Christmas time is panto season in the UK and that was on full display. Corbyn might (or might not) have called May “a stupid woman” (I could call her much worse things!…and he’s a fu*king moron since we’re talking about it) prompting the Tories to waste an entire day of parliamentary time playing “oh yes you did, oh no I didn’t” arguing. And recall May recently had an argument with Junker because he called her policy “nebulous” (again I could come up with worse descriptions, fu*king retarded for starters).
I mean seriously, one of the most important decisions in the UK’s recent history and they are wasting time because of playground name calling. Are they grown adults or kids in a school yard?
In part this has to be blamed I’d argue on the UK’s broken political system. The first past the post voting system tends to lead to choice between Tweedledum or Tweedledee. And given their virtual monopoly on both the right and left it means they can waste time on silly things (panto debates like this, or in the US trying to ban abortion), without fear of losing votes.
Contrast that with the situation in many other European countries with proportional representation. Here the government generally ends up as a coalition. Its argued that this makes government’s less stable. I’d argue the opposite. Basically, such antics won’t happen in a coalition, because the coalition partners will just walk away, either forcing an election or crossing the idle, joining the opposition and forming a new government (as happened recently in Spain). This enforces a certain code of behaviour on the major parties.
The sort of open warfare we’ve seen in the Tory party over brexit, for example, just won’t happen in a coalition government. Not least because there would probably never have been a brexit vote in the first place. Furthermore, such two party systems are much more vulnerable to cyber attack, as we saw in 2016. So to my mind, if there’s anything we can learn from recent events its that need to reform UK politics and ditch the first past the post system.
Army to deploy for brexit
And as if to provide another example of everything wrong with British politics, we have the government’s no deal planning, which they were proud to announce includes deploying the army….who will presumably parachute in and distribute food….stuck in a queue in Calais (so what are they going to do, invade France!), or medicines (which presumably they’ll make themselves). And while they are at it, I assume they’ll be picking crops in the fields, taking up nursing and doctors jobs to meet NHS staff shortages. Hell, brexit’s left us short staffed in my uni, maybe we could get a few squadies in to give a few lectures.
What is it about the British and the army? I presume some politicians played too much with their action figures as a kid. In Ireland a politician calls out the army and the media spend the next few days taking the piss out of him. Deploying the army is expensive (hundreds more per soldier per day than it costs to keep them in barracks) Trump’s recent deployment to the US border for example, cost between $200-300 million in the space of a few weeks. And the army are kind of busy people, what with training, various ongoing security operations, aid missions, search and rescue, not to mention the small matter of protecting the country.
The whole doctrine of Western countries hinges on the fact that they have a smaller force of well trained full time soldiers, rather than a large force of poorly trained and badly motivated conscripts (read young boys and old men), as for example is Russia’s policy. This creates a force multiplier effect. That is to say a professional army can do a heck of a lot more damage with less troops and less equipment. Quite apart from the fact that a repressive regime can’t deploy its full strength at any one time (they have to hold back a significant number of troops to deal with the possibility of unrest on the home front).
Of course this military doctrine falls apart when politicians start using the army as their own private goon squad. So what the headlines should read is that the government has essentially admitted that no deal will be a disaster, which they’ll have to fix at great cost and by compromising the country’s national defence.
Nine lessons for brexiters
The UK’s former EU ambassador, Sir Ivan Rogers, has unleashed a blistering attack on the UK government’s brexit policy. Its worth listening to the full podcast of his speech, nine lessons brexiters need to learn. One could roll out the standard counter argument, a point made about Stephen Fry’s recent podcast on brexit, that such intellectual discourse, with its reliance on “facts” might go down well in a lecture hall, but you try repeating that in a pub. Where no doubt some red faced gammon will shout you down with “brexit means brexit”….
….Which, oddly enough, is the first point he makes. Brexit does mean brexit. Out means out. The UK can’t leave the EU and expect to enjoy all the benefits of membership, not without paying some sort of price. This is something brexiters seem unable to grasp. The Irish backstop has been such an obstacle for the UK largely because they were blind sided by it. They didn’t expect the EU to back Ireland over the UK. But Ireland is in the EU, the UK is leaving. And, when during the trade negotiations, and Spain brings up Gibraltar, or the French bring up fishing, or the Poles immigration rights, guess whose side the EU will take?
On which point, as Rogers points out, brexit is a process not an event. And it will be a decade or two before its all sort out. If you don’t like the withdrawal agreement, you ain’t going to like the trade deal much either. And forget about “shutting the door” to migration, or having single market access which the UK doesn’t pay for. There is, as Roger points out, no possibility of a deal such as Norway+ or super Canada (well okay, I’m sure there’s a cocktail or something that a bar in Toronto sells called that), nor a “managed no deal”. Inevitably the UK will be forced to make further concessions during the trade negotiations, more so again if they go for a no deal option.
And speaking of no deal, there is an obvious hypocrisy between claiming the UK can function just fine on WTO rules with its largest trading partner. But that they somehow needs to negotiate some sort of extensive trade deal with South American or African countries (which it already has trade deals with, which it loses at the end of March), nations the UK does significantly less trade with. And obviously other countries, such as the US, will prioritise their own interests in any trade talks over the UK’s. The idea that they’ll cut the UK some sort of special deal that screws themselves over is ludicrous.
However, its his final point which I think is most noteworthy, that of a lack of transparency with the whole brexit process. The brexiters have yet to be straight with the public. They’ve mostly focused on a few pro’s of being outside of the EU (many of which they are unlikely to actually get, and some which are just fantasy), yet they have steadfastly refused to acknowledge any of downsides (dismissing them as project fear). Hence the shock horror when many were confronted with May’s deal. And if, as noted, the trade negotiations go the same way, the anger among the gammon brigade is going to just build and build.
In short, if brexit is to continue, brexiters need to tell the public the awful truth and prepare them for the inevitable. Its ironic that one of arguments against a 2nd referendum (or abandoning brexit) is the fear it would enhance the far right. The opposite is true. A brexit, sold to the public as a short pleasant unicorn ride to sunlight uplands, that instead turns into a long hard unending trudge, during which the many issues that led people to vote leave get worse and worse, is exactly the sort of breeding ground in which the far right will flourish.
Economic hitmen circling
If you are looking for a book recommendation over the holidays, I’d suggest “confessions of an economic hitman” by John Perkins. It details how corporations would exploit the fact that so many developing world countries were (and still are) run by chest puffing populist autocrats, who could be manipulated into doing foolish things with the state’s finances, bankrupting the country and giving the corporations extraordinary leverage over these states.
Well I was reminded of it recently when I was talking to someone who works in stocks. Because, given that we’ve started to elect similar populists, who often either don’t understand how politics works, or are on the take themselves, corporations are simply copying these tactics and applying them in western states.
Case in point, the reaction of many traders to brexit was to immediately draw up a list of UK firms and start shorting their shares. They had to be selective about who they went after in the early days (some companies would carry on despite brexit, others were doing badly for reasons entirely unrelated to brexit). But with the current political turmoil they go just as easily toss a dart blindfold and still get a bullseye.
The UK high street for example, has seen drops in footfall and a general slow down in trade. And with online retailers also suffering clearly its something more fundamental that changing tastes. In fact one study suggests that even despite all the closures we’ve seen over the last 18 months, only about half the shops the UK currently has are actually needed. Brexit has in short, presented the short sellers with an open goal.
Which is ironic given how many voted leave as some sort of a two fingered salute to the elites. But, to draw an analogy, imagine you live in a block of flats and hear your neighbours, who are angry with the landlord, plotting to burn the building down. Well the economic hitman’s reaction to that is to take out a massive fire insurance policy on the building….then provide the residences with cans of petrol and a box of matches.
This is the unfortunate reality. Angry ranting and raving just to make yourself feel better is counter productive. Because once you’ve finished bouncing off the walls you’ll likely find those who you were angry with have simply used the distraction to get even wealthier and more powerful.
UK firms seek post-brexit EU regulation
And to further the point above, May has told UK companies to prepare for a no deal brexit. And the reaction of many of them? Well aside from crapping their pants, some have stepped up their efforts to register their companies in EU states. Hundreds of UK manufacturers, in particular aerospace, airlines and other manufacturers are seeking EU jurisdiction before the UK leaves the EU. This means that they will be regulated by the EU rather than the UK.
Why? Well because the EU is their biggest customer and if they aren’t in compliance with EU regulations, they can’t sell into the EU. Furthermore, there’s also the matter of legal action. Let’s suppose you are a UK airline, or a manufacturer of aircraft parts. A plane crashes and you get sued because it is claimed the plane was unsafe. Now at the moment you can claim that your aircraft was fully complaint will all EU regulations and safety standards. This reduces the odds of the case going against you. And furthermore, even if it does, there are legal limits to how much you can be sued for per passenger. Outside the EU (and your aircraft could well crash in some distant country not just in the UK, hence UK law is no fall back in this case), this defence doesn’t work and the claim limit is unlimited (which means nobody’s going to insure you or give you a line of credit!).
Of course this immediately contradicts one of the key points made in the referendum, that corporations would be flocking to the UK, to escape the EU’s burdensome regulations (you know laws that stop flammable materials being used in buildings or prevent toxic paint being used on children’s toys). Instead the opposite is proving to be true. And it also means many UK firms will now have one foot out of the country. So if things do go to pot, its going to be very easy for them to simply relocate.
You may recall that tragic bridge collapse near Genoa (which in fact I’d passed under a few months prior), which the Italian Horseshoe government of 5-star and the League promptly blamed on the EU. Well I stumbled on this article which reveals that a report back in 2013 warned that the bridge was a risk of collapse, only for that report to be dismissed as a “fairy story” by the 5 star party, who were then in opposition.
This is the problem with populists, its easy to say no to bridge repairs as a waste of people’s taxes and gather popular support in the process, but actions have consequences. And those consequences include bridges collapsing due to lack of repair and people dying. The irony is that one of those 5 stars is transportation….and this is the same party who also can’t get the buses to run in Rome because they keep catching fire!
In fact, very few of those 5 star promises are being met. Human rights have inevitably gone to pot, thanks to their decision to go into government with a bunch of fascists. Their anti-vaccine tendencies has resulted in a measles epidemic breaking out. Renewable energy? Word is they are negotiating a deal involving Russian gas and a new pipeline to carry it. Corruption? Their Mayor in Rome has been battling allegations of corruption and cronyism for some time now.
In seems to be that anything positive they try to do, they screw it up. You wonder if they should just change the party’s name to “cinque merda” (five turds) instead.
That sinking feeling
On of the problems with climate change is that we can’t really predict its consequences. Yes we know that its going to get warmer, which will have various consequences (more heat waves, melting polar ice and thus sea level rise, possibly colder winters). But the real danger is the X factor. The unexpected consequences of climate change, the stuff that will just come out of left field. These are problematic given that we can’t really predict them and hence can’t plan ahead.
Case in point, this story from the UK. The recent hot weather and drought sparked a large number of claims for subsidence. Subsidence has many causes, but a not uncommon cause is a change in moisture level in the soil. If the soil gets too dry, it can soften and crack. And naturally the long dry summer we’ve just have, particular worse given that it was followed by very heavy rain, has let to this rash of claims. Yet another example of the economic price we’ll pay for climate change.
Finally an interesting video here on the most important unsolved robberies, you’ve probably never heard about. In March 1971, several anti-war activists managed to break into an FBI office and made off with a large number of files. They were suspicious that the FBI was (illegally) spying on the peace movement. And not only did they find evidence of this, but they’ll also exposed COINTELPRO a secret FBI surveillance programme, of the sort we’d normally expect from the KGB.
The revelation of COINTELPRO had a significant effect on the FBI and US politics in general. Indeed, it wasn’t until post-911, under Bush that the US federal agencies ever dared to do anything similar again. Anyway, what is perhaps interesting is that the people who pulled this off (and got away scot free) weren’t Russian trained agents, or sleuths of some kind, they were just a bunch of highly motivated amateurs. Yet they managed to outwit the FBI for decades, only revealing their involvement recently, well after the statue of limitations had run out.