Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Strong and stable, or sad and silly?

What's a saddened Labour person, the kind of altruistic soul who wants to see progress to a fairer Britain to do in this snap election? On the one side a triumphant Tory Party offering strong and stable government. On the other a divided party with a leader who's not up to the job, offering policies it has no present prospect of being able to deliver.

The only answer must be to keep the faith. Electoral triumphs and excessive majorities lead to bad government. Think back to 1918, 1931,and 1983 and recognise that a triumphant party can do what it wants and usually falls back on bad but basic instincts. Unchallenged power means hubris, heedless folly and excessive generosity to the interests and priorities of the holder. With the Tories, that  will mean a shift in all the social and economic balances to wealth, business and market forces. Those who've had it good in recession will have it better but those who've had it bad won't be helped. 

Ignore the pretext for the election. It's the old party political trick of seizing a transient opportunity to ask for a doctor's mandate on Brexit. The election has no bearing on this. Nothing our parties say will have the slightest bearing on the outcome. Babble and burble how they might about  hard Brexit, strong Brexit or a no-Brexit Brexit, the outcome will be decided  by a shambling EU not by them.Europe's jostling scrum of nations institutions and interests can opt to punish  Britain or it can talk sense The only effect of British arguments and divisions will  be to strengthen their negotiating position in the hope of wearing down a divided country

Forget Brexit .Go on automatic pilot. Ask what kind of Britain you want to see.  A stronger, fairer Britain able to carry the burdens necessary to ease the problems of a creeping health service, expand education instead of cutting it. A Britain which can move back to the best form of social security, full employment. Or a low tax, lower spending Britain, rewarding wealth in the hope that the benefits will trickle down to the people,to obviate redistribution by the state and make this a country in which its good to do business. And better for business to do the people.

Those who want the first have no alternative to voting Labour. It may not win but can make a stronger stand in defence of a good society so badly hit by the Great Recession and the austerity which  was the Tory Party's misguided response. Only Labour can offer better prospects to the left behind people and areas whose distress led to the Brexit vote. They're Labour's responsibility and that's Labour's job

Can we now trust the Tories under their new more serious leader? Possibly. But probably not.Theresa May talked of moving her party back to the centre, helping the "just managing", restraining board room greed, stopping wasteful big spends, but she's delivered on none of these promises Instead her government has cut back on education,and welfare and done nothing about the crises in the health service and social care. The result is to increase public pain and make society less equal. Yet instead of living up to the promises of healing and a new start Theresa has seized the opportunity  to grab a political advantage and set herself free of all restraints. So much for national unity.

So what's the alternative to a Labour vote? The SNP are playing their own selfish and different game, irrelevant to the real needs of a fair society for all Britons. The LibDems are full of good intentions as usual but lack both the guts and the power to deliver on any of them. Abstention is abdication into irrelevance.

 So badly led, clumsy,divided and misguided as Labour may be there's no alternative to holding your nose, crossing your fingers, baiting your breath and voting for it. 

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Strong and Stable blessings to all


Forty four days to go and we've had so much electioneering thrown at us already that it seems over before it's even begun. How can we keep the excitement going that long? How much can the human frame stand,(if it's not strong and stable)?
The policies are out before the manifestos are written. The slogans "strong and stable" are endlessly rehashed. The idiots with placards behind every speaker have waved them all (I'm arranging for my own- "Buy Grimsby Fish" to appear next week behind Faron).The issues have all been raised:Brexit Brexit Brexit" 
What can they now offer- except to go on rehashing the same rubbish? Burn effigies of Junker, Corbyn, Osborne ?  Feed the placard wavers on Spice? Drop Cameron on Damascus? Make Clegg governor of the Falklands? Start a Strictly Come Politics or a Master Politics programme ? Some thing must be done to bring the country alive and the election worth enduring
It can't be about Brexit. Blair can preach on about the duty to drive it out of Britain's weak and unstable land but the EU will decide that not us and  they've become more strong and stable since strong and stable Macron seems certain to win in weak and wobbly France.We can't drop Boris into North Vietnam, get Bill O'Reilly to interview Harriet Harman Or bring Ivanka to do a TV debate with Theresa
Probably best to go on holiday while the pound stays up cos the Tories look like winning. Try Greece.
Strong and stable blessings to all.

Brexit gets a star role as a background noise in this election

Tony Blair tells us that this election is all about Brexit. A chance for the people to join his one man resistance movement  and learn to love the  EU. Not being quite as brave, the Liberals claim it's a chance to change our minds. Labour  says it will fight for us to leave only on the same terms as we have while we are in. Theresa May asks for a negotiator's mandate to strengthen her hand .

They're all wrong. Brexit will be the most divisive part of the debate. It will be more noisy than the old party rows but in reality it's irrelevant to this  election. We'll spend six weeks arguing about something  to which the electoral verdict has little relevance.

Elections can't be confined to the cage politicians want to fight in. Ted Heath wanted his 1974 election to be about controlling the unions.It  was actually about the performance of Ted's hapless government. Stanley Baldwin called the 1923 election on the issue of tariffs only to find people more concerned with social justice. This one will be  about austerity, neoliberalism, the rise of inequality, the performance of the Conservative government and the state of the Labour Party. Brexit will be only background noise.

Hard as the politicians try to argue about Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, Brexitless Brexit or should have gone to Specsavers to see it  Brexit, that's out of British control . It will be decided by the sadism or sense of  a shambolic EU , emboldened by the French election result.

For any British Party to claim it can either dictate  or influence that would  be like reading "How to Win Friends and Influence People"to a herd of  stampeding buffalo. All we can do is to discuss  whether Britain can change it's mind and  turn back and that's both hypothetical and premature.

Like everything else this depends neither on us nor on the election result but on how much the EU wants to punish us for being naughty to teach the others to behave.Indeed if LibDems and Blairites go on trying to undermine Brexit it can only build EU confidence and encourage it to be more obdurate in the hope that we'll get fed up and give up.

Which wouldn't help the EU cause. The more obstinate the EU gets and the longer they insist that there can be no talk until we cough up the cash, the the more it will alienate the electorate The more they punish us, the less traction Euro-enthusiasm will have in Britain, the more angry and alienated our electors become and the more difficult it will be to accept the humiliation  of going back onto a naughty step on the periphery of a gloating EU The less generous the terms offered the less they will be acceptable to a Parliament and a people who have the final verdict.

That's what will decide the matter . We won't know it for two years, if then. In the mean time all the bluff, bluster and Euro balderdash are a total waste of time compared to voting about what kind of Britain we want to see and which party can deliver it. Bogging down in the Euro mire is only a distraction. 

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Tuesday, 18 April 2017

What a mess!


Most elections end up with a messy result. Will this be different? . Theresa has called it about Brexit but no election ends up being about the issue its called on. Nor will this.

First it can't be about the negotiations. They've not yet begun and won't go anywhere until the French and German elections are over. It may strengthen Theresa's hand. It won't change attitudes in the EU. Negotiation will still be a tough game of bluster and bluff in which no one in Britain can choose or influence whether it leads to a soft Brexit, a hard Brexit or a Brexitless Brexit.

Second the LibDems and the SNP won't dare to stand on an honest platform of "let's stay in the EU. We love it so". Nor will they want to defy the decision of the electorate to come out. So they'll go on about a softer, nicer, fluffier Brexit and keeping Britain in the single market with our  huge deficit ignoring the fact that they cant do anything to achieve any of it. (see above)

Third Labour should fight on the basic social issues: health, education welfare, the minimum wage and a better deal for working people and the left behind areas were Brexit vote was strongest. Shut up about the EU, Brexit and the impossible conditions you've been setting out. Ask what kind of government people want for the next five years; gradgrind or altruistic? Portray a bigger Tory majority as a bigger chance to screw the country.

Fourth. MPs who win can take solace from the fact that that they'll now have their seat as for five years not the two before the big reshuffle.MPs who lose can take comfort in not having to face the mess that comes afterwards  They can claim that its happened because they're no longer there.

Sixth. The bigger a government's majority the more likely it is to make a mess. The worse a party does the more it's likely to change its leader.The better third and fourth parties do, the worse the mess we're in.Take your pick

Seventh The polls get it right more than they get it wrong but polls before people know there's going to be an election don't count. People think differently when they'll decide an election. Don't project the result from today's polls. The Tories will do worse than is claimed.The LibDems better.

Eighth. How daft it was to tie Parliament down to a fixed five year term and then have to resort to subterfuge to get an early election. Almost as daft as reducing the House to 600 just when so much more work is coming .

Ninth Watch George Osborne to see how to edit the Evening Standard in London and fight a seat in Cheshire. Step forward Martin Bell

Tenth The more the Tories look certain to win with a big majority the stronger the pound. But the more likely are spending cuts to reduce the rising deficit Go on a foreign holiday before, or on 8 June. 

Sunday, 16 April 2017

The half-cock economy

Drive your car on full acceleration with the brakes on and you'll get a lot of smoke and flames and make a nice mess of the engine. Yet that's exactly what they're doing  to the British economy as the  Bank of England's monetary policy pulls in one direction and the government's fiscal policy works in another. No smoke or fumes yet, but the result is an economy run at half cock with a loss of growth, jobs and productivity. It gives confused signals on investment. Each policy cancels the other out and ensures that the economy is underpowered.J
ust when we need it strong to face the uncertainties of Brexit.

The Bank of England rightly sees a need for economic stimulus to boost Britain's slow recovery from the 2008 Great Recession. It has already printed 375 billion quid through Quantitive Easing It's keeping interest rates at record lows for the longest period ever. Both stimulate growth and investment, though the benefits are muted because the Banks have kept much of the QE money in reserves rather than lending it out while cheap money boosts house prices already well over the level at which most people can buy. 

In fact of course the Bank has to keep money cheap because  an increase in interest rates would do deep damage to individuals and businesses who've binged on debt just to keep going. So what else is it to do when government's fiscal policy works in the opposite direction? The governmental obsession with balancing the budget and reducing government debt means ever more cuts and lower public spending, not the balanced growth the economy needs.

 Only public spending can finance the mass build of public housing for rent the people need rather than building luxury accomodation for the rich as w the market dictates.Building millions of council houses drove economic growth under every government before 1979 .It could again. It won't happen unless the government borrows to finance it.

Only public spending can improve the transport network, the roads, railways and port facilities the nation needs. It can finance the investment in building andrebuilding hospitals, schools,local facilities,and the new power generation In all those areas Britain needs investment now, not big white elephant projects privately financed, as promised by this government. Neither pie in the sky nor HS2,3 or even 4 are any substitute for houses in fields right now.

Until the economy fires on both its fiscal and the monetary cylinders, growth will be lower, unemployment and poverty higher and families will be forced to sustain stagnant household incomes by debt, remortgaging their houses and having their kids live at home into adulthood. An economy with it's  brakes half on will be both more vulnerable and less confident in the face of the stresses and strains of Brexit which are to come.

Better balanced growth is the only way to allow the economy to deal with the burdens of debt. Cuts shrink.Growth builds a bigger economy to bear the heavier burden. The only alternative is to go on with the present folly of blowing  up  a growing bubble of debt: debt abroad to cover our 6% trade deficit, debt by businesses to keep going, debt by households to keep buying, debt by students to keep learning all supplemented by borrowing financed from rising house prices to maintain living standards. Better to stop blowing bubbles and remember that something which can't go on forever probably wont. Even if we do it at half cock.

Have a drink with Junker


Everywhere elites cluster round governments. Within the beltway in the US, in the Westminster village here, and in the isolation wards of Canberra and Brazilia. So it's only to be expected  that the EU being bigger, messier and more problematical than  grown up countries should have a bigger penumbra of hangers on. The Euro elite is  bigger and better paid than our's.Yet it has something in common with it. You're paying for them.

This isn't just the Commission bureaucrats in their marble palaces chauffeurs, big houses and huge pensions.They all like to feel important by encouraging awed British delegations from unions local authorities and businesses to go to Brussels and plead their case to be greeted with sympathy, biscuits, Vichy water, and inaction.All those delegations, and I've been on many, must do wonders for the tourist trade of a country so boring no one might otherwise want to go to it.

We're paying the bureaucrats as they exercise their power to share out our fish, regulate our takeovers and business support, spend our aid money for us, dole some of our money back to us and put up signs to say how generous they've been. I should add that they also negotiate our trade deals for us That's a job for life.  EU trade negotiations are the slowest in the world and it always tackles them mob handed.

We should also include the British civil servants sitting in the inflated embassy in Brussels, going native in their awe of an institution they're worshipping. When I was an MP they always told us to treat it with awe and respect ( and never to mention Brexit).Then there's the Parliament and its members of staff here and in Brussels and its expensive shuttle service trundling  between Brussels, Strasbourg and Luxembourg. Don't forget the 30,000 lobbyists from business, NGOs, professional lobby firms,Accountancy houses and local authorities, many of whom have set up offices there. 

Add in the ancillary institutions, defence, the European bank and its money printers. All on expenses. Many  tax free.All boost business costs; two oil companies spend five million a year on Brussels offices which you pay for on petrol.The regular fights to stop EU follies such as  requiring the same electricity plugs, or stopping the sale of health foods and other barmy ideas all take more time, effort and money

The EU is Belgium's main industry  but its tentacles reach out into all EU members with Commission and Parliamentary offices and staffs, visiting inspectors and auditors. Being Europe's elite, and hidden from the eyes of national tax payers and audit committees they're free to live a luxurious life style which isn't confined to Brussel's expensive restaurants but includes  skiing,the various rivieras, visits round Europe (all with free travel of course) and second houses, usually in the south of France or Tuscany with swimming pools and the full mod con the elite are entitled to.No wonder they're all so tanned and healthy.

Nice work if you can get it.But for those of us who can't It's an expensive burden. British MEPs are restricted to British salaries but with bigger and eminently fiddleable expenses and the civil servants are much better paid than ours. Which is why so many of ours see the top of their aspirations as Brussels rather than endless cuts and impotence in Whitehall.

You're paying for all of this great vested interest. No wonder they feel threatened by Brexit. No wonder either that they're putting their efforts and our money into lobbying against it. They don't want to leave the flesh pots.Many don't want to come back at all. Euro turkeys won't  vote for Christmas. But we should ignore their endless,self interested, cackling.

Monday, 3 April 2017

It's tougher to get out of Europe than I thought

Escaping from Colditz was a doddle compared to getting out of Europe. What should be a simple matter of jumping the wall and  moving off singing "born free" is beginning to look like mission impossible. Imagine a Colditz in which  British captives were chained then charged for the chains.

Imagine  a situation in which the weaker willed prisoners constantly told their escape minded colleagues that they'd never get out, that the wardens were doing what best for them and that the country outside the prison was full of fearsome beasts . Guards, happy to have their work done for them would only have to look fierce, and make occasional growling noises. No need to even  allow prisoners into the exercise yard unless they bribed the wardens.

 I'm not drawing a fair analogy with Brexit.I should acknowledge that both my imaginary Colditz and our much loved EU think they're being run for our own good, though Colditz did that for free, the EU charges.

The real difference is not so much disagreements among the prisoners. If either set  stood together, their prospects would be better. It's that the commanders in Colditz  knew what they were doing  and had a single structure of command. The EU doesn't and hasn't. So it  delays, plays for time by insisting on money before terms and why it's so reluctant to open the Pandora's box of twenty seven different demands with the Spanish demanding Gibraltar, Hungarians stopping British Goulash production and the Poles blocking poloney. That would be Smorgasbord politics and gruel for Britain. 

 The kernel of the problem is neither barbed wire nor  blustering and bluffing.We want an early settlement so we can continue to trade. The EU wants delay so it can hold together. Brexit is only one of its problems. The single market won't work if Germany insists on maintaining huge surpluses.The economy is kept going by money printing through Quantitive Easing which is a finite process. The Euro won't work without  a machinery of redistribution and a central budget which no one will agree to. The refugee problem cant be solved without an unacceptable burden sharing. The Greek, Italian and Portuguese debts  are crippling without a write off which Germany won't tolerate.Collectively they're so far up a Euro creek they can't afford to let anyone get into the lifeboats. 

This is  an ever growing mess not an ever closer union.Anyone running such a shambolic organisation would  delay, bluff and bluster as the EU is now doing . The real problem is the effects on the prisoners, sorry,the crew, sorry Britain. Remainers still hope that the going will get so rough that we'll give up and slink back to share the misery. Brexiters expect that it  will build British hostility to the EU. Others might see virtue in everlasting negotiations or advocate a German approach to reparations; promise any thing. Pay peanuts

It will become an "I told you so" jamboree.Remainers will blame it all on Brexit, the Guardian on the Mail, the people on politicians and the Liberals on the stupidity of the nation, while the deadlock will force us into a British walk away, followed by an early election. None of that will help the poor old EU but  if all it can do is fester and fiddle rather than than decide anything, who can?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Whither Labour?

The New Statesman asked forty liberal intellectuals to say what they want from an opposition. All are gloomy, though none depressed enough to suggest the return of Blair. Collectively they provide the longest shopping list in history but mostly for the satisfaction of the liberal intelligentsia who want a return to the European yesterday rather than a better tomorrow.These are Waitrose shoppers who don't know the coop or the coroner shop.

None grasp the real problem.We win when the government screws up and Labour offers the prospect of a better life for the mass of the British people. That was the formula for each of our previous victories. It will be for the next.

We can't  do much about the first requirement. Events and disunities may or may not take care of that.Nor can we  be relegated to fighting a long rearguard action on behalf of an EU no one much loves. That can be safely left to the Lib Dems the SNP and Sinn Fein. Yet it's surely not  beyond the whit of even the most timid of parties to offer prospects of betterment to a benighted population weighed down by debt, casualised employment, unaffordable housing and ever shoddier public services.

We did it in 1945 and even 1964 but then our class base was firmer,and we're all middle class now. So the broad general demands of those who simply want better lives have been drowned out by the clamour of feminists, environmentalists, ethnic groups, disarmers, internationalists and euro-enthusiasts,(though, surprisingly not vegetarians on  the NS&N's monaers' charter). Like Tony Blair they take the support of our traditional base  for granted . Like him they assume that the aim is to win the support of business and the better off by replacing social democracy with nicer neo -liberalism and equality by meritocracy and markets

The divisions between members and parliamentarians, the loss of Scotland and working class support in the North all followed from that failure. Yet the PLP only awoke from it when it found that most Labour constituencies voted Brexit, against the vacuous Euro-enthusiasm of their MPs.

Which makes this a time for a reconciliation with our base and our role.The essential needs are an end to the underfunding of health and education, a huge building programme focussed on public housing for rent for those who can't afford to buy, and a big investment programme ,concentrating on the depressed areas and aimed at bringing down unemployment

Ever negative pundits will ask how it's going to be paid for. The answer is increased taxation, making the tax system more progressive, borrowing and printing money through quantitive easing to pay for specific contracts rather than being stashed in bank vaults. We could also remove the nastier restrictions on benefits such as the bed  room tax and the caps, though a return to fuller employment, the best form of social security, will reduce the need for a benefit bonanza and will have to do until the economy grows to accept the burdens we've placed on it

Economists will flinch and pundits snear but Crosland would have asked "what does it do for Grimsby?" That question is still central today and here is  a supercharged version of what the government is timidly doing and what we're likely to come up with eventually from Labour's arcane policy procedures .It's  more attractive than any rag bag of middle class tid bits and more saleable than  trying to make ourselves respectable by posing as caring neo-liberals It's certainly far more useful than milling round moaning about leaving the EU while undermining the British case in EU negotiations we can't influence. Unless it's to help the other side. Here's a policy which can win in the real world. That's much better than sitting in a crumbling middle class fantasy land moaning about Jeremy Corbyn.