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.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Why this photo makes me want to vomit. Possibly !

Ths photograph was doing the rounds on social media today and I suggested that it might make me vomit. Queue mega abuse from some fellow Twitterers! Let me say my comments here are related only to what I see. I do not know why the inhabitants of this apartment block smothered their building with the flag of St George. Maybe there is a good reason but I've no idea what it could be given that England sporting teams are not involved in any big matches or tournaments at the moment. Perhaps it's a historic photo from one of those days when England was indeed playing sport that matters.

The other explanation - and the vomit-inducing thing - is that we are in the presence of the Far Right here. The England flag has been adopted by a variety of Far Right flotsam from UKIP via the BNP to The "English Defence League". 

The Flag of St George has a regrettable ambivalence about it. When used at Wembley or The Oval or Twickenhsm it is uncontroversial and can be memorable. When used as a national flag on St George's Day likewise. But when used as a symbol of English Nationalism - that little remarked upon and often toxic phenomenon - it is a misuse that denigrates it. And when used by the repellent Right, as it too often is, well that is when it is vomit-inducing. And I make no apology for pointing this out. 

Friday, May 27, 2016

A pan- European defence initiative is a good idea

As Europe moves towards "Ever closer union" it is entirely logical that this union be supported by strong military cooperation. The European Union of 28 Nation states is both economic and political - indeed the distinction  between what is "economic" and what is "political" is unhelpful and largely meaningless. The EU is a political union of independent, sovereign Nations who have chosen to pool some of their sovereignty in their own interests and the common good. There is an element of federation about this which is consistent with Winston Churchill's original dream of a "...kind of United States of Europe". Note Churchill used the qualifier "kind of" deliberately. He was not, I think, arguing for a federal Europe. And nor am I !

So if "ever closer union" is overtly political and requires an agreed greater pooling of sovereignty (it does) what are the defence implications of this? Well countries have armed forces to protect themselves - their borders, their way of life etc. And often they do so because they perceive a military threat from a potential aggressor that they may need to repel. The EU is politically and economically the largest cooperative venture in the world. The need for the EU's nation States, and by extension the Union as a whole, to be protected from threats is self-evident. So what is the best way to do this? By cooperating with one another, as with every other aspect of the EU's operations.

Military cooperation in Europe in the Post War period is not new, of course, and NATO has been a force for good since 1949. But NATO was comprised from the start of not just European nations but also included the United States and Canada. At the time of the Cold War Europe welcomed the active participation of the North Americans and the US was obviously the only counterweight to the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc. However there was always a democratic inconsistency in this. Nobody in Europe elects the leaders of the US/Canada.

The case for European Defence Force initiative firstly builds on the very fact of political interdependence. Secondly it is, where NATO is not, a purely European affair and is accountable to the political control of the European nations - nobody else. The question as to whether there would need to be a "European Army" (etc.) is not really the issue. The model is the UN where there can be UN political direction of armed forces which remain in the uniforms of their individual countries but act in a coordinated way with a joint Command centre under political control.

At present, in addition to the North Americans, NATO has Turkey and Iceland as members. And of the EU members Austria, Cyprus, Finland, Ireland, Malta and Sweden are not members of NATO. Ideally if NATO is disbanded and replaced with an EDF then all the EU nations could be persuaded to participate. Similarly there is nothing to stop the EU negotiating a military partnership with the US, Canada or Turkey – or any other country. The key point, of course, is that the EDF would be under European control - the control of the 28 members of the EU.

So what’s not to like? Very little in my view – the benefits – especially in respect of democratic accountability – seem strongly to outweigh the disadvantages. Seventy years on from the end of the Second World War the political, economic and defence/military scene in Europe is vastly changed. Our military capabilities need much more closely to match our increasingly integrated political and economic situation.   

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

These are not scare tactics: If you really want to demolish the NHS, the BBC and the Trades Union movement vote Brexit

There have been some unedifying scare tactics use on both sides of the EU debate and it is hard to see the solid wood of the arguments for and against at all through the dodgy obfuscating trees. So to make it clearer here is the bottom line. "Brexit" is a pathway to the takeover by the political Right in Britain. All the rest is noise.

In 1990 the Conservative Party committed matricide. After eleven years in office the blessed Margaret Thatcher (Peace be Upon Her) was unceremoniously booted out of office by her own Cabinet. That Cabinet had had enough of Thatcher's increasingly strident style - especially her growing antagonism to the European Community (as it then was). Europe was the final straw, but as now it was cover for a battle for the soul of the Conservative Party.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have been (at times fragile) alliances between Right and Left. Indeed at present both of our main parties are fighting bitter internal battles. The Tory one is of longer duration, however, stretching back uninterrupted to that fatal day in November 1990 when Thatcher was forced out of office. Uneasy has lain the crown on the heads of her successors. John Major, a decent man for all his lightweight persona, struggled and largely failed against the still Thatcherite internal opposition in his own Party. (The country at large rather liked him and surprisingly re-elected him in 1992). In succession to Major the Thatcherites tried to get control again with a series of leaders who they saw as being "One of Us" - William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard were all Thatcherites and all failed because the country had solidly embraced the centre ground with New Labour.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown knew that Britain can only be governed from the centre (that Thatcher decade apart). In 2005 the Conservative Party, after a third successive Election defeat, got the message as well. David Cameron, a clever pragmatist, won the leadership defeating the Thatcher choice (and initially favourite) David Davis along the way. The Conservative Right didn't like it much - Cameron positioned himself not as Margaret Thatcher's heir but as Tony Blair’s! This reached its apotheosis when Cameron did a deal with the "Soft Left" Liberal Democrats after the inconclusive 2010 election.

So whilst Cameron and Clegg carried on governing as New Labour had - from the centre ground - those Conservatives   who didn't like this regrouped and plotted. This plotting was fairly open. Michael Ashcroft established the Conservative Home website which whilst nominally evenly balanced was in fact firmly in the hands of the Thatcherite Right. At "The Spectator" the tone was similarly neo-Thatcherite. Newspapers like the Mail and the Telegraph - always Conservative - now fell into the hands of the further Right (the Express went Far Right and became an organ of UKIP). Crucially the Murdoch press (The Times and The Sun) was recruited as well - though in the case of The Times this was a little more subtle.

The 2015 election confused the plotters. They expected Cameron to lose and were positioning themselves to install a "One of Us" successor when he did. But the Great British Public stymied them again. With "Call me Dave" safely back in Number 10 the Conservative Right played their final card. Cameron had promised a referendum on Britain's EU membership and by God they were going to ensure he delivered one! This referendum promise had been an attempt by Cameron to satisfy the demands of his Right Wing - as well as to reduce the appeal of Conservative defector Nigel Farage's shallow but simplistically effective United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). There was little interest in the country at large in having a battle over Europe. There were other priorities for the Government than this surely?

Well actually the "Leave" campaign thought there were "other priorities" as well! "Brexit" (that hideous, but clever, neologism) was nominally, of course, about Europe. But it was deep down really about what the Right calls "Freedom". This "freedom" predicates free markets above all. This has become known as "Neo-liberalism" and is associated especially with laissez-faire economics. It advocates support for extensive economic liberalisation - privatisation, fiscal austerity, deregulation, and substantial reductions in government influence on the State and expenditure. The Thatcher credo.
The European Union is essentially a capitalist construct - which is why opposition to it was initially (in the 1960s and early 1970s) mainly a Left Wing concern. But even forty plus years ago there was a hard core of conservative objection to Britain being part of the project for European political and economic integration. During the 1975 referendum Enoch Powell, effectively the leader of this faction said this:
“The nation is being invited to confirm the surrender, and the permanent surrender, of its most precious possession: its political independence and parliamentary self-government, and the right to live under laws and to pay taxes authorised only by Parliament and to be governed by policies for which the executive is fully accountable through Parliament to the electorate.”
There is little, if any, difference between what Powell said forty years ago and what the conservative Brexiters say today. Like them Powell was anti-interventionist, a believer in the power of the market and like Thatcher a monetarist. The quote above needs to be seen in an economic as well as a governance context. The two are linked. Powell feared that Britain would lose the freedom to apply a strict economic regime because of Europe’s removal of some of its sovereignty (the fear was unfounded as the Thatcher years showed!). That fear is at the heart of the Brexit case today. Daniel Hannan, for example, puts it like this:
“Will the United Kingdom be an independent nation, trading with its friends on the Continent while living under its own laws? Or will it be part of a country called Europe?”
The European Union is, as I have said, a capitalist construct – but it is a regulated one. And broadly these regulations apply to all of its members. In pure terms this is a restraint on competition but in a pan-European context it creates a level playing field on which competitive behaviour can better operate. “Better” in the public interest sense. No member can, for example, cut prices or wages in an “unfair” way to seek commercial advantage. Of course what is “unfair” is subjective which is why there are democratic institutions (e.g. the European Parliament) where a resolution is sought.
The libertarian right and believers in so-called “business freedom” like The Freedom Association are, of course, opposed to regulation generally and regulation from Brussels in particular. And they are prime movers in the Brexit campaign. And this brings us to the heart of the subject. On the Right there is a precise correlation between support for Brexit and support for this kind of free enterprise. Not any old wishy-washy mixed economy free enterprise. Hard , rigorous, “libertarian” neo-liberal free enterprise. Thatcher plus if you like.

Targets of this group in the past (apart, of course, from the EU) have included the BBC, the NHS, the Trades Union movement – indeed anything that rings of public control, public ownership or social democracy. They want no less than a revolution with privatisation and free enterprise being the norm across the economy. But they know that they cannot do this when Britain is in the EU as the rest of Europe and the EU, as its legislative glue, has embraced the mixed economy – albeit one that has capitalist underpinning.

So the Brexiters strategy and the strategy of the “Free Enterprise” brigade are inextricably tied together to the extent that the joins are seamless. Tactically the sequence is:
  1. Britain is persuaded to vote “Leave” on June 23rd
  2. A leadership contest in the Conservative Party commences
  3. A Right Wing leader is chosen (or more likely the self-interested front man Boris Johnson – a man unburdened with ideology or beliefs).
  4. Johnson’s cabinet is stuffed with Right Wingers who launch the revolution.
  5. The leadership lacuna in the Labour Party allows the Conservatives to win a mandate for their Right Wing economic agenda in a swiftly called General Election.
The rest will be history – as will be the United Kingdom as a modern nation.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

London chooses decency over lies and innuendo

I'm not a great fan of City Mayors including London's but the role is, despite its limitations, the biggest job in the Capital. As such you want an incumbent who is his own man (or woman). Ken before he lost the plot was a good Mayor. He handled 7/7 with dignity and the Olympics 2012 bid with skill. Boris was less of a buffoon than he seemed but his Mayoralty was unmemorable and self-evidently just a piece in the building of the Boris brand. He was lazy and dillitante and more a cartoon Mayor than a real one. 

So Goldsmith had to promote the rationale for his candidacy based on his personal qualities. Instead he surrendered his independence to the very worst part of the Central Office machine. The dysfunctional overrated spin doctor Lynton Crosby and his malignant team. Goldsmith is MP in Richmond near where I live. I thought that he was the better type of Tory. His Green positioning seemed genuine similarly his opposition to LHR expansion was principled (he was wrong in my view but I didn't question his sincerity). 

But cometh the hour cometh the shallow opportunist. As candidate for London Mayor he was truly awful. He should have been his own man but he let himself be led into one of the most disreputable political campaigns of modern times. And there's the rub. If he can be so easily led as a candidate it suggests two things. First he will sell his principles to,the highest bidder. Secondly that he is prone to follow not to lead. The electorate saw this and rejected him. Good riddance.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The phoney myth of our "Free Press" and how the BBC is a beacon of light in this murky darkness.

So the BBC is under the Government's control and will do what it's told because its Charter is under review or it is trying to undermine the Government and John Whittingdalle - because its Charter is under review! You pays your money and makes your choice !

The reality of the  Media scene is that you can trust nobody completely but if you can trust anyone on any issue it is likely to be the BBC. If you run through the so-called "Free Press" they are a gruesome bunch:

The Times: some great writers and a superbly produced product, especially online. But the puppet-master in Chief, the hideous Rupert Murdoch, ultimately calls the tune. In the end the Thunderer thunders to its master's voice.

The Sun: A grotesque propaganda rag which Murdoch uses to pander to the prejudices of a vulnerable, unsophisticated and easily swayed CDE2 population. This shameful "newspaper" has a long history of dysfunctionality and deceit and is a crude campaigning battering ram for Murdoch and the political Right.

The Telegraph: Once the house voice of the Conservative Party now under the Barclays this has become a tabloid as crude as The Sun albeit wrapped in a broadsheet veneer. When Peter Oborne left in disgust he wrote about the Telegraph's management and priorities - a shameful exposure of the adage that power corrupts.

The Guardian: Those of us on the soft Left revere The Guardian - a decent, liberal newspaper in a hard right world. It can be smug and it can be wrong. And its influence is minor overshadowed as it is by the weight of the very "unfree" "Free Press" around it.

The Mail: Newspaper of the year because it is cleverly managed and well presented (including online). But of course the reality is that it is as much a propaganda tool as The Sun which it strongly resembles in its ethos. Its target is upmarket of The Sun and it tells its lies to a readership which has no interest in checking them. The malignancy of Paul Dacre and the no doubt wealth-creating proposition of his creation is dangerous. The only valid response to the "I read it in the Mail" meme is contempt.

The Express: Beaverbrook must be turning in his grave at how his great achievement has turned into a Comic. And not a very funny one either. Like the Mail it is home to bigotry and prejudice but it is even cruder than its competitor. If the political ethos of the Mail is Conservative hard right the Express is UKIP for which it is the house newspaper. If supporting a free press means we have to tolerate this disgusting parody of a newspaper I'm for Leveson - and more.

And so on...

Yes a Free Press is important. But the power of the media remains a blunt thing if it as roundly abused by the print media as it is. And a very dangerous one. How fortunate we are that the BBC which has a charter requiring impartiality is by far the most important medium we have. The Jewel in the Crown of our nation. Is it perfect? No. Can it be improved? Yes. Is it head and shoulders above the gruesome bunch of right-wing newspapers which are only as "free" as their all-powerful owners want them to be? You bet !!