Local election autopsy

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With the local election results in, they make for grim reading for labour. They lost several mayoral election and 382 council seats. Should anyone doubt the disaster Corbyn is leading the party into, well here’s the evidence. Indeed you could tell it was bad by the fact that even before the counting had even started labour was already making excuses and had essentially already conceded defeat.

Firstly, the good news, UKIP were more or less wiped out, losing all but one of their seats. This to be honest isn’t that surprising, given that the Tories have spent the last few years turning themselves into UKIP. Voting for UKIP was always a protest, hence why they tended to do well in local elections or EU elections with low turn outs. However, once people had a UKIP councillor and realised what a total nob they’d voted for, they are forced to confront the fact that they voted for local government paralysis. The end result was they were always going to do badly in any election where people spent any longer than 5 seconds deciding who to vote for.

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Also it should be remembered that the far right parties in the UK (and the rest of Europe) do go through this cycle of doing well, then fighting with each other, imploding, only for another head of the hydra to rise up. Many UKIP members, including Farage himself are ex-members of the National Front or the BNP. So I fear rumours of the far right’s death in the UK are greatly exaggerated. Even if UKIP do now implode, I won’t be surprised if another racist party comes along to take their place, with basically the same people in it.

But back to labour, let us look at four areas, in Glasgow they lost control of the council to the SNP (thanks to a strong swing away from them towards the Tories), in Methyr a similar thing happened, and they lost two Mayoral elections in Teeside and the West Midlands.

Labour losing in Glasgow to the Tories? WTF! Seriously! This is the sort of town where even the Unionists don’t vote Tory. I recall a past EU parliament election where the Tories got just 2,500 votes. By law of averages, half of those were probably spoilt ballot papers. And most of the locals would see that many Tory votes as a reason to form an angry mob and hunt these Tory bastards down and run them out of town. When Thatcher died there was actually a party held in George’s square. Well under Corbyn, labour are now losing elections in Glasgow.

And they also lost control of Methyr Tydfil, the constituency of the labour party’s founder, down in the Welsh valleys. This area was devastated by the miners strike, so if you want to die quickly, go into a bar in Methyr and say something positive about Thatcher. I used to live down the valley from here and one of the reasons why they had to burn Thatcher rather than bury her, was because many of the miners in this part of the world were threatening to go and dance on her grave (or piss on her grave). So they’d have needed to build a dance hall and public toilet on her grave site! But labour now can’t defend seats in a place like this.

However, it is Teeside and the West Midlands that have me most worried. Here labour lost Mayoral elections they should have easily won. Both these areas saw a strong leave vote in the EU referendum (not everywhere, but in certain parts) and Corbyn’s whole justification for his brexit strategy is to keep voters in districts like this on side. And, much as I’ve been warning for some time now, its a strategy that has comprehensively failed. Labour support has gone down, not up. There was a swing in these districts towards the lib dems too (remainers turned off by Corbyn’s pro-leave rhetoric), although they didn’t win that many seats (overall they lost seats thanks to the strong swing to the Tories).

For those unfamiliar with Teeside or the West Midlands, these areas include a large number of people who I would describe as “working class social conservatives”. These are the sort of people who don’t like change, who are insular and suspicious of foreigners, go to church regularly and by and large they don’t really buy into the labour party’s socialist leanings, yet they still vote labour. They do so because they have bitter memories of the unholy mess Thatcher inflicted on them. The West Midlands is fairly multicultural, with a wide variety of ethnic groups, Irish, Nigerian, Asian, Middle Eastern, etc. Again, quite a lot of these would be regular church (or Mosque) attenders, they tend to be socially conservative, but they have also historically voted labour. And they do so because they are well aware of the racist undercurrents within the Tory party. The Tories might think that when they dog whistle with a nod and a wink nobody except their racists allies hear them. Well I’m afraid we all hear it. Hence why large blocks of people in the UK have historically voted labour, even those whom you would otherwise put in the “conservative” camp.

So what worries me, is that I would see these results as a sign that these communities, faced with the choice between UKIP-lite and a hard left Corbyn, are opting for the Tories. As they see it the choice is to be either shot by Corbyn’s red brigades or poisoned by May’s hard brexit. And they are opting for the poison, after all maybe they can find a cure to that later. And it is in districts like this, but with a stronger Tory base, where the general election will be fought. In short if labour is losing in these four districts in the local elections, areas where historically they won’t even need to bother campaigning, well what chance do they stand in other areas where support for them is historically only marginal?

And the response from Corbyn and his supporters? To make excuses and blame everything and everybody, the voters for a low turn out (actually a low turn out tends to benefit the smaller parties, not the bigger parties or the governing party), the Tories, the lib dems, even accusing his own party of disloyalty. Much as a bad tradesman blames his tools a bad leader blames his rotten luck and his own staff for his failings. A truly awful boss blames his customers (or voters). Is it fair the Tories are holding an election now? No, but in warfare you rarely get to chose the time and place of battle, fate or the enemy chooses it for you. Politics is much the same.

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And if staff are disloyal, well that does kind of suggests you ain’t very good at the job of being a leader. Only a bad leader spends all his days accusing his staff of disloyalty. As I’ve pointed out before its not Corbyn’s left wing views that are the issue. Most labour MP’s are not secret Blairites, Tories in all but name, with Thatcher tee-shirts under their suits (as Corbyn would have you believe). I’ve met MP’s before and most are actually fairly left wing, maybe not as left wing as Corbyn, but certainly more to the left than your average person. What puts them off Corbyn is that they see him as unelectable and utterly clueless when it comes to running a political party.

Case in point, the tale of lieutenant Sobel. He was the drill instructor who took easy company (of band of Brothers fame) through basic training. By all accounts he was tough on his trainees and drill them rigorously. Many veterans credit him with preparing them well for combat in Normandy. However, he was hopeless as a field commander. During training exercises in England, he got his men lost, marched the company into an obvious ambush and worse still he refused to listen to advice from others (a bit like Corbyn). As a result, on the eve of D-day, all of his NCO’s simultaneously resigned and requested transfers (again a bit like the labour party under Corbyn!). The Army promptly replaced him. Which might seem harsh, but if a leader is looking over his shoulder and questioning his men’s loyalty and the troops are starting to question his orders, before they’ve even made contact with the enemy, the worse thing you could do is send them into combat. That would be leading lambs to the slaughter.

And its kind of the same with labour. Corbyn has some excellent qualities. He’s a good orator and he’s good at calling out the Tories lies and hypocrisy. If I wanted to organise a protest, he’s the person to call. But he’s not a leader. While it might seem crazy for labour to change leader so close to an election, the truth is labour is doing badly because they don’t have a leader and haven’t had one for nearly a year.

In short labour faces a choice between two unpleasant, but distinctly different post-election scenarios. One where Corbyn remains leader, leads the party to its worse defeat in living memory and the Tories win with a landslide that exceeds Tony Blair. He then refuses to go and leads labour into political annihilation and obscurity, probably sinking left wing politics in the UK for a generation. Or he resigns, the party deputy leader takes over, they get a poll bounce and while I doubt they could win, they might just cut down that Tory majority. And that’s crucial because the smaller the Tory majority, the more leeway labour has to prevent a hard far right brexit.

Send in the Clown

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As I mentioned in a prior post, its quite obvious the UK’s foreign affairs are going to suffer as a consequence of brexit. A situation not helped by the fact the UK is stuck with one of the worse people you could possibly pick for the job at one of the worse possible times in the UK’s history .

Boris Johnson spent the days immediately after America’s strike against Syria running away from reporters. There was a certain deer caught in headlights factor to it all. Then he announces he’s cancelling his scheduled trip to Russia “on advice from Washington”. This is an unprecedented move. While part of the EU it was generally expected that the UK will conduct its own foreign affairs. The EU would try to make sure we’re all on the same page and don’t contradict one another, but Britain’s foreign affairs was the UK’s business. Can you imagine the outcry if under Tony Blair, there was a crisis and we were told that the foreign secretary had cancelled a trip on advice from Brussels. It rightly led to Boris being labelled as Trump’s poodle. I mean what next, is he going to need a note from his mum any time he has to leave the country?

Next Boris came up with a ham-fisted plan for more sanctions against Russia, which were promptly rejected by the G7, leaving him standing there looking pretty stupid. The reality is that brexit doesn’t mean empire 2.0 it means the UK becoming not the partner of the US, but Trump’s sidekick. I don’t even mean we’re Robin (he gets the odd line and to fight occasionally), perhaps the word “minion” is better. Basically we’re mini-me or random task to Dr Evil.

Also one has to acknowledge that Boris Johnson was set up to fail. No doubt acting under advice from Cameron, May appointed him to the job in the full hope that he’d screw it up and destroy his chances of ever becoming PM in the process. But that said, he has made a number of unforced errors, and his floundering over this Russia/Syria issue is merely the start.

Firstly there was that whole flap about bringing back the Royal yacht Britannia, so that he could use it to negotiate trade deals with China. A couple of slight problems with that….not least that Bejing is about 100km’s inland! Then he began fighting a turf war with trade secretary Liam Fox (another one set up to fail). Then he picked a fight with Italy over Prosecco, made several very silly comments to the Germans and French (don’t mention the war!). And of course prior to the US election he managed to insult Trump, Obama & Hilary. The term bull in a china shop doesn’t quite cut it.

Given how highly the Tories were prioritising brexit and the delivery of article 50, you’d think he’d have put some thought into the likely consequences of it. The EU’s position on Gibraltar clearly caught the Tories by surprise, hence all the silly comments about going to war, or sending warships (you’re going to threaten a NATO ally, over the fact that they will impose the same customs and border controls on the enclave that the UK proposes to apply to the EU?). But you could see this one coming a mile off. The EU wants to at least give Scotland (and possibly other regions) the opportunity to join the EU, they don’t want the Spanish to try and veto that. So quite clearly, making a concession to the Spanish on Gibraltar was an obvious horse trade. Why didn’t Boris see that coming and try to head the matter off?

Normally at this point we’d discuss when should a lame duck minster like him resign, or when will he be sacked. But there’s the problem he won’t resign, because if he does his career is over. And Theresa May can’t sack him, well not until he really screws things up (starts a war with Brazil, tries to get to first base with Melania Trump, etc.), because sacking him would defeat the purpose of putting him in the job in the first place. Instead the UK will have to cope with the fact that we’ve got a upper class twit as foreign secretary at the very time we can least afford it.

Gibraltar and article 50

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Brexit threatens to make a monkey out of the UK

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact of brexit on Northern Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit review – 5 months on

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Its about 5 months since the referendum, so where are we in terms of brexit? Well, if leaks from Whitehall are to be believed, nowhere. Theresa May claims that she’s come up with a cunning plan, as cunning as a fox who won most cunning in show five times in a row. Only those leaks suggest that five months of work has actually produced…..nothing.

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Like a school kid who constantly refuses to do her chores because she says she’s working on her homework, we’ve now seen inside Theresa May’s schoolbook and there’s nothing there but a few doodles. There is no grand master plan for brexit and their probably never will be. A country of 60 million does not get to dictate terms to a continent of 500 million, we’ll get what we’re offered and we’ll have to take it.

And we can’t even guess what sort of brexit we’re going to get, the government’s apparent position sways between the hardest of hard brexits, the laughably delusional statements of Boris to more recently Theresa May implying to the CBI she’ll go for the softest of soft brexits and may take more than the two years to happen as she’ll try to negotiate a transition deal. In short brexit means brexit seems to mean whatever the Tories reckon will placate whichever audience they are talking too.

About the only certainty we can have about the brexit process is that the Tories will inevitably use it to go after hard won environmental protections and labour laws designed to protect the very “JAM” families they now pretend to be the champions of.

And what are labour up too? Why aren’t they trying to stop the Tories? Well because with Corbyn in charge they are a rudderless ship. Both he and the “muesli” brexiters in labour also want brexit, as they hope they can rebuild their socialist workers paradise on the ashes of the mess the Tories leave behind. Of course they’ll never get the chance to do so given the impossibility of them winning the next election.

Which brings us to the supreme court ruling due next month. Theresa May’s strategy here seems to be that of the typical arrogant Tory, assume you’ll get your way (ya that worked well in the referendum didn’t it!) and then run around in a panic when you don’t and blame others for the mess you waded straight into. Her plan B is to put a three line piece of legislation to parliament. That would be little short of an insult to the democratic process. The most important bill in recent UK history cannot be three lines long. Not least because such a bill would be too opaque and at risk of further court challenges.

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And keep in mind what parliament really wants here is to be consulted about the brexit process. They aren’t comfortable with the idea of turning Theresa May into an all seeing and all knowing dictator for some ill defined period and parliament reduced to that of a debating club. The government says they can’t involve parliament, because that would give away our (entirely non-existent) strategy. Well there’s a simple horse trade there, have a closed session of parliament and tell MP’s what Theresa May’s “bloody good idea” is. Then vote on article 50. Of course they won’t do that (because she doesn’t actually have a plan), and therefore there’s a chance of defeat in the commons. I’m doubtful the lords would endorse such a bill, as it would essentially be a case of the PM trying to cynically get around a court order. If the lords say no, then that puts a delay of at least 6 months to a year onto the process.

And the SNP and Northern Ireland assembly also want it determined if that have some say in the process. If the court says yes then that delays brexit yet further, or at worst kills it stone dead (or at least until after a border poll in Northern Ireland and an 2nd indyref in Scotland, this one called by Westminster).

And what is the state of the public finances? Well the guess is that we’re looking at a £122 billion hole in country’s finances, much of which will have to be borrowed. Its now likely the UK debt will exceed 90% of GDP by the next election (a level unseen since 1964) and likely exceed the symbolically important point of 100% within the next decade. And as former Chancellor Alastair Darling has pointed out this is arguably a hard problem to fix than he faced in the financial crisis . That was a temporary blip, this is an ongoing crisis that can only be stopped by massive public spending cuts or a significant hike in taxes.

And of course there’s the Trump factor. Some Tories were secretly hoping he’d win, as that would make things easy for the UK. But much as I warned, no, the only think we can be sure about trump is that he’s unpredictable. He’s now trying to instruct the Queen as to who she should pick as her Ambassador to the US. And his first instructions to Farage? go sort out those Scottish windfarms. Yes Trump things he’s entitled to dictate the energy policy of Scotland. And this is the great white hope of the brexiters!

Nigel Farage, the interim leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) holds a platter of Ferrero Rocher chocolates during a party in London

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Actually my guess is that Trump may not be in power by the time negotiating with the Americans comes up, he’ll likely have been impeached or had a little “accident” before then. I still say there’s an outside chance he won’t even be inaugurated, especially with allegations of voter fraud now swirling. Bottom line, you can’t rely on the Americans to bail you out, they’ve got bigger problems to deal with.

Given all of the above you would question the logic of pushing ahead with the aggressive timetable Theresa May has set. It would make far more sense to now delay the brexit process for at least a year in my view. Trigger it say in 2018 instead. This would give time for the legislative hurdles to be dealt with and for the government to actually come up with a strategy and consult parliament about that process. Also the fact is that 2017 is not a good time to be negotiating such a thing, there’s elections in Germany and France this year and possibly in Italy too. We’re not going to get anything sensible out of the EU because they have no idea who will be in charge of these countries in 6 months time. Waiting a year would give time to resolve this, talks when they do start, will be at a much swifter pace.

Of course the downside to delaying brexit, the whole reason why Theresa May is insisting on her current strategy is that this would mean the 2020 elections would straddle the brexit process. We’ll be voting on the next parliament about the same time brexit talks are winding up. My response is, good that’ sounds like an excellent idea. It gets around calls within her own party and the lib dems for a 2nd vote on the terms of brexit. If you like the deal she’s got, vote Tory, if you don’t vote labour, if you’d rather stay in the EU after all vote lib dem, if you want hard brexit and become airstrip one of the Trump empire vote UKIP.

So if’s that simple you may enquire why is Theresa May going out of her way to avoid this? After all the poll suggest she’ll likely win the next election anyway. Well the answer is very simple, I suspect if we got the PM drunk and asked her that question the response would be BECAUSE YOU MORONS VOTED FOR BREXIT.

Many voted brexit because they feel the government doesn’t listen to them, it was an act of political self harm, a cry for help. However as I warned prior to the referendum the likely outcome wouldn’t be a government that’s more caring and listening. Its one that would be more hostile, authoritarian and much more willing to lie and deceive the public. After all voters have just shown they can’t be trusted with important decisions.

So let us be clear, this is why the PM is so reluctant to trust either the public or even her own MP’s with a vote. Because both have shown themselves to be woefully unqualified to make important decisions anymore. Brexit means chaos and brexit means a UK that is significantly more authoritarian. So congratulations to any brexit voters who voted for this.

Some points on the article 50 court ruling……

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Given today’s court ruling on article 50 I think its important to establish a few points.

Firstly, it goes along with what I said immediately after the referendum, that there is a massive legal question mark hanging over the whole brexit process. Let us review the facts, 52% of the electorate on a turn out of about 70% voted leave, which means only 37% of the electorate actually backed brexit in a non legally binding referendum. This is well short of what would be considered the minimum democratic standards. In most democracies to do something as radical as leave the EU would require a clear majority of the electorate to back it (i.e. 50% +1 vote). And of course we have to ignore the numerous blatant lies told by the leave camp prior to the vote, many of which they reneged on within hours of the polls closing.

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Yet on the basis of this Theresa May was not only going to try and drag the country out of the EU, but she wasn’t going to consult parliament, neither to confirm the decision to invoke article 50 nor even to set the terms of the UK’s exit. She was going to appoint herself as the all seeing all knowing dictator, the dear leader, whom we must trust implicitly. And she appeared to be aiming for a hard brexit, despite there being nothing on the ballot paper about that, plus the impression was given during the referendum campaign that they’d be aiming for a soft brexit. Indeed Boris Johnson initial pitch was that he won’t even trigger article 50 but just negotiate a better deal.

And since we’re talking about, when did Theresa May win an election? Where’s all this stuff about hard brexit in the Tory election manifesto? When did they get elected on the promise of giving away billions to foreign multinationals? (such as Nissan and EDF).

Now brexiters will make various excuses at this point, whinge about remoaners, but while doing so they will ignore a very important point – you are setting a very dangerous electoral precedence. If Theresa May, an unelected standin PM with no democratic mandate, can leave the EU with no vote in Parliament, on the back of a non legally binding referendum, which only 37% of the electorate supported, what’s to stop Nicola Sturgeon (who actually did win an election and a 2nd referendum in the event of brexit was in the SNP manifesto) taking Scotland out of the UK on a similar mandate? And I discussed before “the Spanish option” for preventing Scottish independence, will not work. It would most likely result in an overwhelming Yes vote, possibly even a majority of the electorate backing it. And then what are they going to do if she wins and decides to implement Scottish independence unilaterally, invade Scotland? Keep the place under martial law forever? I seem to remember that being tried out in Ireland, remind me how did that work out?

And speaking of Ireland, keep in mind the same potentially applies in Northern Ireland. If there’s one thing that would drive enough people in the province to back a united Ireland its a hard brexit. And the precedence Theresa May is setting is that if somehow Sinn Fein can get a vote, even if its non legally binding (i.e. not approved by Westminster) and even if less than 50% of the NI population back the measure, they can have their way. Unionists assurances that they can prevent a vote by controlling enough of Stormont seats may not hold if the economy tanks and electorates decide to punish them for supporting brexit in the first place (or at least the one unionist party who foolishly backed brexit) .

All in all, I’d argue the Tory case here is slim to non-existent. Parliament and the house of lords should vote and they should be allowed to vote their conscience. And given that a vast majority of both houses are anti-brexit, then they should be allowed to vote that way. If that pisses off the brexit brigade, too bad, go away and hold another referendum and do it properly this time. i.e. no lies, you have to get 50% of the electorate to back brexit and you have to lay out exactly what brexit means, firmly nail your colours to the mast as to what sort of brexit you are looking for…..and a signed letter from the EU confirming you can get what you claim you’ll get.

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Of course the danger is that MP’s will be pressured into backing brexit against their better judgement. Well I would advice them to think again. Keep in mind if you are a labour MP, polls have shown that labour supporters overwhelmingly backed remain, by as much as 90% in some cases. If your constituency voted brexit, you have to consider that this motion was backed by a minority of labour supporters (who should really stop reading the Daily Express) along with the Tory and UKIP voters. The Tory and UKIP members in your constituency aren’t going to suddenly vote for you just because you voted for article 50…..but the overwhelming majority of labour supporters might stop voting for you if you do! Hence why I would urge everyone to go to your MP and make it clear that if they vote for article 50 they can count on you never voting for them or their party ever again.

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And the Tories here are also in a tight spot. Quite a number of the marginal seats in Oxfordshire and in and around London (basically where elections in the UK tend to be fought and won) voted remain. And I mean by a very wide margin, 70% in some cases. The likes of Amber Rudd, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn all contest seats like this. It is hypocritical to say the least to argue that a labour MP who is pro-remain should be pressured into voting for article 50, just because his district did so, but then say that pro-leave MP’s can defy the overwhelming support for remain in their constituencies. And ultimately these MP’s need to consider the consequences for themselves of now voting for article 50. To be blunt its possible all of those I’ve just mentioned could be out on their ear at the end of the next election, if the electorate decides to punish them at the polls.

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And since we are talking about it, recall the house of lords is not bound by the electorate. They are well within their rights to vote the way they see as being in the best interest of the country. And given all of what I’ve said above it would be perfectly reasonable for them to vote against article 50. This would eventually trigger the use of the Parliament act, but in the process it would allow some sort of compromise to be sought.

And the obvious compromise is two fold. Firstly put all the cards on the table. On the one hand aim for a soft brexit, with as close ties to Europe as possible. Secondly look at further devolution of powers to Scotland and Northern Ireland, perhaps making the UK an entirely federal state. This could allow both regions to join the EU in their own right. Now the powers that be say no, but there is a legal precedence here. Greenland left the EU but Denmark (which Greenland is still part of) remained. So I suspect it could be argued the same could apply to Northern Ireland and Scotland in reverse, so long as they were suitably independent from Westminster.

Unfortunately, I doubt this will happen. This is the problem with the whole brexit process. It is in the hands of a bunch of authoritarian, narrow minded, hard right ideologues, who see it as a god given mandate to roll back every bit of progressive legislation passed in the UK since the end of the war. The very fact the forced the courts to intervene like this should show you that they will steer the ship into the iceberg rather than give up control or change course.

Weekly roundup

Veto warning

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At a conference to discuss the post-Brexit future of the EU, the UK was warned that the EU would make leaving “very painful”, if any form of immigration controls were included. Indeed, the threat was made of a possible veto of any deal by four Eastern European countries, if the UK refused to guarantee freedom of travel. Its unclear if this applies to just current EU citizens in the UK or future arrivals. However, the message is clear, the Brexit position on immigration is not going to be allowed, it is not and never was a deliverable possibility.

But we do 60% of our trade with the EU the brexiters claim, why would the EU jeopardise that? Well because it might be 60% of the UK’s trade, but its only about 10% of the EU’s trade. And certain countries will bear the brunt of that. Others, such as the Eastern European countries making these threats, will not be seriously effected. There is no way the rEU or the UK can bully them out of a veto. So if the UK tries to stonewall the EU, as the three brexiters seem to plan on doing, they will be in for a rude awakening.

Keep in mind at the point where this veto will be made it would be at the back end of negotiations where the UK has likely just days or weeks away from essentially being chucked out of the EU and EEA if it doesn’t get a deal. In such circumstances a panicked climb down by the UK seems very likely.

As always my suspicion is that cooler heads will prevail long before we get to this stage. Some sort of horse trade will be done, EU citizens will have to fill out some forms and will not be entitled to benefits for a few years (although that could result in a rebate of their taxes back to their country of origin). The swivel eyed loons will be told they’d got immigration controls, but in truth nothing substantial will have changed.

 

Academic poaching

And as if to underline what’s at stake here, there have been warning about how much of the UK’s key science centres are now a risk of being poached. Either individual scientists, or the entire institutes themselves might well move in the next few years.

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As I mentioned in previous posts, a lot of the funding for these institutes comes from the EU. And they also get quite a bit of private sector funding too (often the EU funding is dependant on them raising matching funds from the private sector). And many research centres and university’s in Britain will have a small network of high-tech start ups around them, which will both assist and be dependant on the success of said institute at securing funding. Getting that funding outside the EU gets very complicated very quickly. Freedom of travel is also crucial to science and I can’t see how these institutes could function if that were to end.

So the price the UK could pay, is much of its very best and brightest, everything from Fusion energy research to graphene could potentially move overseas in the next few years. Then again, many Brexiters seem to be the anti-science troglodytes who’d rather go back to the 1950’s. Well be careful what you wish for……

 

ITT Tech

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Just prior to the Brexit vote the Universities minister issued two statements which caused great concern in academia. The first was his intention of allowing for-profit universities in the UK. The 2nd was his statement that “some providers may exit the market”, or in other words, the government is okay with the thought of universities going bankrupt.

Well we had a warning this month of what the likely consequences of such a policy would be. ITT Tech, the parent company of several for-profit universities across the US went bankrupt just before the start of term. This left tens of thousands of students out of pocket and with no university place to start or continue their studies at. Many of them have now been left in limbo.

And the reasons for their collapse? Poor standards of education, well below those of mainstream universities and accusations of predatory practices. ITT tech students were some of the the most heavily indebted students in America. And incidentally some of that debt was owed to the US government. Students are now refusing to pay back these loans, arguing the collapse is the fault of the government for failing to regulate ITT tech properly.

So I would ask anyone in the Tory party or any government minster, do you really want to see this sort of scandal play out in the UK? And before you answer that question, take out an electoral map of the UK, work out how many marginal seats are in (or near) a university town and after you’ve worked out how, estimate by how much you’d lose the next election, perhaps then you might decide to reconsider this policy.

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Tweeting twits in cars

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There was recent talk about increasing the number of penalty points for mobile phone use in cars to 6 . In some respects I can see the point of this. Far too often I’ve seen people driving along, not just talking on a mobile held to their ear, but texting with it. And I mean sometimes when I’ve been cycling or walking along at night I’ve noticed drivers gliding along with their face down at the phone, trying to drive with one hand and half an eye on the road. You do have to worry about some people.

However, the danger with such knee jerk legislation, is that it can often lead to overzealous enforcement by the police. Keep in mind the cops have done people for blowing their nose at a traffic light or threatened to arrest a four year old child for riding a kiddies bike on the pavement. Given the cops an inch in the UK and they will take things to an illogical extreme.

What counts as mobile phone use in a car? For example, I’ll sometimes use my mobile as an Mp3 player. Now I’ll plug it in and set everything up before I start driving, but occasionally I might need to just hit the volume button or turn it on/off (without taking my eyes off the road of course and only when its safe to do so). Does that count? Should I get 6 points for that? Now okay, maybe you say yes it does count, in which case I suppose I’ll just listen to the radio instead, will adjusting the volume on the radio now get me 6 points? Because its essentially doing the same thing. Or how about adjusting the air-con, or the sat nav? Keep in mind that there are time you’ll need to adjust these systems for safety reasons (e.g. its night, the sat nav display is too bright so you turn it off or tap it into night mode, your coming up to a busy junction, you hit the mute button on the radio so it doesn’t distract you, windows start to fog up, you need to clear them, etc.).

And I bring this up because it has a legal bearing for me. I have an Irish license and while the Irish government does transfer points issued by the UK authorities onto Irish license, they don’t give the UK courts a rubber stamp. We have this long standing principle in Ireland of “rights” and “due process”. And any Irish court would likely take a dim view of saying doing such and such a thing with a mobile is enough to lose you your license, but doing the same thing with the car radio is okay. Indeed the Irish government has been having difficulty securing convictions for its own laws against in car mobile use.

And to go slightly off topic, but there’s a Brexit dimension here. While I suspect the transfer of penalty points across the Irish border will continue (its a bilateral agreement and nothing to do with the EU) I’m not sure about other EU countries. I suspect any such rules the UK has with the rest of the EU will end with Brexit. Meaning Polish lorry drivers will be able to not only use their phones while driving without fear, but speed as fast as they like and park wherever they like and there’s basically nothing that plod can do about it other than go whistle Dixie. Keep in mind I already know people from the continent who regularly just tear up parking tickets they get in the UK and put them straight in the bin. Such rules are difficult to enforce at the moment, post Brexit it will be impossible. And again its the tendency of the UK legal system to ignore the basic principles upon which any proper legal system is supposed to work that’s to blame.

But I digress. Clearly one has to wonder how out of hand such measures could get and how difficult it becomes to enforce. Might I suggest a more common sense approach. If you are so addicted to your phone that you can put it down for a few minutes while driving maybe you need to decide which is more important, your ability to drive safely or your phone? Keep in mind that if you travel by public transport instead not only can you text and tweet to your hearts content, but many buses and trains theses days come with free wifi. #OMG

And in much the same way that anyone stumbling out of pub with car keys is likely to be rugby tackled and subject to a citizens arrest these days, if you see someone in the car behaving recklessly with a phone (or turning his head away from the road and trying to tune the radio), point out to them how dangerous this is. #where_did_that_tree_come_from? #Sad face

 

Unsporting behaviour

There was some controversy this week when one of the Brownlee brothers helped the other across the line to win a bronze medal. The British media looked on this as brothers in arms, or good sportsmen ship. Ah, no! I’m afraid its what’s known as “cheating”.

The rules of individual sports like the triathlon are very clear, you cannot assist in any way another competitor, nor can they or should they except such help. Riders have been disqualified in the past just because a spectator (never mind another runner) was seen to push them. Until a few years ago triathletes weren’t even allowed to slipstream during the cycling stage of a triathlon. Giving or accepting aid like this isn’t just against the rules, it violates the very spirit of the sport itself.

Put it this way, if a Polish or Chinese athlete had done the same thing and a British athlete had been denied a medal, would the UK media be reacting the same way? Probably not. We can’t have one rule for those who are popular with the media (and have a good sponsorship deal) and another rule for everyone else. There’s little point in getting worked up about Russian doping, if were going to apply the full weight of the law to one group of athletes and ignore them for others.

So while I hate to be mean, but both brothers should have been disqualified for this. And should another “hand of god” like moment happen in a future football match, I don’t want to hear any English whinging about how unfair it all is. You’ve gain just as much, if not more, unfair advantage in sports as everyone else.

 

Not so fancy bears

And speaking of sports there were more revelations about the medical records of British athletes. Now to be fair, if the Russians are trying to tar everyone with the same brush, they are failing. What these records show is that the sort of massive state sponsored doping isn’t going on in the UK or US. However, that’s not to say all of the UK’s athletes are angels. The revelations do flag up some worrying questions.

Quite a few appear to regularly be benefiting from what’s called TUE’s basically an excuse to use a banned substance for medical reasons. The problem is that known drug cheats like Lance Armstrong were known to use these as a way of getting around tests, when they realised (or feared) they might fail a test. So an athlete regularly getting these, while it doesn’t prove anything, it certainly doesn’t look good. In short, anyone who believes doping begins and ends with Russian, think again.

 

The Empire club

A restaurant in Australia is in hot water after calling itself the Colonial club, a sort of colonial themed restaurant for public school boys who are ignorant of history. Naturally this is causing much offence and there are calls for it to be closed down. One wonders if they do a Jallianwahla Bagh cocktail, or an Irish Famine potato salad or how about the Hola special?

What is it about Empire that the Brit’s don’t get? One of the Brexiters put up a tweet (in reaction to another one showing the EU top of the medal table at the Olympics) claim the British Empire “won” the Olympics. British need to understand that to some people this is the equivalent of going up to a Polish person and saying how much better they were under the third reich. There are only two occasions where bringing up the British Empire isn’t going to get you in trouble:
A) You’re Prince Philip (we sort of expect this stuff from him!)
B) At a memorial for the victims of a British empire massacre, explaining why it was so terrible

 

The joys of Hitchhiking

A French hitchiker in New Zealand went beserk this week after spending 4 days by the side of the road and not getting picked up. To be honest, I think if you are hitch-hiking, you need to have a better strategy. And in a remote area, you need to have a plan B in case you don’t get picked up, e.g. walk to where you want to go and if you don’t get picked up along they way, you’ll get there anyway. Or have a public transport option you can call on.

One of the issues I take with this story was how he was called “a spoilt millennial”. First of all, Millennials are really an invention of marketeers who like to segment people into neatly defined groups. An many of those qualities they ascribe to “millennials” don’t actually gel with the facts, as this Adam Conover video discusses. I teach a lot of “millennials” and I know of just as many who are spoilt selfie takers with a sense of some sort of god given entitlement, as I know similar people from previous generations. It certainly does not fit the description of the average Millennial I know. Indeed it was mostly baby boomers with there sense of entitlement who voted for Brexit, not millennial’s (whom the baby boomers screwed over).

Sunday service

A few stories that caught my eye over the last week……

Blackouts & Newspeak

With Hinkley C now hanging in the balance, the National Grid seem to be waking up to the realisation that its unlikely we’ll be getting any new power infrastructure in time to offset the likely decommissioning of the UK’s ageing coal and nuclear plants. So they seem to be putting their faith in energy efficiency measures instead.

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Keep in mind a few years ago, I was scoffed at for making such a suggestion at a conference by someone from NG, who felt such measures were unnecessary or that they won’t work (he was trying to argue the case for Hinkley C and how the ground would open and swallow the country if it isn’t built). And these very measures were part of the so-called “Green crap” Cameron cut to keep his allies in the fossil fuel and nuclear industry happy, just a few years ago. So there’s a certain “newspeak” element to this whole story as a result.

Now, I’m all for energy efficiency measures. I have long argued they are a big part of the solution. If we can’t build renewables quickly enough (nor nuclear for that matter) to meet the growing need for power and reduce carbon emissions, then we need to cut consumption. However, this road to Damascus conversion ignores three crucial points.

Firstly, there’s a law of diminishing returns in play here. You can make some big drastic savings early on (if you build the right infrastructure of course), but beyond a certain tipping point, you’ll be scrapping the bottom of the barrel. Energy efficiency, by saving people money, can actually encourage further energy use. Think about it, if I could double the fuel economy of your car, you’d probably drive it more regularly won’t you? Ultimately you still need to be producing power, and you will need to build some new power plants (be they renewable, fossil fuel fired or nuclear). This whole crisis is a result of the UK government’s failure to adopt a long term energy policy, throwing one industry under the bus after another, to the point nobody in their right mind would invest in a power station in the UK (renewable, nuclear or otherwise) unless you basically bribe them.

Secondly, a lot of the better energy efficiency measures require changes to how the grid works. They will not go ahead unless the government gives firm signals that it is adopting an appropriate long term energy policy. For example, the most obvious way of cutting carbon emissions is to switch from a handful of centralised thermal power stations, to a network of smaller decentralised CHP plants. Even running on fossil fuels, this cuts carbon emissions by at least 25%. Some European countries get 40% of their electricity from such power stations. They can also effectively backup intermittent renewable energy sources. But again, without building the hardware, you can’t implement it. And they will only work as part of a coherent overall strategy.

And thirdly there’s the ticking clock. Any energy plan for the UK needs action to be taken now. There are no quick fixes, no easy short cuts. Those boats sailed some time ago. The government has to take action asap and put its money where its mouth is, or any energy plan no matter how well meaning it is, will fail.

Irish apple…..and not the fruit!

For years Apple had been playing the double Irish tax dodge, only to recently get caught out. The EU’s just tapped them for 13 billion euro in back taxes. To put that in prospective, that’s about Ireland’s health budget for a year.

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Oddly enough rather than Leinster house cracking open champagne bottles and starting to work out what we’re going to spend all this money on (that’s enough to buy every adult in the country about 900 pints of the black stuff…now there’s a thought…), they are thinking of appealing. Why? Okay it does hurt Ireland reputation a bit, but so what, if Apple was here for the reasons it claims (i.e. to take advantage of a well educated workforce, I know they do a lot of co-funded research with Irish uni’s), then this ruling shouldn’t change anything.

If they were here for the tax dodge then feck em. They want to piss off back to California, fair enough. The Brexiters were dancing a jig about how Apple might move to the UK. That’s unlikely as the rate of taxation in Ireland is still lower than the UK’s. And lets be clear about what the Brexiters are proposing, they think that British tax payers should subsidise the profits of one of the world’s largest and most profitable companies. Seriously? Try selling that one in the middle of the next election! Voting for Corbyn suddenly starts to sound like a good idea.

So I say hang’em out to dry!

Olympic hijackings

And speaking of which, Brexiters have been trying to talk up how great everything is post-Brexit. They’ve picked up on everything from the Olympics, ignoring the fact how most medal winners are mostly young people, i.e. the people who voted remain, plus quite a few are from immigrant families and won’t be here if the UKIP brigade had its way, doubly so if lottery funding was ended, as some on the right have been long calling for. UK sports also receives money from the EU btw.

Speaking of which, Trump has been unusually quiet about the Olympics. Probably because it doesn’t fit into his narrative of a “broken” America, when they are finishing top of the medal table. And if Mexico isn’t sending the US their best, how about those Mexican American medal winners? Or what about the American Muslim and Jewish athletes? How unamerican of them to train hard and win medals! I particularly like Libertarian Gray Johnson’s tweet, he questioned if Trump was only watching the Olympics to see how high the Mexican pole vaulters could go.

Oh and incidentally, while many athletes didn’t want to talk about Brexit or Trump, those that did ain’t exactly supporters.

Brexit blues

But I digress, Brexiters have also jumped on the slightest hint of good economic news, ignoring the fact that things like factory output or employment figures often reflect conditions several months ago, i.e. before Brexit was announced, or can be thrown off by seasonal factors.

The real threat from Brexit was, and still is long term trends. As the saying goes its the bears that get you in the end, not the stags running for cover. Brexiters might want to spare a thought for example to the workers at Catepillar in Northern Ireland, who were told this week, hundreds of whom were losing their jobs. Further job losses appear to be imminent in ICL. Its possible they may follow in Ford and Nissan over the next few months and years, with other car makers likely to follow. Lloyds of course axed 3,000 last month over Brexit.

Solent News

Indeed recruiters argued that they were seeing a slow down in recruitment levels even before Brexit, as companies brought in hiring freezes in advance of the referendum. In some sectors recruitment rates are now “in freefall, as many companies have held onto those hiring freezes since then. Also even if you’ve been given leave to recruit, as my uni’s been finding, its next to impossible to hire new staff. Think about it, if you’ve got a job already would you risk changing jobs in the present climate? If you move jobs and your new employer decides to start down sizing, it will likely be last in first out, so who in their right mind would want to move? They only way we can recruit now is by hiring people on contract and paying them exorbitant day rates.

And yes, I’m aware there are employment laws meant to prevent LIFO type layoff’s, however I think you’ll find the fine print says they are EU laws. And the chances of a Tory government protecting the rights of employees is somewhere between slim and none.

Now all of this was inevitable. As I’ve pointed out before, UK manufacturing is going to take a hit and Northern Ireland is going to have it the worst post-Brexit. Companies aren’t going to rush for the exits, but they will slow down investment in the UK and stop hiring. Of course this will leave UK factories uncompetitive, meaning any time things are looking lean, they will inevitably pull production in UK firms first, particularly those in Northern Ireland. So let’s not kid ourselves people are losing jobs, or the opportunity to get a job as a result of Brexit. And if you think things are bad now, wait a few years!

Ambushed on Brexit

Indeed Theresa May appears to have been ambushed at the latest G20 talks, by both the Japanese and Americans, who are starting to put the squeeze on the Brits. As I mentioned in prior posts a UK government post-Brexit is going to come under enormous pressure, from international leaders, business, the army and even the government’s own civil servants. This means Brexit, actually might not mean Brexit, or it might just mean the UK becoming a sort of side kick to the EU (sorry, hero support!).

A winter of discontent?

The doctors are threatening a 5 day strike, so I hope everyone’s feeling fit and healthy and not planning on getting ill for a while. And southern rail is still in the grip of industrial action by disgruntled staff…while announcing a £100 million in profit! In both cases the employers are blaming the workers for the strikes…or even Jeremy Corbyn! Which is a bit like overloading a donkey with stuff and then getting angry with the donkey when it collapses from exhaustion.

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The fact is that the government’s policy of squeezing doctors isn’t working, its creating major problems for the NHS. And their policy on privatisation (health care or the railways) is inherently flawed. So their solution is to paper over the cracks and pretend they aren’t there. And likely thanks to Brexit, make strikes harder to hold in future. Will this means things improve post-Brexit? No! Doctors will likely move overseas, we’ll find it even harder to recruit new ones and similarly the situation on the UK’s trains will get even more strained.

You could argue that both junior doctors and the southern rail company are the canaries in the coal mine for problems the rest of the NHS and the rail network will experience further down the line.

Corbyn caught out

And speaking of trains, Corbyn claimed to have sat on the floor the other week all the way to Newcastle, as the train was “ram packed”. But Virgin revealed that actually that wasn’t how things had panned out. Clearly this was a half arsed attempt at the sort of political street theatre other parties engage in all of the time. The trouble is that Corbyn is such a hate figure for many that he can’t pull something like this off. He seems to drive people to a level of maddening hatred. He’s less a party leader and more of a punch bag.

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Consider that I once lost my bag on a Virgin train. I reported it, but they were never able to relocate it. They knew the train, the carriage and the seat number I was in, how much trouble would it have been to go through the CCTV and try to trace the bag? But instead they were quite happy to look at the CCTV footage for several carriages on likely more than one train for several hours to see what Corbyn got up too. This should show you how far Corbyn’s opponents will go to stick the knife in….and how little Virgin cares about its customers.

SpaceX explosion

SpaceX the upstart rocket company founded by Elon Musk suffered a serious technical failure the other day, with a rocket exploding on the pad. They’ve not said why yet, but I could not help but notice that the explosion seemed to start at the upper stage. This suggests some sort of malfunction with the rockets controls (e.g. the upper stage motor fired early), or perhaps a flash fire further down precipitating upwards (think of a champagne bottle…just one filled with rocket fuel).

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Some have started to question if this accident now threatens the future of SpaceX. Well it shouldn’t. Rockets are the very definition of extreme engineering. The most reliable rockets in the world have a success rate of 92%….or put it another way they blow up 1:12 of the times they are launched. SpaceX’s record, if we count this explosion as its 2nd failure out of 29 attempts counts as a 1:14.5 failure rate, well below the best the rest of the industry can manage. Its just that most of the other rockets tend not to fail so publicly, so the media don’t notice.

And SpaceX has pointed that even if the rocket was manned, its escape rocket system would likely have saved the crew. So rumours of SpaceX’s demise are perhaps greatly exaggerated.

Pulling power

One of the first things you notice state side is how much bigger cars are there. There seems to be lots of people who opt for some outrageously large SUV or pick up truck. The perfect thing for towing the boat they don’t own up the mountain they don’t live near. I’ve always felt skeptical of these behemoths feeling they are more pony and less draft horse. Well now I’ve got proof.

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Consider this video of a tug of war between a British Land Rover defender, with a 2.5L engine (at most 160 hp) and a kerb weight of about 1.6 tonnes (they do aluminium bodied versions that weight even less than this, I’m assuming this is the standard steel bodied version) against a Dodge Ram 3500 (Cummin’s Diesel version) with a 5.9L engine and weighing in at closer to 3 tonnes. Who wins?

Well if you watch the video, you’ll see its the Land Rover. Which is not that huge a surprise if you know anything about power to weight ratios. The Land Rover might be smaller and lighter, but that just means its got more power to devote to pulling the Dodge backwards. Driver skill and a manual transmission (with I assume a low torque selector and a diff-lock) also probably makes a big difference.

Plus a lower kerb weight means for lower ground pressure, an important feature in a 4×4 given the need to drive across muddy fields. Hence why real farmers or off road drivers use a Land Rover (or a range of other similar and more practical vehicles, the Toyota Hilux for example). While things like the Dodge Ram are aimed at men, with Trump like small hands, seeking to compensate for something else that’s very small.

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Why Indy-ref2 will be very different

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In the wake of the Brexit vote, the SNP are calling for another referendum on Scottish independence. Inevitably the Tories are saying no, why we had one just two years ago, what’s changed since then to warrant another referendum? Well in short, everything. This referendum will be very different, anything but a re-run of the previous one. The issues have changed, public opinion has changed, the consequences of Independence have changed.

Post-Brexit opinion

Naturally the fact that the Scottish overwhelmingly voting to stay in the EU and the rUK voting to leave, does drastically change things. We were assured by the Tories at the last vote that Brexit was very unlikely and there was little difference between opinions on the EU north of the border and south of it. Well clearly that was not true. And recall much of the “project fear” arguments related to uncertainty over Scotland’s EU membership if Scotland left the UK. So it is entirely legitimate to want the referendum re-run for these reasons alone (either that or rerun the Brexit vote).

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And opinion polls reflect this. In the immediate wake of Brexit a poll emerged showing a whopping 27% lead to independence. More recent polls show a smaller lead of 6-7% towards yes.

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Its worth keeping in mind that in the immediate wake of the last referendum opinion polls narrowed to either a tie, a narrow lead to yes or a 3-5% lead to no. So we have a shift in public opinion of at least 10% (if not more) over this one issue in the space of a few weeks. That is more than sufficient grounds by itself to argue for a 2nd vote. Not least because it changes how a future independence vote will be run.

Project fear

Last time around the Tories and the no camp opted for so called project fear. Pointing to the economic dangers of Scottish independence. However, now both camps will likely be running their own brand of project fear. The SNP will be able to point out that by remaining in the EU, Scotland will benefit greatly, many companies that trade with the EU in the UK will likely relocate north of the border. So the no camp won’t have everything its own way.

One of my criticisms of the SNP last time around was the fact that they were a bit unrealistic and did not consider the negative consequences of independence. This time around it seems they are planning for a bit of a warts and all approach, acknowledging that post- independence the country will have to make some tough choices, but it will be better off in the long run. While this approach might put some people off, the obvious benefit is that it leaves the no camp with nowhere to go. They can’t run project fear, when the SNP are saying the same thing anyway.

In any event I would argue that one reasons why the Tories lost the Brexit referendum was that they kept playing the project fear card. But after playing the same card in three referendums and a general election people simply didn’t believe them anymore, they’ve developed an immunity to it. In short, I’m doubtful it will work this time, particularly if they are already behind in the polls.

Instead, the Tories will have to play up the positive aspects of being in the UK. However, there’s the problem. The Tories, don’t exactly do positives, not in Scotland anyway. Them trying to be positive is like someone dressed as a creepy clown driving around late at night in a creepy looking van trying to hand out free candy to kids.

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The Tories Indyref2 battle bus is unveiled

Who will lead the no vote?

This is why last time the Tories largely left it up to labour to lead the no vote campaign. But labour are unlikely to make that mistake a 2nd time. In the wake of the indy-ref labour support in Scotland plummeted. They lost all but one of their seats in Scotland. And to add insult to injury, in a typical act of Sith betrayal, the Tories then ran a general election campaign centred on how labour would be beholden to those sneaky scots and in Alex Slamond’s pocket.

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A poster campaign that the Tories will likely regret running, if there’s a 2nd independence referendum

So I think the lesson for Scottish labour would be to not take the lead on any campaign. Indeed if you have been listening to Scottish labour leader Kezia Dugdale recently you will see she’s leaving nothing out. She’s even not closing off the option to support an independence campaign. Now I doubt that would actually happen (indeed she’s since back petalled from this a bit). However, the indecision within Scottish labour leadership does reflect the fact that they cannot take the same approach as last time. My guess is Scottish labour will be neutral in the next referendum, some in the party will campaign for a yes vote, others for a no vote. Or the party may just stay out of it altogether.

While I won’t rule out a figure like Gordon Brown stepping in to lead the no vote, I’m not sure how effective he would be, he’s soften his tone somewhat since the 23rd of June. Certainly I doubt we’ll be getting Alastair Darling again (I bumped into him not too long ago, I was careful not to mention the Scottish referendum as I had this fear he’d start foaming at the mouth and banging his head against the wall as he succumbed to paranoid flash backs), the poor guy has suffered enough. And given the lib dem’s ferrero rocher moment, I’m doubting they are in a position to help, nor would they want too.

My guess is that the no camp will have to look outside of politics, find someone like J. K Rowling or that guy from dragon’s den, to lead the no campaign. However, that would be a risky strategy. Basically it will either be spectacularly successful, or they’ll go into a debate against Nicola Sturgeon and she’ll shred them (politicians tend to be good debaters) and the whole thing will fall apart.

Currency

One of the major mistake from last time was the failure of the SNP to be able to answer a simple question, what currency will we be using on independence day? Again, minded as I was to support independence, it baffled me how they couldn’t get something this basic right.

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And quite frankly the idea that of sharing the pound A) have you run that past Whitehall? cos I think they’ll say no, and B) why would you want to keep the pound? This undermines the whole point of independence! Clearly the SNP policy here was being driven by the results of focus groups, which showed many didn’t want to give up the pound for various reasons.

However with the pound falling in value, the case for retaining the pound is undermined. In some respects you could argue a Scottish pound would have advantages. And to those who say it can’t be a stable currency, ya and you might want to run that by the Danes, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Hungary, the Czech’s, etc. All have their own currency, all are small countries, in many cases with a smaller population and GDP than Scotland. They (with the noted exception of Norway) don’t have Scotland’s oil reserves or high value exports. And many other EU states, such as Ireland, Belgium, or Holland had a stable independent currency for many years prior to joining the Euro. So I have little doubt that a Scottish pound is a realistic possibility.

And the SNP seem to recognising this. It would seem that this time they will be campaigning on the basis of founding their own currency, although its value might at least initially pegged to the UK pound (the Danes have a similar arrangement with the Euro, as do Norway to Sweden) or even joining the euro. This will not be straight forward. It will take time and it might mean some temporary austerity or tax hikes initially, while proving to the world that Scotland can balance its books…..although its worth noting that the Tories have thoroughly failed to do anything of the sort.

But if they can win the argument on currency, then that does change things considerably.

EU citizens and Scottish independence

Last time around the SNP broadened the big tent as wide as they could, gambling that the more they had voting, the more likely independence would become. Of course, they knew that there were large groups who would vote as a block against independence, but they were gambling that the yes votes they gathered in the process would cancel this out (of course they were wrong, in the end the vow meant the numbers just didn’t add up).

EU citizens, who were allowed to vote last time around but denied a vote in the EU referendum, by and large voted against Scottish independence. However, this is unlikely to be the case this time around. With Theresa May threatening to use them as pawns in negotiations with Brussels, we can assume many EU citizens in Scotland will now vote for Scottish independence to preserve their status within the EU. Certainly for me, its all but a given I’ll vote yes, if only for this reason alone.

And similarly there will be large blocks of people who voted no last time who can be expected to now vote yes. Again, this changes the dynamics of the referendum completely. The no camp, last time relied on the fact that a large proportion of voters would be naturally expected to vote no, so they only had to focus those who were on the fence. Now its the other way around. Hence, why a “project fear” approach is unlikely to work.

And if lots of EU citizens are voting for Scottish independence, this naturally changes the position of the EU as regards the question. EU government will have to take into account what’s in the interest of their citizens living in Scotland.

The EU and the Spanish

Another major sticking point from last time was the attitude of the EU. Last time the SNP seemed to assume they were already a member of the EU, the EU pointed out that no, you’ll have to apply for membership like everyone else.

Now the EU seems a bit more open towards the idea of Scottish independence. They will be anxious to avoid setting a precedence by admitting Scotland, but some sort of fast track approach in conjunction with Brexit (or should we say Engexit) is a possibility. There will likely be a transition period, when the country is not in the UK but also not in the EU, but with the right agreements in place this should not effect trade.

The Spanish do represent something of a sticking point. They don’t want Scottish independence to create a case for Catalonian independence (or Basque independence). However the Spanish are also very quick to point out that the Scottish question is a very different matter. However if they were to openly block Scottish EU membership (as its often implied by some in the media they would) naturally this would lead many to question whether the two issues are so different. In short, they would have undermined their own case for blocking Catalonian independence.

And the Spanish will know that there will be countries in the EU which are more favourable Scottish independence, such as Ireland, or many of the Eastern European and Scandinavian countries. The danger for the Spanish is that if they try too hard, they’ll antagonise these nations, which would be a bad idea as it would undermine their own position.

So my guess is, the EU will ask a lot of tough questions, the Spanish will try to drag things out a bit, but otherwise it will probably go ahead. It will take a lot more time than the SNP seem to think, but a lot less time than the naysayers will have us believe.

Bottom line, the EU is not about to vote to make itself smaller. The consequences for Scotland voting to stay in the EU, voting to leave the UK as a consequence and then being given the cold shoulder would fundamentally undermine the whole EU project.

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And speaking of Spain, there’s the question of the legality of a second independence referendum. It seems likely that Westminster will not allow another legally binding referendum. In essence their plan is to counter independence the same way the Spanish saw off the Catalonia vote, by denying the referendum credibility.

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However if this is the plan, its not going to work. Why? Simple – 37.3%, which you arrive at by multiplying the 51.8% who voted for Brexit times the turn out of 72.2%. The problem for the Tories is that they are pushing ahead with Brexit, on the basis of a non-legally binding referendum, without a vote in parliament, on the basis of a plurality of just 37.3%. By doing so they are setting a precedence. If the SNP can get the vote for independence over this bar, then it becomes very difficult to argue against them. And that isn’t very difficult to do, particularly if many no voters don’t bother showing up to the polls.

Let us suppose the latest opinion polls showing a 47% to 41% split in the vote is correct. Let us suppose that the don’t know‘s and the strong no‘s boycott the next indy-ref, so only those who are weak no‘s (they feel there should be a vote even though they still intend to vote no, e.g. they are married or to a yes voter) and yes voters show up to the polls. Well do the maths and with a turn out of just 48% the SNP could exceed the plurality of the Brexit vote (in this scenario the result would be 77% for and 23% against). And if we assume that the turn out for an Indy ref2 is the same as the EU referendum (67%, again strong no‘s and don’t know’s stay away, leaving the poll to be fought between the weak no‘s and the yes voters). The likely result will be about 67% yes, 33% no with a plurality of 45%.

So I’m afraid the “Spanish option” would likely be a total disaster for the Tories, not least because after 6-12 months of a one sided campaign from the SNP, public opinion won’t be split 47/41, probably the margin will be much higher and therefore the SNP’s margin of victory will be a lot higher. Its not too difficult to see them exceeding a plurality of 50%.

All the Tories will do with such a tactic is guarantee a very wide margin of victory to the SNP. And then what are they going to do? They can’t veto Scotland’s EU membership like they threatened to do last time. They can’t deny the Scot’s the pound if they set up their own currency (actually Whitehall will now be more worried about the Scot’s refusing to take on their share of the UK’s national debt). Armed with a democratic mandate that exceeds that of the Tories, it will be very difficult for them to stop Scottish independence.

And while the EU will be reluctant to recognise Scottish independence, they will not ignore the result and will likely insist that post-Brexit negotiations only consider the rUK, opening separate talks directly with Edinburgh.

The vow mark II

Last time, Scottish independence was partially thwarted thanks to a last minute intervention by Gordon Brown, culminating in the infamous vow. Could the same happen again?

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There is already a post-brexit proposal for a federal UK in which all powers, excluding defence and foreign policy are devolved to the regions and a new English parliament. There would be either a shared currency with the pound becoming essentially like a mini-eurozone, or each nation would develop its own currency pegged to a fixed exchange rate.

This could well be sufficient to allow Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar to stay in the UK and also in the EU. While the Spanish (again) will deny this, there is a precedence here. Greenland is part of Denmark, but not in the EU, even though the rest of Denmark is in the EU. So its not beyond the scope of legal argument for this to work.

However, the rest of the UK would have to agree to this. And Theresa May isn’t exactly the sort of PM we could see signing up for it (she’s a bit authoritarian). Without a clear mandate prior to a vote, you’d be asking Scot’s to choose between a possibly maybe and the certainty of independence. That doesn’t sound like it will work.

And also, there’s the issue of credibility. There are many Scot’s who feel that the vow was never delivered on. While the Tories would argue no we did deliver on the vow, but this is a bit like paying a kid to cut your lawn, and he sets it on fire. Okay, he did reduce the height of the grass, but its not quite what you were expecting.

Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

The uncertainty principle

So all in all, a second independence referendum will be a very different affair. The SNP won’t have everything their own way. They’ve got some difficult questions to answer. The stakes are higher now, post-brexit. But equally, the Tories now face some serious challenges. Trying to fight an independence referendum while negotiating Brexit, with all of their broken promises dug up by the SNP and spat back at them, its not going to be easy. And ignoring the problem and hoping that it goes away, will all but guarantee that Scottish independence happens.

So in the absence of a reversal of the Brexit referendum, I don’t see how a 2nd independence referendum can be stopped. But will independence happen? Last time my assumption was probably not, but I could just about see Cameron screwing things up enough to make it a possibility. Now however, I’d call the odds 50/50, perhaps higher. But that’s what’s really changed, I don’t see how anyone could predict the outcome this time.

News roundup

The 2nd longest suicide note in history

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The Republican national convention is currently kicking off and things aren’t off to a great start. The cops are calling for the state’s open carry law to be suspended (after recent police shootings they’ve come to realise that the solution to a bad guy with a gun is and making sure he’s not armed, and not hiding in a crowd of 100 other armed nutters). And with the cult of Trump in town and lots of angry anti-Trump protesters, trouble is all but guaranteed.

Many leading republicans are skipping the convention (and probably with all the guns are very glad to do so!) as they want to stay well away from the train wreck otherwise known as Trump. As a result the roster of speakers at the convention is a little thin, even Trump’s wife and daughter is having to speak, oh and the boss of the Trump winery (presumably to help push Trump’s merchandise). About the only senior republicans speaking are Paul Ryan (who has to speak, someone from congress had to show up and he drew the short straw), Chris Christie (aka, Trump’s official sidekick) and Newt Gingrich (Trump’s wannabe sidekick).

Meanwhile the policy agenda that will be endorsed at the convention includes a number of extremely conservative positions. For example porn is labelled a “public health crisis, they want to crack down of gays, introduce “gay conversion therapy” (I don’t know either, maybe get them to watch porn…oh no wait didn’t we just ban that?), banning abortion, etc. They’ve even managed to piss off the ADL. Although to be fair, as Israel is not a US state and both Trump and his supporters are clueless to anything outside the US, it would have to be pointed out to them on a map.

The GOP has avoided including such toxic policies in the past, because they know they would never get through congress (even some Republicans would vote against them!) and even then they would likely be struck down by the the Supreme court. All you’re doing is loading a gun with ammo for the democrats to blast away at them with for the next four months. Trump’s manifesto could well go down as the 2nd longest political suicide note in history.

Already comparisons are being drawn to the disastrous convention of 1992. Back then the GOP had spent several years trying to woo white evangelicals such as Jerry Farwell’s “moral majority” into the big GOP tent. Up till then many christian conservatives had not voted because the party of Lincoln was after all the party that freed the slaves, while the democrats had decided that minorities had all sorts of “rights” and you couldn’t like lynch em or burn crosses on their lawns no more (bloody liberals!).

Anyway this plan backfired with the Christian conservatives effectively hijacking the GOP policy committee and forced it to adopt various right wing policies, not unlike those Trump is now endorsing. This appalled many moderate Republicans, who took the view that the GOP was supposed to be the party of small government, not the party that advocates an authoritarian state that dictates what people do in the privacy of their own homes.

Consequently G. W. Bush, whose campaign was already behind due to a struggling economy, was from this point on all but guaranteed to lose to rank outsider Bill Clinton (whom most people had never heard of at the time). And lose by a significant margin he did, becoming one of the few US presidents in recent times not to win a 2nd term in office.

And to make matters worse for the GOP, the fall out from the convention led to a resurgence in support towards the third party campaign of Ross Perot’s. Now while this took as many votes away from Clinton as it did Bush, the fallout carried over into the 1996 election, where again Perot ran on a ticket appealing to small government moderate Republicans, the people edged out or booed off stage in the 1992 convention. And again, he cost the GOP precious votes all but guaranteeing Clinton a 2nd term.

So while this will be an awful sickening coronation of Trump, it also could well be a funeral of sorts for any hope of the Republicans winning diddly squat for a good few years.

Police shootings
Recent police shootings in America are cause for concern, although statistics do suggest that the overall situation isn’t quite as bad as might be thought. Cop killings have been steadily falling for sometime now.

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However, certainly the toxic atmosphere of recent months means that the police forces in America are loosing public support. It is argued that the police are only police because we the public consent to them their authority to uphold the law. If this consent is withdrawn, well they ain’t much more than a rent-a-cop mall guard. And should any cops be wondering how to tell if you’ve lost the support of the community, well when they start shooting you just for being cops, that’s probably it!

But getting shot at is only the start. And to be honest tighter gun control would solve that problem. Its the inability for police to do their job that’s the danger. If the public don’t trust the police, they won’t rely on them in a crisis, they’ll turn to someone else, likely the local Mr Big. The rise of the Mafia in America, first the Irish mob, then the Italian mob, was borne out of the fact that these immigrant communities did not trust the cops. History is in effect repeating itself.

Trident vote

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The UK is voting on Trident renewal. The Tories have been accused of only holding it now to help destabilise the labour party. And the price tag? A snip at £205 billion, or to put it in Brexit bus terms that’s £569 million a month for the next 30 years.

However, I cannot help but notice that if the vote were being held north of the border, the result would be very difference. Only one MP is planning on vote for Trident, (David Mundell, the only Tory MP in Scotland), all the rest are either abstaining or voting against it. Is this because the missiles are based in Scotland, while the armchair chicken hawks chatter about it in Westminster, or is it because Scot’s can add and subtract and realise its a complete waste of money?

Indy Ref2 next year?
Theresa May met with Nicola Sturgeon last week to discuss the consequences of Brexit and the possiblity of a further referendum (on the EU or Scottish independence). I assume it didn’t go so well, because within hours of it ending we were hearing murmurings of a possible 2nd Scottish independence referendum in early 2017.

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Let us be clear about what is going on here. Yes the SNP want Scottish independence, but unlike Cameron they aren’t morons. Yes, the polls do show that the ground has shifted, with several polls now showing a clear (but sometimes narrow) lead for independence. But you can never guarantee anything leading into a referendum, not unless you are well ahead (and recall remain had a ten point lead at the start of the EU referendum). It would make sense for the SNP to wait as long as possible before calling a referendum. And they also realise that they have to explore every possible alternative before committing to one.

On the other hand, the Tories attempt to stonewall the Scot’s is making it very easy for the SNP. The Tories are trying to ignore this shift in the polls, ignoring the very narrow majority in the EU referendum, not to mention the fact that only 37% of the electorate actually voted for Brexit and many millions (EU citizens and British citizens abroad) were denied the right to vote, as were students not at their term time addresses. And of course an overwhelming proportion of Scot’s voted against leaving the EU.

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Of course there’s an obvious horse trade here. The Tories allow the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish assemblies some input to the terms of Brexit. And furthermore, a requirement it is ratified either by all four parliaments, or via another referendum. However, the Tories seem to be ignoring this, same way they are ignoring the fact that the EU referendum result is not legally binding and that they may face obstacles getting it through Westminster. As a result the same Tory arrogance that led them into the first inde-ref (and the EU referendum) could well be their undoing this time around.

Vote leave bus rebranded by Greenpeace
Greenpeace have somehow managed to get their hands on the infamous Brexit bus with all of the misleading slogans on it. I was surprised by this, as I assumed that, like the Edstone, it would have been destroyed….ritually burned….presumably with Gove still inside!

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Anyway, it would appear Greenpeace plan to “correct” the messages on it and drive around with it as a “vehicle for truth”.

The Tories thought that they could tell a few lies to the public, so that Boris could get to be PM, but what harm could it do, I mean who remembers politician’s promises? I mean remember when that Clegg fellow made that promise to students about fees, why they forgot about that within a week. No way this £350 million claim will come back to haunt them, next election, would it?….ah no!

The Brexit camp have created a enormous level of distrust by their actions. And yes, this £350 million claim did sway voters, and yes they expect it to be honoured, I had a conversation with someone who repeated the claim a few days ago (he seemed to think taxes were about to go down after Boris told em we’ll not be paying the £350 million anymore). Couple that with the fact that there will be little if any change to immigration rules and you could argue the Tories have made life very tough for themselves. Ironically there are worries for the future of NHS funding post-Brexit.

And if there is another indy-ref next year and project fear is resurrected, what’s the bet that the SNP counter is, these are the same people who told us we could save £350 million a week by leaving the EU. If you could write anything on the Tories party’s tombstone (well aside from ding dong the witch is dead!) it would be this £350 million a week claim.

Mrs Fracking
There are growing concerns about the axing of the DECC, which I discussed in a prior post. But worse the decision to hand over part of its responsibilities to Andrea “Fruitcake” Landsom has been called into question. She’s a pro-Fracking, climate Skeptic known for her extreme views. I could argue that its putting the fox in charge of the hen house, but actually she’d shoot the fox (she’s pro-fox hunting) and burn down the hen house to save it. She’s also on record as arguing against farm subsidies, which is obviously very worrying for farmers, who are already anxious over the consequences of Brexit.

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I mean Tim Peake got back from Space, learnt about Brexit, Trump and all that’s happened since he left and tried to rush back into the capsule (okay, not quite!).