Charging for the NHS puts everyone’s health at risk

The Tories are going for increasingly tabloid friendly policies that will sound like a good idea to Daily Mail readers, but ultimately achieve nothing, other than pour more fuel on the fire of xenophobia. Take their recent announcement that foreigners will have to pay for NHS services up front.

Certainly no doubt the NHS is chronically underfunded and over stretched. Nine out of ten UK hospitals is overcrowded at the moment and the country now has the shortest GP appointment times in the world.

So how much could this save the NHS? Well foreigners using the NHS fall into two categories. The first group are what we’d refer to as “health tourism”, where someone enters the UK for the expressed purpose of taking advantage of NHS services. This costs the UK between £110 – £280 million. The second represent more “normal” use of the NHS, where say a Spanish tourist breaks his leg and has to go to A&E. These costs amount to £1.8 billion per year. However it should be noted that probably only about £500 million is actually recoverable or chargeable.

The bulk of those being treated in this 2nd category are from European countries (or Australia) where the UK had reciprocal health care agreements with those nations (e.g. if a British pensioner or tourist needs treatment in Spain they get treated). Individuals nominally resident in the UK (e.g. students or those in employment) are generally exempt from NHS charges. Of course these conditions may not hold post brexit.

Note that the patient in this second group may not have much choice that they get treated in an NHS hospital. An American tourist who collapses in the street, a passenger who is taken ill on a transatlantic flight. So recovering costs from these people “up front” would likely be impossible.

Adding it all together, the NHS can recover (or avoid spending) between £610 – £780 million per year. That sounds like a lot, until you realise that the current NHS budget is about £120 billion, out of the £145 billion the UK spends on healthcare. So at most 0.65% of the NHS budget, or probably more realistically 0.3% of the UK’s total health spending. Even the infamous NHS funding gap of £30 billion, cannot be plugged by such charges, meeting barely 3-4% of this deficit.

The simple fact is that charging foreigners for NHS services will not solve anything. Yes it is unethical for someone to get on a plane and go to the UK intentionally to use NHS services, but its hardly a crippling burden and this represent a tiny fraction of those using the NHS. Trying to recover healthcare costs from them would be a drop in the ocean compared to the money spent treating UK residents.

And one has to consider the consequences to such up front costs. The government is talking about putting sick people in need of treatment out on the curb, or perhaps detaining those who are given emergency treatment and putting them in the equivalent of a debtors prison. We are talking about going against every principle the NHS was founded on, sinking the UK to Dickensian levels. Yes the Tories are going to turn the clock back post-brexit to the 19th century.

 And what’s the bet that the Tories will float off the unit responsible for this treatment and sell it in the private sector? Remember, many in the Tory party want to privatise the NHS (and they’ve been quietly privatising bits of the NHS), so one does have to worry if this is merely the first step on a slippery slope.

And worse, what happens, as I considered in a prior post, if a foreigner comes down with some sort of new virus or infection. Stopping any pandemic requires swift action, you need to get that person to a hospital as early as possible. Outbreaks have been avoided where healthcare could be given swiftly to the patient zero and a cordon put up around those inadvertently exposed to the virus. However, in other cases, where such action wasn’t taken (generally because the patient zero didn’t get treated swiftly enough), the virus has spread around the world with frightening speed. Consider that the bulk of the deaths related to the SARS outbreak of 2002, can be attributed to a single sneeze in a lift lobby.

So this policy will not help plug the NHS funding gap, it will be a drop in the ocean. Refusing treatment is not only morally bankrupt but puts the health of everyone in the country at risk. And it is being done purely to the benefit of the Daily Mail reading UKIP types.

In memory of the Bowling Green victims

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We’re rapidly approaching the anniversary of the infamous Bowling green massacre. On the 7th of February 2011 nobody was killed by ISIS terrorists, although two of them were arrested. Our sympathies go out to the non existent victims of this fake tragedy.

Seriously thought, this is taking “alternative facts” aka lying and deceit to a whole new level. Its ironic how so many of those who support populists claim that they do so because regular politicians lie, when the Trump team exists in a truth and fact free zone. Newsbiscuit have a take on this story here.

Of course, there was an ulterior motive to this, it was no simple slip up. An inconvenient fact for Trump is that the only Americans killed by terrorists during Obama’s watch, were home grown terrorists, not refugees. And the two deadliest of those three attacks took advantage of America’s lax gun laws. Quite apart from the regular massacres and spree shootings carried out by white male Americans on a daily basis.Something Obama did try and do something about, but Republicans blocked it.

And speaking of spree shootings we have have evidence that the attack carried out in Quebec city was a right wing gun nut and Trump supporter. And the response from the white house?….silence, they’ve scarcely acknowledged that it even took place.

Meanwhile in other news, the post-brexit UK government has just announced that the vegetable ration has been increased. Good growing conditions in Spain and the heightened value of the pound means supermarkets have been able to increase supplies to 3 items per person. All hail the dear leader!

How the Tory’s Trident deception undermined UK security

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It was revealed last week that a Trident missile test failed just a few days prior to a vote in Parliament about Trident renewal. However, news of this failure was suppressed by Theresa May and her government. They’ve tried to spin it since then that they kept it secret, not for fairly obvious political reasons, but on grounds of “national security”. Well this is a complete lie and worrying too as it hints about how the current government works and no doubt how it will handle Brexit negotiations.

Firstly, keeping the results of this test secret from the other nuclear armed states would be virtually impossible. They have early warning satellites, spy satellites, subs (often sent out to shadow nuclear missile carrying subs and report on their activities) and long range radar systems, all of which allows them to track missile launches like this. On some occasions the other powers will have been told in advance about such test, as a launch might endanger any space based assets they have passing overhead….or a test might be mistaken for a sneak attempt at a first strike (potentially prompting a retaliatory strike).

So the other nuclear powers would have been watching and observed the results of this test. And this is largely the point of testing missiles like this. Testing a trident missile is the equivalent of the UK walking in front of the other nuclear powers and performing a Haka. It reminds them that the UK has a fully functional nuclear deterrent. There is in short, not much point in testing such a missile (and wasting tens of millions of tax payers money) if the other states aren’t watching.

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Trident missiles have failed before

So the other powers saw the missile test and saw it fail. This not that an unusual occurrence. Even the best rockets are only about 92% reliable (meaning 1 in 12 of them will fail). This is the whole reason why a Trident sub carries more than one of them. So by itself this was a little embarrassing, but its happened before.

But the other powers know that the UK isn’t North Korea (granted the Tories seem to want to turn it into NK with brexit, but we’re not there yet). They would have waited for the press release from the MoD and tried to read what they could out of it to try and figure out what went wrong…..only they were greeted by silence. Why, they will have thought, are the British being silent? They know we saw the missile fail, why keep it a secret?…..Unless of course there’s something they are trying to hide? i.e. that the trident isn’t quite as reliable as claimed!

Keep in mind that while the other powers will be in a position to observe live missile tests, they won’t know what’s going on in the labs and engineering firms that build the missiles. Its possible that individual parts of the missile have repeatedly failed tests, but by luck the live firings of the assembled missile have always worked. Only now these problems have escalated to the point where the entire missile is failing in flight.

Case in point, Orbital (a new space start up) and their Antares rocket. For years there were rumours that they were seeing failures and burn outs of the rocket’s Russian built engines during ground tests and inspections. But any time they launched, everything seemed to work- Until in 2014 when a rocket blew up on the pad (or more precisely it blew up the pad!). As a result Orbital have essentially gone back to the drawing board and switched to a new engine. SpaceX too has had problems with the use of LOx in combination with composites, but any issues in testing never carried over to endanger a launch – Until a few months ago when a rocket exploded on the pad.

Now I’m not suggesting there is anything wrong with the Trident missile. But my point is, that by trying to suppress news of this rocket failure it may have created the impression that there is. In short Theresa May wasn’t protecting UK security, she was undermining it for selfish political reasons. It raises the risk that the other major powers would have seen the test failure, put two and two together and decided it equalled five. And if a shooting war broke out in the mean time, they might actually take action they otherwise won’t consider.

And it gets worse. The supposed reason for this failure was to do with the GPS guidance system of the rocket. GPS signals can be interfered with. This is why most ICBM’s have a backup guidance system that relies on alternative principles (inertial, celestial, etc.) that should step in if the primary guidance failed. We must consider the possibility that the missile went of course because one of the other powers was at the time jamming GPS signals and the backup guidance failed. By failing to report anything for several weeks this would have sent the message to that other state that the British were still scratching their heads clueless as to what had happened. And that in the event of a shooting war, Trident was little more that 20 billion worth of useless hardware.

So let us be clear, Theresa May was quite happy to undermine British security just because she was scared of a confrontation with Jeremy Corbyn on an issue where she was already guaranteed a majority. Frankly if she can handle Corbyn, waving a ban the bomb petition (while wearing one of his dodgy tracksuits), how does she propose to handle Putin, the Chinese or the Europeans during Brexit? And her reaction to Trump banning UK citizens from the US? Silence because she’s afraid of the big bad bully with the mad hair. I mean how spineless is she! If Brexit mean brexit, it means the UK becoming the 51st state of Trump land.

This episode also implies that the government will suppress important information and keep it from Parliament during Brexit negotiations. We’ll only find out when its too late to change anything. If there weren’t enough reasons for MP’s to vote against this article 50 bill, this is clearly another.

And of course, ironically enough, the suppression of this test failure also creates a compelling case against trident renewal, probably more so than it would, if the incident had been reported earlier.

The sound of silence

daryanenergyblog

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Trump’s (racist, illegal, unconstitutional and utterly pointless) ban on Muslims entering the US is facing much international criticism. However the criticism from Muslim countries has been somewhat muted. Certainly some Muslim countries are responding, notably Iran and Iraq are considering reciprocal bans (and Iran and Iraq teaming up on anything should be setting off red warning lights in the US state department that this was a very bad idea). But you’d expect the Muslim world to be uniting and threatening sanctions against the US.

Keep in mind that OPEC still controls 60% of the world’s oil supply. Contrary to popular myth, fracking has not led to the US becoming independent of OPEC. Its still tied into the global oil supply system, so if OPEC embargoed the US, pump prices in America would skyrocket and the Dow would fall off a cliff. And Middle Eastern oil

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The case against article 50 and the hard brexit that will follow

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So MP’s are finally voting on article 50. Tory eurosceptic labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is calling on his MP’s to back the bill. After all we had a referendum and a majority backed leave. However I would argue, no, both labour and Tory rebels should not back article 50 and here’s why.

Well no firstly they didn’t get a majority. As I’ve pointed out before multiply the turnout of the referendum (70%) by the 52% and you come up with 37%. Now excuse my elementary maths, but isn’t 37% less than 50%? By definition a majority requires +50%. In most European countries a decision on something as important as this this requires a majority decision, not a simple plurality. And this ignores the millions who were excluded from the ballot (EU citizens, UK citizens leaving abroad).

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Brexit was only supported by 37% of the UK electorate and under 27% of the UK population

The idea that the UK can make such a momentous decision (which statisticians say was something of a fluke) on the basis of a decision made by just 37%, the vast majority of whom are old foggies who’ll be dead in a few years time (meaning technically the 52% “majority” will have slipped away not long after brexit is implemented), is a complete distortion of who democracy is supposed to work. Especially when we remember how the brexit camp only won thanks to criminally irresponsible” campaigning.

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Its possible that the relative age difference between leave and remain voters means already they’ve lost the majority…if they ever had it in the first place!

And furthermore democracy is not majority rule. Its majority rule with minority rights. Given the tightness of the result, it would seem sensible to go for a Norway model arrangement. However, the Tories being the ideological zealots that they are pushing for a hard brexit. One that will see the UK becoming the 51st state of Trumpland.

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Indeed, perhaps more worryingly, we now have the PM throwing herself at the feet of Trump, offering him a state visit just days after he took office (normal protocol is to wait until a president is well into his term) and refusing to join criticism of his openly racist ban on Muslims (including many British with dual nationality). This does not bode well for future negotiations with the US on trade. Keep in mind there’s all sorts of concession the US will be looking for. The ability to buy parts of the NHS, the relaxing of UK safety or environmental standards and changes to UK food standards.

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You may wonder, if you’ve ever been to the US, why so many Americans have bizarre diets, they’ll avoid dairy or grains, but happily tuck into a pork chop. They’re vegan, but also like to go hunting. They eat all sorts of crap but insist on only soya milk in their coffee. Well the reason for this is the dire state of US food safety compared to those in Europe. This is a country where cattle can be pumped full of growth hormones (which end up in the meat or milk), chicken chlorinated and GM foods are often sold unlabelled. This is what’s going to be on your plate post-brexit.

Oh, what’s that you say, why I’ll just buy British. Ya, and already the UK farming lobby is looking to switch to these US production methods. Which aside from the food safety issues are terrible for the environment and for rural employment, given how the US food corporations and large farmers have squeezed out many small farmers. So UK farmers, especially small farms will struggle post-brexit. Oh and btw, the US food lobby are one of the main employers of foreign labour in the US. So not what you want brought over to rural England. In short, if you thought dealing with the EU was bad, dealing with Trump is a lot worse. And that is what MP’s will be voting for.

And worse, from a labour MP’s perspective, the Tories have hinted at how they want to get rid of the welfare state, gut employee protections and try and turn the country into some sort of tax haven for the super rich. Now firstly its unlikely they’d succeed, Ireland has a much lower rate of corporation tax (and personal income taxes), the Benelux and East Europeans offer even lower rates for certain kinds of business (and all throw in free EU membership as a freebie). The baby boomer pension time bomb and the very generous retirement the UK has given to its pensioners (free NHS treatment, bus pass, winter heating, TV license, weekly state pension, etc.) means the numbers simply don’t add up without reneging on pensions. But its probable they’ll at least try. One has to seriously question the sanity of any supposed left winger who votes to endorse this in a few days time.

Furthermore, as I’ve pointed out before any labour MP needs to think strategically. Basically if you are a labour MP, the people in your district who voted leave were overwhelmingly Tory or UKIP supporters. Polls have shown that the vast majority of labour members and supporters voted remain. Now backing brexit is not going to convince any of these conservatives types to back you next election…..but it might cause many of those who voted remain to vote against labour. I for one will not be voting labour next election if they back article 50, even if they oust Corbyn before the next election. And it will probably be a long time before I think of doing so again. As far as I see it if labour back brexit, they will be guilty of betraying every principle their party has stood by. And given that backing brexit has turn Corbyn into a Tory groupie, I’d be better off voting lib dem, the SNP or the Greens as they are providing much more effective opposition to the Tories than labour.

And I am far from alone, polls show many now vote one way or another depending on how they voted in the referendum. If labour backs brexit they are committing political suicide. The results of recent by-elections should have hammered that point home.

And from a UK point of view, a hard brexit means tension in Northern Ireland and Scotland. While its still far from clear Sturgeon can get a majority any time soon (although I won’t rule it out, her chances are better than last time), I’d argue such a historic betrayal by England all but guarantees that over a long enough time line (once the older generation who voted leave and no to independence last time have died off), that Scotland and NI will leave the UK at some point in the next few decades. Voting for article 50, MP’s need to consider you may be voting to break up the UK. Future historians might judge you very unkindly, noting that our current ones ain’t exactly thrilled either.

All in all we have to conclude the entire brexit process is flawed and it was flawed from the begining. Cameron, confident of victory and more worried about the short term internal politics of his own party, did not ensure the correct political checks and balances were put in place before calling the referendum. He should have insisted on a majority decision and held the referendum in the autumn when turnout from students would have been higher. He did not set out, nor did the leave camp, what kind of brexit we’d be getting. And I find it very difficult to believe that many of those who voted leave what the UK to “take control”….and then surrender sovereignty and control over our food supply and Health care to Trump and his cronies. The entire process is flawed, its going to be a mess, so I’d say go back to the begining and start again. Why should the country suffer just because Cameron was a moron?

Northern Ireland and its RHI scheme controversy

daryanenergyblog

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RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) schemes are something I’ve long supported. In many countries the winter heating load can represent a significant proportion of carbon emissions. Recall only 20% of the UK’s final energy consumption is electricity, while 36% is heating. So such schemes can go a long way towards reducing carbon emissions.

So its a little worrying how such a scheme is causing major political problems in Northern Ireland. First Minster Martin Mc Guinness has resigned over the crisis, in an effort to unseat DUP leader Arlene Foster (who set up the flawed scheme). Early elections have now been called. This could potentially lead to the situation where the unionists lose their majority, meaning a breakdown of powersharing. While Sinn Fein would still need the support of smaller parties to rule, it could lead to a border poll in Northern Ireland. And post-brexit

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Blogging catchup

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There are dark clouds on the horizon…..

My travels down south

One of things you need to get used to in Argentina is the crippling bureaucracy, forms stamped in triplicate, checked, queried sent back and then recycled as fire-lighters. They say you have to be patient to be Argentinian. The brits could have stopped any invasion of the Falklands just by getting them to queue and fill out the appropriate paper work (trouble is the argie’s are so used to standing in large queues so they’d out queue the British!).

They do try to cut down the red tape at border control by streaming people into different groups, one for locals, another for those from neighbouring South American countries, another for everyone else and one for Americans (they implement the same harsh checks the Americans implement on Argentinians, so any American going to South America, bring a big book, expect a long wait and to be finger printed, photographed, body cavity searched and asked if your a terrorist/rapist/nazi or here to steal our jobs). Naturally one has to dread what will happen post-brexit if the UK tries to restrict immigration from its neighbours. The queues will be horrendous. As it was it took an hour to work my way through a half empty Buenos Aires airport and about four hours to go through the border into Chile.

Another little incident, on the taxi ride in London, the taxi driver saw a crash in the opposite carriageway. He dialled 999….and got put on hold…..for ten minutes before he had to give up and focus on driving (he was on a hands free btw). He was getting the same fobbing off from the cops as I’d been getting from BA. Imagine you’ve got an axe murderer breaking down your door and you’re on the line to the cops and getting put on hold like that. Britain truly is going to the dogs.

By contrast I lost my wallet. Within twenty minutes, as a result of a call to an non-emergency line (by someone else rather than me) there were two Argentinian cops outside. Granted there wasn’t a lot they could do and let’s face it a tourist losing his wallet is hardly a police priority, but its in stark contrast to what you’d expect in the UK. The fact is UK policing, like so many things in the UK (public transport, hospitals, roads, public housing) is kind of crap and no way near up the standards of those in other countries. We have public services many developing nations would be ashamed of.

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Of course Argentina is at the back end of a major economic crisis. Frankly all those brexiters whinging about how bad they’ve had it the last few years come across as a bunch of spoiled brats compared to what the Argentinians have been through since 2007. Are they voting for brexit from their South American neighbours? Are they blaming migrants from Chile for all their woes? No of course not. Yes the previous government Argentine did labour on about the Falklands (predictably), but the current regime’s gone quiet about that. In short it does tend to suggest Brits lack backbone.

Trump train wreck draws nearer

Trump hasn’t even been inaugurated and he’s already in a crisis. Normally a president gets a honeymoon period from Congress and the press. Even that’s run its course for Trump already. And some of those leading the assault are his fellow Republicans. It doesn’t bode well, particularly given his disastrous press conference. Then there’s him appointing his family members to senior positions and not putting his money in a blind trust fund.

All in all it leads me to the conclusion that Trump will probably be impeached at some point. For the moment the GOP will hang onto him, as they need him. But sooner or later, after a few scandals, after his supporters realise they’ve been had and start jumping on the anti-Trump band wagon, there will be moves to oust him.

Recall how all through the election he went through cycles of being denounced and disowned by his own party. That sort of cycle continues, things will come to a head eventually. And there’s several obvious flash points already, his differing views on healthcare reform, his sucking up to Russia, his dubious appointees, the very real possibility of corruption scandals and conflicts of interest, sex scandals, confrontations with China, etc. And keep in mind it doesn’t require a majority of Republicans, only enough to join with the democrats and swing an impeachment vote.

Tories let their brexit fantasies slip

A brain fart from the chancellor let slip the Tories post-brexit fantasies. He suggested that the UK could “punish” the EU for imposing tariffs on it by lowering its corporation tax. Let’s think about that for one minute. As noted in a prior post, the UK will probably have to in some way subsidise its manufacturing sector post-brexit. The governments overall costs will be up (by tens of billions), tax revenue will be down (no young Poles to pay for the NHS), so cutting taxes is not a long term strategy without some major cuts to public spending.

That means no subsidies to farmers, manufacturing, fishermen or the regions. It means big cuts in NHS spending and cuts to the welfare budget. Keep in mind that working tax credits and pensions are the main source of welfare spending (over 50% of total spending), unemployment benefits are less than 10% of the welfare budget. So any significant cuts to welfare would impact on pensions and working tax credits.

In short one has to ask how popular the idea of a massive tax break to corporations would be while manufacturers get hammered, millions lose their jobs. While those lucky enough to keep their jobs lose their pensions, benefits, tax credits and see big cuts to public services. It doesn’t quite tie in with the Tory mantra of looking after working families. So it is something of an empty threat.

Of course they can only make it thanks to their ally Corbyn. He’s rendered labour so unelectable that the Tories could conceivably get away with such a thing. It also betrays the reality that brexit will be negotiated to benefit only those in the UK who live within the M25. The rest of the country will get screwed.

True GDP

Speaking of London, its commonly stated how the UK is so much better off under the Tories. Actually, that’s not true, it depends on where you live. As the graph below shows, if you live in London or the South East then yes, the GDP in your region has gone up by rather a lot. However, in the rest of the country its a different story. Scotland and the South West has seen a decline and then a recovery (no thanks to the Tories), while the rest of the country has never really recovered from the crash. Northern Ireland has flatlined.

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So when you hear stories about how well the economy is doing, ask for a minute yes and for who?

Corbyn rebranded

Corbyn promised to rebrand himself as a populist firebrand prior to Christmas. To copy the tactics of Trump and co. to push labour to victory. So how is that working out? Predictably, not so well. Indeed, my suspicion is that this was a plot by some Blairite’s in his cabal to push the Corbyn train wreck over the edge.

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For starters what Trump calls “post-truth” the rest of us call “lying. Corbyn goes around promising the sun the moon and the stars and he’s going to be accused of the very thing he berates the likes of Tony Blair for. Recall that what got Tony Blair such a bad name with those on the left, was those lies over Iraq. While Trump and Farage might be able to stir up the laden racist living in some easily deluded fools, I’m doubting Corbyn can use the same tactic with those on the left. They like there “facts” too much.

And we’re ignoring the fact that the media are unlikely to give him a free ride. While they failed to take Trump and the brexiters to task for their numerous lies (perhaps because they were so numerous it was hard to keep up). But they are certainly not going to let Corbyn away with that. He says anything that sounds like a change in policy his flip flopping, he back tracks he’s dithering, he promises anything that’s probably undeliverable they’ll line up experts around the block to denounce him.

Is this fair? No, but its the reality that every left wing leader has had to deal with for some time. Brown, Miliband, Sturgeon have had to put up with the same. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

And given that there’s two by elections coming up, at least one of which he’s likely to lose, it doesn’t bode well for Corbyn. Losing a byelection to a sitting and unpopular Tory government in a safe labour seat would be unprecedented and just plain bad. Losing one to UKIP would be disastrous and fatal. My guess is that if labour loses these next two byelections, we’ll probably see another leadership challenge shortly there after.

Perhaps more worrying for labour is the reasons for these byelections. Two MP’s simply up and quit. It suggests that many within the labour party are simply admitting defeat. They know Corbyn’s leading the party off a cliff but that they won’t be able to unseat him until its too late. They know he’s essentially allied himself with the Tories on brexit. Any political ambitions they have are about to be dashed. And come the next election a lot of them are about to find themselves unemployed. So yes, some are out looking for work already and if an opportunity comes along (such as to become director of the V&A), they are going to take it. So labour will probably face a dripping away of MP’s as they flee the sinking ship.

Cycle status

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary has shown himself to have some UKIP like views towards cyclists. Firstly he knocks one off his bike getting out of his ministerial car. Secondly he say’s they aren’t proper road users. I’m reminded of the the late (insane and drug fuelled) major of Toronto Rob Ford, who banned cyclists from the cities streets….then left wondering why there were so many new cars on the road.

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Any car driver who dislikes cyclists, just imagine he’s in a car instead. Do you want those tail backs to be even longer? More delays more misery. Cyclists are doing you a public service. And if you want to rant about them not paying road tax, well neither do you, there’s no such thing as road tax, roads are paid for mostly out of general taxation. And as for vehicle tax, cops, the queen and tractors (to name a few) don’t pay that either. Try screaming abuse at them and see what it gets you (about 6 months I’m guessing).

Either way, making Chris Grayling transport secretary is like making Jimmy Savile minster for children.

Brentry

On my travels I read an interesting article in the Economist about Brentry, that is the UK entry into the wider European economy. After the Romans abandoned the UK it had become a continental backwater, invaded and fought over by one group after another. By 1066, the rest of Europe had bounced back from the dark ages, international trade was expanding, new ideas from the east (well actually old ones that had be rediscovered) were being implemented and tried out. Britain however, was still essentially caught up in the dark ages.

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While William the conqueror and his methods were certainly brutal, one has to acknowledge the economic benefits the Normans brought with them. The UK started to trade with the rest of Europe. The Normans brought security as well as new technology and new ideas. They went on a building boom, castles, city walls, restored Roman roads and then later built many of the country’s now famous cathedrals. A sort of medieval Keynesian economics was at play. By the king’s death, Britain was booming. One is reminded of this Monty python sketch.

Indeed the Economist suggests that the Brentry might even explain the North/South divide. Its often forgotten that there were two invasions of Britain in 1066, one by the Normans, but an earlier unsuccessful one by the Danes (well more specifically the Norwegian king), that was beaten off. Much of northern England had been under Danish influence for sometime, so many supported this invasion. Needless to say they weren’t in a mood to bend the knee to a bunch of cheese eating surrender victory monkey’s. So they resisted, the Normans put down the rebellions with their usual brutality, but this put the north a good century behind the rest of the UK in economic development and they’ve been playing catch up ever since.

War of the worlds hysteria

I also came across a release of Orson Welles infamous War of the World’s broadcast. It is often remembered for the supposed national panic in unleashed when it was mistaken for an actual news broadcast. Well in truth this is mostly a fake news myth invented by the media of the era (sound familiar?).

While yes a small number of very silly people did mistake it for actual news, but these were isolated incidents. Most were quickly informed it was just a radio play of a book that had been available for several decades. There’s no evidence of anyone jumping from roof tops or being treated in hospital for shock, or mass evacuations of New York suburbs. The newspapers blew the story way out of all proportion. Why? Because they, in particular those controlled by Randolph Hearst (the Rupert Murdoch of his day) saw radio as a threat to their business. So the exaggerated the level of panic. And let’s face it, it sold lots of papers.

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Indeed, some pointed to how strange it was some getting in a tizzy over aliens from Mars while ignoring the very real threat from Hearst’s buddy Mr Adolf across the pond in Europe.

Four days in Heathrow

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Got stuck over Christmas for four days in Heathrow all thanks to a screw up by BA. And this was before the strikes hit! Fog caused them to cancel a whole load of flights into the airport and delayed outgoing flights. Apparently the UK has yet to discover the benefits of this thing called “radar”, which is odd given that they claim to have invented it. I ended up spending several days getting fobbed off by BA staff. They’d tell you to go to one queue, then another, then ring a number, then check a website, then call your travel agent who would tell you to call BA 😦

And the Heathrow staff weren’t much better. The shops ran out of food and they were doing demolition work at 1am with a hammer drill while hundreds slept rough the other side of checkin. No consideration what so ever, no help to anybody.

All in all I’m forced to ask what exactly is the difference between Ruinair Ryanair or  Awkwardjet Easyjet and BA? Because the only difference as I see it is that Ryanair are usually on time and half the price. Yes Michael O’Leary is a bastard, but he pretty much tells you that up front. I’m surprised its not Ruinair’s motto “yes we’re bastards, but we’re usually on time and dirt cheap”. BA by contrast charge considerably more for essentially the same service. They are no more likely to look after you in an emergency, so frankly you may as well book with the low cost airlines (or take the train….unfortunately they don’t do trains to South America).

Of course these delays are largely because Heathrow is over capacity. This is why the government wants to build a third runway. However even if that was the solution, that’s not going to do solve anything for a decade. The fact is that successive governments have been kicking the can down the road on Heathrow for decades, both Tory and labour are equally to blame. After the first night I went to stay with relatives in London, which meant I got to see the other side of the argument, i.e. constant plane noise in the background. And this was with Heathrow at 50% capacity. So an extra runway will make things that bit worse.

As I mentioned in a prior post a report back in the 70’s recommended shutting down many of London’s airports and building a new one on a green field site to the north west of the city in rural Buckinghamshire. This would reduce noise over London and provide plenty of room for future expansion. And as it would be near (or on) the West Coast mainline, it would be easier for high speed rail to connect to the airport from the rest of the country (eliminating the need for commuter flights into this new airport). However inevitably as it would mean ploughing up the estates of the landed gentry it was ignored and we’ve been going around in circles ever since. This is what happens when governments dodge long term questions like this. You end up with a mess that can’t be quickly or easily fixed or put right.

Keep in mind Germany is in the process of consolidating all of Berlin’s airports to one site to the South of the city allowing it to close down all of those within the city limits. So there’s no reason why the UK can’t do the same. Its just governments here are, like the BA staff at Heathrow, taking the lazy way out of any difficult problem.

And case in point, the main obstacle to the other proposal, so-called “Boris Island” airport, is the wreck of the Richard Montgomery in the Thames estuary. This is the semi-submerged wreck of a World War II liberty ship with several thousand tons of explosives on board. Yes, seventy years after the end of the war the wreck of a ship with thousands of tonnes of explosives is sitting in the Thames just waiting to go off. Nobody has bothered to do anything about it because that would be too much like hard work.

So my advice to anyone is is A) Don’t fly with BA, Iberia or any of their code sharing allies. And B) avoid any flights through Heathrow. The slightest thing goes wrong, your screwed. If you have to do a long distance flight, use Paris, Amsterdam or Frankfurt as your hub. The flight into them won’t take much longer than one to Heathrow anyway and you’ll avoid having to deal with lazy BA & Heathrow staff.

Nissan deal and humble pie

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I’m increasingly of the view that the fabled Nissan deal struck by Theresa May and Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn is never going to work. There’s clear blue water between what Ghosn is telling his company he got the UK to agree too (i.e that they will compensate Nissan if the UK leaves the single market) and what the government is saying (no payments were promised). Let me illustrate the problem with a thought experiment.

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Let us suppose the UK leaves the single market. While the Tories seem to think they can “have their cake and eat it”, the reality is somewhat different. Any sort of restrictions on immigration and the UK is out of the single market. All the other nations in the EU would have to agree to the UK staying in (or joining later) and there is no way that’s going to happen, not if you’ve been listening to what’s being said in other EU countries. Yes Canada can get such a trade deal, but they are the other side of the Atlantic and aren’t being run by a bunch of racist nutters.

Leaving the EEA trade area would create a whole host of problems. For example we’d still be subject to EU food labelling (contrary to current government claims) as that’s actually controlled by the WTO (a bilateral agreement which lets the EU export food to non-EU countries). We’d need to hire a shit load of vets or go vegan (something to do with the slaughter practice of animals, there’s not enough non-EU vets to monitor this and yes those rules still apply if you want to export food abroad), we’d need to hire a small army of trade negotiators before we can even negotiate a deal with say China (and we have barely enough to negotiate a deal with the Vatican). Oh and btw the Chinese are prevented from dumping steel in the EU thanks to another bilateral agreement which won’t apply to the UK after brexit, raising the risk of an immediate trade war (unless the Tories want to see the recently rescued steel mills shut). The banks will also move some of their operations out of the country and sack tens of thousands of UK staff.

Certainly thought, the UK will forced to revert to WTO rules (if the UK can qualify as a member otherwise its chaos), which would slap tariffs of up to 30% onto all UK trade with the EU. UK cars will be hit by a tariff of 10%. A tariff of that scale on every car coming out of the Nissan plant would mean a government subsidy to the tune of several thousand per car and the plant produces about half a million of them per year. So that’s a billion or two a year to keep one car factory going.

Think about that, Theresa May is proposing to spend a few billion a year to keep 7,000 workers employed. That’s between £100,000-£200,000 per worker per year (depending on the breaks). And this could go on for many years (and it could take a decade to sort out any sort of deal….and there’s no guarantee of success at the other end). It would actually be cheaper for the government to simply buy the factory off Nissan, close it down and hand each worker, say half a million each on their way out the door, telling them to use it to sort their life out (pay off the mortgage, retrain, retire).

Even ignoring such absurdities, what about the other car makers? Do you think JLR, a direct competitor with Nissan in the SUV market is going to be happy with them getting a subsidy? No, they’ll sue the government and demand the same for themselves. Now if every UK car maker got the same deal, and really if one gets it they’ll all be entitled, that’s a subsidy from the government of say £3,000 per car (for some vehicles it will be higher, others it will be lower, this is about what you’d expect at 10% on the average cost of UK vehicles sold). The UK makes 2.5 million cars a year, so that’s a cost to the government of £7.5 billion per year!

Oh, and that assumes the EU doesn’t decide that this subsidy is unfair under WTO rules and doesn’t lodge a dispute with the WTO. That would see putative tariffs imposed by the WTO and the EU at a rate of up to 30%, so it could cost the government three times this amount in such a scenario.

And even this £7.5 billion figure is of course slightly less than the current cost of the UK’s EU membership. Add on the costs of propping up the UK’s R&D and universities post-brexit (up to £8 billion), the farmers (£3 billion), the fishermen, the regions (Cornwall and Wales, both in receipt of billions a year in EU structural funds), and we’re looking at a frighteningly high bill, probably tens of billions a year, certainly many times more than it cost to be in the EU.

And these are not one off payments, these are yearly costs. The one off costs of leaving the EU could be as high as €60 billion, if you listen to what the EU is now saying. And with falling tax revenue and a growing deficit problem, quite simply put, these are cheques Theresa May cannot afford to write. Because the banks who lend the government money (and in future they’ll be doing that from Dublin and Paris) will let those cheques bounce.

The UK cannot buy its way out of brexit. There will have to be some pain. And my guess is Nissan workers are going to be those how have to take some of it. Which begs the question, what class of a moron is Carlos Ghosn? Was he always this stupid or did he have to take lessons? (from Trump university I assume). How do you know a politician is lying too you? His/her lips are moving. And if Mr Ghosn is reading this and think’s I’m not being a bit mean, I’ve some magic beans I could sell him, plus a mate of mine is looking to sell the Forth road bridge, I’m sure we could do a deal…..

…..Or perhaps we need to consider the possibility that Mr Ghosn is a little smarter than the average bear (to be honest, falling for such and obvious con trick is entirely out of character for him). Let us consider the following, he knows he was lied too, but that’s okay. He knows the Sunderland plant might not be viable outside the EEA. He’ll have to undertake massive layoffs or shut it down entirely. Its just he’d rather see the government be the bad guy and explain all of this to the plant’s militant workers, as well as helping to pay for the close out costs if the plant shuts.

So the sequence of events will be, he waits until towards the end of the brexit negotiations and its clear the UK is going to leave the EEA. He pops up waving his little letter from the PM and demands she pays up as promised. Given that she can’t afford to do that (as explained above), she’ll hum and haw and backtrack. He’ll say, you lied to me you lied to the Nissan workers, the deals off, I’ve no choice but to shut the plant down (on the eve of an election) and I’m suing the government for the costs of doing that. The government will make a show of resisting this, but then quietly settle the case out of court (they don’t want to face a scenario where a sitting PM has to testify in court, not least because of the political crisis that would emerge if she perjured herself in the witness box a few months before an election).

And we have to consider that Ghosn might be acting under orders from Paris and Tokyo. Nissan is after all a joint French and Japanese operation, which has close links to both of these governments. They know that if the Nissan deal were to collapse like this in the middle of brexit negotiations, it would be setting off a bomb under the UK economy. There would be a chain reaction of other car makers and companies effected by a potential hard brexit coming forward and warning their work forces of looming mass redundancies.

The Tories would be facing going into an election with falling poll numbers. And there ally Corbyn will be gone. Any significant threat of mass layoffs and his pro-brexit stance means he’ll face a rebellion from the labour party’s union supporters, who will hold another leadership contest and see someone else elected leader. Likely this new leader will come from the hard left of the party as a compromise (Owen Smith, Tom Watson, may be even Ken Livingstone). Naturally said leader can expect an immediate polls bounce and the Tories will be faced with the very real possibility of losing an election to a hard left candidate.

Hence they will come crawling back to the negotiating table and take whatever deal the EU offers that keeps them in the single market. They’d sooner face a backlash from the swivel eyed UKIP loons than see the loss of large chucks of the country and numerous marginal seats to militant and recently unemployed workers and a hard left labour party coming to power.

So the Nissan deal means Theresa May won’t be having her cake and eating it. It means she’ll be getting a double helping of humble pie.

Exit through the wingnut shop

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There’s some brexiters who argue that the UK doesn’t need to trigger article 50, nor spend two years negotiating leaving the EU (and thus its all just a big conspiracy to keep the UK in the EU). We just tell the EU we’re leaving and that’s that. Ah…..no!

To draw an analogy, this would be like quitting your job by just not bothering to showing up for work any more. Okay, so you’ll be leaving without a reference, without your pension contributions, without reimbursement for any outstanding expenses, without your next pay cheque and without the protections afforded by the law. You’d be at risk of your employer suing you for damages (generally your contract of employment will specify an agreed period of grace either side must give before the contract can be terminated) and you’d also not be eligible to claim unemployment benefits. Does any of that sound like a good idea?

The whole point of negotiating is that its a two way street, you reach an accord which gives both sides an acceptable agreement. Perhaps this is the problem of course, the Brexiters think that they can have their cake and eat it and thus the idea that they have to “negotiate” or “compromise” is alien to them. However by refusing to negotiate the UK would essentially be a conceding the field to its opponents. In other words the EU will decide the terms of the UK’s exit, without the UK being consulted.

Naturally the consequences of this could be quite serious. There’s a long list of issues that needs to be resolved and not just with the EU. The UK is doing something that isn’t really governed by existing legislation, so in theory it could leave the country in legal limbo if other nations don’t co-operate. Keep in mind article 50 was originally written by a British lawyer to provide some semblance of an exit mechanism, should it become necessary.

For example that 60 billion the EU says they will charge the UK as its exit fee from the EU. Now I’d consider that at present a negotiating position that they’ll likely horse trade away in exchange for the UK making certain favourable concessions (although the UK will inevitably still face some sort of bill in the end and it will probably be in the tens of billions). However if the UK doesn’t negotiate its exit, then obviously they’ll just slap that bill onto the UK and give the country 30 days to pay, perhaps they’ll even make it higher.

What’s that you say? You’ll refuse to pay? Okay and then the EU starts ceasing UK government assets, freezing bank accounts, imposing punitive taxes on UK companies and businesses or ceasing goods at Calais. Recall that a few years ago, after the Russians reneged on their debts (under Yelstin) it lead to them facing all sorts of sanctions from creditors. At one point a bunch of lawyers showed up at a French air show and tried to impound a group of Russia airforce planes. The Russians actually took off and fled back to Russia to avoid being impounded. That’s the sort of stuff the UK would be facing. The UK’s failure to pay this bill would technically count as a sovereign default, which would mean the UK’s credit rating would be cut to near junk status which would cause a whole host of financial problems.

Ask any lawyer and they will tell you that if someone is suing you in court for money, the worst thing you could possibly do is ignore it. They’ll win by default, the court will appoint a bailiff who’ll come round to your house or place of business and start impounding goods. You can make all the excuses you want at that point, they won’t listen and they don’t have too (they have a county court warrant in their hand). If they are in a good mood they might give you an hour or two to come up with the cash, before then start loading your stuff into their van. And they’ll keep coming back and coming back until you pay up. That’s what the UK would essentially be facing.

And then there’s issues like the WTO. The UK’s membership of the WTO is in a state of limbo. Now in theory so long as nobody kicks up stink it should be easy enough to straighten that out. However, if we’ve left the EU without agreement and are now locked in a trade dispute with them, quite obviously that will have to be resolved first. Without WTO membership the UK will find it quite impossible to trade abroad in any meaningful way.

Then there’s the status of UK citizens in the EU. Without an agreement it will be up to the EU, if not individual EU states, to decide on their fate. My guess is they’ll offer some sort of duel citizenship to the UK citizens they want to keep (i.e. the working age taxpayers living in their countries) while kicking out the pensioners who they want rid of (more precisely, they’d refuse them health care and hit them with a massive punitive tax on their pensions to force them to return to Britain). The French will no doubt withdraw the current border arrangements and simply wave through masses of refugees straight onto Ferries bound for the UK. So we’ll see a drop in east European workers replaced by hordes of pensioners and Syrian migrants.

But we’ll be able to send all them Polish people back right? No! You can’t deport someone to a government whom you don’t have relations with. This is exactly the problem with refugees, they’re in legal limbo and thus can’t be deported back to their country of origin. If the UK left the EU without triggering article 50, then all of the EU citizens would fall into the same category. It would be legally very difficult if not impossible to deport them, or any Syrian refugees for that matter.

And it won’t just be people coming in but goods too. As I’ve pointed out with regard to the post-brexit Irish border, its not people you need to worry about but contraband. Without a bilateral exit agreement from the EU the smugglers will be having a field day. They’ll be shipping in truck loads of tax free booze, cigarettes and petrol, undermining UK businesses and depriving the treasury of valuable tax income. As it is there needs to be some sort of an agreement reached to prevent this becoming a major problem.

And they’ll also be shipping in drugs too. Ireland is already a known transit route for drugs into Europe and in particular shipments into the UK. Our rugged West coast with its countless inlets and bays is virtually impossible to defend and patrol. And the Irish countryside, with its rabbit warren of narrow boreens and remote farm houses, gives smugglers plenty of places to hide stuff. Currently intercepting such shipments is a major focus of attention by customs officials both sides of the border. And its achieved by mutual trust and co-operation. Destroy that agreement and the only winners are the smugglers. In short, leave the EU without triggering article 50 and the only think that will get cheaper in Britain afterwards is the street value of heroin and crack.

So no, the UK can’t leave without triggering article 50. Doing so would be the height of irresponsibility and grossly stupid. Yes article 50 is designed to basically let the EU screw over the country that is leaving. But that’s still better than the alternative, leaving and getting screwed over by the rest of the world permanently.