Monday, 22 January 2018

The era of zombie politics


Britain is in a right old state. It faces innumerable challenges but it does not have the political machinery to adequately address them. Society has evolved but our politics has not. Our political parties are a throwback to a long dead era.

When I left school in the mid nineties my first proper job was at the local chemicals factory. It was the largest employer in the district and the last big industrial employer in the city. A city built on the textile industry during the industrial revolution. I was probably of the last generation to have that convenience.

By this time most of the mines in the county had closed, the textile industry had moved overseas and the steel mills were all but gone. The post-war era of mass employment was coming to a close. The unions had been defeated and call centres replaced factories. We had stepped into a new era as a services economy. The job-for-life era was over.

This process started with Margaret Thatcher’s industrial reforms, effectively gutting Labour’s powerbase and source of revenue. The traditional working class gradually atomised and vanished. With the right to buy state owned housing, the working classes became a property owning middle class. By 1995 the struggle for working class emancipation was over.

By this time we had acceded to the Maastricht Treaty, transcribing a number of EU rights into law, rendering the unions largely redundant. Labour had served its purpose. There were no major battles left to fight. What was clear, however, was that the Conservative Party had outstayed its welcome. Mired in sleaze, short on ideas and tired, it was swept aside by a new party. New Labour.

Tony Blair knew one thing. An old model socialist party could not win. Any Labour movement would have to reform as a party of social progress but carrying forward the economic liberalism promoted by Thatcher. It became a centrist social democrat party. Many view it as a mere extension of the Thatcher era in different clothes.

Then came the global financial crisis and the era of austerity. New Labour, tainted by the Iraq invasion, had also run out of steam. With public finances exposed to the ravages of the markets the axe began to fall on public sector jobs created to mask the effects of deindustrialisation.

Looking back one might even suggest that 2008 was probably the peak of Western civilisation and the crisis is what defines everything that has followed. We are now in the era of decline. Not industrial decline per se, rather we are in a state of political decline. The political power of the West is waning.

Now when we survey the political landscape we find hollowed out shells with no direction, no sense of purpose and no moral mission. We are in the era of zombie politics. The Conservative reformers had only one tool in the box. Market liberalisation. By the time David Cameron came to power there was little left to do. His administration was noted for being a spin heavy managerialist party really only there to keep the status quo ticking along while managing the fallout of the financial crisis.

In effect, the one-trick-pony Conservatives had completed their mission in transforming the economy from an industrial socialist country to a booming capitalist one. Like Labour, its mission was complete.

What both parties failed to note was the growing disquiet in the regions. A combination of mass immigration and hyper-globalisation had upturned communities and though we were a wealthier nation, we were not happier for it. The new order suited the urban middle classes adequately served by the traditional parties, but swathes of the hinterlands were left behind to rot. Fertile ground for a populist party like Ukip.

To cut a long story short, Ukip was able to leverage an EU referendum by eating into the working-class base of both parties, but especially the Conservatives whose rebrand as a centrist party in the shadow of Blair had failed to inspire. Promising a referendum was the only way to bring working class Tories back into the fold. It worked – but at the price of EU membership.

The problem for Britain is that, of itself, Brexit does not actually solve anything. It may certainly act as a catalyst and create the opportunities for change but there is no obvious political architect on the horizon to rebuild and reunite the country.

The Conservatives have no tools left in the box while Labour wants to turn back the clock and put the globalisation genie back in the bottle. Labour’s leadership is made up of old men from the socialist era, backed by a youth wing too young to know any better.

As CiarĂ¡n McGonagle puts it "Labour now resides in non-interconnected world where economic policy can be imposed unilaterally without regard to global context, where increasing tax on upwardly mobile corporates and high earners inevitably leads to increased revenues without risk of relocation. Where the City's hegemony is inevitable and can be squeezed for new revenues as though other nations are incapable of competing for business. Where Government can pick and choose which international laws and regulations it deigns to adhere to without losing global influence in making those laws. Where the government can nationalise and subsidise industry at a whim without fear of reprisal or economic consequence".

As incomes are squeezed and as living standards decline the promise of a brighter yesterday resonates with those nostalgic for days gone by. Myself included. The problem is that after forty years of globalised governance no government has the freedom to do as it pleases. Nation states and blocs are no longer the most powerful actors. Every move is a negotiated compromise. Nothing happens in isolation of the global context.

Meanwhile, embedded in this zombie socialist party is a movement of postmodernist identarians seeking to impose their equality agenda on an unsuspecting public. One that seeks quality of outcomes rather than equality of opportunity. The new thought police. Consequently Britain is in the grip of its own internet culture war.

Ordinarily a party in such a state of disrepair would be thrashed into oblivion at the ballot box, but these are not ordinary times. The Conservative Party is similarly dysfunctional. The centrists of the old order have nothing to say for themselves while the momentum within the party comes from a rump of ultra-right capitalists who in their own way are stuck in a timewarp, seeking to recreate Thatcher’s victories. Their vision is equally unappealing.

In effect our entire political apparatus has been so self-involved it has failed to notice how governance has become more complex and interconnected and how technology has emancipated people. The old models simply don’t work. Both parties are seeking to graft obsolete ideologies on to a world that they don’t understand and seemingly do not want to. Their solutions are based on old scriptures but are in fact solutions in search of a problem.

As it happens, even taking Brexit into account, Britain is and will remain a fairly wealthy country. There will be challenges and setbacks but increasingly industry is moving toward a model of self-regulation effectively cutting governments out of the loop, where the economy pretty much runs on autopilot. The job of government is to figure out how and where to tax in and by how much without doing too much damage. If government exists for any reason in the modern era then it is to curb the excesses and mitigate the externalities of industry.

What ultimately plagues government is how to resolve the social malaise, the discontent and the increasing polarisation. We are in the midst of a national identity crisis, struggling to find a role in the world. We must come to terms with the end of the post-war settlement and reckon with the looming demographic crisis that brings into question the sustainability of our entitlements.

We have an infantilised population which is largely reflected in our politics. We demand change and sacrifices just so long as that change does not happen to us and that the sacrifice is made by somebody else. This creates a political deadlock where decisions are persistently deferred. We therefore become passengers as events happen to us without the necessary policy preparations. It will hit hard.

I rather suspect it unwise to hold our breath in hope of a white knight movement galloping to our rescue. The old parties run their little workshops to talk about renewal and reinvigoration but this is just political marketing; designing new campaigns to secure their incumbency. If there is to be a new politics it will have to happen from outside London.

Britain is in a limbo. No-one is quite sure how long it can limp on. The establishment will probably limp on through Brexit and for a time after, and it will probably take another turn of the wheel for the new generation to realise that the old parties have no answers. Beyond that it is impossible to say what the new order looks like. All we know is that politics as we know it cannot survive - and does not deserve to.

Brexit: the future starts here


I have to admit that there was a moment last summer, lasting about a week, when I seriously questioned the wisdom of Brexit. With the Tory Taliban pushing for no deal, it brought me to the edge of reconsidering. I think, however, that the Tory right lost that argument. I think there will be a deal and though it probably won't be the EEA, there will be a fudge on free movement of goods and some provision for services. It will do, sub-optimal though it may be.

To me that makes the Brexit process a lot less interesting. The public has zero say in it so it's really just a matter of waiting to find out what the deal looks like, learning how it works and adapting accordingly.

On the campaigning front I'm starting to think that the remainers have jumped the shark. The sourness has destroyed any case they might have made. The economic arguments they have didn't work in the referendum and they won't work now. Especially with the pound recovering and the absence of immediate Brexitgeddon.

It also looks like the door to remaining is closing. The EU wants to get on with being the EU and remainers would now have to make a case not just for remaining but also buying into European federalism - which is simply not going to fly with Brits.

If we manage to preserve an open border with NI, keep the trucks rolling and aircraft flying, most of the pragmatic remainer concerns will be addressed. Since the rights of EU citizens are safeguarded further shrillness from remainers is unwarranted and just sounds petulant. Since we are this far in I think there's an acceptance that we have crossed the event horizon and there are too many wheels in motion to turn back. The public is more accepting than the die hard remainers.

As to whatever economic damage may follow, I am convinced that the economy in good time will reorient itself to whatever the new settlement is. People will adapt, as indeed they always have. Some things will improve, some things will not. Politics will take over.

While I had my concerns about Brexit the more I look at it it from the non-economic perspective the more I am absolutely convinced that it's the right thing to do and now is the best time to be doing it. Britain needs change, it needs a fresh start and it needs a new direction. Remaining cannot promise that. Brexit, for whatever its faults, can.

In recent weeks and months I've looked at the social and human aspect of Brexit and concluded that there are many ways in which subtle changes will be good for national morale, good for democracy and a chance to have a rethink on a number of long settled policy areas. Though no FTA will ever compensate for the loss of the single market, I think there could be some pleasant surprises and in many respects a change for its own sake is healthy.

What removed any doubt from my mind was last week's vote on the amendment to retain the EU charter of fundamental rights. I have written much about how nearly every EU initiative is there to serve the integrationist agenda but this was a reminder that the Lisbon treaty really is a foundation constitution for a Federal Europe. The ECFR is the blueprint for the social Europe which completes le grand project. That then reminds me of that famous Roy Jenkins quite in 1999.
"There are only two coherent British attitudes to Europe. One is to participate fully and to endeavour to exercise as much influence and gain as much benefit as possible from the inside. The other is to recognise that Britain’s history, national psychology and political culture may be such that we can never be other than a foot-dragging and constantly complaining member; and that it would be better, and certainly would produce less friction, to accept this and to move towards an orderly, and if possible, reasonably amicable withdrawal."
The only alteration I would make to that is the first sentence. I would change it to "There are only two respectable British attitudes to Europe". There is no right or wrong answer. it is simply a matter of preference as to whether one wishes to be a province of a federal Europe or a self-governing independent nation. I believe democracy is better served by the latter - and if that be the case then economic arguments don't come into it. You just have to bite the bullet and get it done.

But this is why I have so much deep seated contempt for our political class. They would would tell us to remain purely on the basis of economic concerns, completely oblivious as to the motives and functioning of the EU, preferring that level of governance to tick along without Westminster supervision. It's like asking a businessman details about the functioning of his company only to be told "my accountant handles all that". That is not a respectable position from our politicians. It is a dereliction of duty. 

By the same token, this is why I bear no malice toward die hard remainers like Mike Galsworthy and Jon Worth. They are unapologetic europhiles and if the EU did fully federalise they would present no opposition. I can respect that. It is at least an honest position. The pretence, though, that one can be in the EU and not subject to ever closer union, is nothing short of a contemptible deception... or inexcusable ignorance. 

As we have elected to be a self-governing independent state we must simply reckon with the costs of that decision. You can tell me it's going to hurt exports or hurt the NHS. You can tell me it's going to cause a lot of uncertainty and disruption. That's as maybe. I'm not even going to argue. It does not alter the political reality that we are leaving the EU and we will move on from this.

Twenty years ago most households did not have the internet. Now we would struggle to cope without it. In terms of day to day consumables and small luxuries we can have more or less anything we want at the click of a button. Technology is outpacing the development of trade agreements and global supply chains are standardising without prompt from any authority. Amazon will do more to create a global marketplace than the EU. 

If you think of where we were twenty years ago and then try to imagine where we will be in another twenty years, following another technological revolution (whatever that may be) the minutia of Brexit will feel a universe away. Our membership of the EU will be as meaningless to the next generation as our one time brief membership of Efta is to the millennials. The post-war European order will be utterly irrelevant to those who come after us. Our legacy to them, though, will be an independent democracy free of the paranoid dogmas of the EU. 

Though events are presently sluggish, with some of the momentum of the referendum melting away, the closer we get to Brexit day, the closer we get to a new beginning. That is when we will start to feel the consequences of our decision. That day cannot come soon enough. 

That is when it will become inescapably obvious that we lack the political machinery to adequately forge our response to those changes. That is when collective tolerance for our zombie politics will end. The day when we have no excuses, no restraints and no further patience. On that day we begin writing a new chapter in British history, when we finally put the superstitions of the twentieth century behind us. That will be the day I have waited so long for. Let the future commence. 

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Physician, heal thyself


The big deal of the week has been the now infamous debate between Cathy Newman and Jordan B Peterson. I urge you to watch the whole thing. The substance I won't go into. All I will say is on that subject I have no cause to disagree with Peterson.

There have been a number of comments made about the conduct of Cathy Newman in bombarding Peterson with straw men. She does do that. What makes it a useful piece of journalism is that Newman evidently does hold a number of views based on modern feminist dogma which makes her ideal to stimulate the kind of replies which properly represent Peterson's position. It makes her a risible individual but as a piece of television where both sides of the argument are aired and explored, it's actually pretty good and Channel 4 is to be commended for creating the space for this very necessary debate.

What is interesting is the number of views it's had which will stand at three million by the end of this week and countless excerpts will have been viewed on Twitter. That tells us that there is indeed a market for considered and well executed television debates where viewers are exposed to complex arguments and (almost) treated like grown ups.

The interview itself, though, was only decent by contrast with most of what we see in television media. It's still not a patch on a Brian Walden interview from the early 90's. Generally we get Andrew Neil, Andrew Marr and repeated exposure to Diane Abbott for reasons no one is able to comprehend. The public are more than capable of engaging in detailed debate but the media does not see fit to provide it. We get the empty-headed speaking to the know-nothings.

We need not, therefore, wonder why there is still no clarity to the Brexit debate. Not once has the media stepped up to its obligation to inform. One might speculate that the subject matter is far less universal in appeal to what we see here, but that is an argument for even more debate, not less. There is a breadth of issues inside Brexit to explore - not least immigration.

For Channel 4 it serves a commercial agenda to choose more controversial topics, but will still limit itself to the superficial. That is to be expected. It is primarily a commercial operation. The question, therefore, is why is Channel 4 doing a better (though not adequate) job of driving debates than the BBC? Why is the BBC attempting to compete with commercial channels when it has a public service remit, and if it feels no obligation to meet those public service obligations and fulfil its duty to inform, what exactly is the point of it?

Remainers and leavers are still bitterly divided and if anything there has been a more radical polarisation since the summer. What we can all agree on, however, is that our media is completely failing to inform. The circus freak show of Question Time and the ever asinine Sunday Politics is little more than space filler.

At the heart of this failure is condescension. The belief that the viewing public are incapable of lending their attention to long debates requiring the application of intellect. That is what informed the thinking behind the respective referendum campaigns leading to the universal criticism that both campaigns were short on facts leaving the public to fend for itself for information.

This might then go some way toward explaining why we are leaving the EU. The public are deeply dissatisfied with the quality of politics and politicians, and are tired of being treated like infants. When we speak of "the establishment" that goes as much for our media as it does Westminster. Our establishment condescends to us, believing their mediocre understanding of issues to be superior to that of the public.

To have a functioning democracy we must have a functioning media capable of creating the public conversations necessary for informed decision-making. This we do not have. Instead we have a politico-media class imbued with a lofty sense of its own abilities with no concept of how deeply they are detested, who, when exposed to that vitriol, believe the fault is not theirs.

Though Brexit may have its class divides it is better explained by the gulf of understanding that exists between the politico-media bubble and the public. Until they are capable of such self-realisation there will be no abatement of that public disgust. They complain at the toxicity of public discourse but ultimately the power to remedy that lies with them. It is not within the gift of the public to correct it. Respect is a two way street.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Labour's identity crisis


Traditionally Labour has been the party of the working class. Whatever it is, it isn't that anymore. The people now setting the agenda on the left tend to be white, urban uppper middle class men and wetter than a haddock's bathing costume. This explains why Labour is not presently very popular with actual "working class" people.

Throughout the Brexit campaign we were told that leave voters are basically thick racists. That is not true but it would be wrong to suggest that a strong contingent of the leave vote was not comprised of people who could be characterised as thick and racist. People more likely to identify with the politics of Nick Griffin or Nigel Farage than Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn, however, is from the tradition of the Labour left that was once a working class movement. He is, therefore, the perfect empty vessel and can be morphed into a role dependent on the circumstances just so long as he keeps quiet. The art of populism is to have a leader who can be all things to all men. Corbyn can be sold as a Bennite eurosceptic or as a Waitrose liberal.

In many respects Corbyn is the perfect candidate for the statist paternalistic left though his quiet euoscepticism is increasingly inconvenient to them. His supporters, however, will not rock the boat because Corbyn is the one element which can command some of the working class vote. Labour is now an alliance between Islington, Liverpool and Sheffield. But it is a fragile one which depends on Corbyn never coming off the fence. He is only useful so long as he is an empty vessel.

The crisis for Labour is that if it does take measures to define itself along either lines then it loses half of its vote. It can just about hold together since Labour is prepared to reluctantly concede on Brexit. As an issue it has never really cared about EU membership either way so long as it is convenient stick with which to beat the Tories. Tony Blair is perhaps the only true believer Labour has ever had.

What is notable about Labour is that much of its politics, or rather the behind the scenes bickering, is caught up in a new strain of identarian politics where victims groups compete with each other for control of the narrative. A dispute that will not be resolved until one side wins decisively. Were Labour not one of the establishment parties with a parliamentary presence, it would now be going the same way as Ukip, shredded by its own internal conflicts. The only thing keeping it on life support is an utterly dysfunctional Tory party.

One of its problems is that it has a romanticised notion of the working class. They imagine the working class to be poor huddled masses taking a shellacking from austerity and waiting to be rescued by their betters. At the root of this is that same identarianism. The assumption that class, colour, or victim status dictates one's voting habits. Labour sees itself as entitled to the vote of the working class and minorities.

To understand this you have to understand the likes of John McDonnell who wants to overthrow the establishment. He openly speaks of insurrection. He speaks of mobilising and occupying the streets but I can't help thinking that he thinks this is 1930 and the unions can instruct the dockworkers and ship builders to down tools and bring the country to a grinding halt. It fits with the delusion that Britain is an impoverished huddled mass poised to overthrow their oppressors.

The chief reason Labour is in a world of its own is because the working class as they imagine it to be does not exist. In the same way that you cannot speak of the North as a homogeneous polity, you can't speak for the working class as a bloc either. Working class can mean anything from a young aspirational family in Bristol with a car on lease, a mortgage, two dogs and a conservatory, or it can mean living in a council owned pebble-dashed hut in the arse end of the Pennines with not a pot to piss in. Tony Blair understood this which is why he managed to win elections. 

What is missing here is a moral purpose. They are ever happy to parade their "compassion", but Labour ambitions are really only about taking control of the state in order to redistribute wealth in the direction of people who will vote for them. Not unlike the Tories.

Where Labour falls over is that it seeks to broadcast its own virtues and carve out exceptions for victim groups. Presently it occupies itself with the gender pay gap and seeks to use regulatory mechanisms to secure equality of outcomes. It seeks to intervene, placing obligations on businesses in the form of quotas rather than addressing the causal factors.

If there is one major factor responsible then it's an experience gap as women often have to take time out of their careers to raise children or look after the elderly. The obvious issue here is access to vocational training. Solve that and you also solve the problem of white boys from the bottom decile being left behind. At the same time we need to be removing the perverse incentives in the welfare system.

Successive governments have failed at this. New Labour's famous New Deal was initially successful but training and opportunities under that scheme varied in quality, and since it was only available to those on the dole for six months it incentivised long term unemployment. Given that spaces on the scheme were rationed, claimants found they could manipulate the system to stay on Job Seeker's Allowance for years. The total package of benefits for a single person outweighed the benefits of employment. 

I remember at the time I was surrounded by people who thought playing around with creative software and smoking pot all day was better than an eight hour shift in the local sausage factory. Had I not trained as a computer programmer I probably would have joined them. 

What we now find is that as a consequence of long term youth unemployment we now have a legion of dysfunctional adults now written off as suffering from depression and prescribed antidepressants. Another class of people now given the status of protected species by Labour's victim culture. No surprise then that South Wales and the industrial regions would have voted to leave the EU. 

The difference for me is I was probably the last generation to fall out of school to go and work for the biggest local employer. They paid for two week long commercial training packages which gave me most of what I needed to become an applications developer. I have never held a professional qualification but thanks to that, whatever else I may fail at, I always have a trade to fall back on where I can make a decent salary. 

Somewhere along the line, business stopped paying for that training. The burden was shifted on to the state which ran its own schemes which by and large were terrible and if you had done a government training scheme you certainly wouldn't admit to it, let alone put it on your CV. In this I might note that business doesn't need to invest in skills simply because it has a limitless supply of labour through freedom of movement. The UK has been taking Eastern Europe's labour surplus.  

If Labour was remotely interested in improving the lives of poorer people it would be looking at the many barriers that hold people back. The near impossibility of home ownership, a grossly unfair council tax system, legal aid in tatters, affordability of vocational training, access to decent education, business rates for small businesses, the uselessness of regional public transport.

But what do we find instead? An entire party apparatus obsessed with transgender rights - something affecting 0.001% of the population. Were it actually to do with civil rights it wouldn't be so bad but it's a vanguard for a more sinister agenda. It could not be less interested in governance.

Ultimately we need a government that governs for all. One which sets a moral standard where there are expectations of people and mutual obligations. Labour is in the business of fashioning excuses as to why victim groups should be exempted from having to compete. Instead of trying to level the playing field for equality of opportunity, it seeks equality of outcome. Nothing good can come from that.

This is the malign influence of the white middle class Waitrose liberals who see themselves as saviours - the white knights racing to the rescue of the downtrodden. They who believe it is the primary function of the state to act as a provider and surrogate parent. That condescension is in their DNA from welfare to Brexit. It is the belief that the working classes are a homogeneous polity, but one utterly enfeebled and incapable of being more. 

It is that kind of thinking which has become the dominant strain in governance which is why government has become a managerialist entity attempting to use state resources to produce universal outcomes. On a long enough timeline it is effectively a technocratic version of communism financed centrally by the supercomputer in the City. 

Ultimately Labour is no longer about the emancipation of people. Quite the reverse. We live in a system which gradually imprisons us on the basis of race, class, gender and those limitations we ought to have according to victimhood scripture. It is geared to disempowering people, dictating their limitations and prescribing their choices. It's not just anti-working class, it's anti-human. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The end of ever closer union


Last night MPs voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit. A Labour amendment, tabled in the name of Jeremy Corbyn, sought to retain the provisions in the Charter but was voted down by 317 votes to 299. We can expect some idiotic wibbling from the left over this.

Three basic points. Firstly it wasn't required to begin with. It's largely a series of entitlements tacked on to basic human rights for the purposes of Federalist integration. It is an instrument of ever closer union laying the groundwork for "social Europe". It has no bearing on the core principles of human rights which owe their existence to the British system anyway. We are not withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights either. Not yet at least.

Secondly, this does not repeal any of the laws passed to implement the Articles. ECFR brings into being a number of laws via directives (as I understand it), all of which is standalone domestic legislation. There is next to zero chance of them being repealed.

Finally, it refers to the Union as the legal territory and grants it authority. "This Charter reaffirms, with due regard for the powers and tasks of the Union". If we are ending EU jurisdiction then it has to go, simple as that. That anyone would vote to retain ECFR demonstrates they have not actually read it. Bottom line... this is a total non-story.

This then begs the question of whether we want our own charter of rights or whether we revert to the British model of having the constitution undefined but embodied by the broader statue book. If we are to have something like the ECFR then it should be looked at in the context of wider constitutional reform.

This issue, however, reaffirms my conviction that Brexit is the right thing to do. For the UK to be a genuine democracy then the laws must be derived from the people and subject to their alteration according to their own common values. The people, not parliament must be sovereign. 

In this we hold that there are some universal values to be enshrined as the cornerstone of our constitution which is why we uphold the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU, though, increasingly deviates from the fundamentals.

This mode of governance places undue obligations on governments extending far beyond the scope of human rights thus entrenching a technocratic system of government trespassing on the fundamentals of civics. It renders democracies inert, giving rise to politics being pursued through the courts, thus making it the domain of QCs and their wealthy backers. 

One might even call them the new ruling class. It would explain their near universal opposition to Brexit. It is a substantial loss of power over us. They lose a key method in subverting the public will. More than anything it is this that draws the battlelines over Brexit and the process of withdrawal. It is on these lines we measure whether the instruction to leave has been honoured. 

The remainers see the EU as a proxy for a hard coded constitution. They do not trust democracy. They believe themselves to be the embodiment of enlightenment and a backstop to the whims of the barbarous masses. Power is not something to be entrusted to the people. This is the crucial disagreement. Either you believe in democracy or you don't.

Thus, if we want a principled Brexit it does require that we end the jurisdiction of the ECJ. This to some extent explains the opposition to the EEA in that Article Six, embodying the principle of homogeneity appears to trample on the core principle of Brexit.
Without prejudice to future developments of case law, the provisions of this Agreement, in so far as they are identical in substance to corresponding rules of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community and the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community and to acts adopted in application of these two Treaties, shall, in their implementation and application, be interpreted in conformity with the relevant rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Communities given prior to the date of signature of this Agreement.
This is where I differ from mainstream Brexiters. As per the illustration above, the EEA agreement mainly covers technical governance - issues which barely touch on constitutional fundamentals. This is really a question of what we are prepared to go to the barricades over. Technical regulation may be a cause of petty annoyance but its inherent utility, in my view, is worth the trade off. 

Brexit is chiefly about ending the political integration that undermines our own constitution and broader sovereignty through such instruments as the ECFR. Brexit is about ending "ever closer union". This is where it is necessary to the make the distinction between political union and economic integration. The EEA primarily pertains to the latter. As to the applicability of fundamental rights, I leave you to judge.

The measure is whether there are sufficient democratic protections, which in my view there are. Though Article Six of the EEA agreement is unequivocal, the systems that the EEA brings into being create a space for dialogue with safeguard measures giving us the nuclear option. 

What should be noted is that irrespective of Brexit, the UK is still obliged conform to a number of regional and global conventions where previously the EU has acted as the middleman. We will find in a number of instances that the removal of the EU aspect brings little remedy. 

Many Brexiters hold the expectation that Brexit will be fundamentally restorative. This ignores the march of globalisation and underestimate the influence of international agreements which have influenced the EU's own legislative agenda. In many respects there is no turning the clock back and little scope for acting unilaterally. 

I would remind those Brexiters that Brexit really is only, fundamentally, about one thing. Leaving the EU. No longer being part of the European federalist project. Great as that is, whatever else our aspirations may hold, the fight is only just beginning. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Still left to guess

According to The Guardian, "Theresa May has been hit with a double Brexit blow as the EU toughened up its terms for a transition period and Norway privately warned Brussels that giving in to the UK’s demands for a “special” trade deal could force it to rip up its own agreements with the bloc".
"...the Guardian has learned that repeated representations have been made to EU officials by Oslo over their fears that an overly generous offer to the UK will fuel calls in Norway to renegotiate its ties with the bloc, according to senior diplomatic sources. The Nordic intervention presents a fresh hurdle for Theresa May’s aim of delivering a “deep and special partnership” with the EU that goes beyond the scope of a Canada-style free trade deal, an arrangement under which significant barriers to trade in goods and services remains."
Course, this isn't news. If the UK is granted anything close to the level of market particpation Norway presently enjoys with fewer obligations then Norway will seek more favourable terms. This is precisely why we're not getting anything approaching EEA levels of market particpation without remaining in the EEA. It was never on the cards. This comes as no surprise. 

In other news we are told that Member States are pushing for a more comprehensive deal than Canada but issue illiteracy is not unique to our own government and there will be a similar lack of appreciation for the EU's political position - and the legal constraints it must operate within. In respect of that, Norway's shot across the bow is entirely redundant save to put on record that which could safely assume. 

Again it seems to point to the obvious that if the political agreement on the Northern Irish border is to be respected then it will have to use the EEA as a basis for free movement of goods. If not, then the UK will suffer a penalty in terms of services access in exchange for those same levels of frictionless trade. There is no free lunch to be had here. 

As to whether this reality sinks in at Number Ten remains to be seen. In all likelihood, Mrs May will continue the pretense of "steady as she goes" with no outward sign of coming to terms with the issues. Calls for pragmatism and honesty will fall on deaf ears and any decisions will be kicked down the road at every opportunity. 

Meanwhile, tucked in at the bottom of the Guardian report, is the "news" that Member states have ruled out allowing British carriers the freedom to fly passengers and luggage between destinations on the continent post-Brexit, with UK carriers to be permitted only four of the nine “freedoms” to operate they currently enjoy. 

Precisely why that wasn't the headline item (assuming this is something new) is known only to the Guardian, but this is very much a consequence of quitting the EEA. That could very well be one of the issues that forces a rethink. It is on these such issues key battles will be fought. We shall have to wait and see. 

Trade policy has become the tail wagging the dog


At one time I would have said I was in favour of "free trade". I used to consider protectionism to be a dirty word. Then as I learned more about trade I came to realise that "free trade" is an entirely meaningless term - or at the very least one so widely abused that it no longer carries meaning. And then as I have learned more about non-tariff barriers and the function of regulation, I became a firm advocate of trade liberalisation. A more meaningful description of free trade - the removal of barriers to trade.

But then I came to understand that protectionism also has legitimate uses. We may wish to to place restrictions on trade to either preserve a strategic national asset or to develop domestic capability. More broadly, trade policy is there to protect legitimate traders from the predatory practises of nations and corporations who seek to damage competitors by unfair means. By its very nature, therefore, an effective trade policy is "protectionist".

I then came to understand that globalist trade wonkery is a form of fanatical tunnel vision. It seeks to identify and erase all barriers to trade. In order to do that those who control trade policy and make the decisions must have the ability to modify or remove regulations. They are in the business of making the world more convenient for commerce.

The underlying assumption in the discipline is that growth is good, expansion is the goal and that trade, generally speaking makes nations wealthier. Networks of trade deals improve the efficiency of supply chains thereby bringing more varied goods from all over to domestic markets, increasing choice and driving down prices through competition.

In this there are winners and losers, but the losers are viewed as collateral damage - they who are sacrificed in the name of the greater good. Protectionism must not be allowed to interfere with the dream of total harmonisation on all goods and services bringing about a global free market.

Where the EU is concerned, its vision is one of a pan-European single market encompassing goods and services. But then it also seeks a single regime of rights for workers throughout with equal rights to benefits, eventually bringing about a uniform European welfare system.

The process, however, is far too slow if nation states are allowed to place reservations or make unilateral exceptions. The decision making, therefore, has to be centralised where ever more power over increasingly more areas of governance is transferred to Brussels. This is either done by way of incremental agreement or ECJ rulings. Member states gradually cede control.

The process is called "integration" where really it is better described as homogenisation. We are, therefore, increasingly powerless as a people, where policy is concocted by trade liberalisation fundamentalists and decisions are imposed upon us while lacking the necessary democratic safeguards to overturn policy. This leads to policy stagnation.

Politicians are only too happy with this arrangement because it offloads the responsibility for technical governance and frees them up to indulge themselves in tribal retail politics. The running of the machinery is handed over to the faceless experts largely without supervision and with minimal input or consultation from the demos.

As we gradually liberalise markets the collateral damage mounts up, leading to de-industrialisation and supercharged growth. This is viewed as a universal good in that we now have a cleaner environment, safer, easier jobs and a longer life expectancy. Obviously the march of technology can take much of the credit, but supercharging consumer markets is a driver of that technological advancement.

The question that plagues policymakers is how to adequately deal with the social fallout of this, which is leading us ever closer toward a universal basic income. In effect we are moving toward a soulless utopian model where work is all but obsolete and the bottom decile are simply provided for rather than treated as humans with agency and ambition, where the power is held by the few over the many.

In this the fallout of trade liberalisation is often blamed on an inadequate domestic response to it. Perhaps they are right. Nobody can say that our response to the social problems created by mass immigration have been adequately handled. Health, education and housing is not keeping pace with demand. That problem is exacerbated in that increasing supply of housing, thus maintaining affordability, is its own pull factor. Our last remaining defence against further immigration is presently high costs for shelter.

What we have noted, however, is that immigrants from all over Europe and beyond are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to claim a piece of the dream. We find city squares and parks becoming makeshift transit camps, and we find overcrowding in houses of multiple occupation along with the phenomenon of "beds in sheds" which are part of the exploitation economy. Many of the low priced goods and services we enjoy as wealthy consumers absolutely depends on abridgments of workers rights.

In this we find that migrants from Europe are not necessarily Europe's poor and uneducated. Among Polish migrants doing menial work we find grammar educated middle classes who very obviously present themselves as a better hire than a working class native. Being that the latter is not keyed into the transient worker economy, and being part of the settled community, they have overheads meaning they cannot compete on price. Statisticians may say on average freedom of movement does not depress wages, but the pressure is felt the most acutely in the bottom two deciles.

In this there are moral consequences. As much as London robs UK regions of their youth and vitality, the UK has in recent years pulled in much of the talent from Eastern Europe thus depriving those countries of its best resource. We also find that companies no longer look to train when they have a Europe wide recruitment pool. This means that working class people who cannot obtain credit or access to expensive training are gradually left behind.

Around the edges of this, in times of "austerity" certain resentments fester, while coping with the quality of life issues caused by rapidly expanding populations, where leftwing social democratic parties assume the remedy is to simply pay out more in welfare, adding to an already huge welfare bill. Whatever training exists is that which is mandated and supplied by the state which generally means it is of low value and poor quality.

In this a largely insulated middle class who enjoy cheap goods and services will seldom complain, and will enjoy the freedom to travel and work elsewhere in Europe. Little wonder this demographic would have voted to remain. All the while the political class congratulates itself for perpetual growth and what it considers a healthy economy.

What we have, though, is a political class in widespread denial, often discounting the corrosive effects of atomisation and lack of societal cohesion. The erosion of the familiar. With the inbuilt inequalities, and having to lower life expectations, it is not surprising that at least half of the country feels like a change of regime is necessary. There is a justifiable feeling that the political class is out of touch, is not listening and is largely unable to act even if it was willing. Which it isn't.

The main reason for inaction is that politicians know that many of our entitlements and state provisions cannot be sustained without continental immigration, and that immigration allows them to continue to evade many of the hard questions about future sustainability of entitlements - which no politician seeking re-election will ever touch with a barge pole. What is not discussed, however, is that even with present turnover, we are still sitting on a demographic timebomb, with poor savings rates and underperforming pensions.

It is my view that one way or another the UK is staring down the barrel of a huge crisis that will necessitate major economic structural reforms. Unpopular ones too. That makes a period of political turbulence inevitable and most likely another "lost generation" as the economy reorders itself. This is why I think a remain vote would simply be delaying the inevitable - and it's why I am unmoved by economic arguments from the remain camp. Remaining provides only temporary certainty.

Where Brexit brings about some remedy, as mentioned above, trade liberalisation is all about the convenience of commerce to the exclusion of all other concerns. This changes. Already the drop in in the value of Sterling has made the UK a less attractive destination for casual labour, thus the restriction in labour supply means that business will have to pay properly and train workers to plug skills gaps. It also brings about a slowdown which allows space and time for integration.

We have also seen a surge in factory orders due to the exchange rate. Whether or not this can be sustained will depend largely on what kind of trade relationship we secure with the EU. We should be cautious of such economic news in that Brexit will undoubtedly result in a number of trade barriers with the EU leading to job losses. Unless our place in the European air travel market is secured, to name one sector, a lot of high quality jobs will vanish.

What matters, though, is that the decision making over trade defences (of which control of immigration arguably is one) rests with parliament, and more importantly the British public. We can have a trade policy geared to the wellbeing of UK society rather than working toward the goals of the Euro-federalists. What technocrats may call protectionism I call acting in the national interest (which may or may not be economic in nature).

The propaganda of the EU has it that there is something inherently sinful about acting in the national interest. That's really a matter of perspective and is entirely relative to the individual. There is nothing preordained about Brexit being protectionist, rather it means that the policy resides in Westminster rather than Brussels so that proper national debates on trade will take place with scrutiny repatriated.

In this you can very well pick fault with my reasoning, and you may tell me that we cannot possibly predict how the economy will re-order itself, but we have undeniably kickstarted a process which puts British voters closer to the driving seat and in many respects arrests a number of unwelcome trends our political class were unable to even acknowledge let alone resolve.

For all that "free trade" brexiteers are (rightly) denounced as ideologues, trade policy wonks are equally so, working to an entirely sterile depoliticised trade agenda with only one goal in mind irrespective of the social consequences. Trade has become a technical discipline rather than a tool of political economics and foreign policy. It is no longer integrated with politics yet it increasingly has more power over us while we have fewer democratic means to forge our response to it.

Trade liberalisation for its own sake globally, or for the ends of a European superstate, is to completely ignore the preferences of the public, their economic, social and spiritual needs and is therefore profoundly anti-democratic. One might even say anti-human. The fundamental question here is whether we serve the economy or whether the economy serves us.

The laws and rules we make for ourselves locally are there for the governance of our own distinct cultures derived from our unique heritage and geography. In some areas there is every advantage and all good sense in seeking harmonisation and modernisation, but the political dimension is where that line is drawn. For this there is no scientific answer, or even a correct answer. It is only a question that democracy can resolve. It is fluid and it is cyclic but if that choice is removed, where trade is locked into a single agenda beyond our control then we can no longer say that we are a democracy.

For all that there are votes and vetoes within the EU and global apparatus, those voting rituals are far out of reach and off the public radar. Without that public involvement then by definition it is not democratic. That we call the empty and sterile voting rituals within the EU "democracy" is an indication of how debased that word has become. We no longer know what it means. Brexit, I hope, will reunite us with a truer definition of it. Taking back control is not an empty slogan.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Getting Nowhere


There are some Brexit articles on Google when I type in "Brexit". One might have thought, therefore, that there would be sufficient material for a blogger to pass comment on. I suppose one could wade into the debate over a second referendum, but what is there really to be said that has not already been said, and why would one bother when a second referendum simply is not going to happen?

The opposition leader doesn't want one, the government doesn't want one, about half the population doesn't want one, and the window for holding one closes by the day. It's only even a topic of conversation because there is presently nothing else happening save for a few ill chosen remarks by Farage, which largely go to demonstrate how little anyone cares what he says - save for our media whose news values are entirely tone deaf.

One might then choose to comment on Corbyn insisting that the UK must leave the single market, but has also said the UK would "obviously" have to be in "a customs union". It is apparent that neither he nor Andrew Neil have a functioning definition of either nor understand the utility of them. Depressing though that may be, this is also not news.

Meanwhile, though some sense is being spoken behind the scenes in the DExEU select committee, it's still at Janet and John level and nothing we haven't been over a dozen times before. None of it seems to penetrate the noise of the mainstream debate which is still struggling with the basics. I'm still having to confront all of the usual tiresome arguments in respect of the EEA and I am very very close to losing the plot completely. 

A point lost on seemingly everyone in the EEA debate is that Norway adopts a lot of the rules without contest because it's a small country whose capital city is smaller than Leeds and lacks the domestic capacity/technical expertise to pushback in any meaningful way.

Where it does have considerable clout is in oil and petrochemicals - but not financial services because it does have much of a financial services sector to speak of compared with, say, London. For the more arcane stuff, there is no point in developing domestic rules. It's duplication.

There have been examples of clashes and that is where Norway will fight its corner, usually through the EEA secretariat, and the Efta court as a last resort. In this it is listened to by way of building up capital by being an early adopter of technical rules. There are some instances where Norway has attempted to delay or stall implementation, where it has been overruled and it probably loses most cases brought against it - but you have to see it in the context of the process.

These sorts of complaints only ever go to the Efta court if they cannot be resolved through the EEA secretariat or the various joint committees. The latter is where most of the battles are fought. Norway might still end up adopting the framework of rules but with a number of exceptions which are then added to the system of annexes. That is why no two EEA members have the exact same relationship with the EU.

In terms of how many cases Norway loses, the "score" is often measured only in context of the Efta court. That gives the impression of Norway as a passive rule taker with no defences, but that really is only the most superficial analysis of how the relationship works.

Lazy mischaracterisations of the EEA relationship only really serve the hard Brexit cause. It's an intricate process of codetermination, and the UK as a larger more complex economy would put up more of a fight - and more often. This also says nothing of the Efta court process and the politics therein, nor indeed what happens in the technical committees and standards bodies. The continued assertion that Norway has no say is a lie, and misses the point that we are not Norway.

All of these arguments, however, are increasingly redundant as the debate is regressing even further, with the stupidity of our commentariat resetting the clock to zero every time the subject is raised. Our media has no institutional memory. There is zero chance of developing the debate when there is still no understanding of the terminology. Until that situation is resolved (fat chance) we will continue to bunder between unforced errors while the EU runs rings around us. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The battle for Brexit is over. The battle for Britain is just beginning.


I'm often told that many of my observances about the state of UK governance and society as a whole have little to do with the EU. Directly this is very often true but then so much of the EU's influence is over invisible governance which extends to just about every area of regulation. Its influence is profound but it very often leaves no fingerprints. It certainly contributes to the political malaise.

But then if I am guilty of having complaints that are nothing to do with the EU the same can be said of remainers. All the pro-remain arguments are statist. "We need the EU for the NHS", "We need immigration for the NHS", "We need immigration to fund pensions". "Brexit will mean cuts". It has nothing to do with the EU.

Just about every core argument of Remain is an argument on how Brexit will interrupt the status quo. Moreover, their fondness for the EU is not rooted in a principled advocacy of EU aims (not least because hardly anybody does support its federalist agenda). Rather it is as blogger Conservative Woman notes:
"It’s clear that, for so many, the overriding attraction of EU membership is because it enables as much politics as possible to be made immune from the need for popular consent – to be put beyond the reach of the capricious domestic democratic process and the electorate whose views they not only by and large do not share, but for whom they actively feel contempt."
In effect any powers transferred to Brussels means that whatever is decided is carved in stone and out of the reach of the plebs, which is why the liberal elites collude to enshrine ever more social rights at the European level. It puts law and lawmaking into a stasis field.

Their fear of Brexit is largely based on the fear that conservatives will dismantle leftist entitlements so they seek to bin their successors leaving them to tinker at the margins with the powers that remain. This is why we do not get radical reforms. Effectively the left sees the EU as a proxy for a hard coded constitution and a charter of rights and entitlements.

In respect of that, given how horrifying the prospect of a Tory libertarian slash and burn government would be you could almost sympathise. These people are wreckers. That though, of itself, is insufficient justification for remaining in the EU. If the lack of a codified constitution is the problem then they should start up a movement to get one. That which we have is offshored and mired in seventy years of dogma - based on the mirage of shared European values.

It is that supreme arrogance remainers which is in the main responsible for Brexit, at every turn seeking to take us further into the EU without consultation or consent. The process of removing politics from the political. We might well have been content to surrender sovereignty over food safety standards, but the EU increasingly tramples on that turf which is essential to self governance.

We should also not be surprised that populist movements are still stampeding all over Europe. With a system so unresponsive and deaf to calls for reform, with the EU unwilling to address the federalism in its own DNA, it is little wonder that "liberal democracy" (as they insist on calling it) is on the wane. A system that stands in the way of reform is neither liberal nor democratic and the longer electorates a frozen out the more severe the democratic market correction will be and the uglier the consequences.

In fact, the Brexit process gives us some indication of how much damage has been done. Opposition to remaining in the single market is largely irrational and wholly counterproductive, but there is little trust that such a settlement will not be used as a back door to re-entry. We are, therefore, headed for an unnecessarily hard exit which will take considerably longer.

But then we must contend with the shift in political tides on the domestic front. The left s no longer what it was. It no longer exists for the emancipation of working people. Rather it serves as a fanatical cult devoted to enslaving us to an all pervasive cradle to grave managerial state. It is a servant of the old order seeking to preserve the grip of command and control socialism.

This is the battlefront on which the culture war is waged. All the attacks on social norms are designed to break all of the traditional bonds and instead make us supplicants of the state. "Social justice" has become a vanguard for totalitarianism. It is spoken of as identity politics, but to me it looks more like victimhood grading, where one's political standing is conferred by whichever righteous victim group you belong to.

On a long enough timeline, being that the EU embodies all of the politically correct orthodoxies, it is only a matter of time before the degeneracy of the Social Justice movement is imposed on us by the EU and enforced through its courts. The EU, therefore, is a tool of subversion of popular moral norms, whereby the majority are held hostage to those "shared European values".

The danger in this is that this kind of social engineering by the few has the potential to reverse decades of social progress. On the whole people are tolerant. But tolerance of the thing does not require acceptance of a thing. When the state starts to impose its morality on people rather than having law derived from public morality then it becomes dictatorship. Again the backlash is far worse as contradiction becomes an act of defiance. I'm not the first to remark that the Alt-Right is a product of political correctness.

The social contract is that we consent to be governed on the basis of majority rule, where minorities are protected by certain fundamental rights. We are, however, traversing into a state where minority rights trump majority rule. From that flows entitlements which reinforce victim status. The equilibrium is undermined. This is not without consequence.  

For as long as I have been writing about politics I have charted the growing gulf between the governors and the governed. There can be no political unity when the values of the polity are so alien to those they nominally serve. It is for this reason the party system is now at the fag end of its useful life. 

The upshot of this is that culturally, politically and economically, we are on a path which is abstract to reality. Britain is in flux. The left is fighting to preserve a social order in which it has all of the power. That is why it seeks to resist Brexit to the bitter end. Without the EU it has to compete in the marketplace of ideas in a battle where it cannot win. 

But then as much as the social order it seeks to impose is dying, it isn't Brexit that keeps me awake at night. If we are talking about Titanics hitting icebergs, then the iceberg is the massive unfunded pensions and welfare black hole which will be upon us long before I draw my pension. That particular iceberg will force us to confront all of those issues that this present order has chosen to kick into the long grass. 

I have long felt that the post war social order was on a life support machine, with reform made impossible by the toddler left. Britain needs an transformative economic policies but we are not going to get that while the wheezing ghost of late forties welfarism rattles its chains over everything. Brexit will bring that conversation forward as tax receipts start to collapse.

With the death of of the old order it will then become apparent that our political institutions are no longer fit for purpose. Hopefully public tolerance for our grotesquely archaic "representative democracy" will run out. When the state is no longer able to provide from cradle to grave, we can perhaps move beyond the grubby retail politics of yore.  

Politics from here on in is not going to look the same. There is a little way to go yet before we hit rock bottom, and possibly we will have to tolerate another Labour government. Though I am somewhat perturbed by the prospect of this, I think it just has to run its course. After that though, there are no certainties. Everything will be up for public debate, there will be no cast iron guarantees and everybody's entitlements and protections will come under the microscope. That which we want we shall have to fight for. 

It will be a long time before we reach anything like a political settlement but what we can say is that which we do have will be one of our own making and not one imposed on us by an illiberal left wing minority elite. The dinosaurs have had their day. As we enter a new era of history, in a new phase of globalisation, Britain must reinvent itself whatever that may cost. We can no longer put it off. 

Remoanerism may well linger on for a while but it's just the swansong of the old establishment. It does not want to let go of the power but does not yet realise it has already lost. When it recruits Alastair Campbell and Yasmin Alibhai Brown it has nothing left to do but choke its last. That may be a cause for some celebration, but what comes next is the much more difficult question. 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

A crack in the dam


According to The Guardian the British government may have breached a major "environmental democracy" law by failing to consult the public when drawing up Brexit legislation. A UN-backed committee has confirmed it is considering a complaint from Friends of the Earth that the government’s EU withdrawal bill breached the UNECE Aarhus convention, which requires public consultation on any new environmental law.

"Michael Mason, associate professor at the LSE, says the government remains legally bound by the Aarhus convention after withdrawal from the EU, and by abolishing laws relating to [UNECE] Aarhus provisions the UK would be in breach of the treaty."

I reckon this is clutching at straws (as FoE so very often does) but the UK government will need to be aware that much EU law exists in response to global conventions to which the UK is a signatory in its own right and consequently does not have a carte blanche in deregulation.

This is inconvenient to both extremes of the Brexit debate in that those who were assuming Brexit equals sovereignty are in for a shock, meanwhile those remainers who assumed the EU was the source of protections/rights are about to learn how mistaken they are.

That I know of this is the first time (but far from the last) we have bumped into the double coffin lid, where we the removal of Brussels' influence reveals a much underreported sphere or global regulation and international obligations with which we shall have to contend.

Though the Guardian cannot bring itself to mention UNECE or indeed link to it, eventually the veil will be lifted. Maybe then we can start a serious conversation about Britain's role in single market regulations after Brexit. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Winding back the clock


It's very often the little things that point to the broader malaise in UK governance. Today I learn that Flintshire County Council has removed the 20% discretionary funding relief for business rates for all Flintshire Scout Groups. This has left groups with annual rates bills of upwards of £300 per group. 

Scout groups are not businesses. The Scout Association and Scout groups are registered as charitable organisations and are entirely run by local volunteers who give up their time and put energy into providing the adventure of Scouting to young people across Flintshire.

These such activities, along with cadets and other comparable groups are part of the social fabric. They have a role in socialising children, giving them skills and learning opportunities outside of the education framework, providing them with role models and routine along with opportunities to make friends. They are essential to community. 

In the modern mode of local governance, however, they are just another taxable entity on a spreadsheet regardless of their social function - and the value they add in keeping kids off the streets and giving them something worthwhile to do, which no doubt has an impact on their later lives. 

What this move points to is a culture of remote corporate governance which has no connection to those it nominally serves. One that sees these such activities as yet another burden rather than an integral part of the community. 

Essential to the functioning of any community is the volunteer ethos and in times when local government is having to scale back its provisions, its first course of action should be to promote any and all voluntary activity in the wider community from playgoups, churches and mosques, through to cadets and scout groups. Instead it dreams up new ways to tax them. 

Over Christmas, admittedly after a quantity of gin and tonic, I tweeted "My mum spent her life making dinners for the elderly on our street, popping her head round the door to check if all is well every other day. Now she's 70, nobody on the street will do the same for her. That's what's changed. That's why Brexiters want to "wind the clock back".

To my surprise this went viral, prompting a number of sneering (and hugely predictable) remarks, even spawning its own article in The Poke. The subtext being "Ha ha, look at the silly brexiter harking back to the olden days". But the point stands.

We have over the years seen a gradual erosion of community and community minded people. That, in part is a consequence of the bureaucratisation of civil society where everything must be stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by the state - and subsequently taxed.

Childcare used to happen on a community basis. Playgroups and Cubs groups were commonplace. But then everybody suddenly become a criminal or suspected paedophile and everybody had to go on a database at their own expense. 

We saw the professionalisation of childminding which then meant registration, certification and real world adult wages and workplace rights. Soon after childcare become an industry and it ruled young mums out of taking part time work. If you work, you need expensive childcare. The response to this was another bureaucratic voucher system consuming yet more more money. 

This gradual appropriation and regulation of just about every facet of life has destroyed the voluntary ethos and in so doing has destroyed communities and made people entirely dependent on mechanisms of the state. Our welfare policy is an extension of this. The nationalisation of poor people.

If I "wind the clock back" to about 1998, I remember working as a database developer in a disability charity. In a short time I saw it close its volunteer run high street charity shop (formerly a major source of funding). I saw it close its doors to community activity to become primarily a fundraising and grant chasing organisation. 

Any actual community work directly for disabled people went on the back burner and was scaled down. By taking over some of the statistics gathering functions of social services it become a quasi-corporate enterprise with full time pensioned staff, most of whom performed administrative functions. I have watched the same happen to dozens of charities ever since. The quangoificiation of charity. 

The state has expanded to the point of demolishing spontaneity in the community, and part of the reason "austerity" bites so hard is because we lack the civil society institutions to plug the gaps. It is then little wonder then that we find an epidemic of loneliness in pensioners, and an increasingly selfish society far too used to abnegating citizenship obligations to local government.

The consequence of this is remote governance acting without civil society participation, and a culture which actively excludes it. Now we have a situation where we find bin collections and road gritting (that which councils are actually for) are pruned to keep social provisions running. So deeply ingrained is this managerial mentality that the left scream blue murder at the very existence of civil society enterprises like food banks. 

As to what this has to do with Brexit, this is not especially the fault of the EU, rather the EU is a symptom of this drift toward technocratic managerialism which starts in local councils and goes all the way up to the Brussels level. At every level, government confiscates power from the public and that power drifts toward the centre. That is why Brexit of itself only goes part of the way to restoring a civic balance.

Where Brexit becomes more relevant is when we ask the question of whether this paradigm is sustainable. We are seeing a collapse of civil society while government finds it is unable to effectively cope with all the demands placed upon it. It's doing too much and doing it less well than civil society could. Only civil society is no longer allowed to perform those functions. 

Since we are incapable of having that grown up debate about whether we, as a society, can continue to have our cake and eat it, adding ever more pressures while demanding the same entitlements, we really have to force the issue. Most people will admit that Britain is a far wealthier place than it was but by the same token, we can all admit that something has been lost, something vital is missing and for many, Britain is not a better place than it once was to live in. 

Sneer at that if you will. Pour scorn on it, belittle it and mock it. That's all fine. But in so doing, you become the very reason why 52% of the public voted to leave. Meanwhile, here is a petition so you can tell Flintshire Council where they can shove their business rates. 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Brexitology: a redundant trade


The study of the nooks and crannies of Brexit, or Brexitology as it is known, is now a cottage industry. There is a platoon of self-appointed experts, myself included, each pontificating on various aspects of the process. For the most part we have all been elaborating on the same few morsels of progress and the debate has barely advanced in all this time.

Noticable is the space race between various think tanks seeking to own the issue, positioning themselves for greater influence in the bubble - keen to divide the spoils of war. Here I have to laugh at the futility of it because if there's one constant throughout this entire proceeding, it is that the government is not listening to anyone. The most prestigious "experts" in the field might as well be talking to themselves.

Parliament has its preferred and sanitised sources, but very often it adds little to the debate, and it is way over the heads of MPs who are generally unable to focus and they themselves are incapable of wielding any influence over the process. Though I might well complain that my message isn't getting through, nobody else can claim success either. Wasting an hour talking to a room full of MPs in a committee meeting might well add to reputational prestige but in terms of progressing the understanding, it is a wholly futile pursuit. 

With that in mind, the running commentary on Brexit is largely redundant. The government has set the tone and we know how this will go on the basis of previous form. The government will plough headlong into each stage with its own galactic misapprehensions and then prat about until the clock winds down. It will then be forced to concede, hailing each micro agreement as a great success - all the while the more difficult issues will be kicked into the long grass.

The media will get bored, tuning in only for the biff-bam showdowns while the Brexitologists churn over the same handful of topics, devoting its entire runtime to debating ever more arcane aspects of the debate to no useful purpose. As far as the trade debate goes, we are a way off that yet. It will be some time before much of the institutional knowledge of the Twittersphere can be put to good use but even then the government still won't be listening.

By then, the government will be taking its cue from the Tory right cronysphere pushing the usual predictable dross about mutual recognition. People who know what they are talking about (the few that there are) won't get a look in. Outwardly it will appear that Legatum Institute is running the show, but actually they're not being listened to either. They are just in the habit of telling the Brexiters what they already think.

By the time it comes to trade talks we will be trapped in the same cycle where one by one, the government's delusions will be dismantled by the EU and we'll be told what we must agree to. What form it will take will largely depend on the EU's regional policy at the time. If Mrs May sticks to her line that we are leaving the single market then we'll end up taking what we are given.

At this point, unless there is a change of government or some sort of seismic political event, the chances of the EEA/Efta solution are now somewhere around nil. Just as well since I will bleed internally if I have to have yet another conversation about Norway. It's really then just a question of how quickly we lose the trade that depends on the single market. Will it be a body blow or a slow bleed of vitality?

All the while, as an adjunct to the debate we will see the topic of trade with the rest of the world occasionally making a splash, but this will be considerably less political than the Brexit process, largely kicked out to civil servants and of interest to hardly anyone. This you can guarantee they will make a pigs ear of because trade wonks will be tasked with the technocratic task of replication without any political instruction, leadership or vision. Something that has dogged the entire Brexit process.

Tories have pressed hard for an independent trade policy but have zero idea what to do with the power when they have it, and all the dismal functionaries tasked with doing the job will be political appointees and one trick pony nerds who can't even acknowledge anything beyond the realm of free trade agreements. There won't be anything close to a global strategy simply because it means diving into the singularly unglamorous world of technical standards and interagency cooperation.

According to UK IPO's OECD report, 60,000 jobs were lost in the UK due to counterfeiting in 2016. Counterfeiting may have resulted in a potential loss of almost £3.8 billion in tax revenue for the UK government. Solving that is a bigger win than removing a dozen tariffs and yet it features nowhere in the Overton Window.

There has always been plenty of scope and opportunity for the UK in a post-Brexit world, and having explored some of the options, I think a motivated UK could do quite well for itself. The problem, however, is that the energy and drive isn't there because those concerned with delivering Brexit think only in terms of the constraints without thinking of creative ways around them. I do not think our political establishment is capable of recognising or mobilising the sort of talent we need.

This is ultimately why we are in for a long fight. We cannot expect economic renewal until we have political renewal - and unless we can restore some vitality and vision to our trade and foreign policy then the UK will gradually vanish from the international stage while our economy stagnates.

For that reason, Brexiters should focus their efforts on political reform. Brexit of itself cannot deliver - and that was always the case. Ridding ourselves of Brussels is only half the job. Driving a stake into the heart of the monster on the Thames is our biggest and most pressing concern. Let the Brexitologists carry on waffling to themselves.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Another day, another deceiver

I do not like to use this blog for personal disputes because I have been there before, and did not wish to be here again. However, when attacked on a personal level by someone who pretended to be a friend, I am forced to respond. Cutting to the chase I am responding to this post (archive version here) from Oliver Norgrove. A dagger in a velvet glove. I urge you to read it in full before I address one or two points.

He describes how he consulted both my father and me over a number of months. I took him at face value; as a well meaning, good natured, inquisitive man with a lot of potential, worth my time and the investment. It was a pleasure to see him succeeding in a domain where I never will (and would never wish to), and was happy to do everything in my power to see him go further.

I happen to know that from my dad, he's had nothing but tolerance and encouragement - because he always is happy to teach those who are willing to learn as many of his of readers will confirm.

Over the months I knew him, I was under the impression we had built a friendship - to the point where I could confide in him. Not so it seems. One afternoon I see a number of tweets from him distancing himself from me and then find he has unfriended me on Facebook. I had a feeling that was going to happen because he's not the first person to tap me for my knowledge and stab me in the back. What is galling in this instance is that that Norgrove himself admits that was his plan all along.
The friendships I built with both men, though, had a shelf life. I knew that at some point I would have to discard them for the sake of avoiding toxicity and protecting my own name and employment prospects. Black marks against their names are deeply embedded in the Westminster ecosystem. This is fine for them because they live miles from it and do not job-seek within it. For me the reverse is the truth, and I must look to London to find avenues whereby I can influence politics. 
It was never my plan to continue the relationships for very long, which is why ending it was so easy. I got what I needed and moved on. Call this Machiavellian, call it whatever. They are both horrendously bigoted, closed-minded, lacking in self-awareness and pointlessly rude even to those who have not wronged them. It is such a waste of two very clever men that they have about as much in the way of interpersonal skill as an untamed rottweiler. 
So here we have a kid who has, by his own admission, used both RN and me, exploited our hard work, rebranded it for his own purposes (to enhance his own reputation), and now that he thinks he has a foot in the door he feels able to casually discard relationships. He made a career decision to win the trust of someone and then betray that trust. This is a man who then preens about his personal integrity.

Norgrove, on his blog says "Pete, despite being rude, lazy, weird in company and unspeakably ignorant about welfare state issues, is at least more patient than his father, whose tolerance of error and divergence of opinion rivals that of third world dictators".

The reason I am "weird in company", apart from a mild manifestations of Aspergers Syndrome (which he knows about) is largely because I don't trust friendships I make in this business. I've had the same with Ben Kelly who we invested a lot of time in during the referendum, but in the end decided to hawk his derivative works to the IEA - where he must have known how we would feel about that - and how hurtful it was.

As to the barb about me being "unspeakably ignorant about welfare state issues", I worked three years in a disability benefit appeals clinic, have myself in the past been on the dole long term, and having grown up in (and lived in) some of the most deprived areas in the UK, Bradford especially, I am not going to take any lectures from a well pampered child yet to take his first steps outside the education system.

Mr Norgrove needs to think long and hard as to why the Norths have a black mark against our names. In part it is precisely because of two-faced users like him who live in and around London who like to gossip. It defines the culture. Because both of us have been in the game a very long time, facing people who would very much like us to shut up, there has been a quarantine zone built around us, which Norgrove has elected to be on the other side of.

Admittedly I do myself no favours at times, but as Norgrove remarks, I am not seeking employment in that domain, largely because doing so requires group conformity. I would lose the objectivity that makes me the sort of person that little suckholes like Norgrove need to consult.

There's also the fact that when there are so many feeble minded sheep willing to believe gossip about me, I really have nothing to lose by playing into it. It has not affected the growth of this blog. When it comes to my overall "toxicity" toward those in the "Westminster ecosystem", it is derived from a contempt for the plagiarists, quacks and frauds who claim expertise on the basis of prestige. Duplicitous shits just like Norgrove.

As to to his judgements about my character, he has me at a disadvantage. You see, though Mr Norgrove feels able to divulge that which he believes was told to him in confidence, in order to set the record straight I would have to divulge things about him that I know he would find deeply humiliating. That's not my style.

Mr Norgrove has called me "homophobic" which presumably relates to some Twitter banter we were having just a couple of days before he blocked me. He knows full well that I m not a homophobe (as per my liberal views on gay adoption which we debated) but he has simply elected to take offence in order to weaponise it against me. It is so often the case that those who stab me in the back invest a great deal of time afterwards attempting to smear me.

As it happens, I'm not really all that bothered what the kid wants to say about me. You see there are dozens, perhaps even a hundred or so people now bitching about me behind my back. They will still be gossiping and bitching about me long after I don't even remember their names.

What I would say though is that you should mark Mr Norgrove well. This is a parasite of a man who is dishonest to the core; a user, a manipulator and someone acting purely out of self-interest. For whatever my faults, I would rather be thought of as whatever it is they are saying about me than to be a bottom feeder like Norgrove. If his conduct is what it takes to make it in the bubble then my contempt of it is wholly justified.

Norgrove should also note that those he has aligned himself with would just as readily use him and discard him just as casually. If there is one thing I have learned in this game it is that alliances are fickle. It is interesting to note how Owen Paterson had his Damascene conversion to the WTO option when it became politically and socially more awkward for him to operate among his leaver backbench colleagues. He was willing and able to discard much of what he knows to be true for the convenience of dogma. And that is the sort of man Norgrove is.

Effectively Norgrove has buckled under peer pressure and in so doing has joined the ranks of the Westminster bubble, the very evil that prompted me to take up this cause to begin with. Eventually he will hit a wall where he is no longer useful to the people who are presently exploiting him, and having burned all of his bridges the intellectual currency and prestige he has borrowed from others will dry up, with his reputation as a liar and a user preceding him.

I've seen these types come and go. Plenty of ambitious bright young things have made their way to London to make a name for themselves but in the end become dismal functionaries inside mediocre think tanks, incapable of adding anything original to the debate - and that's only if they conform. They're a dime a dozen.

At the end of the day people of integrity will ignore the smears about me. Virtually every day people remark that they follow me in spite of whatever problems they may have with my style or conduct. The reason being is that I have plenty to say now, plenty of value to add, and long after Brexit is over I will continue to have worthwhile things to say. Not so for Norgrove, who will rapidly find himself with nothing else to say unless he is able to cynically exploit somebody else.

That, it would appear, is his main talent, because when you strip away what we have taught him, there's just an arrogant preening little boy with a vicious and vindictive streak that far exceeds my own. I am not at all surprised he has found comfort in the company he now keeps.


Admin note: I have closed the comments because this is the last I have to say on the matter and the last time Norgrove will occupy a nanosecond of my time.