A history lesson for Brexiters…which they’ll never learn

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On Tuesday a group of 500 history academics signed a letter calling for the UK to remain in the EU. They warned that to leave the EU would be to condemn Britain to “irrelevance”. This list included many well known household names such as Ian Kershaw, Suzannah Lipscomb, Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson.

The last of these names was a bit of a surprise as he’s been critical of the EU in the past. However, like his colleagues Dr Ferguson has clearly decided that leaving would outweight any benefits. As he put it:

“The lesson of history is that British isolationism has often been associated with continental disintegration.”

He also accused the Leave camp of promoting a warped “scissors and paste” view of “plucky” Britain throughout history, that ignored certain historical realities (such as how impossible it would have been to win either world war without the aid of European allies or the US).

And this intervention comes on the back of a similar intervention from 150 leading scientists (including Stephen Hawking) warning that leaving the EU would be “a disaster” for science in the UK. And of course many leading economists and ex-US presidents and advisers have also warned of the consequences of leaving the EU.

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The leave camp will no doubt mumble about “bias”. But seriously, academics, particularly those from very diverse fields rarely agree on anything. All of them coming out against Brexit does kind of suggest there’s reasons to worry about it (no smoke without fire).

Unfortunately, I doubt these interventions will have any effect. If you are over 50, non-university educated, on a low wage (or retired or not working) and you get most of your news through tabloids, then you are more likely to be a leave voter.

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The reality is that most Brexit supporters aren’t going to influenced by any statement from academics, in part because they are never going to hear about it (the tabloids are certainly not going to publish them). This is why the leave camp know they can drive around in a battle bus with misleading slogans scrawled on it, despite the fact they have been thoroughly debunked weeks ago, and yet still keep a straight face.

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Indeed the “curry row is a good example of the sort of BS the leave camp is aiming for. At the moment thanks to a Tory policy (forced upon them by UKIP) you have to be earning over a certain threshold of money to become resident in the UK, which is making it difficult for UK curry houses to recruit staff from Asia. Some have responded by recruiting from Eastern Europe instead. The contrarian logic of the Brexiters is, oh leave the EU and the Eastern European chef’s will be on an equal footing with Asian ones.

Of course the reality is that actually Brexit will mean restaurants won’t be able to recruit any staff and some will be forced to close down. Clearly the problem here is a xenophobic immigration policy taken straight out of the Daily Mail and implemented without first working out its implications. However, this tactic of divide and rule is exactly the sort of methods the British used in India, pitting one ethnic group against the other. And ethnic minorities are overwhelmingly likely to vote Brexit, so you can see what the leave camp are up too.

And of course the irony is that anyone on a low wage (or worse retired and thus on a fixed income), many of whom will vote for Brexit regardless of what is said over the next few weeks, are the very people who will get absolutely screwed over if the UK leaves.

This is what worries me about the up coming referendum. It is not a rational decision being made by well informed voters. It is a vote based fear, prejudice, ignorance and lies. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of politics has such a momentous decision been made by so many so ill informed.

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When you ignore the lessons of history…

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The election of a Green as president in Austria was soured by the high number of votes going to the far right.

While it seems that Austria has pulled back from the brink of electing a fascist as president. But hat nearly half the population were willing to do so is deeply disturbing. Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

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And for those who argue that the Austrian Freedom party are now mainstream, no fascists here, well what are they doing going around with blue Cornflowers on their lapels? For those not in the know, this was the symbol used by Austrian nazi party when they were banned between 1934 and 1938 (after trying to overthrow the government and murdering the Prime Minster). Hofer could not send out a stronger signal as to his views, short of dressing up in an SS uniform….only that would get him arrested!

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It would be a convenient time for many to go and watch Lawrence Ree’s excellent BBC series the Nazi’s a warning from history and its follow up “Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution”. For there are many trends from the rise of the nazi’s that we see playing out again, both sides of the Atlantic.

Firstly the fact that Hitler was helped into power by those on the right (this is in fact the title of Ree’s first episode). Trump, and many European far right leaders, faced significant opposition from those on the centre right establishment initially, only for them to both become allies in the end. Well the same was true of Hitler. While in the history books we remember him for his fiery speeches. But when necessary he could tone things down, put on a suit and play the moderate deal maker. This was how he was able to worm his way into power.

Secondly, there is this myth of history that the nazi’s ceased power in an undemocratic way. Certainly once in power they began to abuse it and ignored or removed the checks and balances designed to limit or stop them destroying democracy. But the sad fact is that he was elected with 33% of the votes on a 80% turn out (this was the election just before the Reichstag fire). This means he had a mandate from 26% of the population, as compared to the recent Tory election “victory” of 2015 where they got 37% of the votes, with a turn out of 66% (i.e. a mandate from just 25% of the electorate). In subsequent elections the nazi’s achieved just short of a majority (although obviously one must doubt how honest such elections were). Even so the disturbing fact is is that Hitler won a larger mandate from the German electorate than David Cameron.

So while yes Hitler did abuse power, this would never have happened if it weren’t for millions of Germans buying into his racist rhetoric and voting for him. Of course the parties of the left in Germany at the time warned that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But no we were assured, he’s only “talking tough” and “telling it like it is”. He has to say these things to appeal to the common voter. When he says he wants to ban all Muslims Jews he doesn’t actually mean that. The real enemy is bearded lefties like Corbyn who….might tax us a little bit more to help pay for the NHS (shock horror!)…and may have said something bad about Israel’s policy in the West bank.

And as Ree’s series describes, support for the nazi’s remained strong throughout Germany (Chaos and Consent), with many millions actively collaborating with the nazi’s (ratting out neighbours, turning in Jews, etc.), right up until the middle of the war (when it was obvious what madness they’d signed up too, but it was a little late then!). And crucially, as Ree’s 2nd series points out, it would be incorrect for us to lump the entire blame for nazi crimes on the Germans alone – many other nationalist groups in neighbouring countries supported them.

The Austrians, as noted, had their own nazi parties (yes they had more than one!). And they didn’t exactly put up much of a fight when the nazi’s took the country over (they were just as fascist already, it was more a dispute over whether they wanted to be Austrian nazi’s or German ones). Indeed, many became enthusiastic supporters of the reich (Hitler after all was Austrian, not German). I recall someone once pointing out to me that of all the countries that needed laws banning fascism it was Austria. This week’s result suggests those laws need strengthening.

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One can draw many similarities between current neo-fascists and similar parties that supported the nazi’s and collaborated in the holocaust.

In Hungary during the war the Arrow Cross, of which Jobbik is the natural successor, seized control and then allied with the nazi’s and fought alongside them. Many of the Jews and Gypsies who died in Auschwitz came from Hungary, rounded up and deported there by Hungarian fascists. The Poles too, even thought they had been invaded by Germany and many did resist the invaders, but some Poles did collaborate with the nazi round up of Jews and other minorities. Some played an active role in the Holocaust itself, as also happened in a number of the Baltic states.

Perhaps the worst offenders however were the Slovak’s. Not only did they hand over all of the Jews, but they actually ended up PAYING the nazi’s to take them away (yes really!). And of course there were plenty of people in countries like France (friends of Le Pen one assumes) or Norway who also collaborated with the nazi’s. Many tens of thousands from these countries actually joined the SS and fought on the Eastern front.

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Oh, and speaking of collaborators there’s another twist to these neo-fascist movements. Many are allied with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, either being formal allies, admirers of Putin (such as Trump or Farage) or are openly taking money from Moscow. Yes, all these ultra-nationalist marching around, waving flags, proclaiming how they are proud to be French, British, Hungarian and how they reject outside influence, yet they are essentially stooges of the Kremlin!

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Le Pen meets her bosses, how very patriotic!

So clearly what recent events show is that we have a major problem with an undercurrent of fascism throughout Europe and America that needs to be challenged. And I stress America, for as this documentary from the Beeb shows there is growing far right problem in the US too (which with the combination of guns in the US I fear is almost certainly going to lead to trouble).

My guess is that about 33-20% in some countries subscribe to these views. They are then able to con enough of the remainder (generally those from the centre right) into supporting them, often by stoking fears about immigration or other lies about the parties of the left. This is one of the reasons why the lies of the leave camp in the UK are so worrying. Its critical therefore that something must be done.

And what must be done is not repeating the mistakes of the past, when politicians and business leaders got into bed with the fascists, seeing them as a better alternative to those on the left. Well they are not. When a politician comes along advocating mass deportations, turning the country into a police state, defaulting on the nation’s debts, abolishing unions and the minimum wage we have to take him at his word. Even if he flip flops on it the following week. Because history tells us we cannot take the chance that he means what he says.

Other stories of the week….

Osborne pledge comes back to haunt him
I recall, back when I was a student, not long after Blair brought in fees, being told by some Tory drone how the Tories were anti-tuition fees. In fact they’d signed pledges to repeal them once elected. Now at the time I thought, ya sure, were those printed on loo roll?

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Needless to say it was obviously a desperate tactic the Tories used to try and avoid total wipe out in some constituencies during the Blair years. Once they stood a chance of actually being elected they quietly forgot about these pledges.

However a student, going through her old things has managed to find one of these fabled Tory “no tuition fee” pledges with Osborne’s signature on it. Here’s a link to the incriminating document.

You may recall all the hostility directed at the lib dems for them signing pledges against tuition fees, only for them to break those pledges once in coalition. Indeed, the lib dems would point out, tuition fee rises weren’t there idea, that would be the Tories….notably Osborne himself! Although I would note that documents do suggest that it might not have been that clear cut.

But if anything we have Osborne caught doing something far worse. He clearly and knowingly signed pledges which he had no intention of following through on if he got into power. Beware the naive person (such as the lib dems!) who believes anything the Tories say.

No more mortarboards
And speaking of uni’s, the elf n’safety killjoy’s campaign to suck the joy out of life continues. East Anglia university has now banned its students from throwing mortar boards in the air after graduation on the grounds that “they might cause injury”. But don’t worry, we’ll photoshop them in!

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Quite frankly any student who is so dumb enough to throw a mortar board in the air, then forget about how gravity works and gets injured by it, well clearly they didn’t learn a lot in uni!

Referendum gets nastier
Now while I will agree that Cameron and the stay camp are perhaps hamming it up in their case for staying in the EU, something Sturgeon drew attention to today. However, their position is based on facts, although they are perhaps taking the most negative version of those facts. But the position of the leave camp is based on BS, outright liespetty racism and xenophobia.

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Take the latest one regarding Turkey. The leave camp claim that we can’t stop the Turks joining the EU and swarms of Turk’s streaming across the channel. Well actually, no. All the nations of the EU will have a veto and its likely Greece and Cyprus will object unless Turkey changes its stance towards the situation in Northern Cyprus. There’s a big long list of other issues that Turkey needs to agree too. And nobody can see that happening any time soon.

Furthermore, like any new entrant to the EU, there would be some temporary restrictions on immigration of Turkish workers, as had applied to other states who recently joined the EU such as Romania, Bulgaria and Poland (the UK chose to wave the restrictions on Polish migration under Tony Blair as the UK had a shortage of labour at the time given the then economic boom).

To say the leave camp’s statement is far from the truth doesn’t even cut it. Either the leave camp are grossly misinformed and need to fire their advisers (that will be the ones in the KKK get up!). Or they are openly and quite deliberately lying (same as they’ve still got that BS about the EU costing us £350 million emblazoned on their battle bus, even thought this was debunked weeks ago, yet they keep repeating it) because somehow they think its for the greater good that they lie about this one.

Antibiotic resistance rates growing
And again we have worrying long term projections about a possible future without antibiotics. Already several bacteria resistant to all known antibiotics have surfaced. This report warns that by 2050, we could see someone die from a superbug related strain every 3 seconds.

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The report does suggest a number of radical measures. Notably, a requirement that pharmaceutical companies are forced to either spend money on antibiotic research, or to pay some sort of tax on their profits which will be fed into such research. The report also recommends a strict no antibiotic prescriptions policy to doctors, unless they’ve first done tests to confirm it will actually help.

Of course, I would argue the problem needs to be tackled at source. In many parts of the world, antibiotics are routinely fed to farm animals, even ones who are not in the least bit ill. Studies have shown this is a very likely source of any future superbug outbreak, given that several of these superbugs have been found in farm animals. A ban on such practices (a ban on any meat produced this way, with testing of animal carcasses for traces of antibiotics) would go a long way. Yes it will mean more animals dying, which in turn will make meat much more expensive, but it’s the most sensible way to resolve the problem.

Still standing
Despite the fact that all the twits on twitter have been chirping it for months it would seem this PJS/YMA super-injunction is still standing. This is thanks to the Judge (known as SS for Senior Sentencer) doesn’t want to be made a fool of by being proved wrong, so he’s acting like a little kid, in the face of the internet’s attempts at blowing it out like a candle in the wind. I mean seriously, just put “pjs” into google followed by a space and see which is the first name the auto complete comes up with. Already newspapers beyond the UK have named them. A classic proof of the Streisand effect, although I think its going to be a long, long time before the SS, PJS and YMA are furnished with the knowledge about how foolish this is making them look.

More importantly however is that what is going on here is judges and lawyers making up new laws without anything being passed in parliament. While the human rights act does play a role in this, keep in mind other EU countries don’t have the same issue, even in Russia (which also subject to the same human rights act, hence why Putin is currently being sued over MH17). The fault lies with the nature of the UK justice system and a lack of a UK constitution.

Egypt Air flight
There’s a lot of speculation, about this Egypt air plane missing over the Mediterranean. Many are assuming, or all but concluding it was terrorism, however I’m not so sure.

One has to be very careful about reading too much into any facts that filter out during an air crash investigation until all the evidence is in. Because it could turn out to be significant, or it might not matter.

For example, the plane executed a 90 degree and then a 360 degree turn. This could mean some sort of pilot action, either as an attempt to recover from some mechanical failure, or perhaps someone trying to crash the plane (perhaps a cockpit intrusion). However, equally it could just be the result of an out of control plane with a jammed stabiliser.

However the day afterwards, the media were certain it was terrorism. The Sun had it on good authority from some “aviation expert” (I assume that means some bloke down the pub who thinks he was in the RAF durin the war) that the plane was brought down by a cockpit fight with hijackers.

But revelations from the final ACARS messages (web updates the plane sends back to manufacturers relating to possible system problems) reveals smoke in the avionics bay and/or lavatory a few minutes prior to the crash. This tends to suggest that what happened to the plane was more gradual and tends to suggest a fire. That said, any sort of malfunction could lead to false ACARS signals, so we still can’t rule out some sort of terrorist action. Its just a fire (possibly someone having a fag in the toilet, or an electrical fire) does seem the more likely cause. But even so, better to wait until all the facts are in.

That said, I won’t hold my breath and wait for the Egyptians to produce a report, as they have a pretty awful reputation when it comes to air crash investigations. The loss of Egypt Air 990 was almost certainly caused by a suicidal pilot, something everyone, except the Egyptians, now accepts. They instead blame a “technical fault” that has never been seen before and never seen since then.

And the Metrojet flight brought down over the Sinai, is now widely accepted to be a bomb. But again the Egyptians will not admit this, instead concocting theory after theory to explain it away without them having to take the blame. So I won’t hold your breath and think the truth will eventually come out.

Stoned Sheep on the rampage
Finally, we have the story of stoned sheep on the rampage in a small Welsh town. They had eaten cannabis abandoned by the side of a road and went on a psychedelic, drug fuelled rampage through the local village. Now that’s what I call a Baaad trip!

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Trump’s running mate: Bernie Sanders

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Donald Trump, now that he’s made peace with the GOP establishment is currently musing over his choices of possible running mate (Chris Christie, Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Darth Maul, Beelzebub, etc.) but in effect he already has one – Bernie Sanders. The simple fact that Bernie supporters need to accept is that by continuing their campaign they are aiding only one person – Donald Trump. Indeed Trump is now urging on Sanders and his supporters, hoping that if he can sow enough discord on the left it makes a GOP victory all the more likely.

Now to be clear, as I’ve outlined in prior posts, I’m no Hilary Clinton fan, I’m merely accepting the principle of TINA (There Is No Alternative). And I can do basic maths. For the fact is that even if the super-delegates remain neutral (which of course they won’t, they will almost certainly back Hilary), Sanders would have to pull in +80% of the remaining delegate votes to pull ahead. And even in state’s he’s won, he has never gotten close to those numbers. He and his supporters need to accept that Hilary has all but won the nomination, there’s no point in flogging a dead horse.

Now the Sanders camp will point to polls and say but our guy polls better against Trump. Yes, and as I pointed out in a prior post there are many good reasons to doubt those numbers. There are many factors relating to how swing states vote, where independent voters (i.e. political centrists) often decide things. And therefore, there is good reason to doubt Bernie can translate those apparent leads into firm votes come November (particularly after the right-wing media starts their anticipated “Sanders is a socialist coming to eat your babies” routine). But again it doesn’t matter, even if Sanders was +25% ahead of Trump it still won’t matter, he’s not going to be the nominee. That ship’s already sailed.

So Sanders supporters will probably say, but we fear Hilary is too right wing. Granted, she’s the most right wing candidate the democrats have fielded in a long time. However are the Sanders camp seriously suggesting that if a bill strengthening Obamacare, or tightening gun regulations, or perhaps a new climate change bill, were to land on her desk she would refuse to sign it? Seriously? Okay, she’s a little too close to Wall Street, but as regards 80% of what the Sanders camp is looking for, and certainly 100% of what they can realistically hope to push through congress, there is little doubt Hilary will sign it, push come to shove.

And again its not a choice between Sanders and Hilary, its between Trump and Hilary. The nature of US politics means, that anyone not backing Hilary is backing Trump (two party system!). I don’t like it either, but we are where we are. Sanders continuing in the race is a re-run of Ralph Nader’s run in 2000, which earned us eight years of G. W. Bush. Do Sanders supporters really want the repeat this?

Sanders has hinted he’s only running to both force Hilary to take him on as her VP, as well as ensuring a more progressive agenda in Congress come November. I would argue that both become less likely the longer Sanders stays in the race. If he’d bowed out gracefully a few weeks ago, a high ranking cabinet post (or indeed perhaps the VP post) was a strong possibility. Now, him placing his (and his supporters) pride over the best interests of the country, raises serious questions about his judgement. My guess is he’ll be passed over and in all likelihood Hilary will now have to pick someone from the right of the party as her running mate (my guess Wesley Clark…not that I want that, but realistically its possibility if you look at how an election will pan out).

So Sanders supporters need to wake up and smell the coffee….or they’ll be waking up and smelling the hair spray. Every day your candidate runs, a Trump victory becomes more likely. And if Trump wins, the media and the democrats will almost certainly pin the blame (rightly or wrongly) on Bernie Sanders and his leftie millennial cheerleaders. Meaning the democrats will move further to the right and you can kiss goodbye to any of the progress policies he’s calling for. There is a time and a place to “steer” Hilary and the rest of the democrats towards the left. In November after the wig wearing draft dodger has been sent packing.

Referendum update

The Tory infighting appears to be getting much more bitter. The leave camp complaint about “petty smears from the rest of the party briefing against them. That’s probably a reference to Nigel Heseltine’s intervention, who questioned Boris Johnson’s judgement over his decision to back the leave campaign.

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And the vote leave camp are fuming about Cameron choosing to debate Farage instead of one of them. After all, the whole point of this referendum is to make Boris Johnson PM, isn’t it? In response they’ve released an attack add questioning Cameron’s judgement. Even a minor spat about curry quickly went nuclear.

Cameron also had to put down a minor rebellion by Euroskeptics. They had united with Corbyn’s labour to push through a bill excluding the NHS from the upcoming EU-US TTIP treaty. He’s had to go along with that for the sake of happy families. Now while I happen to think this is a good idea, and it also shows that the UK has a lot more flexibility within the EU than the leave camp would have us believe. But many of the Tory party want NHS privatisation. Yet some of these swivel eyed loons in the Brexit camp are so dead set against anything EU that they will cross the chamber and back Corbyn. They will literally cut off their noses to spite their face.

And should Cameron think this referendum will settle things, think again. Much as I predicted a year or two ago, Farage has already indicated that he’ll be seeking a 2nd EU referendum soon afterwards if the result doesn’t go the way he wants. In short, there’s a strong chance post-referendum of the Tory party (and possibly the labour party too) imploding, with many defectors to UKIP.

Meanwhile Gove has been trying to claim that 5 million were camping out at Calais waiting to come in if the UK votes remain. In fairness this is an improvement on Farage’s claim of 38 million Romanians (more than the entire population of Romania!). Also the main driver of population growth in the UK is still demographic changes (read people living longer and have more children) not immigration (and the majority of migrants come from outside the EU). So unless Gove is arguing we should introduce a one child policy, or start euthanasia of old people at 80, leaving the EU won’t really help.

Also the leave camp have been trying to counter all the negative economic projections by wheeling out business leaders of their own. Trouble is, some journalists went through the list and worked out that many of these pro-Brexiters bosses were tax avoidance experts or retired.

In other news some 250 celeb’s have come out in favour of staying in the EU. Of course this is hardly a surprise, I mean if it wasn’t for multicultural Britain most of them won’t have a job. They aren’t exactly a lot of jobs for entertainers in parts of Europe under far right control at the moment. But certainly they highlight the important contribution the EU has made to British culture recently.

Bared from voting

I’ve long opposed the idea of an EU referendum largely because I feared it won’t be a fair fight. Inevitably the leave camp will engage in a campaign based on lies and BS, while playing the race card. It’s like agreeing to play poker with the devil for your soul, you know he’s going to cheat, so its not a fair contest.

However, what’s worse is that polls have suggested that up to 200,000 students will miss out on voting. Which is not really surprising, it is the summer many will be at home or working off their student debt. Cameron, did know what students do over the summer, or was he assuming they’d all get in the back of the roller and let Jeeves run them down to the polling station? Or perhaps borrow daddy’s copper?

Young people are far more likely to vote stay than vote to leave the EU. So large number of students not voting could easily swing the result. And this is on the back of the fact that 3 million EU citizens resident (and often married to a brit) will be barred from voting in this referendum. As indeed will many British ex-pats living in Europe are also barred from voting. And again, we are not talking small number, up to one or two million in fact. Oddly enough though commonwealth citizens from Australia or Malaysia, in many cases CAN vote in the EU referendum.

Quite clearly euroskeptics within the Tory party have managed to stack the deck in favour of a leave vote, meaning that there is a stronger possibility of a leave vote than I think many realise. And the worst case scenario is really a vote to leave by a very narrow margin on a low turnout.

That will almost certainly provoke legal challenges. Indeed just one such legal challenge is underway as we speak. Obviously in the event of an actual leave vote, many of those who will be effected will file further suits. And they will be able to show to a court how they will suffer real and genuine economic harm, or face discrimination as a result of Brexit. And corporations in the firing line will be able to hire lots of expensive lawyers and bury the process in red tape. Obviously this rules out a quick quiet and easy exit from the EU, suggesting a long drawn out and generally messy divorce.

The death of democracy?

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Freedom…..terms and conditions may apply!

Another thing to worry about regarding Trump or the many other populist leaders across Europe is the threat they pose to the system of democracy itself. Quite apart from the autocratic tendencies that they lean towards (thus, anyone voting for them needs to consider that you might be voting to end democracy as we know it), there is the fact that these candidates undermine the case for democracy itself.

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I’ve had debates with people from countries like China about democracy, and as they see it having a democracy would merely mean allowing the uneducated, illiterate and easily manipulated masses to pick the government. And they’d likely pick some reality TV star or some lunatic like Trump or Putin. Indeed, case in point, recently a known vigilante murderer, with authoritarian views was elected president in the Philippines.

Certainly, many from China will happily agree that the Chinese government is far from perfect. And yes there is a lot of corruption (as the Panama papers reveal). But on the other hand, the government is well run and things are improving for the people every year. And there’s no danger of racist nutters taking over. Whether this attitude will prevail when China’s economy stops growing is perhaps a question for debate another time. But certainly it is very difficult, given recent events in the West, to concoct a compelling argument in favour of democracy.

In recent years we’ve seen western governments fail to act decisively over the financial crisis (as in take measures to prevent another crisis), they have imposed austerity measures that are clearly harming many, and the “the war on terror” has seen all sorts of intrusive and anti-democratic legislation passed. And in other parts of Europe, populist parties have brought in all sorts of crazy legislation. The legalised theft from asylum seekers in Denmark for example or fascist vigilante patrols in Hungary.

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In essence one is forced to the conclusion that democracy is a great idea in theory, but it doesn’t always work in practice….of course at this point the communist will point out that this is exactly the argument used against them in the cold war. Ya, making everyone equal sounds like a swell idea, the trouble is in practice you end up with governments that are paralysed by their own internal bureaucracy, while the state coffers are looted by pilfering, self serving party officials.

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Choose your leaders carefully…if you can!

Another counter to autocratic governments is that the quality of the government you get boils down to the quality of the ruler in charge. If you have a good, wise and just ruler (e.g. Roman Emperor Hadrian) who acts in the long term interest of the country, things can go well. But all it takes is one bad ruler and he can easily undo everything (e.g Nero) and potentially even destroy the country. Furthermore, once you have a “bad king” (or President for life, Comrade general, Dear Leader, etc.) its next to impossible to remove him (short of assassination….and that assumes you’ve a competent and sane alternative waiting in the wings). And with no checks and balances on his power, there is no limit to the damage an authoritarian leader can do. This would seem to offer a good argument in favour of democracy.

Unfortunately, recent experience would question whether this is so. Take G. W. Bush. In his book on Tyrants by the author David Wallechinsky points out that Bush used many of the same tactics and methods we would normally associate with dictators – Torture, kidnap, detention without trial, ignoring human rights (some of his Fox news cheerleaders even went so far as to call the US bill of rights “a suicide pact), autocratic rule without public or congressional oversight, corruption and financial mismanagement, bizarre behaviour etc.

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Yet, the checks and balances that are there precisely to stop this sort of thing were not applied to Bush. Given what we now know, Bush should have been impeached and bundled off to the Hague (along with Tony Blair). Instead, not only did a Republican controlled congress fail to impeach him, but the public re-elected him!

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And to stay non-partisan, one of Bush’s most intrusive actions was to create the PRISM surveillance system. Obama was aware of this, yet did nothing to dismantle PRISM, or for that matter ensure the appropriate democratic and public scrutiny was applied to it. One shudders to think what abuses of power would occur under a Trump regime. He might not just prove to be the worst president in American history, but the last one (who is democratically elected anyway!).

In short, democracy only works if the checks and balances built into the system are applied. And the partisan ideologically driven nature of modern politics means they often aren’t implemented. And keep in mind one of those key “emergency brakes” is us the voting public. Voters need to stop treating ballot boxes as a means of venting their personal frustrations. Or treating an election like some celebrity TV talent show. The job of PM or President is a little bit more important than that of high school president or some TV variety show.

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Hence we need to vote for someone who can actually do the job, not the guy who has the best winning smile. And it is crucial that certain lunatics are kept from high office. The public are increasingly failing to uphold their role in democracy, which risks bringing down the entire system.

Economic freedom v’s political freedom

Those who watched too many of those 50’s propaganda pieces will probably argue that the key feature of democracy is that it allows people to innovate and set up new companies. The implication being that you can’t set up your own business in a non-democratic country because of interference from the big bad government. Really? Are you telling me that if you have a good idea to make a fortune (and thus employ people and pay more tax) that the Chinese government would stop you?

There’s a difference between economic freedom and personal freedom. While we’d all like this Reaganite myth to be true, that the freer a country is and the smaller the government, the better a place it is to run a business. But recent events (i.e. China and Asia’s economic boom, while the US and West has declined) suggests otherwise.

Certainly the corruption and cronyism in many non-democracies creates problems for business. But even so, we still see corporations beating a path to the door of such regimes and they won’t be doing that if the felt such regimes were anti-business. And in the west many populist leaders (such as Trump or Farage) want to restrict or even end free trade . So its difficult to argue that Western democracies are a lone bastion of free trade.

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That said, while many companies might want to set up shop in places like China, Dubai or Singapore, few have actually moved their headquarters out of western countries, even thought this often means being subject to western laws and regulations…and perhaps paying some taxes too. This is largely because business leaders understand what happens when you get on the wrong side of the government (or the wealthy and well connected locals) in non-democratic countries. Hence why they want to keep a suitcase packed by the door (as it were) and are ready to bolt if things turn ugly. So perhaps the real benefit of democracy we should try to sell is freedom from prosecution.

Unfortunately, recent events again contradict the notion that democracies are better at protecting people from oppression. Western countries under Bush and Blair not only engaged in acts such as kidnap and detention without trial and torture, but they co-operated with regimes such as Syria and Libya too. And part of what’s driving the rise in far right parties in the US and Europe is a demand for institutionalised racism towards certain minority groups.

Embracing authoritarianism

And this lurch towards casual racism and authoritarianism, isn’t something on the fringes, but very much mainstream politics. A recent survey found that 50% of UK adults hold authoritarian views. Cameron’s big idea is that he should be allowed to discriminate against one set of people when it comes to benefits. And for quite a while the Tories were insisting that they need to repeal the European convention on human rights…until it was pointed out to them that this would make the UK members of a very small club of European countries who aren’t subject to the convention (you know places like Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan….). So it would be difficult to argue that the west is (or will remain) less likely to persecute people than other nations.

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Certainly the recent rise in “populism both sides of the Atlantic is driven by frustrations with established governments. But are the populist leaders benefiting from these frustrations really the best people to tackle these problems? One could scarcely think of a worse person to take on “the elites” than a crony, lying, billionaire draft dodger member of the elite club….just one who the others don’t trust, largely because of his mob connections.

And one of the arguments for voting for populist leaders is that, oh regular politicians lie and flip flop all the time. Have you been listening to Trump recently? He flip flop’s within the same sentence!….and he’s still not released his tax returns, despite promising to do so as early as 2011.

And on the left (again, let’s try to stay bi-partisan), while I do have to confess I like some of the things I hear from Bernie Sanders, but I have to ask if a 71 year old congressman, who has spend 44 of those years in one political job or another is really the best person to bring about such changes. And in the UK, while there’s a lot of things I hear from Corybn I agree with, but I question whether a 69 year old labour party rebel is really a good choice for a future PM. If he can’t control his own party how is he going to run a country? As the Syriza party in Greece showed, its very easy to make extravagant promises, but living up to them is a lot harder. And don’t even get me started on Europe’s growing list of far right leaders!

The fact is that many populist politicians are far worse than mainstream politicians. Its equivalent to someone frustrated with the lies of mainstream auto dealers, instead going to some back alley dealer who only deals in cash and is out on probation for running a cut and shut operation. Populist’s will promise the most ridiculous and extreme policies, which they then fail to deliver on, largely because those policies were unenforceable from the beginning, at least without destroying democracy first. And of course the danger is, sooner or later one of them will go to this extreme, as events in Venezuela prove….and I suspect events in the Philippines will further prove in a few years time.

The end of democracy?

And let us not doubt that what’s at stake here is indeed democracy itself. Keep in mind that historically speaking, democracy (at least the kind with a popular, one person one vote system) is a very new idea. And not all the countries of the world are democracies (many in the developing world just pretend to be democracies so they can trade with the west).

It is interesting that many futurists or sci-fi authors do not think it is a given that future societies will be democratic. In the “Starship Troopers” universe of Robert A. Heinlein democracy is remembered as a failed experiment that brought the world to the brink of collapse. In Frank Herbert Dune universe democracy has been superseded by an imperial regime of various ultra-powerful squabbling families. In the Multiplayer game Eve-online, none of the regime within the gaming universe resemble anything we’d consider a democracy.

We need to start teaching people that democracy isn’t so much a right, but instead see it as a responsibility. And that means applying equal scrutiny to politicians on a factual basis. If “flip-flopping”, lying and failing to fulfil promises made are reasons to dismiss mainstream politicians, then the same rule has to apply for populist ones.

And its all too easy to stand on a platform, make stuff up and promise the sun the moon and the stars. It is essential that voters pause for a while and think, is this actually possible. And even if it is, voters need to pause for three seconds and considering the consequences (e.g. throw out all the Mexicans in the US, you’ll have crops rotting in the fields, rising labour costs, rising taxes to pay for all the security, companies relocating overseas, etc.).

Good politics is about trying to achieve the possible not the imaginable fantasy.

Sexism and the city

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A recent photograph from the PwC receptionist pool

One argument you’ll frequently hear from those on the right, is that oh, equality is something we sorted out ages ago, why women have all these rights now already, why should they get equal pay, etc, in fact its men who are being discriminated against (Trump’s views being a case in point). Of course the usual response from women is to say, that’s a bit rich coming from men, you don’t know what its like being a woman in the modern work place.

And we have an unfortunate example of the sort of stuff they are talking about with this tale from accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers. A receptionist was sent home from work on her first day on the job for refusing to wear high heels. She claims that she showed up wearing smart black shoes, but without the regulation 2-4 in heel (yes they actually specified the size of heel!…and in a non-metric size, which century are these guy’s operating in?). She was told to go out and buy a pair, which naturally she refused to do and was then sent home. Oddly enough there was a man working at reception who also wasn’t wearing high heels.

And this is far from a one off, PwC have been in trouble for sexism before. In the US they lost a case a few years ago relating to Gender stereotyping as well as being pulled up for sexist e-mails being forwarded around the company. So the company does seem to have a bit of reputation for being run as a misogynistic old boy’s club.

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All actual ads from the 70’s….so not much has changed at PwC by the sounds of it!

In which case its no wonder she was sent home. By the sounds of it she was one of “those women” whom we are warned about in public service videos. You know the sort of woman who will express “an opinion” about something other than dinner arrangements, embroidery or cute kittens. Next thing you know she’ll be wanting to drive! Women know your place….and where in the anatomy of a PwC employee to place a high heeled shoe next time they make some sexist comment!

 

US election update

Out of Cruz control

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Well the big news I suppose was Ted Cruz dropping out of the race. To be fair, he was something of a forlorn hope, as many argued Ted Cruz was as bad as, if not worse, than Trump. I mean let’s read of a few of his ringing endorsements:

Ted Cruz is Lucifer in the Flesh” John Boehner

If you shot Ted Cruz on the floor of the senate, and the trial was held in the Senate, nobody would convict you” Mitch McConnell

Voting for Cruz over Trump is like picking between being shot or poisoned, I choose to be poisoned, who know’s maybe they’ll find a cure” (ya its called Hilary Clinton!) Lindsey Graham.

And that’s his supporters talking! His policies were crazy, a little less fascist than Trump’s yes, but not by much. Needless to say, even if he unseated Trump at a messy convention, his chances of winning against Hilary were pretty low, once people realised what they were signing up for by voting for him (basically national bankruptcy and stern authoritarianism).

John Kaisch also dropped out. He actually had a fighting chance against Hilary (in that he’s vaguely sane!), he’s rated well in the polls. Although that’s probably more because many people don’t know much about him, i.e. that he was a Lehman brother executive.

These two candidates dropping out at the same time does sort of hint at orders from above. As always with the GOP, we have to read between the lines to figure out what’s happened behind the scenes. Its possible the republican establishment has made peace with Donald Trump, although the current lack of endorsements from past presidents, candidates or the speaker suggests otherwise….its equally possible they are planning to back Hilary!

My guess is that the GOP establishment have simply decided to write off this year’s presidential election, instead focusing on senate and congressional races. Hilary is arguably the most right wing democratic candidate to emerge in recent years, so contrary to the anti-Hilary rhetoric you will hear from Fox News, the bottom line is they can live with Hilary as president.

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The polls put her at least 6 points ahead already. And such polls often ignore the 12% of “don’t knows”. The trouble for Trump is that “don’t knows” tend to pick the safest and least radical candidate, the one promising the least amount of change, which in this election is Hilary. So the balance of probability is her winning and winning by a significant margin, not least given how well she’s doing in certain key demographics (in truth Hilary could finish behind Trump nationally and still win, just via the way certain swing states will likely vote).

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Hilary would rate as the least radical candidate still in the race….and this is the Wall Street Journal talking!

Keep in mind (based on the 2012 results), a 5 point lead gives her all of the swing states and at 10 points even states like Georgia, Missouri, Arizona or Indiana become vulnerable. And any significant shift by GOP voters to a third party (e.g. the Libertarians) could lead to near total wipe out for the GOP.

Already the Koch brothers have stopped funding presidential super-pac’s and started moving money the way of senate and congressional races (which would have been another factor in Cruz and Kaisich dropping out). Ultimately if they can control the senate and congress, then they can control the white house regardless of who is in charge. They’ll want to deny Hilary a majority, although with Trump as the candidate, that might now be impossible. Even John McCain is getting worried he might lose now Trump’s the nominee.

So at the very least they’ll want to deny Hilary a large majority. At between 55-60% the democrats will be able to over ride filibustering (depending on how many Republicans they can get to support said bill). This means they will be able to present bill after bill after bill. In theory the first 100 days of Hilary could see more legislation passed than 8 years of Obama, if enough senate and congressional seats can be won.

All in all, the GOP establishment probably now see Trump as the best way for them to win back control of their party. They let the baby have his bottle, wait till after Trump’s crashed and burned and then they’ll be able to say to the Tea party types “you guys had a simple job to do, pick between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (Bush and Rubio!), but instead you picked someone as racist and retarded as your redneck inbreed trailer trash selves. And what did it get us? The worst election performance since Herbert Hoover, loss of the senate, congress, supreme court, Hilary as president, Nancy fu&%ing Pelosi as VP (actually it could well be Wesley Clark) and Elisabeth Warren as chief justice. So next time you guys need to do what you’re effing told and leave the thinking to us, that how the GOP is supposed to work dammit!”

How bad could Trump be?

Well just a taster from some of his recent announcements regarding economic policy (see a Young Turks video on this here). Basically he proposed to borrow massively, then renege on those debts and drive the country over the fiscal cliff as and when he can…………………. ……..I’m pausing right now so that any bankers or economists reading this can get back up off the floor…..Trump winning would be disaster for both them or indeed anyone with any interest in this thing the rest of us call “money” (so Bernie Sanders supporters have nothing to worry about then!).

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Trump’s tax plans would require a significant rise in borrowing, even assuming no rise in public spend (to pay for wars, walls & border guards, etc.)

Obviously with the threat of a national default looming over them, many investors will stop lending money to the federal government, as they will only do so if they consider it low risk (pension funds are all but legally obliged to only take on certain forms of safe investments). The value of the dollar will plummet as those hanging onto US bonds dump them, interest rates for the US government (if they are able to borrow at all) will rise, which will then have a knock on effect across the wider economy In short, mortgages will go up along with personal and business loans, insurance, etc. And we are talking rises of 10 perhaps 15% (about what happened last time there was a major crisis like this). At the same time the costs of buying in goods from abroad will go up, likely leading to higher inflation (bad news if your on a fixed income like pensioners).

Keep in mind that what caused the last financial crisis was the fact that assets previously considered to be triple A safe (mortgage backed securities) turned out to be not so safe. Banks stopped lending to one another as nobody knew who was holding the bag. This same scenario would play out again, except now there would be no bailout, as the Federal government would be what’s in trouble. While the IMF would normally step in at this point and restore order, its difficult to see them reaching a deal with Trump. Given that the first thing they’d demand is that he commits to paying back all bond holders and balances the US books through a crash program of austerity and tax rises that would make what Greece when through seem mild.

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So in essence a vote for Trump could well be a vote for economic chaos. Its no wonder he and the establishment are at odds with one another.

Crash and Bern

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So primary season is over you say? well no, Bernie Sanders, who is wildly popular with youngsters who don’t understand how politics work millennials, is still running. His supporters still think he can win, they need to learn about this thing called maths .

Bernie’s supporters point to polls which put him well ahead of Trump and suggest he would be better able to beat Trump than Hilary. Certainly, I do agree that Hilary’s biggest problem…is that she’s Hilary Clinton. There’s a certain segment of US society who have been indoctrinated by the media to sooner gnaw their own arm off than vote for her, but there-in lies the problem for Bernie supporters. Bernie is only ahead in these polls because many aren’t as familiar with him than they are with Trump or Hilary. If we were to put together a poll of Hilary v’s David Franklin or Franklin v’s Trump you’d probably find Franklin winning…at least among those who didn’t know Franklin’s a convicted serial killer!

The fact is going around America calling yourself a socialist isn’t exactly a way to win an election. Now okay, to be fair the US has its own form of socialism, in the form of massive subsidies to certain special interests (farmers, anyone who drives a car, republican leaning states, corporations who supply the Federal government, etc.). Its basically the united states of France. The only difference is that in other countries such spending is more evenly distributed and they are better at raising taxes to pay for it. So what Bernie is proposing isn’t that radical.

But there have been many Americans who have been raised from birth to believe that socialism is the work of the devil. That its anti-democratic and will involve the “feds” coming to take away all of your wealth, guns, grandma (to the death panel) and ban all religion. Now yes, that’s a pile of grade A BS, but its the sort of thing that would cost Bernie a lot of votes, and he’s not been doing very well in certain key demographic’s he’d need to carry key swing states.

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If Bernie wins – A party election ad for Trump (actually its a Chick Tract, but same thing!)

Don’t get me wrong, I am not necessarily a Hilary supporter. Indeed I think its a travesty that the democrats could not come up with a compromise candidate somewhere between the extremes of Hilary and Bernie. But we are where we are. The fact is that Bernie continuing to run benefits only one person – Donald Trump. Bernie supporters who say “Bernie or bust” need to realise that this is the equivalent of declaring that you will vote twice for Donald Trump. Bernie needs to quit the race and endorse Hilary asap.

What I missed on my hols….

I’ve been away in Spain for a few days and thought a little catchup would be order….

Labour Anti-Semitism?

Labour is currently embroiled in an “anti-Semitism” row. It was all started by an aid to Corbyn ally John Mc Donnell, making a (bad) joke…..2 years ago! And the media took this quib on Twitter as if it was a serious political statement. Then Ken Livingstone put his foot in it, which the anti-Corbyn wing of the party exploited to get him “suspended” although exactly what he’s suspended from is unclear (he’s kind of semi-retired now, doesn’t hold any official posts).

And its stretching things to call this “anti-Semitism. A number of pro-Israeli cheerleaders have long tried to stick the “anti-semitic” label onto anyone who is even remotely critical of Israel. However, this means we would have to label many people, including several former heads of Israeli border security and intelligence as being “anti-Semitic” as they too have been critical of Israeli policy (far more critical in fact than Ken!). A similar “row” is also going on in relation to the NUS, who have just voted in their first black female leader, with some now threatening to boycott the NUS as a result (which sounds more like Islamophobia to me).

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Spot the Racist…..hint, according to the media he’s the one with the cup of tea

If you want to talk about anti-Semitism I’d be less worried about the labour party and more worried about the rise of fascist parties across Europe. If anyone (such as these anti-Corbyn labour MP’s or journalists) honestly think Ken Livingstone is anti-Semitic, go talk to some skinheads some time (Hungary’s Jobbik being a good example). Oddly enough, they don’t seem to mind Israeli policy in the West bank (the bit that involves shooting Muslims anyway), but that doesn’t make them supporters of Israel (these are the sorts who believe all of that Rothschild nonsense). And correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t we see this before? A bunch of fascists came to power, the right wing media aligned with them, told us not to worry, they didn’t mean it when they said nasty anti-Jewish things….its the lefties who are the real enemy. Remind me, how did that work out?

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Quite clearly what’s going on here is that the anti-Corbynites in the labour party have been searching for months for a way of attacking him and his allies, and this seemed to bite, so they went for it. Whether its actually true or not scarcely matters. If Corbyn, or any of his supporters, were to quib “is the pope catholic” the headline the next day would be “Commie Corbyn questions the pope’s legitimacy”. If he ran into a burning house to save a baby, the tabloids would immediately accuse him of being anti-fire (man’s earliest invention mocked by leftie leader) and taking jobs away from hard working firemen.

UK elections results

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The SNP fell short of a majority, which was a pity as they were quite close. However this election was not about who would run Scotland (the SNP were always going to win), it was about who would be the main opposition to the SNP. Needless to say having the Tories as Scotland’s main opposition is not a good news. I know of quite a few who plumbed for the Tories because they felt Labour was now unclear on the independence issue. Its like labour can’t get anything right. They lost support last election for not being neutral on independence now they are losing votes for being neutral on the matter!

The bad news for any who voted for the Tories for these reasons, you wasted your vote. If the SNP want to hold an independence referendum they can count on the support of the Greens. They would either abstain and give the SNP a defacto majority, or (more than likely) vote with them in favour of another referendum. Given that the most likely trigger for an independence referendum would be Brexit, its difficult to believe that the whole of the labour or lib dem parties will remain anti-referendum knowing the impact on their electorates of an EU exit.

My guess is, if Brexit happens, then the SNP will not have to try very hard to get the votes needed to block legislation from Westminster (for Brexit to be legal, the Scottish Parliament would have to repeal various EU laws first, which they could refuse to do) thus forcing a constitutional crisis and a 2nd inde-ref.

And of course, the main risk of Brexit is posed not by the SNP or labour but by the Tories, so electing a party who cannot agree on this issue actually increases the probability of a 2nd Inde-ref. And rather than holding the SNP’s feet to the fire over public services, no doubt instead the Tories will obsess over other issues such as immigration. In short, Scotland’s interests are not best served by this.

In the rest of the UK, labour hung on…just! They are still in charge in many councils, have a minority government in Wales and took the mayor of London off the Tories (the new mayor then immediately attacking his own party leader…so much for party unity, here’s Corbyn’s response). Certainly its not the sort of result you want to see if you hope that labour will win the next election. However, its not a knock out blow for the anti-Corbyn factions.

On the back pages

Anytime a big story breaks, its worth looking through the back pages of the newspaper, for stories that someone is trying to bury. The fact the Tories have now conducted a U-turn on academies is certainly one of those. How such an obviously unpopular and unworkable policy could make it so close to being implemented should tell you alot about how out of touch the Tories truly are.

Another was the long term funding of the BBC. The culture secretary (when not hanging out with prostitutes) let slip the “tempting prospect” of the BBC disappearing in 2017. The BBC’s charter runs out and there are now serious concerns as to what the Tories will do. No doubt sell it to the Murdoch’s one imagines (oh, and that would swing things the way of the SNP who would likely campaign for an independent BBC in Scotland if the Beeb as we know it was threatened).

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Finally, there’s the naming of NERC’s new ship as the RRS David Attenborough, defying the internet poll looking to call it Boaty Mc Boatface. If someone asks you a serious question and you give a silly answer, then you can’t complain when they ignore you. I mean if you asked your relatives for some baby names and they all agreed you should call the child something vulgar, would you do so? Oddly enough there’s now a petition to get David to change his name to Boaty McBoatface.

EU referendum

It has gone a little quiet on the EU referendum, although that’s likely to change, the numbers have started to narrow, which is worrying. One thing I can say, having spoken to many Europeans during my hol’s there will be no sweetheart deals for the UK post-Brexit. The UK will be given its marching orders and a boot out the door. Some feel that even the concessions Cameron got went too far as it is. So let’s put that one to bed.

Brexit

Also, the expat community are getting a little panicky. I mean put yourself in their shoes, they might have to sell up their home, move back to draughty damp England (quite a few live in Spain for health reasons) to live in a council flat (many could not afford to buy a house in the UK now, given their fixed income and low property prices in Spain) just because of a bunch of geographically challenged bigots.

In an effort to counter much of the negative economic projections relating to Brexit, a group has been formed called “Economists for Brexit”. However, their credentials don’t exactly stack up. Most appear to be pals or buddies of various figures in the Brexit camp, notably Boris Johnson’s economic’s advisor Gerard Lyons.

One is forced to the conclusion that this was something hashed together. You can imagine Boris saying “why all this economic stuff is killing us…wait a minute Greg, you’re an economists aren’t you? Could you get a few chaps together to say we’ll be okay?”. Certainly there report has to be weighted against the reports released by the IMF, the OECD and the Treasury all saying that the economy will be worse off. Also we need to add to the “stay” side of the scales a report penned by…..Gerard Lyon’s himself warning of the danger’s of Brexit released a few months back (before Boris had decided to back the leave camp). One wonders what suddenly changed in the space of a few months to make him completely change his views (his boss wants to be PM perhaps?).

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your point of view, this referendum won’t be decided on “facts” but on what ever BS the tabloids can drag up and scare people into voting one way or the other. Never in the history of democracy has such an important question been posed to those who are so poorly informed to answer it.