Tuesday, 6 February 2018

An Englishman in Kuala Lumpur


On short notice, not entirely for leisure, I find myself in Malaysia and without reliable internet hence the lack of blogging.

It is a welcome antidote to the tedium of the Brexit debate but at the same time an opportunity to look at the rest of the world through the prism of standards and regulations which will no doubt be a rich seam of blogging upon my return. This dispatch is a little bit random but I will elaborate in future posts why these such observations are highly relevant.

Kuala Lumpur faces a major political battle as it races to licence and regulate street vendors. Aside from the peripheral street level issues their presence poses a headache for public health authorities as they attempt to gauge the scale of the problem. Malaysia has an ineffectual food safety surveillance system which hampers disease control efforts and frequently leads to embargoes on exports.

There are a number of priorities but among them are controlling the reputational damage to tourism in the era of TripAdvisor. A bad headline can lead to a collapse of revenue for an entire season.

Traceability is also a major issue as very often street vendor food is prepared in the home making food poisoning investigations more difficult.

Many assume it's the food and the general conditions of the outlets that lead to food poisoning, however an incident some years ago, leading to over a thousand reported cases of Cholera, was traced to an ice factory and a seaweed jelly distributor in Penang. Consequently street vendors are advised not to put ice in drinks.

When the top concern for the UN is presently antimicrobial resistance stopping antibiotics from working, disease prevention runs deep into UN sustainable development goals which requires systemic reform to food hygiene and city infrastructure.

Street vendors, however, are none too cooperative and prohibition attempts have proven impossible. Kuala Lumpur has instead embarked upon a regime of registration and training along with better public information but it's fighting a losing battle, not least since they are part of the attraction for more adventurous tourists.

It should also be noted that street vendors should not be unjustly targeted since school kitchens are routinely responsible for food poisoning with just one kitchen responsible for an outbreak of e.coli affecting nine hundred students.

Throughout Kuala Lumpur it is clear that street food is a major part of the culture and is intensely political. Its very existence is at odds with a number of public health goals where once again we see a conflict between necessary technocracy over democracy, where well meaning authorities with science based long term aims for sustainability are met with objections from ordinary people just trying to make a living with the little they have. It's not just a debate confined to the ever dismal Brexit bickering.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Brexit: nothing to do with Brexit


Writing in the Independent, John Rentoul outlines why he thinks the Lib Dems are failing to make a splash. It's quite a good piece. Ultimately he describes a party with nothing of value to add pegging its hopes on occupying a pro-EU vacuum. If you're a flagging party with nowhere to go it seems like a smart move. Rentoul, however, sees the problem.
So why doesn’t the party’s clear opposition to Brexit translate into higher support? A large part of the answer is probably that few normal people care about Brexit to the exclusion of all else. For most voters, Brexit was something about which they were asked in 2016 and they are waiting for the Government to get on with it.
He really has got it in one. Brexit is rapidly becoming a fringe issue. I have noted in recent weeks how grassroots Remain campaigns have had to plug into NHS histrionics and travel further to the fringes of the left to stay in the public eye. The public's attention span on Brexit is utterly spent. It has bored all of us to death. 

One might have expected there would still be some life in it on the right but the latest spat between Hammond and Rees-Mogg is not about Brexit. Brexit is just the proxy issue and nobody is actually interested in the substance or the mechanics of the dispute. It's just factional bickering and an attempt to oust Philip Hammond clearing the way for a Rees-Mogg leadership bid.

As ever this dispute is happening tangentially to reality. The dispute between the aligners and divergers is largely redundant since the UK has already entered a politically binding agreement on alignment in respect of the Northern Ireland issue. The wheels are already in motion. That, though, will not stop the low grade civil war which will carry on burning away in its own parallel dimension irrespective of what happens in Brussels in the coming weeks. 

The consequence of this is that most of the media chatter about Brexit will in fact be very little to do with Brexit also. The internecine warfare will always be the main ring for the media as exasperated Brexitologists scream about the issues from the rooftops to no avail.

Depressing though that may be, it is in fact a reversion to the norm. As politics drifts further back into its comfort zone of trivia, the media (and subsequently the public) will fall into their default habit of being passive consumers of effluvia. Already the public debate has turned to other matters on the fringes of Labour's implosion. 

Thus, as the momentum from the referendum evaporates, euroscepticism too will revert to its dismal tribalism with the footsoldiers of Brexit blindly following Rees-Mogg as their substitute Farage who will undoubtedly damage the cause in much the same way; exploiting the devotion for personal gain. The revolutionary potential of Brexit will fade and we'll be parked in a political settlement that nobody wanted. 

Effectively British politics is so self-absorbed an insular that not even Brexit shakes it out of its stupor. Those of us who hoped it would reinvigorate politics are going to be further disappointed and Brexit could end up as merely a waypoint in Britain's pre-existing slow decline into irrelevance. 

We do not as yet know what form the final Brexit deal will take but it is now certain that with no political movement driving it, no clear destination and in the hands of a managerial Tory party, the establishment will likely turn Brexit toward its own ends to the applause of eurosceptics and the window for change will close. Handing the game to the enemy will be Farage's legacy. 

Friday, 26 January 2018

Get used to an eternity in Brexit limbo

According to The Telegraph British officials are in discussions with Brussels about extending the Brexit transition period to almost three years. "The official Government target for transition is “around two years” but many senior Whitehall officials remain privately concerned about the practicality of such a short transition, given potentially massive changes that would be required by a “hard” Brexit".

The Telegraph understands that "although it is not formally Government policy, Britain has discreetly begun sounding out senior EU figures over whether transition could be extended amid growing disarray within the Cabinet over the ultimate terms of a long-term deal with the EU".
The EU has signalled that it is in no mood to grant such requests. The suggestion that UK might ultimately seek a three-year transition period would be likely to face steep political opposition, since it would take the government within just a year of the next General Election.
However experts have warned that the amount of work needed to be completed inevitably pointed to an extension. Charles Grant, the director of the Centre for European Reform think-tank, said yesterday that he expected the transition to last "three to five years" in practice.
He said: "Both sides are pretending that the transition will be short – May because she want to keep calm the eurosceptics who are keen to escape the EU’s regulations quickly, and the EU because any transition that stretches beyond the current seven-year budget cycle (ending December 2020) would require a new and difficult negotiation on money. But it will need to be several years longer because of the time that will be needed to negotiate the complexities of the future relationship and to build new physical infrastructure at ports".
Here's where chickens come home to roost. It is a certainty that two years will be insufficient. We are a presently racing up to a year since Article 50 was invoked using existing financial arrangements and thus far have accomplished very little. There is zero chance of negotiating an entirely new relationship in two years. On present form we are looking at substantially longer and it definitely will require a new negotiation on money in order to avoid the cliff edge. 

Following that we are looking at yet another limbo as we negotiate an actual implementation period for whatever is agreed in between. It could be five years or more from now before a single thing changes. 

It may be that it runs on the doctrine of nothing is agreed until everything is agreed but then there is also the possibility that a number of the peripherals will come into force sooner; Agreements on aviation and nuclear issues. Agriculture and fishing is likely to be a full blown trade negotiation. 

In fact, we could be well into 2021 before we have any clear indication as to what the regulatory model will look like. Until then the government can only restate its vague aspirations, unable to give any guarantees. 

Meanwhile anything could happen on the domestic front. The government will be keen to conclude the substance of the deal before the next general election but the chances of that seem vanishingly small. Both sides may be keen to avoid a protracted exit process but unless the UK is prepared to bite the bullet and stay in the EEA it seems unrealistic to expect anything else.  

Thursday, 25 January 2018

I want to be a Tory


Being just an 'umble computer geek from the back hills of nowhere, one did not expect to ever know about WTO law. Nor indeed sanitary and phytosanitary measures, technical barriers to trade, regulatory harmonisation, tariffs, rules of origin, EFSA risk assessment, border inspection posts, subsidy quotas, intellectual property, maritime surveillance, air passenger rights, dispute resolution, international treaty law, EEA law, the workings of Efta and the processes of CJEU.

Nor did I expect to have to concern myself with international development aid, economic partnership agreements, MoUs, FTAs, RTAs, AEO and the likes. But being a citizen in a first world democracy you have a certain obligation to be informed and to stay informed. It's actually quite a lot of hard work. A lot of this knowledge is of no commercial value to me, and acquiring such knowledge has come at considerable expense.

Knowing all this I've had to fight my corner, take the time to explore the issues in greater depth, teach other people - monitoring every last twist and turn of the process despite the relentless tedium of it - and missing out on what I could otherwise be doing.

Little did I realise I could have saved myself the bother. I could simply have become a Tory. In future, that's what I'll do. Because when you're Tory you don't have to grapple with the details. You don't have to study the issues. You can simply transmit your ignorance, evade any debate, and people will worship you for doing so.  

When you're a Tory all of these issues cease to exist, every problem is resolvable at the wave of a magic wand, and the world instantly simplifies on your command. Forty years of globalisation simply stops existing. 

We are told by Tories that hard work is the way to the top. But that is not the example set here. Jacob Rees-Mogg has remained entirely oblivious to all of the technical aspects of Brexit, which is why, to him none of it presents any barrier. Living through the same events as me, the volumes written on the subject have not altered his view in the slightest. We are just a short hop from where we are to boundless riches. 

Not only does this win him the respect of his colleagues and attract a large following of Tories, it puts him in the running to lead the party and the country. All it takes is a plummy accent and a Gestapo haircut. Had I known I could have saved myself an awful lot of trouble. 

One might even ask, when we have such gifted people in our midst, why do we even need all these civil servants, trade negotiators and lawyers? The Moggster clearly has all the answers. Just join the Tories and everything just becomes so much simpler. Hard work and study is just for the little people. 

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Justice for James O'Brien!


The story that caught my eye this evening was one from Press Gazette in which it reports the departure of James O'Brien from BBC Newsnight.
The broadcaster is an open critic of Brexit and US President Donald Trump, views which he airs on his daily LBC radio show. But his opinionated approach flies in the face of strict BBC guidelines on impartiality, which have recently been applied to presenters who have taken a stance on BBC pay equality – resulting in some being taken off the air. In a leader comment about O’Brien, pro-Brexit newspaper the Sun asked: “How can the BBC still feign political impartiality with this professional leftie propagandist presenting Newsnight?”
O'Brien is something of a Marmite figure. You either love him or loathe him. To me though he's just background noise. He's full of himself, pompous, and given how he always chooses easy targets; a coward and a bully. He will never seek debate on a level playing field and certainly not without home advantage.

He claims to have resigned in order to speak freely on matters of Brexit, but if the BBC is still upholding its guidelines on impartiality he will have gone before he was pushed. I actually think this unfair to O'Brien.

The Sun chose its words well when it asks how the BBC still feign political impartiality. The short answer is that it can't and it doesn't. It has the deeply moronic Andrew Neil as a token licensed dissenter but for the rest of the time we are forced to endure empty headed luvvie presenters with a head full of conventional soft left dogma - whose values are a million miles away from the public the BBC nominally serves.

One would go as far as saying the pretence of impartiality is actually more insulting than if they had given James O'Brien free reign to do as he pleases. That is at least an honest position. If anything Newsnight has suffered from a slow bleed of ratings precisely because it is sanitised beyond usefulness. It could use a bit of grubby personal bias to at least make it interesting.

The problem is that the BBC has lost touch and no longer serves its function. Rather than being the inquisitor of the establishment it has become the mouthpiece of it. This is point lost on the BBC but is quite obvious to everyone else.

The weather vane is BBC comedy output. We have the Newsquiz, where last time I tuned in the punchline to every joke was Nigel Farage as Sandi Toksvig cackles in the background. Then we have the odious Mitch Benn and The Now Show ever ready to paint the eurosceptic as a middle-aged, paranoid gammon faced nazi who screams at the television. They kick down. Comedy derived from snobby and a distaste for the plebs.

At one time these comedians might have been edgy. They owe their careers to Ben Elton: The Man From Auntie - the BBC prime-time stand up show dedicated to slamming the Tory government at its peak. For a time BBC comedy was driven by the counter culture; speaking truth to power.

Through a number of charity telethons and jamborees these talents gradually became part of the establishment. Instead of seeking new talent the BBC became ossified and self-satisfied. It failed to notice the sea change in politics - and those comedians who used to kick upwards now kick in the other direction. They are the establishment. The same is true of BBC news output.

Fast forward to today and the comedian of the counter culture is not some snivelling leftist comedian like Russell Brand, Eddie Izzard or Frankie Boyle. The clip doing the rounds for the last few years is Steve Hughes and his bit on being offended.

If the BBC really wanted to speak truth to power it would be recruiting new talents with that razor sharp instinct to poke at the incumbent establishment - both in news and comedy, but the institutionalised culture of the BBC is still stuck in the eighties, failing to notice that the left is controlling the narrative in spite of a Tory government.

The BBC is out of touch and that is just not going to change. There is nothing left for it to do but fade quietly into the night. Ultimately if the BBC can't reform then it could at least stop insulting our intelligence. It should drop the pretence. That would at least be progress.

The problem for the BBC however, is that if it did rip off the mask and go the full moonbat it would be directly competing with Channel 4. That's why it needs O'Brien. What Channel 4 has accomplished, by dropping any pretence of impartiality, is to start a million conversations where Newsnight utterly fails. It has been a very long time since Newsnight made ripples.

In respect of that, since it is not inclined to be the voice for the people, (and if it wants to survive) it could do no worse than hang on to James O'Brien. Authoritarian, conforming to the narrative, snobbish and condescending. Can you think of a better man for the job? I can't.   

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Brexit is a blow against the tyranny of progressives


The case for "lexit" (left wing Brexit) is not one I have much sympathy for. Certainly the economic arguments made by lexiters are problematic. The EU does have rules regarding state aid but once we peel the EU layer away we are then subject to WTO rules and the labyrinth of terms and conditions tucked away inside a patchwork of free trade agreements. Unilaterlaism is ill advised and absolute sovereignty over such matters does not exist. Lexiters are also on shaky ground when asserting the EU exposes the NHS to market forces.  

Then there's the argument that freedom of movement drives down wages. In some respects yes it does but you have to do a multivaried analysis and you find that there are winners and losers. We may find that by ending freedom of movement some wages recover but to the detriment of household disposable income meaning others take the hit, possibility wiping out a number of low skilled jobs. 

The decision to end it, therefore, is not an economic one per se, rather it is an intensely political one depending on who the losers are and how much electoral clout they have. It really depends on your political and social objectives. 

I am of the view that freedom of movement has given business the convenience of casting the recruitment net wider without having to train and that is one reason why so many are economically excluded. As much as government won't plug that training gap, low end skills training provided by government is low quality and of little use to the recipient. There may be alternatives to ending freedom of movement but the government has had twenty years to act on it. If it hasn't acted by now then it isn't going to. 

The strongest argument for Lexit, though, is not really a left wing argument at all. I was recently directed to a speech by Michael Foot whose politics are a million miles from my own. 
People didn't fight for the vote just to have the fun of electioneering. They wanted to see that the vote that they used at the ballot box could change things, stop things, alter things, remove governments when necessary. That's one of the principal reasons for having a vote. But that's not going to happen if we're gong to stay in the Market and if we become enmeshed in the whole of their machinery and apparatus - because what will happen then is that you can go an have an election in this country in which you can vote out the government here - but you won't voting out all the governments that meet in Brussels to decide what is going to happen to us. [...] It is that precious inheritance given us by the people who fought for the right to vote, fought for the right to form trade unions, fought for the right to establish their own institution, fought for the right to have an elected house of commons which should be the supreme authority in this country and answerable to nobody else. It is those things that are at stake in this campaign. We will have plenty of problems to solve after June the Fifth, but let us make it clear that, not merely to our own country, but to the other countries that we believe here in Britain we can solve these problems by using the strength of our democratic institutions instead of casting them aside in this trivial wanton way.  
These words sear into my brain as though spoken by god. This is not a left wing case for Brexit. This is a case for democracy. This is right at the heart of the Brexit debate to which all other issues are fringe. This is what the modern left have lost sight of. 

A piece in The Guardian yesterday asserts that "There is a strong, progressive case to be made for the European project these days. Brexit will be a social amputation for Britain – not a moment of emancipation for its lower middle classes. It will not deliver anything worthwhile to those who feel left behind. “Independence day” will be a blow to workers’ rights, to the struggle against inequality, to the fight for the environment. It certainly won’t bring protection".

The faulty assumption here is that is that top down rights bring any protection at all. There are always unintended consequences. A concept that completely escapes remainers. Business is adept evading workplace regulation and through a two decade long game of regulatory whack-a-mole we find that on paper workers have better rights than ever but in practice, hardly any at all - and certainly no real world protection in the absence of functioning unions. Since the function of labour market regulation has been offshored our own government will do little to remedy this.

But it is not "protection" we seek from Brexit. Rather it is the power to define our own protections, forming unions, using our institutions, having our say and fighting for the rights we want instead of making do with what is done to us. The restoration of politics over technocracy whereby the laws we have reflect our values and not those of a "progressive" elite in thrall to fads and fashions.

The Guardian argues that the European "social pillar" is a plan designed to promote fair wages, a minimum income, healthcare, gender equality, a better work-life balance, data protection, unemployment benefits, access to transport, and rights for disabled people. While it may be no more than a list of intentions, the social pillar is a good roadmap all the same".

Firstly, it is hardly a roadmap. It is hard coded into the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and there are a number of legislative instruments on the books and in progress to consolidate EU authority in these competences. 

There question is, who decides this? Who steers it, and what informs this? Who decides what the optimal work-life balance is, who is choosing for me? Who lays the moral framework for gender equality? Given that the conventional thinking pushes for equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity, EU level measures in that domain opens the door to a whole raft of distorting interventions attacking the natural equilibrium and imposing a value system on the public.

This is ultimately why the progressives want the EU. It saves them the trouble of having to win the argument. They can go around the public without having to persuade or even make their case. With the EU assuming the role of social guardian, it is little wonder our unions have become inert, bloated and conformist. The Guardian concludes:
Labour’s leadership is embroiled in tactical games. It has also appeared unable, or unwilling, to reach out to progressive voices on the continent to help to stop Brexit and to shape an argument for a socially minded, fair and citizen-oriented Europe. Instead, it makes incomprehensible noises about the single market and the customs union. But as Delors once said, “no one falls in love with a market” (or a customs union, for that matter). What people can relate to emotionally is a collective struggle for values, decency, social fairness – and they can be made to feel proud to be part of something larger than their own country, if that something is made to work for the common good. In this globalised world, the EU is our common shield against the negative impact of unregulated capitalism, and the manipulations and illiberal practices of big corporations and large hostile powers.
Except that with the EU gradually taking control of of the social agenda, social rights become a technocratic domain and increasingly subject to harmonisation under the aegis of the ILO. Added protections can be viewed as trade barriers thus the ECJ can award the Commission the authority to order us to weaken our protections and feed our trade defences into the shredder

Whether or not the EU gives us added protections is neither here nor there. Brexit is about the repatriation of decision making over trade and social issues. It is a political statement that says our laws should be reflective of the values of the people, not the elites, and that the people should be able to usefully influence the laws they must live by. 

Though there are many grey areas and every trade deal cedes some sovereignty, the right to say no is fundamental to democracy, and while we remain in the EU that right is muted. Though the case may well have been made for economic liberalisation the consequences are felt most by those left behind. It is therefore a moral obligation that we are governed by consent and that the public are able to choose.

The Brexit debate, therefore, comes down to one estimation. Either you believe in the top-down imposition of law or whether you believe that law should be by the people for the people. You either believe in democracy or you don't. 

What the europhiles of the Guardian advocate is a Europe wide social order of their design according to their values from which the public are excluded, where popular movements have no influence. Benevolent in intent it may be but its effects are far from it. That Europe is more socially fragmented than ever and populist movements springing up all over comes as no surprise. This is what the EU calls a worrying resurgence of populism. It's not that. It's democracy making a comeback - and they hate it.

Monday, 22 January 2018

The era of zombie politics


Britain is in a right old state. It faces innumerable challenges but it does not have the political machinery to adequately address them. Society has evolved but our politics has not. Our political parties are a throwback to a long dead era.

When I left school in the mid nineties my first proper job was at the local chemicals factory. It was the largest employer in the district and the last big industrial employer in the city. A city built on the textile industry during the industrial revolution. I was probably of the last generation to have that convenience.

By this time most of the mines in the county had closed, the textile industry had moved overseas and the steel mills were all but gone. The post-war era of mass employment was coming to a close. The unions had been defeated and call centres replaced factories. We had stepped into a new era as a services economy. The job-for-life era was over.

This process started with Margaret Thatcher’s industrial reforms, effectively gutting Labour’s powerbase and source of revenue. The traditional working class gradually atomised and vanished. With the right to buy state owned housing, the working classes became a property owning middle class. By 1995 the struggle for working class emancipation was over.

By this time we had acceded to the Maastricht Treaty, transcribing a number of EU rights into law, rendering the unions largely redundant. Labour had served its purpose. There were no major battles left to fight. What was clear, however, was that the Conservative Party had outstayed its welcome. Mired in sleaze, short on ideas and tired, it was swept aside by a new party. New Labour.

Tony Blair knew one thing. An old model socialist party could not win. Any Labour movement would have to reform as a party of social progress but carrying forward the economic liberalism promoted by Thatcher. It became a centrist social democrat party. Many view it as a mere extension of the Thatcher era in different clothes.

Then came the global financial crisis and the era of austerity. New Labour, tainted by the Iraq invasion, had also run out of steam. With public finances exposed to the ravages of the markets the axe began to fall on public sector jobs created to mask the effects of deindustrialisation.

Looking back one might even suggest that 2008 was probably the peak of Western civilisation and the crisis is what defines everything that has followed. We are now in the era of decline. Not industrial decline per se, rather we are in a state of political decline. The political power of the West is waning.

Now when we survey the political landscape we find hollowed out shells with no direction, no sense of purpose and no moral mission. We are in the era of zombie politics. The Conservative reformers had only one tool in the box. Market liberalisation. By the time David Cameron came to power there was little left to do. His administration was noted for being a spin heavy managerialist party really only there to keep the status quo ticking along while managing the fallout of the financial crisis.

In effect, the one-trick-pony Conservatives had completed their mission in transforming the economy from an industrial socialist country to a booming capitalist one. Like Labour, its mission was complete.

What both parties failed to note was the growing disquiet in the regions. A combination of mass immigration and hyper-globalisation had upturned communities and though we were a wealthier nation, we were not happier for it. The new order suited the urban middle classes adequately served by the traditional parties, but swathes of the hinterlands were left behind to rot. Fertile ground for a populist party like Ukip.

To cut a long story short, Ukip was able to leverage an EU referendum by eating into the working-class base of both parties, but especially the Conservatives whose rebrand as a centrist party in the shadow of Blair had failed to inspire. Promising a referendum was the only way to bring working class Tories back into the fold. It worked – but at the price of EU membership.

The problem for Britain is that, of itself, Brexit does not actually solve anything. It may certainly act as a catalyst and create the opportunities for change but there is no obvious political architect on the horizon to rebuild and reunite the country.

The Conservatives have no tools left in the box while Labour wants to turn back the clock and put the globalisation genie back in the bottle. Labour’s leadership is made up of old men from the socialist era, backed by a youth wing too young to know any better.

As CiarĂ¡n McGonagle puts it "Labour now resides in non-interconnected world where economic policy can be imposed unilaterally without regard to global context, where increasing tax on upwardly mobile corporates and high earners inevitably leads to increased revenues without risk of relocation. Where the City's hegemony is inevitable and can be squeezed for new revenues as though other nations are incapable of competing for business. Where Government can pick and choose which international laws and regulations it deigns to adhere to without losing global influence in making those laws. Where the government can nationalise and subsidise industry at a whim without fear of reprisal or economic consequence".

As incomes are squeezed and as living standards decline the promise of a brighter yesterday resonates with those nostalgic for days gone by. Myself included. The problem is that after forty years of globalised governance no government has the freedom to do as it pleases. Nation states and blocs are no longer the most powerful actors. Every move is a negotiated compromise. Nothing happens in isolation of the global context.

Meanwhile, embedded in this zombie socialist party is a movement of postmodernist identarians seeking to impose their equality agenda on an unsuspecting public. One that seeks quality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity. The new thought police. Consequently Britain is in the grip of its own internet culture war.

Ordinarily a party in such a state of disrepair would be thrashed into oblivion at the ballot box, but these are not ordinary times. The Conservative Party is similarly dysfunctional. The centrists of the old order have nothing to say for themselves while the momentum within the party comes from a rump of ultra-right capitalists who in their own way are stuck in a timewarp, seeking to recreate Thatcher’s victories. Their vision is equally unappealing.

In effect our entire political apparatus has been so self-involved it has failed to notice how governance has become more complex and interconnected and how technology has emancipated people. The old models simply don’t work. Both parties are seeking to graft obsolete ideologies on to a world that they don’t understand and seemingly do not want to. Their solutions are based on old scriptures but are in fact solutions in search of a problem.

As it happens, even taking Brexit into account, Britain is and will remain a fairly wealthy country. There will be challenges and setbacks but increasingly industry is moving toward a model of self-regulation effectively cutting governments out of the loop, where the economy pretty much runs on autopilot. The job of government is to figure out how and where to tax in and by how much without doing too much damage. If government exists for any reason in the modern era then it is to curb the excesses and mitigate the externalities of industry.

What ultimately plagues government is how to resolve the social malaise, the discontent and the increasing polarisation. We are in the midst of a national identity crisis, struggling to find a role in the world. We must come to terms with the end of the post-war settlement and reckon with the looming demographic crisis that brings into question the sustainability of our entitlements.

We have an infantilised population which is largely reflected in our politics. We demand change and sacrifices just so long as that change does not happen to us and that the sacrifice is made by somebody else. This creates a political deadlock where decisions are persistently deferred. We therefore become passengers as events happen to us without the necessary policy preparations. It will hit hard.

I rather suspect it unwise to hold our breath in hope of a white knight movement galloping to our rescue. The old parties run their little workshops to talk about renewal and reinvigoration but this is just political marketing; designing new campaigns to secure their incumbency. If there is to be a new politics it will have to happen from outside London.

Britain is in a limbo. No-one is quite sure how long it can limp on. The establishment will probably limp on through Brexit and for a time after, and it will probably take another turn of the wheel for the new generation to realise that the old parties have no answers. Beyond that it is impossible to say what the new order looks like. All we know is that politics as we know it cannot survive - and does not deserve to.

Brexit: the future starts here


I have to admit that there was a moment last summer, lasting about a week, when I seriously questioned the wisdom of Brexit. With the Tory Taliban pushing for no deal, it brought me to the edge of reconsidering. I think, however, that the Tory right lost that argument. I think there will be a deal and though it probably won't be the EEA, there will be a fudge on free movement of goods and some provision for services. It will do, sub-optimal though it may be.

To me that makes the Brexit process a lot less interesting. The public has zero say in it so it's really just a matter of waiting to find out what the deal looks like, learning how it works and adapting accordingly.

On the campaigning front I'm starting to think that the remainers have jumped the shark. The sourness has destroyed any case they might have made. The economic arguments they have didn't work in the referendum and they won't work now. Especially with the pound recovering and the absence of immediate Brexitgeddon.

It also looks like the door to remaining is closing. The EU wants to get on with being the EU and remainers would now have to make a case not just for remaining but also buying into European federalism - which is simply not going to fly with Brits.

If we manage to preserve an open border with NI, keep the trucks rolling and aircraft flying, most of the pragmatic remainer concerns will be addressed. Since the rights of EU citizens are safeguarded further shrillness from remainers is unwarranted and just sounds petulant. Since we are this far in I think there's an acceptance that we have crossed the event horizon and there are too many wheels in motion to turn back. The public is more accepting than the die hard remainers.

As to whatever economic damage may follow, I am convinced that the economy in good time will reorient itself to whatever the new settlement is. People will adapt, as indeed they always have. Some things will improve, some things will not. Politics will take over.

While I had my concerns about Brexit the more I look at it it from the non-economic perspective the more I am absolutely convinced that it's the right thing to do and now is the best time to be doing it. Britain needs change, it needs a fresh start and it needs a new direction. Remaining cannot promise that. Brexit, for whatever its faults, can.

In recent weeks and months I've looked at the social and human aspect of Brexit and concluded that there are many ways in which subtle changes will be good for national morale, good for democracy and a chance to have a rethink on a number of long settled policy areas. Though no FTA will ever compensate for the loss of the single market, I think there could be some pleasant surprises and in many respects a change for its own sake is healthy.

What removed any doubt from my mind was last week's vote on the amendment to retain the EU charter of fundamental rights. I have written much about how nearly every EU initiative is there to serve the integrationist agenda but this was a reminder that the Lisbon treaty really is a foundation constitution for a Federal Europe. The ECFR is the blueprint for the social Europe which completes le grand project. That then reminds me of that famous Roy Jenkins quite in 1999.
"There are only two coherent British attitudes to Europe. One is to participate fully and to endeavour to exercise as much influence and gain as much benefit as possible from the inside. The other is to recognise that Britain’s history, national psychology and political culture may be such that we can never be other than a foot-dragging and constantly complaining member; and that it would be better, and certainly would produce less friction, to accept this and to move towards an orderly, and if possible, reasonably amicable withdrawal."
The only alteration I would make to that is the first sentence. I would change it to "There are only two respectable British attitudes to Europe". There is no right or wrong answer. it is simply a matter of preference as to whether one wishes to be a province of a federal Europe or a self-governing independent nation. I believe democracy is better served by the latter - and if that be the case then economic arguments don't come into it. You just have to bite the bullet and get it done.

But this is why I have so much deep seated contempt for our political class. They who would tell us to remain purely on the basis of economic concerns, completely oblivious as to the motives and functioning of the EU, preferring that level of governance to tick along without Westminster supervision. It's like asking a businessman for details about the functioning of his company only to be told "my accountant handles all that". That is not a respectable position from our politicians. It is a dereliction of duty. 

By the same token, this is why I bear no malice toward die hard remainers like Mike Galsworthy and Jon Worth. They are unapologetic europhiles and if the EU did fully federalise they would present no opposition. I can respect that. It is at least an honest position. The pretence, though, that one can be in the EU and not subject to ever closer union, is nothing short of a contemptible deception... or inexcusable ignorance. 

As we have elected to be a self-governing independent state we must simply reckon with the costs of that decision. You can tell me it's going to hurt exports or hurt the NHS. You can tell me it's going to cause a lot of uncertainty and disruption. That's as maybe. I'm not even going to argue. It does not alter the political reality that we are leaving the EU and we will move on from this.

Twenty years ago most households did not have the internet. Now we would struggle to cope without it. In terms of day to day consumables and small luxuries we can have more or less anything we want at the click of a button. Technology is outpacing the development of trade agreements and global supply chains are standardising without prompt from any authority. Amazon will do more to create a global marketplace than the EU. 

If you think of where we were twenty years ago and then try to imagine where we will be in another twenty years, following another technological revolution (whatever that may be) the minutia of Brexit will feel a universe away. Our membership of the EU will be as meaningless to the next generation as our one time brief membership of Efta is to the millennials. The post-war European order will be utterly irrelevant to those who come after us. Our legacy to them, though, will be an independent democracy free of the paranoid dogmas of the EU. 

Though events are presently sluggish, with some of the momentum of the referendum melting away, the closer we get to Brexit day, the closer we get to a new beginning. That is when we will start to feel the consequences of our decision. That day cannot come soon enough. 

That is when it will become inescapably obvious that we lack the political machinery to adequately forge our response to those changes. That is when collective tolerance for our zombie politics will end. The day when we have no excuses, no restraints and no further patience. On that day we begin writing a new chapter in British history, when we finally put the superstitions of the twentieth century behind us. That will be the day I have waited so long for. Let the future commence. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Physician, heal thyself


The big deal of the week has been the now infamous debate between Cathy Newman and Jordan B Peterson. I urge you to watch the whole thing. The substance I won't go into. All I will say is on that subject I have no cause to disagree with Peterson.

There have been a number of comments made about the conduct of Cathy Newman in bombarding Peterson with straw men. She does do that. What makes it a useful piece of journalism is that Newman evidently does hold a number of views based on modern feminist dogma which makes her ideal to stimulate the kind of replies which properly represent Peterson's position. It makes her a risible individual but as a piece of television where both sides of the argument are aired and explored, it's actually pretty good and Channel 4 is to be commended for creating the space for this very necessary debate.

What is interesting is the number of views it's had which will stand at three million by the end of this week and countless excerpts will have been viewed on Twitter. That tells us that there is indeed a market for considered and well executed television debates where viewers are exposed to complex arguments and (almost) treated like grown ups.

The interview itself, though, was only decent by contrast with most of what we see in television media. It's still not a patch on a Brian Walden interview from the early 90's. Generally we get Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr and repeated exposure to Diane Abbott for reasons no one is able to comprehend. The public are more than capable of engaging in detailed debate but the media does not see fit to provide it. We get the empty-headed speaking to the know-nothings.

We need not, therefore, wonder why there is still no clarity to the Brexit debate. Not once has the media stepped up to its obligation to inform. One might speculate that the subject matter is far less universal in appeal to what we see here, but that is an argument for even more debate, not less. There is a breadth of issues inside Brexit to explore - not least immigration.

For Channel 4 it serves a commercial agenda to choose more controversial topics, but will still limit itself to the superficial. That is to be expected. It is primarily a commercial operation. The question, therefore, is why is Channel 4 doing a better (though not adequate) job of driving debates than the BBC? Why is the BBC attempting to compete with commercial channels when it has a public service remit, and if it feels no obligation to meet those public service obligations and fulfil its duty to inform, what exactly is the point of it?

Remainers and leavers are still bitterly divided and if anything there has been a more radical polarisation since the summer. What we can all agree on, however, is that our media is completely failing to inform. The circus freak show of Question Time and the ever asinine Sunday Politics is little more than space filler.

At the heart of this failure is condescension. The belief that the viewing public are incapable of lending their attention to long debates requiring the application of intellect. That is what informed the thinking behind the respective referendum campaigns leading to the universal criticism that both campaigns were short on facts leaving the public to fend for itself for information.

This might then go some way toward explaining why we are leaving the EU. The public are deeply dissatisfied with the quality of politics and politicians, and are tired of being treated like infants. When we speak of "the establishment" that goes as much for our media as it does Westminster. Our establishment condescends to us, believing their mediocre understanding of issues to be superior to that of the public.

To have a functioning democracy we must have a functioning media capable of creating the public conversations necessary for informed decision-making. This we do not have. Instead we have a politico-media class imbued with a lofty sense of its own abilities with no concept of how deeply they are detested, who, when exposed to that vitriol, believe the fault is not theirs.

Though Brexit may have its class divides it is better explained by the gulf of understanding that exists between the politico-media bubble and the public. Until they are capable of such self-realisation there will be no abatement of that public disgust. They complain at the toxicity of public discourse but ultimately the power to remedy that lies with them. It is not within the gift of the public to correct it. Respect is a two way street.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Labour's identity crisis


Traditionally Labour has been the party of the working class. Whatever it is, it isn't that anymore. The people now setting the agenda on the left tend to be white, urban uppper middle class men and wetter than a haddock's bathing costume. This explains why Labour is not presently very popular with actual "working class" people.

Throughout the Brexit campaign we were told that leave voters are basically thick racists. That is not true but it would be wrong to suggest that a strong contingent of the leave vote was not comprised of people who could be characterised as thick and racist. People more likely to identify with the politics of Nick Griffin or Nigel Farage than Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn, however, is from the tradition of the Labour left that was once a working class movement. He is, therefore, the perfect empty vessel and can be morphed into a role dependent on the circumstances just so long as he keeps quiet. The art of populism is to have a leader who can be all things to all men. Corbyn can be sold as a Bennite eurosceptic or as a Waitrose liberal.

In many respects Corbyn is the perfect candidate for the statist paternalistic left though his quiet euoscepticism is increasingly inconvenient to them. His supporters, however, will not rock the boat because Corbyn is the one element which can command some of the working class vote. Labour is now an alliance between Islington, Liverpool and Sheffield. But it is a fragile one which depends on Corbyn never coming off the fence. He is only useful so long as he is an empty vessel.

The crisis for Labour is that if it does take measures to define itself along either lines then it loses half of its vote. It can just about hold together since Labour is prepared to reluctantly concede on Brexit. As an issue it has never really cared about EU membership either way so long as it is convenient stick with which to beat the Tories. Tony Blair is perhaps the only true believer Labour has ever had.

What is notable about Labour is that much of its politics, or rather the behind the scenes bickering, is caught up in a new strain of identarian politics where victims groups compete with each other for control of the narrative. A dispute that will not be resolved until one side wins decisively. Were Labour not one of the establishment parties with a parliamentary presence, it would now be going the same way as Ukip, shredded by its own internal conflicts. The only thing keeping it on life support is an utterly dysfunctional Tory party.

One of its problems is that it has a romanticised notion of the working class. They imagine the working class to be poor huddled masses taking a shellacking from austerity and waiting to be rescued by their betters. At the root of this is that same identarianism. The assumption that class, colour, or victim status dictates one's voting habits. Labour sees itself as entitled to the vote of the working class and minorities.

To understand this you have to understand the likes of John McDonnell who wants to overthrow the establishment. He openly speaks of insurrection. He speaks of mobilising and occupying the streets but I can't help thinking that he thinks this is 1930 and the unions can instruct the dockworkers and ship builders to down tools and bring the country to a grinding halt. It fits with the delusion that Britain is an impoverished huddled mass poised to overthrow their oppressors.

The chief reason Labour is in a world of its own is because the working class as they imagine it to be does not exist. In the same way that you cannot speak of the North as a homogeneous polity, you can't speak for the working class as a bloc either. Working class can mean anything from a young aspirational family in Bristol with a car on lease, a mortgage, two dogs and a conservatory, or it can mean living in a council owned pebble-dashed hut in the arse end of the Pennines with not a pot to piss in. Tony Blair understood this which is why he managed to win elections. 

What is missing here is a moral purpose. They are ever happy to parade their "compassion", but Labour ambitions are really only about taking control of the state in order to redistribute wealth in the direction of people who will vote for them. Not unlike the Tories.

Where Labour falls over is that it seeks to broadcast its own virtues and carve out exceptions for victim groups. Presently it occupies itself with the gender pay gap and seeks to use regulatory mechanisms to secure equality of outcomes. It seeks to intervene, placing obligations on businesses in the form of quotas rather than addressing the causal factors.

If there is one major factor responsible then it's an experience gap as women often have to take time out of their careers to raise children or look after the elderly. The obvious issue here is access to vocational training. Solve that and you also solve the problem of white boys from the bottom decile being left behind. At the same time we need to be removing the perverse incentives in the welfare system.

Successive governments have failed at this. New Labour's famous New Deal was initially successful but training and opportunities under that scheme varied in quality, and since it was only available to those on the dole for six months it incentivised long term unemployment. Given that spaces on the scheme were rationed, claimants found they could manipulate the system to stay on Job Seeker's Allowance for years. The total package of benefits for a single person outweighed the benefits of employment. 

I remember at the time I was surrounded by people who thought playing around with creative software and smoking pot all day was better than an eight hour shift in the local sausage factory. Had I not trained as a computer programmer I probably would have joined them. 

What we now find is that as a consequence of long term youth unemployment we now have a legion of dysfunctional adults now written off as suffering from depression and prescribed antidepressants. Another class of people now given the status of protected species by Labour's victim culture. No surprise then that South Wales and the industrial regions would have voted to leave the EU. 

The difference for me is I was probably the last generation to fall out of school to go and work for the biggest local employer. They paid for two week long commercial training packages which gave me most of what I needed to become an applications developer. I have never held a professional qualification but thanks to that, whatever else I may fail at, I always have a trade to fall back on where I can make a decent salary. 

Somewhere along the line, business stopped paying for that training. The burden was shifted on to the state which ran its own schemes which by and large were terrible and if you had done a government training scheme you certainly wouldn't admit to it, let alone put it on your CV. In this I might note that business doesn't need to invest in skills simply because it has a limitless supply of labour through freedom of movement. The UK has been taking Eastern Europe's labour surplus.  

If Labour was remotely interested in improving the lives of poorer people it would be looking at the many barriers that hold people back. The near impossibility of home ownership, a grossly unfair council tax system, legal aid in tatters, affordability of vocational training, access to decent education, business rates for small businesses, the uselessness of regional public transport.

But what do we find instead? An entire party apparatus obsessed with transgender rights - something affecting 0.001% of the population. Were it actually to do with civil rights it wouldn't be so bad but it's a vanguard for a more sinister agenda. It could not be less interested in governance.

Ultimately we need a government that governs for all. One which sets a moral standard where there are expectations of people and mutual obligations. Labour is in the business of fashioning excuses as to why victim groups should be exempted from having to compete. Instead of trying to level the playing field for equality of opportunity, it seeks equality of outcome. Nothing good can come from that.

This is the malign influence of the white middle class Waitrose liberals who see themselves as saviours - the white knights racing to the rescue of the downtrodden. They who believe it is the primary function of the state to act as a provider and surrogate parent. That condescension is in their DNA from welfare to Brexit. It is the belief that the working classes are a homogeneous polity, but one utterly enfeebled and incapable of being more. 

It is that kind of thinking which has become the dominant strain in governance which is why government has become a managerialist entity attempting to use state resources to produce universal outcomes. On a long enough timeline it is effectively a technocratic version of communism financed centrally by the supercomputer in the City. 

Ultimately Labour is no longer about the emancipation of people. Quite the reverse. We live in a system which gradually imprisons us on the basis of race, class, gender and those limitations we ought to have according to victimhood scripture. It is geared to disempowering people, dictating their limitations and prescribing their choices. It's not just anti-working class, it's anti-human. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The end of ever closer union


Last night MPs voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit. A Labour amendment, tabled in the name of Jeremy Corbyn, sought to retain the provisions in the Charter but was voted down by 317 votes to 299. We can expect some idiotic wibbling from the left over this.

Three basic points. Firstly it wasn't required to begin with. It's largely a series of entitlements tacked on to basic human rights for the purposes of Federalist integration. It is an instrument of ever closer union laying the groundwork for "social Europe". It has no bearing on the core principles of human rights which owe their existence to the British system anyway. We are not withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights either. Not yet at least.

Secondly, this does not repeal any of the laws passed to implement the Articles. ECFR brings into being a number of laws via directives (as I understand it), all of which is standalone domestic legislation. There is next to zero chance of them being repealed.

Finally, it refers to the Union as the legal territory and grants it authority. "This Charter reaffirms, with due regard for the powers and tasks of the Union". If we are ending EU jurisdiction then it has to go, simple as that. That anyone would vote to retain ECFR demonstrates they have not actually read it. Bottom line... this is a total non-story.

This then begs the question of whether we want our own charter of rights or whether we revert to the British model of having the constitution undefined but embodied by the broader statue book. If we are to have something like the ECFR then it should be looked at in the context of wider constitutional reform.

This issue, however, reaffirms my conviction that Brexit is the right thing to do. For the UK to be a genuine democracy then the laws must be derived from the people and subject to their alteration according to their own common values. The people, not parliament must be sovereign. 

In this we hold that there are some universal values to be enshrined as the cornerstone of our constitution which is why we uphold the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU, though, increasingly deviates from the fundamentals.

This mode of governance places undue obligations on governments extending far beyond the scope of human rights thus entrenching a technocratic system of government trespassing on the fundamentals of civics. It renders democracies inert, giving rise to politics being pursued through the courts, thus making it the domain of QCs and their wealthy backers. 

One might even call them the new ruling class. It would explain their near universal opposition to Brexit. It is a substantial loss of power over us. They lose a key method in subverting the public will. More than anything it is this that draws the battlelines over Brexit and the process of withdrawal. It is on these lines we measure whether the instruction to leave has been honoured. 

The remainers see the EU as a proxy for a hard coded constitution. They do not trust democracy. They believe themselves to be the embodiment of enlightenment and a backstop to the whims of the barbarous masses. Power is not something to be entrusted to the people. This is the crucial disagreement. Either you believe in democracy or you don't.

Thus, if we want a principled Brexit it does require that we end the jurisdiction of the ECJ. This to some extent explains the opposition to the EEA in that Article Six, embodying the principle of homogeneity appears to trample on the core principle of Brexit.
Without prejudice to future developments of case law, the provisions of this Agreement, in so far as they are identical in substance to corresponding rules of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community and the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community and to acts adopted in application of these two Treaties, shall, in their implementation and application, be interpreted in conformity with the relevant rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Communities given prior to the date of signature of this Agreement.
This is where I differ from mainstream Brexiters. As per the illustration above, the EEA agreement mainly covers technical governance - issues which barely touch on constitutional fundamentals. This is really a question of what we are prepared to go to the barricades over. Technical regulation may be a cause of petty annoyance but its inherent utility, in my view, is worth the trade off. 

Brexit is chiefly about ending the political integration that undermines our own constitution and broader sovereignty through such instruments as the ECFR. Brexit is about ending "ever closer union". This is where it is necessary to the make the distinction between political union and economic integration. The EEA primarily pertains to the latter. As to the applicability of fundamental rights, I leave you to judge.

The measure is whether there are sufficient democratic protections, which in my view there are. Though Article Six of the EEA agreement is unequivocal, the systems that the EEA brings into being create a space for dialogue with safeguard measures giving us the nuclear option. 

What should be noted is that irrespective of Brexit, the UK is still obliged conform to a number of regional and global conventions where previously the EU has acted as the middleman. We will find in a number of instances that the removal of the EU aspect brings little remedy. 

Many Brexiters hold the expectation that Brexit will be fundamentally restorative. This ignores the march of globalisation and underestimate the influence of international agreements which have influenced the EU's own legislative agenda. In many respects there is no turning the clock back and little scope for acting unilaterally. 

I would remind those Brexiters that Brexit really is only, fundamentally, about one thing. Leaving the EU. No longer being part of the European federalist project. Great as that is, whatever else our aspirations may hold, the fight is only just beginning. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Still left to guess

According to The Guardian, "Theresa May has been hit with a double Brexit blow as the EU toughened up its terms for a transition period and Norway privately warned Brussels that giving in to the UK’s demands for a “special” trade deal could force it to rip up its own agreements with the bloc".
"...the Guardian has learned that repeated representations have been made to EU officials by Oslo over their fears that an overly generous offer to the UK will fuel calls in Norway to renegotiate its ties with the bloc, according to senior diplomatic sources. The Nordic intervention presents a fresh hurdle for Theresa May’s aim of delivering a “deep and special partnership” with the EU that goes beyond the scope of a Canada-style free trade deal, an arrangement under which significant barriers to trade in goods and services remains."
Course, this isn't news. If the UK is granted anything close to the level of market particpation Norway presently enjoys with fewer obligations then Norway will seek more favourable terms. This is precisely why we're not getting anything approaching EEA levels of market particpation without remaining in the EEA. It was never on the cards. This comes as no surprise. 

In other news we are told that Member States are pushing for a more comprehensive deal than Canada but issue illiteracy is not unique to our own government and there will be a similar lack of appreciation for the EU's political position - and the legal constraints it must operate within. In respect of that, Norway's shot across the bow is entirely redundant save to put on record that which could safely assume. 

Again it seems to point to the obvious that if the political agreement on the Northern Irish border is to be respected then it will have to use the EEA as a basis for free movement of goods. If not, then the UK will suffer a penalty in terms of services access in exchange for those same levels of frictionless trade. There is no free lunch to be had here. 

As to whether this reality sinks in at Number Ten remains to be seen. In all likelihood, Mrs May will continue the pretense of "steady as she goes" with no outward sign of coming to terms with the issues. Calls for pragmatism and honesty will fall on deaf ears and any decisions will be kicked down the road at every opportunity. 

Meanwhile, tucked in at the bottom of the Guardian report, is the "news" that Member states have ruled out allowing British carriers the freedom to fly passengers and luggage between destinations on the continent post-Brexit, with UK carriers to be permitted only four of the nine “freedoms” to operate they currently enjoy. 

Precisely why that wasn't the headline item (assuming this is something new) is known only to the Guardian, but this is very much a consequence of quitting the EEA. That could very well be one of the issues that forces a rethink. It is on these such issues key battles will be fought. We shall have to wait and see. 

Trade policy has become the tail wagging the dog


At one time I would have said I was in favour of "free trade". I used to consider protectionism to be a dirty word. Then as I learned more about trade I came to realise that "free trade" is an entirely meaningless term - or at the very least one so widely abused that it no longer carries meaning. And then as I have learned more about non-tariff barriers and the function of regulation, I became a firm advocate of trade liberalisation. A more meaningful description of free trade - the removal of barriers to trade.

But then I came to understand that protectionism also has legitimate uses. We may wish to to place restrictions on trade to either preserve a strategic national asset or to develop domestic capability. More broadly, trade policy is there to protect legitimate traders from the predatory practises of nations and corporations who seek to damage competitors by unfair means. By its very nature, therefore, an effective trade policy is "protectionist".

I then came to understand that globalist trade wonkery is a form of fanatical tunnel vision. It seeks to identify and erase all barriers to trade. In order to do that those who control trade policy and make the decisions must have the ability to modify or remove regulations. They are in the business of making the world more convenient for commerce.

The underlying assumption in the discipline is that growth is good, expansion is the goal and that trade, generally speaking makes nations wealthier. Networks of trade deals improve the efficiency of supply chains thereby bringing more varied goods from all over to domestic markets, increasing choice and driving down prices through competition.

In this there are winners and losers, but the losers are viewed as collateral damage - they who are sacrificed in the name of the greater good. Protectionism must not be allowed to interfere with the dream of total harmonisation on all goods and services bringing about a global free market.

Where the EU is concerned, its vision is one of a pan-European single market encompassing goods and services. But then it also seeks a single regime of rights for workers throughout with equal rights to benefits, eventually bringing about a uniform European welfare system.

The process, however, is far too slow if nation states are allowed to place reservations or make unilateral exceptions. The decision making, therefore, has to be centralised where ever more power over increasingly more areas of governance is transferred to Brussels. This is either done by way of incremental agreement or ECJ rulings. Member states gradually cede control.

The process is called "integration" where really it is better described as homogenisation. We are, therefore, increasingly powerless as a people, where policy is concocted by trade liberalisation fundamentalists and decisions are imposed upon us while lacking the necessary democratic safeguards to overturn policy. This leads to policy stagnation.

Politicians are only too happy with this arrangement because it offloads the responsibility for technical governance and frees them up to indulge themselves in tribal retail politics. The running of the machinery is handed over to the faceless experts largely without supervision and with minimal input or consultation from the demos.

As we gradually liberalise markets the collateral damage mounts up, leading to de-industrialisation and supercharged growth. This is viewed as a universal good in that we now have a cleaner environment, safer, easier jobs and a longer life expectancy. Obviously the march of technology can take much of the credit, but supercharging consumer markets is a driver of that technological advancement.

The question that plagues policymakers is how to adequately deal with the social fallout of this, which is leading us ever closer toward a universal basic income. In effect we are moving toward a soulless utopian model where work is all but obsolete and the bottom decile are simply provided for rather than treated as humans with agency and ambition, where the power is held by the few over the many.

In this the fallout of trade liberalisation is often blamed on an inadequate domestic response to it. Perhaps they are right. Nobody can say that our response to the social problems created by mass immigration have been adequately handled. Health, education and housing is not keeping pace with demand. That problem is exacerbated in that increasing supply of housing, thus maintaining affordability, is its own pull factor. Our last remaining defence against further immigration is presently high costs for shelter.

What we have noted, however, is that immigrants from all over Europe and beyond are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to claim a piece of the dream. We find city squares and parks becoming makeshift transit camps, and we find overcrowding in houses of multiple occupation along with the phenomenon of "beds in sheds" which are part of the exploitation economy. Many of the low priced goods and services we enjoy as wealthy consumers absolutely depends on abridgments of workers rights.

In this we find that migrants from Europe are not necessarily Europe's poor and uneducated. Among Polish migrants doing menial work we find grammar educated middle classes who very obviously present themselves as a better hire than a working class native. Being that the latter is not keyed into the transient worker economy, and being part of the settled community, they have overheads meaning they cannot compete on price. Statisticians may say on average freedom of movement does not depress wages, but the pressure is felt the most acutely in the bottom two deciles.

In this there are moral consequences. As much as London robs UK regions of their youth and vitality, the UK has in recent years pulled in much of the talent from Eastern Europe thus depriving those countries of its best resource. We also find that companies no longer look to train when they have a Europe wide recruitment pool. This means that working class people who cannot obtain credit or access to expensive training are gradually left behind.

Around the edges of this, in times of "austerity" certain resentments fester, while coping with the quality of life issues caused by rapidly expanding populations, where leftwing social democratic parties assume the remedy is to simply pay out more in welfare, adding to an already huge welfare bill. Whatever training exists is that which is mandated and supplied by the state which generally means it is of low value and poor quality.

In this a largely insulated middle class who enjoy cheap goods and services will seldom complain, and will enjoy the freedom to travel and work elsewhere in Europe. Little wonder this demographic would have voted to remain. All the while the political class congratulates itself for perpetual growth and what it considers a healthy economy.

What we have, though, is a political class in widespread denial, often discounting the corrosive effects of atomisation and lack of societal cohesion. The erosion of the familiar. With the inbuilt inequalities, and having to lower life expectations, it is not surprising that at least half of the country feels like a change of regime is necessary. There is a justifiable feeling that the political class is out of touch, is not listening and is largely unable to act even if it was willing. Which it isn't.

The main reason for inaction is that politicians know that many of our entitlements and state provisions cannot be sustained without continental immigration, and that immigration allows them to continue to evade many of the hard questions about future sustainability of entitlements - which no politician seeking re-election will ever touch with a barge pole. What is not discussed, however, is that even with present turnover, we are still sitting on a demographic timebomb, with poor savings rates and underperforming pensions.

It is my view that one way or another the UK is staring down the barrel of a huge crisis that will necessitate major economic structural reforms. Unpopular ones too. That makes a period of political turbulence inevitable and most likely another "lost generation" as the economy reorders itself. This is why I think a remain vote would simply be delaying the inevitable - and it's why I am unmoved by economic arguments from the remain camp. Remaining provides only temporary certainty.

Where Brexit brings about some remedy, as mentioned above, trade liberalisation is all about the convenience of commerce to the exclusion of all other concerns. This changes. Already the drop in in the value of Sterling has made the UK a less attractive destination for casual labour, thus the restriction in labour supply means that business will have to pay properly and train workers to plug skills gaps. It also brings about a slowdown which allows space and time for integration.

We have also seen a surge in factory orders due to the exchange rate. Whether or not this can be sustained will depend largely on what kind of trade relationship we secure with the EU. We should be cautious of such economic news in that Brexit will undoubtedly result in a number of trade barriers with the EU leading to job losses. Unless our place in the European air travel market is secured, to name one sector, a lot of high quality jobs will vanish.

What matters, though, is that the decision making over trade defences (of which control of immigration arguably is one) rests with parliament, and more importantly the British public. We can have a trade policy geared to the wellbeing of UK society rather than working toward the goals of the Euro-federalists. What technocrats may call protectionism I call acting in the national interest (which may or may not be economic in nature).

The propaganda of the EU has it that there is something inherently sinful about acting in the national interest. That's really a matter of perspective and is entirely relative to the individual. There is nothing preordained about Brexit being protectionist, rather it means that the policy resides in Westminster rather than Brussels so that proper national debates on trade will take place with scrutiny repatriated.

In this you can very well pick fault with my reasoning, and you may tell me that we cannot possibly predict how the economy will re-order itself, but we have undeniably kickstarted a process which puts British voters closer to the driving seat and in many respects arrests a number of unwelcome trends our political class were unable to even acknowledge let alone resolve.

For all that "free trade" brexiteers are (rightly) denounced as ideologues, trade policy wonks are equally so, working to an entirely sterile depoliticised trade agenda with only one goal in mind irrespective of the social consequences. Trade has become a technical discipline rather than a tool of political economics and foreign policy. It is no longer integrated with politics yet it increasingly has more power over us while we have fewer democratic means to forge our response to it.

Trade liberalisation for its own sake globally, or for the ends of a European superstate, is to completely ignore the preferences of the public, their economic, social and spiritual needs and is therefore profoundly anti-democratic. One might even say anti-human. The fundamental question here is whether we serve the economy or whether the economy serves us.

The laws and rules we make for ourselves locally are there for the governance of our own distinct cultures derived from our unique heritage and geography. In some areas there is every advantage and all good sense in seeking harmonisation and modernisation, but the political dimension is where that line is drawn. For this there is no scientific answer, or even a correct answer. It is only a question that democracy can resolve. It is fluid and it is cyclic but if that choice is removed, where trade is locked into a single agenda beyond our control then we can no longer say that we are a democracy.

For all that there are votes and vetoes within the EU and global apparatus, those voting rituals are far out of reach and off the public radar. Without that public involvement then by definition it is not democratic. That we call the empty and sterile voting rituals within the EU "democracy" is an indication of how debased that word has become. We no longer know what it means. Brexit, I hope, will reunite us with a truer definition of it. Taking back control is not an empty slogan.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Getting Nowhere


There are some Brexit articles on Google when I type in "Brexit". One might have thought, therefore, that there would be sufficient material for a blogger to pass comment on. I suppose one could wade into the debate over a second referendum, but what is there really to be said that has not already been said, and why would one bother when a second referendum simply is not going to happen?

The opposition leader doesn't want one, the government doesn't want one, about half the population doesn't want one, and the window for holding one closes by the day. It's only even a topic of conversation because there is presently nothing else happening save for a few ill chosen remarks by Farage, which largely go to demonstrate how little anyone cares what he says - save for our media whose news values are entirely tone deaf.

One might then choose to comment on Corbyn insisting that the UK must leave the single market, but has also said the UK would "obviously" have to be in "a customs union". It is apparent that neither he nor Andrew Neil have a functioning definition of either nor understand the utility of them. Depressing though that may be, this is also not news.

Meanwhile, though some sense is being spoken behind the scenes in the DExEU select committee, it's still at Janet and John level and nothing we haven't been over a dozen times before. None of it seems to penetrate the noise of the mainstream debate which is still struggling with the basics. I'm still having to confront all of the usual tiresome arguments in respect of the EEA and I am very very close to losing the plot completely. 

A point lost on seemingly everyone in the EEA debate is that Norway adopts a lot of the rules without contest because it's a small country whose capital city is smaller than Leeds and lacks the domestic capacity/technical expertise to pushback in any meaningful way.

Where it does have considerable clout is in oil and petrochemicals - but not financial services because it does have much of a financial services sector to speak of compared with, say, London. For the more arcane stuff, there is no point in developing domestic rules. It's duplication.

There have been examples of clashes and that is where Norway will fight its corner, usually through the EEA secretariat, and the Efta court as a last resort. In this it is listened to by way of building up capital by being an early adopter of technical rules. There are some instances where Norway has attempted to delay or stall implementation, where it has been overruled and it probably loses most cases brought against it - but you have to see it in the context of the process.

These sorts of complaints only ever go to the Efta court if they cannot be resolved through the EEA secretariat or the various joint committees. The latter is where most of the battles are fought. Norway might still end up adopting the framework of rules but with a number of exceptions which are then added to the system of annexes. That is why no two EEA members have the exact same relationship with the EU.

In terms of how many cases Norway loses, the "score" is often measured only in context of the Efta court. That gives the impression of Norway as a passive rule taker with no defences, but that really is only the most superficial analysis of how the relationship works.

Lazy mischaracterisations of the EEA relationship only really serve the hard Brexit cause. It's an intricate process of codetermination, and the UK as a larger more complex economy would put up more of a fight - and more often. This also says nothing of the Efta court process and the politics therein, nor indeed what happens in the technical committees and standards bodies. The continued assertion that Norway has no say is a lie, and misses the point that we are not Norway.

All of these arguments, however, are increasingly redundant as the debate is regressing even further, with the stupidity of our commentariat resetting the clock to zero every time the subject is raised. Our media has no institutional memory. There is zero chance of developing the debate when there is still no understanding of the terminology. Until that situation is resolved (fat chance) we will continue to bunder between unforced errors while the EU runs rings around us.