The sadopopulist agenda behind brexit

The EU looked on last week with incredulity and disbelief, as an agreement they’d thrashed out with Theresa May, which would have settled the first round of brexit talks was torpedoed at the eleventh hour, apparently by the DUP, a small fringe party in Northern Ireland. As I’ve mentioned in a prior post, the UK’s reputation is taking a battering from these brexit talks. To many in the EU it seems like the country is unable to make any sort of decision, even when you’ve got the PM in the room (remind me, when exactly did we elect Arlene Foster as PM?). As one German newspaper put it “Brexit is the biggest political nonsense since the Roman Emperor Caligula decided to appoint his favourite horse as consul”.

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The EU showed up for talks on day one with well thumbed piles of documents, the British have one notebook between three of them….

And meanwhile back in the UK we had a conclusion to a long running saga involving the brexit secretary Dave2, who has been charged with contempt of parliament, with calls for him to be locked in the tower. This may have gone under the radar of international news, but briefly for many months now MP’s have been asking Dave2 and his department for information on their planning on the impact of brexit on specific sectors of the economy. For example, I highlighted in a prior article how leaving the EU will mean the UK leaving the EU nuclear regulatory agency and open skies agreement (which technically means that as things stand, with no agreement with the EU, nuclear reactors might have to shut down and planes stop flying for several months after April 1st 2019).

But Dave2 kept giving evasive answers along the lines of, oh we’ve got lots of boffins working on this, don’t worry your pretty little working class heads, we all went to a posh boarding schools……and we smoke pipes. Naturally, this convinced many MP’s that these impact assessments might contain some very bad news, which the government was trying to cover up. So they pressed him further, calling for a parliamentary vote on the matter (requiring that the documents be handed over), which he lost. He then tried to stall for time, portraying the MP’s as 5th columnists working for the EU, which is kind of silly when one of those MP’s happens to Jacob Rees-Mogg (on the right of both the Tories and the brexiters).

Well finally this week MP’s managed to corner Dave2 and he revealed that actually he’d been lying there are no impact assessments. When he was stalling for time, it wasn’t to give him time to censor the reports and take out anything incriminating, instead it involved him and his staff rapidly cutting and pasting stuff off the internet to placate MP’s. Yes, a year and half after the brexit vote and the UK government still has no clue what the impact of it will be, nor how they are going to prepare for it. “Fu*ked if we know!” is the official government position on the impact of brexit.

Of course this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Plenty of independent studies have been conducted into the impact of brexit, both before and since the referendum. Prior to the referendum the government commissioned its own studies, which were generally negative about the UK’s prospects post-brexit. Given that the circumstances haven’t changed much, its reasonable to assume that any impact assessments would show the same thing and it hardly helps the brexiters case for their own department to conclude they are cutting off their own nose to spite their face.

And there was worse to come. Philip Hammond, generally seen as the grown up in the room also revealed to MP’s that there had been no comprehensive discussions by the cabinet as to what the UK’s brexit strategy or final end state was going to be. It would appear the cabinet is split into two factions, with Phil and Amber in one corner rocking back and forward muttering OMG, while in at the other end of the room the brexiters have been jerking one another off as they watch the movie Dambusters over and over again as they dream of empire 2.0.

To say this is bad is an understatement. As the military say, its the Seven Ps of Planning: Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Pis* Poor Performance. Yet it is now clear that the UK has entered into brexit talks without any sort of plan. All this poker talk about noting wanting to reveal their hand to the EU has been bunk, the EU (and anyone with half a brain) has known all along what’s going on, the UK has no cards to play, they don’t even know what they want.

And worse still, good politics is about compromise and trade off’s. In politics nobody ever gets to have their cake and eat it. You want to restrict immigration? okay, but you do realise that’s going to curtail economic growth (by creating labour shortages), push up taxes and mean longer NHS waiting times. What to re-nationalise the railways (as Corbyn wants)? Yep, we can do that. But its going to take some time to implement, will be legally difficult (as the train companies might be reluctant to simply hand over their franchise rights and might fight the government in court). And there’s no point in going down this road unless you are willing to put the sort of cash into the railways to bring them up to European standards (which means again, likely you are looking at putting up taxes).

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The problem from the start with the brexiters has been they don’t even seem to be aware of the idea that such trade off’s are necessary. The situation with the Irish border being a case in point. Any kind of change to the customs arrangements will mean a hard border between the UK and EU. Such a hard border would open a huge can of worms and it would not be popular abroad, notably with Washington, where opposition to a hard border has bipartisan support in Congress.

Once you accept this reality it leaves only two options. The UK stays in the customs union and becomes an associate member of the EU (meaning it can’t negotiate separate trade deals, indeed it will have no say whatsoever as to the terms of the trade deals the EU negotiates….and will have to keep paying into the EU budget). Or we put the border at the Irish sea and tell the DUP, well if you don’t like it we can have a border poll, would you prefer that instead?

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Dumb and dumber, spot the difference

The brexiters don’t even seem to be aware, nor wish to even acknowledge, that such trade off’s exist, leads one to conclude that the Tory brexiters have to be the dumbest most incompetent bunch of clowns to ever be put in charge of a major government. I heard someone suggest the other day that they should do a brexit special addition of the thick of it. Actually, we are now at the stage where reality has outrun satire…..

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……Or there is another explanation? The history professor Tim Snyder recently coined the term Sadopopulism to describe how the wealthy and the oligarch’s are dealing with the post-truth age.

Basically, the rich can’t rely any more on their traditional tactics of bullying centrist parties (via their control of the media) into adopting favourable policies. The deficiencies in those policies have been exposed, increasingly centrist parties are reluctant to play ball and they’ve lost a lot of support due to the blow back. The rich can’t rely on the extreme left (as they’d lock them up!), nor the extreme right. The fascists would shoot them all (then steal their stuff!) while libertarianism would likely lead to anarchy and possibly the rise of other oligarch’s who’d challenge them (then shoot them and steal their stuff!).

So instead, they rely on populism to target some easily identified scapegoats, the poor, migrants, ethnic minorities, Muslims, etc. They then undertake policies that are intentionally designed to cause harm (this were the “sado” element comes in). And to be clear this isn’t raising/lowering taxes kind of stuff, which makes everyone better off, other than a small minority (again, politics is about trade off’s). This is policies that will intentionally hurt more or less everyone (save the elites themselves of course!). They can then point out, ya you’ve got it bad, but its all the fault of poor people/migrants who are now even worse off. And after all some of those poor people did vote for Trump/brexit, so now they are being punished for that.

Its worth noting that this theory is backed up by studies into monkeys. In situations where other monkey’s were rewarded for effort that they put in, some actually opted not to reward, even those this decreased the changes of them being rewarded in turn. In other words they’d accept being worse off just to spite others.

So its possible, much like the recent tax cuts in the US, the answer here is the brexiters might be intentionally playing dumb. They know their negotiation strategy won’t work, they know they are committing an act of national self harm, that’s the whole point! Then while the country is reeling from the aftermath, they can slip through a few bills stripping workers of their rights and they’ll have the excuse to privatise the NHS (and sell it off to themselves). As the character Littlefinger on Game of Thrones put it, chaos is a ladder.

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Shameless hypocrisy and the cult of fantasy

Well you do have to hand it to the republicans. If you are going to tell a lie or con someone, better to go for the big con. And so we have their tax plan, that will give billionaires a massive tax cut, yet put up the taxes on middle income Americans (after a brief interlude of 4 years). At the same time it will blow a massive hole in the US government budget, causing the deficit to skyrocket.

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A pair of liberals (Jeff Sessions and some chicken little called Paul Ryan) spread fake news about the dangers of deficit spending

Exactly how much higher the US deficit will rise to is unclear, some say $1 trillion another report estimates $1.7 trillion (against a current deficit of $440 billion, so a doubling or quadrupling of the deficit). Suffice to say this makes a mockery of the GOP mantra throughout the Obama era. We were told, from the very first days of the tea party that their objection to Obama was because he was black because he was spending way too much money and threatening the health of America’s finances. Several times they threatened to shut down the federal government because they refused to raise the US debt ceiling. Now blink and they’re saying well bolix to that, my new Gulfstream ain’t going to buy itself.

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Of course, this is hardly a huge surprise. For Republicans the deficit has long been a political football. They’ll use it against the democrats when they are in power, then spend like a sailor on shore leave afterwards. The five most recent Republican presidents have all run deficits, generally worse than their democratic predecessor, with Reagan being the worst offender (although Trump/Pence will almost certainly now exceed him) and Bill Clinton being the only recent US president to return a significant budget surplus.

Obama did indeed run up some large deficits, which means he stands out from other recent democratic presidents (who ran much smaller deficits, or ran a surplus). But he was dealing with one of the worst recession in ninety years, a crisis which was the fault of the Republicans and their mismanagement of the banks. He certainly didn’t bring this deficit down nearly as quickly as he should have, that is true. But in his defence he did try to cut spending and proposed some tax increases, but the Republicans fought every step of the way.

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Tax cuts to the wealthy have consistently had the opposite effect republicans claim

Now the GOP will no doubt claim, oh but this will stimulate the economy and create loads of jobs, which will then increase tax revenue. Well firstly there is very little evidence to prove that these supply side economics actually works, indeed if anything the evidence suggests the opposite is true. The economy is like an orchestra. Lots of different factors come together to make it work. You need inward investment, a reliable energy source, a stable political system, an educated workforce, access to foreign markets, etc. Although one must note Trump’s proposed protectionist measures will likely impact on a number of these and could well restrict economic growth.

And when we say the economy is like an orchestra its perhaps better to look on it as more like a school band. It succeeds in battering out a tune, not because of the idiot in the back out of sync with the rest of the band, but despite him. But the GOP, like the parents of this spoilt little brat, filter out all of that and assume the band’s success is all down to their little darling’s ill timed and out of tune musical torture.

But even if we give the GOP the benefit of the doubt, the level of growth that would be necessary to reduce the deficit is pretty significant. Do the maths and you’ll see that US economy would have to grow by a rate of 30-50% over 5 years (6-10% per year!) to cancel out this deficit. That would require a level of economic growth equivalent to China or Ireland in the 2000’s, which is simply not going to happen. Especially when you factor in the impact of the baby boomer retirements, which will pull tens of millions of taxpayers out of the work force and then claiming their retirement benefits.

What about cutting spending? While the GOP don’t mention it in these tax plans, its almost certain when these colossal deficits become evident massive spending cuts will have to follow. Indeed, this might be the whole point of the tax cut, because it will give them the excuse to basically sell of the US federal government (to themselves!). Well the flaw in this plan is, like I said earlier, Obama tried that, but the only things with enough zeros behind them that could be cut and make a difference to the deficit are things like defence spending or retirement funding. And those are the very sacred cows the GOP won’t cut. Obamacare, for the record, was set up to be revenue neutral (it costs money but by making workers healthier and more productive it should cancel out its own impact on the deficit).

Cutting out whole government departments (as the GOP proposes) on the one hand, won’t cut the budget enough and secondly will leave key economic sectors effectively an unregulated wild west. The financial crisis, the collapse of ENRON and various other scandals of the G. W. Bush era showed the dangers of such deregulation (and again most of Obama’s deficit was run up repairing the damage from these crises). So budget cuts of this kind would cause more harm than help. Its the equivalent of setting your house on fire in the middle of a blizzard in order to keep warm.

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But anyone looking to debate Republicans on this issue is wasting their time. We need to recognise the fact that American conservatives aren’t a political movement any more (they’d need these things called “policies” first!) they are basically a cult. A cult of angry people who’ve concluded that solving the problems that make them angry sounds like a lot of hard work, so instead they’ve placed the comforting lies of their demagogue leaders above facts and decided to go urinate in a ballot box. This is not strictly speaking a right wing phenomenon (Corbyn’s supporters in the UK, Sinn Fein in Ireland, etc.) but it has certainly taken over the political right to a much greater extend.

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Trump the brilliant business man managed to lose money in the one industry where the house always wins!

Indeed, so much so that it wouldn’t be accurate to call American conservatives Christians anymore either. Many even go so far as to suggest they’d believe the word of Trump over the words of Jesus. This is a cult that is openly anti-intellectual and hostile to facts of any kind.

Consider the fact that Trump now claims things he was caught on tape saying never occurred. There’s phenomenon with US shootings, going right back to Columbine High, where every time a shooting occurs, conspiracy theories flood the internet, often leading to the victims of said shootings and their families being harassed and threatened by pro-gun activists.

Now the problem with these fantasy cults is that they are entirely self destructive and self defeating. As the woes of the brexiters demonstrate the aren’t going to get to have their cake and eat it. They will almost certainly leave the UK worse off than it was prior to brexit. And longer term, the likely outcome will be either the UK rejoins the EU (on not nearly as generous terms as it now enjoys) or the UK probably breaks up. For anyone who voted for brexit as some sort of protest against the Tories, well firstly you’re an idiot and secondly for the next two decades the priority for the government (whether its labour or the Tories in power) will be brexit and dealing with the fallout afterwards. Meanwhile your local public services will wither and die, your local hospital will close….or be sold off to some American multinational. You essentially voted to be ignored even more than you were being ignored before.

And the second problem, as Trump demonstrates, is that while these demagogues can’t fulfil their outlandish promises, they can use their time in office to feather their own nests and do a few favours for those who helped them into power, as these tax cuts and a number of Trump’s political appointments demonstrates.

As with the brexiters, any angry Trump voters who voted for him so that those pricks in Washington will pay attention to the forgotten America. Well you’re a moron. And now you’ll be ignored and forgotten even more. And the likely outcome of your decision is national bankruptcy. Which given how massively dependant many mid-west (and generally Republican voting states) are on federal spending will spell disaster, as many in these states are reduced to penury.

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The only socialism in America, aside from tax cuts for billonaires, is liberal voting states propping the economies of republican voting states

In short, voting for “populists”, or the cult of fantasy as we should really call them, is the equivalent of the chickens voting to put the fox in charge of the hen house, just because he promised to built a wall around the hen house and make the wolves pay for it. This begs the question, what happens with this process runs its course and the lies of the cult of fantasy are exposed and the followers realise they’ve been had.

Well firstly don’t expect that to happen any time soon. I mean look what’s happened to many cults throughout history. Many literally go down in flames with their cult leader (blaming his enemies for forcing him into killing them all), long after it should be obvious they’ve been conned. It will take sometime for the penny to drop.

I guarantee you, a decade from now the line the Daily Mail will take is that the UK was forced out of the EU against its will. And its economic woes since then are all the fault of the EU and the handful of migrants that are still allowed into the country (who will presumably be forced to go around wearing little yellow stars). Whoever is the poor unfortunate sap of a democrat who has to clean up the massive deficit mess left behind by Trump and co. will be blamed by fox news for the very mess Trump is now creating. Why they will say with nostalgia can’t we go back to those glorious times when Trump was in charge. And why can’t we name some national landmarks after him (because you’ve already named everything after Reagan!).

Its possible that we could see the collapse of the mainstream parties and the rise of some sort of third way, as was seen in France recently. But the electoral system in both the US and UK are more or less designed to make it impossible for any alternatives to the two party system to emerge. So my guess is that the end result of the cult of fantasy is that governments will become ever more extreme, with lurching to the extremes of the right and then the left, getting more authoritarian with every iteration. Meanwhile nothing gets done, nothing changes and the problems build up until its possible the whole system of western style democracy might well collapse. Unfortunately I suspect Putin’s Russia is a template for what we can expect future governments to look like.

Brexit reality bites

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So before the referendum we were told that there would be no exit bill when the UK left the EU. We won’t be paying a penny. As Boris Johnson put it the EU would be told to “go whistle” for its money. We’d stare Fritz straight in the eye and say nien…..

…….of course what the brexiters didn’t mention is that we weren’t hearing them right. Rather than saying “nein” what they actually planned to say to the EU was “nine“, as in “is ninety billion euro’s ok?“.Once Britain’s rebate on EU assets is taken into account, this will result in a net payment by the UK of £50-60 billion, depending on the breaks…paid in euros btw!

We were told the PM could never agree to this. That there would be rioting in the streets, the tabloids would abandon her (what and throw their lot in with Corbyn?) and the cabinet would resign en-mass. And this morning…..nothing. Largely because the brexiters want the news cycle to move on. They were warned repeatedly that this day would come, before and after the referendum and I mean years before. The truth is most of them merely see brexit as a ladder to further their careers and they understand full well it is an act of national self harm. No matter what happens the UK will be worse off after brexit, that is the unescapable truth.

In these “talks” Brussels holds all the cards. The EU doesn’t have to be nasty about it. As Donald Tusk advised at the start of this process, the mere act of brexit will be punishment enough on Britain (a punishment that was self inflicted by the UK on itself). Sixty million do not dictate terms to a trade block of 500 million, especially when the leadership of said 60 million can’t even agree what it is that they want. Expect similar climb downs on the Irish border and the ECJ in the coming weeks.

And the EU was very clear that this money is not buying the UK a trade deal. What the UK is buying is a choice between a Norway plus model that will grant free access to EU markets, but at the expense of surrendering sovereignty to Brussels, paying about 90% of what the UK currently pays into the EU budget and only very limited changes to freedom of movement. Or a Canadian style arrangement, although that will be incompatible with an open border in Ireland, so some compromise will be needed here, likely by throwing the unionists under the bus.

Its worth nothing that there are two unionist parties in the Northern Ireland, the DUP and the UUP. The UUP campaigned for a remain vote, not because they are a bunch of hummus eating europhiles. But because, unlike the DUP, they aren’t moronically stupid. They understood all too well that Westminster will prioritise English interests over the interests of a couple of bigoted creationists in Northern Ireland. If that means effectively paving the way to a united Ireland, well so be it. So before Arelene Foster has a tissy, keep in mind she is in a mess of her making.

Now a word from the UK’s greatest ally

Indeed there were question marks about who tweeted those 3 racist videos to Trump. I’d guess that would be Trump’s British drinking buddy, Nigel Farage (who has well known associations with the UK far right). He correctly guessed that Trump would re-tweet them, burying the brexit divorce bill story and taking it off the front pages. However Trump’s outbursts and his rebuke to Theresa May should underline the other problem with brexit. In effect, if we follow through with the brexiters plan, the UK is trading sovereignty it shares with EU states and handing that sovereignty into the sweaty palms of Donald Trump. Its not so much a case of the UK becoming the 51st state (that would give the UK voting rights in US elections), its the UK becoming another Puerto Rico.

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Again as always, the brexiters are poor students of history. If they’d paid more attention, they’d know the period from the end of World War 2 to the UK joining the EU was a frustrating time for the UK. Time and again, the UK found its interests being trampled on by a now dominant US. The Suez crisis, numerous proxy wars fought out in commonwealth countries during the cold war and the Skybolt crisis to name a few. The Skybolt crisis did work out rather well for the UK in the end, but it so frustrated them that, according to De Gaulle, this was one of the reasons why the UK wanted to join the EU in the first place.

After the UK joined, the relationship improved, simply because the US needed an ally in the EU clubhouse. Now that the UK is leaving, that abusive relationship of the past is going to resume (much as I predicted would happen back in 2011). I mean can you imagine any past UK PM (assuming the UK voted remain) putting up with Donald Trump in the way Theresa May has had too? The UK has no choice now but to put up with whatever abuse they get from the US, regardless of who is in charge. Meanwhile the French are already positioning themselves to be America’s new best buddy inside the EU.

But we’re going to at least get a great trade deal off the US aren’t we? Well when Trump says it will be “great”, he means for the US. The UK, notably UK farmers and manufacturers are going to get screwed six ways.

So the can anyone who voted leave please explain to me how paying £50-60 billion to get the crap beaten out of us by both the EU and US, risking the peace of the good Friday agreement and ultimately becoming a vassal state of the US, is a good idea. I mean if the brexiters want to get robbed and beaten up that badly, just go to into any pub in Glasgow and tell em how great it is to be in jolly old England….

 

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.

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

assembly-election-2017

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.