News roundup

I have been away on business for a couple of weeks. I thought it would be useful to do an update.

Bloody pathetic woman

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Prior to the election Theresa May promised to be “a bloody difficult woman” in pursuit of brexit negotiations. I recall joking that given her behaviour during the election (basically hiding from public appearances and avoiding TV debates), her strategy would probably actually involve locking herself in the loo for the duration of talks and waiting for the EU to push a favourable agreement under the door.

Well I was sort of right. Her solution to dealing with the EU was to go to Brussels and turn on the water works. And the EU “conceded” something to her, just to get this blubbering wailing mess out of the room. Of course they didn’t really concede anything, they simply agreed to talk privately among themselves about what a potential transitional trade deal would look like, which they’d already agreed to do prior to the summit, the only difference was they made this public, giving May the illusion of having won some concession when in truth she’d won nothing.

And the early results of those talks aren’t encouraging for the brexiters. It pretty much states what we’ve long been telling them. You’ll have to pay the exit bill. A trade deal will take a considerable period of time to negotiate, not only long after March 2019 but probably extending past the next general election (leaving the country in economic limbo for a considerable period of time). Access to the EU market in any form will mean accepting all of those pesky EU rules they despise on the UK statute books. Plus we’ll either need to hire several thousand new civil servants to administer and regulate those rules or pay the EU a few billion to do it all for us….oh and you’ve a month to make a decision, so no pressure!

Oh and the latest word from the WTO regarding the UK’s future trading relationship isn’t positive either. The UK could face charges as high as 10-50% hit on the cost of its exports after March 2019, not just to the EU but to a host of other countries the EU has existing trade deals with. Yes, we could do a deal with the US, ditch EU rules. But you’re assuming that all the companies who are trading with the EU, who will then instantly lose access to their customers in the EU (as they will no longer be in compliance with EU rules and thus their products will be banned from the EU), can simply wave a magic wand and find new customers in the US and establish a supply chain to those customers on the other side of the Atlantic…and do all of that over night.

Of course the problem for the UK is that there is now an open civil war ongoing in the Tory party. Micheal Fallon, a May supporter has just got taken out, so in return she took the opportunity to take out leave supporter Priti Patel (although to be fair, suggesting international development aid should be given to the Israeli army for use in occupied territories the UK doesn’t recognise Israeli control over is a sackable offence for a minister in any circumstances).

In order to get the compromises the EU wants one or both of the main leadership candidates, Dave2 (the person whom the media tycoons have chosen to lead the party) or Boris have to basically take a big bite out of a shit sandwich (if you’ll pardon the bluntness of my language), because May’s already eaten all the crusts. They would have to sign off on paying the EU tens of billions of pounds (having promised in the referendum the UK would be £350 million a week richer), they’d have to accept some level of freedom of movement, recognition of the ECJ and likely leave northern Ireland half in and half out of the rest of the UK. Either of them does any of this and they can rule out wining the post-May leadership contest. And yet she can’t sack them and put someone more complaint into their jobs. So in short, the UK has become ungovernable .

Hindu fascism

Should you wonder what possessed Mrs Patel to go to Israel without authorisation, try to overturn a long standing UK (as well as US, EU and UN) backed position on the occupied territories and then propose her department give UK development aid money to the Israeli army. Well we need to get past the idea that racism and bigotry is something that only white men are responsible for. The crisis in Myanmar and the persecution of a Muslim minority (by Buddhists under Aung San Suu Kyi) being a case in point. Unfortunately a significant number of Hindu’s, such as Mrs Patel are also fanatically islamophobic to an extend that makes Nigel Farage sound like a moderate.

Now naturally I’m not saying all Hindu’s are bigots, but certainly some are. And while I’d like to say its few on the fringes (who’ve probably made the mistake of reading the Daily Mail), in truth were are talking a fairly significant number of them. The BJP, the ruling party in India, at present, is very much anti-Muslim and more than a little racist. Indeed they are basically an Indian version of UKIP.

Their policies have included such highlights as knocking down Muslim temples (leading to massive riots that killed thousands), trying to introduce astrology as a university degree, arguing that some ancient Hindu civilisation we’ve never heard of once existed (and even conducted nuclear tests) and professing a belief that cow dung can cure cancer. They also want to stop tourists visiting the Taj Mahal, which they argue is a Shiva temple (its a mausoleum for a Muslim emperor’s wife)…..Just to reiterate, these nutters are running India and have access to nuclear weapons (well if they put the astrologers in charge of missile guidance we’ve nothing to worry about I suppose!).

And Hindu fascists have also been very quick to find common cause with other similar groups around the world. More than a few thought that India was on the wrong side during World War II, notably Savitri Devi a British fascist and Hindu convert, who is revered by both Hindu extremists and the alt-right to this day. I’m going to take a wild guess and assume Mrs Patel kept didn’t mention this little fact of history to her Israeli hosts.

Catalatrophy

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The Catalan crisis is a crisis not so much due to the Catalan’s pursuit of a referendum (assuming any referendum had the proper checks and balances, e.g. the need for a full majority, i.e. 50% of the voters to back it, they’d have probably lost it), but the conservative government in Madrid’s refusal to allow it and the brutal crack down before and after.

They’ve now likely just succeeded in convincing many Catalan’s that Madrid can’t be trusted to stay out of the regions affairs. By suspending the regional government they’ve left Catalonia with two choices, full independence, or direct rule from Madrid. And by making martyrs of the leadership, they’re just going to provide a totem for independence supporters to rally around.

And there is history here. The reason why Ireland isn’t part of the UK is because of events during world war one (a war which had nothing to do with Ireland, yet we got dragged into it) and the crackdown by the British after the Easter rising. Both events convinced the Irish that even with the proposed home rule we’d been promised London simply couldn’t be trusted not to meddle in Irish affairs. And hence we were better off outside of the UK, regardless of what economic price we had to pay to get that independence. This is not far from were Catalonia is now.

Hence while the sensible solution would be to hold a proper poll on the matter, something the left wing parties in Madrid have been proposing for sometime I might add, the window of opportunity where that could settle the matter has probably now passed. Up until recently the assumption was that (as noted) such a poll would go against the Catalan independence movement, while now its 50/50 either way. Also even if such a poll were held and even if it was a firm No vote, I don’t think the Catalan independence movement will pack up and go home. Having been beaten up by the cop’s they aren’t going to give up until they get what they want, so in essence Madrid has radicalised them. And its only a matter of time before some hot head starts setting off bombs. As JFK said “those who make political change impossible make violent revolution inevitable”.

And some of those bombs will be going off in Brussels, for the EU very firmly backed Madrid when they should have stayed neutral. This pro-Madrid stance was probably what emboldened Madrid enough that they felt comfortable sending in the riot squads. The EU’s reasoning has been that they don’t want to encourage other separatist movements. However my suspicion is that all they’ve succeeded in doing is guaranteeing that if Catalonia does separate from Spain it will be a messy breakup of Spain and that the other independence movements around Europe will now be emboldened to carry on regardless. In short the EU has made life more difficult for itself not less.

So clear the solution here, given the impossibility of a pig headed Spanish PM changing course, is for the EU to act. They should put in place a contingency plan for what to do if a country who is an EU member breaks up. If Catalonia must leave the EU (as suggested) then so too must Spain (as the conditions on which it entered the EU have now changed as well). Or both are allowed to transition into EU members. If that offends Madrid, then tough. Otherwise Brussels could find itself facing violent attack from separatists from across the continent, which would create a crisis that makes brexit look like a storm in a tea cup.

Not so Trumped up charges

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The first charges in the Mueller investigation into Trump’s Russia connections have been made and needless to say the reaction from him and his supporters has been similar to the reaction you’d get from a toddler whose hand you caught in the cookie jar, a combination of bawling and counter claims against his sister, or in this case Hilary.

There are allegations made that suggest Hilary may have gotten funds from a pro-Putin source and certainly there’s some smoke here, but not necessarily a fire. It should be noted that it is a known tactic of Putin to secretly give money to his political opponents, usually through back channels and anonymous allies, such that the opposition don’t realise what’s going on, only to then to allow this bombshell to be leaked to the media at a time when it is most inconvenient to those opponents. That he would play the same trick with Hilary would hardly be a surprise.

However, even if the worse case scenario was true, Hilary knew about this money, well two wrongs don’t make a right. Trump’s still in trouble, he can have the cell next to her. It is deeply ironic how everything he’s accused Hilary of, Trump and his administration have now also done. He’s had his own email scandal, his own Benghazi. Yet the GOP have launched no investigation, they are too busy investigating Hilary.

To draw an analogy, its like seeing a mafia don being dragged into court and on the way in he passes a hot dog stand and randomly accuses the owner of that stand of not paying his taxes. And as a response the federal grand jury suspends his case while they launch an investigation into the hot dog stand owner’s tax affairs. And again, its the sort of behaviour that one regularly sees play out in corrupt African dictatorships.

Perhaps more worryingly is Trump’s warmongering towards Iran and North Korea. Its been suggested that he might launch some sort of attack against these countries in order to deflect attention from the Russia investigation, which does actually sound plausible. And that’s very worrying because the likely consequences of such an intervention are unlikely to be pretty serious. Tens of thousands of dead and the destabilisation of the world, probably leading to a stand off between the US on one side and China and Russia and their allies on the other sort of serious. All to massage the ego of one guy.

Paradise papers

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The latest paradise paper leaks are oh so predictable. Some time ago I read a book called Treasure Islands about the offshore industry and many of the very mechanisms discussed in the book are identical to what these leaks reveal. I’m sorry but this is news only to the blind and naïve.

It also explains why when the brexiters threaten to turn the UK into a tax haven post-brexit, the response from Brussels is to start howling with laughter. As author Nicholas Shaxson puts it “the largest tax haven in the world is in London”. Most of the dirty work of tax avoidance actually takes place in offices within London itself. Offshore on the tax havens, they’ll have a few lawyers and officials to sign documents and that’s it. And to be fair to the UK, Delware in the US and Luxembourg in the EU means there are equivalent operations within both the US and EU.

It would be all too easy for the EU, UK and US to simply ban all financial trade with this regions, or slap some sort of financial transaction tax on all such activity. Or worse, adopt tax and salary transparency laws (meaning everybody’s earnings and tax payment records become public, meaning it’s very easy to work out who is paying their taxes and who is on the fiddle allowing tax dodgers to be easily caught). The fact is that it is an open secret that, as one billionaire put it “only the little people pay taxes”. The rich can avoid them not because there’s no way to shut down tax havens, but because the politicians are too scared to open that can of worms and try to do something about it.

Sparkling hypocrisy

In the US, the land of the free ain’t so free. You can’t for example buy Haggis, because the FDA says its unsafe (and if the brexiters have their way, those FDA rules might well apply in the UK too). Nor can you buy a kinder surprise. And fireworks are banned in some US states. Okay, fireworks are actually dangerous, but even in elf n’safety obsessed UK we’ve seemed to find a way of regulating that to a point that’s acceptable. But no so US states still say, no fireworks, they’re too dangerous, even sparklers are banned…..But a semi automatic rifle, oh they are perfectly safe! Go figure!

A matter of education

Before the EU referendum farmers were warned that subsidies would likely go, that they’d face the risk of rising costs, being cut off from the EU markets and losing access to seasonal workers from the EU. Well now we’ve seen how a cliff edge hard brexit and a sudden imposition of high tariffs could cut off that market access (and as noted earlier its not as if they can just pick up the phone and find someone else on April 1st 2019 who wants to buy several hundred tons of cheese). Farmers costs have risen rapidly and they are worrying signs that immigration controls could cut off access to seasonal workers, raising questions as to how they are going to harvest their crops post-brexit. And this is not just a problem for farmers, it will impact on food prices as well.

And inevitably a report has now come out suggesting farm subsidies should be scraped. They point to New Zealand as a model for British farming, ignoring the fact that New Zealand has a tiny population where their costs are lower and their farms are massive. The small holdings of the type we see in the UK either don’t exist or don’t produce the same things as we do (most smaller farms are vineyards producing wine or grow fruits….not a really an option for UK farmers!). The NHS was also warned that it would face staffing shortages, which again predictably are starting to come true.

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One has to question where brexiters are maybe a little thick. And actually since you mention it, polls do show a link between education and which way people voted in the referendum. Those with a high level of education voting largely remain, those with no education beyond GCSE’s were the most likely to vote leave.

So now you know what happened to the farmer who didn’t pay attention at school. He voted for brexit, lost his farm and ended up as a poor cotter on the estate of some laird with no healthcare or pension in his old age.

The centenary of violence celebrated

The wheel of violence that has ground over the middle east for decades rolls on. While ISIS looks like its now more or less beaten, fighting has broken out between the Kurds and the Iraqi government forces around the oil rich town of Kirkuk. The Kurds (some 30 million strong) are the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland of their own.

So we can see how this cycle of violence will just continue, the Kurds get radicalised, they start a four way war with Turkey, Iran, Iraq and what’s left of Syria, who btw are also starting to turn on the US backed free Syrian forces. 5,306 days since G. W. Bush declared mission accomplished, the fire he lit in the middle east continues to burn and it will likely continue to do so for decades more.

Indeed, strictly speaking it wasn’t G. W. Bush who lit the fire in the middle east, but the British. One hundred years ago a UK diplomat made the Balfour declaration, something that was recently celebrated in Israel, as they see it as the first acceptance of Israeli statehood. To be honest, its not the sort of thing I’d celebrate. As you are celebrating a hundred years of violence, which has seen more than a few Jews as well as Muslim’s killed btw.

And the thing is that what the British were proposing to do was use the Jews as their colonial stooges. A long standing British policy of colonisation was to drive out any disloyal locals, steal their land and “plant” some convenient lackies on that land, who were generally people they wanted out of the UK for some reason or another (the convicts sent to Australia, the Presbyterian’s in Northern Ireland, the Puritans in North America).

And it wasn’t even the local Muslims whom the British were worried about. At the time they were fighting world war one (where Germany was backed by the Turks and a number of other actors in the region) and the middle east was a key battle ground, given the Royal Navy’s dependence on oil. The first unit of British troops deployed overseas during world war one went not to Belgium but Basra to defend the oil fields. And the British, all too aware that post-war they’d face competition from their long standing rivals the French, wanted someone in the region loyal to them, rather than the French. So in essence Israel is celebrating how they became pawns of the British Empire.

And there is a further cruel irony to the Balfour deceleration. This British policy of both divide and rule (which one of the reasons for the violence and bigotry in India I referred too earlier) and planting of loyal supporters on someone else’s land was greatly admired by the nazi’s. In essence what they were doing in Eastern Europe was simply trying to copy what the British had been doing for centuries in other parts of the world (in a slightly crueller way, but same basic principle). So that’s hardly the sort of thing we should be celebrating, least of all the Israeli’s.

And so this wheel of violence will not only roll onwards, but we literally have some in the region celebrating its centenary.

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La la brexit land

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Post-brexit, the UK now has lower growth than Italy and a higher inflation rate than Sweden

I happened to catch the movie La La Land recently and it occurred to me that the brexiters seem to inhabit more of a fantasy world than the characters in the movie. A fantasy world that should have by now been shattered as the cold hard realities of brexit sink in. An interesting Guardian article here about the folly of the brexiters and how all of their promises have come to nothing. Which is exactly what everyone told them would happen before the referendum.

The brexiters promised “new and exciting trade dealsin “emerging markets (what on Pluto?), which they could sign up to quickly. The EU, faced with the prospect of losing trade with the UK would agree to let us have our cake and eat it. The Americans under Trump would lavish gifts upon us, some even envisioned British Empire 2.0, with the UK at the heart of a new trading hub to rival the EU, US and China.

Well its becoming obvious now that any new trade deals, even those with the US, Canada or Australia will involve long and protracted negotiations, not least because the UK simply doesn’t have the staff to negotiate these deals in any sort of a hurry. And with a 220% tariff imposed on Bombardier imposed by supposed UK ally Trump, even despite the direction and personal intervention of the PM, its clear that the US will (surprise, surprise) put its own interest first.

And who is the white knight riding to Bombardier’s aid? It would appear to be Airbus (no doubt acting with the blessing of the EU). Although its worth noting they are taking a 50% stake in the company for which they will not pay a penny…..which is kind of metaphorical for the whole brexit process. The Brexiters get themselves into an awful mess and the Europeans lend them a rope with which to help themselves out of the quagmire….for a price!

Certainly the UK can get a trade deal with the US or its other trading partners reasonably quickly, if you don’t mind conceding heavily to the other side. Or in other words if you’re okay with the idea of UK farmers being driven to the wall, chlorinated chicken, growth hormones in beef or GM grains being sold on supermarket shelves unlabelled and the NHS ending up owned by US HMO’s.

And a key step in the UK’s future post-brexit trading relations is to rejoin the WTO. The brexiters have assumed that this will merely be a formality, they can just self-invite themselves along to the first post-brexit WTO meeting, joining on the same quota terms as the UK currently enjoys via its EU membership. However, that position has been rejected by several WTO member states, including the US, New Zealand and Canada. So it would appear Empire 2.0 is a non-starter.

But then again, why should anyone be surprised. If you represented these governments wouldn’t you try to negotiate the best position possible, particularly as for all three countries it is their farmers who would stand to gain the most (or lose the most) from any WTO quota agreement with the UK, farmers who represent a key political demographic. Its ironic how so many neo-liberals, such as the brexiters, who talk a lot about rational self interest can fail to appreciate that others will put their interests first and the UK’s second.

But we’ll be able to grow more food after brexit, the government says (although in the same breath the minster in question also said we would import more, so obviously he doesn’t understand the concept of supply and demand), right? Utter tripe” is the response from farmers, who live in the real world and understand that with their costs going up and likely to prove difficult for them to hire staff, not to mention trade deals that will see them wiped out, the opposite is more likely.

And the brexit talks are deadlocked because the UK is intentionally playing brinkmanship with the EU. The assumption is that German industrialists worried about the implications of a hard brexit with no deal will put pressure on the EU to back down and allow the UK to cherry pick what it wants. However the actual word from German industry is that they don’t want the integrity of the single market threatened by the UK being allowed to cheat the rules. And they are already advising any firms doing business with the UK to start preparing for a hard brexit. Which, to be fair, is the sort of thing you’d expect a German trade body to say (the Germans are well known for their dislike of unfairness and wanting everyone to stick to the rules, if you don’t believe me try to give away a free train ticket at a German railway station sometime!).

Now I suspect that behind the scenes one or two CEO’s of the companies directly in the firing line (e.g. Airbus, BMW, the financial services industry) are having a quiet word with the EU and Angela Merkel to try and limit the damage to themselves of a hard and messy brexit. But given the UK government’s position at the talks, the best way for the EU to cushion the blow would be to offer a carrot to these companies to relocate out of the UK, as is already starting to happen.

And the EU has to represent everybody, one man’s loss from brexit will be someone else’s gain. For example, UK based car makers, who are already laying people off, will see their tight Just In Time manufacturing process ruined by any sort of border controls at Dover and facing potential tariffs on exports back to the continent. But there’s plenty of companies with no UK manufacturing bases who will do rather well out of this. And even those that will suffer the worse, such as BMW (who own Mini and have a stake in a number of other UK car makers), can simply scale back production in the UK (sacking thousands of British workers in the process) and move production to Europe.

The airline industry will also be severely effected by a hard brexit. Already the bankruptcy of Monarch makes the UK owned airline functionally extinct (BA are already registered in Spain and Easyjet are applying to become Austrian). Certainly those airlines based in the UK will face disruption, regardless of where they are registered (which includes Ryanair). But its unlikely to bankrupt them, they’ll just sack a load of UK based staff and move their main hubs to European airport. I don’t know, maybe the Brexiters never realised it but airplanes can fly!

Indeed, another interesting story, Easyjet recently teamed up with Lufthansa to try and take over the Italian national carrier Alitalia, one of the world’s most in-efficient and incompetently run companies. Yes, they could have used the same money to rescue Monarch and buy it for a fraction of its current value. But instead they decided, in the context of brexit, Alitalia looked like a better deal.

So in short the people who are going to get royally shafted by a hard brexit, isn’t the EU, its UK workers, in particular those on lower incomes. Much as was predicted and warned about prior to the referendum. So it begs the question, why are the brexiters still committed to a policy that clearly isn’t going to work? Given their public school education and decades of xenophobic bigotry they’ve been exposed to in their little privileged home counties bubble, that they didn’t realise any of this would happen prior to brexit is perhaps understandable (although not forgivable). But they have no excuses now, they have literally been told to their faces (or been laughed in their faces) by the EU and foreign governments that their clever little plan is a deluded fantasy. So they have now got no excuses.

One is forced to assume its one of two possibilities. They really are that stupid. A bunch of idiotic black knightesque morons who think that if they never give up they can never lose. Or alternatively, they know their plan isn’t going to work, but they don’t care. To them chaos is a ladder, the whole reason why Boris, Davis and Liam Fox are pursuing it is solely for the goal of career advancement. They don’t care how much of the country they have to burn down to get to the top in the process.

News review

How to lose a country in one day

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Given that the fallout from the Catalan independence vote is still ongoing at the time of writing, its difficult to know which way its going to go, but in some respects the outcome of the referendum hardly matters now. Effectively by violently shutting down the voting process the Spanish government has handed a massive victory to the Catalan’s.

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Spainsh taxes at work, beating up old ladies

Usually when I talk to Spanish about Catalan independence, be they from the region or other parts of the country, the response is to laugh, then point out that its very different from the Scottish independence question. They also generally point out how support for independence has traditionally been only about 25-30%, the recent jump to +40% or so is a response to an unpopular right wing government in Madrid and its policy of austerity (now why does this sound familiar?). The assumption has been that once the right wing government in Madrid is forced from power and austerity ended, independence support will slip back to traditional levels.

However, given what’s happened in the last few days I’d argue that’s unlikely to be the case, everything has now changed. This police intervention will have hardened the minds of independence supporters, hence I’d call the +40% supporting independence a pretty solid support from now on, and it will probably grow rather than wane. As a result there are really now only two outcomes. That the Spanish government will have no choice but to run its own legally binding referendum at some point in the future. And with a +40% support level then it basically boils down to turn out (keep in mind that in the brexit referendum it took only 37% of the electorate to back brexit to get it passed). Or Catalonia will become independent in the near future, possibly within the next few days.

The Catalan government might well argue that given the low probability of them being able to hold a free and fair referendum while part of Spain they are now within their rights, regardless of the vote on Sunday, to simply make a unilateral deceleration of independence. The is a precedence here for that, Ireland never had a referendum prior to leaving the UK (although several were held afterwards) and Norway left Sweden first, before a referendum was held to confirm the seperation.

Now the question is, will such a decleration be supported by the people? If a significant portion of the Catalan population for example stopped paying their taxes, or a general strike were to be organised, crippling Spain’s most economically important region (which includes the headquarters of most of their major companies, notably their banks), the Spanish government would be very quickly forced to either grant a referendum or respect Catalan independence.

Fortunately for the Spanish government the Spanish constitution would likely require that a referendum would need a solid majority of support (e.g. 50% plus one vote must back it, as should have been the case in the UK brexit referendum). However, with the level of support behind independence as it now stands the Spanish government are not going to find it easy to win, even with such a rule. The previous plan, to simply get the no voters to boycott the poll, won’t work anymore. They’ll have to fight a campaign and in both the Scottish Indy ref and brexit vote a swing of more than the required magnitude was achieved over the course of the campaign. So its easily doable. And again, if a large block of no voters just don’t show up to the polls (perhaps turned off by the police tactics over the last few days) while the pro-independence lot get the vote out, then the vote could easily be won.

And the way the Tories won the indy ref, the infamous vow (which never really was fulfilled) isn’t an option. Firstly, because after what happened on Sunday, they won’t be believed. And secondly because they’d have to make the same offer to all the other regions of Spain. And once they start doing that there’s not a lot left for the government in Madrid to do. Plus if Catalonia goes, its likely other regions, such as the Basque country, will follow. So by cracking down on this independence movement the conservative government might just have put Spain on the course towards its own breakup. They have now destroyed the option for compromise, leaving the Catalan’s with basically only one alternative.

And there’s a lesson here for the UK. Some have argued that the response of Westminster to dealing with the SNP should copy that of the Spanish government. I would hope that events on the streets of Barcelona, or the quagmire that will now follow, should demonstrate why that’s just a non-starter.

The longest political suicide note in history

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At the labour conference delegates were told to prepare for power….is that a pig flying past? The problem is we’ve been here many times before. Take 1992. The Tory party were in disarray over Europe (again, sound familiar?), the economy was in the tank, labour were riding high in the polls, so much so that they made one too many promises to the far left. With the result that a big chuck of the electorate in marginal seats lost their nerve, voted Tory and labour lost to John Major. Let me repeat that, they lost to John Major, a guy so dull his Spitting image character was actually grey.

The problem with the labour manifesto is that much of what Corbyn is promising is going to be nearly impossible to deliver and he is the worst person you could pick to try and deliver it. If he’s in a coalition government, there’s no way the other parties will sign up to much of it, indeed they might well go over to the Tories instead. And even if he has a majority he’ll struggle to hold his party together to support such measures. The right of the party won’t support overtly socialist policies, the far left won’t want to do anything that stinks of compromise and they’ll face pressure from big business who will use the courts to slow things down to a crawl.

Good politics is about good compromise, but Corbyn isn’t good at that. People support him because they say he’s not like other politicians, he doesn’t lie. Really? What about that whole business with him sitting on the floor on a train when there were empty seats? And we all know he really voted leave even though he claims to have voted remain. The only difference between Corbyn and other politicians is that he’s bad at it. He could have deprived the Tories of a majority (even with the support of the unionists) if he’d only taken up the offer of an election deal with the other left wing parties not to stand against each other in marginal seats. Several of those key seats were won by a margin of a few hundred votes.

Just to take an example,, the issue of tuition fees. As a lecturer I see first hand the problems tuition fees are causing all the time. But no sooner had I written an article pointing out how the labour policy, while it would be expensive (but in the long run a cost worth paying), it was a good idea, only for Corbyn to chickened out of it and dropped the idea. So if he’s back pedalling on policies now, how likely do you think it is that he’ll actually deliver on promises once in power?

Re-nationalisation isn’t that bad an idea, given the mess public services are in. But there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way and Corbyn is clearly committed to doing it the wrong way. If he wants to simply buy back all of the assets held by the private companies they’ll demand he pay the full market price, which would be more than he could afford. And if he tries to set the price lower, they’ll take him to court and tie him up in knots with legal challenges. It would literally take the full length of parliament just to untangle the legal mess he’ll be getting himself into over this.

Oddly enough the very thing Tony Blair, or the Clinton’s, were good at was this ability to compromise, to negotiate and do deals. The trouble of course was he took this to its illogical conclusion by thinking he could get G. W. Bush to compromise over Iraq. But even so, you do need to be willing to compromise and negotiate if you want to get anything done in politics, that’s just the way it works.

My fear is that Corbyn’s government would quickly get stuck in the doldrums and become a lame duck administration, not unlike that of Hollande’s time in office in France. And what was the end result of that? The traditional left got wiped out and the Blairites took over with a new party.

And given that we don’t know who the Tory leader will be or what the terms of brexit are, then its a bit premature to be declaring victory. Not least because we don’t know how the public will react. They might well blame the Tories for the mess that follows, or they might recognise that Corbyn bares some responsibility too and vote for third parties, meaning another hung parliament, possibly one that might require the Tories and labour to work together (which isn’t going to happen with Corbyn).

And given that the economy will be probably taking a hit from brexit, there won’t be a lot of money to go on a spending spree (again this was the problem for Hollande, he had big plans to change things, but the French economy tanked and he couldn’t implement those changes).

So the danger is that those £3 tories, who joined labour and voted for Corbyn in the hope that he destroys the labour party, might well get their wish in the end. Its just they might have to put up with him in power for 4 years first! And see their own party destroyed as well.

Game of dolts

Meanwhile over at the legion of doom Tory party conference the knifes are already out. Not so much for Teresa May (she”s finished!), but the other leadership contenders are jostling for the top spot. To draw an analogy with game of thrones, the rains of Castamere is on a continuous loop throughout the conference hall, they are all gathered around Teresa and her supporters openly sharpening their knifes or loading crossbows and loudly arguing over her about how they are going to divide up the loot after they’ve knifed her.

Boris Johnson for example laid out his stall arguing for the sort of brexit senile swivel eyed bigots the Tory faithful would want, rather than one that’s practical. Clearly this was designed to box in his main rival David Davis. As he’s actually negotiating brexit he can’t propose something that’s simply not deliverable. Boris, who least we forget promised all sorts of nonsense in the referendum campaign, can promise whatever BS he wants.

Of course the trouble is that once Brussels realises what’s going on, they’ll stall. They know the longer these negotiations drag on the more desperate the UK will be to do a deal. And they know Boris is just the sort of buffoon to dig himself into a pit and they can then sell him the rope to hang himself with. So once again, the future of the country is being sacrificed for the internal politics of the Tory party.

Ni bombardier/ Trump trade

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And a perfect example of the mess the Tories have gotten the UK into played out recently with regard to Bombardier in Northern Ireland. The Trump administration, who are supposedly pro-brexit and will do a trade deal “very quickly” hit the Canadian company, which has manufacturing facilities in NI with a whopping 219% tax on its aircraft sales. And this was after the PM raised the issue with Trump personally.

Critics like myself have repeatedly warned that the UK will not get as good a trade deal outside of the EU as it would inside. And that the US will always prioritise looking after its own interests above those of the UK, especially under the administration of a populists like Trump. This serves to prove the point.

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The UK has threatened to retaliate by cutting military contracts with the US, but I suspect they are bluffing and the US will call their bluff. The UK has no choice but to buy those aircraft off the Americans, largely because of past Tory mistakes in aircraft procurement (dithering on buying essential equipment because they were too penny pinching, not holding a proper bidding process when in a blind panic they realised they now needed it, signing deals and paying for stuff in advance, etc.) and the obvious alternatives are made where?…in Europe!

And case in point, would the Americans hit the EU with a 219% tax on its aircraft production? Unlikely. A counter tax by the EU would inflict more damage to the US than they’d inflict on the EU. The main rival of Boeing, Airbus, has its own manufacturing facilities in the US, so they could make life very difficult for the US administration very quickly by threatening thousands of high tech jobs. Also while the Americans can laugh off the Tories feeble bluff on military contracts, the tens of billions of annual arms sales the US makes to EU nations is a different matter. These could credibly be terminated and the EU nations source from their own suppliers within the EU. So such a threat from the EU would have to be taken seriously.

But of course the brexiters will carry on regardless oblivious to the obvious warning messages.

Monarch and the brexit effect

And the collapse of the airline Monarch is another example of the sort of blow back the UK is facing. Now Monarch’s problems were multiple (caught in a price war, rising costs, difficulties securing routes, the impact of terrorist attacks on package holidays), however brexit was the final nail in the coffin.

Ultimately the brexit effect caused its costs to rise, notably the cost of fuel (always the Achilles heal of any airline). It could have been saved by new investers coming along. However, the terms of brexit are unknown, in particular the brinkmanship the Tories have been playing means there’s theoretically a chance of many UK airlines being forced to cancel routes or even buy back their own shares. So who in their right mind would invest in a UK based airline knowing any of that?

This is something we’ll likely see a lot of. Brexit is kind of like one of those hospital superbugs. If for some reason you end up in hospital, it can kill you off and there’s not a lot the doctors can do to save you, although it only takes those who by accident or illness have ended up in the hospital in the first place.

The world’s most powerful eight year old

And speaking of Trump, there was a worrying story this week over Trump and his tweets. He had very publicly backed a particular candidate to take Jeff Sessions vacated senate seat, only for that candidate to lose the republican primary. And his response was to start deleting the tweets he’d made in support (which might be illegal!).

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This is not the sort of behaviour we’d expect of a president, or indeed any grown adult. It would seem that Trump’s ego is so important to him that he can’t accept the embarrassment of defeat. It suggests he’ll do anything he can just to avoid looking bad…which is not good news when he’s in a pissing contest with another eight year old call Kim Jung-un and they both have nuclear weapons.

Lock them up

You remember all of that chanting during the US election, lock her up, lock her up! Why? Because Hilary used a private e-mail account to conduct official business. Now in the context of wikileaks, which was ongoing as she first took office, with it rather obvious that the Bush administration had left a series of massive security holes in the US intelligence apparatus (Chelsea Manning had simply copied the diplomatic cables off an unsecured server onto a fake Lady Gaga CD!), her actions have to be put in the proper context.

Well, predictably now several of Trump’s inner circle have been caught doing exactly the same thing. The only difference being is that while Hilary at least took some security precautions, they’ve been using the likes of gmail or yahoo accounts. I mean even in my uni, they they advise us and the students not to use such accounts for official university business. And I’m hardly handling state secrets. So are we going to hear calls for Ivanka or Jared to be locked up? Well of course not! Conservatives need to google the terms “hypocrisy” or “irony” because they might find they are a perfect example.

Lecturing on the breadline

A disturbing story here from the Guardian about how some Adjunct professors who are so poorly paid they end up living in their cars or resorting to second jobs or even prostitution just to make ends meet. This highlights everything that is wrong with higher education in the US, a model the Tories are effectively trying to copy over here in the UK.

Under this system universities are run like businesses with a strong emphasis on revenue raising and bringing in money, such that lecturers often don’t have a lot of time to deal with students. In some uni’s its getting to the stage where a lecturer who actually shows up to class to teach is considered by management to be playing hooky. As a result PhD students, Post-docs or Adjunct professors are hired on zero hours contracts to do that actual face to face teaching.

But even if you can ignore the plight of these people (as I’m sure the Tories can! Not exactly “people” persons), think about it for a minute. Students in the US are paying way more for their education than here in the UK. And who is the uni hiring to do the lecturing? Some homeless guy from down the street. If I was a student going to a US university, paying $30k a year I’d want someone to be a bit better paid. In short, if you are a UK student and you think you aren’t getting value for money out of your university, well its much worse in the US and it will be worse in the future unless fees are scraped.

Death penalty shot down?

Finally an interesting piece here about how some US states, all too aware of the difficulties they now face administering death sentences by lethal injection are contemplating switching to using firing squads instead. What is it with American’s and guns? If you’ve ever doubted the lobbying power of the NRA, here’s your proof. I’m surprised they don’t just change the American flag to have 50 bullets and switch the bars for profiles of different gun types.

Of course, the brutality of firing squads is likely to have a generally negative effect on public perceptions both of guns and on the death penalty. The reality is that there is no nice humane way to kill someone, because its not a humane thing to do. If there’s one positive one can draw from this, its that it will likely mean the eventual abolition of the death penalty in the US.

A closer estimate on nuclear energy cost options

I stumbled across a tool from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, which purports to calculate the full cycle cost of nuclear energy. While it has its limitations, I think does highlight a few interesting points.

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Figure 1: The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist (BoAS) costs, baseline & adjusted with various options compared to DoE estimates for renewables & fossil fuels

Firstly, the baseline cost they suggest for nuclear power works out at about a LCOE of $ 84.4 per MWh (the site quotes in cents per kWh, however, I’m converting to $/MWh because its what we usually use when quoting LCOE’s). This is a bit less than the DOE’s estimate of $95/MWh for nuclear. The DOE also quotes costs of $74/MWh for wind, $125/MWh for solar. By 2022 they expect costs in the range of $96/MWh for nuclear, $74/MWh for solar, $56/MWh for wind, with gas and coal between $54/MWh and $196/MWh depending on future prices and whether or not we are sequestering the carbon. Recall we are talking in terms of LCOE so this accounts for the intermittent nature of some renewables.

So first off this would suggest that nuclear might be competitive with coal, if there’s efforts to force CCS on the industry (i.e. no Trump, no climate change denial) and if fossil fuel prices go up. But that’s lot of if’s. It also suggests that nuclear isn’t competitive against renewables, and even if it is, that window is about to close. Indeed, we can use the Bulletin tool to get a better estimate on its current price, given that the cost of the Hinkley C project is known….well it will probably go up, but we at least have some ball park figure. The latest estimate for its overnight cost is £22.3 billion, which is $28.7 bn so that’s $8,696 per installed kWe, and its going to take 10 years and we assume 40% efficiency. So running that through our model gives a figure of $134/MWh, or about £104.6/MWh. You will immediately notice that this is well above the strike price of £92.5/MWh, suggesting that Hinkley C is going to lose money with every kWh it generates.

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Figure 2: UK new nuclear costs (E/MWh) compared to various renewable energy options [Source: The energy transition.de, 2015]

And by comparison at a recent strike price auction agreed to a price of £57.7 per MWh (approximately $76/MWh) for offshore wind. One of the arguments in favour of Hinkley C was that the high costs of off shore wind, even though many experts warned the government at the time that this would likely be wiped out by future advances in offshore wind technology (which was at a very early stage of development when Hinkley C was first proposed, the widely held assumption is that the price of offshore wind would fall rapidly, as indeed it has).

So okay, we’ve proved Hinkley C is a crap sandwich, well I think we all knew that one already. What I think is interesting about this tool is what happens when you start playing with the settings. For example, if we increase the efficiency of our nuclear reactor from the baseline of 33% (again industry standard for new build reactors would be closer to 40% these days) to 55% (the best you could possibly hope to get with a Brayton cycle) you only cut the cost of electricity by 2%. This confirms a point I made some time ago, there is no point spending a lot of money on some super expensive Brayton cycle kit, greatly increasing the construction costs only to make a tiny improvement in the plant’s electricity output.

However, if we decrease the capacity factor of our plant, from a baseline of 90% to say 70%, the price goes up by 25%. Pull it down to 60% the price goes up to +50% of the baseline price and at a capacity factor of 50% we are paying 74% more for our electricity. Its is often argued that nuclear can operate without any form of backup, but this ignores how grids work. But everything needs back up not least because demand is not constant all of the time. In the absence of storage, there will be times when some plants will see their capacity fall significantly. Load following power plants will typically operate at between 70-50% capacity factor, while peaking power plants can be less than 50%. At such cost levels it would simply be more economic to build energy storage than add more nuclear plants…so why not just do the same thing with renewables and save some money?

The model doesn’t appear to consider the costs of decommissioning or the clean up costs of fixed infrastructure related to the nuclear fuel cycle, which is something of an oversight. Keep in mind those costs aren’t small, its currently costing more to decommission some nuclear plants than it cost to build them. Including the costs of decommissioning Selafield the UK’s current bill is about £117 billion. That said, it is difficult to quantify this down to the level of an individual plant or MWh.

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Figure 3: UK Nuclear decommissioning costs breakdown

What they are able to do is estimate the spent fuel storage costs. Doubling the cost of that (as high as it will go) only increases the cost per MWh by 2%. Now okay, as noted there’s a whole raft of things we are leaving out. But even so, it does suggest that its not a linear relationship between clean up costs and electricity costs. There is a fixed cost we are stuck with regardless (i.e. even if we abandoned nuclear energy tomorrow, much of that bill would still have to be paid) and some small amount for every reactor year beyond that.

However, and here’s where it gets interesting, if we switch from the once thro fuel cycle to the fast reactor based full recycle option, the baseline price jumps by 64% to a whopping $139/MWh. And again, this baseline model, isn’t really accurate. For example, it assumes a capacity factor for the fast reactor of 90%, something that no FBR has ever achieved (most struggle to exceed 40%, the best is closer to 60%). Putting in more accurate values for both the LWR and FBR costs and performance, we get a price of $264/MWh.

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Figure 4: Estimated fuel inventories for different nuclear energy options, MOX reprocessing or fast reactor reprocessing means a modest reduction in HLW in exchange for a significant increase in LLW [UCUSA, 2014]

This confirms one of the arguments I’ve long made, fast reactors make no sense, unless you are allergic to money! They’ll end up greatly increasing the costs of nuclear electricity to well past the point where anyone would be willing to pay for it. Yes once-thro does mean throwing away most of the fissile material, but the cost of recovering that material is simply too high. This was essentially the conclusion of both the 2011 MIT report into the nuclear fuel cycle and the Harvard study of 2003. The only situation where either report thought fast reactors (or Thorium) would make the slightest sense would be if renewable costs failed to drop as predicted, energy costs skyrocketed and the cost of uranium soared. None of those have happened, in fact the opposite has happened in all three cases.

Finally, the baseline Bulletin model suggests that using the MOX recycle route will cost $227.5/MWh, although its closer to $254/MWh (£196/MWh) for my “adjusted” model. Some nuclear advocates see MOX recycling as a happy compromise. Yes, we know the fast reactor route isn’t really viable on a technical level, but we can at least get some reuse out the fuel rods via the MOX route and save some money in the process. Well this model suggest no, that’s not the case. Indeed, it suggests that for the UK we’ll be paying more than double the strike price for every kWh of Hinkley’s electricity. And when I say “we” keep in mind that at least half of those costs are being met by the taxpayer not EDF. Indeed, given that the strike price amounts to a subsidy rate of 68% per kWh (paid for by UK bill payers), the actual cost to EDF will be closer to 15% of the cost per MWh of Hinkley….and that still might be enough to break them!

So this model seems to confirm what I’ve heard from one or two in the nuclear industry, who see MOX as the hill on which the nuclear industry is going to die on. As they see it, if and when the dead certificate for nuclear power is written, we won’t be listing “Greenpeace” or “Hinkley” as the cause of death, no it will be “suicide by MOX”. Most of the spiralling costs we associate with nuclear are often those associated with MOX reprocessing (if you think Hinkley is bad, look up the fiasco of Throp or Rokkasho sometime!). Most of the recent accidents have been related to MOX reprocessing and most of the main flash points with protestors are MOX fuel shipments. In short MOX fuel reprocessing is a supersized crap sandwich with a side salad of BS. If the nuclear industry is to have any future this madness has to stop and MOX plants need to close and let us never talk of it again.

So all in all, what this model does show is that the nuclear industry does have some problems. But some of the proposed solutions doing the rounds e.g. making plants more efficient, building them quicker or smaller, FBR’s, MOX or alternative fuel cycles, they don’t make a lot of sense as regards the economics of nuclear energy. In many cases these would actually increase the cost of nuclear energy not reduce it. As I’ve pointed out before, the business model of the industry, that of large LWR’s with once thro fuel processing, might not look great, but there is a reason why the industry has stuck with it since the 70’s. And that because the alternatives are so much worse.

The trouble with trade: Walmart

One has to worry about the consequences of a US/UK trade deal. As I’ve said before, getting a trade deal isn’t the problem, its the concession the UK will inevitably be forced to accept as part of that deal.

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This week Liam Fox tried to argue that on the one hand they’d ban chlorinated chicken from the UK and in the same sentence so what if we do allow it. Well if you adopt the first position, banning US food products and cars (many of the larger SUV’s will fail current UK/EU environmental standards) the Americans will respond in kind and what exactly will we be trading with the US? On the other hand, if you allow Chlorinated chicken or steroids in beef, you’ll be cutting yourself off from the EU market.

A case in point of everything that is wrong with the US is Walmart. For those unfamiliar with Walmart they are a large supermarket chain known for engaging in fairly unethical practices. Quite often they’ll move into a town and quickly put all of the local business out of business very quickly, turning a once thriving high street into a ghetto. Walmart often offer a full comprehensive range of services. You can get groceries, firearms, fast food and have your car’s wheel’s balanced while you wait. So when I say all of the business in the high street goes, I mean all of it.

As the company is run and operated by a family of staunch neo-conservatives, they have been known to use their companies de-facto monopoly on sales to censor content of  books, CD’s or videos solid in their store. So while they’ll allow you to buy Die Hard with vengeance (despite is sex and violence), they’ll rate anything from Michael Moore as “non family friendly” and ban it from their shelves.

And they achieve their monopoly by vastly undercutting the competition, something they can do by squeezing their suppliers mercilessly. They squeeze their staff salaries so far that many are dependant on welfare. Of course this means indirectly Walmart are in receipt of subsidy from the state and they are often able to pressure counties and towns into offering them tax breaks or free highway construction in return for them setting up in an area (big government get off my back…accept when its propping up my monopoly). And they have a harsh anti-union policy. Any time a union has been successfully established in a Walmart, they’ve shut the store down.

But the problems with Walmart get worse when they decide to leave. After having milked a community dry, destroyed the town centre and devastated the local business community, they are known to just up and leave, often simply because of a slight drop in sales, usually because the local economy is struggling through some temporary problem.

Of course this means the largest employer in said town disappears overnight, making a bad situation much worse, while leaving locals with a long drive to the next town over to get basic groceries. In short it can lead a once vibrant town to basically die, all some very rich people with more money than they know what to do with, can get that little bit richer.

Now granted, the UK has its fare share of problems with aggressive supermarkets and town’s desperate for cash willing to bend over backwards to help them, even when they should really tell them to piss off. For example in Oxford they have a wonderful covered market, which the council (desperate for cash due to the austerity) has raised the rent on local traders by 50% …..twice….leading many to fear for its survival. Meanwhile they’ve been offering tax breaks to the likes of Starbucks to set up in town and paying for road infrastructure to the benefit of Tesco’s.

The difference in the UK is that there are laws limiting the size of supermarkets, protecting small business from monopolistic pressure and employees from union busting companies. Now, I would argue the trouble is that these laws don’t go far enough and are sometimes broken by the supermarkets (who know they can get away with a lack of enforcement). But post-brexit there is a very real risk that all of these protections will disappear as part of any trade deal. So we could well see ASDA (owned by Walmart) pursuing a Walmart like reign of destruction across many of the UK’s small market towns. So if you voted for brexit, congrats, because this, like so many things, this is what you voted for.

Why tuition fees have to go

I’ve long argued that exorbitant tuition fees English students are required to pay are a generally bad idea. I’ve described before the impact they’ve had on the running of universities and how they’ve turned universities into money hungry corporations. How it has resulted in students increasingly seeing their degree as a commodity to be bought, not something life changing they are earning through hard work. I certainly see the benefit of students making some contribution towards their studies, after all not everyone gets to go to uni and fees do make universities less dependant on the whims of government. However, the more and more I look on it, the more I feel that given the choice between the no-fees system of Scotland or the supermarket uni’s of England, fees are just not a good idea and should be scraped.

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The arguments put forward for fees are that they would give student better value for money in their education, more choice, it would increase funding to critical courses, such as medicine and engineering and it would cut student numbers. As these statistics show, in all three cases they have failed and the opposite has happened. Students, saddled with increasingly high levels of debt have becoming increasingly dissatisfied with their courses. Given that engineering and medical courses are more expensive to operate, the mercenary nature of some universities has seen them cut back on these course, as well as shutting down various specialised courses and restricting student’s choices (I don’t think I’ve worked in a uni where one course or another wasn’t in the process of being wound down).

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As for cutting student numbers, they’ve been going up until recently. This is just as well, for as I discussed in a prior article, we are entering into an increasingly technology driven age where its going to be harder and harder for anyone without some sort of qualification (a degree, college cert, trade, etc.) to stay employed.

However thanks to the brexit effect and Tory cuts to student grants they are now getting their wish and student numbers are down slightly this year, by about an average of 4%. Now within the meta data there are some alarming numbers, with a 23% drop in nursing, this on the back of a 96% drop in EU nurses coming to the UK to work. So this raises the risk of some serious staffing shortages in the NHS in a few years time.

Another impact of brexit, is that not only have lecturers and researchers begun to leave the UK, but UK universities too are looking to establish campuses in Europe. I recall suggesting that this might happen in the event of brexit a few years ago, and well, now its happening.

Meanwhile students in the UK are now looking at leaving uni with an average of £57,000 in debt. That is a lot of money to end up owing, made worse by the fact that the interest rates are now set to go up to 6.1%. Indeed this is sufficiently high that it for most graduates earning an average entry level salary they will will struggle to pay off just the interest on that loan, and will likely see the principal written off, which basically means the taxpayer pays it.

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So in effect the entire student fees system is little more than a tax on millennials to exploit the fact that they don’t vote, while pensioners (who either went to uni for free or paid a fraction of the amount) get an above inflation pension rise every year. Of course, increasingly, it seems the millennials aren’t willing to pay this “tax” and will vote for a party that promises to scrap it and the brexit voting pensioners can go spin on it (again I recall pointing out something like this might happen after a leave vote).

Also we need to consider a more fundamental issue, effectively by raising tuition fees Osborne and Cameron pulled an old fashioned accounting trick. The accumulated student debt in the UK now exceeds £100 billion, which we’ve established will mostly be written off, but the government won’t have to pay that off for a good few years. So in effect they set up a sort of buy now, pay later scheme and create the illusion that they were cutting the deficit.

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Now “only” £100 billion doesn’t sound so bad against the back drop of a UK debt level of £1,737 billion, 86% of GDP, noting that it was only 65% of GDP when the Tories took over (and the Tories were elected because they claimed that labour had let the debt get out of control). However given that student debt is rising at about 16% a year, so it will be closer to a figure of £300 billion in 2025 (not accounting for inflation). Add in the expected cost of brexit and its economic impact (another £100-200 billion depending on the breaks) and its not too difficult to see how the UK’s debt levels could exceed the critical threshold of 100% of GDP within a decade, worse than every European country, other than Italy and Greece I might add.

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If want to scare away your creditors, you can do it very easily if they discover that you’ve been playing silly buggers with them and there’s a whole block of off the book debts that you’re on the hook for. This is what happened to China recently. The rating agencies cut China’s credit rating due to concerns about debts run up by state owned companies. I was in China at the time and suffice to say, they were less than pleased about this, pointing out that its highly unlikely that all of these debts would go bad all at once and that China’s economy is in a vastly more healthy state than any western state.

Well the danger is that at some point the penny will drop, the rating agencies will apply a similar logic to the UK and we could see a ratings agency downgrade of the UK debts (again!), both public and private. A rating agency cut remember will make everything more expensive, mortgages will go up, personal loans, car loans and yes student loans. So its altogether bad news. Oh and since we are talking about it, as things stand the rating agencies are jittery, telling the EU to go whistle over the brexit bill, you might find its the Chancellor who is whistling if that provokes another credit rating cut.

Now the Tories will probably argue that this is the whole reason why they are trying to sell off student loan debts to the banks. However this risks making the situation worse. Firstly the whole reason for increasing the interest rate was to facilitate this sale. But increasing the interest rate on any loan will increase the default rate yet further. You are also selling off an asset which you know is going to be defaulted on. Its like sub-prime mortgages all over again. And you are creating a mechanism by which a contagion of debt can spread from one institution to another (or to the government). Again, the whole logic behind the Chinese debt downgrade isn’t that the rating agencies doubt China’s ability to pay, its their worry that a default on a loan in rural Gansu province, could lead to the collapse of one local bank and then ricochet through the system until it threatened the finances of the whole country.

Furthermore, saddling young people with an economic millstone and putting them under the thumb of the student loan company (who are known to “punish” students for disloyalty to the UK by ramping up their interest rate), leaving them living on baked beans for many years and putting off important spending decisions (such as buying a house) is not good for the economy. It could lead to economic stagnation (which would prompt another rating agency downgrade!). And why should banks get to profit from that?

So all in all, something has to give. In the first instance, if we don’t actually expect students to pay off this debt mountain, then why make them. Set up a debt forgiveness scheme and cut down student debts to more manageable levels.

As for fees, I still do think that students should pay something for their education, if they can afford to do so. A graduate tax is one idea, or some smaller, more limited level of fees. Alternatively, as pensioners will directly benefit from graduates (i.e. doctors & NHS nurses), maybe going after wealthy pensioners and taxing them (or breaking the triple lock on pensions) might be another solution.

But certainly the current system is just a recipe for disaster. It will lead to skill shortages in key areas, its creating a third level system that is increasingly unfit for purpose and could actually threaten the financial health of the country.

The Tories next big flip flop – immigration

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Police were called to escort away a deranged woman who was found squatting in a building in central London, screaming stuff about “brexit” and “Dalmatians“. An appeal to re-home her has appeared online

I made a point in one of my previous posts about how conservatives have a tendency to flip flop, happily willing to sacrifice even the most scared of right wing cattle just to get them through some short term crisis. Well its quite likely that the Tories next big flip flop will be on immigration, which is not great news for the brexit bigots, seeing as this is the whole reason why they voted leave in the first place.

Last week, Jeremy Cunt Hunt was caught leaving Downing Street waving a piece of paper (picked up by a high resolution camera) which talked about how the NHS now feared the consequences of people fleeing Britain post-brexit. Of course this “leak” was almost certainly deliberate. This sort of stuff has happened often enough now that it can’t be just an accident. Indeed the very fact that Hunt reckoned he could get away with this should tell you just how weak Theresa May’s position now is.

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That said, what Mr Cunt Hunt was alluding to was not idle paranoia. There has been an alarming drop in migrant numbers notably in nursing (which has seen a 96% drop in applicants from the EU in one year), farming (where a critical shortage of labour now threatens the harvest) and engineering. And its becoming obvious that the numbers will fall further post-brexit with many EU migrants here already talking of leaving and many of those on the continent reluctant to come to a country they now see as xenophobic and racist.

This could potential leading to skill shortages and falling tax revenue. And no we can’t just recruit from within the UK. Where are we going to find several thousand extra nurses a year? Even if we started up a whole bunch of nursing courses tomorrow, it would be four years before the first ones graduate….and they’d probably go work abroad (as some significant portion of UK nurses and doctors chose to do) because they don’t want to have anything to do with the sweatshop conditions of the NHS under the Tories.

Even things like fruit picking are not easily solved. Hire the UK unemployed to do the fruit picking? Ya, ok and you do know the harvest season lasts for like a few weeks, what are they supposed to do the rest of the year? Many of the unemployed you are looking to recruit are “townies” who have little experience of the countryside (I’ve visions of them wandering through the mud in trainers frantically trying to google what is this brown stuff on the ground? And are cows carnivorous?) and have no clue how to harvest crops. By contrast, farm workers from Eastern Europe are happy to come over for a few weeks, live ten to a bedroom, make a bit of cash before heading back to their home country for the harvest there. Ultimately getting British workers to do the farming, even if that was possible, will push up prices by at least 50%.

And suffice to say if replacing farm workers is that hard, what about technical jobs like engineer or academia? There is a quiet orderly withdrawal of academics from the UK going on. Keep in mind that recruiting academics isn’t easy, it can take years to fill a senior academic vacancy.

And anyone who says, but immigration controls won’t interfere with recruitment, no it will, its already doing so. I came across this example on Twitter of a job (looks like a management one) which requires the applicant to be a permanent resident of the UK.

But hasn’t Theresa May made a very “generous” offer of residency to EU citizens here already? Ya she’s promised a settlement which will leave them with less rights than a Jar of Jam. Keep in mind like for like will apply, the EU might well restrict the immigration status of UK citizens in the EU in return. Which will make it all but impossible for certain large UK companies to function (such as Airbus, which has made clear a lack of free movement of workers will have consequences). The flow of migrant workers, filling key skills shortages (and paying taxes), could be replaced by a exodus of retirees streaming in to overcrowd an already overcrowded and stretched NHS.

State interference in a company’s ability to recruit seldom ends well. You are basically putting in place a massive trade barrier. Its ironic how many Tories claim to be neo-liberals, when in fact capital controls or high taxes are less restrictive to a company’s competitiveness than restrictions on immigration. For example, remember how Trump got that factory in Mexico cancelled and created all those American jobs? Well first of all, he had to pay the company off (so it cost the government money). Secondly not a single auto job was transferred to the US, the company exec’s simply took one look at this orange skinned baboon in chief and pulled the brakes on further expansion. So all he did was stop a couple of hundred Mexicans from getting jobs. And what’s the chances that some of them have ended up in the US looking for work?

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Trump’s immigration plan has led to abandoned factories and companies scaling back on recruitment

Oh, and one of the US companies in question, has just announced they are about to start laying off workers in the US. This is of course not really a huge surprise. In a crisis a company has two choices, expand, which isn’t really an option for much of the US auto industry right now, as they lack the cash reserves or growth potential to do that (restricting trade with overseas markets means they have no room to expand, unless he can get everyone in the US to buy a 2nd or 3rd car). So the alternative is the company “rationalises” or “explores efficiency savings”….which is corporate speak for “sack people”. While I’m no fan of the Austrian School, there can be something of a stopped clock element to it sometimes. The trouble is that conservatives tend to ignore them.

Back in the UK, brexit has started to give business leaders the jitters, again due to the potential impact of immigration controls. Hence why the CBI recently called for an indefinite delay in leaving the single market. And again, this is not idle paranoia or remoaning, the first year after the referendum reveals some very worrying trends, as this post discusses. UK GDP growth has nose dived, inflation is soaring at a time that average earnings are flat-lining or falling. While the UK trade balance was initially doing well (thanks to the drop in the value of the UK pound), its now starting to tighten.

In Scotland, the Scottish economy is starting to struggle. Predictably (given their inability to understand cause and effect and the fact conservatives have the memory span of a goldfish), they’ve tried to blame this on the SNP and speculation about a 2nd indy ref.

WTF! So let me get this straight, thinking of having an indyref can cause a recession, even though when Scotland actually HAD one in 2015, it didn’t cause a recession….or is that just because that referendum was Cameron’s idea? (and obviously nothing bad that happens is ever the fault of the Tory party!).

The truth is that it has long been pointed out by economists that the Scottish economy is particular sensitive to the impact of any brexit, I recall pointing this out several years ago (back in 2011 in fact), so that the Scottish economy is now in a slump over brexit is not really a huge surprise, this is in line with long term predictions. And once the penny drops in Scotland that is is the fault of brexit, don’t be surprised if support for independence starts to rise.

So all in all, the Tories are going to come under massive pressure not to restrict immigration. Now they’ll talk the talk, make people fill out a lot of BS forms and pretend to do something, but essentially they’ll probably end up doing nothing meaningful. So if you voted for brexit to stop migration, well I’ve got bad news for you. On the bright side, migrants are paying for you’re retirement.

And if that sounds far fetched, well in some respects they’ve already flip flopped on immigration. I recall just a few months ago Amber Rudd on QT defending the ridiculously Byzantine immigration procedures (including an 85 page form) and how yes all EU migrants would have to fill this out and what’s wrong with that?….because the civil service will then have to read all 3 million of them (plus 6 million more for the Irish) and that will take a decade or more (they handle only about 150,000 a year at the moment).

And low and behold a few months later now they’ve said bollix to that, we’ll get all the EU migrants to fill in a form on a website and the Irish will be exempt. Good, I can apply for settled status for my friend in Portugal Ivan Proteus Freely as well as my German cousin Anita Bathhaus 😉 I mean its not as if they can check all 3 million online applications.

Jokes aside, the point is that the current Tory plans on immigration are simply unworkable. They won’t actually cut immigration by much (something that was predicted some time ago).You’ll simply replace short to medium term workers coming over to fill labour shortages (who pay taxes, but leave before they get old enough to become a burden on the state), with older British retirees (who will overload the NHS) and long term migrants from Asia (who tend to plan on staying for longer, as well as bring over their entire family).

I’ll finish by noting how quite a lot of those involved in the brexit negotiations (Dave2, the EU’s Bernier, Theresa May) are all keen mountaineers. Well in mountaineering we have an expression, often called the golden rule of mountaineering:

Going to the summit is optional, coming back down is compulsory

I’d make a sign with that written on it and hang it on the wall in the room where the brexit negotiations are going on.

Grenfell tower update

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Cladding samples are being taken away for testing across the UK

Given recent events I think an update was needed on the Grenfell fire situation as events have moved rather quickly. As I wrote my last piece there were reports in the media which suggested that the contractors at Grenfell may have used cladding products that weren’t suitably fireproof (and illegal on a building this tall). I was inclined to ignore these rumours until such time as they was confirmed by official sources, ideally the ongoing investigation into the fire. The UK media is well known for jumping to the wrong conclusions and I didn’t think it as credible that such a huge error could have been made given how well regulated the building trade is in the UK.

Well it would appear I was wrong. Tests on panels from the buildings and on other structures across the UK have failed fire tests. At the time of writing samples from 34 blocks have failed fire tests. This has led to a number of hasty decisions been taken by councils across the UK. Several blocks in Camden have now been evacuated as the buildings have been deemed unsafe. Not only is the cladding of concern, but many other factors too, such as integrity of fire doors, fire breaks, risers and evacuation routes. This has left hundreds out of their homes in London, a city with enough of an housing problem as it is. And in Birmingham over 200 tower blocks are now slated to get sprinklers fitted at a cost of tens of millions per block.

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Keep in mind all of this is happening before the official investigation into the Grenfell fire has even concluded. The normal process for dealing with an event like this is, take on board some interim measures to keep everyone safe e.g. a complete smoking ban (which is one of the leading causes of fires), ban certain dangerous appliances from being operated (such as the fridge model that started this fire), perhaps bring in fire wardens to patrol the buildings and institute a complete evacuation policy in the event of any fire, regardless of how small. Let the investigation continue and then once all the facts are in place, make an informed decision about what to do next.

Keep in mind, this is not the first time we’ve had safety concerns about flats. In 1968, a small gas explosion in the Ronan point tower block led to the collapse of a whole corner section of the building due to a mechanism known as excessive progressive collapse. And, much as I outlined above, temporary measures were put in place to prevent a repeat performance, followed by a schedule of repairs to fix the issue, once the investigations had concluded.

So I do worry if a weak lame duck government, which knows this crisis is of its own making due to its corner cutting austerity and its failure to adequately regulate the industry, is now running scared and basically setting policy by reacting hastily to scary tabloid headlines rather than informed opinion. This risks making a bad situation worse rather than better.

For starters, are we sure the fire spread up the building via the cladding? Yes the evidence says it might have done so, but I don’t think its proven yet. And sprinklers won’t do much to stop a fire on the cladding. They would help keep evacuation routes clear of fire, but if you’ve got issues with poor fire doors and barriers to stop smoke and flames from spreading, then eventually the evacuation routes will just fill up with smoke and the sprinklers will cease to be effective. I’m not saying sprinklers are a bad idea, I’m just pointing out the risks of making a hasty ill-informed decision.

And there is a more fundamental point here. Many of the UK’s tower blocks are 40 to 50 years old. They were cheap and nasty when they were built and one has to question whether the time has come to start pulling them down. Up here in Scotland a number of the housing associations are essentially doing just that, refurbishing some blocks to get a bit more life out of them, demolishing others as soon as possible. There’s little point in wasting billions on expensive repairs to blocks which you are going to pull down in a decade or two anyway. Indeed, this is what the whole Grenfell saga highlights, the chronic underfunding of social housing that has been going on for decades. Now the chickens are coming home too roost.

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Social Housing has been chronically under funded since the Thatcher era, indeed the country essentially stopped building council houses in the 1980’s

And there’s also the matter of regulation. I mean WTF! What are these guys playing at! Did they really think that it was acceptable to put non-fire proof cladding on a building like this. If the media is to be believed apparently the non-fire proof version was just £2 cheaper per panel. So for the sake of enough cash to buy a few bottles of cheap bubbly for the share holders meeting, they were willing to put at risk hundreds of lives. And why weren’t the regulators on the case and kicking their ass? And if there are other issues here beyond the cladding, e.g. poor quality of fire doors (or perhaps even no fire doors) and inadequate risers, then why in blue blazes wasn’t something done about this along time ago! This could not and should not have just come out of the blue.

Perhaps this is the problem, I’ve been assuming that the construction industry over here is as well regulated as it is back in Ireland (if not better), while its becoming obvious that it is actually very poorly regulated. Indeed, now that you mention it, it was pointed out to me recently that in the estate where I live there’s still one or two outstanding issues which the building contractors never sorted out (and the building is at least ten year old!). Nothing serious, but we’ve had engineers around from time to time to inspect and advise. And one has to assume the Tory policy of austerity, which has squeezed council budgets as well as government departments, has played a role in all of this lack of regulation.

Of course in Ireland regulations have tightened up thanks to the EU. This, brexiters, is why we have an EU. Because we don’t want people living in unsafe buildings. And because when one of them burns down due to unsafe practices, guess what, suddenly nobody else what’s to live in a similar building anymore, nor can they sell their flats. And suddenly the government’s got a massive mess that needs sorting out.

So I suspect the fall out from Grenfell is merely a example of what we can expect post-brexit. The Tories will use it to gut regulations their fat cat allies have long disliked. Then when people start dying or scare stories about food safety or dangerously unsafe toys start to circulate, there will be this massive backlash and public anger which the government are forced to fire fight at great expense.

News roundup

I was away in Ireland over the last week, so thought it would be good to do a round up of the news while I’ve been away….

The Prisoner

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Theresa “the Maybot” May, has been described as the prisoner of number 10. She is basically a lame duck PM and its not even her first day of her new term yet. She’s had to sack advisers and bring in some of the more odorous elements of the Tory party in order to cling to power for a bit longer.

And already some minsters, such as Hammond (who it was expected would be given the boot after the election) are staking out their stall for party leadership and openly attacking her. And her actions and U-turns with regard to Grenfell fire, shows just how little power she now has.

The return of Gove did surprise many, but it makes sense. Basically she’s stuffing two big egos in the room, Boris and Gove and hoping they take each other out. Keep in mind that Boris dropped out last time because of some “dirt that Gove apparently has on him. There’s also a significant anyone but Boris wing within the Tories. Keep in mind the whole point of making Boris foreign secretary was so that he’d screw it up and blow any chance of becoming PM. It also looks like David Davis is emerging as the preferred candidate by the Murdoch’s or anyone who dislikes Boris.

Election 2018?

One possible strategy for the Tories is they ditch Theresa, elect someone who can perhaps smile and even interact with “people”, or who knows maybe even hold a baby. Then they have another election. However if that’s the plan, its a bad idea.

Firstly the country has voter fatigue. They’ll have to put Brenda from Bristol on the terrorist watch list if they called another one. I could see a lot of people just going into the polling booth and voting monster raving loony (or UKIP, similar policies basically) just out of frustration.

The Tories are about to be hit with a lot of bad news in the coming weeks. Firstly the whole brexit business is going to mean them making a lot of unpopular policy decisions as part of these negotiations. For example, indications are they’ve already quietly accepted the concept of paying an exit bill of some kind. There will be some leeway to negotiate how much, but its going to be in the tens of billions, perhaps as much as 60 billion….paid in euro’s of course! And then there’s the deficit they’ll run up paying for all of those other promises they’ve made, yet still seeing job losses as companies start moving workers overseas. Estimates from the treasury suggest this could cost up to £66 billion per year.

That’s not the sort of backdrop to an election you want to fight. The one trump card they have is that Corbyn has been going along with their brexit policy and thus will catch some flak himself. However, its a risky strategy. As I believe I speculated years ago, one could envisage a scenario where the Tories held a EU referendum, to their own horror actually won it. Then due to all the negative economic impacts lost a subsequent election to a hard left labour leader, who proceeds to run them and the non-dom’s out of town. That is not that an unlikely scenario now.

With friends like these……

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Then there’s the thorny issue of the Tories new allies in hate, the DUP. Or basically the old testament with fortnightly bin collections. These are people who believe in young earth creationism, that we can pray the gay away and they have links to known terrorist organisations. This lot actually transcend the tea party in terms of craziness, I mean they actually think line dancing is a sin. They are basically living proof of Poe’s Law.

It is no wonder they have John Major worried. And when John Major starts criticising you, aka the guy who lose the 1997 election by the largest margin in recent UK history, you know you’ve strayed seriously off course. I mean if you think about it, John Major would now make a better and more competent PM than any of the likely present Tory candidates. When you’re in a hole, stop digging, especially when you hit the water table.

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And speaking of terrorist supporting sectarians, there’s the issue of Sinn Fein. They have seven MP’s, just three less than the DUP, meaning that if they showed up in Parliament they could all but cancel out the DUP and get up to all sorts of mischief. However, Theresa May can sleep easy because that’s not going to happen. Why? Because they’d have to swear allegiance to the crown and Sinn Fein are refusing to do that.

Back in Ireland his Gerryness spent the last week trying to avoid this elephant in the room. They are willing to trade the post brexit status of NI, the possibility of a border poll, risk a hard border, sit on their hands while the DUP are allowed to screw them over, all to protect their precious ego. Keep in mind that back in the 1920’s a similar pledge of allegiance was applied during early days of Irish independence. When the Irish government announced a change in the law that would require MP’s (TD’s in Ireland) to take their seats or lose them, SF swallowed their pride, declared it “an empty formula” and simply crossed their fingers while making the pledge.

What Sinn Fein have shown by this, or their refusal to enter into government in Ireland, is that they are the eternal protest vote. If you’re angry you can urinate into the ballot box, or vote Sinn Fein. Its basically the same thing and will have about the same effect…although one of those might get you arrested!

Nursing applications down 96%

And speaking of brexit, we are already seeing the first impacts of brexit and the harsh immigration measures the Tories are aiming for. In academia, we are finding it ever harder to recruit good staff. Student numbers are already down. But spare a thought for nursing. Applications for nursing jobs in the UK from the EU have fallen by 96%.

That’s a shortage of about 1,300 nurses per year the UK will have to somehow fill. Keep in mind the typical nursing course will graduate about 100-250 nurses per year, after 3-4 years of training. So its not a problem that can be fixed quickly. And these graduate nurses might not have specialised in the areas where we have shortages (that’s sort of the whole point of recruiting from the EU). So this is inevitably going to mean an NHS that is already stretched will now be stretched yet further. I hope nobody’s planning on getting ill in the next few years.

Now I know what the brexiters will say, oh but we’ll give work visas to nurses with a generous quota. But this misses the point, right now they don’t have to apply for any visa and they still aren’t coming. What are you going to do, send “recruiters out to hang around university bars across Europe, get graduates doctors and nurses drunk, whack em over the head and they wake up in hospital in Greenwich, looking for a doctor, only to realise that they are the doctor.

Trump trip on hold

At least one bit of bad news the Tories will not have to deal with thought is Trump’s state visit. Aware that he might not be terribly popular in London (nah, ya think!) he’s reluctant to come. If he wants to have insults hurled at him all he needs to do is go back to NY for that. He has a fairly fragile ego after all.

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For example, this week we had the story of how he fired the NY public persecutor because he didn’t answer a call from Trump. Apparently Trump had made requests and repeated calls that the prosecutor knew were illegal (it regarded a case against his son in law) and he decided he had better things to do that explain US law to a professional buffoon for the third time in one day. Needless to say this is a level of corruption we’d expect from an African dictator. On its own this one act is grounds for impeachment all by itself.

Also as a birthday boy treat he held his first full cabinet meeting (yes he’s only just held his first one!). Which involved them going around the room and letting everyone pledge loyalty and line up to kiss his ass. Of course the politically astute will realise that these same guys, like Caesar’s chums in the Senate, will still probably knife him when the time comes. In politics, its the guys who come to you with smiles and kisses you need to watch out for. Just ask Boris!

Merkel Trolls Trump

And speaking of Trump. Angela Merkel, the leader of the free world by default, spent the last week trolling Trump. On the anniversary of Reagan’s visit to Berlin and his famous, tear down this wall speech, she visited Mexico and gave a speech against Trump’s plan for a wall. It is just as well Trump and his supporters are unaware of the concept of irony, because if they were they’d have died at this point.

Furthermore, the trouble with Trump’s wall plan, aside from the enormous cost (of up to $70 billion), the time it would take to build, the ongoing costs of maintaining it….forever….is that a technology has already been invented that renders it obsolete – planes! There’s nothing to stop some Mexican migrant getting on a plane to LAX (which is going to be a lot cheaper than hiring some Coyote to guide him across) and then simply overstaying his visa.

As for harassing American companies about their factories in Mexico, much was made by Trump supporters of how Ford mothballed a car plant under construction in Mexico a couple of months back. However, they’ve failed to notice how this hasn’t amounted to any announcement to build the factory in the US instead. Ford simply abandoned the plan altogether and decided to downsize their planned capacity. All Trump’s done is force Ford’s shareholder to take a hit, deprive a few Mexicans of jobs (and what’s the bet some of them end up in the US) and not created a single US job.

Also we’re assuming that his wall will be guarded by jedi knights. I’ve no doubt the Mexican smuggling cartels will do a deal with a few corrupt border guards and we’ll find the flow of drugs and migrants continues. Border controls generally needs the support of both parties on both sides and Trump has more or less guaranteed he’s not going to get that.

Trump on Cuba

And in other Trump related news, Trump has announced a reversal of Obama’s reforms with regard to Cuba. Yes and who will benefit most from that, why Cuba’s long standing ally – Russia! Well there’s a coincidence!

Quite apart from the fact that these restrictions go against every economy principle the US stands for. Quite apart from hardship this brings down on ordinary Cubans. The fact is that if you want to ensure that communism survives in Cuba indefinitely, then embargoes like this are exactly the way to guarantee this.

So much for strong and stable!

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Its laughable this morning. Here we have Mrs strong and stable herself (I can’t write that while keeping a straight face), who undertook an election at the worse possible time, not because the country needed one, but so the Tories could selfishly exploit labour’s low polling numbers. And, having gambled with the UK’s future for the most cynical of political reasons and then lost, she has the nerve to ask for a period of stability during the brexit negotiations. I mean seriously, how out of touch are these Torybots. Not since G. W. Bush stood in front of a banner saying “Mission Accomplished” has a politician been so wrong.

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And let us be clear, the Tories lost this election, not because Corbyn is some sort of political genius, but because Theresa May was terrible. After the awful local election results, Corbyn spent most of his time visiting safe labour seats in an effort to shore up support. When the lib dems and Greens approached him about some sort of progressive alliance, being the clot that he is he rejected this, even thought it ultimately meant the Tories winning crucial seats (I mean god forbid someone who isn’t a bearded hard left brexiter winning those seats! Obviously Corbyn thinks it would be better a Tory win them instead!). Note that several high ranking Tories, including Amber Rudd and IDS only survived by a margin of a few hundred votes. Zack Goldsmith managed to get elected by just 50 votes. So had Corbyn agreed to this progressive alliance, its very likely we’d have seen some pretty major scalps last night.

He also flunked a number of TV interviews, getting basic facts about his manifesto wrong. They had to hide Diana Abbot away after she buggered up earlier on in the campaign. So this is clearly more a case of the Tories losing the election rather than labour winning. And they squandered a 20 point lead at the start. Because while Corbyn wasn’t great, Theresa May was unbelievably $hit! As the spectator put it “Theresa May has the warmth, wit and oratorical ability of a fridge-freezer”.

The Yellow Submarine

Around Whitehall Theresa May has a nickname – the submarine. Because when the going gets tough, she dives below the surface, hides and runs away. And that was basically what she did for the bulk of the election campaign. She chickened out of the debates, she refused to do interviews on local radio or on the BBC’s flagship Today programme, avoided crowds (save a few carefully choreographed campaign events) or “people” in general. When rumours of cuts to pensions emerged, a possible “dementia tax to go with the bedroom tax, she was flip flopping like crazy. At one point during a factory visit the press were locked in a room to stop them asking awkward questions. So I have to assume that when she talked about being “a bloody difficult woman” during the brexit negotiations, her plan involved hiding in the loo and waiting for the EU to push a favourable exit deal under the cubicle door at the 11th hour.

The two terrorist attacks didn’t exactly help, leaving the Tories looking like a deer caught in headlights. The Tory cuts to policing occurred on her watch as home secretary. This is something she can’t dodge blame for. She mumbled something about changing the law or doing away with the human right act, because we know how much the terrorists value human rights, that’ll show em!

And her best bro Trump didn’t exactly help matters by attacking the London mayor in the middle of a terrorist incident, something which she failed to condemn. And recall her invite to him to come over next month is still valid, something that inevitably cost her votes and almost cost her dearly.

Then there’s the issue of brexit, the whole reason apparently for her having an election. And what exactly is the Tory policy on brexit? F*ck knows! Other that the vague idea that we trust Mrs strong and stable wobbly and inept, she goes into Brussels, doesn’t talk to them or give away anything, keeps her cards close to her chest and somehow gets to have her cake and eat it. A sensible strategy if you’re playing gin rummy for a half a packet of crisps, but not when negotiating with the EU over something this important. Trying to play brinkmanship with the EU is like trying to play chicken with a freight train. It ain’t going to swerve or stop because it can’t and frankly it doesn’t have too. Just ask the Greeks.

By contrast the labour strategy, which is to negotiate something along the lines of the Norway model, or the lib dems (another referendum) are far more sensible positions. More importantly for a voter, you know exactly what you’re getting if you voted for them. It dawned on me a day or two ago how badly this could play for the Tories when I was talking to a brexit voting Tory. And he could not explain to me how the Tory strategy was going to work. So if brexiters and Tories are having doubts, you can imagine how this played with remain voters (or those soft leave voters who were essentially conned into voting leave).

Now too be fair, election’s are difficult times for Tories. They have to constantly resist the urge to resort to lizard form, they have to go outside during daylight hours and remember not to call voters plebs. They rely on the right wing media to paper over the cracks. And true to form the Daily Mail and Express editors had their tongues firmly attached to May’s ass for the last two weeks. But this time the cracks were more like chasms and crevasses. Attempts to shore up the Tories involved pushing things to levels of Monty Pythonesque absurdity where even UKIP members started to doubt them.

Consider that the Daily Fail devoted 13 pages on the eve of the election trying to paint Corbyn as pro-terrorist, because its possible that one of the terrorists might have once attended a labour rally (obviously to support Corbyn, not because he was casing the event as a possible future target). Okay, and Jimmy Saville was a Tory supporter, knighted by Margaret Thatcher, so by the same Daily Mail logic does that make all Tories pedo’s?

The great British weather

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Finally, we have the weather to consider. It was raining yesterday morning, although it cleared up a bit towards the evening. This would have effected the outcome because older people (who tend to vote Tory) tend to vote in the morning, while younger voters (who tend to vote for left wing parties) tend to vote in the evening on the way home from work. So its possible that a few hundred votes in key marginal seats were lost because some pensioners opened their curtains in the morning and thought well I ain’t going out in that and stayed in bed.

The Jock vote

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In Scotland the parties fought for every vote

In Scotland it wasn’t a great night for the SNP. That said, they won all but three of Scotland’s seats last time, so it was inevitable that they were going to lose some seats this time. Also the success in 2015 was borne out of two factors. Firstly labour took a very firm stance during the Indy ref of opposing independence, despite the fact that this meant pissing off 45% of the electorate and a majority of voters in several key seats in and around Glasgow. The Tories meanwhile spent the 2015 campaign going on about how Miliband would be in the pocket of those sneaky soap shy Scots. This meant that both labour and the Tories were almost wiped out in 2015.

This time around, labour took a more neutral line towards independence and the Tories focused primarily on soaking up the anti-independence vote. All the literature in my door from the tories was about how the lib dems and labour have no chance, only the true blue Tories can beat the SNP. There was even a Tory poster outside the polling station (which most surely be illegal) proclaiming that the lib dems and labour have no chance of winning here (just as well I voted SNP then, who beat the Tories!). For the record, the lib dems and labour won back several seats in Scotland.

Naturally the argument presented in the media is about how this means Indyref2 is off the cards. Well keep in mind the SNP still control 60% of Scotland’s seats and there’s a pro-independence majority in the Scottish Parliament. If the indy ref result was based on these metrics, they’d win easily. There is, as I’ve discussed before, a dilemma for the SNP. They would like to hold a 2nd referendum ASAP to try and ensure Scotland stays in the EU. On the other hand the more bad news from brexit builds, as well as the anger against the Tories in Westminster (given that independence offers the opportunity to rid Scotland forever of Tory rule) the more likely they are to win.

Weighting up the factors, I’d opt for the long game and wait. That said, I think the SNP need to put in place the necessary measures such that, if it becomes clear that the brexit negotiations are going to result in Scotland getting royally shafted (e.g. tariffs or migration restrictions that will wipe out certain key industries), then a referendum can be called and held quickly. In short there needs to be a big red button on Sturgeon’s desk and while she shouldn’t press the button, the threat that she might should be constantly hanging over the brexit negotiations.

Lessons learnt

So what lessons can we learn from this result? Well I would argue the reason why the polls were wrong this time, as with the previous election and the EU referendum is because there are a lot of angry and confused people who are trying to send a message. Its a rambling incoherent message from the sort of people who have no clue how politics works (e.g. the sort who were googling “what is brexit?” the morning after the referendum vote), but its quite clear what it is – no more austerity. The Tory policy of austerity has cast many millions in the UK into the sort of poverty we should have left in the last century. Until the Tory cuts are reversed, we’ll continue to see random and difficult to predict results like this in all future elections and referendums.

Now granted, ending austerity is easier said than done. Taxes would have to go up. Non-dom’s will have to start paying their fair share of tax. Areas spared from cuts (such as pensions or defence) might need to share the pain. While I think there might be a need to take certain privatised public services that are failing back into public ownership, wholesale re-nationalisation isn’t something the country can afford right now. And naturally a hard brexit is out of the question, given the negative impact that would have on tax receipts. There are, as the Tories say, no magic money trees, but that applies to both parties.

Given that we must now call into question the validity of the EU referendum result (i.e. a large chunk of the leave vote was just a protest vote), there is no mandate for a hard brexit. A soft brexit, with perhaps a 2nd referendum later seems a more sensible strategy. So less a divorce and more of a trial separation.

Thirdly, the UK needs to ditch its ridiculous first past the post election system. The rest of the civilised world used some form of proportional representation (or the two round voting system in France), which is a much fairer and more reliable system. Now supporters of FPTP will say, oh but PR leads to political instability and hung parliaments, while FTTP leads to more stable government….LOL! well I think we can bin that argument after last night.

I mean seriously, at the last election the Tories secured a majority with just 37% of the vote. Which when you account for turn out means they had a majority with the support of just 25% of the electorate. That’s not democracy, its a perversion of democracy. Had just 639 votes gone from the Tories to labour then we’d have gone from a Tory majority in 2015, to a hung parliament. And, as mentioned earlier, there are MP’s who lost their jobs, or came very close to losing this time by just a few hundred votes. They may well have prevailed (or lost) simply because it rained at a particular time of day. That’s how fickle the FPTP system can be. Its basically a form of high stakes lottery, an insane way to run a country and a grossly unfair system.

Send in the clowns

Are these lessons going to be learnt? Well not by the Tories! Already the word is they are going to form a coalition with the Ulster unionists. For those with bad memories, it was Tory pandering to the unionists and euroskeptic backbenchers that crippled John Major’s government and led to Tony Blair’s landslide victory in the 1997 election. To call the unionists unreliable allies is if anything an understatement.

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Theresa May is greeted by her new coalition partners

On paper they are fairly gung-ho, pro-hard brexit, send the EU and all the Poles to hell along with all the Catholics. Unfortunately, as a hard brexit will probably wipe out the Northern Irish economy and likely lead to a collapse in the peace process, a border poll and them all becoming Irish citizens, the Unionists will be prone to sudden flip flopping. We could see the scenario where the Tories are in the room negotiating with the EU, digging their heels in on a particular issue, only to be handed a mobile phone with a tweet from the DUP stating that not only do they no longer support the government on this issue, they will walk out of government unless they reverse their position.

Note that adding together the DUP and Tory seats, they have a majority of just 2 seats. So all it takes is a handful of MP’s (e.g. those who won by just a few votes in a pro-remain constituency) to either vote against the government or abstain…..and one of those is Kenneth Clarke (so on brexit its potentially a majority of one!)….and the government can be outvoted. And keep in mind that the fixed term parliament act means that in theory if the Tories form a government, which then collapses, the opposition can block an early election. Protocol would then dictate that the leader of the opposition (currently Corbyn) would then be invited by the Queen to try and form a government, presumably some sort of progressive alliance.

So returning to the question at the beginning, should the opposition parties cut Theresa May some slack? Absolutely not! Stick it to em! The Tories have selfishly prioritised their own needs above that of the country for too long, they will continue to do so, even if it means driving the country over a cliff edge. So the opposition should try to block them at every turn, using every trick available to them and basically paralyse the government in the hope of forcing them out. Then a progressive alliance can take over. And while I’m not a huge fan of Corbyn, he’s certainly a better pick for the job. Theresa May has demonstrated over the last two months why she is wholly unqualified for the job of PM. The Downing street cat could do a better job than her!

Rolling back the years

I have to finish by contrasting with the political situation in Ireland. We’ve just elected our first openly gay Prime minster, who also just happens to be the son of an immigrant (I suspect the Daily Mail readers all fainted when they heard that one). Keep in mind that it was illegal to even be gay in Ireland right up until the 1990’s (yes really!).

So Ireland has progressed a lot over the last few decades, in part I might add because we have this thing called “a constitution” (UK readers might need to google that one) and a PR based voting system. There should have been an election by now in Ireland, as there’s a minority government and both the main parties are keen to sort it out with an electoral show down. But it was decided, for now, that any election should be delayed until some progress is made with the brexit process. While Irish politicians aren’t great (a shower of gombeens, feckin edjits and cute hoor’s as me grandpa used to say), they are a heck of a lot more mature and professional than any UK politician. And again, that’s probably down to our political system and its checks and balances.

So while in an Irish election you face the choice about whether you want shower of gombeen’s or mob of cute hoor’s to take us into the 21st century, in the UK election the choice is between a labour party who wants to take the country back to the 1970’s and a Tory party who want to go back to the 1900’s. That’s how far the UK has slipped in the last few years. The UK is about as strong and stable right now as a one legged stool and its on the verge of becoming a basket case, a failed state.