Wednesday, 29 June 2016

The Upsides of Brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Saturday, 25 June 2016

Well, The Wish Has Been Granted

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

What Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Thursday, 23 June 2016

Referendum Prediction: On Polling Day. And After.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



A Former UKIP Branch Chairman Backs REMAIN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A guest contribution by Lee T Jenkins



Friday, 17 June 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was just about to hit publish.

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

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

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

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


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



Thursday, 2 June 2016

An Open Letter to Jean-Claude Juncker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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