Monday, 24 October 2016

Hard choices either way

Having immersed myself in the extensive detail of Brexit for a long time now I have reached a point where there is little more that I can add for the time being. There isn’t much point either. As yet the wider media has yet to catch up and the public debate is lamentable.

Rather than seeing a full and frank exploration of the issues we are seeing the usual tribal bickering which has little direct relation to reality. The politicians really have no idea where to start in terms of evaluating the issues.

What will become clear in due course is that Britain will need a continuity arrangement that sees little or no change to the labyrinth of customs procedures and regulations that make up the single market. Neither Britain nor the EU can afford to start tinkering under the hood of long established trade rules. The sudden collapse of CETA at the hands of a Belgian provincial assembly shows just how dysfunctional the system is.

If anything is inflicting damage on the UK it is not Brexit but the overall uncertainty over what Brexit looks like. This in part down to those media vessels determined to make Brexit look like a catastrophe and in part down to those politicians who have not bothered to plan for the eventuality. We are four months on from the referendum and key ministers are still struggling with basic terminology.

The big question is whether Brexit will trigger a widely predicted recession. That estimation depends really on who you are and what the word recession means to you. In technical terms a recession is two successive quarters of negative growth. To the man in the street it means things go bad and get worse. We may not see a technical recession but we could very well see inflation that has a real effect on household budgets.

The net effect of this will be to reduce domestic demand, changing buying habits. This means that the UK government will be forced into moves to make the UK more business friendly and more tax efficient. But by the same token it may lead to a complete abandonment of fiscal responsibility resulting in more borrowing. I suppose that will be the defining choice at subsequent elections.

What that means is that political parties will need to examine what new powers are at their disposal and define policies aimed at reducing the impact. For once there will be a real conflict of ideas rather than the stagnant and plodding consensus of recent years. Be it a swing to the left or to the right, it will have to be radical. This is the reawakening of politics I voted for.

This escapes those commentators who would rather we remained in the EU. They are quick to assert that British voters were deceived and have voted for an economic catastrophe. It is a convenient and comforting narrative for remainers but it strays from the truth.

If there is one message that can be taken from the referendum it is that Britain voted for change. It is wrong to assume that British voters were so bovine that they believed the tabloids over the advice of experts and prestigious institutions. Quite early on I concluded that they were probably right in that there would be a recession and economic turmoil lasting many years. The question at the forefront of my estimations was whether it was worth the gamble. I still think it is worth it.

For several months we had the great and the good telling us how important the single market was and how valuable the EU was to the UK. Now that they are tasked with leaving the EU we see that they can barely define the EU and the single market let alone offer an adequate critique as to whether it is right for the UK.

Through successive treaties our parliament has idly signed away substantial areas of policy to be decided overseas with hardly any public scrutiny. It is therefore ironic that MPs now demand parliamentary sovereignty in scrutinising the terms of the exit arrangements when they showed so little interest in what they were signing away.

By voting to leave the EU we have caught the entire system of government off guard to show that is is totally ill-equipped to govern - and those claiming to represent us have failed in their duty to safeguard our democracy. Through forty years of negligence the UKs trading relationship with Canada is decided not by Number Ten or Westminster. Instead it depends entirely on the Walloon assembly in Belgium.

And therein lies the inherent flaw in the EU design. The DNA is faulty. Introduce democracy and the whole thing grinds to a halt. Take it away and power ends up in the hands of the few. It cannot work and it cannot be reformed yet we have endured decades of politicians telling us otherwise.

For decades we have tolerated the European project because there was always the promise of sunlit uplands and prosperity for all. It hasn’t happened. The EU that remainers speak of exists only in their imaginations. Greece and Italy struggle with grinding poverty worse than anything you can find here in the UK. As ever the EU debate is conducted in a parallel universe.

Now that we are entering a new era of global governance where the EU is side-lined entirely we find we lack the necessary democratic tools to defend ourselves from runaway globalisation. The EU is not fit for purpose and its institutions rest on ideas pre-dating the internet. It exists for the vanity of the politicians. We have run out of patience.

As part of the post-war architecture its institutions are unable to cope with a massive upheaval in geopolitics and the response to every crisis is procrastination and delay. We can’t afford it. It was never a choice between a rosy status quo and economic turmoil. We face hard choices either way. Rather than bury our heads in the sand we have chosen to set a revolution in motion. No longer will we kick the can down the road.

Nobody can say for sure what the long term outcome of Brexit is. What we do know is that Britain will survive. The EU may not. That which is authentic will stand the test of time. That which is artificially imposed without the consent of its peoples will always implode sooner or later. And so Brexit was a leap of a faith. An estimation of where our long term prosperity lies. In that, we chose democracy warts and all. We may pay a price for that choice, but you don’t have to go back too far to see that we would pay any price for democracy – time and again.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Back to square one

Certitude can be a good thing. It brings direction, clarity and motivation. More than that it brings comfort. Few want to go to the trouble of re-evaluating long held ideas. It is on our intellectual and moral certainties on which we build our identity and to admit fault in ones own intellectual constitution is to admit fault in oneself.

That is where political certitude becomes problematic. All of us at some time in our lives take a look at the variables and make a rough estimation of where things should go and how things should be. It is on that basis political movements are formed.

Where it goes wrong is that political movements are slow building and built up around doctrinal tribal lines. The problem is that variables change over time which alters the narrative by which the tribe lives. The closer a movement comes to achieving its ends, the further it strays from reality.

If I have learned one thing from my dabbling in politics it is that knowledge is not prized. Conformity is. The rules of political progression are thus:

Firstly one must declare publicly an allegiance to an orthodoxy. One must praise it and denounce followers of opposing ideals. One must never deviate because the narrative is a closely guarded continuum. Each tribe has a leader but in each tribe there are cells. There are acolytes who are permitted a certain degree of status so long as they never challenge or contradict the high priest of the tribal orthodoxy. Dissent is punished, conformity is rewarded.

It works the same in any bureaucracy or hierarchical organisation. From the small organisation to the nation state, the dynamics are identical. Individualism is not tolerated. An individual informed by facts is not tolerated. Facts disturb narratives. Disturbing narratives not only challenges the orthodoxy, it also challenges individual identity. There is nothing more intolerable than a new idea.

What is worse than an idea though is a solution to a problem. Many movements or group entities exist for the resolution of problems. Once bedded in no organisation seeks to disband itself. No organisation seeks to diminish in influence. Once it has influence it will do anything protect that influence even if it means not resolving the problem. Solutions then become an existential threat. That is why nothing is ever solved. People prefer to talk about problems than to solve them.

This is so engrained in our political culture that debate has now become a form of entertainment rather than a means to an end. This explains London political culture. A Thursday night debate is less a means of achieving something as it is a means of filling in a week night in the same way one might enjoy Surbiton Amateur Dramatics Society or a Tuesday night book club. It is a London based social ecosystem of intellectual masturbation.

Not for nothing do we call them the chattering classes. It is reflected in London based political publications where we see in full flow the dynamic of prestige and conformity over substance. What we see is the popularised mantras of the leading tribes which attract the most prestige.

We often speak of "the establishment" but there have been very few credible attempts to define what that actually means. To the left, the establishment is the banks, bosses and the "neoliberals", but this is a wholly teenage interpretation of the establishment.

The establishment is difficult to define specifically because it is an amorphous mass of competing influences. It is neither right wing nor left wing. It is simply that which cannot be removed by way of voting.

The purpose of an election is notionally to refresh the powers that be. In reality all we are doing is sending more fresh meat into the grinder into an ancient system whereby the system takes malleable and naive politicians and uses them to gain influence, be it the media, privately funded think tanks or direct political donations.

In modern times the media and think tanks are interchangeable. The media does very little thinking of its own and so there is a nexus between the media and the thinks tanks whereby old money ensures that the orthodox narratives are never challenged. Through either bribery, bullying, ridicule or sabotage, there are no limits to the lengths they will go to to suppress ideas that they themselves do not endorse or did not originate.

In practical terms that means the basest of dogmas prevail and new approaches never see the light of day. The newspaper are in hock to their advertisers and the think tanks are slaves to their old money donors. Be it the paternalistic dogmatic socialists on the left or the hardcore conservatives on the right, the orthodoxies are fiercely guarded.

The reason that Ukip and other challengers have failed to topple this establishment is that they have never understood that you have to play by the same rules. Without prestige you have no political presence. Without an intellectual foundation and a clearly defined statement of aims and a plan then you have no way of conquering the establishment. To simply sing out populist mantras to please those without power cannot prevail.

It is widely recognised that the present system is broken. Everybody knows that the establishment is corrupt and impenetrable. Building a populist movement against it is the easy bit. Taking power is another.

To take power you first have to understand why the establishment exists. As much as it exists to monopolise access to funding it also exists to sustain the status quo. To solve societies ills is to take away their very reason to exist. Therefore to overcome the establishment a movement should ensure that it has the intellectual capital to challenge the status quo.

The system is extremely good at weeding out the amateurs. The media has ruthlessly ridiculed both Ukip and Corbyn. It is relentless and some might say unfair but in the end, that is the mountain that must be climbed. Populist slogans are no basis for the establishment to switch allegiances nor are obsolete and failed ideas from the 1970's.

Revolution can be achieved by way of winning over the establishment. There is a test to pass in order to take power. To do so requires a movement which is ruthless in its discipline but rigorous in its ideas. Ukip failed on both counts. It could accomplish neither. Momentum and the SNP on the other hand have the ruthless discipline of a movement but not the intellectual product.

This goes some way to explaining why the label "fascist" has been applied to all of these upstart movements. Fascism is difficult to define, not least through overuse in popular discourse but the public do recognise that these movements have has the momentum in the same way the Nazis did.

What the Nazis had, which is what any revolutionary movement needs to learn from, is that very same ruthless discipline, an intellectual foundation and a plan. It is a model that any movement with any motivation can use and succeed with. The Nazis had racist ideas but the model is a time honoured one where the rules apply even to this day.

It is for this reason I am saddened to see the implosion of Ukip. Ukip had that momentum, it had the passion and the drive, but it was never built on a foundation that could outlast its leader and the leadership did not nurture the movement to live beyond its leader.

Consequentially, though Ukip may have delivered the EU referendum, it has dissipated by way of having no credible alternative to offer, leaving the old establishment in place to define what Brexit means. That is why Brexit probably isn't the revolutionary device many hoped it would be. The opportunity has been squandered and Brexit will be the process of appeasing the public while maintaining the status quo as far as is possible.

Having failed to produce a plan and a list of post Brexit demands, Ukip has left it to the establishment to deliver Brexit without being able to apply any leverage. That is what makes Farage a failure. Brexit should be a catalyst. Instead it will be a procedural transaction where remedial actions to seize the initiative will fall flat. I fear all that we have done is to make ourselves poorer only to leave the same establishment in charge of who has access to the decision making process.

What has been made apparent is that we do not have a democracy. The people do not wield power. We merely elect people to wield power on our behalf. That would work were there a clear line of access to decision makers without the defenders of orthodoxy standing in the way. Sadly though, we have squandered the opportunity to demolish that establishment. Brexit notwithstanding, we are no better off than when we started. Our hopes and aspirations are back to square one. We may have wrested some power from Brussels, but so long as it remains the domain of London, the establishment and the idle chattering classes, we may as well not have bothered.

The Article 50 court case doesn't matter

You'll notice I have been somewhat quiet about the legal challenge over the power to invoke Article 50. Likely it will not succeed since parliament has already given assent to it by way of passing the referendum bill. Invoking Article 50 is a necessary consequence of the result. It would be unusual for the courts to trespass in such a way.

The question though is whether it is important. It isn't. If the government loses then Article 50 must be put to a vote. Parliament cannot dictate the terms of the negotiation because the government cannot either. Otherwise it isn't a negotiation. All the government can do is make certain vague assurances which is no different to what it is doing now.

Parliament could vote to block Article 50 but that then puts them in a real pickle. All they succeed in doing is putting the game into a limbo state to drag the proceedings out. They cannot block indefinitely. The entire process would be a complete waste of time.

Curiously though, it would give the government more time to plan, which certainly wouldn't hurt - and it would be all the more amusing as parliament would have to carry the can for the delay. If at that point parliament gets any ideas about blocking Article 50 indefinitely then they open up a can of worms they will really regret. It would take a general election to sort it out and blockers would not come off well.

That then makes the next general election a re-run of the referendum, creating all kinds of political turmoil. The worst case scenario is that by an accident of numbers the government loses the next general election (an outside chance at best) in which case it will the there for all to see that parliament is determined to go against the verdict of the people whenever they are consulted directly.

That would be an outright declaration of war and an invitation for politics to become more toxic than it has been for more than a century. And that is why I really don't care either way. Toxified politics is a very fertile ground for new ideas and a new movement to displace our odious establishment. An insult like this would not be soon forgotten.

The fact is, they can put Brexit on ice for a while, but the Brexit wheels are now in motion and never again will we be treated as a committed member of the EU. Brexit is part of a the lexicon and is only really a question of when, not if. In this I am just as happy to play the long game. MPs will have made democracy central to the political conversation. That's a fight they cannot win.

In the end I think MPs have already done the math on this. They want a say of some sort (and they will get one) but there is no way they can bind the negotiators. If they move to block Article 50 then at best they are wasting time and at worst creating a constitutional crisis which would damage the economy (and politics in general) more than Brexit ever could. A mess of their own making.

For those who see the EU as only part of the problem there is actually a tactical advantage in delaying Brexit. As much as the EU is a problem for the UK it is also our malign and incompetent establishment. Ukip through its own ineptitude failed to topple it or provide the intellectual foundation for a more far reaching revolution. If I have to wait a little longer to be rid of the whole sorry lot of them as well as the EU, then I can be patient. Blocking Brexit would be signing their own death warrants. Figuratively speaking of course. 

Friday, 14 October 2016

Mrs May's first introduction to Brexit reality

According to the Financial Times, Nissan has been given assurances that the trading conditions for their car plant will not change. Presumably this applies to all other vehicle assembly lines as well. From this we can deduce that Mrs May is seeking an exit from the single market but opting back in sector by sector. This then starts off a round of "but what about me?" among all the other sectors.

Today we get this from the Guardian detailing how the UK is heavily dependent on hosting the European Medicines Agency. As each of these pressing concerns crawl out of the woodwork we will see an increasing list of UK red lines and items for preservation. They will number in the hundreds.

If Mrs May thinks she can cook up a bespoke and simple agreement with special considerations for favoured sectors she is very seriously mistaken. Aside from the fact it means we are now looking at a very long and detailed negotiation, there are now plenty of opportunities for EU member states to leverage concessions from us.

Luckily for us though, this is the à la carte approach that the EU has hinted time and again that it is not in a mind to cooperate with. We had better hope the EU is sincere - otherwise it means Mrs May will be facing a Sophie's choice as to which industry she wants to throw to the wolves. She will have some explaining to do.

If Mrs May is serious about this approach then she is creating multiple opportunities for EU member states to cannibalise the UK economy. That May is intent on following this path is largely down to the domestic political realities and the fact she is taking very poor advice. 

The only way you could think a selective opt in approach could work is if you had a seriously inadequate understanding of the depth and complexity of integration. Whichever she decides, there are hundreds of other areas of concern which will need their own monitoring and surveillance mechanisms, all of which the EU will demand that we pay for - not unreasonably. 

All of this though starts to look very much like a mess of bilateral agreements - half in, half out of the single market - which has never been accomplished in less than eight years. This is exactly where we did not want to be. So it would seem that the government is going to have to learn the hard way that it cannot pick and choose, and that life is more complex than assumed. Mrs May will need to float her fantasy deal for the EU to take a red pen to. She will find she loses more than she expected to. 

If the EU is minded to be churlish then it could very well leave the UK economy a smouldering wreck. This though I believe is in nobody's interests and it is for reasons of self-preservation that the EU will seek maximum business continuity. It may well be the EUs own bureaucratic obstinacy that saves the UK from a disastrous Brexit. A new framework for a bespoke arrangement is the last thing the EU needs when the EEA is entirely sufficient. 

In the end I think Mrs May will have to cave in to the inescapable reality that if she wants a deep and comprehensive continuity agreement then the EEA is her only choice. Even the EEA does not complete the Article 50 agreement and there is enough work to be getting on with just making the transition work. She cannot afford to get bogged down in negotiations that will only see EU member states dividing the spoils between them. It will take a total pig headed refusal to look facts in the face to continue on the present trajectory. 

This though is me at my most optimistic. I am betting that economic realities will trump all other concerns and that Mrs May will eventually see sense. It will cost her politically to do a u-turn but not nearly as much as torching the UK economy. That is still a gamble though. 

MPs and vested interests have the establishment tightly ring-fenced to prevent ideas entering the fray - and the one idea they do not want to confront is that their free-trade, light touch regulation fantasy Brexit exists only in their imagination. If this mentality prevails then the UK will walk away with a particularly miserable Brexit deal leaving the economy in tatters. That will be a consequence of a tightly sealed political bubble which freezes out dissenting voices where only the favoured and the privileged have access to government. 

What we can expect in this eventuality is the mother of all rows and a massive political upheaval. British politics may never be the same again. If that happens then the self-immolation Brexit we end up with will be entirely deserved. A consequence of our ingrained political incompetence and corruption. Perhaps then we might see the opportunity to do something about it. Maybe this is what it takes to fix what's wrong in politics?  

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Brexit Question Time

I watched Question Time. The panel is ignorant. I did not enjoy watching the RAF Museum being soiled by this inanity. But we can see now that the tribal lines are drawn. If you want soft Brexit you are a remainer trying to subvert democracy. If you want hard Brexit you are a leaver. The distinctions have no relevance to reality. They've made it a binary debate between an option that doesn't exist and an option that isn't defined.

The line of contention between two tribes is the single market - both of whom have no idea what the single market is. Thus, the debate is pointless. What will be negotiated is wholly separate to the public debate. It is a waste of our time. There is no reason to look to public pundits for information. There is no premium on knowledge - only tribal conformity.

Brexit is the window of opportunity we have been waiting for

I think the defining quote of the referendum was that "if you have money you vote to remain, if you don't have money, you vote to leave". I think that's about right. It's also what makes Brexit good and necessary.

More than anything, Brexit is a revolution. For more than twenty years we have been playing a game of music chairs only the music has been stopped for ten years where those who have chairs keep hold of them and those who don't mill around on weary legs. It's no good for either.

Any settlement that outstays its welcome is one that creates inherent stresses and stagnation on a personal and a national level. Without broad changes there are few opportunities to change tack and unless forced to change, no particular incentive if you're the one sitting pretty. Such a settlement can endure but when it fails, it fails fast.

This we can see immediately from the collapse in the value of sterling. It's a corrective. One thing I do not profess to be is a financial guru - and when it comes to the markets its one of the few areas where I do pay attention to those professing some expertise. The general view I'm getting is that the pound has been artificially high for far too long creating problems with interest rates and keeping property prices artificially high.

In one simple stroke we have changed much before we have even sat down at the negotiating table. Whether this is good or bad is entirely dependent on who you are and what you own. To my mind its a lot of panic over not much.

The media bubble is convinced that Brexit will be a hard Brexit but there is no real possibility of that now. There are too many features of EU integration where we do not have replacement policies and we will need a broad and comprehensive transitional agreement until such a time as we are ready to break away. The hard Brexit that the media imagines screws both sides - which is why it won't happen. Consequently the pound will recover but not to where it was before. So that then leaves us with a not intolerable decline but one which opens up a few possibilities for financial policymakers.

The next big realisation to come is that foreign workers who come to Britain only to work for the advantageous exchange rate will likely reconsider coming to the UK sparking investment in agricultural technologies to replace low skilled labour. Immediately that takes pressure off those communities who feel overrun and in the process will ease rents where rented accommodation is in high demand. We may not even need to take measures to control freedom of movement.

As to what happens to food prices I can't really say. We can expect some prices to go up but some prices to go down now that we are to leave the customs union. I don't have a crystal ball and nor do economists. What we have done though is something more profound. We have created a massive window for change. By leaving the EU the entire political apparatus is now thinking about trade and trade policy. We have new avenues and new techniques available to us hitherto unexplored by either the UK or the EU.

None of that though really matters to the average Leave voter. What matters is that the existing settlement will cause some people to retrench and regroups their affairs while giving other an opportunity they would not have had otherwise. Change brings winners and losers. That makes me deeply suspicious of those who believe Brexit only brings pain. It's the certitude more than anything we should question. Especially from those who want to be proved right.

The society I see is one where the haves accumulate more while the have-nots remain out in the cold. According to the Tories more people than ever are in jobs but they are not good jobs and wages have stagnated. For all the talk of "neoliberalism" most of us still pay about half of what we make into government coffers one way of the other. The settlement is stale.

Culturally, economically and spiritually Britain has been in a rut for more than a decade and we have seen no radicalism from government and no hint that they even know what radicalism even is. We heard the message loud and clear. Change is not coming. The best they can muster is Corbyn and his obsession with renationalisaing railways. That's not going to fix anything.

Meanwhile, the EU is no big idea. It's not exciting, it's not going anywhere and its flagship projects are viewed with deep suspicion. The EU is not wanted nor is it liked. And since there are no big ideas on the horizon the biggest idea of them all is Brexit - and the only one on the table. I can think of no better time for a revolution. It's the only way we are going to get new ideas.

The truth of it is that the post-war settlement has run its course and outstayed its welcome. It's time for a new way of doing things for both the UK and Europe. Brexit does just that. We are not looking at a sudden death separation from the EU. We are simply redefining the relationship we have with the EU, taking powers back so that we can try things another way. It's the only way we are going to see any genuine innovation.

I don't doubt that it is a gamble - and one that may not pay off, but we will adapt to whatever comes after and the majority of us will lose little by it. It is most certainly worth a try. As it happens I think Britain will struggle to find its feet and will have difficulty overcoming the yawning competence gap that exists in government - but I see Brexit as a means to redress this and a necessary consequence of having put domestic governance into stasis for decades.

But then by that same token I am prone to negativity thus I may well be proved entirely wrong and Brexit may well be the silver bullet many think it is. I don't know - but neither do the remainers. All it takes for remainers to descend into fits of apoplexy is a short term drop in the pound and a Marmite supply shortage. Personally I am extremely interested in seeing how we will make use of new powers and excited by the prospect.

We heard much about maintaining certainty during the referendum. As it happens business is not entitled to certainty otherwise we might as well abandon general elections. In the end they will get some assurance in that we will see regulatory stability and convergence for a long time to come. What the people are owed though is a bit of hope. And that is more acute because the certainty that business prefers is more of the same anaemic growth that benefits anybody but us.

We have endured the same tiresome politics for decades and it gets worse all the time. The complete lack of parliamentary expertise on Brexit has been a real eye opener. Those who were telling us before the referendum that we need the EU to survive cannot even the the mechanism and institutions of key people. We have a supreme government which our political class takes no interest in holding to account.  That is what happens when you offshore policy where it cannot be seen. Brexit brings it all back into the light of day and exposes our MPs as the halfwit wastrels they are.

On that score alone I think Brexit is worth it. It becomes more apparent by the day that we are run by conniving ignorant shits who think they know what is best for us. At least now we can categorically say that they don't. With that question out of the way perhaps we might take measures to retrieve powers from Westminster as well as Brussels. That would be really something. Imagine that. People running their own affairs without government interference. What's not to like?

No, Ben Chu, the Daily Mail is defending civil society

Writing in the Independent, Ben Chu has it that "Our civil society is being undermined by influential media organisations that either do not understand the rules of the democratic game or which are content to ignore them to achieve their political end."
The Mail and the Express seem to have decided they simply do not recognise the legitimacy of people who have a different political position. These newspapers preen themselves as champions of free speech and traditional British liberties. Yet they are seeking to delegitimise contrary political views, to silence them through intimidation and the implied threat of violence.
It is interesting that Ben Chu would say that the media does not understand "the rules of the democratic game". I think they understand all too well. The rules are thus:

Our civil society works on the basis that the government complies with majoritarian decision making. We only have a civil society because of that social contract. It is only because decision making is legitimate that the government has any moral authority. Remove that legitimacy and government authority no longer applies. The government can no longer legitimately apply force.

The second basic rule is that the state has a monopoly on violence - which we accept and respect. Underpinning every law is the implied threat of violence. Even something as basic as a council tax comes with a threat of imprisonment. Police will use force to that end.

But that social contract works both ways. If government no longer acts with according to the social contract then it loses legitimacy and forfeits the right to govern. Thus if the continued threat of violence applies then the threat is returned in kind. Civil society lives or dies on government legitimacy. Government by consent.  

Presently our MPs are agitating for a block on government policy which is to uphold the referendum result. These would be MPs who have far less of a mandate in their own constituencies than the Brexit vote. They are attempting to stand in the way of a direct public consultation. They are attempting to frustrate democracy.

Ben Chu has it that "this is about much more than membership of the single market, or immigration policy or even Brexit. This is about the health of our democracy and our physical safety. “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain.” These are the words the man accused of murdering the Labour MP Jo Cox in the week before the EU referendum said in court when asked to give his name. Where did he get those ideas from? Where else do we hear that kind of language? We need to wake up".

It is Mr Chu who needs to wake up. Knowing full well that such robust language very much does have an influence the media is flexing its own powers - as indeed a free press should. The press is sending out a warning shot which reminds us all that violence is a consequence if parliamentarians attempt to subvert democracy. That is how it works. Cause and effect.

And here's another rule of civil society. Civil society is only defended by a free press. That tacit threat to MPs is a reminder that they serve us. If there are no checks and balances then MPs would do as they please and sooner or later we would have a dictatorship.

This goes far deeper that a simple vote on the membership of the EU. The issue itself is a critical one, what with it being a fundamental constitutional question of who governs us. We have resolved that question by way of a referendum. The question now being tested is whether our politicians will respect that. Do we still have a democracy?

Despite their platitudes, their willingness to nod through the Treaty of Lisbon without scrutiny shows that their commitment to "parliamentary scrutiny" is only skin deep - and only when it suits them. The only way for trust in politics to be restored is if the government upholds the social contract. If politicians second guess us and attempt to interfere then it is they who threaten civil society - not the media.

The bottom line is that civil society is always an equilibrium with a mutual threat of violence between the state and its peoples. Now is as good a time as any for our politicians to be reminded of that. These are forces best not provoked and a periodic reminder from our press is a rare instance of the press serving its one true function.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Brexit is about the people's sovereignty, not parliament

The reason we have majoritarian decision making via an elaborate system of voting is to give legitimacy to decision making. The social contract we have is that we abide by those decisions and accept government as the legitimate authority. Without that legitimacy there is no basis for recognising such authority.

For normal decision making representative democracy is almost sufficient. There are, however, times where the insular world of politics is so remote that there is a conflict between the public and their parliament. Brexit is one such conflict. It is a question of the EUs legitimacy as a government.

And let us not beat around the bush here. The EU is not some trade alliance. It is a government. And so it then becomes a matter of self-determination. Any economic considerations are entirely secondary. How a people choose to define themselves and constitute their own government is a matter for them alone, it must be a majoritarian decision, and anything else is not democracy.

Having agitated for more than twenty years, eurosceptics forced the hand of the government to grant a referendum. To the surprise of many, the government lost it. The British public do not consent to the EU as their government. We can bicker about the small win margin but the result is as legitimate as legitimate gets.

The game in play now is less transparent. We can all play games with definitions of Brexit and I am not innocent on that score. I think nearly everyone active in the debate has used the "Where on the ballot paper does it say..." game. We need a bit of honesty here.

Whether anybody likes it or not the vote mens that we leave the EU, end freedom of movement and leave the single market. That is what both major leave campaigns campaigned on - and they won.

The single market, though, is the point of contention. Leaving it has major ramifications. You can play games and say that we did not vote to leave the single market but the movement that brought about the referendum on the EU is the same movement that campaigned to leave that entity represented by a ring of stars long before it was even called the EU - then commonly known as the common market.

Where it gets further complicated is that the single market is no longer what it was back in 1992 - and pulling out of it is neither simple or quick. So now it is a question of how we leave. Whether we go for a negotiated exit or a unilateral one. That battle has already been settled. Unilateral exit is off the table. And so now it is a question of whether we leave in stages or whether we attempt it all in one go. The latter is the most problematic, but fortunately for all of us, the least likely.

It was always the view of this blog that we would have to leave the EU the same way we went in. Gradually. It is the view of this blog the EEA agreement represents the safest and easiest means of achieving it in the timeframe available - and there is nothing to suggest that a bespoke agreement is worth the trouble or is achievable in two years.

In this, the government thus far has been evasive, refusing to even define the single market let alone rule it out. It must be noted that the single market is not the customs union. What is certain is that we must leave the customs union so that we can make our own trade deals. Leaving the single market though, is optional for the time being.

When asked outright by Anna Soubry whether the government intends to remain a member of the single market David Davis today declined to answer - and all we have to go on is a reassertion from Mrs May that we will seek a trading arrangement as close to the one we have now with "the maximum possible access to the single market". That can mean whatever you want it to mean - but when you add in all the extras we can take it to mean that it will be a deep and comprehensive relationship even if we are not calling it the single market.

The reason that parliament is now agitating for a vote on the terms of our departure is that they want to force the government to stay in the single market at all costs. To them, this is a reprieve from the horror tales they have been complicit in spreading from the get go. As this blog is a ardent proponent of the EEA you would think I would support their efforts. I do not.

Presently the government seems to think it can get a "British option" that will be superior to the EEA. They do not specify how they intend to achieve this, but if they can then I wish them the best of luck in seeking it. I take the view that they have not properly comprehended the complexities of the task and will need the EEA agreement as a fallback position. I rather suspect the EEA or a clone of it will be central to the Brexit settlement.

The question of whether parliament should be involved is a more vexed issue. Parliament would seemingly prefer to bind the governments hands and take leaving the single market off the table completely. The EEA to them is a means of parking Brexit rather than a stepping stone to a particular endgame - so when the hardliner protest that the remainers in parliament do not intend to honour the spirit of the referendum, they are quite correct. They only reason they want a vote is to act as a blocker.

Where the hardliners come unstuck is their lack of a credible destination for Brexit and have failed to acknowledge the depth of integration, or the way in which global trade has evolved into a rules based system which uses the same foundations as the EU for its regulations and standards. We can leave the single market but we are left with more or less the same regulatory codes, little scope for divergence and unless we rip up contracts and treaties then we will be paying for legacy obligations for some years to come. It may at one time have been desirable to leave the single market but in 2016 there is very little point.

The insistence on leaving the single market is on the basis of a universal insistence that remaining in the single market means that freedom of movement is non negotiable, despite the existence of instances where it very much has been renegotiated. This is where the fault line lies. Remainers mainly seek the EEA in order to safeguard freedom of movement.

This blog is somewhat ambivalent in that the demand for low skilled labour will tail off in due course as massive advances in agricultural robotics will soon curtail the demand for unskilled labour. I would rather keep our options open but I am seemingly in the minority there. Whether we like it or not though, some control of EU migration is part of the mandate even if it is on the basis of a misunderstanding deliberately massaged by Farage and his fellow travellers.

What matters is that there is a mandate to leave the EU. In this, calls for parliamentary sovereignty fall on deaf ears. This being the same parliament which readily handed over exclusive powers to the EU without seeking the consent of the people.

Parliament cannot be trusted to respect the instructions of the people. They have shown that they have little regard for the will of the public time and again which is in part a reason why the leave campaign won. The only thing that matters here is the sovereignty of the British people - and in that, like it or not, the only power fully committed to an attempt at delivering a full Brexit is Mrs May's government. In acting on behalf of the British public they are more legitimate than parliament.

But this underscores the fundamental error of eurosceptics in campaigning for parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament has always been sovereign. It could have chosen to leave the EU at any time at any time but wouldn't have without a direct threat to their ownership of power. That is what makes parliament intolerable.

I find the dictatorial rule of parliament every bit as offensive as Brussels. The periodic voting rituals we hold are merely the process we employ to elect dictators for the period of five years; dictators who need not defer to the people in the time between. For sure, the voting rituals we have keeps them roughly in line but it has allowed them to get away with far too much - not least signing away powers to the EU without our consent.

And this brings us back to those question of legitimacy. Over the decades, successive governments have sought to conceal the true nature of the EU and taken us further in by the use of parliamentary technicalities rather than seeking permission. The EU was always a machination of our political class whereby the sovereingty of the people has been undermined by parliament for its own ends. That is why Brexit is not enough.

As much as we do not want these malign parasites frustrating the process of Brexit we do not want them having the power to reverse or subvert the Article 50 settlement. Never again can we allow them to enter such binding and consequential arrangements without seeking explicit permission. To that end we need to stop festishising parliamentary sovereigty and demand a recognition that the people are sovereign - not parliament. With that comes a new constitution that prohibits the transfer of powers owned by the people.

When we have a system that brings about its own political ecosystem which has a wholly separate set of values to the rest of the country, amplified by way of being located in London, it cannot possibly represent the people nor can it take legitimate decisions. The gulf between the people and the policies enacted in their name is vast and there are insufficient defensive measures to stop our parliament defying our will. We need far more direct democracy.

Since the inception of the EU lawmaking has changed. We can no longer expect that we can make all of our own rules and we increasingly adopt rules from the global level, bypassing the EU entirely. This is what made Brexit necessary. In this MPs are no longer the lawmakers, they are merely the goalkeepers and scrutineers. They serve as our line of defense against national and international government - but in that we need a new constitution where by the public have defences against their parliament and a better means of holding them to account.

At the core of this is a question of democratic legitimacy and ensuring that never again can our so-called representatives hand our powers away. There is no point in retrieving powers from Brussels if we are to leave them in the hands of Westminster. Meanwhile, if MPs take it upon themselves to subvert the verdict of the people in a fundamental constitutional matter like Brexit then they are playing with fire. If majoritarian rule applies only when convenient to them then they have turned their backs on democracy. The consequences of which are profound. Brexit has divided the nation for the time being but reversing it will shatter it.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Why Brexiteers are silent about the slide in Sterling

Brexiteers are silent about the slide in Sterling. Why? Well, the simple answer is that we don't care. In volatile markets things can slide and keep sliding on the basis of deeply spurious reasoning. All it takes is a rumour or a scare for the scribblers to panic and then the ForEx computer algorithms kick in.

Much of this is being deliberately massaged by those who would like the markets to think a hard Brexit is on the cards. Things go up, things go down - but nobody makes any money if things stay the same. Somebody always profits from market volatility. Sooner or later it will become apparent that "hard Brexit" isn't true and the markets will self correct. Either way it doesn't matter. What it might suggest in the longer run is that the pound has been overvalued for a long time.

What it does mean though is a change. Some sectors lose, some sectors win. At some point a natural equilibrium will be reached where the value will bounce back to where it should be. On the other side we will see what things look like and build the new settlement on that.

All of this though is financial blather. As far as the average voter is concerned it makes sod all difference. We lived through what was supposedly the biggest financial crisis since forever in 2008 and various wild fluctuations ever since. For most of us, it makes no difference. All we know is that the UK economy has been stagnating for some time. The numbers on somebody's spreadsheet might say different but insofar as it makes a difference to our lives, it's all irrelevant. We want change.

My friend Jackart on Twitter says it best. "Democracy can cope with war, disaster, pestilence, and rival ideologies. What it cannot cope with is the ennui of an acceptable present". A theme explored on this very blog. Humanity thrives on renewal and reinvention.

The thing about centrist politics and a social democratic consensus is that it lends itself to managerialism that exudes politics in favour of technocracy. And that's ok for the most part in that managerial streamlining and homogenisation of trade does make us materially better off, but Mr Jackart chooses the right word. Ennui. Brexit is an expression of spiritual ennui. Affluenza if you like.

And that's where the illustration above comes into play. This hyper-regulated culture we have built leads to a broader apathy and spiritual atrophy which is not really noticeable until contrasted with immigrants from Eastern Europe. It's a dynamic I instantly recognise. We are raised no in the tradition of regulatory conformity and obedience to the point of uselessness.

It has actually gotten so bad that some of the more famous nightclubs of London have door searches and breathalysers - and punters queue up like cattle to be violated by a quasi-militia. We've even got to the point where people look for no smoking signs when lighting up outdoors, and office workers ring up facilities management for permission to open a window.

In this you have to ask how we could have ended up this way? The answer is that for all the petty regulatory intrusions on our lives there is a vast state which can afford to enforce it. I'm now pretty sure I break a regulation or by-law every time I leave the house simply by existing.

And this underpins our relationship with the state. Look at every sign in public spaces. Everything carries either a threat of imprisonment or a fine. Virtually everything that comes through my letterbox comes with rudely worded demands and threats. This ought to be intolerable yet we accept it.

What we have is a UK which is steadily becoming wealthier on paper but the benefits are not evenly distributed. London gets richer thus local authorities have more to spend - but the people themselves are not better off by their own estimations. And they are the best people to judge.

Having the state dictate who can be paid what and on what terms prevents people from organising their own affairs - from casual labour to childcare. For all the remainer reactionary ranting about losing our liberalism, the one thing that might make us more free to live our lives as we choose - and culturally reinvent - might actually be a period of government austerity.

That to my mind is what will ultimately secure Britain's future. Britain is globally renowned for its cultural exports from the Beatles to the rave revolution. Every single music revolution we have had has been central to a political reinvention. And that is pivotal to the UKs spiritual and cultural well-being.

In this I invite readers to watch this short sketch from Doug Stanhope, describing how the modern generation of youth is unbelievably conformist and sad. We are well overdue a cultural revolution that has parents worried once more about radical and uncontrollable youth. We need bored and skint kids creating things and fucking like rabbits. Spare us from the tedium of economic growth and prosperity!

This blog makes the case for an orderly transition out of the EU because I think that will be enough. But a big nihilistic part of me doesn't care either way just so long as we leave the EU. I really don't care about the freedom of some tosspot jet-setting stockbroker if it comes at the expense of a cultural and political reinvention. If austerity is what it takes then bring it on.

On the other side of this, however long it takes, we'll have a better, more liberal Britain and if we do it right we'll have put our ever more intrusive state back in its box. In the end, the only real way to do that is to starve it of money.

As to the economics of it all, I take the view that global trade has stagnated for a very long time. We have little in terms of material to export but one thing we do have is ideas and cultural exports - and so that reinvention is ultimately very necessary to our economic future.

I take the view that if you are not in control of your own trade policy then you are not in control of your economy. Now that we are leaving the EU the entire political apparatus is talking about trade for the first time in two generations. It is that which will drag us out of the doldrums, not some monolithic centralising authority that even remainers hate if they're honest about it. If Brexit means taking one step backwards to got two steps forward then it gets my vote.

In the end, Brexit was always a longer term punt. Just listening to James O'Brien demolish a rather vague Brexit voter on LBC tells us that Brits may not have understood the implications of Brexit but they did know it would mean a period of uncertainty and economic stress. They took the gamble anyway. They were rolling the dice on the basis that we can only gain from change. And that is the leap of faith I also make.

So go ahead. Have your mass panic about a currency slide, but for most of us it makes no tangible difference to our lives. We can and will adapt and in the end our quality of life will be better for it. The wealth of the nation is just numbers on a screen. The spiritual and cultural health of the nation is equally important and without periodic revolution we cannot count on maintaining our influence as a cultural centre of the world.

If the slow decline into managerialism under the watchful eye of CCTV everywhere you go is the wealth you dream of then you were right to vote to remain. I thank the lord that that the majority of people think otherwise. The next few years will be interesting and fun. Our lives will change and we will be better because we rise to new challenges. Every improvement in my life was when circumstances have shifted me out of my comfort zone. Imagine what might happen if it happens to everybody all at once?

Monday, 10 October 2016

Democracy is dead if parliament meddles with Brexit

Yesterday's debate in the commons was instructive. I heard only one mention of non-tariff barriers. What matters is the way it was said. The mention of the issue was a passing reference to acknowledge its existence but we saw no further discussion. To our MPs the term "non-tariff barriers" means "all that other stuff". And that is cause to worry.

Readers of this blog need no introduction to what "all that other stuff" entails. We are talking about multiple cooperation programmes and entire sectors of integrated governance which, by a long way, dwarfs the issue of tariffs. If we are breaking away from the EU then we not only need a plan for a corporate de-merger of the institutions and agencies, we also need replacement institutions and governance frameworks - for which there is no plan at all.

That should be a major cause for concern since even if we remained in the EEA we would still find a whole tranche of "other stuff" to address. What seems to be the case is that MPs believe single market membership means that we do not open these issues up for consideration. To an extent they are right in that if we are going in for an item by item negotiation then we will be here forever. That is not the complete picture though, and is no excuse for not knowing what is inside each Pandora's box - which MPs clearly do not.

What we see is a fumbling band of incompetents grasping at the issues with no real understanding of the terminology. That much could be forgiven at the beginning of this process but we are now rapidly approaching the point of no return and it would appear that MPs have made little or no effort to get a grip of the substantive issues. They are severely out of their depth. They don't know - and they don't want to know.

What this tells us is that the MPs who have been telling us that the EU is vital to our influence and prosperity have little idea what the EU is, how the systems work or the depth of integration. They are not up to the task of holding it to account. All they know is that retaining the single market lets them off the hook. That is no basis to give them a say in the Brexit process. They have forfeited that right by way of their own voluntary disengagement.

What motivates them is that they have some idea that leaving the single market is complex and will mean taking a a hit to the economy. Fair enough. They do not know where or how, and they are looking in the wrong places for information. That to them though is a secondary concern. The attempt by parliament to have their say is not an honest one.

They may mouth the platitudes of respecting the vote but I do not for a moment believe that the Labour centrists intend to respect the vote nor can we expect honourable behaviour from the SNP who have thus far used any EU debate as a platform for childish virtue signalling. Were it a case of parliament seeking to act as a corrective to the government I would have some sympathy - but these are not people intent on doing as the public have instructed. They want the power to block Brexit.

In this, it is not the sovereignty of parliament that must be respected. It is the sovereignty of the people. It is the moral duty of Mrs May to uphold the referendum verdict and safeguard the sanctity of that vote. Parliament cannot be trusted. Parliament does not represent the people - and if they have so little regard for parliamentary sovereignty that they would hand powers to the EU without question then there is no reason to take them seriously. So it is now a matter of trusting Mrs May. I can live with that.

The type of Brexit we get is all but decided. The battle over hard Brexit was the Tory leadership race. May vs Leadsom. The hard Brexiteers backed the wrong horse and Leadsom has been silent ever since. The Brexiteers have been on a tight leash with every unguarded assertion being countermanded by May. Mrs May has her own ideas of what Brexit will look like and they differ from her lunatic fringe. That's good enough for me.

In this she has made her promise to the public that Brexit means Brexit and so a leap of faith is required. We either trust Mrs May to deliver or we trust parliament. It's a no brainer. If one must trust a politician (and we must) then it's Mrs May every time. She may not know the issues as well as she should but if she knows enough to distance herself from the Tory Brexiteers then she at least knows some of the right things.

I would perhaps back parliament were there a real risk of a hard Brexit but hard Brexit is a media contrivance based on their feeble command of the issues. This is massaged by those who see it as an opportunity to give parliament a chance to meddle. I'm not buying it.

But this all underscores how deep this runs. If we give parliament the opportunity to trespass on the verdict of the referendum they will vote to block or delay. It's the only reason they want their say. They will invent any reason to do so. That then creates a constitutional crisis where the ruling class believe that they have a right to disregard the will of the people. That could well have severe and terrible consequences.

This is no longer a question of EU membership. This is about an intolerably aloof establishment intent on ignoring the public - not just on this issue but any you care to mention. The public are not involved in the decision making and there is no real communication between the governors and the governed. They think they know better than us - but actually, as per the Matt cartoon above, ordinary members of the public on social media demonstrate that they have a firmer grasp of the issues than the politicians or their special advisers.

What is at stake here is profound. It is a test of the relationship between the people and parliament. A contract was drawn up between the people and the government that their vote would be respected. If parliament seeks to tear up that contract then their authority ends there. Civil disobedience then becomes a moral obligation - and I won't be surprised if somebody takes it further. I even understand the impulse. If the message from parliament is that our vote only matters when they like the result, then there is an obligation to remove them by any available means.

And this really underscores why Brexit is such a divisive issue. Ultimately it's about power. Who wields it and in what circumstances. Parliament handing over powers to Brussels without our consent is intolerable but parliament standing in the way of retrieving those powers ultimately says that the people are not sovereign. That makes parliament the weak link in democracy, not the EU. Ironic then that an unelected prime minister should be linchpin on which the fate of British democracy rests.

We did not leave the EU only to put the power in the hands of parliament. We must take constitutional reform further. Parliament is a necessary evil but it is still evil. We have wrongly fetishised parliament when in fact it is a dictatorial body. The fact that we can reshuffle the dictators every five years is nether here nor there. The power still does not reside with the people and Brexit very much exposes that - not through the actions of Brussels, but through the actions of our MPs. The servants believe they are the masters.

Cromwell said an immovable parliament is more obnoxious than an immovable king. I see no reason to split hairs. A dictatorship is intolerable regardless of who is dictating. The thin mandates that MPs enjoy does not come close to the mandate that Brexit has. If these lowlifes use their powers to sabotage Brexit then let the tumbrels roll. If our voice no longer matters then the social contract is irretrievably shattered.

Hard Brexit is off the table completely

I watched David Davis give a statement to the commons this afternoon. Twas what you might expect. Reiteration of what we already know. Davis argues that we will seek the best possible access to the single market. The evasiveness is telling. Neither May nor Davis have explicitly ruled out membership of the single market.

For reasons that escape me the media still seems to think that means a hard Brexit. But given The Leave Alliance was the first to identify that Brexit is a process and that there is even the possibility of a soft landing, we have more right than any to define those terms. We took the view that hard Brexit was leaving the EU without a negotiated settlement, relying on WTO rules without invoking Article 50. That is most certainly out of the window. There will be no hard Brexit.

But what the media thinks is a hard Brexit is any Brexit that does not mean retaining membership of the single market. So what does that look like? Well, everybody is determined to have no tariffs with the EU, but that doesn't even begin to cover the rest of the relationship and since we have no administrative capability to take over a number of functions like fishing we will at the very least need an interim deal on that.

In this afternoon's debate we heard nothing about the European Medicines Agency or the European Food Safety Agency or the Single European Sky. Things most definitely will fall apart in a bad way if we don't have an agreement for that so we will at the very least be negotiating some kind of long term continuity. Then on top of that there are the other peripherals which total over three hundred different policy areas. These are things that literally cease to function without an agreement.

Meanwhile we have yet to devise our own customs codes and processes and so we need a while to come up with something to plug those procedural gaps. That none of this was mentioned in parliament is a testament to the low grade vermin we have for MPs and their parasitical advisers.

What it means is that if our inept government has not considered these things then they will be sprung with a few nasty surprises during negotiations and will need an emergency fall back position in order to keep things as they are for the time being.

This is what we would very much describe as "the British option" where we attempt to negotiate sector by sector looking for parts of the single market that we don't want. Which won't be very many by the time we are done. And this is why it won't be a hard Brexit. Worst case scenario is that we end up out of the single market with ninety percent of the functionality still in place having paid a heavy price in concessions to get a reduction in freedom of movement. It won't be a hard Brexit though. It'll just be a cock up.

It could actually be that the EU is not minded to let us prat around like this and insist on EEA membership at least for the time being since our time is also their time. It's really up to the government then to explain why ten years of uncertainty for a bespoke deal is better than the EEA when there is so little functional difference.

Whichever way you look at it, in order to retain the MRAs relating to our Authorised Economic Operator status, we will be maintaining regulatory equivalence. Much of what we bring on to the statute book by way of the Great Repeal Bill will stay unchanged until such a time in the distant future where we have the parliamentary runtime to take a second look. Then when you look at our international obligations and other trade agreements based on mutual recognition, the chances are that technical regulation stays much the same.

The short of it is that the Brexit that the hard right fantasists wanted is dead and has been dead ever since Mrs May took control. We will have a negotiated exit which by definition is not hard Brexit. The only question now is whether we will go to extended lengths to reinvent the wheel. For the time being the remainer media is still determined to maintain the narrative that full freedom of movement is necessary in order to remain a member of the single market and so if they wanted an EEA Brexit they have soiled their own nest.

Meanwhile, it looks like Vicky Ford MEP has picked up on the Lichtenstein Solution which Open Europe is so determined to rubbish having completely misunderstood it. It looks like we have a way to go before they realise how few options we have and they will try it the hard way before waking up to reality. It is not a question of soft or hard Brexit, it is only a question of whether Mrs May's advisers are better informed than is immediately apparent.

Were I to speculate I would say that Davis is under strict orders from Mrs May not to rule out the single market, keeping it as a reserve position for negotiations. She might well intend to go for a single market agreement but is in no hurry to give her malevolent Brexiteer backbenchers the chance to rock the boat. That's what I would do. The only absolute certainty is that hard Brexit is not on the table. That the media thinks it is, is all the proof you need.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Hard Brexit is media mythology

I've been a prolific social media user for several years and I have been hyperactive over the course of the referendum, but lately I've slowed down considerably. There's just nothing worth getting worked up about. The media has decided that Brexit will be a hard Brexit purely on the basis that Mrs May has made a big deal about fixing immigration. In the binary world of the media this means an exit from the single market.

In reality though, we would have a hard time leaving the single market and whatever we come away with will be close to membership of it if not actual membership of it. It's simply a matter of doing the math. Mrs May's "great repeal bill" adopts all EU law for the time being. That tells you that we will maintain regulatory equivalence with the EU. That is the foundation of a comprehensive agreement. Meanwhile if you read the words of Mrs May with any skill you can see that she has crafted every statement to mean everything and nothing. There is nothing concrete to suggest a hard Brexit.

The problem for us is that when the media decides that Brexit will be a hard Brexit the markets tend to follow. A lot of harm is done by way of misinterpreting the signals. Meanwhile it serves the interests of remainers to catastrophise Brexit in a last ditch effort to avert it. There's really nothing left to do except sit back and watch them make prats of themselves.

I am now confident that Brexit will be a fairly pedestrian affair where the worst effects of Brexit will be more a consequence of the hyperventilation surrounding it than any actual political transaction. The real effects of Brexit won't be felt for quite some time and will manifest themselves in more subtle ways. As to the short term effects it's difficult to know what is attributable to Brexit and what is part of an unfolding global economic retrenchment. It rather looks to me like the whole world is going to hell in a hardcart at the moment.

For the time being one might as well withdraw from the field and enjoy the chaos. Watching the pathetic remainers gear up for a hard Brexit fight that isn't going to happen is truly hilarious. They're going to dash around like headless chickens making something of nothing. Victims of their own incompetence. The hard Brexiteers have written themselves out of the script with their infantile ideas and the worst of them are now shoved to the margins. Mrs May's broadside at libertarians was an indicator.

In this you can try and argue the toss but there's no real way to explain it properly through tweets and in the end what difference does it make? The narrative survives because they need it to survive. Without an imaginary threat there is no "cabinet splits" pantomime to play out. As usual we are witnessing a politico-media class living in a parallel dimension. The only "cabinet rifts" we will see will be bickering between the extremes of the losers who dont say in it. Mrs May is the boss. Nobody else matters.

But then you can see why this parallel universe exists can't you? If you take a cold and sober analysis of events there is actually very little to report on. Nothing tangible has actually happened and is not going to happen any time soon. The Brexit immigration debate is merely a vehicle for virtue signallers and the noise from the Tory conference will be forgotten by this time next week. I am sorely tempted to close down all of the Twitter accounts because it's all so mind-numbingly tedious.

For the time being all we can do is speculate but the idle ill-informed speculation of the media simply isnt worth the bother. For as long as there is a financial incentive to remain ignorant there is little chance of the debate progressing and nothing is served by engaging. I can think of better ways to waste time.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Brexit: unplugging from the matrix

You've all seen The Matrix. You're offered a choice. Take the red pill and you're shown the full painful truth of reality - and suffer the consequences, or take the blue pill and stay living in a pretend world in blissful ignorance. Sound familiar?

It should because that is what Brexit is. A wake up call. We chose the red pill. We've awoken from a forty year slumber to discover that things are not ok, we're not in control of those things we've ignored, and those realities we have swept under the carpet are now in full view of everyone. We have chosen to confront reality rather than evade it.

No longer can we pretend that Europe is a perfect union of convergent peoples and politics. It never has been and likely never will be. By leaving the EU we learn the consequences of our blissful slumber and we see that whichever way we turn there are choices we don't like. Things we would rather not deal with.

Some would have it that we are "edging horribly towards xenophobia by the day"; that somehow a simple vote has unleashed a demon. But what if it was there all along and we just chose to ignore it? What if by ignoring it we made it worse? Even before Brexit the mood was cultivating an ugly resurgence of blood and soil Scottish nationalism - and in the end Ukip got its referendum by exploiting a similar constituency whose grievance had little to do with the EU.

The truth is that there was always a growing sense of unease at the existing political settlement. In the run up to the election the debate was all about the "establishment" in which the EU barely featured. Had we not had a referendum, right now we would be a continuity mode with politicians merely mouthing platitudes in recognition of the growing disenchantment but doing nothing about it. In this you can bet that Jo Cox would have been murdered irrespective of a referendum.

I would even say the implosion of the left was a long time coming too. The political settlement was decaying to such an extent that it really didn't take very much for Labour to be captured by a small and motivated activist base. A healthy political party should have seen it off with ease.

I have seen countless tweets expressing shock and exasperation with the events of 2016. It has been something of a ride. And to most on the remain side it still comes as a shock. They never saw it coming because they never understood what was happening. Now that it has they last thing they want to do is acknowledge it. They will do anything to go back to how things were. Blissful ignorance.

As Morpheus says in The Matrix, "You have to understand. Most people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured and so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it". And fight they will. It is too late now though.

Unlike the Matrix, though, we cannot erase the memory of events. There is no putting things back how they were. There is no pretending that it never happened. Things cannot go back to how they were. Once you acknowledge the elephant in the room it cannot be unseen.

Now though we have a real fight on our hands. We have dispensed with the old political settlement and now we must build a new one. Mrs May has made her pitch for a more authoritarian government reversing much of the "neoliberal" measures of the last decade. She sees no ideological barriers to intervening in the energy markets and she is prepared to do damage to the economy in order to satisfy the malcontents. She's gone in for small-c conservative social policy and old Labour economic policy. The public seem to support it. Troubling isn't it?

The battle we now face is a battle to preserve the best of what we have accomplished in the last twenty years while creating a society that better reflects the people who live in it. That progressive majority that the establishment assumed was on their side does not exist and remainers are going to have to wake up to that fact.

This is a battle most would rather not have. For those with a disengaged, comfortable and insular life there was never any real need for political upheaval. If you live your life in blissful ignorance paying little attention to politics (or the EU) and have no real concerns beyond your own narrow self-interest then something as vast as Brexit presents you with things you don't want to think about - and would rather not engage in. Well really that's just tough.

It seems to me that one universal truth in life is that if decisions are deferred for long enough then usually they decide themselves. This is that moment. The decision has been made and we've taken the reality pill. "Buckle your seatbelt Dorothy, 'cause Kansas... is going bye-bye!".

The biggest benefit to Brexit of all

This link directs to an entertaining evisceration of Chris Grayling after having remarked that Brexit means we can dispense with EU rules governing railway platform heights. One really wonders that this is the sort of burning issue that motivates politicians to bring about the biggest political upheaval since the war. I suspect though, if we scratched the surface we would find the issue is multifaceted and part of an overall European transport strategy where we could find some legitimate cause to complain if we looked hard enough.

But it's unfair to pick on Brexiteers for not knowing where various rules and regulations come from in that ignorance over technical rules and standards can be distributed fairly evenly. In fact, the only mainstream media hint that there are other players at work came just two days before the referendum with a post from Christian Friis Bach, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Europe, penning for the Huffington Post in which he observes that cucumber marketing standards are in fact a product of UNECE and not the EU.

"The cucumber standard is a good standard. And the world needs significantly more cooperation on standards of all kinds, be it in the UN or in the EU. And even if you do not agree, then remember if you hear the cucumber critique: do not blame the EU. Credit the UN."

If our media was adequate to the task it would not be speaking of EU regulations and instead properly identifying the source but UNECE is only wheeled out when politically convenient. The same can be said of politicians. That then begs the question as to whether we have any business ceding power to the EU when our politicians don't know what it is or what out does and in what circumstances. For sure, the Brexiteers have been caught out by their own ignorance but that ignorance is matched by those remainers who think that the EU is the source of regulation.

Now that we are leaving we landed with the task of sorting it all out. First up we have to separate fact from fiction and in due course we will discover that our international obligations and trade commitments mean that there is little or no scope for divergence in or out of the single market.

When the penny does drop it will be the remainers once again making the running. They will crow that Brexit doesn't mean "taking back control" after all and that we are still lumbered with the same technocracy only we will take it direct from the source instead of via the EU. They will gleefully parade this fact to all who will listen. The sharper ones among them, possibly Ian Dunt (when he's finished catastrophising Brexit as though it were the rise of the Fourth Reich) will then notice the means by which such rules end up on the statute book.

By way of various statutory instruments we adopt whole tranches of quasi-legislation which is as much a WTO obligation as any specific trade deal or treaty. That's when they will once again assume the high ground in pointing out that laws are made without much in the way of a democratic process. That's when we leavers will point out that to object to this means one must also necessarily object to the EU. The presence of a potemkin parliament in the EU where overpaid button pushers vote to lists presented to them by their groups is by no means an adequate system of scrutiny.

What Brexit will reveal is that the EU has concealed the presence of a vast globalised law making machine which has hitherto been obscured by Brussels. If our hack-o-sphere is on the ball they will then be asking where the democratic accountability is in all this. What they will discover, as indeed we have, is that the system is out of control. Not out of control in a hyperbole sense but in a very real sense that it is vast, extremely active and nobody is paying it any real attention.

When our political machine does finally wake up to what has happened they will then begin to realise the obsolescence of the EU, along with the vast potential of what is developing in its place. By way of being out of the EU we will have the right of initiative on all the global regulatory bodies and sufficient clout to sponsor new infinitives. In this they will also wake up to the fact that though we have certain obligations we do have the right to opt out if we so choose. That is a degree of control that underpins the real point of leaving the EU.

Brexit is not petty griping over cucumber standards or railway platforms. It is a means to address a profound change in the way government now works. It used to be that governments would devise their own laws and technical standards in conjunction with domestic technical bodies. This is no longer the case. There is collaboration at the global level to bring about a global rules based trading system governing everything from cucumber standards to major banking rules and all points between.

As much as the EU is a recipient of these global rules, so is everyone else. Governments of all sizes are law takers, not law makers. That changes the very nature of politics whereby politicians are not legislators, rather they are goalkeepers to protect us from bad and damaging rules. This is a task for which the EU has proven inadequate - not least when the EU is driven by supranational ideology rather than the common good.

Many have remarked that Brexit throws the entire system into chaos - which is in their view a reason to fight Brexit. In my view it is all the more reason to do it. Much of the law we abide by was either settled decades ago or has been implemented by way of automatic instruments meaning that much passes without our politicians even being aware of them, nevermind having a coherent idea of their origin and function. By the end of the Brexit process we will find among the media and our political class that we have acquired an institutional memory of where laws come from and how they work. Something that has not been present in political discourse for some time.

In this the political discourse will have changed whereby we view the EU in the proper context as one of many global organisations where the nation state has become a contracting party in a global corporate ecosystem where global private regulators and corporate trade alliances have equal, if not greater status. Only when we are fully aware of what has transpired over the last decade or so can we rise to the challenge of mastering it and controlling it. For too long we have been a silent passenger in the process of globalisation with our goalkeepers leaving the net wide open.

The last thing Britain could do or would ever wish to do is to assume full control and replicate global rules and the notion that we should make all of our own laws is a quaint misconception but ultimately the reason I side with Brexiteers is because the right to say no is that "sovereignty" we need. Globalisation is changing and as emerging economies begin to take more of a role in shaping the agenda, not least with China beginning to make its own demands of the regulatory system, it is right that we have an adequate means of defence and it is necessary that we are full participant at all levels of global lawmaking. We cannot afford to let our horizons stop at Brussels.

It will take a while for the penny to drop and our Eurocentric commentariat have yet to comprehend the shift in the global dynamics of trade and rule-making, but as we begin to dismantle our relationship with the EU it will become clear that we still have the same battles to fight and that democratic deficit between the governors and the governed is as acute as ever. Having that awareness is worth whatever disruption that Brexit may bring. We cannot afford the luxury of delegating it to Brussels anymore. In this game it's either play or get played.