Monday, 31 October 2011

British European Policy.

British foreign policy has been remarkably consistent towards Europe for the last 500 years, since the English monarchy abandoned its rightful claim to the French crown. It can be summed up by the simple observation that, seeing as the Hegemonic power of Europe cannot be England, no other hegemonic power should rise to dominate Europe.

Since the wars with Spain in the 1500s, when England stood at the head of an alliance of anti-Spanish nations culminating in the Armada of 1588. Next, through the Wars of religion Protestant England was happy to ally with anyone including Catholic powers keeping Spain down. France was (believe it or not, after strings of stunning miliary victories) next up in an attempt to become the dominant power in Europe, first under the Bourbon monarchy and later under Bonaparte. Comprehensive British victories at Trafalgar in 1805 and Waterloo (with a little help from ze Prussians) in 1815 put pay to Napoleon's ambitions in that regard. The Russians made an abortive bid but were seen off by a Anglo-French alliance in the Crimea and turned their imperial ambitions east. A long peace saw the Rise of Germany, and the brokering of an Entente Cordiale between France and the UK should Germany get uppity and start throwing its weight around. They took some stopping, and the help of the Americans but Germany was prevented from getting a massive European empire.

And now Angela Merkel is belying her Hausfrau appearance and threatening war.

1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were the same war, with a bit of time to let Fritz regroup. The hun may have been utterly defeated, but they have never abandoned the dream of European empire which has burned in the Teutonic heart since the unification of Germany under the Hohenzollerns in 1871. The hush-puppy may have replaced the jackboot but the Boche are still marching in step.

The European project has operated at the behest of and for the benefit of the Germans. As a result, interest rates were far too low on the European periphery for most of the long boom leading to the catastrophic asset price-bubbles which have now turned to bust. The Euro was weaker than the Deutsche-Mark, benefiting Germany's exporters leading to the illusion of German thrift - their workers aren't particularly competitive, they just rigged the system to make it appear so. Greek bankruptcy is only partially a moral failing. Some of the blame lies at the door of the Bundestag.

Germany now needs to but dip its hands in the pocket and the Eurozone, those foolish countries that thought abandoning their currency would allow them to remain independent of Germany will be theirs. This is cheaper than war. C'mon Fritz; you broke it, you bought it.

Britain for her part should be true to her half-millennium of consistent European policy. We should lead the non-Euro nations of the EU in continued resistance to the onward march of German Kultur that the Greeks are about to experience. Again. This means that we should continue to operate within the EU, to frustrate the Franco-German axis, with help from Scandinavia, Poland and the rest of the non-Euro nations. This too is cheaper than war.

Were there a referendum on British membership of the European Union, my heart would vote to withdraw. But my head is more equivocal. The appalling mass-murder occasioned by the CAP needs nations with a weight equivalent to Germany and France, committed to free trade to argue against it in the Councils of Europe. Britain's influence in Europe saw off the Spanish Empire, Napoleon, The Kaiser and Hitler. Herman Van Rumpy Pumpy and Cathy "face like a melted waxwork of the Princess Royal" Ashton leading a bunch of grey bureaucrats just shouldn't offer the same resistance as the Waffen SS or Napoleon's Cuirassiers.

Even the French Army is more threatening than Manuel Barroso.

Remember, when the French and Germans are left to decide Europe's fate, the result is a pile of corpses. We should stay in the EU, not for our sake, but for Europe's.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

GMT, BST, CET & The Changing of the Clocks.

Twice a year the clocks change. We're robbed of an hour in bed in spring and get it back in Autumn to no end as far as I can see. And every year, we have to deal with the pointless debate that we should either have British Summer Time all year round (stupid) or worse, co-ordinate our clocks with Europe.

This probably matters little in Torquay. But Shetland, 700 miles & 10 degrees of latitude farther north, in the winter only gets 6 hours of daylight. BST would see first light on December 29th (the Latest sunrise - a few days after the winter solstice) until 10:10am and see last light at 15:56 on the 19th December (the earliest sunset is a few days before the solstice). GMT, UK winter time sees an earlier dawn around 9am in winter and an earlier sunset at around 3pm, which feels more natural.

The argument in favour of abandoning daylight saving usually suggest BST all year round - GMT+1 giving lighter evenings in the winter. Well even where I live, just north of London, in the winter first light is 8am (9am BST, 10am if we co-ordinated with Europe) and last light is 4pm (5pm BST, or 6pm European time). Both commutes would be in darkness under whichever clock. On balance, I think (as most people who get up early) I would prefer earlier mornings for longer. There is some evidence (most of it dated) that lighter evenings reduce accidents. But work patterns and social habits have changed since most of the research on the subject was done; and recent research suggests that the decrease in evening energy use barely exceeds the increase in morning use.

Either way, it's irrelevant. The time is (or should be) based on the natural phenomenon of the solar cycle. Noon is the point at which the sun is highest in the sky. The idea that we are slaves to a machine, the clock, rather than the natural environment I find faintly disturbing. If workers want to get up long before dawn, to enjoy a lighter evening, people are free to set their day accordingly. Some people, for whom I have nothing but contempt, think it reasonable to start their working day at the slovenly and frankly disreputable time of 9am. I've heard some idle, slothful people start at 10am, though the only one I've actually met "worked" in advertising. Quite what such "people" want to do with the extra hours in bed, apart from extravagant masturbation, is beyond me.

Instead of a top-down imposition of a working day which suits some, allow people & businesses to set their working hours according to their individual needs. Leave the clock to be set by the natural phenomena, and let people, not Government decide their hours. We aren't at war and the Government shouldn't be telling me or anyone else what time to get up.

GMT all year round - the libertarian choice. BST (or worse CET): a monstrous instrument of tyranny.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

On Becoming a Writer...

Guest post By LB Mara.

"The Dawn Herald" is available on Kindle! At last! After five years of writing, rewriting, hair-tearing, nailbiting, absurd hope and crushing disappointment, "The Dawn Herald" is finished. Five years of carefully crafting submission letters and blurbs; formatting text, cold-calling, networking, hoping and praying. Five years of 'it's not for us, though it's very well written' and my favourite *ever* response to a pitch that took six hours to write: 'no thanks'. Five years of not having my work read; of having it returned crumpled and coffee-stained, ripped by too-tight rubber bands, of drawers full of rejection slips. Five years of near-hope as I have the book accepted, only to discover that the publishing house is an out-and-out scam; five years of 'waiting for my life to start' (a sentiment shared by writers and enneagram lovers, particularly Number 4s). And five years of rejecting the self-publishing option due to the all-pervasive snobbery surrounding it: if you 'do it yourself', you're not quite good enough/pandering to your own vanity/doomed to literary failure/won't be taken seriously. I've come to view the last sentiments as absolute rubbish.
The traditional publishing model is dying. Going the same way as vinyl and 8 tracks. Bookshops are becoming coffee shops lined with books. Digital media isn't the way forward: it's the status quo. While there will always be a place for the tangible book as opposed to its virtual cousin - the sumptuous coffee-table art book, the delectable cookbook, the weighty law tome, the lavishly illustrated children's book - people are becoming accustomed to carrying their literature with them in the form of bytes rather than print. It means that you can read what you like, when you like, without a literary snob squinting at the spine of the book you're reading and raising a derisive eyebrow. Accountants can read Harry Potter on the Tube; High Court judges can dive into the murky world of chick lit and Aga Sagas without being rumbled. Digital media is a great leveller, entirely democratic. It's available to all. Everyone can educate or entertain themselves wherever they happen to be for a few pounds. Access to literature is not a closed shop any more (excuse the pun). And today's writers are finding it equally freeing.
The typical publishing model means that a writer is tied into a contract for x-number of years with a whole host of caveats concerning what they can and can't do with their own work. They may have unknowingly sold the rights to their story in a particular format, which means they can't reissue their work in a different format, have it illustrated independently, or distribute it as they wish. If they're not careful, their characters may end up in cereal packets or as a Ready Meal toy or, in a case that incensed book lovers and nostalgia hounds the world round, Paddington Bear in an advertising campaign for Marmite. They have to fork over a hefty 70% of their royalties to the publishing house; advances are drying up; and there's no guarantee that their book won't be edited until it's unrecognisable, marketed in a way they find inappropriate, or illustrated in a way they hate.
Publishing to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple et al turns the publishing model on its head. You keep 70% of the profit. You choose your own artwork - I've used the best illustrators out there: Andy English, who is creating three exquisite woodcuts (one for each part of the novel) and Abi Daker who has produced a delicious map and a series of watercolours to illustrate the whole.You can amend your book whenever you wish, market it freely, and control what happens to it. So, although self-publishing is in one sense an absolute leap in the dark - I feel rather like a mother sending her child off on the first day of school and hoping said child doesn't get kicked or dumped in the litter bin. What if no-one likes it? - it's an awful lot more freeing. I know that I am the creator of my own success; the amount of effort I put into marketing The Dawn Herald will be commensurate with the number of people aware of it. Isn't it a hundred times more satisfying to know that you have earnt the proceeds of your hard labour? As Dale Carnegie said: 'The harder I work, the luckier I get.'

Monday, 24 October 2011

Today's Euro-Vote

It's difficult to make predicitons, especially about the future. Nevertheless, I shall attempt to put Today's Parliamentary vote on whether or not to hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, in context.

So... the vote: The Liberal Democrats, the only party to have a manifesto commitment to an in-out referendum, will vote against an in-out referendum. The Government will impose a 3-line whip on MPs, and there will be a significant Tory rebellion - but less than the predictions of the BBC who reckon 75 MPs will rebel, including some junior ministers. The actual rebellion will probably be more like 25 and NOT involve a resignation, the importance of which will therefore be played plausibly down by the Government.

As a result of this, UKIPers and the more Foam-flecked Tories will use the phrase "cast iron Dave" a lot. Ed Miliband's Labour, given an opportunity to rip the coalition asunder by smashing his MPs through IN FAVOUR of a referendum, won't; mainly because he lacks the gumption and cojones to do so, and without Labour, there is no hope of an 'Aye' vote. Liberal Democrats will please Nobody with their actions, again.

MPs will overwhelmingly NOT vote for a referendum on the EU, but the media will still try to revive the "greatest hits of the 90s" with a re-release of the Tory Splits on Europe story. Tedious Eurobores will write screeds about a missed opportunity and about how "cast Iron" Dave is going native and is really a Europhile in disguise, and how the Tory party isn't really Tory, but a wet amalgam of social-democracy who aren't going to change anything. But they do that anyway.

And as a Eurosceptic myself, I don't really care.

The Eurozone is marching off into the distance. In order to get through the crisis in which they find themselves (mainly as serious as it is because they didn't recapitalise their banks when they needed to - the UK did) they will need more (a lot more) fiscal union. The Greeks, in return for their bail-out will submit to the complete economic Government of the EU, as eventually will Italy, Spain, Portugal. Ireland seems to be making headway towards reducing its deficit and may get out with continued effort, chastened, but still won't be able to remain independent. Low corporation tax - that will go, for example. The Eurozone will forge on with "ever closer union". The rest, will see that perhaps the compromises necessary to get into the Euro aren't worth the benefits and will resist "ever closer union", with the UK in the lead of this group.

This leaves the Eurosceptic with a dilemma. Obviously not the kind of frothing ranter who desires a fight with "Europe" for its own sake, but the kind of Eurosceptic who accepts there is some good from the EU, and would rather like to keep things, like the free movement of people or the single market, while avoiding the cost of paying for French farmers to enjoy la vie rustique and somehow sidestepping the shit-storm of regulation from Brussels.

Thanks to the Eurozone crisis, this Europe-light may be on the cards for the Non-Eurozone countries. In any case, I am not persuaded that the middle of the existential crisis is the time to do anything about it. There are short-term costs to withdrawing from the EU. These may be outweighed by benefits later, but when we are running a 10% deficit, now is not the time to take risks. Now is the time to get the UK's budget balanced, start getting state spending down and deal with the legacy of 13 years of Labour, then, if necessary have a fight with Europe when both economies are recovering.

That said, I struggle to see why Cameron is putting a 3-line whip on when he could let his MPs vote as they wished, but get the result he wants without a fight thanks to the other parties. I suspect a fight with Europe is only really possible with a Tory majority government. Eurosceptics should wait. The intelligent ones on the Tory benches probably will. I predict the rebellion will be a damp squib of 25 or so plus some of Labour's MPs. The Government will therefore be able to ignore it. Any more than 75 Tory rebels, and the Government has problems.

Let's see what happens.

If you use the phrase "cast-iron Dave" or variants thereof, your comment will be deleted. It's not consistent or fair, but my blog, my rules.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Tory Euroscepticism

There are a number of people, possibly even a majority of readers whose position is that Tory Euroscepticism is an Oxymoron, as the Tories are not promising immediate British withdrawal from the EU project. These people should indeed vote UKIP, and accept the consequences for the UK of more frequent Labour governments. Enjoy paying that lovely tax, UKIPERS, you voted for it.

If you believe the British relationship with Europe to be the sine qua non of political issues right now: an issue so pressing that, despite the labyrinthine complexity of disentangling the UK from the EU, it needs to be dealt with during the biggest financial crisis in nearly a century, while British forces are engaged in two (OK, one and a half) hot wars, then by all means flounce off to UKIP. The Tory party is better off without monomaniacs.

UKIP's 'Brains trust' hard at work

If you believe that leaving the EU would be without cost, or being in the EU is without benefit, then you're quite mad. So off you go to UKIP, where you will be welcome. The fact is, I, like most Conservatives would vote for substantial renegotiation and repatriation of powers, or for withdrawal, were a referendum granted. It won't be, not in this parliament for a great many good reasons. Clearing up the Augean stables after Labour's 13-year economic scat-party is the first priority. Education & NHS reforms are probably second.

I like most of the country, don't put British membership of the European union that high on my list of priorities, either way. The main reason for opposing an EU referendum NOW! is that Britain would (yes, it would) vote to stay in, ending the issue, probably for my life-time. Let Europe tear itself apart over the costs of monetary union, THEN secure a vote we Eurosceptics might win. I am a Eurosceptic, but I can wait.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Where's the Growth Going to Come from?

In China the Growth is coming from deploying the enormous pool of cheap labour. If you're taking a peasant off the land, his productivity barely matters, it will still be an improvement. In the West, we don't have that vast pool of Labour, though perhaps redesigning our welfare states to make it a little less easy to claim benefits for life and a little less taxing to choose low-paid work might help.

This is why China and India can grow at 8-10% a year by deploying already developed techniques and technology to billions of people still currently using the ox-plough, which was cutting edge technology in Europe 700 years ago. In general, as Britain, Europe, North America, Much of the Pacific Rim are on the 'Technological frontier' there is no off-the-self technology to deploy to generate growth. We must instead do things ever better in order to generate productivity growth. Starting with spinning and weaving, leading to the Industrial revolution, doing things slightly more efficiently was an incremental process. There have been several technologies to change the world since then: the Steam engine for the first time freed productive energy from animal muscle (and in a few aplications, the water-wheel & windmill). Later the Internal combustion engine gave personal mobility to the masses. Air travel shrunk the world. The internet gave everyone the equivalent of British Library on their desks and later in their pocket.

I think we're on the cusp of another revolution in productivity. The driverless car. AutoNOMOS labs have trialled their car, 'Made in Germany', a VW Passat, on the public streets of Berlin. Google have also driven their driverless vehicle, a Prius round the streets of Nevada and California for hundreds of thousands of miles. This has been involved in just one accident, but it was being driven manually at the time. If you're looking long term, all those delivery drivers, taxi drivers and chauffeurs will lose their jobs to machines. Their Labour can then go and be used elsewhere, making society as a whole richer. But it's more than professional drivers. It's the commuter too. Imagine you can read, make phone calls or sleep while getting somewhere. With the UKs average commute at 45 minutes each way that's a lot of time freed up from doing a mentally taxing, boring, stressful and downright dangerous manual task. A machine WILL do it better, freeing you for work or leisure whilst travelling.

It is safe to assume that the driverless car will be safer than, say, an Italian or Frenchman driving at 80mph while texting his many mistresses. So there well be fewer road deaths, even in the UK where the standard of driving is reasonably high. There will be fewer accidents, meaning insurance will be cheaper, freeing that money up to be spent elsewhere. Fewer accidents means fewer people employed in the car insurance industry. The flow of traffic on arterial roads will become more laminar as fewer motorists over brake, change lanes and otherwise cause the stop-start traffic symptomatic of congestion. This will reduce stress, and reduce journey-times. The road's carrying capacity will be improved at a stroke meaning road maintenance & building gets more from existing infrastructure. It is likely that cars on motorways could safely drive bumper-to-bumper, saving enormously on fuel on long journeys further increasing capacity. Self-driving cars could drop you off in the town centre, park, then return when needed, freeing city centre land from car-parks to more productive or aesthetically pleasing uses and hopefully re-invigorating town centres.

But it's more than just better use of roads. Perhaps driverless cars will mean fewer people will bother owning one, freeing garage space for other uses. Instead perhaps fleets of cars will circulate before being summonsed by a phone call. Freed from the need to own and insure a car, people instead pay for journeys used. Each car is in use for a greater part of the day so capital currently employed sitting on drives and office car-parks for the vast majority of its useful life will be sweated more efficiently. Thus technological improvements lead to economic growth.

But in this case, it's more than economic growth. Commuting is an hour of a half of concentrated stress and misery for many people. A long commute is up there with divorce and bereavement for making people miserable. A short one is second only to a successful marriage in correlation with self-declared happiness, and way above riches. If cars can park themselves there will be fewer cars in a town centre at any one time, meaning towns can finally be built around people, not machines once more. Can the driverless car make us happier?

It will certainly represent a huge boon to those currently unable to drive. The old, epileptics, the Blind and those just simply incapable of driving (the French, for example). Or Maureen, who will finally be able to enjoy the freedom of door-to-door travel.

And as for the rest of us. Freed from the controls, we could relax, let our minds wander, read and arrive wherever it is we want to go, refreshed. If you're not driving you can travel without getting angsty that someone has slowed you down for 30 seconds. With no-one DRIVING their Audis or BMWs there will be fewer wankers (Cause or effect? I believe that these cars CAUSE people to become utter dicks while behind the wheel). I cannot see a single negative effect of this overdue technological development. Please don't tell me you ENJOY day-to-day driving? If you're a petrol-head, go to a race-track, where driving is as it should be -fun. There are plenty about.

You can think through other examples: an invention, an innovation, an improvement to an existing process, a time-saving device. Think of the knock on benefits in time or other resources saved, which can be used elsewhere. That is how our economy is going to grow. The current financial crisis is noise. The signal is the result of hundreds of years of freedom to come up with and develop ideas. And that has not stopped, nor will it, so long as we retain a capitalist, free-market economy and intellectual freedom which allows, celebrates and rewards those whose ideas make our lives a little better.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Chris Williamson MP & Liz Kendall MP. Lying or Ignorant?

This morning, feebly groping for good news after a disastrous conference, Leicester MP Liz Kendall pointed to some You Gov data from June, which suggested that Labour enjoy a 19% lead on "party closest to women's voters & understands their views". This is the desperate data-mining which is common currency on the left, so I called both her and Chris Williamson, Labour MP for Derby North, who retweeted, on it.

is that the sound of a barrel being scraped? How far behind are Labour on the economy? How's Ed doing?
They both responded. Chris Williamson MP
claims & I are scraping the barrel for pointing out Labour has 13 point poll lead over Tories amongst women
of course, Labour didn't then nor now have "a 19% lead amongst women". Their lead was smaller than it was for men, a FACT an MP like Williamson will have known. Liz Kendal too made the same, stupid, incorrect point.
views & concerns of 50% of electorate 'scraping barrel'? Enough said...
First this is old data, and it's an occasional question. However EVEN AT THE TIME, the labour lead amongst women was SMALLER than it was amongst men. So the claim that the Tories, and by extension, me are not concerned by women's issues is ridiculous. Of course, Labour, the party of identity politics is going to have a lead amongst the kind of people for whom women's issues (which Labour probably think mean abortion and childcare, issues on which I'm probably closer to Labour than the Tories). However the Tories undeniably enjoy a stronger position amongst women than men, at the time, and now. So by women's OWN responses, the Tories better answer Women's concerns then they do for men.

This kind of 'pick a leading question which gives a Labour lead, extrapolate wildly and then suggest the Tories are anti this issue' is common on the left. Indeed Posts headlined 'polls suggest voters reject Tory cuts on ...." accounts for about half the posts on Liberal Conspiracy. Such "analysis" is fine when a hack like Sunny Hundal indulges himself in it. however this is a flagrant abuse of statistics, or to put it another way, lying.

I expect better from my elected representatives, even Labour ones, and wouldn't mind an apology from Mr Williamson and Ms Kendall, for suggesting that I'm sexist or Anti-women for suggesting that people, women included, think 'the economy' and the performance of a potential PM (which, unfortunately for Labour, Ed Miliband currently is) to be a more important a question right now than 'women's issues', about which YouGov can't even be bothered to ask regularly.

So. Which is it Chris & Liz, Lying or Ignorant?

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Labour's "principles".

If you want one paragraph to sum up the unprincipled evil of Labour, This one on Labour-Uncut by Dan Hodges

"You begin by deciding where you want to position yourself politically. You then develop a policy framework to support that positioning. And finally you construct a philosophical and intellectual narrative to define your programme as you sell it to the electorate"
... is it.

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