Saturday, 6 June 2015

On the UK, Russia and the EU

The Centrepiece of this parliament will be the in/out referendum on British Membership of the European Union. It will probably define the UK's very survival as a nation, and define the UK's place in the world over the next few years. I am sceptical about the EU project, I regard the parliament as a risible cargo-cult democracy. It lacks a 'demos' so any attempt to give someone like JC Juncker 'legitimacy' are a fig-leaf. It's bureaucratic, pumping out regulation and diktat, pouring glue into the economies of Europe. It's a costly vanity project for politicians who've either come from very small countries and need supra-national bodies to contain their egos, or for Politicians who've been rejected by their domestic electorates. But none of this really matters.

Because the EU has been a stunning success. Several countries, Spain, Portugal, and the former communist East were dictatorships in my living memory. And while it's the Atlantic alliance which beat communism, it's the EU which ensured Poland is a country where a return to autocracy is as unthinkable as it is in Spain by entrenching free-market liberal democracy and building institutions. Money, too was poured into the post Fascist south and again into the post Communist east. Nothing says "we're friends now" like building roads and hospitals. The world east of the Iron Curtain, and south of the Pyrenees, is immeasurably better, freer and safer thanks to the EU.


YES, because the EU is bigger than a Cost Benefit Analysis for the UK

Of course the stupid, hubristic, economically illiterate, clumsy vanity project, the single European Currency has undone much of the good work in Spain and Portugal. But this isn't a post about the Euro, which the UK will never join, but about the EU.

The UK is not a small country, unable to survive outside a big trading block. So any argument from Europhiles which suggests the UK will be a great deal poorer outside simply won't wash. The EU would be forced to treat with the UK, a nuclear-armed UNSC permanent member with the 5th largest economy on earth, (and rising we will probably overtake Germany some time this century) with slightly more respect than they show Norway (which is, as an aside, the country with the world's highest living standards) or Switzerland (not known as an economic basket-case). What this means is 'Brexit' is unlikely to be as disruptive as many imagine.

The flip-side of this, is there simply aren't many benefits from leaving. Much EU regulation comes from world bodies, and the EU, as the World's largest market has enormous influence in the WTO and the like, and the UK working with likes of Germany and Poland in favour of Free Trade against the French, mean the EU is more likely to deliver the world trade Environment made in the UK's image.

The EU is a bulwark, alongside NATO against autocracy. Putin is creating an odious personality cult. He's spent his oil revenues building a highly effective military with which he threatens his neighbours. He's tearing up the rule-book, annexing territories under a doctrine not dissimilar to Hitler's  'Heim ins Reich' by which he justifies aggression with the rights of Ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries. And it should be remembered that 'neighbouring countries' include EU and NATO article 5 members.

At present, the Baltic states are indefensible against the forces Russia can bring to bear right now. NATO is enervated, divided and indecisive. And Putin's philosophy sees NATO and the EU as organisations that threaten his regime. And he's right, but not in the way he thinks. When Yanukovych suspended laws necessary to implement the EU-Ukraine association agreement, thereby giving in to Russian threats of trade sanctions, and outright bribery, the people of Ukraine stormed Maidan square in Kiev. The people of the Putinist world want a better world, even as oligarchs and governments try to crack down on dissent. And it is the duty of the Free world to stand up for the vast majority of people who rather like democracy and freedom. They vote with their feet in vast numbers, as soon as they get the money and leave the hell holes their countries have become for bolt-holes in London, Spain and Cyprus.

At about the time of the Maidan protests, Russia started planning the annexation of Crimea. Putin's military is dependent upon Ukrainian uranium, and several strategic resources - the gears for his armoured forces, and avionics for his aircraft for example are made in Ukraine. So the EU association agreement heralded a Ukraine looking west. And made Russia even more vulnerable to EU sanctions than they are now.

Worse, from Putin's point of view is the threat posed to Russia's oligarchic kleptocracy by a stable, uncorrupt, westernising Ukraine on Russia's border. Eastern Poland and western Ukraine were mostly part of the same country almost in living memory. Those regions which formed the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland are the rich, western-looking bits of Ukraine (they are the poor bits of Poland - the rich bits used to be Prussia - History runs deep). And they had the same living standards as their cousins in Poland in 1990. Now the poles are three times richer, and Ukrainians are looking at Poland and saying "I want some of that". The fact is, unless there is a stunning military success, Putin has already lost. Kiev will probably be an EU city within a decade; The people of Ukraine, West of Donetsk and Mariopol at least, certainly want that. Putin cannot sustain the unrest in Ukraine indefinitely as it costs vast money which in a years' time, he simply won't have.

None of this makes Putin's gamble in Ukraine valid or reasonable, and those who argue that it does are despicable quislings.

History doesn't repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. Russia is in the same place as Germany was in the 1930s. A once-great power, humiliated by defeat, who elected a demagogue promising to restore Russia's Glory, who rebuilt a mighty military, and who sees the world in zero-sum, ethnic terms. That demagogue enjoys total control of the media, and near total public support. Like Germany (and Japan) in the 1930s Russia faces enemies awakening to the threat, and who are slowly reacting and re-arming. (Yes we are: an Army can be built in a year or two, Notice how the Navy is getting the Lion's share of defence spending right now - Carriers, world class destroyers and frigates, and in the Astute class, the finest Nuclear subs asink?). And Like the axis powers, there is a calculation that can be made that they possess the power to sweep all aside RIGHT NOW, but know they will inevitably lose any protracted war. Russia will run out of Foreign exchange reserves this year, absent a rise in the oil price above $80. The demography means they cannot fill their establishment of conscripts, and the health of recruits is not good. Russians have long been breeding below replacement rate, and this is reflected in future cohorts being smaller than Putin deems necessary. Russia's economy is broken. They export oil, money and people. The population is falling. Male life-expectancy at 55 is worse than much of Sub-Saharan Africa, worse even than eastern Glasgow. Putin has created a hellish society, capable only of suffering for mother Russia, despite the talents and education of her people. If Russia is to defeat NATO, he must go NOW or be slowly squeezed by sanctions and demography, and see the EU and western democracy advance to his Border with Ukraine. There will be no "buffer" protecting Muscovy from Europe.

For there is only one possible result of a protracted war between NATO and Russia, and that is Russia's total and complete defeat. But what Putin (and his quisling cheerleaders in the west) might calculate is that the Article 5 defence of Estonia for example is a paper promise. If Putin can annex a chunk of Lithuania or Estonia, and it doesn't trigger a massive response from NATO, then NATO' s broken. And Putin is busy making the mistake of Dictators through history: mistaking the slowness of decision-making in democracy for weakness. But Britain Germany and France together spend more than Russia does on Weapons. The USA is still mighty beyond compare. And the People of the EU will simply not accept Russian aggression. Would I as a (still, just, semi-detached) soldier die in a ditch for Estonia. Yes. I would. Indeed this is the one issue keeping me in the reserve forces. When Yamato launched the assault on Pearl Harbour, he said "all I fear I have done is roused a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible desire for vengeance". The Sleeping giants are in this instance, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Germany, France, Poland, Finland, Norway, Italy, Spain. The world's 2nd Largest economy, the World's largest economic bloc. Anyone think the Australians wouldn't help? And China would not tolerate an aggressively expansionist Russia, with whom they have territorial disputes. A total Russian defeat would suit China quite nicely. I would make the same warning to Putin. You think you're surrounded by enemies? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Ukraine is not an Article 5 NATO country. Ethnic Russians in the Donbass, long dependent on Russian Putin-toadying media, will believe the lies about Nazis in Kiev. And Putin's aim is to ensure there is sufficient unrest in the East that it exists below the NATO threshold of action, but above which the EU will be comfortable taking Kiev on Board. I don't think Putin desires war with NATO, but we're in a situation where miscalculations like MH-17 when (probably) separatist rebels used Russian-supplied kit to shoot down a Malaysian Airliner. Would NATO have been so phlegmatic had a British Airways airliner been shot down?

Given the geopolitical risk, now is not the time to break up the institution which offers millions of Ukrainians hope there's a better way than Putinist Kleptocratic oligarchy to which they're condemned, and the instability it threatens for the world. Ultimately, a victory of the West, Kiev, Minsk, and Moscow one day becoming EU cities, will be a victory for the Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian people over the oligarchs and governments which blight their lives and keep them poor.

The same is true of the UK. A broken UK will effectively remove one power with potential to make a meaningful contribution to stopping Putin and Putinism, leaving a greatly diminished rump UK. And 'Brexit' will trigger another Scottish referendum, and probably destroy the country I most care about. Mine.

The world stands on the cusp of war, in reality closer to global thermonuclear war than at any time since the 1960s. Now is not the time to start breaking up our alliances. Rather than break up the EU, I want to see it expand further. Free movement from Vladivostok to Lisbon, from Helsinki to Gibraltar, maybe, hopefully including Istanbul one day. That is a libertarian view. Imagine all those Russian engineers, capable of putting men into space using slide-rules and duct-tape working for the general good in a liberal free-market democracy. The EU has its faults, and those faults are mostly French. But it is overwhelmingly a force for good, with a better track record of entrenching democracy than any institution on earth (with the possible exception of the British Empire). Even if the narrow cost-benefit analysis of EU membership is marginal for the UK, Think big. British European Policy has been consistent on 'Europe' for 500 years: if the Hegemonic power in the Continent cannot be England, then we will ensure no-one is. Let's reform, and thereby strengthen the EU, thereby defend the UK, and vote to stay in the European Union, not wholly for our sake, but for theirs.

I will be grumpily voting Yes.



Thursday, 28 May 2015

on the Psychoactive substances bill

America has a law called the "Federal Analogue Act" which attempts to do what the Conservatives are planning to do with the Psychoactive substances bill in the Queen's speech. It didn't work in the 'States, and it won't work here. It's vague: What does "substantially similar" mean. How can you prove it's for human consumption? As a result, it's hardly been used. 


Worse than it being pointless, what it is trying to do is dangerous.

"Designer drugs" are dangerous: they're untested, the side-effects are unknown and the metabolism is often slow. People have died, because they don't know how, or how much to take of any substance, which may be highly toxic. Why then do people take them? Because they can't get the stimulant, Cocaine; relaxant, Marijuana or the Halucinogenic, LSD or Psilocybin they want, and these "designer drugs" are "legal" and therefore thought by users to be safer than the "killer drugs" that have been banned.

People have been told "drugs kill". But we know what the lethal doses are for LSD, Psilocybin, THC and Cocaine hydrochloride. There isn't one. (It's about 6 litres for water, and about 300ml for Alcohol by comparison). These compounds aren't "safe", and have deleterious effects on physical and mental health, especially with long-term use. But their dangers are a known quantity, just like they are for alcohol. People have been smoking Marijuana, and eating hallucinogenic fungi for millennia. These, really should be considered no different to alcohol. Chewing Coca leaves is a prophylactic against altitude sickness, and a stimulant effect a bit stronger than coffee and are legal in much of South America. So why are they banned here? 

Habit.

And the prohibition of stimulants and psychoactive substances has led to exactly the same death and carnage that prohibition of alcohol did in the USA. A business of enormous profitability has been gifted to criminals. Billions have been spend interdicting supply rather than taxing use and profits from the recreational drug business. This is stupid.

And now, any Chemistry graduate can synthesise novel chemicals, and sell them as "plant food", and people will try to take them to get high. This only happens because reasonably safe compounds are banned, and the ban enforced with all the power the law affords.

This habit is INSANE, and it's only supported because the scientific literature is focussed on how to make the drug war work, rather than on working out what and why drugs do what they do, and what to do about it when people take them. All "experts" are from the Law Enforcement/Medical prohibition complex. Banning more substances is just a regulatory whack-a-mole with cis/trans isomers, making matters WORSE not better.

Instead of assuming all drug use is bad, accept that people have always, and always will, like to get off their tits from time to time. Sure, tax the products, like alcohol and tobacco, through the nose if necessary to cover policing costs, quality control and healthcare. Most people will treat Marijuana like they do Merlot: something pleasant to have at the end of the day. Cocaine: A bit like they do Tequila: Something to put rocket-fuel into a night out. A few will become dangerously hooked, as they do right now with alcohol.

My guess is that were recreational narcotics legal, there would be more Marijuana and Cocaine use, and less Alcohol and Heroin. LSD and Magic Mushrooms are not seriously habit forming. They weren't a problem when Psilocybins cubensis could be bought openly in Camden head shops pre 2005, and they won't be a problem after they're made legal again. The harms from all drugs would probably go down thanks to a safer supply chain, and the tax revenue would help the Government balance the books. All those drug-warriors in the police could be re-deployed to something socially useful, like enforcing parking offences or stopping littering.

No country to liberalise drugs laws has seen any major problems, despite heroic efforts of the bansturbationists to manufacture evidence to the contrary. Yet the major problem with prohibition: an illegal and unregulated supply chain remains in place. Imagine the good that could be done were the criminals, and their profits removed from the business.

You want to stop dangerous "designer drugs"? Legalise and regulate the relatively safe stuff that's currently banned.



Monday, 25 May 2015

On bad Left-Wing Arguments

Elections are won by the side that can reach out beyond their core supporters and persuade a plurality of voters that theirs are the best policies. What is striking at the moment, is how completely the left have failed to understand their opponents' beliefs and motivations. For this, I blame the echo-chamber of social media, and I think lefties are far, far more prone to this running down idealogical rabbit-holes than their opponents. Anyone debating lefties on Twitter will very quickly find utter incomprehension that anyone could think like that, and then get blocked. Labour is using social media to talk to itself, and therefore gets stuck with some really, really bad ideas.


I was arguing with a left-wing activist last night and I was put in mind of this great post from Fifty Shades of Dave. For her it was simply inconceivable that anyone could object to high marginal tax-rates on "the rich", as soon as they had "enough". "Enough" in this context was enough for a small flat. Taking more and objecting to paying eye-watering taxes in this world view was immoral, and utterly, incomprehensibly greedy. I tried to explain that someone on the higher rate tax was by no-means "rich", that a 40% income paid at some point by nearly half of the population, and that going higher, on the additional rate tax-payers, didn't raise much money. There was no acceptance that perhaps, if you're going to levy a tax, the opinions of those who might actually have to pay it, are relevant. But to no avail. This moral view of taxation, and the view that the high-paid are simply immoral is deeply entrenched on the left.

The problem for the left create for themselves with this world-view is this: Poor people do not desire, or even expect to remain poor. For most "young families" "poverty" as defined in relative terms by the left is a phase. You're poor when you're setting up home and building a career. Poverty for me was a phase. It was for my parents, and indeed my Grandparents. Money was a struggle. And then for most, it ceases to be as debts are paid off, and income rises. By your middle age, you're no-longer struggling for money. You've worked hard, and you can enjoy the fruits of your labours. If that's a nice car, a bigger house or simply not worrying about having another pina colada on holiday, it's no matter. Most people who've worked hard and paid their taxes, see these comforts as the just deserts of 'knuckling down'.

Labour's rhetoric during the election campaign instead thought of poverty as a Caste. Poor people who're totally dependent upon the state for their very survival, who lack any agency to better their condition. And this world-view can only come from the Milibands of the world, who're born into money, and for whom concern for the (abstract concept of) the poor is a form of value signalling. The only poor they've met are wheeled in by party activists for photo-ops. They are completely out of touch. in this they're supported by professional farmers of the poor, whose interests are best served by keeping their flock servile and dependent.

But the poor, by and large, do not resent the successful middle aged plumber/businessman in a nice car. Especially if that person is a neighbour who represents a route by which the apprentice plumber can get to the comforts of a decent income, and the self-respect that comes from hard work. Labour was telling these people that they were too stupid to make it. That they were without hope without state help. And that if they did "make it" they were selfish and wicked, and would have it taxed off them. David Cameron is no less out of Touch of the poor than Miliband, but unlike Miliband Cameron is not pretending to be something he's not, and much as Miliband would like it to be otherwise, the people don't really hate and fear the Toffs as much as Labour think they ought. Indeed people often would quite like to BE a toff one day.

The left assume the poor will always remain poor and so would always support punitive taxation on "the rich" because only 20% of the population pay higher rate tax. But nearly 50% do AT SOME POINT IN THEIR LIVES" and even more aspire to. Fewer will get to the £100,000 62% marginal rate, but a good many would like to. Very, very few Tories utter the word "scrounger", the Newspaper which uses that word most, is the Guardian, whose columnists put the word into Tories' mouths, a comforting straw man, the right-wing ogre who hates poor people and wants to hurt them. And because they're arguing, to applause from social media, against a figment of their own fevered imaginations, they're ignored.

High marginal rates of taxation simply don't raise much money. Yet this is now the moral shibboleth of the left, but this signals the hostility to "aspiration" that is crippling the labour party. No-one aspires to a better life on benefits, yet this appears to be the left's offer to the poor. Tony Blair was relaxed about people getting filthy rich. Life on benefits is supposed to be a bit crap and limiting. If it wasn't, there'd be little incentive to work. Now it is the Tories who're saying "here's the route out of poverty, we'll smooth the road, and get out of your way". Millions of new jobs, admittedly some crap, means millions of people, some of whom formerly existed on benefits, now have a wage. And that some of these wages are topped up by in-work benefits is a feature, not a bug of "making work pay" through the Universal Credit. There are no longer any people facing marginal tax/benefit withdrawal rates over 100%. There were in 2010. And wages rise through people's lifetimes. People know this, it seems the Labour party don't.

People didn't vote Tories because they hated poor people, or the NHS, or were stupidly voting against their interests, as the great wail of pain and confusion from the left on Social media would have it, but because the Labour offer to people was utterly ghastly. Labour's offer consisted of rich, Oxbridge people saying "Have some more benefits, you worthless pleb, you'll never make it. And if you don't like it, you're evil, and we'll tax you." Is it any wonder Labour lost? David Cameron may not have successfully reached far beyond his base, but at least he's trying. 

Just as Tony Blair had to smash it into Labour's thick skull that nationalisation of the means of production was a bad idea to win an election, the next Labour Prime Minister will not come into office threatening anyone with a 50p tax. 



Friday, 15 May 2015

On First Past the Post

The purpose of democracy is not to conduct a tribal headcount, but to allow the people to chuck the rotters out from time to time. Does anyone think 1979 or 1997 didn't accurately reflect the country's desire for a change?

No electoral system is perfect. List PR gives parties an accurate number of seats to their vote share, but then forces them to govern according to the necessity of coalition-building, not their principles or manifestos. It also insulates those grandees who make it to the top of the list, ensuring no Portillo/Balls moments when a top flight MP feels the wrath of the electorate. It is important to decapitate a senior MP from time to time "pour encouager les autres". Under proportional representation, patronage of party elites to put people in order on the list, distincentivises individual MPs from exercising their conscience in the legislature. We'd have fewer rebellions, and a stronger executive. List PR is what a political obsessive who identifies wholly and completely with his party thinks a "fair" system, but it has negative effects on the behaviour of MPs and concentrates power in a few hands who exist completely away from democratic oversight. I feel about list proportional representation the same way I think about the UK joining the Euro. I'd stop it, any way I can, for the  system is wholly toxic. I don't want a PR Lords.

I want PR to go away, and never be spoken of again. Likewise "top-up" regional lists and so forth are fart-arsing about to please political wonks, to little benefit and create two classes of MPs.

On the other hand, First past the post gives a local MP a chance to build a personal following. His or Her standing may be enhanced by selective rebellions against the party whip on certain issues. MPs with a conscience and principles are respected by the electorate. An MP who is caught doing something the electorate don't like, like Neil Hamilton in Tatton, will be out on their ear, safe seat or no. On the other hand, a diligent and thoughtful MP who works hard, like Nick Clegg can buck the trend of a national wipe-out for their party.

Under first past the post we vote for PEOPLE not PARTIES. It's noticeable that the thoughtful, consistent, intellectual, honest and hard-working Douglas Carswell got re-elected relatively comfortably, but the opportunistic Judas, Mark Reckless was out on his ear. The voters of Rochester and Strood spoke. Likewise the voters of South Thanet decided that they'd rather not send Nigel Farage to represent them in parliament. This isn't about UKIP, as Douglas Carswell showed, but about Nigel. I have voted Labour in the past. Yes, me, voting Labour, when I lived in Vauxhall, I was pleased to vote for Kate Hoey in 2001, as she's anti-Euro and pro-Fox hunting (though definitely unsound on Cycling).  This is a strength of First Past the Post.

I'll say it again: Voting isn't a tribal headcount, because most people don't think like we political obsessives. They think about the government they want, what's happening in their constituency. You're a socialist, but Labour can't win here? Might as well vote Green to send a message, or Liberal Democrat to keep the Tories out. You're a thick, bigoted Moron? You vote UKIP whether or not they can win, and you're rightfully ignored. You don't think the Labour leader is up to the Job? You vote for the candidate most likely to beat the Labour guy, whoever you notionally support. In an electorate of forty million or so these choices usually deliver a result that delivers an executive with a clear mandate. To imagine everyone would vote the same way under different systems is absurd.

The result is a system that sets the bar very high to secure representation. UKIP, mostly failed to meet the required standard, and suffered at the hands of tactical voting. Where it looked like they'd win, the people coalesced around the candidate most likely to beat them. That is a valid democratic choice - the electorate expressing its will clearly that while there are 4m people who like the Toxic yahoos. There are probably 8m people who'd move heaven and earth to keep UKIP away from power. Lots of people can like you. But you also have to have lots of people to not HATE you too. And where the candidate wasn't obviously a bigoted git who looked like a shaved chimpanzee in a suit who's just ranting Farage's morning brain-fart, Clacton, UKIP won comfortably. There's a lesson there.

Would the country really be better off with 83 grunting ignoramuses from UKIP in coalition, demanding David Cameron send the navy to Machine-gun migrants in the Mediterranean (which they'd in any case already demanded be sent to... um... Nepal) and the RAF to bomb the Strasbourg parliament? What purpose would a dozen hippies from the Green party, demanding the immediate closure of Nuclear power stations, and the shrinking of the UK economy serve apart from to make the business of Government more difficult.

There is a case for some electoral reform, but it's not strong. Multi-member constituencies (I favour the counties sending 1 to 10 MPs to parliament depending upon population). AV or STV have their adherents, but these systems may serve to exacerbate the swings in a big move, and deliver even more overwhelming majorities to a single party or give overwhelming over-representation to everyone's second choice. I'm not clear this is any better than the system we have now.

The First Past the Post system isn't broken, and certainly no worse than any other. Landslides like 1983 and 1997 are rare. Yet the government changes when the mood of the country changes. The people aren't clamouring for a change to the system, the losing parties are. But the rules are the same for everyone. The losers should just work harder in their target seats and shut up.



Monday, 11 May 2015

The Euro Referendum, Scots Nationalism and Tory Wars

I went drinking with a nest of pinkos at the weekend (the collective noun for lefties is "nest", everyone knows this). What struck me is their constant refrains: "Tories should want Scotland to become independent", and "Tories will implode with over the referendum". The Tories ossified in their minds in the same way one's music taste does somewhere between leaving school and getting a mortgage, in our cases some time around the turn of the millennium. Very few people in the media on the left understand the Conservative party or the Conservative mentality.

The Conservative party is an ancient, many-headed beast. It does contain English nationalists, but these are a small minority. The vast majority of Conservatives would take another 20 years of opposition rather than see the Union break up. As it is, for now, Labour has been slain in Scotland. The Tories have as much Westminster representation north of the Border as Labour or Liberal Democrats. This leaves an opening. 15% of Scots voted for the "hated" Tories, and the party came second in a dozen seats. As a major party of Government, I suspect the "hatred" is more media habit, than real. There is a good chance of a comeback in Scotland - remember the Party was once as dominant in Scotland as the SNP is now. No political hegemony lasts forever, especially it seems in Scotland, and the SNPs will be no different. Expect there to be one remaining ranty Scots Nat holding a Glasgow seat in following the 2040 election as some other party sweeps all before it. Securing the long-term future of the Union, however will be David Cameron's main project as Prime Minister.

Which brings us to what commentators are confidently saying will be the centrepiece of this parliament - the EU referendum. Next to the Union, the EU referendum is now a trifle for the PM. Let's be clear. There is absolutely no way 'out' will win. It's major cheerleaders are too toxic. When the leadership of Labour, Tory, SNP, Plaid etc, as well as almost every major businessman, sports people, celebrities, The Sun, The Times, The Mirror, The Guardian and just about anyone else who matters lines up saying 'in' and UKIP with a handful of the Tory awkward squad and the Daily Express are for 'out', the public will notice. The vote will be 2:1 for 'in'. For this not to be the case, UKIP, and the Tory right needs to lead a remarkable, energetic and subtle campaign nationwide, starting now. Yeah. Right.

So the result is a foregone conclusion. The nest of Pinkos assume the awkward squad will then all chuck their toys out of the pram. The fact is, for most of the Tory party, Europe is no longer a burning issue. We'd all go man the barricades should it look like we join the Euro, but we won that argument pretty comprehensively. We are not Euro enthusiasts, and look at Brussels with scepticism, relishing every opportunity to slap interfering eurocrats down. But we're mostly grumpily in favour of staying in the project because ultimately the Tory party is the party of business.

So here is an opportunity for a Conservative prime minister to go to Brussels from a position of strength, and demand concessions. And we will get them. There is no way the EU felt the need to negotiate while it looked like the last Labour leader, Edmund Mili-something (I've already forgotten), was going to be PM. But now they need to consider a Generous offer - Germany cannot afford Brexit and Merkel will ensure enough is given to ensure the UK remains Germany's bulwark against French economic dirigisme.

The point is, everyone's already made up their minds how they're going to react. The few headbangers will headbang about it being a "betrayal", whatever Cameron brings back. They will be few in number. Half a dozen at most. There will be a large contingent who'll take up the opportunity to campaign for 'out' but take great care to do so without being disloyal to the PM. The rest will slide in line behind the Prime Minister, hailing a great transfer of powers back to Westminster by an all-conquering leader. (Whether this is the case, is irrelevant). There will be few doing so enthusiastically, and a great continuum of gritted teeth lining up behind the PM. But Cameron has won an election. And that, for now, means his authority over his party is absolute. That is why he wants to accelerate the negotiation - get the major hurdle out of the way early.

The Tory party has made its peace with its Euro differences. The referendum has been delivered. The Euro "bastards" are not going to do to Cameron what they did to Major, however much the Labour party, nests of my pinko drinking buddies and the Media will be trying to replay greatest hits of the '90s.



Saturday, 9 May 2015

An Election Result

Few expected a Tory majority until the Exit poll. I didn't dare hope until about 2am.


In Eastern England, a Region with a bigger population than Scotland, The Tories' hegemony is greater than that of the SNP's in Scotland, yet no-one is going to give these voters the indulgence which will be afforded to the SNP. Here, The Tories secured 50% of the vote, and all but one MP. The one non Tory MP was a Tory until less than a year ago. The Labour party lost ground everywhere, except London.

15% of Scots voted Tory, equivalent to the national UKIP share. No-one is talking about their "disenfranchisement". There are now as many Tory MPs in Scotland as there are Labour or Liberal Democrats. The Tories advanced in Wales and devastated the Liberal Democrats in the South-West.

Looking at a map, Labour is reduced to inner London, Birmingham, Newcastle, Cardiff, Liverpool and Leeds. Scotland is monochrome SNP, and the rest of Great Britain is Tory Blue. The Tories' closest allies, the Ulster Unionists did twice as well as expected in Northern Ireland. 

So. What happens next?

First of all, elections are won by parties with the positive vision for the country. The SNP has a vision of Scotland that resonates with Scots, if not with reality. That 8% deficit limits how "full" their fiscal autonomy can be. I can take Sturgeon at her word, that independence remains off the cards for the time being.

Labour on the other hand, spent the election campaign telling the country it was broke, divided, poor, unequal and some vision of victorian workhouse hell, lorded over by a "rich" elite. Given that inequality fell and "the rich" are paying more tax than ever before over the past 5 years, this clearly didn't ring true. The Tory message: let us finish the job, resonated with England outside the big cities.

The economy is largely sorted. The coalition undid much of the glue Labour poured into the labour market. The self-employed who paid tax on earnings in 2013/14 paid more than expected. Their earnings will accelerate, and the deficit will close faster than expected. I expect there will be more money for Cameron's second term. 

Cameron's biggest challenge will therefore be constitutional. What to do with Scotland, giving the SNP as much of their demands as possible, without alienating England. His job is to come up with a lasting constitutional settlement. Constitutional settlements tend to be more lasting and stable when done under Tory governments, as unlike labour's devolution in the 90's there's less short-term gerrymandering for party advantage. This will involve house of Lords reform, though I would regret this. The mountain of cant spoken about English Votes for English Laws comes from people who've got used to imposing the will of the Celts on the English, who've long voted solidly Tory. It's likely there will be a more Federal UK. The community of the Isles is being tested more strenuously than at any point since Irish independence.

There will be a lot of nonsense spoken about the upcoming EU referendum, set for 2015. UKIPpers will not believe Cameron will deliver it. They can be ignored. The fact is, the UK will vote by 2:1 to stay in. Cameron will walk tall having secured an unexpected majority. The Eurocrats will have to give something for Cameron to take back, and Merkel has already said what's on offer. 

Whatever the offer is, it will be derided by UKIP because free movement of people is a red line that will not be on offer. And quite rightly so. The crucial reaction will be the Tory right. Will they 'rebel' and make Cameron's life a misery like the post 1992 "bastards". My guess however is that Cameron has answered his Tory critic's main charge: that he couldn't win an election. This will mean this election has more in common with 1979 - the first majority after a period of unstable minority, than 1992, an unexpected victory by the fag-end of an administration. 

Labour, for its part, must find a narrative after a period of re-building. They must work out what they are for. If they can make peace with business, and more importantly, markets, then they can come back. Social democracy has a future in the UK, but not Socialism red in tooth and claw. Miliband was in this regard, a last hold-out in the jungle, still fighting after the total victory of Thatcher. Whatever happens, such is the scale of their defeat, especially in Scotland, the next labour PM will probably be beholden to the SNP for any majority.

This is the Second or third time the Tories have destroyed the Liberal party, and absorbed its supporters into the broad Conservative church. Perhaps the Tories should make an offer: Fight elections as the Conservative, Liberal and Unionist party? The liberal democrats had the naive belief that somehow being right, for example on Land taxation by council tax revaluation and extending the number of bands, will somehow translate into votes. There is a place for such a party, and I hope they come back. But this will be a generational project. 

Each of these issues will be the subject of a post in the future. We live in interesting times. Cameron has an enormous, difficult and delicate job. He can be the man who either presides over the destruction of the UK, or go down in history as the man who built the lasting constitutional settlement. He's been underestimated by most. He has an enormous responsibility. But I am optimistic he's up to the job. After all, he's been quietly right, calmly ignoring his critics, and content to let his record speak for itself despite the hysteria of lesser characters. He's steady under fire, to the point of insouciance. I like that in a leader.

Cameron is now proven winner. Holding the coalition together was a remarkable political feat, for which Nick Clegg deserves enormous credit too. And like Napoleon's generals, Cameron's lucky. So Far.



Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Election Prediction

I think the bottles of port, beers and cases of wine I've bet with twitter correspondents, friends and colleagues are going to bankrupt me if Labour win, and give me alcoholic liver disease if the Tories do. So, hot on the heels of my correctly predicting the outcome of the Scottish Referendum, AND the EU elections; I, the UK's own Nate Silver using little more than reading, wishful thinking and guesswork am going to tell you what's going to happen over the next 36 hours.

David Cameron will still be Prime minister, probably with help from DUP, and the remaining Liberal Democrats. The alternative, Prime Minister Miliband is too grotesque to contemplate. Tories will probably be quite comfortably the largest party; here's why:

  1. Miliband is obviously a helpless, flailing git. In the privacy of the polling booth, this will matter, leading to
  2. The usual Tory out-performance of their polling, and labour underperformance of theirs.
  3. The polls are currently showing a small Tory lead.
  4. The polls may well be wrong, on a scale not seen since 1992, because the polling methodology hasn't been tested with the rise of UKIP, the collapse of the Lib-Dems and the rise of the SNP.
  5. Labour will do a bit better than polling suggests in Scotland, as will Tories (but to little avail in seats)
  6. Liberal Democrats will retain 25 seats
  7. UKIP will have 3: Clacton, Thurrock and one other. Neither Mark Reckless in Rochester, nor Farage in South Thannet will be MPs on May 8th.
That is my prediction with my sensible trousers on. But I think a small Tory majority is possible. That this is wishful thinking cannot be discounted, but the polls have so many moving parts in this election, methodologies are likely to be strained. In particular, spiral of silence adjustments to take into account the 'Shy Tory' effect have been getting larger. Yet Tories ALWAYS seem to outperform. In addition, the late swing seen in 92 may just be even later this time.

I would like the Coalition to continue. But I'll settle for a Tory majority and consider emigration should the emetic Mr. Miliband be Prime Minister.




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.



Share it