn't, not least because it isn't a movement, and has squandered any chance it had of becoming one. It walked up a cul-de-sac from which it cannot escape.

In politics, if you take anything head on, you will fail. Politics is the art of persuasion and if you immediately set yourself up as a foe, all you'll do is talk past your opponent and accomplish nothing.

When Ukip cashed in its chips last May it gained a lot of new support, not because of its politics, but because of the reaction by the establishment to Ukip. Many on the right got caught up in the idea that there was a culture war being waged on ordinary people, and that's why they hitched their wagon to Ukip. I'm not totally convinced they're right. There's a certain element of selection bias to it, driven as much by tabloid media as anything else. I don't think there is an attack on free speech either. There are high profile sideshow spats between equally douchey entities, but on the whole I don't think public debate has ever been more lively and far reaching. But let's just suppose I'm wrong about that.

Let's say there is a liberal establishment attack on the working class (or however you want to define it). Taking it head on is a battle you will lose.

This is a lesson I have learned from my war on South Gloucestershire Council. They have the power, thus the law is what they say it is. You can achieve a few things on the way, at great expense, but anyone who has challenged authority knows that they can grind you down until you no longer have the energy. The deck is stacked.

So it then becomes a matter of taking a cold hard look at what it you want to achieve, and examining how it is to be achieved. This blog has catalogued every single failing of Ukip and I have not at any point surprised by what it does or how it panned out. They fail to understand that this battle is about power. Who has it, and how it is used.

From the start Ukip needed objectives, a body of intellectual capital and a strategy, one which recognises the obstacles and roadblocks it would have to go around, rather than fight head on. Immigration was always going to be one of them. It was game-over the moment Ukip decided to throw all its forces at the south wall. Now it is scattered, discredited and bleeding support. Hardcore kippers will fight to the last man in a heroic struggle, but in the end, they will lose.

So now we are back at square one and must now examine what didn't work.

1. Euroscepticism

What we have seen is that even when Ukip is doing well, the poll margins for winning an EU referendum are largely doing their own thing. They are independent variables. In times of a euro-crisis sentiment for leaving is high, but in any referendum campaign, those with the power can distort the debate. They can use fear, uncertainty and doubt, and they can fudge it. It doesn't look like a winnable prospect, and euroscepticism as a movement can't even unite around an alternative. On the one hand we have the Tory circle-jerk whose ideas are ill-defined at best, Ukip which is isn't even in the game, and then all us freaks and misfits who have long since been unpersoned because of our contempt for both.

2. Immigration

This was always going to be a losing prospect. The racism card is too powerful, the issues complex and the numbers games become a matter of spin and counter spin. If that culture war does really exist, then this is the front line. Against the full force of the state and the media, it's just not a winnable prospect and one that excludes too many people that a movement would need to win. It's a toxic swamp. The story arc of the BNP tells the tale, and Ukip will fail for the same reasons.

I never joined the BNP, nor did I ever have any sympathy for the blood and soil nationalism or the grubby populism it espoused. But I was a fearsome defender of their right to speak and the necessity to debate them. In the end, we had that national debate - and the BNP resoundingly lost it. As will Ukip.

3. NHS

Another unwinnable battle. There are far too many opinions, too many vested interests on both sides and no middle ground. There are too many booby-traps and it's a minefield. In fact, anything issue specific is going to be too narrow in appeal. Euroscpeticism, defence and immigration are traditionally issues owned by the right and NHS, welfare and environment owned by the left. Finding a platform on which everyone can agree is impossible if it is issue specific.

So then it falls to a set of principles rather than issues.

It has been widely remarked that the left/right divide no longer has any great meaning, but as we get closer to an election we can see that divide is still quite healthy. All party activists are useful idiots maintaining that divide because there is only one divide that really matters. There are those above the line, and those below it. What any of us actual thinks about the immigration, the EU, the NHS or anything else doesn't actually matter because we have no actual say in it. The power is not ours. Speak to anyone on the left or the right or in between and you will find broad agreement there. So that is your basis for a movement.

So it then becomes a movement that is both conservative and revolutionary. A movement to make our voices matter. That is the thinking behind the six demands of The Harrogate Agenda.

1. Recognition of our sovereignty
2. Real local democracy
3. Separation of powers
4. The people’s consent
5. No taxation or spending without consent
6. A constitutional convention

It's revolutionary, but politically uncontentious. It's simple, yet profound. You don't even have to talk about immigration of the EU because it's about democracy. Not until we have it can we have any meaningful discussions about the future of the NHS or immigration or anything else.

Modern politics is no longer about socialism or capitalism. Britain has stuck a balance - and it works too. Modern complex societies mean that government will be large and to an extent it follows it will be expensive. What sticks in the craw is that it is not value for money, nor is it accountable - and it's treading where it shouldn't and getting in the way. This is a great country, but we all know it will not remain a great country unless the powers are ours, and we can put a leash on government so at the very least it does what it is told.

But we understand that power is not surrendered easily. We have seen that the establishment knows how to deal with head on threats. We have seen how it can neutralise and discredit opposition. It is why outsiders on the left and right continue to lose every battle. If we want to win we shall have to do it with skill, patience and by stealth. Ukip have proven exactly why starting new parties doesn't work. The system is designed to protect itself - and any party that did win an outright victory would be indistinguishable from that which it replaced, if not immeasurably worse.

There is an appetite for a movement - and it can't just be a matter of tinkering with policies, it has to be a revolution in governance and our relationship with government. That is at the very heart of the Harrogate Agenda - and nothing else is going to work. We know this because everything else has been tried and has failed, and the one time something like The Harrogate Agenda was tried... it succeeded.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Pissing on bonfires


In amongst the riff raff outside of the Westminster bubble there is a peculiar sect of quasi-libertarian Marxists who tend to unite around Spiked online. As far as these sects go they're actually a decent bunch with a great deal more intellect than your average kipper or libertarian. But what they share in common with Libertairans is a joyfully simplistic view of the world. They hold the view that we should simply build more houses on the green belt to solve the housing crisis. It's similar to the kipper tendency to believe leaving the EU solves all our problems - and that it can be done easily.

Put it to this bunch that things might no be so straight-forward and before you know it, me of all people, is labelled a nanny-statist, a socialist or a Malthusian or something equally dreary. I'm none of those things. The reason I end up pissing on so many bonfires is because I am a colossal nerd. During the Somerset floods I was down there taking photographs of sluice-gates and pumping stations. I can often be found at airfields, quarries, reservoirs and power stations or anywhere there is civic infrastructure - because dull as they seem, they are intensely political things.

Over the last few years I have accumulated knowledge I never expected to need or use but now I know a gravity gate from a tidal gauge and I can even date concrete just by looking at it. I am completely self-aware enough to know how absurd that sounds. But stuff like this matters. Details matter.

Such things are relentlessly boring and are often ignored because they get in the way of people's flights of fantasy - but who's actually going to check huh? Well, me as it happens - which is why I take Spiked online with a pinch of salt. I love their lofty aspirations, which is a bit more positive than the Kipper miserablism but most of the time I look upon it with a certain bemusement. 

It was put to me that "policy should follow the people, not stand Canute-like in their way". This does make me chuckle. You see policy is an instrument of governance, and governance is largely the practice of making large numbers of people do things they wouldn't do otherwise, and wouldn't do if you asked them nicely. But sometimes, for the greater good, it is most necessary. Politics is when it infringes on morality and speech, but mainly it's about facilitating more freedoms, more trade and protecting us from the elements. 

The libertarian tendency, one which I have in recent years subscribed to, holds that most of it is unnecessary. And of course that is a valid view if you operate from a position of complete ignorance. As indeed I did. Good government is invisible government. It's massive and it is everywhere. Most modern, complex systems simply would not function without it and its impact is massive.

My example de jour being the shipping container. There are better designs but we settle for the mediocre one because universality is what makes the global shipping trade work as efficiently as it does. Perhaps one of the greatest innovations of the modern world. The shipping container dictates the size of lorries, the types of dock crane, and the shape and size of ships, the width and camber of roads and the height of bridges. That does mean lorries are now much bigger than we would necessarily want for our roads on this little and ancient island, but the common good benefits are there for all to see. But then cyclists get squished so now we are remodeling our cities. Just one design standard can change everything.

Many people remark all cars look the same these days. That's not by accident. Design is heavily regulated so that when a pillock steps out into the road and gets hit by a New York taxi, he is alive to write a blog about it. Would this have happened without regulation? Would it bollocks. 

Meanwhile, everything under our streets is tightly regulated from sewers to cabling and gas pipes. As much happens beneath our feet as above ground. It is of labyrinthine complexity and it is regulated and it needs regulating because otherwise it would be an even bigger mess than it is presently. It adds costs but not arbitrarily. It means maintenance works are cheaper and faster, and that planned works do not interfere with the operation of other things. All the things you take for granted and don't think about are planned and regulated by somebody somewhere.

Road building is a thing that fascinates me. Most people are now aware that turning your front lawn into a driveway now contributes to flash flooding. So we now have flood impact assessments and we have planning. It seems nonsensical and absurd to libertarians that a council can tell you what to do with your property, but would be less amused by their home being under three feet of water - and would be the first to complain about it. So yes, government, to an extent has the right and the necessity to tell you what to do. And we all benefit from it.

A favourite talking point of libertarians is "who would build the roads" and as a man demonstrated in Bath just recently, people would indeed build roads of their own accord. But done without planning permission and not to regulatory specifications, the liability for accidents is his, with just one small collision having the potential to be ruinous. Meanwhile, proper roads have factored in camber and drainage. I am one of those people who loves to speed down a motorway. Who doesn't? The majority of people now do. And why is that possible? Regulation. The roads are well set out, the signage is standardised - and deep, lethal puddles on motorways are now a rare thing thanks to engineering, but that is engineering working in tandem with regulation. Thanks to this, journey times are shorter and driving is more fun. 

Meanwhile the M62 has an active traffic management system which slows everyone down to 40mph in heavy traffic. I think it's an amazing system. Is that because I am a nannying fussbucket who likes to spoil everybody's fun and a Malthusian who wants to slow down human progress? No. It's because traffic jams are caused by the bunching effect of sudden breaking. Traffic jams are a massive waste of life and better regulated traffic flows better giving us more time to spend with our families.

All of this spawns an army of faceless bureaucrats making decisions about peoples lives and while we might think we can sack them all and shrink the size of the state, the reality is, we need them. Maybe not the lesbian tennis outreach programmes, but traffic flow statisticians and hydrological surveyors are people who make the world work better in ways you've never considered. 

So when someone says "just build more houses" I have to laugh. Details cannot be causally disregard in any such estimation - and in approaching any policy, for everything you have thought about, there's half a dozen you haven't.

We have certain energy objectives for starters; to reduce, yes that word again, externalities, and of course dependency on foreign powers. Consequently fuel efficiency has become something of a thing in planning, where modern thinking lends itself toward CHP. So, then you have to plan your facilities that go with any housing - and location becomes an even greater consideration because here's the kicker - not just housing is expensive in London... it's absolutely everything. And as Mrs Pants in Blackadder would insistently ask "But what about the DRAINS?"


Keeping London supplied with water is one of the emerging problems as indeed is waste water. There are unique constraints that prevent new reservoirs, both geographical and regulatory, and so the issue has to be tackled at both ends; Supply, and then demand side management, which again has been presented as Malthusian greenyism, when actually it's a sensible and necessary thing to reduce waste water - because it has a cost.

Then there's congestion. I could do a whole essay on that, and I probably will with sufficient provocation. So this proposition of "simply" building more houses at the expense of the green belt starts to look a little less simple doesn't it? Planning exists for a reason.

Some would rightly point out that our planning system is absolutely illogical, outdated and shambolic, and I wouldn't really offer much argument, but the current planning regime is working very nicely in ways nobody really anticipated. It is making London a prohibitively expensive place, serving as a deterrent to agglomeration, and is actually now causing an exponential exodus from London in the professional classes while protecting essential green spaces - which does have a value despite what these utter philistines say.

Rather than surrender and resolve just the symptoms (high property prices) by building more houses, one might look at the causes - and the opportunities. In the case of housing, London housing is expensive because there is always a strong demand. Why is there a strong demand? Because of the economic opportunities present in London which are a global draw as well as a draw for young professionals from within.

What that tells you is as much as London is a pull factor, there is also a push factor - ie sod all in the way of economic opportunities in the North and elsewhere. That is a policy failing thus
internal migration is a policy failure too. So before you think about "just build more homes" you might want to put some thought into how one best reduces the push factor that drives demand in the first place. Not least least because unless you solve that you won't actually make any worthwhile impact on affordability.

You can do that with corporation tax competition, decentralisation of development policy, and an industrial policy that favours development outside the South East. The economic advantages are many and obvious. Just adding capacity in perpetuity without looking at smarter alternatives is not going to solve the problem. We have open borders so property near London is never going to be a bad investment, so however many houses you build, there is little actual evidence they would be affordable - and that's assuming we can even intelligently define what affordable even means. And even if they were affordable, they wouldn't stay that way for long. 


We have some great cities outside London - and they are the answer. I am absolutely in love with Newcastle, and Liverpool has so much untapped potential: fabulous architecture with nearby beaches, yet these places are still hemorrhaging young professionals and entrepreneurial types. There's no reason why it should be that way at all.

The notion that effective policy making is standing "Canute-like" ignores the fact that such policies have worked in the past, not least the Common Agricultural Policy which prevented an exodus from the regions into Paris and could be said to have prevented more profound civil unrest. We are seeing migration stresses not just internally, we are also seeing our corner of the world erupting into chaos with more people coming our way. As much as that will present a great many challenges, they are key to revitalising our Northern cities - but not if people are encouraged to stay in London. Price is the best policy tool we have for affecting that change. London is its own deterrent.

That will not stop Londoners moaning about house prices, but that's just what Londoners do. Economists will also bitch, whine and moan about house prices for eternity, but they tend to be London economists who have never stopped to ask what the economic and human costs are in allowing our greatest cities to crumble and fade. 

It's going to take a lot more than what we have explored here, but it is a big part of the puzzle, and the flights of fancy by libertarians, kippers and Marxists are insufficient. Their mindsets are born of the same casual indifference to detail and complexity and their ideas are throwbacks to a simpler age when the whole of the law was lesser in size than a telephone directory. Now such a book is only the index of modern law, for a modern, complex society with intricate challenges. 

Through their fog of incomprehension they call me a nannying fussbucket and a Malthusian - because engaging with the details is too difficult. That is why I will continue to toil in obscurity pissing on their bonfires. Nothing is as simple as it seems and anyone who pretends it is should be considered a fraud. They would be half way to enlightenment if only they could, just for a moment, acknowledge the depth of their ignorance. I did. And the world is a much more interesting place when you do.

Ukip is losing every argument


Wherever you look Ukip is losing the argument. Here we see Ukip rejected by nurses and farmers. Nurses have always been a tough crowd to please but Ukip's ridiculous health policy has gone down like a lead balloon. As much as the content is woeful Louise Bours has zero credibility and zero gravitas among the medical profession (or humanity for that matter). That Farage, or anybody in Ukip thought she was suitable for the job speaks volumes about the competence of the party.

As much as any party relies on the media to get the message out, it must also do the groundwork building strong constituencies on the ground - which takes years, and you have to coax them along with policy. Good policy too. Ukip hasn't done this. Nor has it done so with farmers who should be low hanging fruit to Ukip. If ever there was a constituency of people screwed over by the EU, it's farmers. But Ukip's lack of policy and lack of ability to present Brexit as a risk free option has left farmers playing it safe.

This is why, as per the illustration above, Ukip is collapsing. A party built on the meandering of sheep will find that their flock wanders away the moment it becomes unfashionable, and now it stands without a solid base won on a body of intellectual property. Ukip needed Rolls Royce policies. Instead we got a rusty old Cortina arriving years too late.

It is impossible for anyone within agriculture of health to join Ukip and persuade their colleagues on the basis of Ukip policies. It simply doesn't cut the mustard, and anyone who knows anything about the subject will see that Ukip lacks a single clue.

This is yet another reason why the collapse of Ukip is inevitable. Hacks the likes of Matthew Goodwin can't see it because they can only see Ukip in terms of raw data. Like Farage, he mistakes it for a movement but hasn't understood what a movement is (and how you build one). It takes more than tub-thumping speeches projected through the media. It takes groundwork and effort and research along with message discipline and effective communications. It needs to win every argument every time.

Farage drove a horse and cart through all of that thinking he knew better, sabotaging all the good work of many a good Kipper - driving out all of the hard workers and thinkers, leaving only a rump of sycophantic halfwits. Goodwin thinks Ukip is a movement. It's not. It's a passing media fad. 

Goodwin thinks that because there is a large constituency of people who would potentially join an effective movement, many of whom are Ukippers, that Ukip is that movement. He's wrong. It does not mean that Ukip represents or owns that constituency, nor has it done the work to win and keep them. It's an empty shell of a party and when the media gets bored, there is nothing to hold the attention of voters. Especially after Farage.

You can spend all day ruminating over the raw data but the real market signals can be found in the streets and in chat forums. These are sources that don't factor into Goodwin's considerations. They can't be crunched by a calculator. If you look around, Ukip isn't winning the arguments, not even on the EU where is has all but vacated the field. It has no community based campaigns or a serious local agenda, and now when it finds it needs to win the arguments to stay in the game, it thinks it can wave a magic wand, pull policies out of a hat and everyone will come flocking. It doesn't work like that.

Here is where years of dedication and hard work would have paid off. Here is where an effective strategy would have paid off. These are the tools needed to survive the trial of fire. But now that ship has sailed and there is nothing Ukip can do to turn back the clock. Now is make or break time, and here it stands, completely naked in full view of the public. All it has is a litany of excuses. That is Ukip's reward for Farage worship. I would so like to be a fly on the wall when Goodwin realises what a pillock he is. Not that he'll realise it. These bubble-dwelling idiots have no self-awareness.