Monday, 20 April 2015

On the African Boat People and Katie Hopkins.

My CV reads a lot like that of Katie Hopkins. We both went to RMA Sandhurst. We both dropped out close to commissioning, and both on medical grounds. We both then became polemicist commentators: her on TV, me on here. She made a living out of it, I didn't though. The Strapline of this Blog is "moderate opinions, immoderately put". For much of what Hopkins says is genuine, realpolitik sense spoken in a way morons can understand it. And she winds all the right people up, sort of like a skinny, female Jeremy Clarkson, without the wit.



Then Hopkins referred to the people crammed onto fishing boats trying to cross the Mediterranean sea to get to Europe, as "Cockroaches" and there she and I part company. That such things are said and thought shouldn't surprise anyone. That they are printed in a national paper, though, should. That they were yesterday was shocking, to the extent I don't recognise my country. Hopkins as one who wanted once to be an officer in the British Army, and in the Corps to which she applied, should know better. Much better. Such rhetoric from a bully pulpit such as a Sun Column is how pogroms start. Germany went from Civilised to Nazis in a little under a decade. It could never happen here? I'm not so sure now.

So, Katie Hopkins put herself way, way beyond the pale to me yesterday. She will be forever tainted with those callous, dehumanising words. Ultimately, I'm a libertarian, and believe in the fellowship of man, and feel enormous sympathy with those driven by poverty, to seek a better life. I believe borders are an affront to human dignity, but they are often an unfortunate necessity, when there's a precious example of freedom and good government to which adding too many ill-educated migrants brought up in war-zones would risk. Without the example of the West, the experiment in free-market liberal democracy could be snuffed out to everyone's long-term dis-benefit. Europe cannot accept thousands upon thousands of people from Africa and the Middle east, nor should we be expected to, simply because we are rich, though we should, like the enlargement project seek to extend the principle of free movement, slowly, surely and incrementally to countries which share our values.

Given that the Northern European countries who're the ultimate destination of the migrants, cannot and will not accept everyone who wants to make Europe home we must try to stop them coming. But nor can we let people drown at sea. It was noticed during the previous 'Mare Nostrum' rescue operation that the traffickers would simply get into EU territorial waters, send a mayday signal, and scuttle the boat, the rescue ensuring their charges made it safely to land. EU Navies were being used as a leg in the Journey. It was thought denying the Traffickers the use of this leg would stop the flow. It did not.

So what should be done?

Big picture: we need to work with the Governments, however corrupt and vile, where the migrants come from. The less vile the regimes, the less hopeless the economies, the fewer refugees and migrants will be tempted to leave and make their way to Europe. UKIP and their poujadiste allies in Europe are wholly wrong on Foreign Aid to suggest that budgetary and technical support to governments is "wasted". No-one though should expect rapid results.

One of the reasons for the current tide is the instability in Libya. One of the things Gadaffi* did for us was to stop the boats. (I am not sure letting them drown at sea is much worse than the methods he used... but 'out of sight out of mind' is the key principle of international humanitarianism...). Western governments, France and the UK especially are partially culpable for helping topple the regime, but not committing the resources for stability. But the culpability is limited. Qaddafi* was going to be toppled anyway, the current chaos was probably inevitable, and the UK and France probably averted a massacre in Benghazi. Nevertheless, the Libyan authorities need help to secure the country. This will require an appetite for an Iraq sized counter-insurgency for a decade, but Britain and France. Yup... this is unlikely to be popular.

An attempt to stem the 'push' from the homelands will be slow. So we need to make the journey less likely to be successful. We need to police the waters, turning back the migrant ships to their ports of origin on the North African coast. This will require investment in Naval and Aviation capacity from the whole EU and their maintenance on station for decades hence, and being comfortable with the use of force. I'm not holding my breath there either.

The good news is for humanity, the forces needed to police the sea lanes in the Mediterranean will also be capable and on station to rescue migrants whose boats sink. There is no need to turn the guns on the people in the boats, nor is there a need to be callous about their survival in the water. We are better than that.  If there are people in need of rescue, however, the rescue at present means the traffickers and the migrant has won. They're in the EU, and there are plenty of people able and willing to play the system to make sure they are never returned from whence they came. So we need somewhere where the rules can be applied a little more quick and dirty.

What the EU needs is somewhere rescued boat people can go to be processed by the Bureaucracy. And unfortunately this means a camp, somewhere outside the EU. This is the Australian approach, they have camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea where migrants who don't make it to Australia are sent, to be returned home. It's likely, if this is a goer, an enclave will need to be taken from Libya, with or without the host Government's permission. This would require the EU to contemplate the long-term use of Hard Power, and this being legislated for EU-wide and under the fire of the Human Rights lawyers. Nope, I'm not holding my breath there either.

Make no mistake. This is a horrible problem, dehumanising for all concerned. But given the unwillingness of Europe to accept people, the journey must be made as difficult, as humanly possible without making it inhumane. No-one comes out of this looking or feeling good. And those who accept some of the necessary steps above, will baulk at the others: A UKIPper despises the foreign aid and unified EU action, like a Green will abhor the necessity of Extra-territorial camps and capable Naval flotillas pointing guns at people.

This is what will work to stop the flow of migrants without letting them die at sea in their thousands. But this is not what will happen. This is why the African boat people are not being mentioned by politicians on the stump. Any soundbite on this subject, will be an anathema to one or other section of the electorate. There are no votes to be won in sorting this mess out, only votes to be lost.

*I never spell it the same way twice.



Friday, 17 April 2015

On the "Patriotism" of UKIP

Patriotism, wrote Samuel Johnson, is the last refuge of the scoundrel. In the election TV debate UKIP leader Nigel Farage claimed the UK couldn't adequately defend the Falklands. As well as being demonstrably untrue, this demonstrates several mental tics of the UKIPper and it's worth going through them.

First, it reveals a determination to re-fight battles already lost and won. This attitude comes from the same place as hankering after "A Leader Like Thatcher" who "Took on the Trades Unions". This is why the thatcherite ultra wing of UKIP cannot see Cameron's cut spending faster than their blessed St. Margaret Ever did. 45% top rate of tax? Wasn't cut to 40% by Nigel Lawson until 1988, 9 years into the great lady's time in office. UKIPpers are stupid, and lack the imagination or understanding to see what battles need to be fought today. Past glories like the re-taking of the Falklands, or the Miners' strike happened when most 'KIPpers were in their youth, and they're hankering after a better yesterday. The world's a bit different now, and the UKIPper wishes it wasn't.

Second it's revealing of a determination to see weakness in yourself, and strength elsewhere. This is behind the UKIPish "admiration" of Vladimir Putin. This is also behind the belief that all the bluster from the Eurocrats like JC Juncker that the UK cannot alter treaties, is truth; while anything David Cameron might say on the subject is merely self-serving bluster. Of course the Eurocrats aren't going to negotiate before the Election, because with Ed Miliband, they won't have to. But Cameron has a much stronger hand in EU negotiations than any 'KIPper will ever admit.

UKIPpers are paranoid. There is simply no indication the Argentines are even thinking about a military solution to the "Malvinas Question".

Farage might have been musing on the fall in the British Army's manpower. But even this reveals the party's ignorance and superficiality. UKIP is obsessed by symbols and totems, not effectiveness. Cap-badges are more important than effective 3-battalion regiments. It should be remembered that the UK recently ran two significant long-term deployments simultaneously AND had spare ISTAR and lift to get the French to Mali and tell them which doors to kick in. "Front Line First" which keeps combat infantry at the expense of support services ignores the fact that it requires a huge number of logistic, signals, intelligence and engineering "enablers" to keep one infantryman in action. 100,000 men kicking undeployable heels in Germany is better in the UKIP mind than 82,000 men who can be picked up, and put down to do a job anywhere on earth.  Would you rather have a platoon of men in battle dress armed with Lee Enfields, or a Section of Modern Infantry with all the logistic tail they need?

UKIP is guilty of hull-counting in the Royal navy too: The Type 45 air defence destroyers can track far, far more targets than the 1960's vintage Type 42s they replace, so fewer are needed. One Type 45 can do the air-defence job of 6 type 42s. Yes, the Navy is smaller, but an Astute class attack sub can hear a ship leaving New York Harbour. From the English Channel.

And lastly but most importantly the idea the Falklands cannot be defended is simply wrong. For a party that claims to be "patriotic" they don't seem to have much faith in the UK or her people. Let's be charitable and say he's talking about an operation to retake the Falklands in the absence of an Aircraft  Carrier. Fair enough - but HMS Queen Elizabeth will be operation by 2020 by which time the UK will be able to dominate the south Atlantic against any nation bar the USA.

In the mean time, there is simply not a credible threat to the Falkland islands. where there are at present 1,200 soldiers which, being British contain a large number of hardened veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, plus a company of Falkland islands defence force who're integrated into the defence plan. This, compared to 57 Royal Marines and no plan in 1982. There is an augmentation force on standby, and a plan to rapidly reinforce the islands from the UK, and an air-bridge to enable it now. There wasn't any of this in 1982. Meanwhile Argentina has no landing ships, no carriers, and and their army has been shrunk to bare-bones, and has no combat experience and little money to undertake serious exercise.

The RAF has 4 Typhoon a 4.5 generation multi-role fighter on the Falklands, which is arguably the finest dogfighter on earth. Whether it's a match for the F22's over the horizon capability is moot, but the RAF isn't up against F22s. The Argentines are flying 6 (if they're lucky) Mirage 3 interceptors, some Mirage 5 multi-role fighters, all purchased in the 1970s, and a handful of assorted multi-role, light fighter-bombers, most of which are probably not airworthy.

As well as the Typhoons, there are air-defence missiles on the islands, and the Royal Navy's Type 45 Destroyers are the finest air-defence platforms afloat. Meanwhile an Argentine Naval ship goes to sea about 12 days a year due to lack of funds. One Argentine naval vessel sank in port in 2013 due to disrepair. Oh, and there's usually a Royal Navy Nuclear attack submarine there, or therabouts, to which the Argentines will be completely blind until a torpedo slams into the hull. The Argentines couldn't get there, have no capability to land forces, couldn't supply any forces they did manage to land, which wouldn't be a match for the forces on the island even if they did. If anything the Falklands are grotesquely over-defended.

UKIP aren't patriots, they're the people who'd have caved in and done a deal with Hitler, as it was all too scary as his victory was "inevitable". UKIP have the paranoid certainty of the mediocre mind, always fearing the worst, but lacking imagination to envision the best; as a result, they're wrong about everything, all the time.



Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Tory Party Wants to Win Again.

Even the awkward squad have been silent. There is no dissent from the back-benches and Cameron's gaffe - that he will not serve a third term - meaning there will be a leadership contest at some point in the next parliament, is being described as "a disaster". And it isn't good news for the Tories: it's certainly and own goal and an unforced error from the Prime Minister. But it has made Cameron, quite a lot more popular than Miliband, the subject of discussion. I am not sure this is a wholly bad thing. Labour are so inept, they considered running with "vote Cameron, get Boris" as if replacing the most popular party leader with the country's most popular politician and current mayor of London would be a disaster for the Conservatives.


one reason the Tories will win

Given the Tories discipline, and they wheeled out some pretty solid performances yesterday from even those named as potential successors, dismissing it as "a politician answering a question" is a successful line to take. And this was repeated by journalists on the news; Even Alastair Campbell struggled. The Tories defence gained traction, and so I think this will be less damaging than it could have been.

This incident though also goes to show what's wrong with our "political class", and it's not the politicians. It's not they unrepresentative. Women are selected in roughly the proportion they put themselves forward, ethnic minorities are only slightly under-represented and may be about the same proportion as in the general population after the next election, and not only sitting for "diverse" seats. MPs are middle class, but is it surprising that the working class, who seem to despise education, aren't producing many men and women of ideas to sit in parliament?

You have people stating as fact parliament is too "male, pale and stale". 'Middle-class' is a term of abuse and the lie that politics is unrepresentative is constantly repeated. The people doing this are the media. To the kind of "young people" that turn up on the media, anyone in a suit is "middle-class" who "doesn't understand" what young people experience. It's nonsense of course, but the media feed it.

What do you want? Parliament filled with semi-educated failures who're representative only of utter grockles? Parliamentarians chosen by gender and race, but utterly compliant to the whim of the executive? This is Labour's way. Because it seems ensuring diversity of appearance ensures a monoculture of political ideas. Worse you get risible Children like Red Princes Will Straw and Euan Blair or Princess Emily Benn who said
"I represent the ward I was born in, which is y'know more important than where you come from..."
...While the cameras were rolling. She's 25, and is being wheeled out to demonstrate their commitment to youth issues. By which labour mean tuition fees. Which they introduced. I am sure having Great Granddad, Granddad and Father all Labour MPs had absolutely no bearing on her selection.
"Judge me,on my ideas"
...I look forward to it. The Tories have always been less ethnically diverse but a broader church of ideas, and so harder to lead.

But they want it bad this time. The hatchet has been buried. The awkward squad are satisfied they will get their deepest desire: the EU referendum, and are working for it. Cameron has unified the ununifiable behind him, for a couple more years at least.

As for the election? The polls are neck and neck to a slight Tory lead. And the campaign proper has not yet begun. Labour are going to be near wiped out in Scotland, and have Ed Miliband "in Charge". When the broad mass of the electorate have a good look at him, they will say "urgh". Labour MPs openly call their leader a "fucking knob". UKIP are slipping, 18% a few months ago, nearer 14% now. Plenty of their supporters won't bother, or will vote Tory to keep Labour out. Thanks to the Scots, the national Labour inbuilt advantage is no more. A ten point move during a campaign is common. And there really is only one way it can go....

There will be a Tory majority.



Wednesday, 18 March 2015

On Osborne's Inheritance Tax Cut

Back in 2007, I wrote

there is a very simple solution to the problem, which prevents middle Britain being hit by a tax that is designed to punish the very rich: first homes should not qualify for IHT (subject to caveats such as time occupied and value to prevent abuse - you couldn't have everyone buying mansions to die in to avoid tax)
...which is more or less what George Osborne appears to be proposing. However I didn't consider it a priority then, and I don't think it a priority now.

There will be lots of guff about how "insane" cutting this tax is. It's not insane. Inheritance tax is deeply unfair, unpleasant and resented. It's falls hardest on those who've not prepared for death. And it has come after big cuts to income taxes, so I'm reasonably content.

The main problem with the UK economy is for people to see property as an investment, not as consumption. This encourages people to see their homes as their main asset, and care deeply about how much it's worth. People oppose dilution of their assets. This is why any and all development - new houses - are opposed so viciously by "the community". The problem isn't inheritance tax, it's the tendency of old people to hang around in the big family homes long after their family has flown the nest. And their family, when they come to produce grandchildren cannot have a family home because they're all owned by the baby-boomers. Children are being brought up in flats while granny lives in the big house. And Granny's in rude health. By the time the house gets passed on, it will be to people well on the way to being grandparents themselves.

Rather than cut inheritance tax on homes, it would make more sense to abolish stamp duty, and make the housing market more liquid. Encourage granny to downsize as soon as little Jonny and Camilla have left for university, with increases to property taxes like council tax offsetting cuts to other income taxes. Granny should take the equity in the house, and invest it in productive assets for her retirement, or use it to help Jonny or Camilla  buy a house for their families.

Above all, we need more houses. And cutting inheritance tax on houses doesn't help more of them get built. I never oppose a tax cut. And I dislike inheritance tax because it is unfair. From 2007 again 
It is essentially a voluntary tax and is often described as a tax on the unlucky and the unwise. Businesses are exempt as are farms. Potentially exempt transfers can usually see to the rest, and the threshold at £285,000 [now £325,000 - transferrable] is generous. The problem is that it hits unexpected deaths harder than quiet passings in old age. Consider this: A family loses both parents in a car crash and the tax-man - as a direct result - also takes the family home. That's not on.
I'd want to see stamp duty go, or see more income tax cuts before I cut inheritance tax. After all, Inhertiance tax is, for most people, entirely voluntary, so long as they trust their children, and don't die unexpectedly. I see why the chancellor is doing this - UKIP have pledged to abolish inheritance tax completely and inheritance tax is wildly unpopular, even amongst people who are unlikely to pay it. This is a policy aimed squarely at the Daily Mail reader and there's an election very shortly.



Thursday, 12 March 2015

On Discrimination Laws

So, Nigel Farage wants to scrap discrimination laws.

And I sort of see where he's probably coming from. The left and right have very different views of what's in the driving seat of society. The left, with echos of Marxist-Leninist 'vanguard of the proletariat' thinks the habits of the people can and should be changed by law, and law can and should be driven by the elite, leading the way for the people. Most classical Liberals on the other hand think laws against behaviours tend to happen when a majority broadly support them, and not before. It's the argument in society leading up to the change in the law which changes behaviour, not the law itself. I doubt greatly whether anti-discrimination laws have affected the level of discrimination much, if at all. I suspect they probably reflect a point where there was a change in society's opinion, which started long before 1965 race relations act, and continued through the 1980s.

Pre 1965 it was common, apparently, (I was born in '77) to see "No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish" signs. Nowadays, anyone displaying that sign, wouldn't get my business either. I am inclined to let people discriminate, but only if they do so openly, and see what it does for their businesses. Society's distaste is more powerful at curbing behaviour than the law. But I am really not fussed about race discrimination laws, and certainly wouldn't make repealing them a priority, partly because I don't want to be misunderstood and thought to be racist, and partly because I might be wrong about society, and I cannot see what harm having these laws on the statute books does. If it ain't broken, and I don't think the architecture of Britain's race relations are broken, don't fix it.

But 'KIPpers will not see this, because st. Nigel (PBUH) has spoken and their thick, ignorant activists will go around claiming now that race discrimination legislation allows for discrimination against whites and British, which of course they do not. If there is little racism in society as Farage claims, then race discrimination laws have little effect. And if there IS racism in society, then there is an argument that race discrimination laws are still necessary which is powerful.

This demonstrates UKIP's amateurishness. If you're a right-populist party, running on an anti-immigration ticket, constantly beset by accusations of racism, and with several high-profile activists being caught saying really ignorant, stupid things about race, then I cannot see why these laws should be a priority, unless you are openly gunning for the racist, ex-BNP vote in Labour's northern fiefdoms.

Are you touting for racists' votes, or are you, Nigel, a thicko with a tin-ear, who's out of his depth?



Tuesday, 10 March 2015

The Politics of "Ditch Decisions"

The role of the young army officer, like politicians, is to make expensive decisions, under pressure with inadequate information. Imagine you are walking down the road and you come under effective enemy fire. It doesn't matter which ditch you jump into, but it's generally better if you're all on the same side of the road and know where the bullets are coming from. And that, in a nutshell is what command and control is. You do not stand in the road, getting shot at, arguing about which ditch is best, because the status quo, being shot at, is completely unacceptable, and almost anything is better.

There are many 'ditch decisions' in politics.

We need more runways in the south-east of England. Gatwick, Stanstead, Luton and Heathrow ring London, and have their champions, and to whom any decision that isn't their chosen solution is "crazy". Someone is going to have to make a decision, and any decision will piss most people off. Boris Island isn't crazy. An extra runway at Heathrow isn't crazy, nor is one at Gatwick, Luton or Stansted. Capacity needs to be built somewhere. Does anyone imagine in 50 years, that we would regret building Boris Island, having done so? No, there would be breathless documentaries about how "controversial" it was at the time, but praising the visionary architects and engineers that made it possible.

We have long needed new baseline power generation. Gas, Coal, Biomass and Nuclear all have their adherents, for whom any decision which isn't invested in their chosen solution, is "crazy". If no decision is made, then the lights go out. One of Labour's criminal acts was to play chicken with the prospect of widespread power cuts, unwilling for reasons of electoral triangulation to make a decision about where and what to build.

We need more rail capacity in the UK. High Speed 2 may not be everyone's favoured solution. I've long thought the money could be spent upgrading existing stock and lengthening platforms. But then I get told there's a firm limit to train length set in stone and brick by some curved Victorian tunnels on the network, so lengthening platforms can only deliver so much extra capacity. I am no expert on Rail. The person who told me this was, and I was convinced, though I cannot remember the details. There is no real alternative to new lines. Again. A decision needs to be made, and whichever is chosen, a majority of people will be annoyed. UKIP, especially, have no need of tiresome "facts" and "information". They just decided there's votes in opposing HS2, and they would mouth the anger.

Mundane questions of waste disposal, recycling, power generation, landfill, road-building and maintenance all concentrated harms and distributed benefits and situating the infrastructure is never popular.

What matters is that a decision is made in a timely manner, having considered all the information, as much as possible. Somebody, somewhere is going to get kicked in the bollocks, as a rail line or motorway cuts through the view he paid a fortune for (another argument for a land-value-tax, but that's a post for another day). One of the things poisoning politics, is an expectation that in a democracy, the Government, can please you in all things, all the time. It can't because it's weighing the need of Businessmen to get to New York against the rights of residents of West London - people whose interests in the matter of a new runway at Heathrow are fundamentally opposed. The tendency of people to see 'each-way' decisions as binary morality is a result, and a reinforcement of an unwillingness to give the decision-makers the benefit of the doubt, allied to a fundamental mistrust of their motives. The needs of the Businessman to get to New York might mean a concentrated benefit, and the costs distributed across the many. But the benefits of a stronger economy, and greater logistic and transport links are likewise distributed. If you can get to New York (or anywhere else you might like to go) cheaper, you're richer. But anger is stoked by grievance mongers like the SNP and UKIP, who're mostly not called upon to make these decisions.

People are ignorant as to how decisions are made. We fear that which we don't understand. Worse than ignorance is motivated reasoning, which sees the government blamed for all the bad things, yet receiving no credit for positive outcomes and the general well being of the country. There is a robust decision-making process in the UK, one that is mostly uncorrupted, and seeks to weigh competing interests fairly. We are well-governed. We have a diverse and resilient economy. I think we're governed bit too hyper-actively, but that is arguable, and we libertarians must accept most people do not yet agree with our vision of what the state is for. Politicians could do with speaking human, and accepting that zero-sum decisions need to be made, and someone is going to be worse off. The electorate for their part must have the maturity to realise there are no solutions, only trade-offs, and not vote for half-arsed nutcases like UKIP and the Greens, in a fit of ranty angst. The Government deserves the benefit of the doubt, most of the time, when they do finally decide which ditch to jump into.



Monday, 23 February 2015

Meet the UKIPpers

British politics is a pretty unpleasant sight. There's an anti-politician mood stalking the country. Jack Straw and Malcolm Rifkind are being hauled over the coals for things that aren't against the rules, nor even against British interests. Rifkind especially should feel aggrieved that for offering to arrange meetings between a foreign firm and British diplomats, he should be accused of Sleaze. In this mood comes the "tax-dodging" witch hunt, where people's perfectly legal and normal (for those with the cash) Tax planning is being called "tax avoidance", which is being equated, and used interchangeably with "tax evasion", which is a crime. People who've taken perfectly reasonable tax-planning steps, are being excoriated for things that are neither against the law, nor against the spirit of the law. The crime, in the rather envious eyes of the British electorate, is to have wealth and be involved in politics. And politicians are being assumed to be corrupt and on the make, with journalists happy to fuel the mood.


And the only politician to speak any sense on the subject of tax is Nigel Farage: "Of course people avoid tax, but they do so mainly for their Children", before going on to talk about the UKIP policy to abolish Inheritance tax. And the media left it there. UKIP having a popular policy that isn't bat-shit insane isn't news. But they aren't called on its implications, like a major party would be, not yet. The Tories, for whom Inheritance tax has also been a popular cut, would be asked "what would you cut/taxes would you raise?" And the policy of abolishing inheritance tax would immediately become about where the £3bn or so it raises each year would come from. Would farage make cuts, raise taxes, or borrow more? We do not know.

No 'KIPper would consider, having found a policy that works, the potential downsides of abolishing inheritance tax. The long-term accumulation of assets in families for example. Inheritance tax is the only tax where the money raised is not its principle function. Mega-inheritance is not conducive to social mobility, and nor is it always good for the economy. Why is it fair that someone is able to inherit vast sums, tax-free where others are taxed through the nose for money they earn? For me,  if it's a choice between cutting £3bn off inheritance tax, or taking it off income tax, I'd rather the income tax cut (and the Tories agree with me there...). Whilst I think Inheritance is mostly an iniquitous tax on the unlucky, or those unwilling to confront their mortality, it's not a priority to cut right now, not when we still need to balance the books. The Tories have taken most ordinary people out of the tax, while leaving it in place for the very wealthy. When you think a UKIP policy through, quite often what sounds right, as a black and white abstraction, is often rather stupid.

But it's refreshing to see Farage refuse to dance to the media's tune, even if the average UKIP policy isn't thought through at all. When asked where the £3bn would come from, you get boilerplate blather about "fully costed policies being in the [as yet unwritten] manifesto". And the problem with UKIP is that vague grey area between idea, aspiration and policy invites 'KIPpers to fill in the gaps. And they do, with abandon, but without any learning or understanding.

British politics is as refined a dance as a regency d├ębutantes' ball. And like the refined movements of the dances, they are designed to exclude those who don't know the steps, and so utterly baffling to outsiders. UKIP, whose main dancing experience, if we're extending the metaphor to breaking point, is in the Mosh Pit of a metal club, aren't invited to a Queen Charlotte's ball, because they haven't got the right clothes, don't know anyone there, what they're doing or why. UKIP gatecrashing a Season ball will ruin it for everyone, and they will look stupid. Because UKIP aren't prepared to answer the "so what...?", they aren't taken seriously: they haven't bothered to learn the steps to the dance. They're not even aware that such dancing exists and so they're confused when they see it. 

Which brings us to Meet the UKIPpers on BBC2, which showed UKIP members filling in the policy gaps, with all the creativity and skill of a slow-witted four year old at a colouring book. Of course the TV show was superficial. Of course it was selective. But it was revealing. The utterly incompetent election agent, the Twitter question about the "mosque" (Actually Westminster cathedral...), the Creepy, inadequate couple who collect clowns, and the hilariously bigoted old bag who couldn't see that she wasn't kicked out for saying "negro" but for saying "I have a problem with Negroes with their Shiny skin, fuzzy hair and big noses" and who then went on to talk about "Jewish noses with a curve to them", as if that was some kind of defence. This isn't a one-off bad-apple spoiling the barrel. This is the mood-music of the UKIP. Janice Atkinson, a UKIP MEP described an Asian constituent as "...a ting-tong from somewhere..." (I find for some reason the indefinite article especially damning), while Mark Reckless actually thought UKIP policy was the forced repatriation of immigrants and was prepared to say so out loud and in public. Both survived in post.

This isn't pogrom-inciting, paki-bashing racism that smashes people's windows. It's the quiet bigotry of profoundly stupid people, of a sort that you probably do get at every family gathering involving multiple elderly relatives. There's always one who will openly opine about how terrible the country's got since we "let the wogs in". But the problem is, those nice, racist nans instil ideas into kids, who'll become angry young men, who will then go out and set fire to a mosque. Which is why such racist talk has been ridiculed and shunned since Warren Mitchell invented Alf Garnet. UKIP is a party for people who haven't got the joke in 'Til death us do Part.

The same cavalier attitude towards policy that allowed Roseanne Duncan to riff freestyle on why she has a problem with Negroes while the cameras were rolling, allows the more intelligent UKIPpers to imagine their freestyling on tax, or immigration policy is Party policy. The reason 'KIPpers are so certain the party agrees with them, is they're quite openly making it up as they go along. UKIP agrees, because there is no policy, only opinion. The only "policy" is what Nigel decrees, and he'll let 'KIPpers hide behind the defence of "free speech" for any idiocies the media turns up. Yet even this "free speech" defence is idiotic. Of course Roseanne Duncan is entitled to her views. But the 'KIPper view is that it's all OK, so long as the media don't see it. Which is why the 'KIPpers were kept away from the news during the Rotherham by-election. There are a lot of racists in the party, and the party knows it. And why the "Meet the UKIPpers" filming was shut down after Ms Duncan went off-piste. UKIP is a party for stupid, bigoted people. Yes, the political elite has become too distant, the political dance has become too complicated and superficial. But UKIP is not the answer.

'KIPpers will blame a media conspiracy for misrepresenting them. They will rant about LibLabCon "not listening to the views of ordinary people", insulting "ordinary people" by the suggestion they're like Roseanne Duncan. UKIP is not the answer to the problems that ail the UK, and nor will the "media conspiracy" make UKIP "more popular" as 'KIPpers often allege. All it will do is taint the few good ideas it has, by association with people like Ms Duncan and Janice Atkinson, while bringing back a kind of low-level bigotry we'd once thought abolished back into political discourse. UKIP is poisoning the well of debate. But on the bright side, the more the views of ranty, stupid people whom the party has seen fit to put in positions of responsibility see the light of day, the less attractive it will become. These people are freaks to be pitied and laughed at, which is why they're stuck in depressing shitholes at the end of the line, and working with UKIP not a grown-up party. Anyone with talent or drive has left, and UKIP's South Thanet constituency branch is left with a detritus of lost souls, confused by the modern world, whom another party would happily let deliver leaflets, but whom they would calmly not call when they needed anything more serious doing.

Is there a media conspiracy against UKIP? Only insofar as the Body Politic needs antibodies to expel a parasite. Expect more revelations of nonsense from 'KIPpers in the run up to the election. Expect scrutiny of candidates and activists in places where they might win. Only a loony could think this unreasonable. UKIP has drawn the bigoted, Euro-obsessed puss from the Tory wound, and will roll up the bigots and opportunists from other parties before destroying itself. The only question is how much damage it does to the country while this process goes on. UKIP are poisonous. But it will be fun to watch them tear themselves apart.



Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Triumphs of British Foreign Policy Are So Complete, We Take it For Granted.

The British Empire was founded on Trade, not conquest. We largely bought our empire, then co-opted its citizens by encouraging them to get rich and take up cricket. And then when they tired of the British Empire's excesses, the Empire became too expensive to run, and we left. Trying, mostly with some success, to leave functioning democracies behind.

We left behind the world's Largest democracy, India. And British ideas influenced the Second largest: The United States of America.

There are two models of democracy: Broadly the Franco-Yankish model with an executive president, and the British Parliamentary model. And of the two, the latter is much, much more stable, because it doesn't concentrate power in the hands of a single individual with a personal mandate, and so the constitution is harder to abuse. The legislature finds it easier to hold the executive to account when the executive head is chosen from the legislature. But equally, there are fewer veto points, so legislative gridlock is less likely. (See this excellent essay by Fukuyama in Foreign Affairs)

The European Convention on Human Rights was written by British and American Lawyers, on British and American principles, and underpins the European Union, the enlargement of which to the East was a British-led project, against French wishes. The EU has strengthened institutions in Eastern Europe. Poland's democracy was not a given when the Berlin wall came down. Thanks to the EU, Britain has a large, growing, increasingly prosperous ally in NATO, and the EU. Poland's democracy is secure.

The World Trade Organisation seeks to Promote free trade, long a British principle. The EU is, thanks to Britain, a leading proponents of free trade in the Great councils of the world, something the French mutter about, but about which they cannot do anything. The Germans largely see it our way.

Across the world, the English Language is the language of trade, science and diplomacy. This is not going to change any time soon. We've exported our way of Government more successfully than the Americans, and not just to former colonies. And people yearn, across the world to be part of clubs we're in. Georgia flies the European Union flag outside its new Parliament in Tiblisi

In Ukraine, the Eastern Quarter may have a majority which wants to be Russian. This is debatable, because no-one's asked them properly. It's probable a majority of Crimeans indeed want to be Russian. We'll never know, because that referendum was neither Free nor Fair. The rest of Ukraine now looks firmly west.

Intelligent political commentators are overawed by the scale of Russia's military spending, and the tactical subtlety of her annexation of bits of Ukraine. Yet mistake tactical for Strategic success. We have struggled, it's true to come to terms with Russia's doctrine of "information war", as we cannot ascertain her goals. Meanwhile Russia is spreading disinformation, using extreme parties of the left (the greens are against Fracking which threatens Russia's economy) and the Right (Jobbik, Le Front National and possibly UKIP which want to break up the EU) enjoy Russian support, and whose spokesmen turn up on Putin's grotty little propaganda machine, Russia Today, with depressing regularity. Most of the people most enthusiastically backing Putin, and claim he's winning, are on the loony fringes of politics.

Putin wants a Buffer between him and "the West" which he fears, because the west represents a threat to his power. It does, of course. Mainly because our world-view is better and more attractive than his. Putin has probably captured a wretched little  rust-belt, which will forever need his country's financial support, while inviting the EU to his Border. Kiev will be an EU city within a decade, and there is almost nothing Putin can do about it. He could invade in a couple of weeks, but it would bankrupt him, and I doubt he could make it stick in the long term.

The fact is countries are clamouring to Join the EU and NATO, to exist under a security umbrella largely provided by the Americans, and to enjoy the institutional security of the EU, while more or less designing their democracy along British principles. Poland, for example has a Bicameral legislature, with a symbolic head of state, and the executive head of Government chosen from the legislature. Neither of the EU nor NATO are perfect, by any means. But to imagine the EU a greater threat to the UK's interests than Putin's Russia, as many 'KIPpers do, is just insane. The EU ploughs mostly British Foreign policy in Ukraine, in the WTO and elsewhere. That foreign policy isn't what 'KIPpers think it should be, but it is consistent with 500 years of history.

The inhabitants of a damp, foggy archipelago off the north western coast of Europe, a medium-sized population, have nevertheless managed to shape the world in their image, and continue to do so, despite being overtaken by larger, wealthier powers. Somehow, it always goes Britain's way in the end.

Real global great powers do not have trouble keeping their satellites in orbit. The West is built on British ideas, speaks English, and enjoys overwhelming economic, military and cultural dominance. The world watches English Football, listens to American and British music, and its most able people want to come to our cities, risking death and mutilation if necessary to do so. Compare with Russia, which will be just China's petrol station in 3 years, lacking (our western) money, their military spending will be unsustainable. Russia's people, as soon as they have money, leave. If the oil price stays low, Russia will be bankrupt in 3-5 years. Even China herself knows her power such as it is, is based on access to western Markets. The west, confident and united, can stand against any power, or combination of powers that could possibly be ranged against it. We can lose every tactical battle, Ukraine for example, and still win the war.

All it requires is that we don't blink.



Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Autonomous Vehicles Being Trialled in Britain

The UK is aiming to become a hub for driverless car technology, and has sought to iron out the obvious legal and regulatory issues prior to the technology becoming widespread.

I am going to use the word "moron" a lot. This is not a pejorative. Everyone is a moron behind the wheel. Humans are not evolved to process information fast enough, for long enough, to drive safely. We have significant blind spots and cannot see anything at all during saccades, the brain instead approximates, which explains why people often fail to see oncoming cyclists or motorcyclists and even cars, and pull out in front of them at junctions, often fatally. They genuinely, honestly didn't see. We evolved to over-react to surprising movement in peripheral vision, such as a cyclists passing quite safely on the drivers' side in a queue of stationary traffic, which triggers an involuntary endocrine response of cortisol and adrenaline, which cause stress and make drivers angry and aggressive towards cyclists. This in turn makes them drive faster and less carefully, because these hormones affect risk-perception. Driving is boring, dangerous and stressful; a significant contributor through that cortisol and adrenaline not subsequently 'burned off' through exercise, to obesity. It's enormously fatiguing on the brain, reducing productivity during the day.

Even if you think you are a "good" driver, this is only relative. You're not. Consider this: Racing drivers are people who do have better car control, and more practised reactions behind the wheel. They are not considered good insurance risks. Attitude is more important than risk. You want to enjoy the thrill of speed, driving a vehicle. As soon as they are available, the insurance industry will quickly price human driving off the road, effectively forcing driving enthusiasts to get their fix on a race-track. After all, why should other road users who're just trying to get to work bear unnecessary extra risk for what will be soon after cars can drive themselves, a hobby? This requires remarkably little legislation; just a bit of thought now, and the market and technology to do the rest.

People are suspicious of new technology, and over-rate (often grossly) their own competence behind the wheel, and feeling in control is not the same as being in control, morons don't realise this. Insurance companies, who rely on statistics rather than rules of thumb which evolved to help bands of hunter-gatherers on the African Savannah, are comfortable with underwriting risk, once driverless cars are seen as more competent than morons. The liability in the event of a crash, the single obstacle cited most often by morons objecting to this technology, has already pretty much been solved. The driver will carry liability, for the car he's travelling in, as now. Perhaps there will be some shared liability with the manufacturers in the event of software failure, another risk massively over-stated by morons, as they don't notice the software currently keeping them on the road in their car, right now. But it matters little because the insurance industry has indicated it is happy to wear the risk, because they assess it will be less expensive to have fallible robots controlling 1.5 tons of metal at 70mph, than human morons.

Surveys that say half of people would feel unsafe driving with autonomous cars on the road, and a quarter would never get in one are unsurprising. People are morons because they use inaccurate heuristics to calculate risk. Heuristics which worked for our ancestors, but which are inadequate for the modern world. I, reasonably feel unsafe around morons driving, and welcome technology which will take my life out of morons' hands and also their lives out of mine for I am too a moron behind the wheel. The views of morons who've never considered the issue can be ignored. Once they see autonomous vehicles work, and realise they can read a book, masturbate, or watch telly on the way to work or sleep rather than struggling to stay awake on a long motorway drive, they will quickly accept it.

Google's driverless car, which cannot yet tell a scrunched up paper from rock, or recognise temporary signs, has had two crashes in the 700,000 autonomous miles (as at mid 2014) driven, but were being driven manually both times. In Google's words, the car is already driving better than a tired or drunk human. And by 2017, they aim to make it better than the best driver in the world.

Coventry and Milton Keynes are testing the Lutz driverless pods which will initially run on separate paths before being integrated onto the roads. Finally Greenwich will trial passenger shuttles which look like big golf buggys. Not all driverless cars will make you look a wanker, though. Bristol's Venturer consortium is testing a BAE Systems wildcat, which is probably the hairiest-chested vehicle on the roads, and these are looking at congestion reduction and interactions with other road users.

The implications of driverless cars will be enormous. Some implications are obvious. It will first be employed to replace commercial vehicles, reducing cost of transporting goods and facilitating just in time delivery. Bulk freight may well be moved by long trains of autonomous lorries, saving fuel which can break up nearer destinations.  Car ownership may well be reduced, as urban journeys in one's own car are replaced by commuting in pods which pick you up as needed. The space not needed for on-street parking may well yield more road space to cyclists and pedestrians. Equally, the prospect of having a car drop the children at school, swing by the shops to have pre-ordered deliveries loaded into the boot, and return might yield more, not fewer vehicles on the roads.

It is likely autonomous vehicles will encourage urban sprawl and long commutes as the commute becomes productive, or relaxing rather than stressful. This may change the design of cities in ways we cannot predict. Just as horses and cyclists' mass lobbies gave way to the motor car, autonomous vehicles will almost certainly kill the driving lobby and accelerate the move back to "liveable cities" perhaps cities will become like fried eggs with a "liveable" urban core, surrounded by autonomous-vehicle friendly suburban sprawl. Maybe bigger cities will be amoeba with several urban cores, with a cytoplasm of sprawling suburbs. Who knows. What is certain, when I'm cycling, I'd rather share my road with a robot, designed specifically to see me, than with the kind of arsehole who thinks buying a BMW is in any way acceptable behaviour.

I yearn for this technology. Because most of my driving is long-distance, and frankly I'd rather be reading a book than stare at the back of a Vauxall Zafira at 70mph for 90 minutes. And who, really, honestly enjoys a long slog up the motorway?



Thursday, 5 February 2015

On that One, last, Insurmountable Inequality Between the Sexes.

If the Pompeii Graffiti and Punternet agree, the price of a shag with a lady of negotiable virtue has remained about a working man's daily wage for at least 2,000 years. With this in mind, let's not try to pretend human nature has changed all that much. We are still the same upright Ape that wandered out of African savannah 100,000 years ago. And as such, modern life is not what we evolved for. It's stressful enough without trying to alter what we are and what we find attractive in the opposite sex. And with Internet dating, those of us with an anthropological bent have been given an enormous amount of data to see what people actually want. It isn't usually what they say they want, or what society pressures us to want.


Slavica totally married Bernie for 24 years because of his looks and famous charm.

Let's think about human mating as a transaction, because it is. Men trade intimacy for sex, and women trade sex for intimacy. And then there's the whole bio-mechanics of seeking a fertile mate. Females seek a provider, and males seek a fertile and healthy woman to maximise their mutual chances of offspring being successful. And then there's the cost of Gametes: men will seek to spread their seed (cheat), while women face an incentive to get impregnated by a "better" mate should their provider be a bit unsatisfactory (cuckold). And the reason paternity isn't routinely tested is often alleged to be because society couldn't cope with the result.

We are not evolved to be monogamous, as there is significant sexual dimorphism. The hidden ovulation and permanent receptiveness of the human female is extraordinarily unusual.

We are a highly sexual animal. Yet both genders seem pathologically incapable understanding the simple fact that men and women want different things of each other. Any attempt to generalise about this invites ridicule. But, physically, broadly, women desire a man taller than they are. This is why so many women, if they put anything in their Tinder profiles at all, it's their height, to male bemusement. Men simply are not interested in how tall a woman is. And men, displaying their abdominal muscles look faintly ridiculous. Physically most of what a man wants in a woman can be described as 'not fat' and they're assuming women desire the same in men. Women desire a high status man (a man who can make people laugh is almost always in control of the room). Men desire youth, beauty, health and a caring nature.

I remember being asked recently by the friend of a lovely-looking girl who was thinking of breaking up with her nightclub bouncer boyfriend "are you an earner?". I was shocked. Essentially it's the female equivalent of going up to a woman and saying "show me your tits". But it's those unused to hiding their base desires who most often reveal what is in the human id.

The female lawyer, saying "I'm strong and successful, why don't men find me attractive?" is making exactly the same mistake as the sad-act sending out pictures of his penis to women on the internet from his Parent's basement and being confused by the responses. They're both guilty of projection. I desire this of men/women, so they must desire this of me.

Women want a man they can admire. Men, broadly do not want to be competing with their other half and would rather be supported by someone they can cherish. Given this - it's not a mis-match, is it? - complementary nature of desires, it's not surprising that fewer women, having found their higher-status man and persuaded him to commit, give up on the rat-race. After all, what's in it for them? Most women, in my experience do want to settle down, raise their children more than they want to become a partner in the law firm. And the man, to keep up his end of the bargain, will work his fingers to the bone for the rest of his life to provide for his wife and kids.

And this act of providing for a family provides the same deep sense of satisfaction to a man as motherhood does to a woman.

Women suitably qualified, often leave their professions, for long periods of time to raise children. And so the women who're qualified don't end up putting themselves forward for professorships or indulge in the savage politicking necessary to get to the top of a corporate pole. They are, like my mother, quite happily looking after people they love. And many such women, of enormous wit, intellect and brilliance take offence at the idea that this is a waste of their talents. The lack of female CEOs is certainly partly down to the choices many women make to not bother with the corporate game. So long as there is no discrimination against those women who DO choose to climb the pole, I fail to see why this is a problem.

There are costs to equality and women's emancipation. At the other end of the social spectrum, with the welfare state providing for the women and children at least as well as men, the men become utterly worthless to their womenfolk, completely disposable sex-objects, valuable only for fertility. Which is why there is so much violence on the sink estates. Big muscles on the nightclub doorman give him status in a world where men, without economic or social pull, have little else but psychological and physical abuse to keep 'their' women in orbit.

Men who suddenly find themselves unable to provide for their women through unemployment are often quickly and efficiently ditched, whereas women's relationships often survive unemployment. A man supports a woman, whereas a man isn't "supported" by a woman, he "lives off her". Society judges. Unemployment is a leading cause of male suicide. As is Divorce. To a married man, unemployment is therefore a much, much greater threat than it is to a married woman as it opens up a yawning chasm of social worthlessness. There are men who'd happily be taken on for the ride as a supporting player to a successful woman, but such a woman would find him revolting. You can send your much more successful wife off to work while you change the nappies, but she'd probably end up shagging the boss of a bigger firm. And when the divorce comes, she's off, and he's.... already been emasculated, has a gap in his CV and is worth little to employers or eligible women. This is why female breadwinner, male childcare families are rare and unstable and most female breadwinner families are single-parent.

So, the psychological, social and sexual rewards to men are greater for an equal degree of professional success, and the punishment for failure is far, far more severe. Is it any wonder men work longer hours, will take the shitty jobs with anti-social hours, and don't prioritise family time and flexibility? And these incentives are innate to us. They are not social constructs. Women like wealth and status like men like a nice high, firm, round bosom.

"So Debbie McGee, what attracted you to Millionaire Paul Daniels?"

Measuring equality in society by the number of female MPs or FTSE100 CEOs is just stupid, because the cost, effort and time invested in becoming a successful politician/architect/CEO/Formula 1 impresario pays off  for men in the only currency I can find which has never depreciated: access to a desirable mate. But it doesn't pay off for women in that currency, all that much. (Both Dennis Thatcher and Joachim Sauer were already successful when they met Margaret Roberts and Angela Merkel). Men are defined by their social status, for which earning power is a good proxy. Short, odd-looking rich men like Bernie Ecclestone and Paul Daniels do have their pick of attractive women, in a way Angela Merkel doesn't have muscular hunks dripping off her arm (instead, a hugely respected research physicist). Wealthy, successful female lawyers who tell you they paid for their own BMW, thank you very much, are often single. Wealth and power is irrelevant to female attractiveness to men. Wealth and professional success enhances (is...?) male attractiveness to women.

Rich professional, single women like to think that men are intimidated by strong women. I think that's a comforting myth spun by women whose biological clocks are ticking, but who haven't worked out what it is men want. And old, short, odd-looking rich men like to think it's their charm and wit, rather than their money and power, that's attractive to the leggy amazon they're escorting. Yeah.

And so, in the currency that matters, the one that ultimately drives us, access to a desirable mate, wealth helps men, but not women, achieve what they want. That which women can leverage to secure that high-status man is a wasting asset, drifting away while they're chasing the career. Women can get through the glass ceiling, if they're prepared to risk celibacy and loneliness with the successful women who have it all dangled as a tempting carrot, which is unlikely to ever be universal. Men do not face that trade-off, but they do face a great deal more pressure to succeed. Most people get this intuitively. That, not discrimination, seems to be the main reason a FTSE100 boardroom is a sausage-fest.

Please note, if you're minded to comment, that I don't believe this is as it SHOULD be, but how it IS. And I don't imagine there's a great deal that can be done about it. We are wired up how we're wired up, and that's that.

The author is currently single.



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