Blatter problems

In the wake of yet another serious corruption crisis, FIFA has re-elected as its president a Sepp Blatter :no:…whose name sounds like a serious urinary tract infection (I’m sorry sir, but you’ve got a Sepp Blatter, stay away from brown envelopes and women half your age for a few months :))).

To those Irish who don’t know much about “soccer”, this is a game that involves moving little brown envelopes stuffed with cash around the world without getting caught. The winner is the person who avoids doing twenty years to life in a US supermax prison ;D.

Seriously tho, we’ve been here before…and before…and before that…I recall a few years ago when the last crisis struck Blatter said that this would be his last term, he fought off the critics, etc. The guy isn’t going to go quietly. He’ll only go when he’s dragged off kicking and screaming. And keep in mind the standard procedure for the Fed’s is to arrest their way up the pyramid, start off with the minions of Mr Big, sweat’em down and see if they’ll testify to save their skin, then arrest the head honcho. So Blatter might well be arrested at some point in the future, which would not be good for the game.

Clearly we can’t wait for that hence why I would urge action now. Firstly, I’d call for a boycott of all of FIFA’s sponsors. Admittedly, given that I don’t have VISA credit card, nor that I use any of the other FIFA sponsors products much (the only think I’d use Bud for would be cleaning the loo!), its going to be easy for me to do that. But any sort of pressure like this will quickly bring pressure to bear on FIFA.

Secondly, I’d suggest that UEFA should make clear that they will not be participating in either the 2018 or 2022 world cup’s unless the bidding process is reopened. Instead a tournament will be held in Europe at the same time as the world cup, with qualifying starting for that instead of the FIFA world cup in the next few weeks. Select countries such as Brazil, Argentina, the US, Australia, Cameron, etc. will be invited to participate.

Such a move would render the TV rights to the world cup’s worthless. Nobody’s going to watch Boliva v’s Egypt when they can catch Germany v’s Italy on the other channel. FIFA would be driven to the brink of bankruptcy by such a policy and quickly brought to heel. However my fear is that instead we’ll get what always happens in these sort of situations, more kicking the can down the road and no serious action.

British Culture wars

Britain’s traditional way of life is under attack…or so I’m constantly told by the Daily Mail. This term is often used by UKIP supporters to justify their many myths on immigration and demands for “Brexit”. It is also their principle means of deflecting any attention on the negative economic consequences of any move towards Brexit.

However I wonder if they are correct in these assertions about threats to British culture and whether leaving the EU would solve such perceived problems…or do more harm than good!

The Numbers game
Firstly, the numbers. The latest info from the ONS puts net migration at 318,000. While this is high, its not the highest its ever been (that was 2005). The breakdown is that roughly 13% of entrants to the UK are British (who still count as net migrants if returning to the UK to live), 45% from outside the EU and the remaining 42% come from within the EU.

Of that 42% coming from the EU the largest proportion (50%) come from the EU15 countries, i.e. the original EU countries (France, Germany, etc.). 30% come from the EU8 (Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe), with just 19% coming from the EU2 (Romania & Bulgaria). So, far from the UK being swapped with hordes of Romanians, in truth they represent just 8% of those coming to the UK, half the number of British who re-enter the country each year.

Who is an immigrant?
While certainly there has been a sharp rise in migrant numbers recently (as noted), this has to be put within a historical context. There is nothing new about migration into the UK. From the arrival of the Celts and Romans to the Windrush, people travelling to Britain is part of the nation’s history. Farage himself is of Huguenot stock (hence the French sounding name). The Queen is more German than British (house Windsor was known as house Saxe-Coburg-Gotha until midway through WW1) and married to a Greek. So the sort of harsh migration policy talked about by some would represent a significant and historical change, one that will inevitably have consequences (such as the Queen & her husband needing to get a work permit!).

And it’s worth reflecting on the fact that “foreign born” (which counts not just migrants but their siblings and those now with British passports) represent only 13% of the UK population. One has to wonder how 13% can threaten the culture of the remaining 87%.

And until recently, the largest contributor of migrants to the UK was Ireland (a traditional that predates the EU of course). Those from the Indian subcontinent have been the largest source of migrants to the UK since 2011 (not Romania, nor Eastern Europe, nor anything to do with the EU).

Either way, to simply blame migration on the EU, doesn’t fit with the facts and figures and is little short of a fabrication by people either too lazy (or too stupid) to look them up, or perhaps borne out of a deliberate attempt to con and mislead the UK public. Thus one has to question how leaving the EU would solve the problem….if indeed there is a problem!

Furthermore, it should be remembered that the bulk of population growth in recent years has been down to demographic changes, i.e. people living longer.

Healthcare
And speaking of which, another all too common claim is that migrants can overwhelm NHS hospitals and increase waiting lists. While certainly migrants have put some pressure on the NHS its likely to be tiny compared to the pressure put on the 87% of the population who are British and predominantly older, quite apart from when we factor in the effects of poor diet and sedentary life style among many British. Given that the majority of migrants tend to be younger they are therefore far less likely to need to visit a hospital or GP.

And given that, most migrants tend to work and pay taxes, they will inevitably be contributing more to NHS funding than it costs to treat them on the rare occasions they do end up in a hospital. And of course more than a few migrants work as doctors and nurses. As one doctor put it, you’re more likely to see a migrant working in the hospital than sitting in the waiting room.

Instead I would argue the major reason behind the pressure on the NHS is a systematic failure of prior governments to adequately fund the NHS. Funding should have been increased to mean more hospitals being built and more beds added, in particular nursing and care home places (to get around so called “bed blocking”, again something that’s an inevitable result of an ageing population), when instead in some parts of the country the opposite has been happening, particularly driven by Tory cuts.

So I don’t really think we can blame migrants for this one. Indeed, with those from within the EU its worth remembering that there is a system in place that allows the UK to reclaim healthcare costs from other EU countries when their citizens are treated in the UK. There are holes in this system, however the solution is more cooperation with EU allies on this, not less. And keep in mind that with all those British retiree’s living down in Spain, Britain’s hardly got the moral high ground here.

Religion
Migrants are also blamed for causing changes in the UK’s religious mix. As most will know, church attendances have been falling for some time in the UK, while those subscribing to other religions, notably Islam, has been rising. That said, Muslims only make up 4.4% of the UK population v’s 42% Christians. And of all the things we could blame the EU for, I don’t think this is one of them. For those UKIP members who’ve never been past Dover (keep in mind they mistook Westminster Cathedral for a mosque once!), I think you’ll find that Europe is predominantly white and Christian.

Indeed, given that many of those from Eastern Europe tend to be devout Catholics, their arrival has led to increased numbers at church attendances. And many immigrants from places such as West Africa tend to be Protestants, helping to swell numbers in these churches too. So to blame immigrants for this is probably not being entirely fair. If anything immigration, in particular those from the EU, is having the opposite effect.

Certainly there are some worrying stories coming out about attempts to turn some British state schools into defacto madrasas. With even more worrying again stories about what goes on inside Islamic faith schools. However this is perhaps the inevitable consequences of allowing religious teaching to get mixed up with normal schooling. And the present government’s utterly disastrous system of “academies” and “free schools” has hardly helped the situation.

While I won’t advise going to the extremes of the US, where merely mentioned the “G word” in a school will result in you being marched off the premises. But clearly schools in the UK, both public and private, should be required to keep all religious teaching outside of normal school hours and only teach it to kids who are old enough.

Food
Of course Indians and Pakistani’s have had a significant impact on British life. Some slight changes to religious demographics are just one of them, but then there’s the impact on the British diet. However, I won’t really consider the Chicken Tikka Masala (which is probably of British origin anyway) a threat to anything…although that depends if it’s before or after beer! 😳

And it’s not as if armies of Paki’s go roaming British streets ripping pork pies out of people’s mouths and forcing them to eat curry. I’m reminded of this sketch from “goodness gracious me” where a group of Mumbai Indians get tanked up every Friday night and go for an English.

Curry and other exotic foods (or things like Mediterranean style salads and olive oil) might have been brought to the UK by immigrants, but they are being eaten in preference to traditional British food by the choice of British people. This is what the rest of us call “capitalism”. And given that such a diet tends to be healthier, I fail to see how its a threat to anybody.

Language
One complain about migrants is how they speak foreign languages and this makes some feel uncomfortable. And do you feel equally uncomfortable in France, where (surprise, surprise) everyone speaks a foreign language? Whatever you do Farage, don’t go visit a Welsh village! In any event, most EU migrants do speak English and often one of their reasons for coming to the UK is work experience while improving their English.

There is an issue with some migrants, notably those from further afield, such as India/Pakistan who’ve never really integrated and still act like they are back home in Lahore, including wearing Muslim dress and speaking their home language. However that’s hardly something we can blame on the EU. And as many of them have British passports or indefinite leave to remain, stricter migration controls are unlikely suddenly convince them to start talking English. And it is sort of a free country, so if quite frankly someone wants to speak Klingon or Swahili day to day (or dress up as a Klingon!), they do sort of have the right to do that.

There is certainly an issue with well-meaning councils and government departments, anxious to counter exploitation of migrants (by traffickers or slum landlords), printing a lot of material in languages other than English, or spend large amounts on translation services. There is perhaps an argument to be had for ending this practice. In essence, don’t come and live in the UK unless you can speak English. But this has to be balanced against the fact that the best way to deal with a number of social issues is by making sure migrants can communicate with their local authorities.

Pub culture
What about beer and British pubs? Certainly it is true that pubs in rural areas, as well as the traditional working man’s bar are under threat. Many have been closing down. However, the same thing is happening in Ireland, which I don’t think we can blame on immigrants (given that most arrivals to Ireland are Poles who drink as much as the Irish!).

Irish publicans are certainly of the opinion that the reasons for this decline in trade are the smoking ban, changes in taxes on alcohol, stricter drink driving laws and government austerity (leading to people cutting back on expenses such as going to the pub). So again, I don’t think you could blame immigrants for this one.

If anything immigrants, in particular those from the EU, have led to a very positive trend in British pub culture. On the continent people tend to drink with food. So many UK pubs have therefore begun to do pub grub, increasingly to much higher standards (beyond the traditional pork pie and crisps).

Migrants from EU states with beer drinking traditions, such as Poland, Czech Rep and Germany also brought their beer with them. This led to the realisation among British brewers that they could in fact sell things other than Lager, while Irish brewers realised there was no law stopping them brewing something other than stout. The result has been an explosion in microbreweries in the UK (and Ireland), with many new breweries popping up and many new bars specialising in the sale of such ales.

So I would argue that what’s happened has been that the traditional British pub hasn’t become extinct, it’s simply evolving. And lest we forget, its doing so because many in the country (not just immigrants) are voting with their feet and choosing the real ale or gastropub over the traditional drinking den. Something for Farage to mull over next time he’s sounding off against the EU while enjoying a real ale in a pub.

Crime
What about crime levels? Do migrants cause crime? Should we be worried, as Farage suggests, if Romanians move in next door? Well statistics show that when immigrants move into an area, crime rates generally fall.

Certainly this is an unfair generalisation. It probably relates to the fact that most migrants to the UK are predominately of working age and employed or seeking employment and tend not to be burdened with the sort of major social problems that often leads some UK citizens to crime. One has to assume a few bad eggs get through, but it’s not as if we’re short of homegrown criminals in the UK!

Contrary to popular tabloid myths, criminals can’t simply walk into the UK. There are measures to control their movements and make sure police forces across the EU are aware of a suspects criminal past, as well as ensuring rapid deportation of any, should an arrest warrant be issued (although funnily enough. Ironically in fact, many of the euroskeptics want to do away with these rules, no doubt worried about themselves getting deported one day (when their financial and tax avoidance crimes catch up with them).

The measure of things
And before anyone brings up the old chestnut of the metric system we might want to debunk a few myths here. Certainly the EU favours the metric system, as in fact does virtually every government on the planet earth, other than the US. But it has largely left it up to individual EU members to implement any change over to metric units. It is worth noting that Britain’s transition to metric units started in the 1960’sbefore the UK joined!

In Ireland for example, we swapped all speed limits from miles to km’s in 2005. We did this because anyone educated in Ireland since 1970 hasn’t got a clue what a mile is, the cars themselves are usually designed using the metric system (in my uni we certainly teach all our classes to future engineers in metric) and most of the legislation relating to vehicles (both Irish and EU) is written in terms of metric units. Even the Irish Ordnance survey maps have long been worked out in metric (as have the British ones incidentally). So really it was a case of the government in Ireland deciding to bite the bullet.

We still sell pints in Ireland, although even here I’d argue the metric 330ml serving offers advantages, as this is about the correct amount of beer for a light pub lunch. Two 330ml’s, particularly of the stronger European beers will also put you in that happy medium of being ever so slightly drunk, meaning you’re feeling the effects of alcohol, but without slurring you’re speech or feeling the urge to act like a tit.

They’re taking out jobs!
But I digress! Migrants “takin our jobs” is one you hear a lot from the tabloids. However, as a number of recent reports make clear (which probably explains why one of them was suppressed by Teresa May) there is very little evidence migrants are “taking jobs”. In fact the evidence suggests they are more job and economic growth creators.

Part of the reason why migrants are coming in is because there are jobs available in the UK and more often than not they are filling posts where there is a significant shortage of skilled workers (some even call it a “skills crisis”). Bottom line, if firms, such as Airbus, can’t hire the people they want here (or they get smothered under red tape filling out visa’s), they’ll move elsewhere.

In a globalised world its not so much foreigners coming over here and stealing you’re job we must fear but foreigners staying at home and your job moving abroad. Advocating any sort of system that allocates work on the basis of where you’re born stinks of national socialism, something that will send companies running for the exit.

Either way, the fact is that the UK is an ageing country and that means there is a need to bring in young people to keep the economy going and to pay taxes to fund the pensions of those who have retired. And its also difficult to ignore the fact that the bulk of UKIP support seems to come from economic black spots like the ex-seaside resort towns of the South East, where there are actually few migrants (they have the good sense to move!)

Migrant myths
Clearly neither immigration nor the EU are responsible for the many things blamed on them. Much of this is the product of various right wing myths and outright fabrications.

As I discussed in a prior post, Britain is not “full” by any stretch of the imagination. The bulk of population growth is (as noted) due to increased life spans and a higher birth rate. Pressure on public services, social housing, schools or overcrowded trains is due to the fact that successive governments have failed to plan ahead and funding has failed to match rising demand. This funding gap is largely due to their unwillingness to tax the very wealthy, who have seen their net income soar over the last few decades, while paying very little in tax.

The problem with racism and bigotry is that it involves taking the intellectually easy way out, as it amounts to blaming others for your problems. It amounts to passing the buck onto an easily ostracized minority rather than excepting the truth that the finger of blame must be pointed a little closer to home. In the end it’s reasonable to conclude that the bulk of Britain’s problems are a consequence of decisions made by the 87% who aren’t foreign born…notably the decision to vote into power a party who represent the richest 1%.

Random Thoughts

Inside job
I happened to catch a rerun of the Oscar winning 2010 documentary film “Inside Job and it was a sobering experience, as it illustrated to me how in many respects nothing has changed, and its probably if not when the next financial crisis hits. Incidentally, there’s a copy of the film online available via the internet archive here.

There are many myths about the financial crisis. The first is that this was some sort of bolt from the blue that nobody say coming. bollix to that is all I can say! The first time I heard the term “credit crunch” was in the early 2000’s, on the BBC money programme who were reviewing the Japanese asset bubble. In 2006, Irish economist Morgan Kelly discussed the probability and consequences of a property bubble bursting and its effects on the Irish economy.

Others such as Raghuram Rajan, George Soros, Satyajit Das, Christine Legarde, Bethany Mc Lean, all flagged up warnings at various points (from as early as 2005) of the impending crisis. However they were ignored by those from within their ivory corporate and government towers. Thus this “out of the blue” argument only applies if we assume that those in charge were snorting so much coke that they simply didn’t hear the warnings.

Another myth is that everything was the fault of Gordon Brown and G.W. Bush. In truth the bulk of the blame has to be laid at the feet of Thatcher and Reagan and their deregulation of markets. Bill Clinton also must take some of the flack for his repeal of the Glass Steagall act.

To draw an analogy, if the warehouse full of oil soaked rags burnt down, its hardly fair to blame the newly appointed nightwatchman Gordon Brown for it, given that it was some else’s decision to fill the warehouse with the rags while bricking up the fire exits and selling off the fire extinguishers. Okay, senior nightwatchman G. W. Bush has to take some blame for letting his frat house friends play all night poker games in the basement, without checking to see they weren’t smoking. But clearly the bulk of the blame has to go past adminstrations and the laissez-faire polices they initiated.

And the scary thing is that it was more luck that anything that meant the measures taken by governments actually worked. The few trillions in bailout money was a fraction of the hundreds of Trillions in at risk assets. In essence governments in the US, UK and Europe successfully managed to bluff the markets by throwing enough money around and hoping the spiff’s would be too busy lining their pockets to bother doing the maths. By contrast, in Iceland, which offered similar guarantees on its deposits, the markets smelt a rat, called their bluff and found the Icelandic’s wanting. So we really did dodge a bullet back then.

And where are the guys who caused this crisis? On their yachts or still in their corporate or government ivory towers! Several have gone into academia, where they are teaching the next generation of business studies students the same old tosh that got us into this crisis in the first place. This is like the nightwatchmen far from being fired being put promoted to head of training! Very few have lost their jobs or fortunes, nevermind gone to prison.

Recently Jon Steward drew attention to the fact that a group of US teachers who faked exam results face jail…while virtually none of those responsible for the biggest economic crisis in history have ever, or will ever see a night in jail.

Perhaps more worrying are the signs that we haven’t learnt the lessons of the crisis. Recent events such as LIBOR, the Forex scandal, the impending bankruptcy of Greece and possibly Italy, all this talk of Brexit and renegotiating the UK’s EU membership all point to the fact that those in power haven’t learnt a thing.

And the very fact we have a Tory majority government suggests the bulk of the electorate have forgotten too. Keep in mind the Tories, were talking about jailing people for benefits fraud, but not a day in jail for traders doing the same. Because the real lesson of the crisis was that beyond a certain tipping point everyone is at risk of being carried along by events beyond their control.

If in theory for example a US investment firm were to come out tomorrow and reveal that they’d done something silly and were now at risk of bankruptcy, or an Italian or Greek bank were to do the same, or a large UK manufacturer were to suddenly realise its business model isn’t viable outside of the EU, well what then? We could be looking at more bailouts, but where’s the money going to come from? Will the public support another round of bailouts? And even if they do, suppose the markets call the government’s bluff and they find said government unable to meet its obligations? We could be looking at a crisis of such proportions it will make the Great Recession look fairly tame.

UKIP’s cult of personality
I’ve been saying for quite a while that UKIP is little more than the cult of the Nigel. Without him UKIP are just a bunch of has-been ex-national front members . And we saw that last week with a “challenge” to his leadership. Well that is too say that several in the party came out with statements which seemed to criticise Farage, but instead they criticized various shadowy figures around him.

This is classic cult behaviour. The all seeing leader can do no wrong, he is infallible and always right about everything, ever! So the faithful instead blame either those outside the cult or his “advisors” for the leader’s mistakes. No doubt they’ll soon be burning his critics in wicker men while chanting “Sumer Is Icumen In”.

Needless to say, I’d be hugely embarrassed to be anyone one of the loon’s who actually voted for them. Although it was handy to know that there’s 3.8 million racists in the country and that this is but 7% of the population.

Coal rollers
Speaking of right wing loons, in the US there’s a fad being brewing called “coal rolling”, where they rig up their SUV’s to emit large clouds of smoke as a sort of two fingered salute to environmentalists. It just goes to show the extremes things have gone to under the tea party antics of America. The reason for opposing action on climate change has little to do with science and everything to do with a wrapped ideology.

And since were talking about it, its not just climate change that’s the worry but air pollution, which has a severe effect on the health of many. Tens of thousands of excess mortalities each year in the US are caused by air pollution. But such is the insanity of the US these days. Its the equivlent of driving around blowing cigarette smoke in people’s faces.

Meanwhile, to those who “don’t believe in climate change”, well Florida is slowly slipping into the Atlantic, an unprecedented strong el-Nino is forecast this year over the Pacific, we have a record breaking drought in California that has left the state desperate for water. And meanwhile if you live in the central US and you built that bunker in the yard to save you from Obama’s death panels….well its been raining so hard bunkers and storm shelters have started to rise out of the ground and float away.

Gun fight at the Waco Corral
A major gun fight erupted between rival biker gangs in Texas this week. I mean we have a country where people can own guns unregulated, including many in criminal biker gangs, what could possibly go wrong with that?a shootout involving several hundred people which left 9 dead!

And before anyone quotes me the 2nd amendment of the US constitution, yes and that was written when guns were muzzle loaded muskets with a fire rate of 1 every few minutes and an accurate range of a few metres (be interesting to see a re-run of this fight involving musket wielding bikers…presumably on penny farthings! “stand and deliver” and all that :))). Now unless we’re proposing to go back to those days one has to acknowledge that gun violence is a serious problem. The idea that adding more guns to the mix will somehow make everyone safer is of course ridiculous and is not born out by the facts.

Migration
There are some who say that the solution to migration is the fortress mentality, i.e. bar the door, send them home, turn back the boats. The short comings of this strategy have been laid bare by events in Asia. There the Thai’s, under pressure from their own brand of UKIP bigots, very naively enacted a draconian policy on migrants. However as they discovered when try to implement it on a group of boat people, they weren’t going to cooperate, not least because they were too desperate to do so….I mean why else do you think they were crammed into a small boat in the middle of the ocean? Felt like a scenic cruise?

So to those Katie Hopkins followers in UKIP who want to do the same, you would have to be willing to do some pretty awful things to stop immigration this way. People that suitably desperate aren’t going to turn around simply because you asked nicely, or even if you point guns at them, largely because turning around is probably not an option for them even if they wanted too. The solution is long term measures to help stabilise these countries and stop corrupt regimes abusing their power (perhaps by not being said leaders buddies and helping them launder their ill-gotten gains).

The deadly game
The Beeb sent a journalist into Qatar to investigate the state of venue construction….and the locals arrested him! Yes, that’s the world cup in 2022 for you.

The Beeb were hoping to investigate claims by newspapers, such as the Guardian, which claimed a very high death toll (one or two a day) of migrant workers on these projects. In fact its now possible that 62 workers will die for each match that is ultimately played at the 2022 world cup…not including the players who collapse due to heat stroke!

In short, FIFA’s decision to hold the games here isn’t merely the matter of a few brown envelopes changing hands, its about FIFA selling the soul of football.

Worse than Yugoslavia
I’ve described before how the conflict in Syria threatens to be worse than the Yugoslav civil war. Well the current estimates are that the casualty rates in Syria alone (nevermind Iraq) are up to similar levels, with vastly more people displaced, and the destruction of some of the world’s most historic monuments. With Palmyra now in ISIS sights, its possible that the entire region might slide into an abyss, from which there may not be an easy return.

And keep in mind, that if Iraq and Syria falls, its almost certain to involve the West eventually. There is simply no way the US or its allies could allow the likes of ISIS to end up controlling that much of the world’s oil. An invasion of Iraq, and possibly Syria too, is now a very real possibility.

I’m reminded of a prediction prior to the last Iraq war that the invasion of Iraq would led to “a hundred Bin Laden’s” and that US troops would be occupying the region for generations to come. Well now the Iraqi’s reckon we’re facing a thousand Bin Laden’s. Don’t you hate it when people get these things right, then drastically underestimate how screwed we are!

Revisiting Chamberlain

Been reading a bit of World War II history recently, notably Richard Overy’s book “the road to war” as well as the TV series of the same name, plus the excellent Lawrence Oliver narrated “the world at war”. Anyway, its led me to argue that perhaps history has judged British PM Neville Chamberlain a little too harshly.

There are various myths about Chamberlain. For example, the myth that Chamberlain was a liberal. Actually he was a member of the conservative party, although he was frequently a member of coalition governments with the liberals. He did earn a reputation as a social reformer, yet one who wanted to balance the books. The holiday’s with pay act, the Housing Act (1938) and the Factory Act (1937) for example, did much to improve the lot of the British working classes. In essence, he was the PM that talked the talk of many recent UK PM’s, but actually delivered on his promises (despite being a Tory!).

Contrary to rumours that he opposed rearmament, the opposite is true. First as chancellor, then as PM he directly supported rearmament (from 1935 onwards), even going against cabinet colleagues where necessary (debunking rumours that he was a weak leader). He instituted the policy of “shadow factories” that would prove crucial to wartime production. Recognising the importance of air defence, his government put particular emphasis on aircraft production. Also, realising that intelligence would prove crucial, first in diplomacy, then later during the war, a code breaking unit was set up, first in the Admiralty and then later in Bletchley Park, what would later become known as “Ultra”.

Of course, supporters of Churchill, have been quick to credit Churchill with many of these things, even though he was in the political wilderness at the time. The idea that he could so influence UK government policy via a few opinion pieces in the Daily Express, is simply bonkers. But history is written by the victors, and Churchill was able to claim credit for much of the policy of Chamberlain’s government after the war, with nobody bothering to do any fact checking.

Of course, the big blip in Chamberlain’s record was when he returned from Munich waving around that famous piece of paper. As we now know, he may as well have waved around a piece of loo roll that Hitler had wiped his ass with. The tabloid view of history is that Chamberlain naively believed Hitler’s promises.

This is contradicted by private accounts from the time, which suggested that Chamberlain held a fairly dim view of Hitler, describing him as “the nastiest piece of work I’ve ever had to deal with”. I find it difficult to believe he’d take such a person at his word, if this is what he actually believed. However, Chamberlain’s problem was that the UK was in no way prepared to go to war. He would have gone to Munich having been briefed by his generals that if Hitler marched into Czechoslovakia, there would be little if anything the British army could do to stop him.

And the British public were hugely resistant to war. In the immediate aftermath of World War I the horrors of the war led to a large anti-war movement forming. This led to much disarmament and the creation of international treaties intended to prevent future wars. Even by the 1930’s this anti-war movement still held much sway among the UK public. Furthermore, there were more than a few fascists in Britain who thought Hitler was a wonderful chap and couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Hence Chamberlain had to balance whatever his views might have been, with the realities of politics and military capability.

Given such factors, that Chamberlain returned from Munich with anything is perhaps a sign of success. Indeed that piece of paper wasn’t the Munich accords, but a separate agreement he’d struck with Hitler, in which Hitler agreed that he would seek no further territorial demands on the continent. Its very possible that Chamberlain realised that Hitler won’t stick to this agreement. However it had two important effects. Firstly, it bought the UK a crucial year in which to rearm. And secondly, it allowed Chamberlain to set a trap for Hitler.

When Hitler crossed into the Czech Republic, this proved to even the most ardent peacenik, or indeed jackbooted Daily Mail readers, that Hitler was a danger to world peace who had to be stopped. Without this accord with Hitler, and without him so blatantly reneging on it, its difficult to see how the allies could have offered the guarantee’s of security they gave to Poland in 1939 without facing considerable domestic opposition.

However, its here that Chamberlain’s plans start to become unstuck. His plan was no doubt to confront Hitler with the threat of “Bismark’s Nightmare”, a war on two fronts. While Germany had a head start on the UK and France in terms of rearmament, they would not have been strong enough to fight both the Western allies and the Russians at the same time. And it was inconceivable that Stalin would allow the fascist dictator to creep up to his border and sit idle. Faced with certain defeat, Hitler would either be forced to back down, or his generals would orchestrate a coup and force him from power.

But if this was the British plan, it was quickly blown out of the water by the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact, which saw the unthinkable, an unholy alliance between communism and fascism. Stalin, faced the problem that his purges had crippled the red army and he was in no condition to go to war. Furthermore, from the Russian prospective, it looked like the allies were trying to drive the Germans towards them. The Russians had also previously lost a war to Poland in the 1920’s and were anxious for some pay back, not to mention creating a buffer zone between themselves and the nazi’s.

Of course, I have little doubt that Stalin knew exactly who he was dealing with (takes one to know one!) and that the Nazi’s had no intention of ever sticking to this deal any longer than it suite them (and of course that suited Stalin just fine, as he probably felt the same way!). Quite frankly, I suspect that if when the moment came to sign, had Ribbentrop dropped his pants and proceeded to wipe his bum with the agreement, neither Molotov nor Stalin would have batted an eyelid :)). However, it left whatever game Chamberlain had been playing in tatters. The rest as they say is history.

I’m not saying we can absolve Chamberlain of all blame. Certainly he, and the government’s he was part of, could have done a lot more to confront the looming threat. But he was constrained by the day to day realities of politics. Perhaps the rush to blame Chamberlain after the war was driven by an unwillingness to blame others closer to home, such as fascist sympathisers, peace campaigners, church leaders, the Royal family, business leaders anxious to avoid disruptions to trade, etc. It was all too easy to instead pick a conveniently dead scape goat like Chamberlain and blame everything on him instead.

However the reality is instead a tale of political leaders who were trying to do their best to avoid war, but who got carried along with the tide of events beyond their control and the changing whims of public opinion. It is perhaps quite significant when you consider events in the Middle East or Ukraine, as it shows how easy it is for politicians to become trapped by events beyond their control.

The Reckoning – The view from Ireland

I went home to Ireland the day after the election, thus I got the results while in Ireland. Needless to say the view over here is we knew the brits are a bit barmy, but how could 11.3 million of ye be that dumb? :no: Britain seems to have lurched towards the sort of Fox news led right wing delusional politics that has wrecked the US politically (and probably will lead to the America’s decline as a world power).

And make no mistake the media were fairly bias towards the Tories, as backed up by statistics. A study by Loughborough university found that during this election the media, while swallowing whole any old tripe the Tories trotted out, they were mildly negative towards UKIP, extremely negative towards labour and overwhelming so towards the SNP. As the Cork Examiner over here put it “to believe the British media, Scottish hordes were going to come South and take Miliband hostage in Downing street, then bleed England dry”.

The Sith always betray their own
Its now clear that the Tory election strategy was not to directly confront labour, for they knew that given the choice between a party committed to more cuts and austerity, v’s anyone else was a battle they’d loose. So instead, they left their right-wing media attack dogs loose to spread all sorts of ridiculous stories about how the SNP, pitted labour against the SNP, while the Tories focused on going after Lib dem held seats.

Now given that the lib dems had moved so far to the right over the last five years it was starting to become hard to tell where they stopped and the Tories started. And given how angry students were with them, it was a safe bet that all of their seats were vulnerable. So perhaps this isn’t surprising, but certainly it is a bit of an underhand and dishonest way to win an election. I’m reminded of that bit in Star Wars whereby the Sith always betray one another >:-[

Needless to say once the lib dems have finished pulling themselves together one hopes they will never again even contemplate making this same mistake again. Going into power with the Tories is a death sentence for any small party….unless you’re prepared to light-sabre them in the back at a moment of weakness….or toss them into a bottomless pit!

Proportional Representation
Its rare you’ll hear me or any Irish person agree with UKIP but given that they got several million votes, yet one seat, with the greens in a similar position, it hardly seems fair that the Tories averaged one seat per 30-40,000 votes. Needless to say the Irish view would be that its not really legitimate for Cameron to claim a majority mandate when only 37% of the votes went to the Tories….and with a turn out of 66% that works out as a mandate from just 25% of the electorate. Hence my tag line for the next 5 years will probably be “we are the 75%”.

This should underline the need for electoral reform, bringing in either AV or a proper system of proportional representation. With PR the Tories would have still finished as the major party, but not with anything like a majority. The SNP would have only gained half the seats they did, with the bulk of the rest going to Scottish labour. Of course the irony here is that the SNP campaigned for AV, while labour campaigned against it (pay back’s a bitch ain’t it!).

Certainly any such system will mean more MP’s from smaller parties such as UKIP. However, I’d rather put up with UKIP in parliament (keeping in mind that many hard right Tories often hide behind UKIP, something they would no longer be able to do), where they are forced to realise that its all well and good throwing rocks around when you live outside of the glass house, but things are a little different when in parliament. Many far-right parties like UKIP that exist under PR systems tend to have a very short shelf life. Largely because while they find it very easy to draw in populist anti-government votes. But in the cold light of day, once they become MP’s and get bogged down in the bureaucracy of government, their supporters realise they are no better (and indeed often much worse) that the politicians they replaced, and they are quickly decimated in a subsequent election.

However, I hope the lesson here is that whose ever in power next needs to put PR on the agenda, otherwise election results like this are a possibility, keeping in mind that it only took a small swing in a few marginals to keep Blair and Brown in power with large majorities.

The Nasty Party
Certainly a Tory majority government, means more cuts, more kicking the poor and screwing over the working class.

The Tories will claim these cuts were a necessary evil to bring down the deficit. To which my response is grade A horse$hit! The UK now has one of the highest deficit’s in Europe, only Croatia is higher. The Tories have been relying on the fact that many people get national debt (what the state owes its creditors) and deficit (how much the state needs to borrow per year to meet the short fall between spending and taxes) confused. They have been in effect borrowing from abroad to pay off the existing debt. If the UK was a company there is a technical term for this sort of strategy.

I bring this up because one of the issues raised in the election campaign is that there are huge holes in the Tory spending plans. Clearly there’s only so much they can borrow from abroad, before they get caught at it and credit rating agencies start getting jittery. They claim they can make “savings” in the welfare budget. However the only bits of the welfare budget with enough zero’s behind it to meet the Tory numbers are things like pensions, working tax credits and child benefits. All of which must now be on the chopping block. So I hope whoever voted Tory doesn’t have any kids!

And I hope your not a fan of BBC programming, as it looks like the price for the Beeb of not offering unwavering support to the Tories (as the Murdoch press did) is that the Tories plan to “go to war” on the Beeb.

And needless to say the environment is fucked. While happy to lavish vast subsidies onto Shale Gas and Nuclear, they are somewhat reluctant to do the same for wind farms (increasingly the cheapest source of low carbon energy) or solar power (rapidly falling in price and heading towards maturity).

Europe
Of course the next few years will be dominated by Europe. As I discussed before, I’m not so sure how serious the Tories are on this referendum, regardless of what Cameron is saying now. Then again, the previous Tory government did earn itself a reputation for bungling incompetence, ignoring advice, putting their foot in it and then running around with the hair on fire in a panic afterwards.

Take the Scottish referendum, I, like many others, pointed out two years before it that without Devo Max on the ballot paper as a valid third option, there was a decent chance of Scotland leaving. In the end the Tories, after going into a tizzy when polls showed the Yes vote had the momentum, Cameron had to sign up to plan (proposed by Gordon Brown) giving Scot’s Devo Max in order to save the union. A plan that’s going to cause him no end of grief with his back benchers.

So its possible they will go ahead with this EU referendum, even thought leaving the EU will likely be the death of the party, raises the risk of a second Scottish independence vote, the loss of Northern Ireland (who would suffer disproportionally worse in the event of Brexit), cost as much as 14% of the UK’s GDP, etc. Previous Tory governments have avoided any such talk of a referendum as they know that Europe is where Tory governments go to die.

Its possible that Cameron might be able wring some cosmetic changes out of the EU. Or perhaps some changes they were planning to bring in anyway (such as welfare reforms that the Germans have been pushing for). I recall pointing to a plan of a few years ago in which the Brussels mandarins proposed giving Britain some sort of second class EU membership. This would see the return of certain powers to the UK, but in return the UK would lose its right to veto or even vote on these issues. Thus for example, they UK gets an opt out on migration issues. But if the EU changes its policy towards, say migration from Africa (bringing in a quota system as is being proposed), the UK has no say on the matter, even thought a large proportion of those migrants are going to end up (by legal means or otherwise) in the UK.

However, nothing Cameron comes back with is going to appease the hard right “headbangers” in his party or UKIP. They will campaign for a No vote…followed by a nuclear strike on Brussels! Meaning even if he wins any in/out vote the end result is likely to be a split in his party (ironically of course, the whole reason for holding this referendum being to save the Tory party from such a split). And if the country votes to leave, then he’ll be going into an election in 2020 having seen the economy go over the cliff’s of Dover, Scotland (possibly even Wales) going for the exit door, a strong possibility of NI uniting with the South. A massive Tory defeat is therefore very likely.

So ultimately Cameron needs to decide whether Europe is really the hill on which he and the Tory party want to die on.

And just to make things interesting, another curve ball. It has been pointed out here in Ireland that any substantial change that the UK gets (i.e. any change to existing EU treaties) could potentially provoke a referendum in other EU countries, such as Ireland. Thus we could see a situation, where the UK votes to stay in (which is what the opinion polls suggest), Ireland and a few other countries then veto the reforms, plunging the EU and the UK into a massive crisis. In essence by voting Tory, England may well have placed its fate into the hands of others EU nations.

Near total wipe out
For me the iconic moment of the night was Douglas Alexander of the labour party being beaten in Paisley by a twenty year old SNP student. It shows just how far that labour has fallen in Scotland.

It reminded me of this incident a few years ago back in Ireland where there was a US warship in the harbour and a couple of sailors from the ship formed a team and visited a local wargaming convention. They ended up being blown out of the water in a game of Harpoon (a naval strategy simulation game) by a team of 10 year olds!

However, the collapse of support in Scotland for labour was perhaps inevitable. Obviously Miliband going around telling everyone that he wasn’t going to even talk to the SNP, nevermind form a coalition with them, totally undermined his credibility. Yes, it was a trap set for him by the Tories and a predominantly pro-Tory media. But he blundered into it rather than fighting the election on his own terms.

But this alone can’t explain labour’s performance north of the border. I’ve been saying for sometime now that labour simply has not understood the implications of devolution, that you need to let regional affiliates of a party offer something more appealing to locals, if you want to retain local support.

For example, let us suppose Arnold Schwarzenegger of California or Rudolph Guiliani of New York were to campaign in their states claiming that the science behind global warming, vaccines or evolution wasn’t settled. That they wanted big government off people’s back, hence no more public subsidies to public transport in NY or San Francisco. And far from promising to take guns off the street, they now favoured concealed carry laws that allowed teenagers to openly carry uzi’s. Well needless to say, such policies would drive away all moderates and quite a few republicans would conclude they’d gone funny in the head, with decimation in the polls following. But this is essentially what labour’s been doing in Scotland.

Take independence, while understandably anyone living in London is opposed to it, many labour supporters in Scotland see it as more a grey area. Some are steadfastly opposed, others in favour. But in short its not a deal breaker, they can work with the nationalists, so long as the SNP realise they’ll be tuning out whenever they go into a Braveheart rant.

Then there’s Trident. Again seems like a good idea down in England, but they don’t have the subs sailing up and down a lough right outside their house! And similarly nuclear energy might seem like a good idea down in England, which is a net energy importer, quite a bit of which comes from French nuclear plants across the channel. But in Scotland, with 50% of electricity now coming from renewables (as much as 70% on a windy day), the case for nuclear is less clear cut. Trying to sell these sorts of policies in Scotland is like trying to sell fridge freezers to the Eskimos.

As a result, if Scottish labour is to survive, or make a comeback, radical action is needed. Hence I would urge Jim Murphy, or whoever ends up in charge of Scottish labour, to break with the rest of the party in England and set up and independent labour party in Scotland.

This party would be more or less in lock step with labour south of the border, they would vote with the party whip, except on certain issues that effect Scotland. E.g. while against independence, they would be prepared to work with the Nationalists, either in Westminster or Holyrood. They would be prepared to back Trident, if it was moved out of Scotland (or failing that, they would abstain altogether) with a similar policy as regards new nuclear power stations in England (on condition similar subsidy packages are offered to renewables in Scotland).

This is not as radical a proposal as it seems. The Greens have similar disagreements as regard the independence issue, hence why there are two Green parties in the UK, one in England/Wales and another in Scotland.

Union busting
Meanwhile back in England, one of the reasons why labour failed to make any serious headway was the fact that Ed Miliband was seen to be too close to the unions. A somewhat ironic fact is that he has instituted reforms, which will make it very hard for the unions to pick his successor. However, what the Tories don’t seem to get is that if there’s anything more scary (from their point of view) than a labour party in the thrall of the unions, its one that’s not.

The likelihood is that labour will now either lurch to the right, in which case we’ll see a Blairite take over the party, something that would undermine the Tory position, possibly rendering them a lame duck administration once a few defections set it.

Alternatively a left wing labour party, which is run by the socialist wing of the party rather than the unions would mean them ditching many policies such as Trident or nuclear energy (in both cases a strong part of the reason for keeping these policies is they many union jobs that depend on it) or looking into re-nationalisation of public services. In short, if there’s anything that will have Tories waking up in a cold sweat its the thought that they’ll make themselves so unpopular over the next five years that such a party might take over in England.

Double Jeopardy
And another thing for the Tories to consider is that with all but 3 of Scotland’s MP’s representing the SNP, the case for independence is strengthening in Scotland, something the anti-Scottish vitriol they engaged in during the campaign no doubt helped. Needless to say Cameron’s “one nation government” speech fell somewhat flat in Scotland. Already here in Ireland parallels are being drawn to the 1918 general election where De Velera’s Sinn Fein finished 3rd, wiping out the unionist parties in Ireland, making Irish independence (be it by the ballot or the gun) inevitable.

So if the Tories plan on doing an Edward Longshanks and screwing over Scotland (all that “English votes for English laws malarkey”) then its not going to be long before the SNP have managed to close that 6% gap and get a majority in favour of Scottish independence. Indeed I came across an opinion poll the other day (taken before the election) which suggests the gap has closed to 44% to 47% (48.4% for and 51.6% against if we eliminate the “don’t knows”), suggesting that a swing of just 2% in Scotland (or a referendum held on a rainy day, which keeps many older voters from the polls) could tip the scales.

And again, an in/out referendum for the EU is the perfect excuse for the SNP to put a 2nd referendum into their manifesto for a future Holyrood election. Keep in mind that the legal opinion is that it would be very difficult for the UK to leave the EU, without the cooperation of the regions, such as Scotland and Wales. Hence independence votes in these regions is a near certainty if the result of any in/out referendum is to leave the EU.

Going, going, back!
One of the more positive moments in the aftermath of the election was Nigel Farage’s resignation. It was looking like that he’d finish his days playing straight man in a double act with pub landlord Al Murray.

However he’s now apparently putting his name forward for the very position he just vacated. Yes, in that strange morally ambiguous universe known only as “the UKIP zone”, one can resign from a post and then simply re-apply for it. I wonder if anyone has pointed this out to Clegg or Miliband?

Of course its not really that surprising, UKIP without Farage is a bit like the Branch Davidians without David Koresh. Its not so much a political party, but a cult of personality. And without Farage, they are nothing more than a group of closet racists.

Back to the 90’s
But if there’s any silver lining to this election result its that the Tories may well come to rue the saying, be careful what you wish for, it might come true. They can no longer blame everything on the lib dems. Cameron will likely be facing off against backbench revolts over Scotland, Europe and a number of other fringe issues.

And with such a small majority and a partisan opposition, he’ll find it hard to get legislation passed, at least without relying on the Ulster Unionists who will demand their pound of flesh in return. In short, my prediction is that David Cameron will finish his premiership as another John Major…and we all remember what happened after that!

Lib dem’s move to the right

I mentioned in my last post how the lib dems seem so desperate to hang in there, that they’ll say anything, however its probably worse than I thought, as an interview with the BBC’s Today programme with Nick Clegg reveals. It would seem that not only is he prepared to sacrifice the parties long standing position on the EU, but also he would end renewable subsidies to onshore wind energy.

Needless too say this is at odds with the very manifesto the party published a few weeks ago, which included commitments to maintaining the UK in the EU and fighting climate change via renewables expansion. He’s even prepared to back Trident now!

To deal with renewables first, wind energy is the UK’s largest, cheapest and fastest growing source of renewable energy, how in blue blazes do they expect to match these commitments while ending wind energy subsidies? Now I’m sure they’ll point to subsidy’s to offshore wind and solar. However these energy sources are more expensive at present with a slower growth rate. While prices are falling yes, we’re gambling that this trend will continue, and the IPCC would say we ran out of time to do that along time ago. And in any event the Tories (with Lib dem support) cut solar subsidies…three times!

The danger with these subsidy cuts is the signal it sends to industry. And the signal that I’m hearing from those in the renewables business is that, so long as the Tories are in power, the bulk of the UK energy market is a forbidden lawn they are not allowed to thread on. The Tories plan to hand this to their special interest allies in the Fossil fuels and nuclear industries. And as I’ve pointed out recently in my energy blog, the subsidy rates to nuclear exceed those given to renewables and there is a big question as to how much energy is available from Shale gas.

And keep in mind here, were not just talking about saving a few polar bears. As I discussed in a recent post on my energy blog, the UK energy grid has seen a significant run down in capacity recently, largely due to a lack of any sort of coherent energy policy. Despite the strong growth in renewables (which is about the only sector that’s adding new capacity) there is a serious risk of us holding the next election by candlelight, unless something is done quickly to sort out this mess out. However, nuclear is too slow to build and expensive, Shale gas won’t deliver the capacity required (and will take time to deploy) and committing to large scale energy imports is not exactly wise given events in Ukraine.

As for Europe, well as I discussed recently, the Tory plans that Nick Clegg now seems to endorse, are incoherent and unworkable. The consequences of an EU vote are likely to be several years of economic uncertainty. And if the UK actually does leave a substantial hit in GDP (up to 14%, although the LSE estimate is more in the range of 2.5-10%), with countless job losses and people losing their homes, savings and pensions. How can any party remotely committed to fiscal responsibility endorse such a policy is beyond me.

Consider my position as a lecturer. A lot of research funding comes from Europe, as do quite a few of our students and research staff. We lose access to that, or have to spend the next two years worrying that we might, and its going to cut things off at the knee’s. And keep in mind its the very big and more prestigious uni’s who will really feel the pinch as they are the most vulnerable to a cut in EU funds. We’ll be literally locking the doors on labs the day after an EU vote and sacking whole departments. Some uni’s might even collapse into bankruptcy, with a knock on effect for the local economy.

And many UK uni’s are now the hub for a large number of high tech SME start up’s in emerging technologies. These firms are here precisely because the UK is an English speaking country with strong well funded uni’s, with a diverse and talented workforce (recruited from around the world thanks to open borders), with links to other EU institutes and access to EU funds. Cut that off, or even threatened to do so, and all of these firms either go bust, or move to another country. Leaving the EU thus means burning an entire generation of investors who will avoid the UK like the plague afterwards. And for the UK HEI sector and students it will amount to a double betrayal by the lib dems.

Yet the lib dems seem quite happy to do this. You may ask why. Well it probably has something to do with the fact that Nick Clegg was looking at losing his seat until stories emerged of Tory voters coming to his rescue. Clearly, this sudden lurch to the right is intended to shore up support for Clegg and save his hide, even if he has to throw everything his party stands for under the bus first.

At the last election the lib dems at least waited until polls closed before reneging on their promises, now they seem to plan on doing so before people have even voted. I would argue that it is now incorrect to see the lib dems as a party of the left anymore, nor a liberal party. They have clearly lost the plot, gone over to the dark side and lurched to the right…as too seems to have the Independent who is now backing a Tory government (last time I buy their paper!).

My granny used to be a lib dem supporter and I can tell you if she was still alive she’d be disgusted with the party now. So I don’t care who you vote for, so long as its not the lib dems.

End games

It has been a very negative campaign, with more scare tactics (notably about the SNP) than you’d get in a Hollywood horror film. But I thought it would be useful to summarise things, as I’m still something of a floating voter.

Tories v’s SNP v’s labour
The SNP we are told can’t be trusted as they will start trying to drive “an independence agenda”. Actually, the only time in the election campaign I’ve heard anyone in Scotland talking about independence was a labour supporter contemplating whether he made a mistake by voting no.

A point I made, during the independence referendum, was that whether you voted yes or no depended a lot on whether you felt that Westminster could be trusted to stay out of internal Scottish matters and that Scot’s would be entitled to fair representation in Westminster. Obviously the majority of Scot’s decided in September that the answer to this question was yes, by voting down independence.

However what these attacks on the SNP now amount to is labour and the Tories saying you can’t vote SNP cos Jock’s ain’t allowed in the cabinet :no:.

What the labour and Tories don’t seem to get is that the attacks on the SNP have had two consequences – More support to the SNP and they’ve done the SNP’s job for them creating a compelling case for independence. And while the SNP might not be talking about it now, no doubt once some sort of constitutional crisis emerges….such as a hung parliament and a 2nd election by Christmas because Miliband refused to work with the SNP….or Cameron’s EU referendum. Then no doubt the SNP be looking for independence again and this sort of anti-Scottish rhetoric is making it very easy for them.

Certainly one cannot blame the Effing Tories (to quote Cameron!) for talking up this issue. After all, they’re about as popular in Scotland right now as Edward Longshanks was. They’ve got nothing to lose by pandering to English bigotry and xenophobia. However what is more surprising is the fact that labour seems to have gone along with this, raising serious questions about their credibility.

Miliband could have easily defused this situation weeks ago by pointing out that its a bit rich Cameron making a song and dance about the SNP when he is almost certain to be dependant on support from a group of racist, nationalistic, homophobic and institutionally corrupt parties in the form of the DUP and UKIP, riven by infighting.

He could then go on to point out that, while both labour and the SNP are left wing, there are distinct differences in their ideology and unless the SNP were willing to make some pretty large concessions, starting with them not mentioning the “I” word for the next five years, its difficult too see how labour and the SNP could form any coalition. And of course, the only way the SNP could hold the UK to ransom would be if the Tories went along with them (e.g. is Cameron seriously suggesting he’d vote against a labour government on say Trident? or vote for another Independence poll? Just to score a few points against labour?).

And its not as if labour lack some quite good policies, increased NHS spending, rent controls and ditching right to buy, their EU policy etc. I’ve drawn attention too a number of these over the last few weeks myself. Instead however they decided to fight the campaign on the issue of what who they’ll not form a coalition with after the election. Miliband pitch is that he’s not Cameron nor Sturgeon…but that he’ll sooner see Cameron in power than so much as say hello to the SNP.

So remind, why exactly should I vote labour? :??:

Labour clearly panicked at the poll numbers showing a large drop in support for them in Scotland. And without pausing to consider the reasons why this has happened, which was due to them coming across as “Tory-lite” during the independence referendum, they laid into the SNP. And their tactic of SNP bashing has merely amounted to getting into a hole and keep digging until they meet some guy with a tail and horns. Unless labour do some sort of U-turn in the next few days, I think they are looking at total wipe out in Scotland, and deservedly so.

In the rest of the UK admittedly its a rather more stark choice between labour and a Tory party committed to more cuts, including almost certainly cuts to working tax credits, child benefits and pensions, more people dependant on food banks, etc. Plus a commitment to an EU referendum that could wreck the British economy (to the tune of £215 billion) and might break up the UK (assuming they’ve got the balls to go ahead with it of course!). And since we’re talking about, does anyone in England really like the sound of Deputy PM Nigel Farage….or Deputy PM Ian Paisley Jnr? 😳

Kingmakers and Kingslayers
As I’ve mentioned already, its possible that the Tories will need to rely on UKIP AND the DUP to get into government. Most of the UKIP seats will be taken from Tories (or lib dems) rather than labour, so its probably going to be impossible for the Tories to make up the numbers. That means roping in the DUP too and even then being left with a wafer thin majority (as in one or two seats).

Now while a Tory, UKIP and DUP coalition might seem like a match made in Hell Heaven, I’m not so sure. As I’ve highlighted before UKIP are in truth not really a right wing party, more a neo-national socialist party, wedded to many policies that are at odds with the core principles of the Tory party. And I’m not sure how keen the DUP will be on an EU vote, once they work out that that NI will get the raw end of the economic stick of the UK leave the EU. And that it will probably trigger a border poll and them possibly having to work out how to speak Gaelic!

Furthermore, there’s another curve ball we need to toss in here, Sinn Fein. There are 650 seats in the UK parliament, yet you may hear it banded around about how a party only needs 322 seats to get a majority….surely its 326 you may say? Well you see Sinn Fein don’t normally take their seats in Westminster for sectarian reasons of ideology I’m not going to go into right now. But needless to say if we ended up in a scenario where the DUP were pulling the strings in Westminster and committing to policies that were detrimental to Sinn Fein, its possible they could decide to take their seats, table a no confidence motion, and bring down the government. In essence Sinn Fein don’t get to be kingmakers, but they could become kingslayers.

Now you may say they’re unlikely to do that. But your missing the point – Sinn Fein don’t have to do jack, only threaten to do it and they can wring all sorts of concessions out of the Tories – such as the aforementioned border poll. Even if you believe the Daily Mail propaganda about the SNP, if there’s anything worse than that, it has to be the NI parties playing good cop, bad cop with Westminster and dragging Parliament in their sectarian disputes. After all, the whole point of devolution was to keep that sort of thing in Stormont!

I don’t agree with Nick
Meanwhile, Nick Clegg has spent the campaign no so much making promises, but trying very hard not to commit to doing anything. Everything seems to be up for grabs, even their cherished policy on Europe is far from certain. All to aware of the fact that his party made various outlandish promises before the last election, which they could not keep, he’s determined not to repeat that mistake. And in any event given that Clegg, Vince Cable and/or Danny “dire” Alexander could all be out of a job by Friday, its hardly a huge surprise that they’re being non-committal.

Of course this begs the question, what exactly is it that the lib dems stand for? :??: Their pitch seems to be that they’ll become the Frank Underwood of Westminster, quite happy to horse trade with one party or the other, selling their soul to the devil if necessary, all just to cling to power. Hardly inspiring is it?

I mean let us consider the scenario earlier. The Tories are the largest party, but even with the lib dems they don’t have enough votes to form a majority. Are we to believe, given that Nick Clegg has ruled out working with the SNP and has stated that the largest party should rule, that he would then prop up a minority Tory/UKIP government, rather than work with labour and the SNP? Would he be happy being part of a minority Tory government dependant on UKIP and/or DUP votes to cling to power?

So again, the best thing that can happen to the lib dems is for them to take a pounding. This should serve as a valuable lesson to them and future smaller parties of what happens when you make idle promises in a campaign and then renege on them once in office.

The new lib dems
Of course the fall from grace of the lib dems does leave the SNP in the position of becoming the third party and the likely coalition partners holding the balance of power. However such a position comes with a price, just ask Nick Clegg! In short, can the SNP deliver?

For example take ending austerity. While they could do that in Scotland, assuming Devo Max goes ahead (which of course becomes more likely with a strong SNP showing in Westminster), but that would probably mean putting up taxes in Scotland to compensate. And while I don’t mind paying a bit more for good public services, I’m not sure how crowd pleasing a policy that will be. Also there’s only so far the tax rates north and south of the border can drift before it starts to cause economic problems for Scotland.

An ultimately the danger for the SNP with Devo Max is that having talked the talk, they’ll now have to walk the walk and prove they can govern with the full range of powers it allows them. Of course if it all goes tits up, they’ll have wholly undermined any case for independence for generations to come.

Then there’s Trident. An obvious horse trade would be that the SNP either abstain or vote for it, on condition its moved out of Scotland. However, that’s simply not a possibility for anyone who knows the SNP. So the likely consequences are, regardless of who is in No 10 this time next week, there will still be nuclear subs on the Clyde for some time to come.

I’m not trying to talk anyone out of voting SNP, I’m just making the point that voting SNP will mean voting for five years of becoming “those bastards in London” and not just for Christmas. And backing Miliband could have consequences if labour do badly in government as its often the coalition partner who gets a shafting in such situations….again, just ask Nick Clegg!

Technical groups
The smaller parties have seen some coverage in this election, however this hasn’t always been a good thing. The Green’s took a roasting at the start, largely because they tried to copy the other parties in making various promises which they couldn’t possibly keep.

Okay, the big parties are doing that too, but the whole point of such parties isn’t to get a majority and go into government. Its either to become a minority partner in government, in return for getting a few policies passed, or pressuring other parties into adopting your policies. So perhaps some of these parties are missing the point.

Also there is likely to be an important decision for the smaller parties to consider – Whether they should form a “technical group”. In many European parliaments, with lots of smaller parties, the smaller parties or independents will often group together to increase their lobbying power and present a more united front. Syriza in Greece for example, has its origins in just such a grouping.

These arrangements amplifies the power of these smaller parties greatly, particularly if the margins between the major parties are tight. While Miliband could waste an evening talking Caroline Lucas into backing him gets him one vote, talking to a technical group of largely left wing parties could get him 10-20 votes, probably enough to swing a key vote.

Of course the obvious downside is that those who live in glass houses can’t throw rocks (as UKIP are also about to discover I suspect). If the smaller parties support the government, not necessarily on every issue, but in general, they could take some flak come the next election. But on the other hand, if they don’t intend to contribute anything, why vote for them?

The Parties on Europe

Given that it came up today in the election, its worth reflecting on the policies of the major parties when it comes to Europe, particularly given that Cameron seems to have given a firm pledge that implied he’s risk a hung parliament than go into power again with the lib dems, if they refuse to hold a referendum.

Certainly, if you’re not particularly bothered by Europe and the EU, or indeed your pro-EU, all I can do is suggest you vote for one of the smaller parties such as the Greens, SNP, Welsh Nationalists or Lib Dems (although this lot have “form” as it were to breaking core election promises, so maybe not such a good idea!). Keep in mind that if you vote for any of the other parties, in particular the Tories or UKIP, then I hope you like the EU cos you’ll be sick of hearing about it come the next election in 2020, as both these parties in government will be dominated by this issue!

The Tories
Cameron claims that he’s pro-EU but wants to renegotiate Britain’s membership. His plan therefore is to complete any renegotiation between now and 2017, then have a referendum. However the major flaw in his plan is that its basically bollix and completely unworkable.

While Junker has recently suggested that there might be some wriggle room, many of the things Cameron wishes to “renegotiate” have nothing to do with the EU, thus they can’t offer any concessions, even if they wanted too. Membership of the European Court and the European convention on Human rights are conditions of membership for the Council of Europe, not the EU. All the EU can do here is bring along a copy of the Council of Europe charter, with a bookmark on the relevant page and suggest that Cameron go away and read it.

And incidentally the whole point of having a human right act independent of parliament is to stop Parliaments meddling in such an act, such as quietly deleting the bit that protects against, say, cruel and unusual punishment, etc.

As for migration targets or clamping down on “benefits tourism” (which is a myth anyway) there’s not a lot the EU can do for him here either. As I discussed before, the idea that Cameron can set “targets” for migration and annual quota’s pretty much means turning the country into North Korea and stopping people entering and leaving…..including brits, who made up 83,000 of the net migration figures last year…Cameron wants to bring it down to “tens of thousands”. Free movement and travel is a condition of various treaties the UK has signed not just with the EU but other countries, such as the US and Canada. So its difficult for the EU to offer anything more than a few cosmetic changes.

Migrants make up a relatively small part of the UK population, but statistically they are far more likely to be working, paying taxes and less likely to be claiming benefits and their tax contribution exceeds any benefits they claim. So if the UK suddenly turns around and says they can’t use UK public services then that means that either:

A – Then surely they’re entitled to a tax cut? Why should they pay for public services they can’t use? Keep in mind that this is one of the Tory excuses for giving non-doms a tax break, so its either a case of treating Polish builders the same way (making it impossible for any British builder to compete against someone able to give a straight 20% discount before he’s even got out a spirit level) or getting rid of the non-doms rule (and they Tories ain’t going to vote for that!).

Alternatively B – surely the taxes should go to the other EU state? As they will almost certainly get stuck with the costs when said migrant goes home to Poland for treatment/unemployment benefits. Existing rules that predate the EU allows the Irish government to do this, if Irish citizens move from the UK (and visa versa). So there is a precedence for this.

A quick back of the envelope calculation will tell you that such a change would cost the treasury a sizeable amount of money, tens of billions of pounds per year, probably ruining whatever lies economic plans Osborne’s cooking up. Its enough cash to easily warrant a credit rating downgrade, so that changes of the Tories agreeing to that are somewhere between slim and zero.

So at this point it will be 2017, the Tories plans have gotten nowhere and they’ve been made to look pretty stupid trying to negotiate these things. Will they go ahead with a referendum? My guess is, regardless of whatever promises Cameron is making now, the answer is no. The Tories are quite keen to talk the talk about leaving the EU, but I doubt they’d ever walk the walk.

I mean when I was at British Steel we used to have this public school educated toff :lalala: running our unit, who would whinge and whine about how the EU was stifling competition and making it hard for the company to compete. Then without even pausing for breath, he’d complain about how the EU was allowing other countries like Poland or China to “dump” their steel on the EU market (in other words he wanted the EU to promote free trade…but then he also wanted them to prevent it! :??:). Tories will, within their minds, perform these feats of mental gymnastics daily.

However my guess is forced to stare into the abyss of leaving the EU, with the abyss staring back, they’ll bottle it and scuttle back from the edge. As Nick Robinson demonstrated today, by continually asking Cameron what’s his plan B and the PM refusing to answer (and Nick asked the PM the same question over a year ago and also didn’t get an answer), the consequences for the Tories of an EU referendum are likely to be messy. Win, loose or draw, they will have cast the UK into several years of economic uncertainty and political chaos purely to solve an internal battle within the Tory party. This will completely blow the myth of the Tories as the party of business and they will be punished for it in the polls in 2020 and probably a number of subsequent elections too.

So no doubt they’ll make the excuse, that the referendum was conditional on getting agreement with Brussels, which they’ve not gotten so no referendum. This is a particularly likely get-out clause if they are back in power with the lib dem’s, as it will likely mean a coalition agreement in which its stipulated renegotiation followed by referendum (aka Operation Liberal Shield). Cameron is already talking about leaving before the next election, so he could easily leave early, in say 2018, setting up someone pro-EU like Osborne in number 10 (which also serves to block Boris), who promptly forgets any promises the party made.

UKIP
Given the above, euroskeptics would be inclined to vote for UKIP, as they’re just about crazy enough to leap straight into the abyss while yelling something about cheese eating surrender monkeys. However I would argue that this actually makes a No vote (i.e. Britain staying in) more likely. Again, recall why the Tories are hesitant. Its because they know what the consequences would be in leaving and the enormous economic uncertainty that would be created.

While UKIP will claim that holding the referendum early gets it over with quickly, keep in mind that the UK will still need to renegotiate its exit, and that’s going to be neither quick nor easy, at least if we want an amicable divorce (watch Greece for the next year to see the consequences of a messy departure!).

Plus the UK will have to renegotiate numerous other things too, such as new trade treaties with countries like China and the US (who have made clear that Brexit would invalidate existing trade deals). There’s the serious risk of the UK breaking up, given the position of the SNP, Welsh nationalists on this matter and the issues in Northern Ireland.

In short Britain voting yes or even a close no means several years of economic uncertainty. And keep in mind that, as the SNP learnt in Scotland in September, there’s a sizeable chunk of any electorate who are cowards will vote for the safest course of action (which will be to stay in the EU). The polls currently show a 10% margin leaning towards staying in the EU. And after scary news stories start circulating of many of the UK’s factories workers being put on notice of imminent redundancy if the UK votes to leave, or companies hastily re-registering themselves Luxembourg or Dublin, a no vote in this scenario is very likely.

If UKIP are genuinely serious about leaving the EU they need to set out the stall and prove this. Keep in mind the SNP had been in power in Scotland for several years and had made a reasonable attempt to present the case for independence – and they still lost! UKIP by contrast have a policy founded on myth, prejudice and fantasy strung together on the back of several packets of pork scratchings. Even the Tories were pissing themselves laughing at the UKIP manifesto launch a few weeks back (UKIP seemed to think they’ll get an extra 18 Billion a year in tax, which is somewhat at odds with economic predictions suggesting Brexit would result in a drop of 2.2 to 9.5% of GDP!).

So what happens if UKIP lose a referendum? Well no doubt they’ll go off in a huff, accusing their Tory coalition partners of undermining them, likely leading to a collapse of the next government, an early election and probably a labour government by 2017…with Alan Johnson in charge!

And if UKIP do get their way and the UK does vote to leave? Well there will be negative economic consequences. And that means a lot of people in the UK loosing their jobs, life savings and home. Now even if you believed UKIP’s crack smoking lunacy propaganda that this will be “short term pain for long term gain” its unlikely things will have recovered by the next election in 2020. Plus they and the Tories will be going in with the label “the party that broke the UK” (after Scotland and NI leaves). So the changes are in 2020 labour wins, via the backing of several smaller left wing parties, and all UKIP will have succeeded in doing is made “really red” Ken :> PM!

Oh, and the first thing any labour government will do is negotiate a trade and migration treaty with the EU that will make the UK an EU member in all but name with open borders and free unrestricted trade, with Britain agreeing (like Switzerland, Iceland or Norway) to taking on all EU current (and future) trade legislation without quibble or veto. In short Farage will have handed victory on a plate to the EU federalists by allowing them to finally tame the British shrew.

Labour
Actually if you are genuinely euroskeptic, but not a raving loon, labour’s plans are actually the most sensible. They propose to hold fire on any referendum unless the EU agrees any major transfer of powers. In essence they plan to take a leaf out of Ireland’s book and ratify any future treaties by referendum. This is a much more sensible policy when you understand how the EU works, as you’ll get somewhere if you’re pro-active, while you’ll get nowhere fast if you go all Daily Mail on them.

Go into the room with the EU and threaten them with this and that, and they’ll ignore you (just ask the Greeks!). Threaten to leave and they’ll say “okay fine piss off so, the remaining 500 million of us will have to get by without you, don’t let the door hit you on the way out” :wave:

However go into a treaty negotiation and say “yes we’d love to agree to that, but as you know we have to have a referendum and in order to pass that we’ll need x, y and z”. Like I said, this is much more likely to wring concessions out of the EU. Ireland keep in mind, a country of just 5 million has got further with the EU through this approach that Cameron, or previous UK PM’s have managed through bluster and bullying.

So labour’s plans do make sense. But what’s the downside? Well firstly its going to make the process of agreeing anything within the EU all that more drawn out and torturous. And that’s going to be a problem if there’s further crisis with troubled Southern economies like Greece or Spain. Also there’s a big difference of opinion as to what constitutes “major transfer of powers”. Labour seem to think it means the EU brings out another major treaty. UKIP think it means letting the EU decide the definition between butter and margarine.

So labour’s plans could mean quite a lot of continued uncertainty which in of itself could also lead to the UK being marginalised within the EU. But its certainly a more sensible policy than either of the other two main parties.