Sunday, 29 October 2017

Endgame or Eurocide?


The Brexit negotiations make it clear that the first past the post electoral system and the elective dictatorship it supports are no longer fit for use. Britain’s disintegrating party system needs proportional representation to work effectively and fairly.

The old system claimed give Britain strong government. It no longer does that. Since 2010 we’ve had coalitions and Theresa May’s shambling government, and now, negotiating with a devious oponent we look incapable of toughing our way out of a paper bag, let alone a game of 27 to 1.

The EU has grabbed the cards. It requires us to jump three ever rising hurdles, none of which can be agreed until we know the terms of departure, before we can even talk about them. It’s already hinting that there will be no concessions on that if we ever reach it

It would take a tough single minded government with a clear idea of the national interest and a determined and united will to fight out of this trap .Instead the political parties are divided, we argue among ourselves about whether we want a hard or a soft Brexit , (which only the EU can decide), the vested interests moan and threaten, the government bids against itself and the instruments of power are weak and broken.

The Tories are clearly divided. The Chancellor is cool on the whole enterprise, the vicar’s daughter hopes to win by being nice, the Brexiteers talk tough and a small, vocal group want to call the whole thing off and rejoin the Junker Friendship club.

The situation is worse on the Labour side. A substantial minority, hope that the difficulties will be so great that government will give up, and they’re ready to support anything that contributes to that outcome. A small number are ready to support the government, more just want to attack the Tories for making a mess.

The leadership holds things together by attacking whatever the government does while secretly hoping that Theresa will hang on long enough to prevent the poisoned chalice passing to Labour. That would force them to take clear positions on, immigration, even bigger payments for leaving, transition arrangements and all the other things on which the party is divided.

If it came to power before the settlement Labour would have to choose between rejecting the referendum verdict of the people and being nasty to an EU which many love almost as much as Vince Cable. Much easier to denounce whatever the government does

All this makes things easy for Junker, Barnier, Tusk and the abominable No men .It absolves the EU from getting 27 states with different interests and views to agree on any common strategy apart from “Just say No”. So we end up negotiating with a very taciturn “I speak your Weight” machine.

The EU listens to all our internal arguments. It encourages the protests of the vested interests. It pays undue attention to the disrupters and rampant remainers, observes our divisions and sees all of that as absolving the EU itself from any need to negotiate seriously.

All they need do is accuse Britain of having no proposals, being laggardly and speculate that Theresa May’s government is too weak and fragile to do anything, let alone commit Eurocide. It’s a pathetic spectacle, but one which is totally unacceptable to those who voted for Brexit and many who didn’t but are still proud of their country.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Brexit doesn't mean Brexit

Theresa May was wrong to say Brexit means Brexit. It doesn't. It means sitting in a trap,  forced to bid against ourselves, while recalcitrant remainers  encourage the EU to make departure so difficult we crumble and give up. That's their two pronged game

Article fifty was designed by Lord Kerr,(pronounced cur) a foreign office fool, gone native in Brussels. He claims it was intended to discipline dictators not Britons because he thinks we're"too bloody stupid" to leave. So he didn't make it easy. Then the Commission, which will be hit hard by the loss of the UK's contribution, made it even tougher by seizing control of the process, appointing a former French agriculture minister (and CAP lover)to "negotiate" for them . They demand that Britain  jumps through three hoops, before they'll talk turkey, and every time we offer to meet their unreasonable demands  they'll say "Not enough. Give us more" Barnier is the ever raising bar man..

It's the best trick since the invention of the mousetrap .It's also illegal. Article 50 gives the power of decision to the Council not the Commission. Negotiations on the relationship after departure should go on pari passu with agreement on the cash and conditions. Indeed  conditions, like money and borders, can't be agreed until we know what kind of deal we're getting. Yet the Commission not only insists that we should accept their conditions sight unseen  but gives the EU's joke of a Parliament a say as well, providing a platform to Verhofstadt, a failed Prime Minister of Belgium,to ponce around lecturing a nation which has twice gone to war to save his shambles of a country

 We're asked to accept the poke before we can see the pig .Unless we're to be stuck on this flypaper and humiliated we need to insist on seeing what we're getting to decide how much it's worth paying for. No tickee no takee as the Chinese laundry used to say. Having already made an overgenerous offer, Theresa May must now say"thus far and no further" until we agree on terms. Unless we do that we embark on an endless process of bidding against ourselves, while our Recalcitrant remainers encourage the Commission to make everything so difficult that Britain is locked into a never never process. While that goes on Labour will attack whatever the government does to conceal its own disunity, the divided Tories will fratch over their's,(and over the leadership)and all the vested interests will witter on about the terrors of Brexit and demand extended transitional arrangement they hope will last forever. Or to the Ides of Blair, whichever comes soonest.

That's a daunting prospect. Even mice have a choice of whether to walk into a mouse trap . Theresa May's generous instinct to be nice to Europeans is irrelevant. If the EU plays hard ball, so must we . That means being prepared and ready to walk away. Every trade union negotiator knows that's essential in tough deals. Get negotiations out of the hands of a Commission with its vested interest in keeping our cash, and into the Council's. Talk to the adults in the room not their office boys. To keep faith with our people Britain must assert it's national interests and stop the drain of money, jobs and assets to  a European monolith we neither need nor want. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017



One lesson in politics  is always look behind the arguments at the interests. Ask "what's in this for them"? Let's apply that lesson to the rearguard action  irreconcilable Remainers are now fighting. When Jeremy Browne reports for the City that there's zero chance of the EU giving us a fair deal, we should remember that he was a Liberal MP, believing in My Europe right or wrong.

 Andrew Adonis, who came to Labour from the LibDems  wants the Party to commit itself to another referendum which he thinks will ensure the British electorate stands on its head as those of Ireland, Denmark and France have already done. Another EU worshipper.

Take Euro Tony who  thinks that if he changes his own policies on immigration the EU will give us a better deal and persuade us to stay in the affectionate embrace of an organisation of which he once wanted to be President. Or the Euro Androids who hope  that if they make enough difficulties and prolong the agony into a never ending transitional phase Britons will behave like Bo Peep's sheep:
Leave them alone
And they will come home
Dragging their tails behind them

Smart stuff. It's going to make the next year or so messy and divisive and encourage the EU to play hard ball against what it assumes (because the remainers tell them so) is a divided and frightened nation.

Looking behind all this querelous quarrelling with the people, shows that their cunning calculations  have three weaknesses.First they're keeping quiet about the terms on which they want us to crawl back. Unless the EU reforms itself, which it shows no sign of doing ,we'll go back to the periphery. All the EU action will concentrate on making the Euro work and we'll simply have to resume our  heavier contributions, the economic drain and our growing deficit with Germany.

Second they're making no effort to encourage their friends in the EU to reform itself or to offer Britain a better deal than the disadvantageous terms which drove us out. They just want us us back on a treadmill running  against us.

Finally there's the problem of the EU itself. A hydra with 27 heads cant agree on any strategy other than simply saying no. The Commission calls the shots, not the interests of the members. Since it would suffer if it lost Britain's disproportionate contributions the Commission's strategy is to put up a wooden puppet as negotiator andcreate a lose -lose situation for Britain by requiring us to jump three impossible hurdles which we can't do until we know the terms of departure which they won't talk about. If the Treaty of Versailles had been negotiated on this basis we'd still be fighting World War One

Britain's recalcitrant remainers and  Brussells' Junker Barnier double act are at cross purposes. The more Yesterday's Euro Chaps encourage Brussells' professional no-Sayers to say "no", the more messy things will get, the more the nation's time is wasted and the more angry a British public, which doesn't relish being buggered about, is going to get

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

OMG-where do we go from here?

The most potent force for change in Britain's political life  isn't so much  elections, which mainly mark paragraphs in the story, but the great mood swings  which occur every few decades and change the whole course of policy. One occurred after the First World War which killed  Victorian certainties and faith in the inevitability of progress. Another followed the second as the post war settlement shifted the balances from wealth and capitalism and towards the people, with a welfare state, progressive taxation and Keynesian demand management to ensure growth and full employment

This led to three or four decades of affluence, les trentes glorieuses for the French, the never had it so good years for the British but the settlement came under increasing strain from inflation and balance of payments problems and in its turn, broke up, ushering in what Jim Callaghan described as the next great sea change.

That brought in the age of neoliberalism. The state was rolled back to empower the market, austerity cut back the welfare state  and utilities were privatised, Finance ruled, industry declined and growth for all was replaced by a zero sum grab by wealth.

Now after its four decades neoliberalism is coming to an end. Living standards have stalled, inequality has grown, the elite have been excessively greedy, the promised regeneration has failed and a peasants' revolt has  protested against austerity, neo-liberalism and the long decline into the EU. This new change in the tide produces the major question. Where do we go from here? 

New tides surge in because of abuse of power by the dominant interest. The post war settlement was designed to favour labour as against capital which had abused its power before the war.It strengthened union rights, and empowered the people by welfare and full employment.

Instead of cooperating, as  German labour did, the unions took a confrontational attitude to business, opted for capitalist competition by free collective bargaining, empowered the shop stewards and defeated all attempts at reform by both Wilson and Heath.Union power used in this negative way was denounced as excessive by management and the media, and seen as the major cause of Britain's slow growth and comparative decline. Certainly it was powerful enough to bring down two governments, Ted Heath's in 1974 and  their own Labour government in the winter of discontent of 1979.

With the power of labour abused capital took its revenge.The incoming Tory government by broke the unions, under-ran the economy to discipline labour by higher unemployment, privatised the great utilities and decimated the industries which were the centres of their power to create a new balance in which capital, business and Finance were  dominant.

In its turn the new dominant interest abused its power by greed,speculation, debasement of standards by banks and financial interests, by driving down wages and cutting costs, and by tax evasion and levels of skullduggery unimaginable for earlier generations.

Now, after four decades that abuse of power has produced its own nemesis in a failing economy which can't pay its way in the world and a tax base which can't support strong defence and the standards of health care, housing and education demanded by a modern society. The left behind people have revolted against austerity, globalisation, inequality and static incomes .The time is ripe for the next shift in the balances and a new direction of travel.

Though Capital's dominance has clearly failed it's difficult to see what will replace it. Both major parties are treading water and groping for new solutions .Thought is palsied by the great Brexit debate which will dominate everything in the near future. Yet past experience  makes one thing clear. The interests must be better balanced to avoid swinging the pendulum so far in any one direction that the dominant interest can abuse its power as both Labour and capital have done in their time.

This suggests neither socialism nor neoliberalism, but cooperation in the national interest  with a balance ensured by effective, independent regulation so that power in any of its shapes and forms can't be abused. The market can't do it. The state is too cumbersome. Only  independent regulation of workers rights and capitalism's duties  can bring the conflicting interests  towork together to build a stronger economy and pursue the national interest, rather than continuing a zero sum struggle for a dominance which both will only abuse.

Saturday, 26 August 2017

Labour and Brexit

The Remainer resistance is hoping that the difficulties of the Brexit negotiations will force Britons to change their minds , realise that they were wrong to reject the advice of the elite in the first place, and crawl back into the EU. Now they demand that Labour must come out against Brexit and demand a re-referendum to allow the nation to stand on its head.

Since  all those asking Labour to lay down its future for Europe one has to ask, as they magnify every difficulty, defend every EU policy and criticise every British approach, whose side are they on? Labour's sacrefice would certainly please Polly Toynbee  and the others who urged the party to campaign for their objectives, then the bomb and EU membership, in 1981 .When it refused they broke away in the SDP and kept Labour out of power for eighteen years. It would also please Yesterday's Men, Tony, Mandy and the rest, and bring us into line with those goneburgers,the LibDems. It would even gratify the pundits like Steve Richards by proving that they'd been right all along.

The only group it wouldn't help is the Labour Party. It would be faced with new divisions and difficulties if it gave giving  EU membership a higher priority than power ,national regeneration or democracy. Labour could  hardly win back the left behind people, many of them Labour supporters all from sections of society and regions which normally vote Labour. They voted to come out, and who knows what they'll think after being buggered about for two years by an EU which can neither negotiate nor balance the relationship better.

It won't get us any better terms. Poor old David Cameron got nothing  to help him win the referendum and after forcing  Britain to jumping hurdles rather than negotiating, the EU it then can't agree anything. A 27 headed hydra is totally inflexible. Such intransigence is no way to win friends and influence Brits, particularly if it's coupled with threats and dirty tricks like cutting back on grants to Britain, stealing our banks and financial services and plotting the downfall of the City of London.Giving the EU hope that Labour will crawl back to the fold isn't going to make the hydra more accomodating

If the last ditch Remainers get their way Britain will be asked to go back, humiliated, tail between our legs and swallowing our pride, not to a position of leadership in the EU, but to a pathetic periphery. All the action in the EU  now focusses on the French proposals to reform the Euro to make it work, rather than deflate. Those outside the Eurozone are relegated to a periphery outside the action and the few proposals for redistribution to help the laggards will be minimal and restricted to Euro members. Those on the periphery won't count.

Labour's concern must be for jobs and growth, but we wouldn't be able to  defend them by stopping the drain of money and jobs to the EU. Membership charges are  £11 billion and certain to rise. Our deficit with the single market is £60 billion and the costs of the CAP, a further £15 billion, all of which we have to borrow, because Britain can no longer pay its way in the world.

There's no way of stopping that drain unless we rebuild production in our lop sided economy .That involves government investment,  support and planning of the type Asian competitors have used to build powerful exporting sectors .The EU proscribes all that, so the only alternative will be to cut costs, reduce wages and taxes and join the race to the bottom . Does Labour want that?

It's too late for Eurowishful thinking. The only way forward is to negotiate hard for what the people voted for, forget the futile claims that they didn't vote for this, that or the other and fight for Labour's traditional priorities of jobs, betterment, growth and a strong economy which works for the people. To  throw up our hand in fear of the difficulties and saying that the people are wrong, the EU has beaten us before we can even get to round one and Britain is now so feeble it couldn't fight its way out of a paper bag. 

 Building the better society was never going to be easy but we cant even lay the foundations because we're drained by an EU run in the interests of Germany then we've given up altogether.

Trumpania versus Eurania


Those who see Trump as a conventional President who's failing because he's temperamentally unsuited to the job have got it wrong. Trump is a populist genius. He's developing an entirely new style presidential style by  following a classic, populist, right wing approach pioneered in Europe.

Call it fascism, populism or Trumpism, it's a simple technique. If blocked by the conventional authorities and institutions or frustrated by advisers and pundits (aka the adults in the room), the leader appeals over their heads to the people. The people probably don't understand the issues. They might not even see that the leader's policies are damaging to their interests as Trump's tax proposals and the abolition of Obamacare surely are.

 It doesn't matter. There are enough people alienated from the ruling elites and the conventional authorities, because recession, poverty and frozen living standards has made them feel left behind and angry to back the leader. They see a populist figure as their man, like them and on their side. They identify with him and he with them.They trust the leader more than those who've let them down.So it's easy to rouse them in mass rallies to rally them against the elite as Trump is now doing.

This was the technique used by Hitler . He never got a majority of votes, became Chancellor because the right thought he'd be their puppet,was distrusted by the army, the existing authorities and opposed by the Social Democrats, but appealed to a population hard hit by depression and unemployment from which the powers that be had been unable to protect them. Result ? Hitler overruled them all by unleashing public hostility, took a firm grip on power, built the fascist state and led Germany into war. Or take De Gaulle, brought to power by the Algerian revolt then consolidating it by referenda to get the powers and the constitution he wanted.

 Europe learned the lesson which was don't trust the people. That's why the European Union was created, as a deliberately undemocratic structure in which the bureaucracy of the commission decides what's good for the people, then imposes it on them whether they want it or not. The Commission is committed to building an ever closer union, which neither national governments nor the European people want but which the Commission knows will be good for them. It  maintains the appearance of democracy in what is really a plutocracy, by having a Parliament which has no effective party structures to give it power, and by referenda where the electors are asked to vote again if they vote for something the commission doesn't like.

That's why the Commission, Europe's  elites and all the jumble of authorities which make up the EU are as hostile to Trump as they are to Britain's desire to take back control. Can't have populism. Trump will get out of control and the British people can't be trusted. Heaven knows, they might want to do something the Commission doesn't like. Give them power and other people might want it too. Can't have that. Better just to say no. Simpler too, because no is the only thing a 27 headed hydra can get agreement on. 

European democracy isn't what the people want. It's what the Commission wants . If you don't like it, you can't even be allowed even to leave because it's all  done for your protection and in your interests.. A country which takes back control may catch Trumpism and do what the Commission doesn't want.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Does Britain have a national interest?

The repeal of the Corn Laws in the 1840s and Irish home rule at the end of the nineteenth century are the only precedents for the kind of disruption threatened by  leaving the European Union. Both split parties, divided the nation and inflicted such deep damage on the Conservatives in 1846 and the Liberals in 1886 that they took decades to recover .

Like Brexit, both were arguments over interests; land versus industry in the corn laws, imperialism versus little Britain in Home Rule. But these great disruptions differed from today's in one key way. The arguments then were clear and basically about the national interest.Today's are nebulous, hypothetical and all about vested interests not the nation's.  Few today have any clear idea what Britain's national interest is.

The argument is unreal because the nature of the deal we may be offered  is  still not known.The EU's negotiating tactic is to make negotiations so protracted ,  and to impose so many hurdles that it deters anyone from leaving its happy band. It's all  a game of bluff and bluster, a phoney war in which Remainers parade terrifying fears like  David Miliband's claim that Brexit would be "an unparalleled act of self harm". Every vested interest trembles at the unparalleled horrors to come, and Brexiteers talk of opening up to the world  without explaining what that means. Neither side can justify its claims because it ain't over until the German lady sings.

Result? Maximum confusion,in which the national interest comes nowhere. That's always been a problem of our membership. The EU It began as a deal between Germany's manufacturing interest which needed wider markets and France's agricultural interest which demanded protection.

 We gave little consideration to our national interest because no one was sure what it was. We were told that the benefits would be primarily political, meaning it offered a new stage for Britain's elite to strut on .The economic arguments were said to be more evenly balanced, but were  sold as an opportunity to show our courage, determination and inherent greatness..

It was an astonishing degree of complacency backed by homely images which showed little understanding of industry.  Cold showers would stimulate our competitiveness. We would be hitching up to Europe's faster growth. Unfortunately the showers produced pneumonia, EU growth slowed and foreseeably (but not foreseen) it proved easier to penetrate our smaller market from the larger  than vice 

We were duly penetrated. The balance of trade with the single market became a huge and growing deficit and it became clear that we had assumed damaging obligations, the loss of our fishing grounds, the rupture of our trade with cheaper agricultural producers and a burden of payments far greater than our GDP per capita would justify, to join a club which offered us little. Except maintaining  peace in Europe which NATO was already doing

 Those at the top loved Europe and the EU and its puff pastry politics but the consequences hit the less well off, along with globalisation,austerity and stagnant incomes, so it was hardly surprising that the people left behind took advantage of David Cameron's over confident referendum to protest.

Which begins round two of the Great Debate, a phoney war which is even more of a clamour of  vested interests but should be about dosh.The cost of staying in the single market is a drain of approximately £90 billion a year with the trade deficit the membership fees and the CAP all of which we're now borrowing to pay. Yet there's no thought on whether an economy which cant pay its way in the world can continue to bear such a heavy Euro-Geld

 The costs of leaving are variously estimated by the EU at up to €100 billion.Is this worth paying and for what? Every interest claims that its own  is the national interest. They get away with it because Britain is the only advanced country  which has no idea of what its national interest is.

 What sort of economy do we want?  Free trade was in the interests of the world's first industrial economy but now of a society which consumes much but produces little. So what are the alternatives?Racing to the bottom with a cut price, low wage , low tax economy? A service economy driven by consumer demand and selling assets just to survive?  Or a high skill, high investment industrial competitor. Should we sustain the City or rebuild the industrial economy which is better balanced than lopsided dependence on finance?. Do we want free trade  or  insulation by a competitive exchange rate and state investment to build strength in the way our competitors  have?.Should we welcome or restrict foreign ownership, already greater in Britain than in any competitor?

Other nations make these decisions in the light of their national interest. Britain seems unable to understand what that interest is or what the pursuit of it entails. The EU's is clear given Britain's value as an easy market and a over generous contributor, but if Britain can't agree on what it's interest is, it's impossible to negotiate for it. 

This is not a rational discussion but a clamour of vested interests. Importers fight producers, the City fights industry, foreign owned businesses see things differently to British owned, consumers fight producers and employers argue with unions. So many battles that irreconciliable Remainers hope that it will all look so difficult that we'll give up and slink back into the EU. Yet they can't tell us on what terms, and experience with Greece indicates that the EU is not exactly designed to help lame dogs over styles.

It's a gloomy prospect. Not because withdrawal is wrong or right but because our elite, has no clear view of the national interest or how to pursue it. We'll probably muddle through getting the worst of all worlds, but in or out, the prospects for a weak economy unable to pay its way, can't be all that bright in a world  growing ever more competitive. Unless our leaders suddenly discover the national interest but I've got the dreadful feeling that they don't know.

Sent from my iPad