Wednesday, 28 December 2016

The End of A 'Belle Époque'. 1991-2016.

The interlocking webs of policy which 'politics' seeks to knit are complicated. Whole books can be written on how two individual policies interact. PhDs in Economics are awarded for small snapshots of the whole cloth. Most people don't have the time to keep abreast of developments or read sufficient history to understand why some policies are bad. Thus, people use heuristics - rules of thumb - to make decisions  about that which they aren't expert. "Is this person trustworthy" is a key issue, and we tend to overweight the opinion of those near us. "He is my brother, and I say he's ok" says a friend, you are more likely to believe a mutual friend, than the opinion of a stranger on the same issue.

In the evolutionary past, such a question was a matter of life and death. People only really had to trust those with whom they shared a close genetic relationship. Since the development of agriculture, we've been steadily widening that circle of trust. The wider you spread that circle of trust, the richer your society will be. Even before it had a name, Free market economics allowed people to become blacksmiths, knowing others have water, food, shelter and so forth covered in return. More specialisation, greater productivity, means greater wealth.

Eventually, this requires trust in people we've not met. Towns' food supplies require that farmers unknown and distant supply the basics of existence. Nowadays, It's unlikely the west could quickly supply all available plenty currently manufactured in China. Nor could China supply quickly the complex components and tools shipped from Japan, Europe and USA. Both China, and "the west" are richer from the exchange. And yet, we still don't trust "globalisation".

Most persistent fallacies in political economics are the result of simple policies that appeal to some base heuristics, but which when applied to the larger and wider society, fail catastrophically. Thus egalitarianism in one form or another pops up every 3 generations or so and succeeds in making everyone equal, but some more equal than others, and even more, dead. Then nationalism comes along, and says it's all [another, arbitrarily defined group of humans with slightly different modes of speech] fault, leading to more waste and piles of corpses. And even when the results aren't catastrophic, we seek out the views of those who agree with us on say, Nationalism to inform our opinion on, say, whether or not people are responsible for climate change.

Which political tribes stumble into being right or wrong on any given issue appears arbitrary, because no-one's asking for the evidence before they decide on the policy. Instead of asking "what's right", we're asking what's popular (amongst the coalition of tribes that voted for me) right now. That an opponent comes out with an identical policy, for different reasons is reason enough to oppose something, forgetting completely prior support for it. After all, whatever [another political tribe] thinks must be wrong, right.

Thus

The Labour party opposes ID cards. The Labour party has always opposed ID cards. The Tory party is for the Free market and was never in favour of the Corn Laws. We have always been at war with Eastasia. Perhaps if we could think for ourselves rather than just accepting tribal dogma, we'd get better governance. But none of us have the time. So "Democracy" is merely a means to give temporary permission to one coalition of tribes to push through dogmas over many issues, until either the population notices, or the coalition of tribes breaks up, and the electorate takes a punt on the other tribe's prejudices for a bit, and then gets on with whatever they were doing before.

Society ultimately advances by eliminating prejudices it's acceptable to hold thus widening the circle of trust, and increasing riches. By falling back on ancient heuristics to answer the wrong question ("who's fault?" is the wrong question) 2016 democracy has delivered the worst political outcomes on a broad front, as a result of which, we are poorer, and more likely to start fighting as a result of the collapse in political trust we have seen over this year. The post Cold-War 'Belle Époque', which saw half of humanity, 3 billion people, lifted out of poverty, is over.

Idiots cheer.



Monday, 19 December 2016

This was my Market Report 6 months ago... (Before the Referendum).

The UK markets have been hit hard by the threat of leaving the EU. The consequences, at least in the short-term would be a short sharp fall in UK stocks and Sterling. Depending upon what happens to the necessary capital flows which fund our current account deficit, (as well as our trade and fiscal ones), we might suffer an interest rate shock too. If the Foreign direct investment dries up, the UK may suffer a prolonged period of stagflation, falling currency and higher interest rates, choking off the recovery. If foreign capital flows do not dry up, then the recession or slowdown will be much milder. The fear of this outcome therefore has held markets back, even as US jobs data, and even Chinese numbers have surprised on the upside.
It is unusual for political events to so impact the markets, but we don't even know if 'Leave' would mean leaving the Single Market (Gove and the EU seem to say 'yes', a lot of Leave campaigners say 'No') and the government's contingency planning is silent on the issue. It is possible we could leave the EU but remain in the EEA which would be far less disruptive. Markets do not react well to not knowing such crucial bits of information.
So, the outlook is utterly dependent upon a "Known unknown" (the referendum) followed by an "unknown unknown" (how foreign capital reacts) to use Donald Rumsfeld's unfairly mocked phrase.  It's not even clear overvalued gilts would make a safe haven in the event of brexit, as if Foreign Direct Investment dries up, interest rates will have to rise. Only index-linked offer much of a safe-haven, but they seem overpriced. There is much else to report, but this month, it simply doesn't matter.




Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Boston Dynamics and The Late Sir Terry Pratchett

Everyone knows how driverless cars will work: they will be like ordinary cars, except you read a book rather than acting as pilot. And so, people's understanding of what a technology can do is clouded by what the old technology it replaces does. Which means people without imagination, Head of IBM Thomas Watson, for example, say things like

"There may be a world market for maybe five computers"
and get it wrong. In 1943, computers were used for cryptography, and that's it. (At least he knew what a "computer" was, which few did back then). Predictions are hard, especially about the future. But it's probably worth noting here that the famous World Wide What? front page of The Sun, was in fact rather a good a spoof, by The Sun.


Boston Dynamics makes robots.


via GIPHY

Who needs Robots? Well, like computers or the internet or driverless cars, the technology is coming. And it will change people's behaviour in many, unpredictable ways. For example, mobile phones were conceived as portable analogues for the phone on your desk or in your hall. SMS text messaging was added as an afterthought, but became THE dominant means of communication. Calling someone is now rude, often you text first to see if a call would be convenient. Who (apart from mums) leaves voicemail messages any more? Few predicted that change in our behaviour. The smartphone is now ubiquitous, and is more about accessing the internet than calling friends, but wasn't imagined before the internet, Except by Douglas Adams (and John Brunner of whom I'd not heard until I discussed the issue on Twitter). Driverless cars will be as close to the car, as the car is to a buggy and four. And robots, when they become ubiquitous, will be unlike anything we've considered.

I look at Boston Dynamics Robots, the big dog is conceived as a load carrying mule for soldiers on rough terrain, and I think of The Luggage, Rincewind's inscrutable companion on the discworld. I suspect everyone will one day have a robot the size of a dog to carry daily necessaries, following them round. You could send your luggage to someone else, by smartphone app to pick something up. Your luggage could take your shopping home and collect it from the store for you. Large luggages could be sent on ahead with bags. Small luggages could replace handbags and briefcases. The labour and time saving would be vast, spawning whole new areas of employment, servicing and modifying your faithful electronic companion and providing for the opportunities they create to effectively be in two places at once. Freed from the ownership of motor vehicles by the fact we'll be taking taxis everywhere, our Robot luggage will perhaps become the next status symbol around which society is built, replacing the car.

Like cars, I suspect the battery technology will be the limiting step, and like cars, I suspect the fuel cell will be the answer. Small fuel cells will one day power your smart phone too.

But think about the opportunities for people from smart phone. There are tens of thousands of app designers round the world now, a job that had barely been considered as recently as 2007, when the first iPhone was released, and that is similar to how the jobs which will be taken by the robots, will be replaced. That is why people who fear of a "post-jobs" future were wrong in 1816 and are still wrong 200 years later. The world's only limitless resource is human ingenuity.

Anway. I for one welcome our new robot overlords, and this guy should totally be locked up.


via GIPHY



Saturday, 26 November 2016

Fidel Castro is Dead. (Some of) his Legacy will Live on

Let's be clear, Castro was a murderous bastard who impoverished his country, and whose views on homosexuality and on the importance of brevity in speeches were nothing short of horrifying. It's true, Cubans do have access to better healthcare than many countries of equivalent GDP per capita, and if I had to choose a Communist hell-hole to live in, it'd probably be Castro's Cuba. But the Cuban healthcare system is not the fantasy of western dewey-eyed left-wingers, and Cubans often are excluded from what excellence there is, as it's one of the few means the country has of generating hard currency earnings. Rich foreigners get the best doctors, and more are exported to other successful "progressive" regimes like Venezuela.

"But he was an anti-imperialist". So why were cuban troops in Africa in support of the USSR, which was by any measure or definition an Empire? Anti-Imperialsim is just the justification leftists give for knee-jerk anti-Americanism. And the flood of people risking death to reach the USA should tell you all you need to know about the relative merits of America's and Cuba's system.

Contrasting the attitudes of the USA to Castro, to their attitude to equally murderous bastards like Pinochet misses the point. The US embargo on Cuba is one of the legacies of the Cold war, kept bubbling by the politics of Florida, home to so many Cuban-Americans. There is no Doubt that the US blocade has impoverished Cubans, and that with the fall in the Berlin wall and the collapse of the USSR, such an embargo was no longer justified. However politics are what they are. Fidel Castro's death provides an opportunity for further thawing in relations.

The USA supported "our son of a bitch" all over the world, turning a blind-eye to horrific human rights abuses, though often (albeit less often than we should) working behind the scenes to try and mitigate the worst behaviour. Thatcher is rarely credited with preventing the execution of Nelson Mandela, but she consistently urged Mandela's release, even as she argued against sanctions and branding the ANC "Terrorists". This is one reason why the cold-war piles of dead of Nasty fascist bastards are usually lower than those of nasty communist bastards. I also think the point made by CS Lewis holds. Right wing dictators rarely pretend to be GOOD, making their appeal more on effectiveness.
"The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
And one by one, following the collapse of Communism, the support from the USA and its allies for these disgusting regimes was withdrawn. Apartheid South Africa, much of South and Central America saw right authoritarian regimes fall. Genuine democracies were often created in the rubble. The USA didn't support dictators because the USA is an imperialist power, but because it IS a power, and with that comes responsibility. They judged at the time the alternative, Communism, was worse, and represented a genuine existential threat to the USA and its core allies.

This is why for example the USA and its allies mostly support the Regime in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Saudi regime is repellent, but given the probable alternatives wouldn't be nice, liberal, democratic-minded progressives, they'd be salafist nutcases who'd have access to billions of dollars of oil revenues and the legitimacy of being the Guardians of the Two Mosques. The House of Saud is all that stands between the West and a plausible salafist caliphate with sufficient legitimacy and money to one day threaten the west. We'd rather do business with nice, stable democracies under the rule of law. But seeing as we cannot do to every country on earth what we did to Germany in the late 40s and 50s, we make the best of the options given.

Castro appeared to be a true beleiver in Socialism, so he refused to recognise his philosophy had failed, and his island limped on, a socialist throwback in the age of globalisation. The current poverty of Cuba is partly America's doing, but mostly due to decisions made by Castro himself, policies which set him and the Cuban people at odds with the regional hegemon, in persuit of an evil idealogy. Fidel Castro was on the wrong side of history, and his people suffered because of his stubborness. Now he's dead, it's Cubans turn to make the most of the positive legacy - Cubans are the best-educated poor people on earth, and the mighty economy of the USA is right on their doorstep. There is going to be a lot of money to be made there, and this time, for the first time, Cubans will share in it.



Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Hail, Trump! God-Emperor of the Alt.Right

And Let's be honest, he's ghastly and despite brown-nosing by Nigel Farage, he's no friend of the UK's, because he doesn't value anything the UK brings to the table. Rumour has it, he asked Farage to intervene in an offshore windfarm decision affecting his Scottish interests, which suggests he doesn't understand the concept of 'conflicts of interests' when in elected office.

This further suggests Trump will attempt to use the office of President to enrich himself, rather than doing so after leaving office, as is accepted. All this is rather feudal; the office holder as gold-giver, distributing patronage and receiving tribute. He's an entertainer and showman, which hails to an even older tradition of politics: that of Imperial Rome, where emperors used state coffers to enrich themselves and their clients,while keeping the mob quiet with bread and circuses.

Donald J. Trump is psychologically unsuited to office in a mature democracy. He is thin-skinned, autocratic, insecure, ignorant, and completely without any understanding of the levers of power he now wields. Much like (later caricatures of?) Nero, Commodus or Caligula.


Despite (or perhaps because of) this, the adolescent losers of Alt.Right see Trump as a God-Emperor (no, really they do. Video surfaced today of people making Roman Salutes, saying "Hail Trump", and distribute Memes based on Games Workshop's futuristic figure-based tabletop wargame, Warhammer 40,000 where humanity is defended from Chaos by a psychic God Emperor). If Trump is Imperator, then the Secret Service is a Praetorian Guard. And how did the Praetorian serve Commodus, to pick one example?

Trump might, were he capable of reading a book, muse on the fact he's surrounded by armed men sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America, and defend it from Enemies DOMESTIC and foreign. Thankfully, the USA is a mature democracy. Where once armed men acted as kingmaker, courts now do. For the simple reason Ignorance is no defence, and the fact that Trump's loathing of 'Washington' is fully reciprocated, I find it unlikely that Trump will survive his term alive and unimpeached. Unfortunately I cannot find odds on a Trump impeachment before 2020. Perhaps it's a racing certainty.



Friday, 21 October 2016

Sexism and the Loss Aversion Heuristic

Men are physically stronger than women, respond quicker to physical training, and suffer less injury under physical stress. Men are more robust, suffer less morbidity than women in almost all phases of life. Obviously these things exist in a normal distribution, but men's distributions are typically platykurtic - there are more men in the tails of the distribution than women. Thus, even where the means are near identical, such as intelligence, you'd expect to see more male geniuses, and imbeciles among men than women, who're more concentrated around the mean. Feel like taking issue with any of these statements? Then you might as well be a creationist.


Men are more accepting of risk, and will prioritise pay over flexibility. So you'd expect men to make up the majority of soldiers and miners and race car drivers. It also means you'd expect to see more men make up corporate boards, everything being equal. More men are more drawn to the cut and thrust of business, and are more likely to prioritise work over other commitments. Women value stability and flexibility more highly than men. This means women, on average don't choose to make the effort necessary to climb the greasy pole. Women (sensibly, in my view as I have done the same) are more likely to think other things more important.

Thus, the brute fanny-counting of media analysis of sexism and the "gender pay gap" ignores female choices and attributes, thus denigrating both women and men for the choices they make. Women for their part see their contribution to society in caring professions such as medicine (more doctors are now women, as well as nurses) and teaching denigrated because these women aren't seeking to be at the top of BAE systems, or whatever. Likewise men, when they see women are going to hired so they form 50% of the workforce of a mining company feel devalued for their skills and attributes because the only way BHP Billiton could make 50% of its employees women is by discriminating against the larger number of men who will apply to drive a bloody great truck miles from nowhere in a bloody great hole in the ground in the middle of a bloody great desert surrounded by nothingness, and live in towns whose bars serve tinnies through wire grilles, and where kicking each others' heads in represents the primary saturday night entertainment.

But worse, by forcing women into traditionally working class men's jobs, you further alienate and disorientate a bit of society which already feels put upon, neglected, belittled and scorned. This is why they voted for Brexit in the UK, and in the USA, will vote for Trump. Working class men are lashing out, because their raison d'etre, to provide for their offspring, has been nationalised, and no other opportunity for them has been provided and they as individuals have too often been thrown on the scrap heap, derided as workshy deadbeats. The working class used to have pride in providing for their family and often doing dangerous, dirty jobs to do so. Opportunity isn't "equal access to university", for which working class men is a middle-class rite of passage, but decent jobs that will allow them to support their family, but which is blocked by the petty credentialism that values paper qualifications over experience and dumb diligence over inspiration.

That loss of pride is agonising. And people mourn loss far more than they celebrate gain. The aim of this post-modern obsession with equality of outcome therefore might as well be to make men despise themselves and women feel inadequate for the inclinations their biology and society has fitted them. Men become 2nd rate women, and women become 2nd rate men. By all means allow everyone to seek their own path, but to imagine men and women will sort 50/50 everywhere is totalitarian in its foolishness and cruelty.



Thursday, 13 October 2016

The EU Deserves what's coming.

One of the main reasons to oppose brexit is that the UK doesn't benefit from being "out" should the EU collapse. A disorderly break-up of the EU would damage the UK, independently of our status in or out. (any comment saying "it's better to bail early" will be deleted as a failure of comprehension read the post, please, it's that argument I'm dealing with). Indeed preventing a disorderly collapse should be the UK's priority. And when we were in, a disorderly collapse was unlikely. The UK kept the lid on Brussels insanity. Not only has Brexit given free rein to some of the very worst people in the UK, it also removes a brake on the insane Federasts  of Brussels.

Far from Remainers "talking the UK down", Brexiters have been doing so for decades - talking down the UK's influence in the EU to the extent we're actually thinking of walking out of the UK's proudest creation: the single market. It is now a shibboleth that the UK has "no influence in the EU", whereas the UK drove the single market, kept half the continent out of the poisonous grip of the Euro and pioneered enlargement to the east following the end of the cold war. The UK drove Russian sanctions to this day. The UK was one of the Big three and on many issues, more influential than France. The UK largely writes EU financial regulation for example (as is meet and proper).

But the EU over-reached. Voters, especially in the UK resented the EU's usurpation of the trappings of National sovereignty far more than the reality of "the laws made in Brussels" which was really just code for an underlying vision they (and I) don't like. And what is true of the UK is true of France and the Netherlands and everywhere else. Remainers like to mock the Be.Leaver's joy over the anticipated return of the blue passport. I however have long resented the words "European Union" above (ABOVE!) the crown on the front. It's like the bureaucrats are trying to rub the British People's nose in it. It's a symbol of something burning in the EU's core, which the average voter neither desires, nor trusts.

The ridiculous and unnecessary potemkin parliament with its farcical shuttle from Brussels to Strasbourg focusses the voters minds on the EU, without giving them any outlet to do anything about it. The EU looms much larger than it ought as a result of the charade of Euro elections. Democracy without a demos is pointless - what commonality do Socialist members from spain and the UK have?:

The EU was flawed, Thanks to the UK some of its worst excesses - the Euro for example were limited to countries that really wanted it. And now without a powerful country holding the reins and steering away from "ever closer union" the Brake that was put on at Maastrict and beyond will be removed. The EU will integrate itself to death, there will be chaos when the voters of Europe can take the tin-eared arrogance of Brussels no more. There was no need for all those millions of lives to be attenuated during that process. While leave voters will say "I told you so", a better analogy would be jumping out of a moving car suffering broken bones and extensive skin abrasions, but saying "it would have been worse" because the lunatic who grabbed the wheel when you bailed steered it directly into a tree.

Spending 1% of GDP to write trade and some business law could much more easily be done intragovernmentally, with a humble and small central bureaucracy. There is no need for "Presidents" and parliaments which lead to grandiose visions; visions which slam painfully, like the Euro, into the unyielding wall of reality. Unobtrusively aligning business regulation and deepening economic integration is necessary. A parliament, a flag, an anthem and a head of "state" are not. The EU has paid the price for this arrogant and pompous grandiosity.


Both the EU and UK are and will be significantly worse off as a result of Brexit. And now, just as Brexit is a bad idea that will be tested, so too will European integration. Both Brussels panjandrums and the brexiters fed off each others' fantasies. Both needed to believe integration was happening, even if it wasn't. Ultimately, the costs will become apparent to the UK pretty rapidly. The EU will suffer much more slowly. It's almost like co-operation is a non-zero-sum game, or something.



Friday, 16 September 2016

On Populism: What do we do? vs Who do we blame?

If you ask the wrong question, the answers will not work.

"Populism" is, like pornography, hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Wikipedia defines it thus

"a political ideology that holds that virtuous citizens are mistreated by a small circle of elites, who can be overthrown if the people recognize the danger and work together. Populism depicts elites as trampling on the rights, values, and voice of the legitimate people"
It's clear Farage's lauding of a victory for "mediocre ordinary, decent scum people" he was speaking in this vein. But I don't think this captures the essence of populism. Mainstream politicians "Managerialists" in the Populists' vernacular ask "how do we solve this problem". You can be a capitalist, or a socialist, believing in different answers, but at least you agree on the question. Populists aren't asking this question, but instead "who do we blame?". The answer given by Momentum and UKIP may differ: Bosses vs Immigrants, Capitalists vs the EU but the question is the same.

There's also the populists view that MPs rather than being representatives paid to exercise judgement, are delegates paid to vote on someone else's behalf. In this, Paul Mason and Douglas Carswell are in agreement. But this is simply mob rule and behind it is a fear that legislators may Go Native, if they're allowed thanks to the corrosive influence of "[insert boogeyman]" in their long-running campaign to keep the "real" people down. But perhaps legislators know best; they have exposure and access to what passes for facts in this field, and are paid to study it, maybe there's something in the idea of representative democracy after all.

It's always easier to imagine you're the victim of an elite conspiracy, subject to "discrimination" on the grounds of class or race, or at risk from being "flooded" by immigrants, than it is to answer the question "what to I do?". Whether you're running your own life, or that of a nation, what to do is hard, and one of the stresses of modern life is the extent to which people are free, which means they have to make choices. No longer can you just follow dad into the Factory. Because many suffer from crippling loss aversion, these choices are scary, which is why stupid people yearn to be led. They look for leaders who offer answers which fit their prior prejudices and make sense of a complicated world. Corbyn and Farage have made careers finding and stroking a tribe's prejudices, soothing their people's indignation against a world they feel is against them.

The reason populism is so toxic to political discourse is that in apportioning blame, they create a slipway for the launching of vastly damaging ideas. "It's all the EU's fault" leads to Brexit*. "It's all the Fat Cats' fault" and you have a country that looks like Venezuela. If you start blaming immigrants or minorities, well we saw where that went in the last century. It's also why the Brexiteers ran from office at the moment of victory. Delivery isn't in the populists' skillset. The permanent masturbatory pleasures of opposition are what they crave, always losing so they can keep telling their people the game's rigged against them. If they win, then all those inadequate people will have to start making choices and they feel completely lost again. Much easier to simmer in resentment against an immovable object which allows you to blame it, rather than yourself for your failings.

*This isn't a place for a debate on the merits or otherwise of Brexit. Any comments on that subject will be deleted.

One of the reasons for the Populist's success (please note the "one of" at the start of this sentence) is Russia on the internet. The internet allows people to form much denser ideological defences against reality. And into the internet, there is a wounded superpower, pouring poison, poison which people use as ammunition in the defence of their ideological redoubt. Putin's toxic little propaganda swamps like RT and Sputnik are manufacturing and promoting stories which appeal to the populist mindset. Notice how Racists will share RT stories about Immigrants raping white women while members of the Green party will share horror stories about fracking from the same source. Some of these stories will be true. But many are manufactured, exaggerated and twisted specifically to support any party or idea that causes problems to the democratic governments of the west. This is not a random process. It is directed and controlled by the intelligence agency which has captured Russia. Maskirovka raised to a governing principle.

One of the reasons for the UK's relative success as a nation is that up until now, we have been mostly immune from the allure of the populist demagogue. We simply don't have it in us to put too much belief in one man, whether as protagonist or antagonist. Let's hope Brexit is a flash in the pan, and not part of a widespread descent of mature democracies into populist demagoguery. We'll know in 12 months whether democracy can survive or whether, thanks to Trump, Farage and Le Pen, we're going back to pogroms and a summer "campaigning season".

Please let's stop listening to Putin' useful idiots pedalling fallacious simplicity, and start listening to fallible and all-too-human experts again. At least the experts are asking the right question.



Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Banning the Burkini

The Mayor of the French town of Nice has passed a law banning the Burkini, a full body cover designed for swimming. Quite how you define this is beyond me. I for example am luminously pasty and often cover up on the beach because while I CAN go out in direct sunlight, I don't like it. I might, wear a rash suit rather than deal with suncream, especially if on my own. Would I be asked to disrobe, and risk sunburn?


There's the hypocrisy too: Pictures of armed french police demanding a woman disrobe are uncomfortable. I thought we in the west were about female emancipation?


Nuns, bathing in even less revealing clothing inspired ultimately by the same abrahamic exhortation to female modesty, will, I presume remain unmolested.


This isn't about the Burkini, of course, but about muslim integration. There's no doubt muslim immigration has unsettled large swaths of the population of Europe. It's not about terrorism. It's about feeling a stranger in your own country, surrounded in some areas by people who speak a different language, wear different clothes and do not mix or integrate with the native population, and it's these feelings that are driving people to le Front National, Brexit, Swedish Democrats and so forth. 

A Burka ban is clearly silly, unenforceable but eye-catching. A symptom of something we have to address. Perhaps Islam IS incompatible with western ideas, especially where the immigrants are poor and in large numbers. But I don't think this to be the case. The USA, with far fewer, better-educated muslims has done a much better job of integrating than Europe or the UK, where ghettos have been allowed to form, and the 2nd and 3rd generation are, in contrast to previous waves of immigration, no better integrated than their parents and grandparents. If anything in places like Bradford, or the poor areas of Brussels some muslims are becoming increasingly radicalised as immigrant communities and the native population reject each other.

What the people voted for in Austria when they nearly elected Norbert Hoffer, In France when they nearly elected Le Pen, in the UK when they voted for Brexit is an end to immigration, especially of people who don't share our values. And Muslims far too often don't share our values (nor, brexiteers, do they come from the EU...).

In wearing a Burkini on the beach, or the Niqab in town, a woman (or her husband...) is visibly making a statement rejecting French culture. A man in a Shalwar Kameez makes the same statement. If he's in a local majority, these clothes subconsciously say "this place is ours now, not yours" and this can feel profoundly threatening. Especially when combined with a wave of Islamist-inspired terrorist outrages. The difference between me wearing a rash suit on a beach, and a woman wearing a burkini is one of intent. The only statement I am making is "I have very pale skin".

These feelings are inchoate, but they are real. The rejection of western society represented by the people wearing these clothes is real. I don't like seeing a woman in Niqab, which makes me profoundly uncomfortable with the alien creed behind that outfit. Clearly I don't think I should have a right to do anything about it, and the problem is mine more than theirs. The state controlling how people dress is clearly absurd and illiberal. There's little that can be done beyond an exhortation to the locals to exercise a bit of tolerance, and to the Muslim population of Europe to make an effort to fit in. Blaming "islamophobia" will just make matters worse because radical Islamism as practiced by a small minority is the main terrorist threat and the isolated, unintegrated communities of overwhelmingly decent muslims is the water in which the islamist sharks swim. Fear of unintegrated muslims isn't irrational. Multiculturalism doesn't work. We all need to share the same values, and isolated, inward-looking communities which reject mainstream society don't work for anyone.

Integration is as much about appearance as behaviour. So, yes, in France, 'making an effort' probably does mean getting the girls out on the beach. And Muslim chaps: perhaps save the Shalwar Kameez for the Mosque on Friday, try to look like a Frenchman the rest of the time? That way the locals will feel less threatened, and muslims will be less isolated. Ultimately a law banning Burkinis represents a failure of European society to persuade immigrant communities our society is better. Do we even still believe it is? And Finally, les Gendarmes: have a look at the Peelian principles and leave innocent women on the beach alone, whatever they choose to wear. This sort of thing is about persuasion, cultural change and shouldn't be enforced by men with guns.

Now, where's my leopard print thong, and the factor 50?



Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Brexit: Four scenarios.

There has been a significant rally in markets, if not yet in business sentiment since the Brexit referendum. Much of this rally is down to currency, as the UK local (stocks with >60% UK earnings) remains down, especially if you measure it in $ terms. But there has been significant relief that the chaos of the first few days didn't last. A remainer with a safe pair of hands promised to deliver. "Brexit is Brexit" became the mantra of the prime-minister after she won in a contest which reinforced the Conservatives' reputation for ruthless efficiency. I doubt May wants to go down in history as the PM who ended the UK by triggering article 50 and precipitating Scottish independence, but nor does she want to go down in history as the PM who "stabbed UK in the back" and split the Tory party for good by refusing to deliver on the referendum result. So she's done, skillfully, what all good politicians do in a tricky spot: Act like a Rugby full-back: take a sidestep and boot the ball into touch.

To this end, David Davis and Liam Fox, two prominent campaigners for Brexit have been given their own Brexit playpens to try and thrash out what they want. They are, of course learning on the job. Brexiteers are the dog that caught the bus: they don't know what to do with it and many of them, like Michael Gove are being scraped out of the tyre treads as we speak. It's clear neither Davis nor Fox have any clear idea what "trade deals" can deliver, or what the single market is, or why it's valuable. But they've been barking their half understood points now for so long, that when asked by grown-ups "what do you mean?" they blink stupidly and repeat the same turgid tropes as if that will solve the many manifest problems that were pointed out at such length two months ago.

Brexit is, remains and was always going to be a terrible idea. This will slowly dawn on the people charged with delivering it. It's going to be very very hard, will require the total commitment of the entire UK state to deliver a good outcome, as well as skilful diplomacy and the goodwill of our European partners. The Brexit Referendum was not binding, it was explicitly advisory. The apparatus of the UK state has little enthusiasm for Brexit: not the civil service, not the PM, not the diplomatic corps and there's little goodwill towards the UK in European capitals. There are a great many who will try to overturn the result. And there is more than an outside chance they (we) will be able to do so. "Brexit" may mean Brexit for now, but no-one's defined Brexit or our post-brexit relationship with the EU. Because "no relationship" isn't an option. 

Several things are already clear: Article 50 is not adequate for the task. Greenland (population: several polar bears) had one issue, fish, and leaving the EU took three years. Do you think the world's 5th largest economy can successfully extricate itself in two after 40 years in the club? No. Article 50 was inserted into the lisbon treaty in order to appease UK brexiteers, and was never intended to be used. (The moral of the story: never try to appease the unappeasable),

Every month, the triggering of article 50 gets pushed back, from "by the end of the year" when May came to power to "some time in 2017". As 2017 draws nearer, and the UK is still no closer to working out what it wants from Brexit, people will realise that the French and German elections will enable the UK to *start* pre-article 50 negotiations with the new Governments in late 2017. This pushes article 50 back to 2018 at the earliest. This is the Head-Banger position: "Article 50, come what may and to hell with the cost".

But once you get into 2018, the UK general election is hoving into view. As should be clear, Triggering article 50 is likely to provoke a recession, and if you want a discretionary recession, it's probably best to get it out of the way early in the parliament. Few parliamentarians want to lose their seats because of an angry electorate being given what they asked for. The electorate's memory is short, and you can take credit for the recovery afterwards. So it is more likely that the Conservatives will go into the 2020 election (which they will probably win comfortably) with a manifesto commitment to trigger article 50 (or leave in some other way) in that parliament. Ironic really, because the person who made the party electable after 13 years in the wilderness asked one thing of his party: to "stop banging on about Europe". His legacy: a decade of talking about nothing but.

And by this point the rest of Europe will really rather want us to shit, or get off the pot rather than having Brexit clog up the machinery of EU governance for another decade. Anger at the UK for having the temerity to leave will have faded, and cooler heads who see a mutually beneficial solution will be best all round, will prevail. Already Germany is making friendly noises about a special UK deal. Martin Roth:
‘Given Britain’s size, significance and its long membership of the European Union, there will probably be a special status which only bears limited comparison to that of countries that have never belonged to the European Union’
This seems reasonable. But it won't be delivered quickly, nor will it be easy to deliver it via article 50. More likely it will be delivered via a new treaty with the EU some time in the next parliament.

By which time the deal we're likely to get is taking shape. And It's looking likely that the best deal on offer was the one we already enjoyed, perhaps with some bone thrown to the UK on freedom of movement. But remember we're talking about a situation in which a New Parliament, unbound by any constitutional obligation to trigger article 50 beyond the manifesto, has negotiated a new deal within the EU. The 2016 Referendum would be ancient history, and there will be calls for the new deal to be put to a referendum because "a mandate is needed". And the madness stalking democracy will have passed. And so if there is a second referendum, this time, remain will probably win. But that happy outcome remains an outside chance.

Article 50 delivered some time this parliament: 20% (& falling)
Article 50 triggered early next parliament: 30%
Leaving the EU, but not by article 50, possibly following 2nd ref on "the deal": 20%
Second referendum on "the deal", remain wins: Article 50 not triggered at all: 30% (and rising).

The longer we wait for article 50, the less likely it will be triggered, the less likely we leave, and the greater the likelihood, if we do leave of a good deal, mutually beneficial to all concerned. Those clamouring for "Hard Brexit", now are mainly Turnip Taliban, obsessed by immigration and unconcerned by the economy. Thankfully, May seems to be in no hurry, the Chancellor said Brexit would take 6 years, and most of the Brexit hardliners have already vomited themselves into an increasingly irrelevant bucket called UKIP. Either way, in or out of the EU we're probably watching the slow-motion betrayal of the most fervent Brexit voters. Their howling at the EU was nothing more than resentment of the modern world, and so they are unappeasable. So there is no point trying to please people who simply voted to smash something people they resent, valued.

This is as it should be. No country which aspires to greatness can for any length of time have its agenda set by ill-educated, elderly losers, waiting to die in depressing hell-holes at the end of the line. Thankfully, with sensible people back in charge, the outlook is improving in inverse proportion to liklihood of Brexit.



Monday, 11 July 2016

So We Have a New PM. Yes, this is Democracy.

So Theresa May is going to be Prime Minister soon. We live in a representative democracy, not a direct one, and the Conservative party was elected by an electorate who (could have) had the full knowledge that Cameron wasn't going to contest the 2020 election. May is part of his top team, and represents continuity. There is no need for an election, and she has a job to do.

I suspect Brexit is going to happen, but May will be more likely to manage to remain in the single market. The worst elements of the Brexit camp have now been sidelined. If the immigration obsessives can be thrown under the bus in favour of "passporting for the banks", so be it. After all, immigration wasn't on the ballot. "Democracy" you see...

If there is to be a bright economic future for the UK, the single market is probably part of it. Quite what benefits this brings compared to being in the EU is beyond me; the faith in "free trade agreements" to be part of this are likely to be overdone. Within the single market, we will still pay in, and obey all those rules that so "hamper" the UK (which was until a couple of weeks ago was... um.. the best performing developed economy, and no brexiteers could point to unnecessary rules). What the UK still exports are unlikely to be particularly hurt by small tariffs, and FTAs rarely cover services, which the UK is good at.

If we can remain in the Single Market via some sort of bespoke deal, with some token bone thrown on free movement, then that might be a compromise which will end the issue that has poisoned politics for so long, for good. The crucial negotiations to withdraw from the EU are going to be handled by grown-ups. rather than a tryo of questionable competence.

My guess - a framework for Brexit will be negotiated with partners after the French and German elections in 2017, with article 50 to be triggered at some point within the parliament. However, I see no reason why those of us who want to remain, should stop campaigning for it to not be. Democracy, after all, is a process, not an event. One man, one vote, once is the "democracy" favoured by dictators. If we can get a new deal with the EU, perhaps one with a significant changes to the relationship, there might be grounds to stay in the EU.

I suspect the one risk is that this process will not be quick enough for the "bastards" (John Major's description...), who will want article 50 triggered more or less immediately and who will sniff betrayal at every step. The "Remainiacs" may well get stronger as time passes, and of course the bastards have a point that the longer before article 50 is triggered, the less likely it will be. If you don't like this, UKIP is over there, folks. You know what to do. Don't let the door hit your arse on the way out.



Thursday, 7 July 2016

The Mary Whitehouse Experience

The "Bastards" who see the British membership of the European Union as the central question of politics are not only petty-minded nationalists. They are also mostly small-minded, authoritarian christian bigots. They aren't just coming for free movement, they're against gay marriage too. They're against most of the modern world. It's true, I do agree with them on the economic questions of the 20th century, but that no longer matters, the economic liberals' victory is pretty comprehensive.


Leadsom represents the conservatism of Mary Whitehouse, not Margaret Thatcher. This is why Leadsom has such enthusiastic support from UKIP. She is the culture war, as well as the brexit candidate. This isn't about Europe. It's not about economics. It's not left and right. It's open vs closed society. 

They don't just want to reverse the European Union, but roll back the "permissive society" of the 1960s. These are the purse-lipped miserablists who write into local papers complaining about "filth" on TV or "hooligans" in the street, who in reality are just boys playing football. This is the racist aunt, who now feels confident to say she doesn't like Mrs Patel in no.34 because she smells funny. This is the Daily Mail (Paper, not website) made flesh, obsessed by what other people do in the bedroom, and absolutely terrified someone, somewhere might be having fun.

This is where we are, when Theresa May is the standard bearer for the liberal cause. What a time to be alive.



Saturday, 2 July 2016

Labour and Tory are Electoral Coalitions Which Have Been Broken

The referendum last week as a fundamental break in British politics. While article 50 remains uninvoked, I remain hopeful it won't be. There is now a pro-European backlash representing nearly half the country. Maybe more, given the buyer's remorse from leave voters who didn't expect to win and now realise the consequences are potentially vast.

Whatever, the die is cast. There were 2 leave campaigns. One, an open-society, free-trade vision with which I have some sympathy. Already, the USA, Canada, Australia and Ghana have reached out for free trade with us. New Zealand, those dear, distant friends (except during the 80 minutes of a Rugby match) have gone further and offered their trade negotiators to boost the UK's corps of 12.

This is welcome, and it's a start. But it won't go close to replacing the benefits of the single market. Not least because many of the benefits of free trade with these Nations we effectively enjoyed or will have enjoyed anyway one day within the EU.

This free trade vision of post-brexit Britain was not the loudest voice, and the main effect of the brexit referendum was to draw the battle lines between those who desire and open Society, and those who desire a closed Society.

If the Tory Labour split was mainly about economics, taxation and redistribution, a battle the free market privatising Tories comprehensively won. the new culture war is about what sort of society we want to be. Imagine this split looking something like spectrum between the Liberal Democrats, and UKIP. The current electoral coalition is no longer fit for purpose.

It looks like the party that has brought this catastrophe upon us, will end up being the chief beneficiary in electoral terms, at least in the short term. If the Tories manage a coronation of Theresa May and not go to the party in the country with a final shortlist of two, they will have achieved a vision of competence that perhaps they no longer deserve.

Assuming no major disaster beyond that expected, labour being in complete disarray will be unable to capitalise on the chaos of the brexit negotiations. Furthermore labour have been abandoned by large swathes of the electorate in the Heartlands of the North, adding to their wipeout in Scotland.

John Major's "Bastards" however, are working hard. Having won the first battle in the culture War they are looking to press home their advantage and install one of their social conservative candidates as prime minister. UKIP candidates already rejoining the Conservative Party.

However it is premature to write off the Conservative Party to the morlocks just yet. UKIP will become an electoral Force across large swathes of England. Corbyn will have achieved his function and destroyed the Labour Party reducing it to a few hold out in a few cities.

If UKIP does indeed become electrically successful, expect to see the right of the Conservative Party move that way. This leaves a space within the Conservative Party for the sensible elements of the Labour Party who have come to terms with the twentieth century's economic settlement to make common cause with their fellow open Society advocates across the floor of the commons.

Just as the Labour leadership election going on at present is about the ownership of the Labour brand, (does it belong to hard left socialist, or the social Democrats of the centre?) so is the Tories'. If Leadsom wins the leadership election, then the Tories will move right and absorb UKIP. May, supported almost exclusively by the Tory MPs who favoured remain, Leads the liberals, but whichever way The Tory Party will dominate politics for the foreseeable future (about 3 days at present...)

The Be.Leavers may think this choice of Prime Minister is about Europe, but actually it's about an open vs a closed society.

The European Union was a hard institution to love. I was certainly a harsh critic of it. It's hubris in assuming the trappings of a state, are a large cause of the resentment. Unbecoming arrogance from the panjandrums of Brussels didn't help.They revelled in the myths of their omnipotent Power, myths which fed the Paranoid delusions of the people who want to leave.

However I never felt compelled to make destroying it my life's purpose. I suspect the EU is an institution who's value only becomes apparent when it's gone. It seems that the Scots viewed Europe as something of a counterweight to the hegemon to their South. As such the European Union had become one of the ties that bound the Union together. The the European Union was Central to the Anglo Irish settlement.

Above all above all the European Union was a crucial part of the Post cold war security architecture of Europe. It seems likely that Russia under Putin will get a much easier ride from a European Union that does not contain the United Kingdom. We are weakened. And Putin is emboldened. As are the idiot populists of the democratic world, who seek to thow up borders, pull up the drawbridge and sulk at the modern world.

I've seen this flick before, and it doesn't have a happy ending.

This also comes down to identity. We have seen a rise of English and Scottish identity, and a fall of British identity. Britain is the loser. British is an identity into which it is much easier to assimilate  new  citizens. And as for me, I am not English. I am British. I am not European, I am a man of the West. Brexit has divided Britain. It's risks dividing to West. And it almost certainly will makeus  poorer weaker, and less able to confront the new threats of the world. It is, for most people who voted for it, a vision of little England, not caring about the Scots, or the Irish, or our friends and allies accross the continent. This isn't the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland I have served most of my adult life.

I Lament the loss of the world European Union was trying imperfectly to create: one of trade openness and political stability. A Unified West Staring Down our enemies and keeping the world free. If there is one lesson of history it is that revolutions eat their children, and nothing good comes from smashing functioning institutions.

Pour your bile into the comments. I have chosen my side. It's whoever stands for an open Society, free trade, low taxes, constitutional conservatism and economic competence. That half of the Conservative Party still exists.

Just.

My Great Britain still exists.

Just.



Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Upsides of Brexit

For weeks I have been asking for an upside to Brexit, some benefit to me that justifies the destruction of the UK and a significant fall in our prosperity.

We're all agreed the "it will have little effect" argument was nonsense? Good.

First up "Democracy". Well the EU was a club of democracies that tried hard to be democratic itself. Power rested with the council of ministers who were elected by the people of the countries concerned. The commission was akin to a civil service, advised. Such bodies are never elected anywhere in the world. Then there was the parliament, who chose the president. Above all, the EU basically dealt with issues concerning trade. So we have democratic control over issues we're going to have to accept what the EU says anyway. Good one. We are no more "democratic" now than on Thursday.

"Freedom"? For whom? To do what? I can think of several freedoms I've lost.

"Trade deals" If you think a trade deal with even the US (which won't cover services) even remotely compensates for the single market, then I've a bridge to sell you.

"Immigration?" Well it will only fall if there's a big recession resulting in mass unemployment. Besides the official campaign won, not the hateful UKIP bigotry, and the Government will probably keep us in the single market with (basically) free movement. The bigots will be betrayed.

The upside to Brexit is, for the people who supported it, the satisfaction of smashing something someone you hate holds dear. I hope you're proud of yourselves.

I welcome comments suggesting other upsides, but any comment that boils down to one of the answers above, will be deleted.




Saturday, 25 June 2016

Well, The Wish Has Been Granted

So, the polls were rightish, and the Turkeys did vote for Christmas. A sledgehammer has been taken to the post-cold-war security architecture, and Vladimir Putin is happy.

What Next?

Well. There is much that can happen. Article 50 will be invoked by the next Prime Minister, but still needs to be ratified by Parliament. So it is possible a General Election could get in the way. A new parliament will not necessarily be bound by the referendum result.

In the looming crisis, I reflect on this: The Tory right couldn't help but pick at the scab for 40 years. All they needed to do was, as Cameron asked, stop "banging on about Europe", and they coukd have been in government for 20 years. But the Tory right's mania about Europe couldn't be assuaged. And in giving in to it, it seems likely they will shatter not just the EU but the UK. Scotland is Angry. The Dutch, Danes, Swedes, Greeks and others will want a referendum too. Which is why I don't expect the EU to play nice.

Welcome to the fun new Zero-sum world. It's probably now in the UK's interest to see the European project fall. No-one will be better off as a result.

Let's negoitate a deal with the EU. Put it to another vote (so we know what we're voting for this time). Obviously the Be.Leavers who believe so fevervently in "democracy" will understand, then invoke article 50.

Or, an EEA-style agreement with free market access and free movement satisfies the demand to leave the European Union, with less damage. The people who thought the referendum was about immigration will be disappointed, but I really don't care what such people think.

There are no upsides to what has happened. I hope the UK survives. I hope there isn't a knock on populust surge around the democratic world. I hope Vladimir Putin doesn't get tempted to try to break NATO too. I hope the recession isn't too bad, but it's probably just that it falls hardest on the areas that voted for it. Which it will. The one part of the the UK that will be fine no matter what is the city. The government will protect its interests, and being "offshore" may even help it.

As for the Tory party? It has got what it has long wanted. There will be a recession. The reputation for economic competence, hard won by Cameron and Osborne, has been sacrificed on the European altar. Again. Be careful what you wish for.



Thursday, 23 June 2016

Referendum Prediction: On Polling Day. And After.


You know my views on this, and it looks like sanity will prevail over the dread forces of nativist populism.

I think a few Tories who threw their lot in with Leave will wake up relieved, as if from a fever, that their frenzy didn't result in too much damage. There hasn't been all that much Blue on Blue action whatever the papers say. I think Gove will not be welcomed back. His hyperbole was too great. But Gove aside, the Tories will find it easier to put the party back together than pundits suggest.

Farage will try to do to England what Nicola Sturgeon did to Scotland. He will tour the country whipping up anti-establishment feeling in all the worst places. Mostly, he will fail, but It remains to be seen whether UKIP can supplant the Labour party in its abandoned heartlands. The habit of voting and activism may have been regained amongst the working class. This is a cure to the ennui they feel, in and of itself. They do matter, and can change things. After all, whatever happens, they just have.

As for Labour, who went AWOL under their laughable leader: well quite a few of the grown-ups will have been working with the saner Tories, and these tribes may find they don't hate each other quite as much as they hate the more extreme elements of their own parties. This is the new divide in politics: Cosmopolitans vs Nativists, Mangerialists vs Idealogues, those asking "what do we do" vs those asking "whom do we blame". This fun new culture war doesn't tie down nicely along party lines. It spreads across groups more used to voting on economic solutions, not matters of identity.

This yawp of dissatisfaction, mainly by people which Labour elite once thought they could rely upon, without having to listen, represented a great wail of anguish at the modern world, which settled upon the EU as a scapegoat, may well sweep the Labour party away.

There are too many working parts, tribal loyalties run too deep. Personalities too difficult to see from afar. UKIP, Tory right and Labour left are not a comfortable coalition. Tory and Labour centrists? Or maybe there will be a new Social Democratic party. Or maybe Labour's centrists may attempt a takeover of the Liberal Democrats....

As for the EU, the panjandrums know deep down, they narrowly dodged an existential crisis, brought about by arrogance, hubris and a tin-ear. They would do well to read this.

But sanity prevails. The broad west can now get on with being the shining light on the hill, the example to other societies for riches, productivity and freedom, to which huddled masses not lucky enough to be born in one of our countries will struggle and risk death to get to. Immigration will remain a fact of life, for as long as the UK is a better, freer, happier place to live, offering more opportunity than elsewhere. All we need is the French to reject Le Pen, and the Americans to reject the Trump. Luckily both look like they will do so comfortably.

Nothing's perfect. Here's my Rallying cry:

WHAT DO WE WANT?
GRADUAL IMPROVEMENT!
WHEN DO WE WANT IT?
WHENEVER ECONOMIC CONDITIONS ALLOW.

Not one to get the masses to the barricades, but it's delivered more wealth, happiness and prosperity than any other.



A Former UKIP Branch Chairman Backs REMAIN

Cards on the table. Many moons ago I was a member of Young Independence and established the Bolton Branch of UKIP. I was a member when UKIP was in favour of a flat tax, slashing the size and scope of government and was at least pretending to be libertarian. I left when I saw the writing on the wall; that UKIP was turning in a 1960’s Labour tribute band of social conservatism and big government paternalism (my two least favourite things).

I was and still am anti EU. I think it’s officious, bureaucratic, inefficient, meddlesome, nannying, bloated and expensive. But guess what – so are all governments. Long before the EU we were bribed and coerced by unelected faceless British civil servants, so I don’t buy the argument that Brexit would result in some miraculous purging of pedantic officialdom.

But that’s not my main reason for opting for Remain, rather history, the economy, and British values seem to point that way. Brexit advocates seem to want to fight the tide of history. The story of humanity’s political entities has been one, dare I say it, of ever closer union – groups of gathers came together to form small tribes, which came together to form communities, which in turn grouped together to become towns, which became cities, which united to become small kingdoms, which in finally came together to form the nation states we know today. Europe is now trying to forge the next step – that of bringing nation states into something larger. Being the first attempt it seems new and scary, just as there would have been those in the kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex who resisted this new-fangled ‘England’, with its distant rulers and burdensome taxes and laws. It’s going to happen, so we can try and influence that as it’s evolves, or we can re-join in a few decades time as a junior member on much worse terms than we have now.

By far my biggest concern is that of the economy. Markets can deal with democracies and dictators, they can handle with Tories or Labour, but what they don’t like is instability and uncertainty, and Brexit negotiations are uncertainty incarnate. Nobody knows how long negotiations will take. Nobody has any idea as to what sort of deal we’ll get. Nobody knows what EU rules we’ll have to abide by and which we’ll be able to ignore. Nobody knows if we’ll repeal existing EU legislation and if so how much. All this is an anathema to business deciding where to sink investment. The best and brightest of the world flock to Britain because their skills and talents have an unrivalled platform and outlets through our links to Europe, the Commonwealth and North America. Brexit and the subsequent reservations about visas and free movement would throw this into doubt. “But it’s in the EU’s interests to give Britain a good deal, we do too much trade for them to jeopardise it”. This message has been the crux of the Leave camps economic case, but it’s tragically naive for it rests on the assumption that EU leaders act rationally. They don’t. The history of the EU is one of making political decisions that go against economic sense. The Euro, the madness of monetary union without fiscal union, was a political project, not economic. The CAP is a political settlement that runs against all but the most projectionist economic rationale.

If Britain opted to leave left the EU Brussels would have to make an example of us. Negotiations would be tortuous, dragged out for years with every line of the settlement debated and revised and amended purely out of spite. Just look at Greece. Every sensible economist pleaded for some form of debt write-off, but no. Greece had to be made an example of, especially after the defiance of the anti-austerity referendum. The vanity and pride of those behind ‘The Project’ cannot be over stated, and EU chiefs really will go out of their way to cause an independent Britain as much trauma as possible if it meant deterring other would be separatists. This is partly why the EU needs Britain. An EU without Britain would mean all the worst aspects of the bureaucracy would be let loose, with little or no restraint. Those members who tend to side with us, like the Nordic nations, would find themselves without a large ally, and would be cowed and bullied into meek compliance. A Britain-less EU would also be a more insular, inward looking beast.

During the 1990s it was Britain that led to the push to see the ten Eastern European states of the former Warsaw Pact brought into the EU, much to the annoyance of the French who argued attention should be focused on deepening integration among the existing members. But Britain triumphed, correctly insisting that without EU membership anchoring these new democracies to the West, they’d succumb to a gradual economic, then political slide back into the Russian orbit. And this is the rule rather than the exception – for Britain gets its way a lot in Europe, especially on the big issues. The very fact the EU is a free trade area is largely down to us. The European Court of Human Rights, though not part of the EU, was created almost at the British behest. That we don’t have an EU Army is down to Britain thwarting the idea every time it rears its head.

 And it’s not just our friends and allies in Europe that want us to stay. The Commonwealth nations, to whom Brexiteers point as an alternative trading bloc to the EU, want us to remain. Our closest ally, the United States, wants us to stay. Both recognise that our membership of the EU is the unique bridge that binds the Anglosphere and the continent of Europe together. Our place in the EU reminds Brussels that there’s a world outside Fortress Europe and that globalisation is an opportunity, not a threat.

It’s no coincidence that the only world leader who supports Brexit is Vladmir Putin, a man itching to divide and weaken a united West that’s hemmed in and punished his geopolitical trolling. I get the frustration with the EU, I really do. I too hear the siren song of Brexit, the temptation to stick two fingers up at Brussels and reclaim sovereignty. But every year nation states get less and less relevant. True sovereignty hasn’t existed for any state since the Second World War. If we took the Norwegian option we’d still have to follow EU rules, but we’d have no say in how they’re made. Leaving would be to ignore the pleads of our oldest friends. Brexit would be an economic roll of the dice that really don’t need. Much like the Scottish Nationalists, the economic case for Brexit rests on hopeful scenarios and keeping our fingers crossed – I’m sorry but the world’s sixth largest economy is too important to gamble on a wing and a prayer. The perfect is the enemy of the good. The EU machine is infuriating, but Britain, the West, and the world is a better place through our membership.

A guest contribution by Lee T Jenkins



Friday, 17 June 2016

Prediction: A Week Out, And Thoughts on a Murder.

My track record is good: I nailed the Scottish referendum, and the 2015 General election. The polling average at time of writing is a 4-point lead for the leave campaign. I still think (70% confidence interval) Remain will win. Here's why.

The polls suffer from a 6% response rate, and unlike the Scots Indy referendums, there's very little to calibrate them against, as Leave/Remain cuts across party lines, and there have been no recent referendums on the subject. A lot of IPSOS MORI's swing is methodology changes, reminiscent of the last election. The pollsters have been tweaking their methodologies to give similar results (so-called "herding"). There is a better than outside chance of another polling catastrophe.

Given the extraordinarily low response rate, there is a good chance the highly excited leave supporters in every demographic by which Pollsters weight their samples: age, education, socioeconomic class, party affiliation etc, are significantly more likely to respond. The Be.Leavers are enjoying this referendum. The Bremainers are thoroughly sick of the whole referendum and cannot wait until it's over. I cannot see how this can be captured in their methodologies.

Basically, I think there's a good chance the polls are at least as wrong as the General election, which would be nearly enough to get Remain over the winning post.

There are 13% undecided in the last Survation poll. These people will break for the status quo, as they have in most referendums in the past.

The ground game: where one side has access to all the party machines, and the other, leave has access to UKIP's chaotic machine alone, and no national footprint or experience in national 'Get Out The Vote' operations.

This is all said with due respect to the view that shouting "The Polls are wrong" is the hallmark of the side that's going to lose.

I was just about to hit publish.

And As I was writing this yesterday, an MP was murdered. A bleak day for her family, Labour, Parliament, and the country. She was apparently shot and stabbed by a man with mental health issues, and an association with the far-right, who may, or may not have shouted "put Britain first" as he committed his murder. Jo Cox was the MP for Batley & Spen who was first elected in 2015, and was holding a constituency surgery, as MPs up and down the land do weekly. They are unprotected, yet attract some of the worst and most disturbed people in the land. She leaves 2 young children and a devastated husband. We in the UK are lucky to have such dedicated, humble, honest and decent MPs, of whom Mrs Cox was not out of the ordinary. MPs aren't "in it for themselves" nor are they part of "the elite". They're just like us, really.

Whether Thomas Mair, the chief suspect, was, or was not motivated in part by the Referendum campaign is not the issue, as an untruth can get halfway round the world before the truth has got its boots on. In this case, it's a still-plausible, not-yet an untruth bit of speculation. A motivation from far-right beliefs and influenced by the referendum campaign remains the most likely explanation for Mair's actions. And for the leave campaign who're busy suggesting an EU army is likely, and Turkey's about to join the EU, to complain about people suggesting this is so, is a bit rum, really. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

I'm making a prediction, not arguing what should happen, and while I wish it were not so, this appalling event will affect the outcome.

What will people take from this senseless murder? That the referendum has poisoned politics? That perhaps we should pause for breath in this febrile atmosphere of anti-politics to reflect on the huge decision we're about to make? That perhaps the anti-politics, anti-expert mood has gone a bit far? Perhaps the politicians, our allies, the economists and international organisations who say Brexit will make Britain poorer, weaker, less influential and will harm the western alliance all have a point? Anything that makes people stop and think isn't going to be good for the 'leave' camp who for weeks have been doubling down on the sullen, nihilist anti-expert, anit-politics anti-immigrant hysteria sweeping western democracies. Events like this have a habit of being the moment the narrative changes.


Farage's disgusting poster unveiled yesterday, with its clear echoes of Nazi propaganda will be received differently in the light of this tragedy.



Thursday, 2 June 2016

An Open Letter to Jean-Claude Juncker

If, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland votes as expected to remain in the European Union, you should not take it as an endorsement.

Britain is a great nation, once the hub of the greatest Empire the world has ever seen, a victor at the centre of alliances, in three centuries of conflict, and the mother of Parliaments. To imagine we would ever subsume our identity into the European Union was the height of hubris, a hubris equalled only by our own imperial project. 

When we on these islands realised that 
"...in seeking to make conquest of others, we have made a shameful conquest of ourself"
we used the last of our global power to defeat a grotesque continental tyranny, and retreated from empire leaving Cricket, democracy and railroads for the friends who willingly helped us defeat Hitler to use.

We expect the European Union to realise that we on these islands will not ever be part of some 'United States of Europe', and we don't think France, Poland, Italy or Germany, or any other great nation of Europe should be expected to either. 

The European Union exists to facilitate trade between free peoples, and to solve problems best dealt with at an international level. Trade, environment and security. And it is the Last of these in which our voice must be heard clearest.  For it is British soldiers who have poured blood into European soil over centuries, for all our freedom, and stand ready to do so again. Without the UK in the EU, Germany would have blinked in confrontation with Mr. Putin in the Kremlin. And it is our unbreakable alliance with the United States that ultimately guarantees European freedom to this day. When Churchill said 
"If Britain must choose between Europe and the open sea, she must always choose the open sea."
he was asking De Gaulle in 1944 to not make him choose an alliance with Europe over the USA. We, if forced to choose, will never choose Europe. An acknowledgement of these facts, ahead of the vote, publicly and with humility would go a long way to keeping the European and broader western alliance together.

The European Union has achieved much to be proud of. Chief amongst these is the cementing of Democratic norms in the former fascist south and former communist East. The carrot of joining the club has brought countries with no tradition of freedom to respect human rights and the rule of law.
Freedom brings great wealth and power, but that power must be used lightly. Britain learned that lesson the hard way. There is no need for the nations of Europe to learn it again.

No more 'Ever closer Union'. Not for the UK as you have already accepted, nor anyone else.



Monday, 23 May 2016

On the EU Army Nonsense.

The UK military has operated independently twice in the past 400 years with a 1-1 scoreline. The treasonous war of American so-called "independence", and the Falklands conflict. Otherwise we always operate in an alphabet soup of foreign alliances.

The EU Military staff doesn't directly command troops, who usually (but not always) operate under the auspices of NATO.  Most military co-operation in Europe is bi-lateral such as Anglo-French missions to Mali, or multi-lateral and Ad Hoc, like EuroFor. Eurofor, which has deployed several times, isn't an EU army but multi-lateral co-operation between Italy, France, Portugal and Spain, and has mainly operated in the francophone Africa.

The EU battlegroup training on salisbury plain recently isn't a nascent EU army, just one of the alphabet soup of foreign co-operative organisations of which the UK military is part, one which hasn't deployed anywhere, and is a bit like the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps of which the UK has long been the core.

The French, long suspicious of NATO and who want to make the EU a counterweight to EU power, have accepted that while the UK is a member of the EU, an EU army isn't going to happen and rejoined NATO's command in 2009. They pulled out in 1966 arguing (no, seriously...) that NATO (get this, right...) undermined their sovereignty. (Lol).

The EU army isn't going to happen, because the UK has consistently vetoed the formation of an independent EU military command.

Of course were we to leave the EU, then the French would be free to get their way, leaving NATO's command again and possibly taking the Germans with them in time. We must remain to prevent the French using the EU to undermine NATO.



Friday, 13 May 2016

On the "Brexit and War" Question: Not as Silly as it Sounds

Russia conducted an exercise of 80,000 troops in 2014 simulating an invasion of the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. It isn't unreasonable that our Article IV NATO allies and EU partners feel a mite worried about the bellicose behaviour of their nuclear-armed Neighbour, who has 800,000 men under arms. Russia could bring forces to bear, invade, and mop up all resistance in the Baltic states within a week. The only thing stopping him taking back what Putin has described as "not real countries", is the security guarantee they enjoy from NATO, and especially the USA.

Far from being "provocative", the Western alliance has bent over backwards to accommodate Russia's paranoia. No troops have been permanently stationed in the Baltic until recently. There is constant communication (from NATO) in order to prevent misunderstandings. (Much less is forthcoming from Russia). NATO exercises in the region have been no more than a few hundred troops. There is certainly no massing of forces that could possibly threaten Russian territory, and the west has no interest in provoking Russia. The idea that the Association Agreement the EU was to sign with Ukraine was in any way "provocative" to Russia should be met with a snort of contempt and derision, let alone the idea the Euromaidan protests were "anti-russian" or orchestrated by "fascists". (So please don't say so in the comments, I'll simply delete such Putin-toadying).

But the Russian state's default position is Paranoia. In the Siloviki, you have, in effect, a state captured by its spooks. They are in thrall to Alexandr Dugin's doctine of Eurasianism, and feel encircled by enemies, chief amongst which in the Kremlin's demonology are NATO and the European Union. NATO is the shield, but the EU is the means by which we will defeat Putin's eurasianism. By bringing countries like the Baltic states and Ukraine into the European system, we demonstrate the profound failure of Russia as an alternative. Ultimately the Russian people would be better off embracing western values, and without Putin's toxic and paranoid statecraft.

While the world watches Syria, Russia is busy pouring poison into western discourse with the explicit aim of breaking the world order in place since the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. So Putin supports “anti-systemic” parties of left and right. He bankrolls the French Front National and Hungarian Jobbik. Alec Salmond and Nigel Farage were regulars, and well paid, on Russia Today, Putin's toxic little propaganda swamp. Aaron Banks, UKIP and Leave.EU's biggest donor is married to a Russian, and has form for repeating Putinist lies. Jeremy Corbyn regularly used to spout Russian Propaganda, before he was forced by circumstance to converse with grown-ups for a change. Green parties have money siphoned to them (anti-fracking, to support Russian energy interests). Putin is absolutely delighted at the Rise of Donald Trump. It has been alleged Russian Bombing of Aleppo and elsewhere in Syria was undertaken deliberately to create refugees, to further destabilize and undermine the European Union. I suspect, though this was not more than a secondary benefit, to the ultimate goal of making Mr. Putin look good on Russian state TV.

We’ve never had an enemy like this before. Russia is a spy agency, which has captured a Nuclear-armed state, but it's not clear Putin is in complete control. The entire apparatus of the state is about creating an alternate reality, in which fact and fiction merge. Maskirovka, raised to a governing philosophy. but with no real end-game in sight. There is something of the Thomas a Beckett about the chaos in Donbass: Putin says "will no-one rid me of this Turbulent Priest" and before you know it, two provinces of Ukraine have declared independence backed by significant invasions of Russian regular soldiers. Putin cannot back down without losing face, but cannot escalate for fear of provoking NATO. The shooting down of MH17 was the moment the Ukrainian donbass separatists over-stepped their mark, but there's no way out for either party. Ukraine faces an existential threat, and the Russian regime is based on never showing weakness.

With a frozen conflict in Ukraine, things can escalate rapidly. It is the Nature of Putin's cult of personality, he needs constant action to keep the narrative of strength going. This was the ultimate reason for the Deployment of Russian Forces to Syria - to get a limited war onto Russian TV that can be used to demonstrate the Greatness of Mother Russia, which makes the sacrifices the long-suffering Russian people worthwhile. But Russian forces have pulled out of Syria, and there's little glory in the stalemate outside Mariupol. What next?

Sweden and Finland, neutral during the cold war, are inches away from Joining NATO, so threatened do they feel. Swedish subs are continuously dealing with Russian incursions. The Russians are actively buzzing US warships in the region. The RAF having to scramble to intercept Russian Nuclear bombers is a weekly occurrence. It’s constant provocation. A Russian flotilla sailed through British waters last week.

Putin may be a master tactician, but he fails as a strategist. This is, to my mind the single biggest risk of the UK leaving the EU. Brexit would send a message (whether or not this is true) that NATO's number two power is no longer serious about its commitments to its allies. He'll have split off Europe's most potent military power from the EU. This will embolden Putin to try to further split the west, because it suggests our Nations' commitments to each other isn't as strong as it was in 1989. This is especially true if there's further success for "anti-establishment" politicians like Donald Trump. If Putin has an opportunity, and he's an expert opportunist, he is likely to take it to try to break NATO, having already broken the EU. We do not want to tempt the Kremlin to gamble on the UK's willingness to spend blood and treasure to defend Narva. Because if the UK won’t, the USA won’t. And if the USA won’t, NATO is finished. And if NATO is finished, the whole of Eastern Europe could well come under Russian suzerainty again. And that, we think (as well as the Survival of one Mr. V.V. Putin) is the ultimate aim of the Russian state.

Finally, EU sanctions matter. With German "ostpolitik" and much of continental politics actively in Putin's pocket, it is the UK who drove sanctions on the Russian regime when they invaded another soverign European nation. And make no mistake, the EU matters, and the sanctions are hurting the regime. The UK is influential in EU foreign policy, perhaps the most influential power. Without the UK in the EU, the EU would not have taken as robust a stance on Crimea as they did.

Now is NOT the time to be upsetting the international institutions which have been so crucial to delivering peace and prosperity to so much of the former soviet empire. “Brexit risks war” isn’t as silly as it sounds.



Wednesday, 20 April 2016

'Leave' Has Just Lost its Economic Argument

Michael Gove, who is likely to be the person most responsible for setting the parameters of Britain's negotiation with the EU after a leave vote,  indicated on the BBC Today programme the UK will not stay in the common market. We would seek a free trade agreement like Albania, or Iceland.

This means the risks of #brexit have gone up. The prospects of a risk-free slip into the EEA have gone. We must therefore run the risk of the foreign investors on whom we rely to cover are triple deficit (current account, fiscal and trade) going on strike.

Where this to happen, In order to tempt them back, the Bank of England would need to raise interest rates , which slows growth. The UK may not be a default risk , but as a country with I need for constant inflows of foreign capital we may need to print more money to cover the bills . Investors will therefore need a higher return to compensate for the risk.

This is one mechanism by which leaving the EU could slow growth. There are others. The UK may become a less attractive place for foreign companies to invest. And not just because of access to the single market. For all its faults, the EU has been consistent in its application of laws surrounding state intervention in business and preventing government's interfering too much in markets. Leaving risks that benign business environment.

The risk therefore of a catastrophic cycle of interest rate hikes and currency issues has to be set against the sheer paucity of the potential benefits from leaving the EU . Just what are we hoping to achieve? Why are we risking prosperity in this way?

An honest answer would make use of Gandhi's aphorism " it is better to be governed badly by oneself, than well by other people." If it is simply about democracy, then supporters of brexit will need to be honest about the potential economic costs.

The post EU UK could become the free market prosperous business-friendly place of brexit fantasy, but it could equally become a paranoid insular protectionist hell hole of UKIPpery, or worse yet, the Labour Party could nationalise everything in sight. These are both outcomes European Union protects us from.

The problem is brexit becomes a tabula rasa on to which everyone can paint their own ideal post EU UK . Then arguing against brexit becomes an argument against everything that person holds dear. Many have spent decades seeking confirmation for a prior belief that the EU is behind all the bad things. Nothing can persuade these people that leaving the EU isn't a panacea to solve all the UK's ills. It's a peculiar Mania.

The lesson of the ERM debacle is not that the EU is evil, but that the UK should not have joined the euro, and we didn't. It doesn't follow we should leave the EU too. The EU is not the enemy. The UK is not going to join the euro. EU is not going to Force the UK into a superstate, a European army, or a single currency.

The European Union is a collection of some the freest, most prosperous and happiest democracies on Earth. The Euro project has impoverished half the continent on the altar of political vanity. But that is not the question we are asking in this referendum. We are asking specifically whether the UK should leave the European Union.

What are the benefits of leaving the EU? If they aren't economic, they seem mostly to accrue to politicians who gain greater freedom to interfere in our lives. And what do we the people gain, to offset the probability of a negative economic outcome?

Will we lose the right to live, work and travel at will from Helsinki to Lisbon and from Warsaw to Dublin? Probably not, but it's a risk. Will UK be better off economically speaking speaking? Probably not. That means people will lose jobs.

The risks are real, the benefits seem ephemeral. And very fact that we are having this referendum now means should the EU develop in a way that is an anathema to British interests, for example if  as I am told is "inevitably" going to happen,  the Euro is forced upon the UK, we can always leave another time. The very fact of this referendum undermines fatally the sovereignty argument.

Thankfully the polling seems to indicate the remain campaign is winning.



Monday, 4 April 2016

I dislike the EU intensely. I'm voting to Remain in.

I get it. You hate the EU, and Jean Claude Juncker's a twat. I get it, the desire to kick Guy Verhofstadt in the bollocks. I understand on a deep and visceral level the desire to headbut Martin Shultz and wedgie Neil bloody Kinnock and hang him on a clothes peg by his underpants until they rip. I want pour itching powder into all their underwear drawers. Jaques Delors especially. But for better or worse, in the EU or out, we have to work with these bloody people, and the tin-pot countries they come from which show precious little gratitude for the British blood poured into their soil over the centuries for the privilege they still enjoy to not speak German (or French or Spanish). Instead they must speak English...

I get the desire to send RAF Typhoons on punitive strikes against the wasteful and absurd Strasbourg Parliament building, with or without the MEPs still inside. I understand the desire to have HMS Dragon, the most modern air-defence destroyer on the sea to be deployed against Spanish fishermen. I get the desire to set fire to French sheep (mainly because you'd get in less trouble than you would setting fire to French farmers). I too deplore the wasteful CAP. Above all, I want the entire commission, parliament and bureacuracy of the EU lined up and bogwashed by the smelliest upper-sixth prefect, one after the other while they practice their English irregular verbs. All right-thinking people agree.

I'm still voting to 'Remain'.

The most likely scenario should the UK leave the EU, is that not a lot would change. There will of course be some disruption before people realise this, probably leading to a small recession. But upon UK leaving the EU, slipping into the EEA will feel like a more comfortable shirt. Long-run, we may even be better off and happier. This will likely suit our historic national desire for "the open sea" over the continent. But  UKIPpers will still be grunting about immigrants, and deplore the fact we still have to obey EU rules. But as we will no longer have any formal means to influence them all that much, they'll have to lump it. Thankfully without their MEPs (and EU money) they'll fade away.

We'll be free to trade with the world (as if we aren't already...)? Well here's the Economist suggesting it's nowhere near as easy as Brexiteers pretend to negotiate new trade agreements.  This EEA scenario holds no fear for me. But it's by no means a given, and nor does it achieve much beyond 'not being in the EU'.

If we aren't staying in the EEA, then negotiating a new arrangement with Europe will likewise be nowhere near as simple as Brexiteers will have you believe - and it will be negotiated in an atmosphere of bad blood. There will be a recession, and probably a long and deep one. We will in the short to medium term almost certainly be worse off.

However there is a broad strand of 'Leave' thought that wants the UK to be the catalyst for the collapse of the entire EU project. The problem is with Brexit, a systemic collapse is far from just being a 'KIPper's mastubatory fantasy, it could happen, and there exist outside forces, who've already got influence, that will be urging it on. This systemic collapse WILL cause a massive recession, both here and even worse, in the EU, and lead to all the geostrategic points that I've been raising in all my previous essays on the subject. Vladimir Putin would be delighted. World trade - heretofore liberalising albeit at a glacial pace would go back by 30 years.

You can't have it both ways: glory in the imminent collapse of the EU AND paint the downsides of that scenario as 'Project Fear' when it's absolutely what most brexiteers desire, when the mask slips.

You can EITHER control EU immigration OR keep all the trade benefits of the EEA, but not both. Leaving the EU can either be low-risk OR you can control EU immigration and "get our country back". Not both. 

Even the best case scenario of EEA membership, (which I suspect most Brexiteers only favour to have any chance at all of securing a 'Leave' vote at all) will leave the UK not much better off, with significant risks all on the downside, should any more damaging scenarios play out.

Leaving this bloody stupid organisation our idiot neighbours built simply isn't a good gamble. Stay in, and keep the more excitable Federast knobbers under control as best we can is in the best interests of the UK, and that of our friends and allies on the continent. Basically that means staying in, to work with the Germans to prevent the French screwing everything up. Again.

If leaving was government policy, and I knew therefore which of the options I'd be voting for, and the risks and benefits were clear in advance (and we were opting for EEA...), I'd probably go for it. But it isn't, they're not and so I won't. I'm not taking a risk with my prosperity, just to please idiot 'KIPpers. That's that. 



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