Corbyn polling collapse

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We have local elections coming up in Scotland and the election junk mail leaflets have begun to arrive. And what’s the main point of attack for the Tories? yes Corbyn, even thought he’s not standing in Scotland and the one Scottish labour MP left won’t go near him with a barge poll. The Tories not only attack Corbyn for being soft on brexit (even though its obvious he secretly voted for brexit) but for being soft on Scottish independence. Meanwhile the lib dems attack him for being pro-brexit and an incompetent flip flopper. As I warned sometime ago, Corbyn has become an election liability for labour. And his pro-brexit stance has not won the party any votes, its probably costing them votes. Hence the recent terrible performances in by elections.

And polling from London puts Corbyn bottom of a table of party leaders, behind UKIP leader Paul Nazi Nuttall. His approval ratings are actually negative at -40%. And this is in London, the heartland of Corbyn support.

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Labour are looking at a collapse in the next election. My guess is that voters will split three ways, the Tories will probably end up with a majority, the anti-brexit voters will go for the lib dems and greens, while the hard brexiters who don’t understand why Theresa May didn’t just go to Brussels and urinate on Junker’s desk on June the 24th, will vote UKIP. The labour vote will be decimated .

Indeed, while the media were obsessing over the far right’s defeat in the recent Dutch elections, they missed the real story, the collapse of the traditional left wing vote in Holland, going from the 2nd largest party to only nine seats, slightly ahead of an animal rights party.

So what Corbyn’s supporters need to accept is that not only can he never win an election, but he is likely to put the party on a route towards eventual collapse and decline.

Is Tesla really worth more than Ford?

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Recently Tesla’s share prices rose to a level which valued the company higher than the value of Ford. This at first glance seems surprising. After all Ford rakes in $115 billion a year in revenue and builds over 6 million vehicles a year. Tesla makes a 1/20th that amount and has only ever made 186,000 cars in its entire life, about the number of cars Ford makes every 2 weeks. So what’s going on here.

Well firstly technology. Ford made a very foolish decision in the 2000’s. In keeping with the rest of the US auto industry, it decided to ignore the issue climate change and pushed SUV’s extensively. Consequently it was rival firms, such as Nissan, Volkswagen and Toyota, who invested heavily in alternative power trains and smaller more fuel efficient cars. As too did new entrants to the market like Tesla. The 2008 spike in oil prices…

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Trump’s next war

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Whenever a US president is doing badly in the polls, he has a easy way of distracting the media and giving his poll numbers a boost – bomb someone. So given recent events, it would be worth reviewing the options as regards who Trump might go to war with.

Firstly, it has to be said that Trump is in a mess of his own making. Clearly the Syrians only launched this chemical attack because they’d been led to believe that Trump was a Putin groupie and naturally assumed that they could get away with this. He’d sent out all sorts of signals that suggested that, e.g. dropping the Obama era requirement that Assad must step down. This mirrors events leading up too the first gulf war where Saddam, an ally of the US misinterpreted signals coming out of the Bush Snr white house and reached the conclusion that they’d be okay with him taking over Kuwait (of course they weren’t!).

And Trump himself has been under pressure, with federal investigations ongoing into the financing of his campaign and possible links to Putin. And while Trump spent most of the last eight years complaining about Obama’s travel costs, its been pointed out that the costs of travel and security he’s run up just jetting back and forth to Mar-a-lago is set to cost as much in his first year as Obama’s total travel and security bill cost over eight years.

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Meanwhile, where was the UK in all of this? Normally when the US bombs someone the UK are part of the strike force, the PM and ministers are railing support from NATO and making speeches in front of Downing street about being shoulder to shoulder with the US. Instead, May, Boris & Fallon spend the last few days scurrying away from reporters like frightening Chihuahua’s and cancelling international travel plans. The reality of brexit is that what influence the UK had over either the US or the EU it has now lost. And given that the UK will be spending the next two decades negotiating trade deals it cannot afford to make enemies with anybody.

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The UK is now about as relevant to geopolitics as Switzerland. Much as I warned would happen in the event of brexit, rather than Empire 2.0 what the brexiters have gotten is a downgrade of the UK to that of a 3rd rate power.

Syria/Iraq

But I digress! Given recent events its possible that Trump might decide to intervene more aggressively in Syria or Iraq, taking on ISIS, Assad or both. In effect he’s simply adopting a more gung-ho version of Obama’s policy in the region. A policy he himself was critical of during the election campaign. So this represent a massive flip flop.

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However, the reason why Obama was more measured in his dealing with events in Syria was because he did not want to provoke the Russians. The US could easily overwhelm the Russian and Syrian forces with a massive bombing campaign. But there would be risk of the Russians retaliating in another sphere, most likely the Baltic.

Also bombs do not solve the problems on the ground in Syria or Iraq. All a bomb does is eliminate the target you are firing at. The pilot has barely made it back to base and ISIS have re-occupied the position he just bombed. While the US has allies on the ground, at the end of the day, brave as they are, they aren’t professional armies, they lack in terms of equipment, numbers and training. They are struggling to do the job. The battle for Mosul, a city which ISIS took in a day, is likely to run for several months.

The only way to stop ISIS, or stop Assad’s barrel bomb attacks on civilians is to put troops on the ground. Either through an invasion or a UN backed peace keeping force. To say that this could get very messy very quickly is to put it mildly. Consider we are now 5,091 days since Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq….so presumably the mission was to create a military quagmire that’s likely to last longer than the Vietnam war! Trump or NATO intervening like this would therefore mean the US getting involved in a very messy and long term mission with no obvious exit strategy. And again, that would certainly enrage the Russians. I don’t see Trump’s supporters being too keen on this (I won’t be too keen on it myself either!), indeed it would more or less guarantee him and the GOP losing the next election, likely to an anti-war left wing populist of some kind.

Iran

America’s favourite bogeyman, is another obvious target. Trump and the GOP were very clear during the campaign that they planned to tear up Obama’s peace plan, potentially leading to conflict with Iran. However to say this would be problematic is to put it mildly. The “blow back” would be fairly considerable.

The thing is that Iran and the US are essentially now allies in the fight against ISIS. Most of the forces fighting ISIS in Iraq are Shia’s, allied to Iran. The Iranians are also supplying logistical support to these forces and they have military advisers on the ground in Iraq. If America were to attack Iran, they’d be effectively declaring war on Iraq as well, so they can kiss goodbye to all of that Iraqi oil too. Their problems with regard to ISIS would magnify greatly. And as the Iranians have links to various terrorist groups (e.g. HAMAS, Hezbollah, etc.), the US would effectively be escalating the war on terror.

As a result of this obvious blow back the original Republican plan was to get the Israeli’s to do America’s dirty work for them. They would launch air strikes against Iran, with American support. However, Iran’s ally, Russia, has ruled out that possibility. They’ve recently provided the Iranians with their advanced S-300 missile system. This, in the words of some analysts, renders Iran “Israel proof. And even if the Israelis were prepared to attack, they’d run the risk of Russian retaliation against them if they did. So America would have to undertake the attacks using its own forces and that would mean facing the aforementioned “blow back” and dealing with the possibility of Russian retaliation, either in the Middle East or in some other sphere, likely the Baltic.

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More importantly, what would bombing Iranian targets achieve? Well not a lot. There would be two possible outcomes. A) The Iranians just rebuild the facilities. Or B) they invite the Russians into the country and they set up a missile base in Iran putting Israel and America’s allies in the region a few minutes flight time from nuclear attack. Neither sounds like a positive outcome.

North Korea

Trump has been fairly hawkish with regard to North Korea. Surely here’s an enemy who he can take on and beat and not face much blow back? Certainly North Korea is a bit of a paper tiger. They like to talk big, people often point to their vast army of nearly 1 million personnel and 5,500 tanks. However as one CIA officer commented “there’’s a world of a difference between an army with 5,000 tanks if half of them don’’t work”…or the regime lacks the fuel reserves to drive them all any more than a few miles! The reality is that there army is equipment with outdated vintage cold war equipment, their troops half starved and poorly trained. Their airforce has only about 40 aircraft of 4th generation fighter standard, while the South Koreans have hundreds and the Americans have thousands. The reality is that even if the US stayed neutral, the South Korean military are quite capable of defeating North Korea all by themselves. With American support, the war becomes a foregone conclusion.

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So why haven’t the South Koreans, or their US allies, done something about North Korea before? The CIA have an acronym which neatly describes the problem and North Korea’s defensive doctrine – CFC. Which stands for Crippled Fearsome Crazy. Crippled in that the country is destitute and any invader would face a massive reconstruction bill (even if they didn’t drop a single bomb, they’d be rebuilding the country from scratch). Fearsome in that they have WMD’s galore, hundreds of artillery pieces aimed at Seoul and nuclear weapons too. And while they don’t have a missile that can reach the US, they can certainly hit targets in Korea or Japan. And there’s nothing to stop them simply smuggling a bomb into San Francisco bay in a submarine or a cargo container. And Crazy in that the North Korea is a totalitarian anthill known for its wacky and insane government policy. We’re talking about a country whose official head of state has been dead for twenty years. And as they would have nothing to lose by using their arsenal, it can be assumed that they will do so if provoked.

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North Korea’s advances stealth technology allows them to hide almost the entire country at night!

So if Trump wants to make waves with North Korea, he’ll need to find a way around CFC, or be prepared to bear the consequences of breaching it. And he’s likely to find the South Koreans unwilling to do so, not unless the North Koreans do something really stupid. Also one has to consider how North Korea’s allies, China and Russia (yep they keep on cropping up don’t they?) would react to this.

The Chinese and Russians would probably object to them being described as North Korea’s allies. In truth their attitude to North Korea is a bit like most people’s attitude to some crazy racist elderly relative who goes around screaming abuse at foreigners and ethnic minorities. Its not as if you stand their applauding him for this. But if someone decided to give the old git a bit of a kicking, you’d probably not be happy about that, even if you reckoned they deserved a bit of a slap.

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The Chinese often claim they worry that if North Korea were attacked and the regime collapsed they’d face waves of refugees. In reality, that’s not really the issue. In truth they  just don’t want to share a land border with a US ally. So if North Korea were attacked, its possible they (and possibly the Russians too) would retaliate in some way. Either economically, or militarily. The economic consequences of taking on China would hit America where it hurts and Trump voters would feel the brunt of it. So any president who provokes China best be prepared to lose the next election. In terms of military intervention, there is no way the South Koreans and the US could hold back China’s massive land army if they came streaming over the Yalu river.

So all in all, North Korea is a country best handled with kid gloves…. not least because Kim Jung-un’s kid gloves are probably made from real kids!

South China Sea

China has been engaged in a long term dispute over a series of Islands in the South China sea. Under international law any Island, even if its a rock that every second wave submerges, a 12 km ring around that is considered its claimant’s sovereign territory. And for 200 km’s around it, that’s your exclusive economic zone. So the Chinese have laid claim to various rocks and reefs in the South China Sea and thus tried to lay claim to vast areas of sea, some of which may harbour significant fossil fuel reserves. More recently they’ve begun to enlarge these reef’s and build ports, military bases and air strips on them.

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Again this is a war America could potentially win. While the Chinese have a vast army, their navy is relatively small and could not stop an American invasion of these Islands. However, the Chinese could certainly give the Americans a bloody nose. Their submarines and long range carrier killing” missiles could sink US carriers and surface ships, inflicting very high causalities on the Americans. Trump would thus need to explain to the American public why thousands had to die for a few patches of soggy sand that didn’t have enough land area to bury all of the war’s victims.

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And who would America be fighting for? There are three countries disputing China’s claim – the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. The Philippines under Manchurian candidate populist Duterte has recently been cosying up to the Chinese, so he’s unlikely to be happy or support American military intervention. Vietnam would unsurprisingly be against any intervention as they would guess they’d be unlikely to benefit from it. Taiwan would worry about Chinese military or economic retaliation if they got involved. So America could go to all this trouble to capture these Islands, only to have to hand them back to the Chinese after a few months. So difficult to see the positives in this one.

Estonia and the Baltic

As noted, almost anywhere Trump chooses to go to war he’ll find his BFF Putin as being either the likely enemy, or the ally of that enemy. And the danger is that the Russians might be tempted to retaliate in another sphere if America attacks them or their allies somewhere else. The most likely flash point is the Baltic states, notably the Northern corner of Estonia, which has a large Russian population.

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Much how North Korea is a paper tiger, Russia’s military capability is often overestimated. Yes they have 15,000 tanks, but most of those are obsolete (Western tanks ran up cricket score kills against tanks of a similar vintage during the gulf war) and poorly maintained and won’t last more than a few seconds against NATO forces. In truth Russia has about 2,500 combat capable tanks, while the European NATO armies have 6,000 and America has about 3,000 more. The Russians have a large air force but again most of its aircraft are obsolete (e.g. Russian made aircraft performed very poorly against NATO aircraft in the past, e.g. during the Kosovo crisis). The reality is that they only have about 200 jets that are up to 4.5 generation standards, while NATO has over a thousand of this standard and the US has many times more (plus stealth aircraft and 5th generation fighter aircraft). While yes Russia has a large army, much of these troops are conscripts (read frightened teenagers) and veteran units who are a little too veteran (the Russians treat their army as a jobs-4-the-boy‘s program and have a lot of soldiers who are a little too old to be doing the job they are doing).

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However, this is not to suggest that NATO will have everything their own way. The very spot the Russians are likely to attack, Estonia, happens to be a spot NATO would find difficult to defend. Its very likely that if the Russians launched a strong push here they could catch NATO with its pants down and take over a significant chunk of land before NATO could adequately respond. Now there would be nothing to stop NATO retaliating, e.g. by occupying the Kallingrad pocket or driving Russian separatists out of Eastern Ukraine or the Crimea. So its all too easy to see how a war could start here and then escalate into something more serious. While Trump doesn’t want Estonia to be the hill on which he and Putin die on, it could easily be the case.

The Russian are caught up in neo-fascist patriotic fervour. They are using to seeing their military parade every year in their nice shiny boots and think they are invincible. Go on the internet and you’ll find all sorts of crap from Russian bloggers about how brilliant their army is and how their equipment is the best, which is at odds with actual performance. In truth, they recently struggled to beat a handful of lightly armed Chechen rebels and had to subcontract that out to local mercenaries. They also struggled to beat Georgia, the world’s 110th largest army.

Tempted by the assumption that Trump is their ally (much as Assad recently was) you could see how Putin might gamble on a quick military victory to earn him some browning points at home. Only to then get drawn into a wider conflict. Putin would very quickly find himself in conflict with not just NATO but with the US military. American air force planes, including A-10 tankbusters are stationed just a few minutes flying time away from this flash point and US ground forces are active in the region too. If the Russians were to attack, under current NATO rules, commanders in the field do not need the permission of the white house to shoot back in self defence. And indeed given how critical it would be for NATO to hit the Russians with everything they had the minute they crossed the border, they couldn’t afford to wait for Washington to micromanage the situation.

In other words the only way for Trump to stop getting into a war with Putin in this scenario would be to order those forces in advance of an attack to stand down. But that would expose him as the Benedict Arnold many suspect him to be. He’d be removed from office very swiftly (and likely have himself a little “accident” while awaiting trial for treason) and president Pence would immediately reverse those orders. So its all to easy to see how events here could spiral out of control.

Closing on midnight

All in all, what’s likely to confront president Trump and his team is the world is very different from what past US president’s faced. What little political capital the US had post-cold war G. W. Bush blew it on his pointless war in Iraq. Obama spent the last eight years putting out fires….as well as hunting down Bin Laden. In almost every possible theatre, the US faces the risk of serious and long term blow back if it gets involved in any conflict. And America’s likely enemy, or the ally of its enemy, is likely to be Trump’s puppet-master buddy Putin.

But the question is, what happens when Trump is humiliated in one of these potential conflicts? Or what happens when Putin’s army is sent scurrying back to Moscow with their tail between their legs? One often hears the term “cooler heads prevail”. But the real danger is that’s unlikely to happen with either Trump or Putin. Cooler heads would have said that Putin shouldn’t get involved in events in Ukraine. Nor that Trump should have fired off missiles like he did the other day, without first pulling a few diplomatic levers first. And as both are vain, insecure men, its all to likely they would place their fragile ego above the lives of millions.

The one thing you can’t deploy on a battlefield is ego, yet that’s basically both Trump and Putin’s calling card. The fatal flaw of any defence doctrine involving nuclear weapons, is that it assumes the leadership of a nation holding this is sane and rational, yet we’ve a nasty habit of electing leaders who are the very opposite of this. So it is for good reason, the doomsday clock sits closer to midnight than it has since the darkest days of the cold war.

Alternative History’s – why nazi victory was always impossible

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The UK’s new post-brexit colour scheme is revealed

The TV drama SS GB, based on the 1970’s novel of the same name does highlight one of the key themes in alternative history “what if the nazi’s won World War II”. Its a question that pops up quite a bit, notably the Robert Harris novel “Fatherland”, the 1964 British movie “it happened here”, the series and novel “the man in the high castle” or more recently this series on Youtube. I would argue that a flaw in many of these alternative histories is firstly a failure to consider how unlikely it would be for a nazi state to last for any extended period of time. And secondly, the extremely low probability of them actually winning the war in the first place.

The fact is that the nazi’s were terrible at running a country. Nazi rule was government by chaos, as this episode of a BBC documentary discusses. Hitler had some strange Darwinian views of how to organise a government. When people wrote to him asking that they be appointed to such and such a post, he’d simply write back and tell them that if they thought they were the alpha male then they should just take over. So the end result was much squabbling and backstabbing. Seven departments in the nazi government actually claimed to represent the Fuhrer, who spent most of their time fighting each other. Needless to say corruption was rife and decision making was haphazard at best.

One need only look at Germany’s military procurement policies during the war. Many obsess over Hitler’s “wonder weapons”, such as the V-2 rockets, superguns, the tiger tank, jet and rocket powered fighters, etc. But it is often forget that the allies had seen similar ideas floated, that were either rejected or developed on a slower less aggressive time scale as it was understood that they were simply not practical weapons of war. It cost as much to build a V-2 as it did to build a bomber, which could deliver a larger payload and could be reused. More people probably died making V-2’s than died in London being attacked with them. The Me-163 rocket fighter killed more of its own pilots than allied airmen. If Germany had a free press or some sort of congressional oversight many of these projects wouldn’t have never gotten very far. But such was the chaotic nature of the third Reich that these and many equally foolish projects were undertaken, squandering resources the nazi’s simply didn’t have.

My guess is if the nazi’s won, once they’d run out of foreigners to blame for all of their problems, they’d have quickly turned on each other. The state might have held itself together so long as Hitler was alive, but he was by all accounts not a healthy person by the time of his death. Its doubtful he’d have made it to the 1970’s as portrayed in Fatherland. My guess is once he was dead, the other leading nazi’s would have engaged in an epic power struggle. Keep in mind that even before he was dead, just isolated in Berlin, the nazi leadership fought with one another, with the prize merely being who got to go to the allies with their hands up. Can you imagine what would happen when the prize was to be master of Europe?

Inevitably this means the nazi state would have fractured into a series of warring fiefdoms, not unlike pre-unification Germany, with the nazi’s as a sort of ruling class, surrounded (and outnumbered) by a large number of locals (non-nazi’s in Germany, Slav’s, French, English, etc.). Gradually, one by one these fiefdoms would have been overthrown by the local populace, ending the thousand year Reich about ten centuries early. The fact is that nazism is simply too an extreme a political philosophy to survive long term.

However, we are skipping the other key point – that nazi victory was very unlikely, so unlikely that I think its kind of pointless to speculate on it. Its like asking what would have happened had William Wallace survived his execution by flinging lightening bolts from his arse. The fact is that Hitler was a nut trying to pull off the impossible. The idea that one country could simultaneously defeat four of the most powerful empires in history, the USA, The USSR, the British Empire and China (oh btw you do know WWII started in 1937 when the Japanese attacked China), is simply bonkers. And even if they could win, occupying such a vast area would have simply been impossible.

Certainly things could have gone against the allies, but it would have merely delayed the inevitable. Take for example the idea of the nazi’s winning the battle of Britain and invading. Certainly had they gained control over the skies of southern England, this would have raised the risk of an invasion. However, the Germans simply didn’t have the resources (e.g. landing craft, large numbers of paratroop aircraft and paratroopers, mine clearing and beach assault adapted vehicles, a portable harbour, etc.). It took the allies two years to prepare for D-Day, the Germans had a few months and a fraction of the resources.

Indeed, a war game played out in the 1970’s with British and German military commanders (many of them the very same people who’d have been in charge in the event of an actual invasion) resulted in a German defeat. Although the cost to the British would have been high. If this scenario had played out it would have seen the Royal Navy, charging down the North Sea from Scapa flow, with minimal air cover, to try and cut off the invasion force after it sailed. While this plan would have likely succeeded, it would have been a naval banzai charge, not unlike Japan’s operation Ten-Go. With a much reduced Royal navy and battered and depleted army, the UK won’t have been able to mount operations overseas, nor protect against U-boat attacks on convoys. And there’d be nothing to stop the Germans coming back and trying again the next summer. It would have been a case of winning the battle, but losing the war.

Of course, the real reason Britain was saved was because of the inept leadership of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s obsession with attacking Russia. But even if the UK had fallen, or been knocked out of the war, while it would have certainly effected how events panned out, it would have simply delayed the inevitable. With America, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various resource rich colonies around the world (e.g. the mine in the Congo where the Uranium for the atomic bomb came from)  still in the fight, it probably wouldn’t have changed the eventual outcome.

And we are also assuming that the US would have stayed neutral, but my guess is that if it ever looked likely that either Britain or Russia were going to get knocked out of the war, the US would have intervened, much as they did in 1917. Hitler hated America’s ethnic diversity, free press, free markets and intellectual freedom (basically for all the reasons Trump voters dislike America). And there is no way the US was going to leave a nut like him in charge of Europe. The US was in the war in all but name long before Pearl harbour, supplying munitions, ships and fighter aircraft under a dubious system of “lend lease”. US sailors had even been dressing up as Canadians and serving on ships escorting supplies across the Atlantic.

In the event of ground combat in Britain, its inevitable that US citizens would have gotten caught up in the crossfire. The British and Americans had been reading diplomatic traffic from the German and Japanese for long enough that they probably had a dodgy dossier that could be deployed as a justification for war (this is how an isolationist Congress was convinced to declare war in 1917). If all else fails, they could simply do something deliberately provocative to force Hitler into declaring war on them. And of course it was only a matter of time before one of those “Canadians” got captured by the Germans and gave a home address in Wichita Kansas (Das ist nicht in Canada!). Either way, America’s entry into the war was more or less guaranteed.

Even in the best case scenario for the nazi’s, if they somehow managed to beat the UK and then the Russians, they’d have only lasted until mid-1946 at best. Why? In two words – atomic bombs. From the earliest days of US involvement in the war they adopted a policy of Germany first, meaning defeat of Germany would be given priority over defeating Japan. This confused many, given that the Japanese had been the one’s to attack Pearl Harbour and were more of an immediate threat to America. However Roosevelt had been alerted by a letter, signed by several leading scientists, that German academics had stopped publishing papers on nuclear physics, hinting that they were probably working on something big, likely to be an atomic bomb. So plan A for the allies was knock Germany out of the war before Hitler got his hands on any nukes. And if that failed, plan B was to develop their own bomb and use it against the Germans.

However, the reality was the allies had vastly overestimated the nazi bomb program. The German’s were hopelessly behind the allies for various reasons. Its been suggested that Heisenberg, the lead German scientist, didn’t really have his heart in it (a topic the play Copenhagen debates), that he may have even gotten his sums wrong and vastly overestimated the size of a bomb’s critical mass (and thus concluded that an airdropped weapon was impossible). More likely however, it was the fact that the nazi’s, being a bunch of anti-intellectual bullies (like Trump supporters or Brexiters, they tended not to listen to the experts), they never took what their scientists said seriously and never pursued their bomb program with the same vigour as the Americans did.

So its likely that the US would have had the bomb available in mid 1945. In our timeline they used it against a nearly defeated Japan, one by one (leading many to question whether such attacks were necessary). How the allies would use it against Germany would have depended on the circumstances. In a situation where the nazi’s held much of Europe it would make sense to stockpile bombs and unleash them on Germany en-masse. The Atomic piles at Hanford, were producing enough material for 1-2 bombs a month, so by mid-1946, the US would have between one and two dozen bombs available.

B-29‘s based out of Iceland, Turkey or the Azores could reach targets in Germany, if the UK wasn’t an option. The US had also started development of the B-36, the world’s first intercontinental bomber in 1940 (prior to the US even joining the war) specifically to cope with the scenario whereby the US lost all of its possible bases in Europe. Aside from its longer range the B-36 also flew at a much higher altitude. So high that only a handful of German late war anti-aircraft guns or aircraft could reach them…..and very few of those were capable of night operations.

How ever the allied planners went about it, the fact is that some if not most of those bombers would have made it through to their targets and in the space of one night several of Germany’s major cities would have been destroyed, most of the leading nazi’s killed along with millions of Germans. Needless to say, what was left of Germany would have little choice but to surrender the following morning. So to my mind, the real alternative history is to consider not “what if the nazi’s won, how would the world look?” but “if the war ended with a nuclear attack against Germany, what would have happened next?”.

Well for starters I suspect the Russians would have taken one look at the radioactive wasteland called Germany and declined to have anything to do with the clean up. While they’d have likely ended up in control of Eastern Europe, the splitting of Germany wouldn’t have happened, nor would there be a Berlin wall, eliminating a major cold war flash point. Of course rebuilding Germany would have been harder, quite possibly it might not have happened, with what was left of the country might have been reduced to an agrarian condition post war.

Perhaps more importantly this scenario might have meant the penny dropping with regard to nuclear war earlier. Up until the 1960’s both sides military took the view that nuclear weapons were just another weapon which they need to integrate into their arsenal and the public need to get used to the idea that this is the new normal (the movie “Atomic Cafe” neatly summarises this era). The generals and politicians didn’t get the message, until the reign of McNamara, that nuclear warfare is not the sort of battle where you get to tot up the scores afterwards and work out who won. In a nuclear war, there are only ever losers. “Winning” a nuclear war, while digging yourself out of the radioactive ruins, is going to be a bit of a hollow victory. But by the time the penny did drop, both sides had a massive arsenal and it was already too late to avoid the stand off that followed.

So its possible, that a cold war that started with the mass use of nuclear weapons might have scared the superpowers straight. Both the US and Russia would have developed nuclear weapons, but their deployment would have been more muted. The doctrine would have been more towards nuclear weapons as a sort of national suicide weapon, if ever at risk of being overrun (not unlike India’s current stance with nuclear weapons). Crucially they would have never allowed such weapons to proliferate (e.g. the UK, France or Israel would be denied nuclear weapons and faced sanctions if they tried to develop them). No way the US would risk putting them in Turkey, nor that the Russians would try putting them in Cuba. And flash points like the Korean war would have panned out very differently, as both sides would have been anxious to avoid anything that could escalate to a nuclear exchange.

But certainly any scenario whereby the nazi’s hung on for longer than they did is a alternative history that would have been much darker, it would have led to a world war 2 that killed even more people, although ultimately there was simply no way they could have won.

Gibraltar and article 50

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Brexit threatens to make a monkey out of the UK

The EU’s response to article 50 was fairly conciliatory and to be honest about as good as the UK could expect. If the EU wanted to be nasty, they could have taken the opportunity to pull funding from all EU farm subsidies, university research and development aid to the UK for all projects that would end post-brexit. Then slap all UK students in EU universities with a massive bill for their fees and ex-pats with fees for healthcare costs. They could have given MEP’s the day off, stopped Farage’s salary packed him off on the Eurostar home, handed out bottles of Champagne and declared a new EU wide holiday “so long suckers day”. But they didn’t.

But instead the plan seems to be to sort out the exit from the EU first then talk about a trade deal. This is as good as the UK is going to get. As one MEP pointed out, brexit is in of its self painful enough (self inflicted) punishment, the EU doesn’t have to be nasty. As for the Theresa May’s plan to essentially play chicken and brinkmanship with the EU, this is the equivalent of her driving towards the EU in a mini cooper, while the EU is in a truck driving towards her. And given that the EU has to balance out the consensus of 27 member states, its a truck that’s on cruise control. The EU won’t blink first. The eurozone crisis should have made that fairly obvious.

Of course the bit that got the tabloids worked up was how the EU appears to be backing Spain over Gibraltar. This is hardly surprising. Put yourself in the EU’s shoes. Suppose your a boss of a company, two employees are in dispute with one another over something. One is one of those nightmare employees who is always causing problems, who fortunately has already given his notice. The other is not your most dedicated employee, but he’s certainly loyal and generally pulls his weight. Who are you going to back up?

Personally, while I understand why Gibraltar’s citizens want to be part of the UK, I can’t understand why the UK wants with Gibraltar (I’m told by ex-pats its a grotty little tourist trap), nor what Spain wants with it either. Personally, I’d try and sell it to Morocco or some gullible Saudi sheik. However, Gibraltar’s post-brexit status does hammer home the sorts of issues the UK will face post-brexit. If the UK wants to maintain air links with Gibraltar, that will require EU agreement. So everything will have to take a week long sea voyage there or go through Spain (or possibly even Morocco). If the UK imposes strict border controls on the EU, then the EU will reciprocate, Gibraltar citizens will need a visa just to go into Spain to go shopping and visa versa. Trade and tourism will collapse. Leaving the EU common market and suddenly all the food and resources the colony needs gets slapped with tariffs ranging from 10-30%. In short, unless the rest of the UK is willing to pay a lot of money to subsidise Gibraltar, it will become non-viable pretty quicly. The locals will all leave and the UK will own a ghost town.

Naturally fighting talk about going to war to protect Gibraltar is just plain silly and shows how far divorced from reality the brexiters have strayed. Are they seriously proposing to attack a NATO ally because the Spanish make Gibraltar pay an extra 20% more for olive oil and they make the locals fill out the same sort of visa application form the British make Spanish fill out upon arrival at Heathrow?

But the thing is this will apply to the whole of the UK as well, Gibraltar is merely a microcosm of the problem. Any immigration controls or restrictions on free movement of people or goods, will be reciprocated by the EU. Smugglers, both those on the Irish border and the channel ports will be having a field day. An interesting article for example about the lengths smugglers of tea would go to in days gone by to outwith the tax man.

Furthermore, given that Spain has now indicated that it won’t block Scotland joining the EU, this suggests a secret horse trade has gone on. The EU has given Spain some leeway over Gibraltar, in return for which they will not object to Scotland joining the EU in the event of a yes vote. I warned before that if Tories plan to rely on “the Spanish option” to block Scottish independence, that’s not going to work….of course if Gibraltar really wants to put the cat among the pigeons, the thing to do would be to vote to join Scotland (they’d get to join the EU again and piss off the Spanish!).

But certainly if you heard a popping noise this Friday that was the sound of the brexiters bubble bursting. It should be obvious now that they are not in the driving seat. The UK’s options are to take the best deal the EU offers them, or screw the country over by exiting without a deal. Which isn’t much of a choice.

EU collapse fantasies

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Press brexiters on the fact that they’ll get a worse deal outside the EU than inside it, they’ll go into denial, why would the EU cut itself off from its main trading partners…..well largely because you dickheads voted for brexit! Case in point, UK airlines have now been warned they’ll need to move their base and refinance such that they are majority EU owned and based, if they want access to EU airspace. David Davis himself more or less conceded this week, that yes, the UK will be worse off. At this point, forced to accept that yes, it is all but inevitable that the UK is going to get a pretty raw deal, they’ll mumble something about how the EU will probably collapse anyway. This fantasy of the EU crumbling, just because the UK leaves, tells us a lot about brexiters.

Firstly I would have to agree that the EU as an institution has never been more vulnerable. I’d rate the chances of it falling apart at about 25%. Now if you’re a eurocrat, that’s a pretty scary thought, a 1 in 4 chance of the EU breaking up. That’s a big red warning light that should be going off in Brussels. Certainly the need for reform of the EU post-brexit is urgent. Unfortunately for the brexiters, this reform will likely involve making it more democratically accountable (e.g. an elected EU president), more centralisation of certain powers (including possibly NATO) and to balance that all out, more regional autonomy with perhaps a multi-speed Europe. In short, everything brexiters don’t want to happen.

But that still leaves a 75% chance that the EU will survive this crisis. Part of the problem the brexiters don’t understand is that getting another country to leave the EU, aside from Greece and Italy (who many in the EU want to leave!), isn’t going to be easy. Much was made by the Daily Mail of the “success” of the Dutch and French fascist parties recently, with them leading opinion polls. Unfortunately, leading an opinion poll in most cases means getting just 25-30% of the vote.

While in Britain the Tories won a majority with the support of only 37% of the vote, things are a little fairer in Holland and most EU states with proportional representation. You want a majority, then you need 50% of the votes (which the Tories haven’t gotten in decades), about half of what the Dutch fascists are currently getting. The chances of Le Pen winning a run off, even if the other candidate was a potted plant, is somewhere between slim and zero.

And even if they could win an election and put an exit from the EU on the ballot, its not quite as straight forward as it was in the UK. The UK is also leaving the EU on the basis of support from only 37% of the electorate (the 70% turn out times the 52% support in the referendum), closer to 27% if we factor in the many millions of EU citizens and UK citizens living abroad who were denied the right to vote in the referendum. In most of the rest of the EU, the idea that 37-27% of the electorate (most of them old geriatrics who’ll be dead before brexit goes through) is not democracy, its perversion of democracy. Generally election rules in these countries would require something as radical as leaving the EU to gain +50% support (i.e. a majority of the electorate, not a plurality of those who showed up on the day). Its doubtful you could get that in the UK, so even less so in the rest of the EU.

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Hence the brexiters are likely to be disappointed to learn that the EU will likely survive. And in fact, that’s just as well because its better for the UK that there is an EU. If there’s a worse case scenario than a hard brexit from the EU, its a hard brexit and then the EU breaking up shortly thereafter. That means the UK has to go and negotiate deals with each of the 27 member countries, and they’ll all have a host of competing agendas. We might get a trade deal with Germany for auto parts, by conceding on allowing free movement of German citizens into the UK, only for the French to slap a 25% tariff on all car parts travelling through their ports unless we rebrand Cheddar Cheese la merde anglais.

Indeed, this is precisely the problem with brexit, it involves the UK delegating important decisions to Brussels (or Washington and Bejing), fooling itself that its taking control, but leaving it up to the EU to be the responsible grown up and pass all the regulations and laws that will ultimately govern UK trade. So by conjuring up such EU breakup fantasies, what the brexiters betray is that they have no plan, no big idea.

And also by pandering to such EU breakup fantasies they show that they simply do not care. They don’t care that people are losing their jobs (e.g. Heriot Watt just announced 100 jobs to go and put the blame squarely on brexit), they don’t care that young people are now migrating in droves (the talk among my students seems to be where to immigrate to after graduation, given the lack of graduate places), or British citizens with an EU spouse are being forced to leave the country. They don’t care that people have lost money due to the collapse in the pound, with prices now gradually creeping up with inflation rates going up.

Granted they probably will start to care when they realise they can’t afford retirement anymore and that many of the retirement perks the government showers on the grey vote are starting to be withdrawn. Case in point, many councils can no no longer afford to pay for elderly care homes anymore and there are chronic staffing shortages, so services are starting to be withdrawn. And with the son or grandson the old brexiters were relying on to look after them in old age having now immigrated, they’ll find there’s nobody left in the country to look after them. And I can’t say I’ll have much sympathy.

And given that polls do show that people will not accept a hard brexit or any deal that leaves the country worse off, its very likely that either parliament might come under pressure to reject the deal Theresa May gets (and remain in the EU). Or in a decade or two (once all the old racists have died off), its possible that another referendum will be held and the UK will rejoin the EU.

In short, this brexiters EU collapse fantasy is essentially an admission that they know they’ve screwed themselves and the country over for ideological reasons, just so they message their fragile egos. Is the equivalent of some fool who burnt his house down for the insurance money, but the company refused to pay, so now they want everyone else to burn their houses down too just so they can feel a little less foolish.

The flawed logic of preppers

daryanenergyblog

apocalypse-8.jpg When we said brexit could end badly……

I started writing this one a few month ago (prior to travelling long distance) and then forgot about it, but thought maybe I should finish it.

For quite some time in American there has been a survivalist movement, which grew out of fears of the aftermath of a nuclear attack during the cold war. “Preppers” believe than in the event of some major calamity of some kind they must be ready to “bug out” if things go south. Preppers come from a wide variety of different political backgrounds. Certainly thought some of the more oddball right wing elements tend to be the most vocal. Oddly enough many of these are keen Trump supporters (so there’s a certain element of a self fulfilling prophecy as a result!).However there are some fundamental flaws in many preppers (particularly the right wing…

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The Trouble with AirBnB

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There’s been a massive increase in the number of spare rooms,or even entire flats, offered for rent on AirBnB, across the UK and worldwide. We’ve recently identified several within the building where I live. However this is cause for concern, because there are quite a number of issues with AirBnB. Put rather bluntly, if you are offering rooms on AirBnB you might be breaking the law and you are also possibly jeopardising your neighbours financial well being.

So what’s the problem? This clip from Adams ruins everything sums up the main arguments against AirBnB. Cracked also reviews the major arguments against it.

But for starters, if you are offering rooms on AirBnB what kind of mortgage do you have? Because if you’ve got a owner occupier mortgage that only allows you, your family and non paying guests to stay in the property. Even with a buy to let mortgage only registered tenants on a long term least (generally more than 90 days) are allowed to stay. If you are renting rooms, or worse the entire flat on AirBnB, then you are almost certainly breaking the terms of your mortgage. In theory if the bank finds out, they could tear up your contract and demand immediate repayment (i.e. you get 30 days to come up with say £100,000 or lose the house!).

And this issue of who is allowed to stay in the property is not some minor bureaucratic point. People tend to prioritise mortgage or rent payments above all else, as they don’t want to end up homeless. So the risk to the bank of you defaulting on a mortgage loan is relatively low, hence why they can get away with offering such a low rate of interest on such a large loan. By contrast hotels and B&B’s are a much more risky business (recall Trump’s four bankruptcies involved exactly these sort of properties). They are much more likely to go bankrupt, hence why they have to put up a higher proportion of starting capital and get charged a higher interest rate. While some banks are starting to offer AirBnB compatible mortgages, they generally involve a higher rate of interest and a larger deposit. So unless you are on one of these mortgages, you are likely to be committing mortgage fraud.

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Then there’s the issue of home insurance. Again, home insurance assumes you are either renting (long term) or living in a house you own. AirBnB type arrangements aren’t covered. Some insurers are starting to offer AirBnB compatible policies, but as with the mortgages these cost more than a conventional insurance policy. If you are renting out rooms under AirBnB and you lack an appropriate policy, then you (and any of your guests) are likely to be uninsured and there is very little chance of your insurer paying out in the event of a claim.

Also the above only applies to home insurance. There’s also the issue of getting liability insurance (in case you being sued by a guest if he falls in the bath tub or tumbles down the stairs). Then there’s your block insurance if you are in a larger apartment complex. Hotels and B&B’s have to comply with a long list of safety requirements to be given permission by the local council to operate and too convince any insurer to provide them with cover. e.g. does your building have a sprinkler system? I know mine doesn’t, but I know that in some countries hotels (above a certain floor height) are legally required to have one (and this applies even if the building is a mixed development). Hotels tend to have better security arrangements, CCTV, key cards and codes that expire every 24hrs, security guards, etc.

Hotels aren’t doing all this for fun, they are doing it generally because their insurance policy will be voided if they don’t. e.g. in the UK there are no sprinkler requirements, but your insurer (or fire officer) may insist on expensive modifications (e.g. putting in fire walls and new fire escapes) if you don’t have a sprinkler system.

Now I’m not usually the sort of person to get worked up about health and safety, but this is one situation where the H&S killjoys experts have a point – hotels, B&B and hostels do catch fire, there have been several large and often fatal incidents over the years (e.g. the MGM Grand fire or the Downunder Hostel fire in Australia, hence why the regulations are so strict. And no, small B&B’s aren’t exempt, you still have to comply with at least some minimum level of safety.

This raises the question as to whether, in the event of a claim, would the insurance company pay out. My guess is they’ll probably take it on a case by case basis. If a fire started say in an AirBnB rented property, they’d likely pay out to any of the neighbours effected, but refuse to pay out to the AirBnB owner (so he gets saddled with maybe £50,000 of fire damage and he’s still in debt to mortgage company). If it was an issue nothing to do with any AirBnB property (e.g. the roof caves in), they’d likely just pay out and not ask any questions. However in a scenario where say a large number of flats in a block are AirBnB and say the building burns down, the insurer might well argue that the block was essentially functioning as an illegal hotel, thus invaliding the policy and they are within their rights to refuse to pay out to anyone.

Suffice to say, its hard to say which way things could go, it will likely take a few test cases to sort out. However the implication is that if you’ve got AirBnB owners in your building, there is a risk that you might not be fully insured anymore. So anyone renting rooms via AirBnB is having a potentially detrimental effect on their neighbours. Quite apart from all the other issues with large numbers of people coming and going at odd hours.

And as I mentioned earlier, you generally have to apply for planning permission if you are planning to set up a hotel or B&B. And yes, this applies even if you don’t plan to make any alterations to your building (as you are changing the use of your property). In some parts of the world you will also need to apply for a license of some sort in order to operate a hotel or B&B. And this is not some bureaucratic rubber stamp process. Any application from an AirBnB owner for permission to operate has a very strong probability of being rejected. Why?

Well because, as noted, homes and apartment blocks often don’t comply with the same building codes imposed on hotels. There’s also issues like disabled access, which hotellers have to cater for (newly built apartments also have to have disabled access, but older residential blocks don’t) and possibly parking issues. Then there’s the provision of water, electricity, broadband and public services (e.g. bin collections, access for fire engines and emergency vehicles), which will be based on the assumption that all the apartments in a certain area are domestic properties, not defacto hotel rooms. This is why hotels pay business rates to cover these costs. An Airbnb might also need a different form of TV license to those used by a domestic property.

And speaking of which, you are paying tax on any earnings you make from AirBnB, aren’t you? You’d need to declare this as income on your self assessment tax form (as well as paying those business rates, water charges, TV license, etc.). So its very likely than anyone offering rooms on AirBnB is not paying their taxes in full….like David Cameron’s dad, or Jimmy Carr.

Also the freehold (or leasehold) on many buildings may well prohibit any form of AirBnB like activity (mine forbids the operation of any form of business within the block for example). Getting around this is going to be harder than dealing with the council, as you’d need to get your neighbours or the leaseholder to agree (and they’d either say no or insist on a cut of any of your profits).

Another issue for councils is the fundamental matter that they don’t want all the apartments in a city turned into hotels. This makes it harder for people to buy or rent. If its possible for a landlord to kick out his tenants paying £1,000 a month on a 3 bedroom apartment and then move in AirBnB guests paying £50 a night each (i.e. up to £4,500 per month!) everyone would do it and city centres would be full of AirBnB‘s with nowhere for the people who live there to rent. So AirBnB is contributing to the housing crisis in the UK. Hence it is not unreasonable for the authorities to be resistant. And while some aren’t doing much about it at the moment, a crack down is going to come at some point. Already some cities are starting to take action and my guess is that this is only the start.

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Protests against AirBnB by renters facing eviction is a growing problem

Then there are other issues, e.g. lets suppose you are an AirBnB owner and one of your guests refuses to leave at the end of his stay (as has happened on a few occasions already), nor will he pay you anymore. What are you going to do? Drag him out by the scruff of the neck? Okay and then when the cops show up they’ll be putting the cuffs on you (for assault) and letting him back in. In the UK a landlord has no legal right to undertake an eviction. Only the courts can sanction an eviction and it can only be carried out by an agent of the court (e.g. a bailiff). Until your tenant has had his day in court, he remains your tenant, you can’t throw him out or harass him in an effort to try and make him leave, indeed doing so would likely make it harder to secure an eviction.

While yes it is true that certain providers of shorter term accommodation can get around the need for a court order, but they still can’t drag someone out of the building (there is a due process they have to go through as well). And they are operating within a tightly defined legal frame work. As I think we’ve established, any AirBnB owners is likely to be operating in legal limbo and is almost certainly in breach of the law. So it would be up to the courts to decide. While they would almost certainly authorise an eviction, that could take weeks. And one wonders what the court will make of someone admitting under oath to operating an illegal hotel, in violation of planning laws, building codes, while simultaneously committing tax fraud, insurance fraud and mortgage fraud.

And note that we are talking about the UK here. UK law blatantly favours the landlord, unsurprising in a country where the landlords and the landed gentry have been making the laws for several centuries. In certain US states or in Europe the legal situation is very different. It can take months, sometimes years to evict someone.

As for AirBnB guests they have to consider the risks they are taking. For example, what do you really know about the person you are renting off? There’s already been a number of clients who’ve been scammed by rogue landlords and con artists. You might find the room you’ve been offered is well below the standards, or even dangerous. There’s even been guests who’ve died during their stay at an airbnb (due to poor safety standards or carbon monoxide poisoning). You might find your host suddenly cancelling on you days before you travel. Note that a recent crack down by authorities in London caused many to lose their bookings. This link includes a few tales of woe from Airbnb guests and providers.

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And this brings us to the racial profiling. About the one thing you will know about your AirBnB guests or hosts is what race he is, as he will provide either a photo or a short video. Trouble is you can’t really tell a lot from that. You’re host could be fine, or he could be Begbie from Trainspotting, or an axe murderer on the run from Eastern Europe whose previous premises was the inspiration for the movie Hostel. As a result this has let to accusations of racial profiling or profiling by social class by both hosts and guests.

Certainly, the fact is that the law, factors, insurers and mortgage companies haven’t quite caught up with events. Once they do, they’ll likely re-draft laws and policies to accommodate things like AirBnB. However, this will almost certainly come at a price. AirBnB owners will suddenly find it costs a lot of money and hence there’s a reason why hotels charge £100 a night for a room (because that’s about what it costs to pay off all those bills!) and suddenly AirBnB isn’t the brilliant money making scheme they’d thought (much like Uber). Also changes to the law, while bringing AirBnB the right side of the law, they will probably allow more leeway for AirBnB operators to be blocked from operating, if for example other residences in a block object to it.

And inevitably further crack downs will come at some point, both by the authorities and perhaps private investigators operating on behalf of insurers and mortgage companies. And woe to any AirBnB owner who gets caught in this dragnet.

Taxing the Sun

daryanenergyblog

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I’ve joked before that it would be just a matter of time before the Tories started taxing solar panels rather than subsidising them. Well, now its happening. To help pay for the ever increasing cost of brexit they are putting up business rates. And within this tax hike they’ve sneaked in a clause that withdraws certain exemptions to business rates meaning they will now apply to those selling electricity to the grid via solar feed in tariffs. And we’re not talking a minor increase here, a 6 to 8 fold increase in taxation is expected for some operators, effectively making some solar installations uneconomic.

This is not the first time they’ve tried to pull this trick, they tried it before prior to the referendum, but were forced to back down, when the media caught them at it. Oddly enough they blamed the EU on that occasion for forcing them…

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The impact of brexit on Northern Ireland

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Well the results from the NI election are in and the result isn’t going to make great reading for either the Unionists nor the brexiters. The one thing that was never supposed to happen in Northern Ireland has happened – the Unionists have lost their majority.

While the DUP are still the largest party, in theory they and the UUP can now be outvoted on any issue…such as whether or not to hold a border poll. Now granted, Sinn Fein don’t hold a majority either. They’d need support from the smaller non-unionst parties. And all “non-unionst” means is that they don’t go on orange parades, nor is their pin code 1690. While they aren’t against the idea of a border poll, they aren’t in favour of one either, it doesn’t make them flag waving Irish nationalists.

However in the event of a hard brexit, one that starts impacting on the Northern Irish economy, they could be persuaded to back a border poll, to settle the issue. In short there is now a path to a border poll, that did not previously exist. And its very difficult to tell, particularly against the back drop of a hard brexit which way such a poll would go.

The unionists can block a border poll even without a majority. Rules written into the Northern Irish constitution allow a minority of delegates to veto legislation. Ironically, these rules were inserted to protect the nationalists, something the DUP originally objected too! But the DUP cannot do this alone anymore, they’d need UUP support too. Also blocking a vote and standing against the rest of the assembly raises the risk of the pro-poll parties pulling the plug again, declaring a new election and an electoral alliance in which they don’t stand in each other’s constituencies, effectively turning the election into a defacto border poll.

Now like I said, the other smaller parties aren’t automatically going to go along with Sinn Fein on this. And there’s no guarantee even if a border poll was held that it would be a Yes vote. But the point is that its now a plausible option. The unthinkable (from a unionist point of view) is actually possible now. And the unionist have to look to the moderates in the centre ground and on the left, to save them from a mess of their own creation.

While many unionists are generally euroskeptic (and often to the right of UKIP on many issues) the UUP backed Remain in the referendum, precisely because they feared what is now playing out in NI might happen in the event of a leave vote. But the DUP very stupidly backed leave. Arlene Foster may go down in history as having done more for Irish reunification (through a combination of arrogance, stupidity and incompetence) than Gerry Adams or Martin McGuiness!

But either way, the cost of brexit for unionists is not that they are going to “take control”, its that they’ve lost control and their fate is now in the hands of others….something the rest of the UK will soon discover when brexit negotiations start and they realise its the EU, US and other powers who will decide the UK’s future.