Brexit border troubles

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The Northern Irish border

I’ve discussed before how much of the Tories rhetoric regarding brexit falls apart if they want to keep an open border with southern Ireland. The Irish government has pointed out that this will be unworkable if they UK ends free movement and has therefore suggested that the border posts are moved to all entry ports onto the Island of Ireland, effectively turn Northern Ireland into a British overseas territory, which happens to share a land border with the EU.

They are prepared to help the British in some way with border control on the Island of Ireland, which it has to be acknowledged is a major concession by the Irish (they are in no way obliged to do anything), but there’s a limit to what they can do. If a Polish migrant shows up, we can take a photo of him, scan his passport, etc. tell him sternly not to go to Northern Ireland, but if he goes outside the airport and hops on a bus straight to Belfast, well there ain’t a lot we can do about that.

Now the Tories tell us, oh we’ll rig the border with cameras and electronic monitoring equipment. Ya so you’ll get a picture of our Polish migrant’s bus going North as it always does at that time every day. Short of the Polish guy stick his head out the window while holding his passport, this electronic border won’t work. And he can always just live in the South and commute by car to work in the North. And the Tories do realise there’s at least 200 crossing points and that’s just those on the main trunk roads, some of which cross the border multiple times in a few miles. And as the picture above shows, much of the border is simply open hillside, or a farmers field.

And if our Polish migrant gets to a ferry port keep in mind there are no customs controls, nor border guards. You need photo ID to board a ferry, but there’s no passport control. There’s some British transport police and some rent-a-cop security guards on duty. But regardless of how suspicious they are that someone with a Polish driving license might be a fence jumper, they can’t really do anything. And anyway, I know plenty of non-British people with a British driving license (all you need to do is request one and so long as you’ve a European driving license they’ll give you one) and similarly you can easily get an Irish one if you are from the EU. So there will be no way to stop these migrants getting into the rest of the UK.

So what the Irish are basically saying is that the proposed UK immigration controls won’t work, they’ll be just window dressing to fool the bigot brigade into thinking they’ve got tight border controls. This perhaps is where the Irish are being a little naïve, Theresa May and co probably know they won’t work because they don’t actually want to restrict immigration, they just want to pretend they are. But either way the Irish solution does kind of make sense, doesn’t it?

Well not if you’re the DUP (who are debating whether next they should have traffic lights set up so that orange means go and green means stop, or whether they should ask for the Giant’s causeway to be extended to Scotland). They naturally worry that this will loosen the ties between them and the UK, and thus be a step towards reunification. And this is where Theresa May’s decision to go into coalition with the DUP was very foolish, as she’s now likely to be forced to either give in to the Irish, and then potentially see her government collapse, or concede to the DUP and have no effective border controls post-brexit (and once the bigot brigade catch her at that, they’ll stop voting Tory and start voting UKIP or BNP).

The Irish have already indicated that if they don’t see some movement from the UK on this issue, they might not co-operate with the British post-brexit, potentially leading to a breakdown in policing along the Irish border. Which is bad news, because as I’ve pointed out before, its not people we should be worrying about as regards the Irish border, its goods and contraband. The smugglers will have a field day. Those cameras will get nice lovely pictures of lorries filled with cigarettes, booze, petrol and even meat or milk heading North.

And with the UK outside of the free trade area and 10-30% tariff on all sales, plus tax rates up 20-30% on top of that they will make a killing. And speaking of which, many of these smugglers are associated with terrorist organisations, so most of that funding will fill the coffers of various dissident groups in the North. The drop in tax revenue and a flood of cheap goods will bankrupt the northern Irish economy and undermine the economy of the rest of the UK (once “washed” in Northern Ireland it will be impossible to stop this contraband making its way on to ships and into the UK mainland), making reunification a matter of when rather than if.

And its not just cheap fags and booze that the smugglers will be shipping, but drugs as well and weapons. The rough and rugged terrain of the Irish west coast, with its thousands of bays and inlets is impossible to police. So the focus instead is mainly on going after the dealers in the major cities and the smugglers shifting it off the Island. Without co-operation with the Irish police about the only thing that will get cheaper in the UK post-brexit is the street price of crack cocaine.

There are essentially only three ways this can end 1) The UK goes for a soft brexit and remains in the single market with free movement. 2) A hard border likely leading to the troubles reigniting and the British army gets to referee IED bombing contests between the different factions….forever….while the northern Irish economy implodes, this will likely lead to…..3) Northern Ireland unites with the South and leaves the UK. The Brexiters have to pick which these three options they want.

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Why tuition fees have to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So much for strong and stable!

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

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

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

The Yellow Submarine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The great British weather

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

The Jock vote

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In Scotland the parties fought for every vote

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

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

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

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

Lessons learnt

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

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

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

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

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

Send in the clowns

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

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Theresa May is greeted by her new coalition partners

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

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

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

Rolling back the years

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

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

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

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

You’re ambassador, lord Farage will see you now

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.

figure-5

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

cellphones-and-cars

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).