Monday, October 24, 2016

A pardon for Alan Turing? It's not a simple as it might seem.

The issue over a pardon for Alan Turing and those similarly convicted of homosexual "offences" is more complex than some think. At any one moment in time we have laws. People are convicted under these laws and punished. Sometimes these convictions turn out to be unsafe and sometimes this only becomes apparent happens a long time after the event. The Timothy Evans or the Birmingham Bomb case for example. Here the pardons were made because of wrongful conviction - which they were. In effect the pardons overturned the convictions and made those convicted officially innocent in the eyes of the law (not much help to Mr Evans, sadly). 

The case of Alan Turing (etc.) is different. Nobody is saying his conviction was unsafe. He was correctly convicted under the law of the day. Nobody disputes that. So it would be inappropriate to pardon him because of wrongful conviction.  

Alan Turing and many others were convicted of transgressing against laws then on the Statute Book which are no longer on that book. We have in the last fifty years had a raft of social legislation which has liberalised our society. Among these has been the decriminalisation of homosexuality. What Turing was convicted as having done would today not be a crime.  

Today's generation has assumed it has the right to criticise the illiberality of previous generations. That's fine by me - and there's plenty to criticise. Slavery. Institutionalised discrimination against minorities. Dangerous employment practises. You name it the past was a tough old place. But that's how it was.  

Alan Turing was rightfully convicted under what we now believe to have been an unjust law. Today's mores and values and sense of what is right or wrong - and the laws which surround them - are different from those of 70 years ago. I think that we have advanced as a society as a consequence. Not everyone agrees - although as far as the decriminalisation of homosexuality is concerned few would argue that this change was anything other than desirable. 

We have a sense of guilt about what happened to Turing. But it is not guilt about our own actions but about those of a previous generation and the society that then existed. So what, if anything, should we do about it ? The usual requirement for a pardon (wrongful conviction) does not apply. It is frankly nonsense to argue (as some are doing) that because someone was convicted of an offence in 1952 that would not be an offence in 2016 he should therefore be pardoned. 

If we choose to pardon Alan Turing (et al) we should be very clear about why we are doing it. Because we believe ourselves to be more virtuous than our parents or grandparents is not a reason. Nor is it a good reason that Turing was a great man and that his life story has been well told in a fine movie. The failed Bill proposed by the SNP did not do that for me. If the Government bill does (as the pardon of those convicted and executed under Courts Martial during the Great War did) then I will welcome it. But, as I say, it's more complex than it might seem to be.


Since posting this it has been pointed out to me that Alan Turing has already been pardoned and that this is about also pardoning similarly convicted men. I had forgotten that. Checking on the reasons given at the time (2013) for Turing's pardon they are as follows:

"The Justice Secretary has the power to ask the Queen to grant a pardon under the Royal Prerogative of Mercy, for civilians convicted in England and Wales.

A pardon is only normally granted when the person is innocent of the offence and where a request has been made by someone with a vested interest such as a family member. Uniquely on this occasion a pardon has been issued without either requirement being met, reflecting the exceptional nature of Alan Turing’s achievements."

The "uniquely" didn't last long. And the reasons given (Turing's "achievements" and the "exceptional nature" of them) were highly questionable to say the least. And they do not apply to others for whom it is now proposed a pardon be granted. The can of worms is open... 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

When the Nationalists take power...

A senior EU offcial confirmed that there is only one viable exit option - if the UK is no longer to be part of the EU, and if it will not seek the "Norway" status, then "Hard Brexit" is the only way. 

Norway is not an EU member but it has Freedom of Movement and is in the Single Market. The two are indivisible. This is an odd situation as the country has the benefits/problems of both policies without being in a position to affect the policies. But Norway accepts it.

The UK will not accept Freedom of Movement not because we don't benefit from it (we clearly do) but because it is a political line which cannot be crossed. Our electorate voted against the UK's membership of the UK because they equated that membership's "Freedom of Movement" obligations with "immigration" - which they don't like. (I simplify, but that was the bottom line).

Everything follows on from the political "bottom line" I describe. If that line cannot be crossed for fear of the electorate's response then "Soft Brexit" is no longer an option. 

We are cutting off our noses to spite our faces. Brexit will set Britain back for decades. And all because a foolish man thought he could defeat his opponents on the Tory Right /UKIP with a reasoned and internationalist argument. History should have taught him that Nationalism has a powerful appeal to those who think that they are disadvantaged. And we all know what happens when nationalists take power...

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Freedom of Movement within the EU is not "immigration"

Freedom of Movement within the EU is not "immigration". The myth that it is heavily influenced the outcome of the EU Referendum and is still being circulated by those opposed to the UK remaining a signatory to free trade in Europe. 

The core principle of economic alliances is the free movement of the factors of production - including labour. You can't pick and choose. If you want free movement of (say) capital free movement of labour comes with it. And free trade, the removal of barriers to the movement of goods also demands open borders - open to goods, capital, enterprise and people. 

Freedom of Movement of labour in the EU means that job seeking and employment has no national boundaries. It is, however, subject to the normal economic forces of supply and demand. If there is demand there will be supply. And the intersection of the supply and demand curves will give you the price. That price in the U.K. is regulated by minimum wage legislation. The legal employment of non British EU nationals is subject to the same laws as the employment of Brits is. There is no "cheap labour from Europe". (That there is illegal employment is a matter for the Police and is irrelevant to this discussion). 

Those EU nationals working here have not, in the main, migrated. They are Guest Workers doing a job, paying their taxes, consuming goods and services etc. Their net contribution to the economy is heavily positive. In time most of them will move on - back to their home country or elsewhere. The laws of supply and demand apply. Our economy relies on the availability (supply) of labour, capital and enterprise. The wider the source of all of these the better. The lower the costs and the higher the quality and the greater the choice.

Friday, October 07, 2016

For the Tory Right UKIP have been useful fools - crucial in securing their victory.

There is a cool, intellectually robust and factually undeniable article in "The Economist" today which states the reality that Freedom of Movement within the EU is strongly beneficial to the UK. And yet Nigel Farage who Paul Goodman praises today on the ConHome website (properly in the Lords - OMG !!) and his brother in crime Stephen Woolfe were the ones believed in the EU Referendum. 

Without question it was the lies of these and other doleful Kippers who secured the Tory Right their victory. There were a few unconvincing complaints from some Conservatives about the bigotry and mendacity of Mr Banks, Mr Woolfe and Farage. But most of them knew that every vile poster brought a "Leave" victory nearer and that the grubby means justified the ends. And those ends were, of course, the Thatcherites back in power for the first time since 1990. (I use the shorthand "Thatcherite" for want of a better descriptor. It's not wholly accurate as it was only in her sad demented final years that the blessed Margaret segued to where it seems Mrs May is heading now).

UKIP has been a vile scourge on the body politic. To the Tory Right they have been useful fools but they have been crucial in securing the victory. No wonder on ConHome  and elsewhere they are treated kindly. The extent of the plotting and the intrigue between fellow travellers across (nominally) the party lines (Carswell and Hannan, for example) may emerge in time. The short lived call for UKIP/Conservative electoral pacts pushed by some of the faithful (Toby Young, for example) got nowhere because it was realised it wasn't necessary. Just let the Kippers do the dirty work, stand at a distance and the prize will fall into your hands. Clever. Very clever...

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Labour sucked into a rather trivial Grammar School debate - but whatabout the Brexit chaos?

Theresa May has expressed a view that approval should be given to the creation of new Grammar Schools. It is not Government policy and many Conservstives are opposed to the idea including previous Education Secretary Nicky Morgan. 

Of the approximately 3100 state secondary schools 163 (5%) are Grammar Schools. In some areas they play a significant part in the state system - the county of Kent has 33 for example. But overwhelmingly the state system is comprehensive. This means that they do not select their pupils and are open to all children irrespective of ability. A Grammar school is a secondary school that is selective on ability at 11+ - that is its distinctive feature.

You might think that the addition of a few more Grammar schools to the few that exist is hardly a matter to take to the streets about. Even if the number of such schools doubled (very unlikely) it would only have a small effect on Britain's education system. Whether that effect on the margin would be good or bad depends on your view as to whether or not it is beneficial for a small percentage of our schools to be selective. However there is no general threat to the principle of comprehensive education. 

So what is going on and why is Labour in protest mode? It's rather like the protests against the so-called "privatisation" of the National Health Service. The NHS is not being privatised - although the process of contracting out and competitive tendering started by a Labour Government is continuing. But the NHS remains a publicly owned system staffed overwhelmingly by public employees. 

We are in "thin end of the wedge" territory here with education and with the NHS. More grammars and more contracting out in the NHS, although minor in themselves in the short or medium term, could indicate trends that are "undesirable". Selection in secondary education, and more involvement of the private sector in the Health Service. However the reality is that the massive edifices that are our Education system and our Health Service would take more than a bit of tinkering on the margins (for that is what it is) to change. Do we really seriously believe that the Government really wants to reintroduce selection on a major scale in education or dilute the principle of our NHS being publicly owned? Apart from anything else there is no mandate as there was no manifesto commitment for either.

So what is going on here? It's politics innit? The accusation that there is "segregation" in education planned is disingenuous. And note the use that most emotive of words - "segregation" - with its awful intimations of apartheid and institutionalised discrimination.

The utter confusion of Theresa May and her Government over Brexit is an existential crisis of unprecedented proportions. The recent Labour Party Conference only briefly discussed this in plenary session as they chose to unveil their domestic left wing agendas - on the NHS and Education (among other things). But Labour does not look like a Government in waiting but under Jeremy Corbyn it has become a protest movement. It's an abrogation of their duty as Her Majesty's Opposition. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

When David Cameron's luck finally ran out

Cameron arrived unknown at the top, he didn't "rise without trace" as someone once said about David Frost. He didn't rise at all. He parachuted in. After Hague (bad), IDS (terrible) and Howard (unelectable and very nasty) a neophyte was worth a try. He brought no experience, no discernible ideology and he had never had a proper job. (Carlton was a sinecure). He was young, a good fluent public speaker, academically sound, well connected, rich, had a nice wife (Tories like that) and marketable. But it was a veneer. A thin layer with only chipboard beneath. Before he became leader did he ever write or say anything that anybody noticed? He did not. He was in the right place at the right time and, until now, the luck he had then had held. But when they fall they really do fall - especially the Conservatives. Even the blessed Margaret.

It was the right time to be Leader of the Opposition post the 2005 General Election. It was clear that Blair would have to hand over to the much more vulnerable Brown soon. He did. And lucky Dave was in place as the Brown years became more difficult. Hindsight is already giving Brown credit for what he did as PM and as the most impressive and effective international crisis leader in those difficult times. But he was an easy target, could not rely on personal popularity and by 2010 he should have been slaughtered. But Dave botched it. The LibDem deal was clever and Cameron's luck kept running because Nick Clegg quite liked the idea of power. The Dave and Nick show was a fraud on the British public, but it had legs.

Cameron did nothing in his first term. All was about winning properly in 2015. The brilliant Lynton Crosby set it all up. Buy off the Tory Right with the Referendum pledge. Go hard on the LibDems. Get the media to rubbish Ed Miliband. Let Cameron appear sincere and authoritative. But first win the Scottish referendum of course. Lucky Dave had the rise of the SNP to thank for destroying Labour in Scotland. But on the other hand this rise oh so nearly delivered Scottish independence. Had this happened Cameron would have gone. But the Scots lost their nerve (just!) and lucky Dave won again. And in 2015 Crosby delivered the perfect outcome for the Tory Right. The Coalition gone and the Referendum planned to happen.

After the 2015 General Election Dave needed his luck to hold for one more push. To win the EU Ref should have been easy. The case for "Remain" was indisputable. But Dave couldn't sell it to his own troops let alone in the country. The Tory Right plotted and plotted. Labour imploded. "Leave" had the vile Farage/Banks campaign to appeal to the fearful and the ignorant. The Tory Right watched it all with glee. Unexpectedly their tactic of assuming power with Boris as their chosen leader looked achievable. Dave could be toast! And he was. The Tory Right stumbled and had to accept May not Boris - but they still won. The most brilliant coup in modern British politics succeeded and Cameron bit the dust. He's history. And that's the end of it. A victim in the end of his luck running out.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Will there be room on the Right for "UKIP Mark 2" ?

Corbyn has taken over the Labour Party as defined by its (substantially new) member base. Momentum has been part of the Deus ex machina  which has allowed this to happen. But "his" Members of Parliament do not support him (a few excepted) and nor do any but a minority of previous Labour voters. There is no credible scenario which could ever see Corbyn in 10 Downing Street. 

Meanwhile in the Conservative Party the Right has won. The EU Referendum and Brexit were never ends in themselves but means to the end of getting rid of Cameron/Osborne and launching a right wing "neo-liberal" agenda. The original plan was for Boris Johnson to be the Prime Minister. Read the Conservative Home website or The Spectator over the past few years if you doubt this. When Johnson stumbled the wholly unsuited Andrea  Leadsom was briefly drafted in. Johnson or Leadsom would have been puppets of the Right who would have called all the tunes. But Leadsom was clearly inadequate and so, in the end, the Right had to accept Theresa May. She is not "one of us" (in Thatcher's phrase) but she is not really one of anybody. No ideologue of Left or Right she. A pragmatist through and through.

The coming months will show whether the Right can tighten their grip on May. The Grammar School irrelevance is a sign they are succeeding. This is pure UKIP. A nostalgia for a past which pre-dates Thatcher. But it's Brexit which is the key. May has already tried to show that she is not for turning on the issue. (Her own support for "Remain" was lukewarm and self-interested - she clearly expected Cameron to win). However it is already clear that Brexit would be disastrous for Britain. The complexity and costs of withdrawal are mind-blowing and the distraction to normal governance extraordinary. The Right knows this and doesn't care. Their plans for Britain demand that the regulations and checks and balances provided by EU membership be removed. May will have either (1) Have to go along with this or (2) Fight to find a solution for Britain which keeps the status quo, whilst honouring the referendum result. Not easy!

If May, the ultimate pragmatist, does (1) then UKIP is dead in the water. She will have stolen all their clothes and the only room to the Conservatives' Right will be for some posturing. Arron Banks may seek to do this but he won't get anywhere. However if May chooses (2) then the cry will be "betrayal" and Banks/Farage (and Gove, Carswell, Hannan and Co.) will 
counter attack. It won't be pretty! 

Monday, September 05, 2016

Can Theresa May be a One Nation conservative PM ?

Macroeconomic management to be competent requires income and expenditure to be managed co-jointly. Statement of the obvious but how often do Chancellors single-mindedly look at only one side of the P&L ? Some Governments, usually Conservative  ones, focus on public sector spending. Some, usually Labour, focus on where (in their judgment) our money needs to be spent. Over all of this hovers politics. And elections. Politics is the Art of the Possible.  

The disintegration of Labour, the disappearance of UKIP post Farage, the fact that it will take the LibDems years to rebuild all give Theresa May a great chance to do what is right. To be a One Nation Conservative. That means ignoring the strident ideological pressure of the likes of the Tax Payers Alliance and their bedfellows. This is not a time for tax cuts and certainly not a time for cuts for the rich! Some tweaking maybe on the margins and hopefully some recognition that direct taxation can be progressive 
 whilst indirect taxation is regressive. But no major changes to the tax system and current levels are called for. 

At today's low interest rates borrowing to fund investment is prudent and necessary. Projects like HS2 and Heathrow expansion, Social Housing (huge need) etc. should be proceeded with. The collateral benefits in respect of employment and economic Growth are obvious.  

Every area of public spending should have Cost/Benefit Analysis applied to it. Our new place in the world post Brexit needs to be understood. Leave grandiose projects like Trident to the big boys of Europe and the US. We have chosen to disengage - that does not and cannot mean some return to the idea that we are a Great Power again. Our Defence expenditure must reflect this. Cut it further.  

The NHS is under pressure and as we all age and live longer it will be more do. Costs of healthcare per capita in the UK are not particularly high compared with other advanced countries. I have written here about how the NHS must be a public/private partnership. It already is and that is not going to change, nor should it. But we must avoid listening to the ideology driven claptrap of Right and Left. The NHS must not be a political football. We need an urgent recognition that a healthy nation is not just a moral responsibility for Gocernment but a pragmatic one. That means above all an efficient NHS. It's a huge task and maybe in future some new funding models are necessary. But we have long since chosen to have free healthcare at point of use - there must be no taxing of the sick. We need an agreement involving all stakeholders about the NHS. Not forgetting patients ! 

I fear that Mrs May's unassailable position will put her under pressure from the Right to cut public expenditure indiscriminately and to provide rewards for Business and High Earners. It's happened before! One Nation Conservatism is due a revival. But you've got to be clear about what that truly means. The Right has one cataclysmic victory to chalk up with Brexit. Mrs May must not give them any more.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

You've got to love the Greens - but they can be very silly at times!

I like the Green Party. I have voted Green once or twice and would do so again. They deserve many more members in our Parliament and I hope they get them. To me part of their appeal is that they can be charmingly bonkers at times. And their decision to job-share their leadership is an example of this !

The overlap between party and personality/character at the top of politics is obvious. The political brand is underpinned (or damaged) by the public perception of the leader. David Cameron was not a particularly popular figure at the time of the 2015 General Election but he didn't need to be. He just needed to be perceived as better than Ed Milliband by a sufficient number of people to win. He was. He won. He was hugely helped by a popular media which destroyed Milliband's campaign. In my view Ed was worth ten David Camerons but that's not how, on the margin, the floating voter saw it.

Strong, credible leaders are the vital asset that political parties strive for. In my lifetime, in their very different ways, Attlee, Churchill, Macmillan, Wilson, Thatcher and Blair were such leaders. They did not (as Cameron did) win by default. They won because of what they were perceived to be. They led their parties and added value to them. 

In modern times the phenomenon of the leader adding value to the party has also been seen with Nigel Farage and UKIP. The Farage story is a very uncomfortable one for those of us who despise all he stands for. But for UKIP to "win" the last EU Elections, secure 4m votes in 2015 and to be the crucial factor in the EU Referendum is almost entirely attributable to Farage. Without him UKIP will struggle to be anything like the force they have been.

Back to the Greens. They are analogous with UKIP as a small party trying to break through when the electoral system is stacked against them. Their only chance is to find a Farage. Not a dysfunctional, bigoted Nasty like him of course, but someone with his vote-gathering potential. The core proposition of the Greens is a marketable one - but it has to be sold. A charismatic, credible leader could do this. But there must be focus. The public must not be confused as to who is in charge. To have the party leader as a "job share" just cannot to that. Can you imagine the two creators of New Labour (Blair and Brown) sharing the leadership job? Of course not. 

As I said I like the Greens. But they do have a predisposition, at times, to silliness. To have their leadership as a job share is very silly indeed! 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

In the battle of ideologies it's no contest. The Tory Right will beatthe Corbyn cult hands down

The misconception on which the Corbyn cult is founded is that ideology equals intellect. It doesn't. Politics is the "Art of the Possible" and those of true political intellect understand this. But even this isn't enough. To succeed you need intellect, cunning and pragmatic plans far more than you need ideology!

David Cameron had no ideology at all - far from being a disadvantage in modern politics. But even this most pragmatic of men failed because the (apparently) nakedly ideologically driven opposition to him on the Conservative Right were cleverer than he was. They set a trap. Baited it. And Dave took the bait. The Eurosceptic Right attacked Cameron relentlessly over Europe until they got their way and secured a manifesto commitment to a referendum. Then they beavered behind the scenes with their brother in arms Lynton Crosby in situ for the 2015 General Election. The main, though largely undeclared, objective was to kill the Liberal Democrats. This gave Cameron a raft of handy new MPs as well as ensuring that there was no need for another Coalition. Once the Conservatives had a working majority then the Referendum could be held and the Right could ensure they won it.

Is Euroscepticism an ideology and are its fervent adherents members of a cult in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn's are? Up to a point. But if deep down the real goal was the defeat of one Tory tribe (the Cameroons) and its replacement by another then even the withdrawal of the U.K. from the EU can be seen as a means to an end rather than an end in itself. The tribe of the Right care more about the defeat of socialism and of the welfare state than they do about Europe. But Europe, with its human rights commitments and its social legislation and regulation could stymie even a democratically elected UK Conservative government which wanted free enterprise reform. The triumph of Capitalism could be denied by the EU - so the EU had to go.

Is Capitalism an ideology? Again up to a point, but it is also liberal in the sense that, in its purest form, it is anti rules . Look at the recent writings of Daniel Hannan MEP and you will see eulogies to capitalism and competition that are almost religious in their fervour. Pressure groups like the "Tax Payers Alliance" and other Right Wing "think tanks" were all pro "Leave" in the EU Referendum. The front of all these people was superficially ideological - Euroscepticism. But the real goal was to create a profoundly more neo-liberal Britain.

Back to Jeremy Corbyn. He and the Tory Right have a lot in common. They both want their party to shift away from the centre so that they can radically change our society and our economic and political construct. The Corbynites have the ideology alright - classic socialism from the Left Wing handbook. Public ownership. Anti militarism. Tax the rich. Empower the people through the trades union movement and do on. But as I say above this is ideological but it's ignores the reality that you have to be electable. If you agree with my analysis of how the EU Referendum was won you have to admit it was clever. There were clues if you looked for them but the removal of Cameron was achieved with cunning and intellect. It's not yet quite complete but Theresa May is surely well to the right of Cameron and unlikely to be picked off by the Tory Right in the same way that he was.

So that's the scene. The Conservative right are one small push away from power. Brexit will remove the inconvenience of foreigners telling us what to do. Theresa May will do our bidding because now she's in Number 10 she'd like to stay there. Labour is a shambles and no sort of threat. Daniel dog and his friends will surely have his day, and a great many more. Will it be a triumph of ideology - of course it will. But by stealth not by rallies and slogans. Jeremy Cirbyn will have been comprehensively outsmarted by some much cleverer people than he !

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Donald Trump has hijacked the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn has hijacked the party of Attlee and Wilson and Blair.

The cuddling up of Nigel Farage to Donald Trump should surprise nobody. Both are Right Wing populists with prejudiced views of minorities and foreigners and simplistic anti-politics manifestos. And neither is a conventional politician in any way. Indeed you would think that neither could possibly survive in, let alone lead, a respectable political party. Farage did not attempt to. This once Conservative had to be part of a new anti status quo protest movement to progress. UKIP is not a political party but as David Cameron once memorably and rightly put it a "...sort of a bunch of ... fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists mostly,"  

Although Trump and Farage are clearly ideological bedfellows it is not Farage that the "Donald" most resembles in Britain, but Jeremy Corbyn. Farage personally broke away from mainstream politics to join and then lead UKIP. He did not try and exist in a broad church political party (unlike many of his political fellow travellers on the Tory Right). Corbyn, however, has always stayed in Labour even in the Blair/Brown years when "New Labour" pursued policies in power which were anathema to him. That he now leads Labour is the serendipitous outcome of a bizarre, even accidental, series of events a year ago. He is shifting Labour to the Left, marginalising the "Blairites" and occupying ground that would previously have been the territory only of minority parties like the "Socialst Workers Party" or of the small rabidly socialist Left in Parliament (of which, for thirty years, he was a member).

In America the divisions between the Democrats and the Republicans, which when I was young were fairly small, are now much, much wider. America is two nations like never before. The Republican Party had already become a much more Right Wing party appealing to a distinct electorate before the arrival of Trump. Indeed George W Bush's neo-conservatism won two Presidential elections showing that this electorate is potentially at least in the majority. But the absence of a credible leader over the past year and during the Primary season left a gaping gap into which Donald Trump rode. 

For Jeremy Corbyn to lead Labour from his Hard Left positioning is directly analogous to Donald Trump leading the Republican Party from his Hard Right stance. A difference is that Corbyn is a career politician, albeit one with previously little prospect of, nor desire for, high office. Trump is not a politician at all.  He is the only Presidential candidate of a major party in modern times (Eisenhower excepted) never to have been elected to any political office. Similarly Corbyn is the first modern Party leader never to have been a Minister or Shadow Minister. Donald Trump has hijacked the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn has hijacked the party of Attlee and Wilson and Blair.

"Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best” as Bismarck put it. We have to concede that it is just possible that Donald Trump could be elected President of the United States of America. But it is far more likely that Americans will choose the " next best" - we must certainly hope so! Trump has a chance because his brand of populism strikes a chord with (especially) the working class white male who is virulently anti Obama/Clinton. He is the archetypical anti-Establishment figure. Jeremy Corbyn is also anti-Establishment but the difference to Trump is that his Left Wing brand of populist anti-establishmentism has a much more limited appeal. There is a significant body of support for Corbyn and they are very vocal. But there is no chance of this cultish group being able to create an electable Labour Party. Again the "next best" - Theresa May and her centre-Right Conservatives - would be the people's choice in a General Election. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Patronising twaddle from an arch Brexiteer !

Do me a favour Tim. OK you won. It was a victory that those who engineered it should be ashamed of. Scare-mongering lies. Appeals to the gut prejudice of that significant proportion of the electorate that will always be uninformed either by choice or lack of ability to be anything else. I have never been so ashamed of my country - not the foolishness of the outcome so much as by the fact that a few clever people engineered it. And now you patronise those of us who campaigned for "Remain" with this tosh !

The aftermath of Brexit will not be sketched by Britain - David Davis and Boris Johnson to determine Britain's future place in the world! Don't make me Larf ! No that future will be in the hands of the 27 EU member states we are so foolishly sticking two fingers up to. And if I was them I'd be telling Britain to take a running jump! Give me one reason why they owe us anything at all ? 

Not the least offensive and absurd of the disingenuous lies of the Brexiters was that Britain is somehow  different (= better) than our European partners. The EU result has shown the reverse - we are infinitely worse. Inward-looking, arrogant, prejudiced, closed-minded and stuck in some sentimental bygone age when we did rule the waves. The guilty who precipitated this disaster are entitled to to their balloons and bubbly. But not to insult our intelligence that we can have a "happy relationship" with the European leaders we have just so viciously abused. 

Sunday, July 31, 2016

"Gastarbeiders" are not immigrants - and most workers who come here from EU countries are the former

The Brexit campaign was heavy on slogans and light on detail as we are now seeing as the Government grapples with the fact that there had been no contingency planning at all in the event of a "Leave" vote. The Brexiters slogans were all of the type that is intended to get those they were aimed at nodding and saying "Yeah, Right on !" Or some such. "Take our country back" and all its pseudo-patriotic variants challenged us to respond. "You mean you want foreigners to take decisions not Brits" was the frequent response when we tried to explain. There's no answer to that leading question is there?

The slogans were simplistic and disingenuous - not least on immigration. Nigel Farage's "Breaking Point" poster was vile, fraudulent but effective. Much more cerebral, but often just as disingenuous, were the contributions to the debate of the likes of long-standing intellectual Eurosceptics like Daniel Hannan and Tim Montgomerie. Both (and a few more like them) were not averse to the odd bit of polemics and were quite quiet when their fellow "Leave" campaigners like Farage and Arron Banks spoke from the gutter. It was Farage wot won it and no doubt Tim and Dan would say that his grubby means were justified by the ends. The public got Farage's message and that tipped the balance.

A notable example of the point that misleading sloganising was not restricted to the bigots is in Tim Montgomerie's tweet above. This passes the "Yeah, Right on" test perfectly. Of course we should treat all foreigners who want to emigrate to the UK fairly. No discrimination. Moral and principled. Except that it's nonsense. This is not a point about the EU single market and directly linked free movement of labour policy. Obviously at a Treaty level that is the reason that French and Germans have a right of abode in the UK which Indians or Australians do not have. No. My point is that, irrespective of this, not all nationalities are equal in their interest and motivation in coming to the UK - and that not all so-called "immigration" is the same.

Let's take the latter point first. Only a minority of EU nationals are "immigrants" and I suspect that very few of these are French or German. There are believed to be around 270, 000 French nationals in the UK.  Most of them are here to work under the "free movement" rules. They are not "immigrants" they are mostly "Gastarbeiders" in the useful German word which has no direct English language equivalent. Most will, in due course, return to France. The same applies to the similar number of Germans here. The interchange of workers between Britain, France and Germany has been going on for a long time and (many would argue) has no downsides to it at all for Britain or for the individuals themselves.

Montgomerie contrasts the French and Germans with Indians and Australians. This is a curious combination because, I would suggest, there is little in common between Indians who want to come here and Australians. Yes there are plenty of highly educated Indians with special skills who might like to be a Gastarbeider  for a while to enhance their careers. And exactly the same applies to most Australians. Neither group are "Immigrants". This has nothing to do with "immigration" policy and everything to do with what the free movement of Labour rules negotiated between Britain and India/Australia. And with the individual circumstances of each case.  But as we know there are plenty of Indians who do want to migrate to the UK - especially those with family already here. Most of these will work when they get here but they are not Gastarbeiders - they are here to stay. We may or may not wish to allow this, to apply controls and/or to apply a quota. That is why we have an immigration policy. 

So in comparing French, Germans and Australians (who are mostly not migrants at all) with  Indians (who mostly are) is not comparing like with like. If we are no longer to be part of the free movement of labour in Europe (which would be a sad and retrograde step) we can at least replace it with a time-limited work permit system. And to be fair I agree that this should apply to Gastarbeiders of any nationality and that it should be subject to certain rules. What we above all need to do is not to confuse the (1) transient and short duration phenomenon of people moving from one country to work for a period with (2) immigration - which is a very different subject.     

Monday, July 11, 2016

The Coup that failed

Theresa May is hardly somebody that liberals will relish seeing in Number 10. That said she is not a darling of the Right either. As I said here Brexit was a Right Wing bid for power from the start. It all went according to plan with the recruiting of a few troublemakers like Hoey, Stuart and Field as cover. Then there was the brilliant decision to float Banks/Farage and co as a separate force of Bigots to spread the gut xenophobic message to the great unwashed. Farage's racist lies (the posters especially) were of course nothing to do with the official "Leave" campaign. They didn’t need to be. They did their bit as I said here it was Farage wot won it: .

The plotters were clever and their coup so nearly succeeded. They did the difficult thing - they won the Referendum. Then when Boris's effortless succession to power looked assured they botched it! The Leadsom nonsense was a last minute attempt to recover but it was gone by then! It’s quite funny, except that it isn't funny at all. Here we are stuck in Brexit Creek without a paddle or even a sense of direction. And Theresa May is in Number 10. Ho Ho!

Thursday, July 07, 2016

This time there's no muddling through. There is no plan.

So what now? Two weeks after the most disastrous election outcome of any sort in modern British electoral history. Two weeks after the unholy alliance of the forces of bigotry, ambition, xenophobia, and ignorance persuaded enough British electors to vote "Leave" to secure a narrow victory. Nigel Farage and his gruesome extremists in bed with the nakedly ambitious Boris Johnson. Preposterous old hasbeens like Nigel Lawson and David Owen preaching fear from the lofty eyries of their well-heeled retirements. Racists from the "BNP" and "Britain First" making common ground with frustrated fools from the Left like Labour MPs Gisella Stuart and Kate Hoey. And so on. And now? There is no plan. No "Plan A" let alone a "Plan B". There is no plan.

We are still all EU citizens - until we are not. And what happens then? Do we throw the Poles and the French, the Italians and the Dutch in Britain out? Bye bye. Thank you but off you go? Shock horror and of course the Government has no answer.  Because there is no plan. And what about the millions of Brits in the EU countries? If we expel the Spanish might not the Spanish retaliate and expel their hundreds of thousands of British ex-pats. Dunno. There is no plan.

Our trade prospects will be shot to bits outside the single market. Our economy will suffer (is already suffering). So how do  we handle this? There is no plan. The well established and successful mechanisms of cooperation between Britain and our EU partners will be dismantled to satisfy the brutal requirement of the binary choice of "Leave". We haven't renegotiated anything. We've run away. And after that? Who knows? There is no plan.

Do I have a plan? I do not. The people's choice must be honoured. The fact that this choice was made on the basis of lies and promises that cannot be delivered? The fact that this choice will harm us all, destroy our reputation in the world and deliver us to an uncertain future? Oh well some you lose - I'm sure we'll muddle through. Except that this time we won't. 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Not joining the Euro was the beginning of the end for pro EuropeanBritain

When in 2007 Gordon Brown announced that the United Kingdom would not be joining the Euro few British pro Europeans like me realised that this signalled the beginning of the end for Britain in Europe. Despite the fact that almost all the major EU countries were in the Eurozone Britain had previously secured an "opt out" that it would not be a condition of its EU membership to join them. The Labour Government which took office in 1997 had declared its intention to adopt the single currency subject to certain conditions being met. But by 2007 this had looked increasingly unlikely and this led to the Government's decision not to pursue the matter further. Part of the reason was undoubtedly political. Labour was under pressure not just from the anti Euro Conservatives but increasingly from the further right "United Kingdom Independence Party" which actually had the symbol of the Pound Sterling in their logo! Politically rejecting the Euro took one area of criticism of Labour off the table. But for Britain that decision meant that we were increasingly to be on the fringes of the Union on key economic and financial issues.

The case for the Euro within the EU was always political. Membership of the Eurozone forced integration and "ever closer union" - a key EU goal. Every nation state knows  that how it manages its finances - especially its currency and associated exchange rate and interest rate levels - is a key part of its governance. So if the EU was to act co-jointly across the governance spectrum a single currency was highly desirable. By not joining the Euro the UK opted out of more than just the single currency. It opted out of being a major player in the Union at all despite the UK's size and importance in other areas.

When the world was rocked by the financial meltdown and banking crisis of 2007 onwards the Eurozone as a whole was hit hard and some countries within it especially. The single currency was work in progress - the most ambitious experiment in trans-national economic cooperation ever attempted. It was going well. Businesses and citizens alike were benefitting from the lower costs that resulted from no longer needing to pay to  exchange currency. You could drive from Holland  to Belgium to France to Spain to Portugal and pay in one currency (and effortlessly compare prices along the way if you wanted to). If you used your Dutch credit card in Spain you paid what you paid - there were no currency exchange costs added when your monthly bill came in. The business case was also very strong indeed - for the management of the supply chain it was a boon. Costs of procurement, transport etc. were  transparent and no currency hedging was necessary. But at a national governance level it was more difficult. 

A Eurozone member could not fix its own dollar exchange rate - especially important if you are a net importer of dollar denominated commodities like oil and gas, as most Eurozone countries are. The exchange rate is a mechanism of fiscal management and potentially crucial in the control of your balance of payments - you can boost your exports,  if that is what you wish to do, or similarly lower your import costs if you feel that is necessary. The Eurozone members forewent the this crucial lever of national economic control in return for participating in and benefiting from the single currency. Technically each member of the Eurozone participated in the setting of the external exchange rate but in reality it was the big players - Germany especially - who ruled the roost. For a while this was not a problem but the turmoil of the banking crisis from 2007 meant that the "one rate for all" imperative of the Eurozone came under pressure. 

The introduction of the Euro saw some convergence of interest rates  - but countries in the zone remain free to determine their own rates - especially important in managing Government expenditure as well as being a means of boosting growth, or dampening it down to control inflation. 

The response to the financial crises from 2007 onwards was made more difficult because some countries - notably Greece - had entered the Euro at an exchange rate which overvalued their currency, the Drachma. This, combined with an economy which boomed in the good times but crashed in the bad, caused the Eurozone's biggest crisis. Doom merchants forecast not only that Greece would leave the single currency but others as well leading to the Euro's complete collapse. British politicians across the parties congratulated themselves that we had had the good sense, as they saw it, not to join the Euro. But Greece is still in the Euro and the single currency has shown that it is robust to turmoil. So far the merchants of doom have been proved wrong - but the rescue of the Greek economy has been and still is at a cost. Unemployment, especially among young people, is shockingly high as a result of cuts to Government expenditure and other austerity measures. The crisis has also caused a rethink of some aspects of the Eurozone's processes and priorities. 

Britain has largely been on the sidelines as all this has been going on. Gordon Brown played an important part in the European response to the financial crisis but he was not a player on the crucial currency issues. And Cameron's Governments have been largely sidelined in Europe on matters relating to the single currency and the management of the Eurozone. The gradual modification of some aspects of the way the Euro is managed has been without Britian's involvement. Most notably the recognition that the single currency is a political tool and that you have to have more central control of essentially political matters - like the levels of Government expenditure by nation States - has occurred without any meaningful input from Britain.

The European Union is about more than economics and currency management. Britain and other non Eurozone countries play a constructive part in the EU on such matters as trade - but the single market is more effective when currency exchange is not an issue. Not least because trading arrangements can be longer term when fears of exchange rate fluctuations between trading partners are removed. For Britain and other non Euro countries the penalty is either higher costs (via currency hedging) or greater uncertainty which is never good for business. But it can work and has been working.

As I say the decision of the U.K. not to enter the Euro was a mistake - in the longer term anyway. The recovery from the crisis of 2007 onwards in Britain was partly helped by the UK retaining the pound and managing its own foreign exchange (etc.) so, yes, in the short term it was beneficial. But looked at strategically and politically Britain would have been better at the centre of the EU/Eurozone than on the fringes. And in time all the other benefits of the single currency would have justified a bit of short term pain. 

Britain has always been an unconvincing European partner. Maastricht opt outs, rebates from the budget, and above all the failure to join the Eurozone have made us at times peripheral. But this could have changed and, I think would have changed had we voted "Remain". We had the chance to at last be at the centre of Europe rather than on the edges (I have no doubt that in time this would have seen us adopt the Euro). But sadly that is gone and we have chosen the wide open sea. It's desperately sad. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

It was Farage wot won it…

The “Good Cop/Bad Cop” theme is at the heart of much Police drama. You know the story. The police operate, and especially interrogate, in pairs. One of the cops is blunt, tough, forceful. The other is your friend. Understands you. Maybe even places a reassuring arm around your shoulder. And between them they get you to sing.

The “Leave” the European Union campaign was split down the middle – or so, at least, both sides wanted us to believe. The official “Vote Leave” campaign (the “Good Cops”) had a Board of Members of Parliament and well known political figures including Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Lord Lawson, Lord Owen, Liam Fox  - mostly, but not all, Right Wing Tories. They were the “respectable” face of the Leave campaign. Alongside them, but not openly connected, was the “Leave.EU” group – the “Bad Cops”. Their political face was the most famous anti EU politician of them all – a man who has built his whole career on this single issue – the UKIP leader Nigel Farage. The ties between “Leave.EU” and UKIP were strong – the main funder of the campaign was Arron Banks also a major donor to UKIP.

There was barely disguised warfare between the two Leave groups throughout the referendum campaign. Many in the media and politics generally thought that this split was a weakness. As it turned out it was a crucial strength. The official campaign was (comparatively) cerebral and restrained. It seemed to be directed primarily at Conservative voters and as such it can be judged to have succeeded – 58% of Conservative voters voted “Leave”. “Leave.EU” however had a different target.

For some time now it has been clear that in the UK, as elsewhere in Europe, the main breeding ground for support for the hard Right is among the working class. In Austria recently an extreme Right presidential candidate almost succeeded – and his core support was in the working class areas of the cities, especially Vienna. In France Marine le Pen of the Front National gets substantial support in the “classe populaire” . In their book on the rise of UKIP “Revolt on the Right” Rob Ford and Matthew Goodwin identified the working class vote as being UKIP’s most fruitful recruitment area. In the 2015 General Election 39% of men who voted UKIP and 33% of women were in the C2DE social class. That’s around 1.5 million voters.    

As this graphic from Lord Ashcroft Polls shows 25% of the “Leave” vote was delivered by those who voted UKIP at the 2015 General Election. Add in the 21% which came from Labour voters and you have nearly half of the total “Leave” vote coming from voters whose main class demographic is C2DE.

If the official “Leave” campaign was comparatively (!) cerebral that from “Leave.EU” was far from that.. They understood that the target group they were trying to reach was unlikely to be persuaded by elegant arguments or by a long manifesto. Or by the likes of Lords Owen and Lawson for that matter. And while Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Iain Duncan Smith would reach out to Conservative voters who shared their politics these three, and their Tory “Leave” colleagues,  would not appeal to the majority of the C2DE electorate. But Farage would! And Farage’s campaign – and that of “Leave.EU” as a whole - made a simple gut feel appeal to the this electorate. The poster at the top of this blog is the most notorious of its advertisements. But it is not atypical. Anti immigration, a fear campaign over Turkish entry to the EU (barely disguised Islamophobia) and the dog whistle “Take back control of our country” ( a deliberately ambivalent slogan which could mean “take back control from the EU” but also “take back control from immigrants”) was the core campaign.     

So UKIP voters made up a quarter of the “Leave” vote  but Nigel Farage delivered almost as large a number from Labour. And it is this final statistic that was crucial. Labour could not persuade sufficient of its own supporters to back “Remain” nor could it “get back” any from its traditional working class support who had switched over the years to UKIP.

Whether there was actual collusion between the two “Leave” campaigns and an agreement that one would be the “Good Cops” and the other the “Bad Cops” I do not know. It wouldn't surprise me. But collusion or not the split was clever with both target groups being covered. And this made the difference. But in a tight race the delivery of the UKIP and Labour vote to “Leave” was the crucial factor. The former could be assured. But it was Nigel Farage’s delivery of a substantial number of Labour voters that swung the outcome in Leave’s favour.
It was Nigel wot won it. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

have been challenged to say on Facebook how I will be voting in the EUReferendum, and why, in 900 words. Here goes:

An aging baby boomer and his ten year old great niece. It's her future.

As a Baby Boomer, part of the immediate post war boom, I have lived through nearly 70 years of peace. Something that my parents' generation and their parents' generation did not enjoy. Without question the spur to this was that politicians in Europe in the immediate post war period, and led by Winston Churchill, decided (in his words) that "Jaw Jaw" was always better than "War War". History teaches us that, the odd civil war aside, if people are united in pursuit of a common goal then they tend not to fight one another. 

In Europe that goal has been peace and prosperity. Prosperity means economic growth and the sharing of the proceeds of that growth and a necessary condition is economic freedom. The levers which direct these freedoms include free movement of Labour and Capital, but also regulation. Europe did not need to be taught that the totalitarianism of the Right (the Nazis) or the Left (Stalin's USSR) discarded freedoms of all types. Nor that democracy is the defence to the extremes. In essence on a continent with over thirty nation States you can only guarantee these freedoms by cooperating and by (in some cases) discarding old enmities. As recently as the early 1990s we have seen what happens when this does not happen - the break up of Yugoslavia showed that violence is sadly only just below the surface even for civilised peoples living on the edges of Europe.

So the gradual growth of European cooperation was a practical response to the half a century of conflict that preceded it. But this had to be more than the creation of a "talking shop" - the League of Nations and the United Nations showed us that "Jaw Jaw" was not enough. There has, as I say, to be a "common goal". The modern world is increasingly interdependent in part in response to the sheer scale of the major players. The USA, China, Russia, Japan and catching them up the rapidly growing newer large economies such as Brazil and India are huge and this is not going to change. In Europe no single country can think to be able to match these mega powers - certainly not the United Kingdom. So economic cooperation is a no brainer. To compete you have to do it.

The European Union has gradually evolved as an economy to rival the big players. Indeed collectively it is now the world's largest economy - bigger even than the US. It is not a "Super State" as some against it charge nor is there some anonymous European culture which superimposes its will on the 28 sovereign States. The differences between (say) Sweden and Italy, or Germany and Portugal in respect of culture and character are as vibrant and enjoyable as ever they were! But a modest surrender of sovereignty has strengthened the economic alliance, created fairness with regulation, and enabled competition - that necessary condition for genuine free markets - to work.

The EU is not perfect. It needs to change. It needs to build on its already strong democracy with more of the same. I believe that not only will it do this but that it will do it better if the UK remains part of it. Our peoples will travel, work, study and improve their lives if the walls between us are as low as we can make them. I'm proud to be British but I am equally proud to be European. I dread the thought that our nation - unquestionably one of the major forces for cooperation in Europe in the post war years - would walk away. It would be a shaming moment. And it would hand a "hospital pass" to our children and grandchildren. Young people want us to be in Europe and actively so. My generation must not let them down. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

When the reference frame moves to the Right it can have deadly consequences

If, as seems probable, Tommy Mair was a deranged person committing the ultimate hate crime this should not stop us from analysing why he hated and where his hate came from. The last few months, coinciding with the EU Referendum campaign, has seen elements of the right wing British media stirring up opposition to multiculturalism, immigration, the EU, Turkey, Islam and (of course those of us who oppose their underlying prejudice and bigotry) in their "news" and comment. Let's name names. The Express newspapers. The Mail. The Sun and often the Telegraph as well. The Spectator. Add in such pseudo-respectable websites as Breitbart and you have the widespread dissemination of Right Wing propaganda of the most gruesome kind. 

Then there's the politicians. We are used to the foul-minded and offensive lies of Nigel Farage and his coterie of bigots in the UKIP leadership. They have upped the ante recently culminating in the rightly condemned recent vile posters. But they have been joined by some Conservatives who should know better (and probably do) like Gove, Johnson and co. Ambition and obsession has made many of the Brexit Tories move towards Farage's gutter.

This then is the climate in which extreme opinions become almost normal, lies abound and previously "respectable" politicians and commentators decide that the means justifies the ends. These "ends" of course being a "Leave" vote in the EU Referendum.

If the reference frame shifts to the Right (it has) then those who are influenceable, and ignorant, may think that what was once extreme is now mainstream. This does not mean that the Far Right (right of UKIP from the BNP and "Britain First" to the EDL and “Liberty GB” and even further to overtly Fascist groups) has suddenly become more numerous in its support. But it does mean that these extreme groups do feature in the media and that gives them awareness – as of course does their open presence on the internet. So those whose views do naturally tend to the extreme see the Mail front pages and the UKIP posters, listen to Farage and the rest and think (however mistakenly) that they have been given cover and support for their own extreme and paranoid delusions. And it is one of these who reaches for a gun.