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.

The libertarian slavery paradox

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The Political compass as libertarians see it

I happened to be watching the remake of the TV series Roots recently (based on the Alex Haley novel) and it did occur to me how it creates a bit of a troubling problem for libertarians. They like to see themselves as the ultimate liberals at the opposite end of the political compass to nazi’s and authoritarians. However I would argue that logic would dictate that any libertarian society would inevitably eventually become a slave owning society.

Think about it, in a libertarian society if someone owes you money or compensation for something, how do you get them to pay? Let’s suppose someone did a shoddy job tiling your roof, or he ran over your 6 year old kid and she’s now paralysed for life and needs expensive treatment, or someone simply defaults on their loans to a bank without paying (which is bad news for savers, recall there will be no federal insurance on banks under libertarianism, if enough borrowers default the bank goes under). Without a government, in a libertarian society with lax law enforcement and little to no regulations means that courts will be toothless. And without some sort of authority to enforce the law people, in particular the wealthy with their vast fortunes and private armies, can simply ignore the law. And those at the very bottom, can simply shrug their shoulders and say, well I’m broke, I’ve got nothing to pay with, I own no property, so your screwed, now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go get drunk, then drive to the park and fire my gun at squirrels near where your children play.

And the thing is that this wouldn’t only be allowed in a libertarian society, it would be considered a perfectly moral act. Libertarians often claim to follow the philosophy of Objectivism, which basically amounts to saying that its okay to be a selfish jerk and that being a kind and caring person who gives the slightest thought for others is morally wrong. In such a society, it would be considered okay to default on debts and basically screw everyone else over. This will be normal. But if everyone did that, society would quickly fall apart. Banks won’t lend money to anybody, even those with good credit. Doctors would refuse treatment without payment up front (and patients with any sense would refuse to pay until the treatment was completed). Without some sort of a system (let’s call it “a government”) to make sure people honour their obligations, the whole economy would unravel.

Now libertarians would say, oh but we’ll just have this code of honour whereby if anyone does something bad we’ll give them a terrible review on Facebook or something. Ya, and is that actually going to help? Donald Trump went bankrupt four times, you’d think after the 2nd time people would have learnt the lesson not to lend him money. You’d think nobody, least of all libertarians would have voted for him, but here we are. There are a host of well known scams around, many of them simply modern takes on old con tricks, yet thousands still fall for them every day.

They have this TV programme on UK TV called “Rogue Traders” where they set up a sting operation and catch various con-artists, dodgy used car salesmen, telemarketing fraudsters, cowboy builders and rogue tradesmen and then essentially name and shame them. Thing is, very few end up out of business. Some of them keep appearing in multiple episodes, sometimes under a new name or sometimes openly trading under the same name (one even put “as seen on rogue traders” on the side of his van!). Generally what’s stopped these people becoming season regulars is that the authorities eventually caught up with them and put them out of business.

But in a libertarian society there’s no authority and no social safety net. So how do you enforce any sort of law or civil suit? My guess is that what will happen is when the repo men arrive to cart away someone’s stuff, if they don’t find enough stuff to pay the debt, they’ll take away the debtor and his family and force them to work off the debt. This is pretty much how slavery worked in a number of society’s throughout history and how the practice of bonded labour works to this day.

Now libertarians will no doubt say, no we’ll outlaw slavery. But its going to be impossible to enforce that when the rich and the powerful have their own private goon squad. And unfortunately even in this day and age there’s several parts of the world where bonded labour is still practised, despite laws outlawing the practice. And it tends to occur in places where the government’s authority is weak or corrupt. For example in Somalia and Libya, countries with little in the way of government and lots of guns (as close to a libertarian society as you’ll find!) there are active slave markets.

And there’s the second problem for libertarians, democracy would collapse pretty quickly in a libertarian society. Taking objectivism to its logical conclusion, the easiest way to win an election is to bribe election officials and intimidate voters. e.g. the wealthy landowner threatens mass evictions, the billionaire says his goons will go on the rampage if they don’t win the election. This is how African dictators can win elections with margins of +90%. And even if the wealthy lose the election, they can simply ignore anything the government does that they don’t like, as they are essentially untouchable in a libertarian society.

In a society whereby the wealthy can grow their fortunes unchecked and utilise the power it gives them without any checks or balances, then it becomes essentially impossible to have a democratic and free society. Take for example Rockfeller or the other billionaire’s of the “robber baron” era. With no government to break up his monopoly (and an Objectivist philosophy that basically said it would be morally wrong for him to give anything away to charity) his fortune would have grown even larger, his descendants would now not only control 90% of the US oil supply, but probably 90% of the US energy supply as well as many public utilities (e.g. internet access, water, hospitals, police, fire services, etc.). At this point, they become the defacto ruling royal family of the US, emperors in all but name, with the role of US president essentially becoming “ass kisser in chief” (you can just see the debate with Hilary and Trump demonstrating their butt kissing techniques).

Now libertarians will say, oh that would never happen, we’d just boycott the business of those we don’t like (in which case you need to go look up the meaning of the word “monopoly” cos that’s sort of the problem, you can’t boycott a monopoly!). Or they’ll argue that sooner or later another billionaire will build up an even vaster fortune and take over. Oh great, so because one rich asshole is better at screwing us over than some other rich asshole, he gets to be emperor instead. Ya, that sound way better than our current system of government!

The sad fact is that libertarianism only works if you ignore the last thousand years of history. A libertarian society would quickly become a feudal society, where the rich will grow vast fortunes unchecked and abuse their power without limit. Where the poor, if they are unable to pay the vastly overinflated prices the rich with their monopolies charge, will be at risk of being sold into slavery. Where speaking out will be impossible, as the press and internet are controlled by the rich. And those who do a Robin hood and fight back will be derided as socialists and terrorists.

In truth, if there’s anything that libertarianism is at the oppose end of the political spectrum to it is democracy and free markets.

Ban this filth: The Daily Fail v’s Youtube

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There’s been a bit of controversy recently over a Daily Mail article which (falsely) claimed that a German Youtuber was providing terrorist training by showing how to penetrate stab proof vests. “Chilling” as they put in the context of the recent Westminster attack. They almost succeeded in getting this guy banned from his youtube channel. Naturally this wasn’t true (we are talking about the Daily Fail here, aka the newspaper that supported the third reich).

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Some things never change, the Daily Mail is well known for being welcoming of foreigners

The Youtuber in question, a jolly German by the name of Jorg Sprave, runs a popular youtube channel that looks at medieval weaponry. There are a host of similar youtube channels which have a bit of a following among history buff’s, HEMA enthusiasts, reenactors, fans of fantasy roleplaying games such as D&D or Warhammer, Larpers, and fans of online MMORPG’s such as World of Warcraft. My point is that these people aren’t terrorists, they are mostly just harmless geeks.

Furthermore, the film in question was shot several months ago, long before the Westminster attacks. And the stab vest in question wasn’t a police issue (and since we are talking about it, the Westminster attacker went around the stab vest anyway) but a cheap one bought off the internet. So this was more of consumer advice than a terrorist training video. It is very important with armour to understand its limitations. Whether you are a medieval battle reenactor, a security guard at a rock concern, or a soldier on the way to a war zone. No armour is perfect, even medieval full plate armour can be bypassed. Indeed the youtuber in question has pointed out, in his satirical response to the Daily Fail, that the Mail themselves ran an article several years ago which discussed how to kill someone with a knife (that article seems to have disappeared from the Daily Fail website and the article relating to Jorg is no longer accepting comments, given how many have posted corrections to their article).

You will be pleased to learn that Youtube appear to have reversed their prior position on this incident, possibly because they googled “Daily Mail accuracy” and realised who they were dealing with. I mean there’s a website with a handy wee Daily Mail headline generator that produced remarkably accurate Daily Mail headlines (e.g. ARE HOODIES DESTROYING THE COUNTRYSIDE? or HAVE BINGE DRINKING MIGRANTS TURNED YOUR MORTGAGE GAY?). What I thought was interesting with regard to this story was the reactions of others around the world to this fake news hatchet job (see here for a good example). We in the UK are sort of desensitized to the Daily Mail. We’re so used to their lies and grade A BS than it doesn’t register. But to others its shocking that such blatant lies and half truths can apparently be printed in a Daily UK newspaper with sales in the hundreds of thousands.

So why the controversy? Why of all people did the Daily Mail launch a hatchet job against this guy? Well firstly he’s German, and we know how much they like foreigners, particularly those nasty Muslim Germans. After all its Germany’s fault that the UK had to leave the EU (I’ve a funny feeling a few years from now, when its obvious what a mistake brexit was, that this will be the Daily Fail’s line, they’ll blame migrants and the Germans for forcing the UK into brexit). Also advertisers have been worried about their ads appearing next to far right articles and videos and have been pressuring Google and Youtube to do something about it. If you want to get lots of clicks from right wing nut jobs, then the best way to do it is with the most outrageous lies and falsehoods, as those on the political right will often place comforting lies above facts. The Daily Mail itself is the ultimate proof of this strategy.

As a consequence Google and Youtube have been fiddling with how their advertising metrics work and the end result is a whole bunch of right wing youtube channels and other websites (including the Daily Mail) have seen their advertising revenue go down quite a bit. This has caught up a few people in the cross fire (e.g. such as some of the geeky videos similar to the ones I’m referring too), but clearly the Daily Fail are peeved at the fact that others are still making money from adverts when they and their right wing allies online are not. That these youtube posts are based on “facts”, while their posts are based on racist lies and right wing myths doesn’t seem to register with them.

And there is a certain irony to people who spend a lot of time in a fantasy world making posts based on facts, while a national news paper like the Daily Fail relies on lies and fantasy. If aliens ever landed on earth my guess is that the Daily Mail would come out with an article saying they were only here to claim benefits.

Trump’s next war

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Whenever a US president is doing badly in the polls, he has a easy way of distracting the media and giving his poll numbers a boost – bomb someone. So given recent events, it would be worth reviewing the options as regards who Trump might go to war with.

Firstly, it has to be said that Trump is in a mess of his own making. Clearly the Syrians only launched this chemical attack because they’d been led to believe that Trump was a Putin groupie and naturally assumed that they could get away with this. He’d sent out all sorts of signals that suggested that, e.g. dropping the Obama era requirement that Assad must step down. This mirrors events leading up too the first gulf war where Saddam, an ally of the US misinterpreted signals coming out of the Bush Snr white house and reached the conclusion that they’d be okay with him taking over Kuwait (of course they weren’t!).

And Trump himself has been under pressure, with federal investigations ongoing into the financing of his campaign and possible links to Putin. And while Trump spent most of the last eight years complaining about Obama’s travel costs, its been pointed out that the costs of travel and security he’s run up just jetting back and forth to Mar-a-lago is set to cost as much in his first year as Obama’s total travel and security bill cost over eight years.

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Meanwhile, where was the UK in all of this? Normally when the US bombs someone the UK are part of the strike force, the PM and ministers are railing support from NATO and making speeches in front of Downing street about being shoulder to shoulder with the US. Instead, May, Boris & Fallon spend the last few days scurrying away from reporters like frightening Chihuahua’s and cancelling international travel plans. The reality of brexit is that what influence the UK had over either the US or the EU it has now lost. And given that the UK will be spending the next two decades negotiating trade deals it cannot afford to make enemies with anybody.

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The UK is now about as relevant to geopolitics as Switzerland. Much as I warned would happen in the event of brexit, rather than Empire 2.0 what the brexiters have gotten is a downgrade of the UK to that of a 3rd rate power.

Syria/Iraq

But I digress! Given recent events its possible that Trump might decide to intervene more aggressively in Syria or Iraq, taking on ISIS, Assad or both. In effect he’s simply adopting a more gung-ho version of Obama’s policy in the region. A policy he himself was critical of during the election campaign. So this represent a massive flip flop.

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However, the reason why Obama was more measured in his dealing with events in Syria was because he did not want to provoke the Russians. The US could easily overwhelm the Russian and Syrian forces with a massive bombing campaign. But there would be risk of the Russians retaliating in another sphere, most likely the Baltic.

Also bombs do not solve the problems on the ground in Syria or Iraq. All a bomb does is eliminate the target you are firing at. The pilot has barely made it back to base and ISIS have re-occupied the position he just bombed. While the US has allies on the ground, at the end of the day, brave as they are, they aren’t professional armies, they lack in terms of equipment, numbers and training. They are struggling to do the job. The battle for Mosul, a city which ISIS took in a day, is likely to run for several months.

The only way to stop ISIS, or stop Assad’s barrel bomb attacks on civilians is to put troops on the ground. Either through an invasion or a UN backed peace keeping force. To say that this could get very messy very quickly is to put it mildly. Consider we are now 5,091 days since Bush declared mission accomplished in Iraq….so presumably the mission was to create a military quagmire that’s likely to last longer than the Vietnam war! Trump or NATO intervening like this would therefore mean the US getting involved in a very messy and long term mission with no obvious exit strategy. And again, that would certainly enrage the Russians. I don’t see Trump’s supporters being too keen on this (I won’t be too keen on it myself either!), indeed it would more or less guarantee him and the GOP losing the next election, likely to an anti-war left wing populist of some kind.

Iran

America’s favourite bogeyman, is another obvious target. Trump and the GOP were very clear during the campaign that they planned to tear up Obama’s peace plan, potentially leading to conflict with Iran. However to say this would be problematic is to put it mildly. The “blow back” would be fairly considerable.

The thing is that Iran and the US are essentially now allies in the fight against ISIS. Most of the forces fighting ISIS in Iraq are Shia’s, allied to Iran. The Iranians are also supplying logistical support to these forces and they have military advisers on the ground in Iraq. If America were to attack Iran, they’d be effectively declaring war on Iraq as well, so they can kiss goodbye to all of that Iraqi oil too. Their problems with regard to ISIS would magnify greatly. And as the Iranians have links to various terrorist groups (e.g. HAMAS, Hezbollah, etc.), the US would effectively be escalating the war on terror.

As a result of this obvious blow back the original Republican plan was to get the Israeli’s to do America’s dirty work for them. They would launch air strikes against Iran, with American support. However, Iran’s ally, Russia, has ruled out that possibility. They’ve recently provided the Iranians with their advanced S-300 missile system. This, in the words of some analysts, renders Iran “Israel proof. And even if the Israelis were prepared to attack, they’d run the risk of Russian retaliation against them if they did. So America would have to undertake the attacks using its own forces and that would mean facing the aforementioned “blow back” and dealing with the possibility of Russian retaliation, either in the Middle East or in some other sphere, likely the Baltic.

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More importantly, what would bombing Iranian targets achieve? Well not a lot. There would be two possible outcomes. A) The Iranians just rebuild the facilities. Or B) they invite the Russians into the country and they set up a missile base in Iran putting Israel and America’s allies in the region a few minutes flight time from nuclear attack. Neither sounds like a positive outcome.

North Korea

Trump has been fairly hawkish with regard to North Korea. Surely here’s an enemy who he can take on and beat and not face much blow back? Certainly North Korea is a bit of a paper tiger. They like to talk big, people often point to their vast army of nearly 1 million personnel and 5,500 tanks. However as one CIA officer commented “there’’s a world of a difference between an army with 5,000 tanks if half of them don’’t work”…or the regime lacks the fuel reserves to drive them all any more than a few miles! The reality is that there army is equipment with outdated vintage cold war equipment, their troops half starved and poorly trained. Their airforce has only about 40 aircraft of 4th generation fighter standard, while the South Koreans have hundreds and the Americans have thousands. The reality is that even if the US stayed neutral, the South Korean military are quite capable of defeating North Korea all by themselves. With American support, the war becomes a foregone conclusion.

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So why haven’t the South Koreans, or their US allies, done something about North Korea before? The CIA have an acronym which neatly describes the problem and North Korea’s defensive doctrine – CFC. Which stands for Crippled Fearsome Crazy. Crippled in that the country is destitute and any invader would face a massive reconstruction bill (even if they didn’t drop a single bomb, they’d be rebuilding the country from scratch). Fearsome in that they have WMD’s galore, hundreds of artillery pieces aimed at Seoul and nuclear weapons too. And while they don’t have a missile that can reach the US, they can certainly hit targets in Korea or Japan. And there’s nothing to stop them simply smuggling a bomb into San Francisco bay in a submarine or a cargo container. And Crazy in that the North Korea is a totalitarian anthill known for its wacky and insane government policy. We’re talking about a country whose official head of state has been dead for twenty years. And as they would have nothing to lose by using their arsenal, it can be assumed that they will do so if provoked.

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North Korea’s advances stealth technology allows them to hide almost the entire country at night!

So if Trump wants to make waves with North Korea, he’ll need to find a way around CFC, or be prepared to bear the consequences of breaching it. And he’s likely to find the South Koreans unwilling to do so, not unless the North Koreans do something really stupid. Also one has to consider how North Korea’s allies, China and Russia (yep they keep on cropping up don’t they?) would react to this.

The Chinese and Russians would probably object to them being described as North Korea’s allies. In truth their attitude to North Korea is a bit like most people’s attitude to some crazy racist elderly relative who goes around screaming abuse at foreigners and ethnic minorities. Its not as if you stand their applauding him for this. But if someone decided to give the old git a bit of a kicking, you’d probably not be happy about that, even if you reckoned they deserved a bit of a slap.

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The Chinese often claim they worry that if North Korea were attacked and the regime collapsed they’d face waves of refugees. In reality, that’s not really the issue. In truth they  just don’t want to share a land border with a US ally. So if North Korea were attacked, its possible they (and possibly the Russians too) would retaliate in some way. Either economically, or militarily. The economic consequences of taking on China would hit America where it hurts and Trump voters would feel the brunt of it. So any president who provokes China best be prepared to lose the next election. In terms of military intervention, there is no way the South Koreans and the US could hold back China’s massive land army if they came streaming over the Yalu river.

So all in all, North Korea is a country best handled with kid gloves…. not least because Kim Jung-un’s kid gloves are probably made from real kids!

South China Sea

China has been engaged in a long term dispute over a series of Islands in the South China sea. Under international law any Island, even if its a rock that every second wave submerges, a 12 km ring around that is considered its claimant’s sovereign territory. And for 200 km’s around it, that’s your exclusive economic zone. So the Chinese have laid claim to various rocks and reefs in the South China Sea and thus tried to lay claim to vast areas of sea, some of which may harbour significant fossil fuel reserves. More recently they’ve begun to enlarge these reef’s and build ports, military bases and air strips on them.

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Again this is a war America could potentially win. While the Chinese have a vast army, their navy is relatively small and could not stop an American invasion of these Islands. However, the Chinese could certainly give the Americans a bloody nose. Their submarines and long range carrier killing” missiles could sink US carriers and surface ships, inflicting very high causalities on the Americans. Trump would thus need to explain to the American public why thousands had to die for a few patches of soggy sand that didn’t have enough land area to bury all of the war’s victims.

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And who would America be fighting for? There are three countries disputing China’s claim – the Philippines, Vietnam and Taiwan. The Philippines under Manchurian candidate populist Duterte has recently been cosying up to the Chinese, so he’s unlikely to be happy or support American military intervention. Vietnam would unsurprisingly be against any intervention as they would guess they’d be unlikely to benefit from it. Taiwan would worry about Chinese military or economic retaliation if they got involved. So America could go to all this trouble to capture these Islands, only to have to hand them back to the Chinese after a few months. So difficult to see the positives in this one.

Estonia and the Baltic

As noted, almost anywhere Trump chooses to go to war he’ll find his BFF Putin as being either the likely enemy, or the ally of that enemy. And the danger is that the Russians might be tempted to retaliate in another sphere if America attacks them or their allies somewhere else. The most likely flash point is the Baltic states, notably the Northern corner of Estonia, which has a large Russian population.

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Much how North Korea is a paper tiger, Russia’s military capability is often overestimated. Yes they have 15,000 tanks, but most of those are obsolete (Western tanks ran up cricket score kills against tanks of a similar vintage during the gulf war) and poorly maintained and won’t last more than a few seconds against NATO forces. In truth Russia has about 2,500 combat capable tanks, while the European NATO armies have 6,000 and America has about 3,000 more. The Russians have a large air force but again most of its aircraft are obsolete (e.g. Russian made aircraft performed very poorly against NATO aircraft in the past, e.g. during the Kosovo crisis). The reality is that they only have about 200 jets that are up to 4.5 generation standards, while NATO has over a thousand of this standard and the US has many times more (plus stealth aircraft and 5th generation fighter aircraft). While yes Russia has a large army, much of these troops are conscripts (read frightened teenagers) and veteran units who are a little too veteran (the Russians treat their army as a jobs-4-the-boy‘s program and have a lot of soldiers who are a little too old to be doing the job they are doing).

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However, this is not to suggest that NATO will have everything their own way. The very spot the Russians are likely to attack, Estonia, happens to be a spot NATO would find difficult to defend. Its very likely that if the Russians launched a strong push here they could catch NATO with its pants down and take over a significant chunk of land before NATO could adequately respond. Now there would be nothing to stop NATO retaliating, e.g. by occupying the Kallingrad pocket or driving Russian separatists out of Eastern Ukraine or the Crimea. So its all too easy to see how a war could start here and then escalate into something more serious. While Trump doesn’t want Estonia to be the hill on which he and Putin die on, it could easily be the case.

The Russian are caught up in neo-fascist patriotic fervour. They are using to seeing their military parade every year in their nice shiny boots and think they are invincible. Go on the internet and you’ll find all sorts of crap from Russian bloggers about how brilliant their army is and how their equipment is the best, which is at odds with actual performance. In truth, they recently struggled to beat a handful of lightly armed Chechen rebels and had to subcontract that out to local mercenaries. They also struggled to beat Georgia, the world’s 110th largest army.

Tempted by the assumption that Trump is their ally (much as Assad recently was) you could see how Putin might gamble on a quick military victory to earn him some browning points at home. Only to then get drawn into a wider conflict. Putin would very quickly find himself in conflict with not just NATO but with the US military. American air force planes, including A-10 tankbusters are stationed just a few minutes flying time away from this flash point and US ground forces are active in the region too. If the Russians were to attack, under current NATO rules, commanders in the field do not need the permission of the white house to shoot back in self defence. And indeed given how critical it would be for NATO to hit the Russians with everything they had the minute they crossed the border, they couldn’t afford to wait for Washington to micromanage the situation.

In other words the only way for Trump to stop getting into a war with Putin in this scenario would be to order those forces in advance of an attack to stand down. But that would expose him as the Benedict Arnold many suspect him to be. He’d be removed from office very swiftly (and likely have himself a little “accident” while awaiting trial for treason) and president Pence would immediately reverse those orders. So its all to easy to see how events here could spiral out of control.

Closing on midnight

All in all, what’s likely to confront president Trump and his team is the world is very different from what past US president’s faced. What little political capital the US had post-cold war G. W. Bush blew it on his pointless war in Iraq. Obama spent the last eight years putting out fires….as well as hunting down Bin Laden. In almost every possible theatre, the US faces the risk of serious and long term blow back if it gets involved in any conflict. And America’s likely enemy, or the ally of its enemy, is likely to be Trump’s puppet-master buddy Putin.

But the question is, what happens when Trump is humiliated in one of these potential conflicts? Or what happens when Putin’s army is sent scurrying back to Moscow with their tail between their legs? One often hears the term “cooler heads prevail”. But the real danger is that’s unlikely to happen with either Trump or Putin. Cooler heads would have said that Putin shouldn’t get involved in events in Ukraine. Nor that Trump should have fired off missiles like he did the other day, without first pulling a few diplomatic levers first. And as both are vain, insecure men, its all to likely they would place their fragile ego above the lives of millions.

The one thing you can’t deploy on a battlefield is ego, yet that’s basically both Trump and Putin’s calling card. The fatal flaw of any defence doctrine involving nuclear weapons, is that it assumes the leadership of a nation holding this is sane and rational, yet we’ve a nasty habit of electing leaders who are the very opposite of this. So it is for good reason, the doomsday clock sits closer to midnight than it has since the darkest days of the cold war.

Alternative History’s – why nazi victory was always impossible

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The UK’s new post-brexit colour scheme is revealed

The TV drama SS GB, based on the 1970’s novel of the same name does highlight one of the key themes in alternative history “what if the nazi’s won World War II”. Its a question that pops up quite a bit, notably the Robert Harris novel “Fatherland”, the 1964 British movie “it happened here”, the series and novel “the man in the high castle” or more recently this series on Youtube. I would argue that a flaw in many of these alternative histories is firstly a failure to consider how unlikely it would be for a nazi state to last for any extended period of time. And secondly, the extremely low probability of them actually winning the war in the first place.

The fact is that the nazi’s were terrible at running a country. Nazi rule was government by chaos, as this episode of a BBC documentary discusses. Hitler had some strange Darwinian views of how to organise a government. When people wrote to him asking that they be appointed to such and such a post, he’d simply write back and tell them that if they thought they were the alpha male then they should just take over. So the end result was much squabbling and backstabbing. Seven departments in the nazi government actually claimed to represent the Fuhrer, who spent most of their time fighting each other. Needless to say corruption was rife and decision making was haphazard at best.

One need only look at Germany’s military procurement policies during the war. Many obsess over Hitler’s “wonder weapons”, such as the V-2 rockets, superguns, the tiger tank, jet and rocket powered fighters, etc. But it is often forget that the allies had seen similar ideas floated, that were either rejected or developed on a slower less aggressive time scale as it was understood that they were simply not practical weapons of war. It cost as much to build a V-2 as it did to build a bomber, which could deliver a larger payload and could be reused. More people probably died making V-2’s than died in London being attacked with them. The Me-163 rocket fighter killed more of its own pilots than allied airmen. If Germany had a free press or some sort of congressional oversight many of these projects wouldn’t have never gotten very far. But such was the chaotic nature of the third Reich that these and many equally foolish projects were undertaken, squandering resources the nazi’s simply didn’t have.

My guess is if the nazi’s won, once they’d run out of foreigners to blame for all of their problems, they’d have quickly turned on each other. The state might have held itself together so long as Hitler was alive, but he was by all accounts not a healthy person by the time of his death. Its doubtful he’d have made it to the 1970’s as portrayed in Fatherland. My guess is once he was dead, the other leading nazi’s would have engaged in an epic power struggle. Keep in mind that even before he was dead, just isolated in Berlin, the nazi leadership fought with one another, with the prize merely being who got to go to the allies with their hands up. Can you imagine what would happen when the prize was to be master of Europe?

Inevitably this means the nazi state would have fractured into a series of warring fiefdoms, not unlike pre-unification Germany, with the nazi’s as a sort of ruling class, surrounded (and outnumbered) by a large number of locals (non-nazi’s in Germany, Slav’s, French, English, etc.). Gradually, one by one these fiefdoms would have been overthrown by the local populace, ending the thousand year Reich about ten centuries early. The fact is that nazism is simply too an extreme a political philosophy to survive long term.

However, we are skipping the other key point – that nazi victory was very unlikely, so unlikely that I think its kind of pointless to speculate on it. Its like asking what would have happened had William Wallace survived his execution by flinging lightening bolts from his arse. The fact is that Hitler was a nut trying to pull off the impossible. The idea that one country could simultaneously defeat four of the most powerful empires in history, the USA, The USSR, the British Empire and China (oh btw you do know WWII started in 1937 when the Japanese attacked China), is simply bonkers. And even if they could win, occupying such a vast area would have simply been impossible.

Certainly things could have gone against the allies, but it would have merely delayed the inevitable. Take for example the idea of the nazi’s winning the battle of Britain and invading. Certainly had they gained control over the skies of southern England, this would have raised the risk of an invasion. However, the Germans simply didn’t have the resources (e.g. landing craft, large numbers of paratroop aircraft and paratroopers, mine clearing and beach assault adapted vehicles, a portable harbour, etc.). It took the allies two years to prepare for D-Day, the Germans had a few months and a fraction of the resources.

Indeed, a war game played out in the 1970’s with British and German military commanders (many of them the very same people who’d have been in charge in the event of an actual invasion) resulted in a German defeat. Although the cost to the British would have been high. If this scenario had played out it would have seen the Royal Navy, charging down the North Sea from Scapa flow, with minimal air cover, to try and cut off the invasion force after it sailed. While this plan would have likely succeeded, it would have been a naval banzai charge, not unlike Japan’s operation Ten-Go. With a much reduced Royal navy and battered and depleted army, the UK won’t have been able to mount operations overseas, nor protect against U-boat attacks on convoys. And there’d be nothing to stop the Germans coming back and trying again the next summer. It would have been a case of winning the battle, but losing the war.

Of course, the real reason Britain was saved was because of the inept leadership of the Luftwaffe and Hitler’s obsession with attacking Russia. But even if the UK had fallen, or been knocked out of the war, while it would have certainly effected how events panned out, it would have simply delayed the inevitable. With America, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various resource rich colonies around the world (e.g. the mine in the Congo where the Uranium for the atomic bomb came from)  still in the fight, it probably wouldn’t have changed the eventual outcome.

And we are also assuming that the US would have stayed neutral, but my guess is that if it ever looked likely that either Britain or Russia were going to get knocked out of the war, the US would have intervened, much as they did in 1917. Hitler hated America’s ethnic diversity, free press, free markets and intellectual freedom (basically for all the reasons Trump voters dislike America). And there is no way the US was going to leave a nut like him in charge of Europe. The US was in the war in all but name long before Pearl harbour, supplying munitions, ships and fighter aircraft under a dubious system of “lend lease”. US sailors had even been dressing up as Canadians and serving on ships escorting supplies across the Atlantic.

In the event of ground combat in Britain, its inevitable that US citizens would have gotten caught up in the crossfire. The British and Americans had been reading diplomatic traffic from the German and Japanese for long enough that they probably had a dodgy dossier that could be deployed as a justification for war (this is how an isolationist Congress was convinced to declare war in 1917). If all else fails, they could simply do something deliberately provocative to force Hitler into declaring war on them. And of course it was only a matter of time before one of those “Canadians” got captured by the Germans and gave a home address in Wichita Kansas (Das ist nicht in Canada!). Either way, America’s entry into the war was more or less guaranteed.

Even in the best case scenario for the nazi’s, if they somehow managed to beat the UK and then the Russians, they’d have only lasted until mid-1946 at best. Why? In two words – atomic bombs. From the earliest days of US involvement in the war they adopted a policy of Germany first, meaning defeat of Germany would be given priority over defeating Japan. This confused many, given that the Japanese had been the one’s to attack Pearl Harbour and were more of an immediate threat to America. However Roosevelt had been alerted by a letter, signed by several leading scientists, that German academics had stopped publishing papers on nuclear physics, hinting that they were probably working on something big, likely to be an atomic bomb. So plan A for the allies was knock Germany out of the war before Hitler got his hands on any nukes. And if that failed, plan B was to develop their own bomb and use it against the Germans.

However, the reality was the allies had vastly overestimated the nazi bomb program. The German’s were hopelessly behind the allies for various reasons. Its been suggested that Heisenberg, the lead German scientist, didn’t really have his heart in it (a topic the play Copenhagen debates), that he may have even gotten his sums wrong and vastly overestimated the size of a bomb’s critical mass (and thus concluded that an airdropped weapon was impossible). More likely however, it was the fact that the nazi’s, being a bunch of anti-intellectual bullies (like Trump supporters or Brexiters, they tended not to listen to the experts), they never took what their scientists said seriously and never pursued their bomb program with the same vigour as the Americans did.

So its likely that the US would have had the bomb available in mid 1945. In our timeline they used it against a nearly defeated Japan, one by one (leading many to question whether such attacks were necessary). How the allies would use it against Germany would have depended on the circumstances. In a situation where the nazi’s held much of Europe it would make sense to stockpile bombs and unleash them on Germany en-masse. The Atomic piles at Hanford, were producing enough material for 1-2 bombs a month, so by mid-1946, the US would have between one and two dozen bombs available.

B-29‘s based out of Iceland, Turkey or the Azores could reach targets in Germany, if the UK wasn’t an option. The US had also started development of the B-36, the world’s first intercontinental bomber in 1940 (prior to the US even joining the war) specifically to cope with the scenario whereby the US lost all of its possible bases in Europe. Aside from its longer range the B-36 also flew at a much higher altitude. So high that only a handful of German late war anti-aircraft guns or aircraft could reach them…..and very few of those were capable of night operations.

How ever the allied planners went about it, the fact is that some if not most of those bombers would have made it through to their targets and in the space of one night several of Germany’s major cities would have been destroyed, most of the leading nazi’s killed along with millions of Germans. Needless to say, what was left of Germany would have little choice but to surrender the following morning. So to my mind, the real alternative history is to consider not “what if the nazi’s won, how would the world look?” but “if the war ended with a nuclear attack against Germany, what would have happened next?”.

Well for starters I suspect the Russians would have taken one look at the radioactive wasteland called Germany and declined to have anything to do with the clean up. While they’d have likely ended up in control of Eastern Europe, the splitting of Germany wouldn’t have happened, nor would there be a Berlin wall, eliminating a major cold war flash point. Of course rebuilding Germany would have been harder, quite possibly it might not have happened, with what was left of the country might have been reduced to an agrarian condition post war.

Perhaps more importantly this scenario might have meant the penny dropping with regard to nuclear war earlier. Up until the 1960’s both sides military took the view that nuclear weapons were just another weapon which they need to integrate into their arsenal and the public need to get used to the idea that this is the new normal (the movie “Atomic Cafe” neatly summarises this era). The generals and politicians didn’t get the message, until the reign of McNamara, that nuclear warfare is not the sort of battle where you get to tot up the scores afterwards and work out who won. In a nuclear war, there are only ever losers. “Winning” a nuclear war, while digging yourself out of the radioactive ruins, is going to be a bit of a hollow victory. But by the time the penny did drop, both sides had a massive arsenal and it was already too late to avoid the stand off that followed.

So its possible, that a cold war that started with the mass use of nuclear weapons might have scared the superpowers straight. Both the US and Russia would have developed nuclear weapons, but their deployment would have been more muted. The doctrine would have been more towards nuclear weapons as a sort of national suicide weapon, if ever at risk of being overrun (not unlike India’s current stance with nuclear weapons). Crucially they would have never allowed such weapons to proliferate (e.g. the UK, France or Israel would be denied nuclear weapons and faced sanctions if they tried to develop them). No way the US would risk putting them in Turkey, nor that the Russians would try putting them in Cuba. And flash points like the Korean war would have panned out very differently, as both sides would have been anxious to avoid anything that could escalate to a nuclear exchange.

But certainly any scenario whereby the nazi’s hung on for longer than they did is a alternative history that would have been much darker, it would have led to a world war 2 that killed even more people, although ultimately there was simply no way they could have won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Globalisation and its discontents

A couple of years ago, if you were protesting against globalisation, you were assumed to be an anarchist or an eco-warrior. Nearly every major political party of right and left was signed up to the idea that globalisation was a good idea and that anyone who said otherwise was a wholly eared nutter.

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Globalisation has many opponents, anarchists, eco warriors, Trump, the far right….clowns, UKIP…..

However we now face the situation where the two major parties in the UK are essentially anti-globalisation (one hard left, the other authoritarian right). In America Trump is running on an anti-globalisation platform, while even Hilary has had to row back from her support of international trade agreements. What went wrong?

Firstly, I think it has to be acknowledged the benefits globalisation has brought. While I’d take the figures below from the world bank with a pinch of salt, it has to be said that globalisation has help lift millions out of poverty. It has helped push forward technological process, introduced us all to new ideas, its brought us multiculturalism, new and exotic tastes from far afield, and countries aren’t fighting world wars anymore (which is just as well given that we now have nuclear weapons). However it also must be said that experiences may vary. A rising tide has not lifted all ships.

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This can be illustrated by the next graph, the so called “Elephant Graph” which plots the relative change in income over the last twenty years, depending on whether you are among the world’s poorest or richest. If you a subsistence farmer in the developing world (i.e. the very poorest) you’ve probably seen no change at all. If your one of the 10% of the world’s richest, you’ve had it pretty good over the two last decades. The working class and middle classes in Asia and the developing world have seen the most dramatic improvements of all, going in many cases from poverty to complaining about first world problems. If you are middle class in the West, you’ve seen some benefit, but you’ve probably noticed that others have gotten a lot better off and keeping up with the Joneses is that little bit harder. However, the working class in the West have seen very little change, indeed some are even worse off. This essentially is the heart of the problem.

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And the problem, I would argue, is that somewhere along the way globalisation got bundled up, much like those toxic CDO’s that brought on the financial crisis, it got repacked with a lot of toxic neo-liberalism and outdated and rotting lassie-faire nonsense. It was then sold on as a complete package. Countries and electorates were told that they couldn’t have one without the other. That they must sacrifice their labour rights, wages, privatise public services and downside the state, all for the sake of globalisation. Now that everyone’s worked out that out that this globalisation CDO is filled with neo-liberal dog shit, people want to throw it away rather than simply unpick the good bits from the bad.

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Not least because often the very people who sold this toxic CDO were the very neo-liberal types who packaged it up in the first place (i.e. parties like the Tories or the GOP) and the very same who are catching blowback from the consequences. And they are obviously reluctant to admit their error or abandon their long held ideology. Also their lies have started to catch up with them.

For years the go-to lie of many right wingers was to blame foreigners, poor people and organisations like the EU for all the worlds ills. Your local water supply has been privatised? Not our fault (even thought it was in our parties manifesto and one of our donors is on the hook to get the contract), the EU made us do it (only because we got the very legislation passed by them so we could dodge the flak!). Can’t get a hospital bed? that’s not because we failed to fund the NHS to account for an ageing society, its the fault of them nasty evil hobbits foreigners comin over here and overloading local services. Your taxes too high? No, its not because of our failure to make the rich pay their taxes, its them scroungers living on benefits that’s the problem.

So when Corbyn tries to blame globalisation for causing brexit, I would argue that this is not entirely correct. It was this toxic neo-liberal agenda that along the way got mixed up with globalisation that’s the problem, plus the aforementioned lies of the right wing media. Like the boy who cried wolf, unwilling to admit to their error, they proceeded with the referendum. But the pleb’s, who they’d spent the last twenty years telling that everything was the fault of the EU and foreigners, actually voted leave. Confronted with the fact that actually you can’t keep the single market and end free movement, so they’ve doubled down and are going for a hard brexit. Similarly in the US, Trump is the inevitable consequences of this bundling of globalisation with neo-liberalism and the decades of lies told to the public by the right wing media (i.e. blame foreigners, China and poor people for everything….so a guy who blames these for all of America’s problems is suddenly popular!). In both cases baby, bath, water, tub and rubber ducky goes over the side.

There is no reason why we can’t unpick the two things however. The countries that have done best out of globalisation have certainly done so, to varying degrees. Unsurprisingly, communist China does not subscribe to the principle of lassie faire. They will intervene to protect local industries when they feel its necessary. The Germans and many other EU countries have hung on to their welfare state, offering some protection to those effected by the negative consequences of globalisation. They’ve also resisted, to varying degrees, the privatisation of public services (often merely floating public services off into state owned quangos). And they are willing incentivize growth in certain key industries (German renewables for example). Brazil and India have also adopted a policy of resisting privatisation and are trying to build up their welfare states to make sure the benefits are more evenly distributed.

Granted not everything is rosy in these countries, China for example has a lot to do to improve workers rights and there’s still lots of people in India who are desperately poor. The defacto coup by right wing politicians in Brazil (essentially a neo-liberal push back against the aforementioned measures) is hardly a positive. However, one has to compare and contrast with the pre-globalisation situation – workers in China then had no rights period, pretty much everyone in India was desperately poor and Brazil was ruled by a military Junta. But clearly there is no reason for globalisation to remain coupled to neo-liberalism. There is in essence another way. But as noted, the political right, and even some elements of the hard left, are unlikely to do this as this would be a direct affront to their long held ideologies.

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However, rolling back globalisation will have consequences. Already there has been a growing trend of beggar-thy-neighbour style tit for tat protectionism. Unsurprisingly the US, the United States of France (a Time magazine jibe which is actually unfair on the French!) has been the worst offender. These measures however often end up being counter productive. As the BBC reports:

There was an outcry in 2012 when cheap Chinese tyres flooded into the US market, putting the viability of the domestic producers in question.

President Obama responded with punitive tariffs to get China “to play by the rules”.
The protectionist measures were well received in the US, but a study by the Peterson Institute established that the tariffs meant US consumers paid $1.1bn more for their tyres in 2011.

Each job that was saved effectively cost $900,000 with very little of that reaching the pockets of the workers.

Or put it another way, what the Trump’s, Theresa May’s or Corbyn’s of this world don’t tell you is that by opposing globalisation they think that the computer in front of you should cost you two or three times as much. It shouldn’t be nearly as advanced as those available in other parts of the world and it should be less reliable and less energy efficient. Now okay, those on a descent salary, like me, could still afford to pay such prices (or slip one into our luggage when we’re overseas on business). But I suspect those on a lower income will suddenly find that things like mobile phones, TV’s, laptops, cars, central heating, foreign holidays etc. all just became luxuries they can no longer afford. In short, roll back globalisation and suddenly many will find that the UK (or US) just became very unequal and life just became very unfair, very quickly.

The fact is we’ve all benefited from globalisation in ways the elephant graph above perhaps does not capture. I’m not that old and yet I remember when mobile phones were the size of a brick. When cars were so unreliable you had to carry tools around and work time into your morning schedule to account for the inevitable breakdown. When TV’s were so prone to failure some manufacturers made more money selling warranties on them breaking down than on selling TV’s. And your choice of drink in a cafe was builders tea or brown muddy water laughably referred to as “coffee” (Now we have lattes, cappuccinos, green teas and this thing called “salad”). Globalisation and the international competition that it brought forced companies to change. It provided them with the incentive to change, it drove technological progress, allowed them to buy in parts and materials or bring in expertise and investment from abroad to implement these changes.

Yes there were winners but also losers, some jobs did move overseas. Although it has to be said that other countries (not run by neo-liberals) fared better than either the UK or US. And, as I noted in a prior article, a lot of the job losses we blame on globalisation were largely a consequence of increasing automation (the UK now produces nearly as many cars as it did in the 1970’s, but with only a fraction of the work force). And there is little evidence to support the notion that foreigners are taking people’s jobs. Indeed the danger is jobs moving overseas (due to immigration restrictions making it impossible to recruit), or machines taking them. Both these mechanisms are in fact the main reason for the trends in the graph below.

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Germany & the Eurozone has held on to more of its manufacturing than the UK or US

Restricting immigration and leaving the free market will inevitably mean some companies will leave the UK (or the US in the case of Trump winning). The recent “flash crash” of the pound is a case in point. Its now believed to have been caused by a computer engaged in high frequency trading reading an FT article which had key words like “hard brexit”, “crisis” and “far right” in it, shat its electronic pants and sold everything it had. Now while human traders will be a little more discreet and careful about what they do, but they will essentially do the same….then relocate to Dublin or Frankfurt.

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And the decline of 20% in the value of the pound to date essentially means you just lost 2 & a half a month’s salary, once those currency exchange differences work their way into retail and energy prices (oil and natural gas recall are generally priced in dollars). And WTO tariffs would push prices up yet further. A leaked treasury report now suggests brexit could cost the UK treasury £66 billion a year (£1.2 billion a week….rather than the extra £350 million the Brexiters promised).

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Brexit is already causing major problems, for pension funds for example

Post-brexit the UK will find it increasingly hard to export, given the consequences of tit for tat tariff imposition and the fact that we’ll have cut ourselves off from the rest of the globalised world, which will mean the UK will no longer be able to attract the best and brightest (case in point, the Tories recently announced that no foreigners would be asked to advice on brexit policy, or in other words they don’t want the best and brightest available to advise them!). The country will slip further and further behind to the point where UK companies can’t export, unable to sell outside of the closed shop of the UK economy because anything we try to sell is just Lada like obsolete.

Over a long enough time period, the anti-globalisation brigade may well get their wish – more jobs for British people. Foreign multinationals will be streaming into the country, because the UK will have fallen so far behind that it essentially now counts as a developing world country and these companies will want to exploit an impoverished UK and its cheap labour costs. As Paul Mason puts it:

What happens when the investment banks move to Frankfurt, the carmakers to Hungary, the offshore finance wizards to Dublin, the tech companies to newly independent Scotland? What happens when, instead of Poles, it is poor white English pensioners herded into the polytunnels of Kent to pick strawberries for union-busting gangmasters?

Certainly there is a need to rethink globalisation. It needs to work for the benefit of everyone and we need to quit thinking that this “benefit” is measured in the form of dollar bills. The world faces many major problems, overpopulation, peak oil, climate change, ISIS you name it. These are global problems, they need global solutions, which means international co-operation, not more division.

But we also need to acknowledge that getting rid of globalisation would be a very bad idea. If the neo-liberals were correct, that downsizing government and privatising public services was a good idea, then Somalia, which hasn’t had a functioning government in several decades, would be the richest country in the world (instead its one of the poorest and most dangerous places on the planet). Similarly if the Brexiters (or Trump) are right, then North Korea, the country with the tightest border controls and lest free market trade agreements would be the worlds most dynamic economy….of course the opposite is true!

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Opponents of globalisation, simply don’t seem to realise how much the world has changed and hence why we can’t just wind back the clock a few decades. And in many cases the medicine they proscribe would be much worse than what the propose to cure.

 

Why the Britannia’s not coming back….nor the Empire!

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The Britannia….where the queen would wine and dine blood thirsty dictators so the UK could sell them weapons

Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and a number of the other Brexiters want to bring back the Royal Yacht Britannia. They fantasize about a future where they travel the world signing new trade agreements from its decks. Really?

Well the current yacht was built in 1952 and completely obsolete (it was declared as much when it was decommissioned 22 years ago). I mean there’s a long list of things it won’t have (such as this thing called “the internet”….Liam Fox might want to look that one up!) and you’d have to train an entire crew as to how to use it. One would have to question the logistics of bringing it up to speed and back into service.

Furthermore, its also way too small for modern trade negotiations. The days when a UK minister could settle an international trade deal with some tin pot dictator over a glass of sherry and a handshake are long gone. A typical trade delegation these days will consist of several hundred lawyers and negotiators (of which Britain currently employs…..none!). Such talks will typically take place over a good few months, with the politicians only flying in for the last few days to settle any sticking points and basically knock heads together where necessary.

So you’d need something a little bit bigger….as in like a cruise ship! And you’d probably want more than one. And just one of those will set you back about half a billion, with an annual running cost of about a tenth that. And that’s for a ship kitted out for budget holiday makers, crewed by staff mostly drawn from developing world shipping nations. A ship decked out to the sort of royal standards we are talking about, crewed by the Royal Navy, you’re likely thinking many times these amounts, probably a few billion to commission and maybe a hundred million a year to run. Perhaps more. So not cheap.

But we’d get value for money from all those trade deals and saving on flights & hotels, right? Well aside from the little niggle that its going to be difficult to negotiate a trade deal with China from this ship….seeing as Beijing is 150 km’s inland. Australia? Canberra’s now the capital and that’s about 200 km’s inland. New Delhi? Over 1,000 km’s inland. Ottawa in Canada? 400 km’s inland. Washington DC’s close to the coast, but you’re not going to get a boat that big up the Potomac. Moscow in Russia?…you get the idea. And let’s not even consider the gas and oil rich states of Kazakhstan or Uzbekistan.

Now I suppose the Brexiters will argue, oh but johnny foreigners will hop on a train and come to us. Ya and if Putin showed up in his yacht, moored it off Brighton and summoned the PM to appear before him, how would the brit’s react? Probably by telling him to get stuffed and get on his bike and we’ll see you in London.

Also one has to wonder how it would look to the locals with their minsters being wined and schmoozed on a luxury yacht by an ex-colonial government. Dodgy as hell one assumes. Again how would the tabloids react to news of one of the UK’s minsters attending secret meetings on a foreign head of states private yacht? These days politicians, even those in less than democratic countries, have to at least pretend to not be corrupt.

And as I pointed out in a prior post, the British have a very brazen view of the British Empire that is not shared by the rest of the world. To many in India or former UK colonies, the history of the British Empire, its oppression of native populations, the atrocities it committed, the Empire’s use of concentration camps, are listed in the same section of the history books as nazi Germany and its crimes. So to draw an analogy if Angela Merkel commissioned a Reichsyacht the SS Bismarck and sailed it into Southampton for a trade negotiation, how would the British react to that? Not well I expect! How do you think the Indians are likely to react to a royal yacht in their waters? My guess is you’ll get ten minutes to turn around before they launch the torpedoes.

And this is perhaps the real problem here – the warped fantasy world view of these Brexiters. They don’t seem to realise how much the world has changed in the last 60 years. Or indeed how much of history they were taught in their posh boarding school is at odds with reality. Hence why they don’t understand the consequences of trying to reset everything and pretend its 1950 again.

There is worrying talk that the hard Brexiters are winning the argument behind closed doors. What’s wrong with that? Well a hard brexit pretty much guarantees a harder landing for the UK. It would almost certainly lead to another independence referendum in Scotland. And furthermore the harder the brexit the more likely a yes vote in Scotland becomes. Also it could even be enough to provoke a border poll in Northern Ireland. So hard Brexit might well turn out to mean Engexit….as in it will be England essentially leaving the EU and the UK breaking up.

Also a hard brexit will have a much more significant impact on trade, given the inevitable link between trade and free movement. Already a number of universities are talking of setting up campuses in the EU, most likely shifting much of their research staff overseas. A number of high tech firms and banks are also talking about moving and again the harder the brexit the more incentive they have to push into Europe. And the head of Nissan has hinted that he will be expecting some sort of “compensation from the government for brexit to maintain operations in the UK.

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UK factories in the 70’s were a model of unproductivity, crap cars produced using outdated technology by work-shy strike-happy workers, companies that needed significant state intervention to stay afloat

Now while you could accuse Nissan’s boss of being a little cheeky, but back in the old pre-globalisation days many industries were given a large government subsidy, were state owned or their market share defended by punitive tariff’s against foreign competitors. Even Tory governments prior to Thatcher didn’t really question this, as it was understood that the UK’s industrial jobs won’t survive in a completely free trade environment without some form of protectionism or subsidy. As a consequence the ideological enemy right now of Mr Fox isn’t Jeremy Corbyn but his hero Thatcher, who would be rolling in her grave….if she had one.

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Fox with his hero…and ironic ideological enemy…well at least that’s one positive thing we can say about him!

Now while rolling back Thacherism would have its advantages, but its cutting off your nose to spite your face to leave the EU to achieve this (it would make more sense to do it from within the EU by convincing the rest of the union to do the same). And its also throwing the baby out with the bathwater given all the other unintended consequences. More crucially however from a future British trade point of view, it is how much the global economy has changed since last trade deals were signed on Britannia’s decks.

Back then the UK went around the world offering to open its trade door a crack in exchange for full access to foreign markets for UK firms. Now the boots on the other foot. The Chinese economy is vastly larger than the UK’s. Many of the UK’s firms (about 52% in all) are foreign owned (Nissan, the country’s largest carmaker is a joint Japanese and French endeavour, Jaguar Land rover is owned by India’s Tata group, who also own…you get the message!). Instead the UK will be offering an access all areas pass to Indian and Chinese businesses, in exchange for slightly more favourable terms for the UK…sorry England…. to sell goods to them.

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Global economies compared. Note how India’s will be 6 times bigger than the UK by 2050 and China’s 10 times bigger. Also note the above figures are in nominal GDP which arguably overvalues Western economies and undervalues developing ones.

And faced with tariff free competition from either Polish or Chinese made goods British manufacturing firms and parts of the service economy, will struggle to compete, especially against foreign firms based in countries not run by bigots who can recruit more freely. Its not foreigners coming over here and “stealing” your job people need to worry about, its foreigners staying at home and your job moving overseas. And the decision to sack British workers will be made in foreign board rooms.

The only many English companies could hope to survive in this environment is by essentially turning the country into France…..and I don’t mean today’s France, I’m talking about Mitterand’s France with massive levels of subsidy and state intervention. The recent Hinkley deal, which will be subsidised to the tune of 68.8% of the cost of every watt it generates, is likely to be the shape of things to come. Without this level of interventionism certain sectors of the UK economy will collapse, in much the same way some sectors collapsed when Thatcher took over.

The irony is, many of those who voted Brexit in the hope of seeing more control over foreign trade and immigration will likely see the opposite happening. More big government, more bureaucracy, more foreign goods coming in, less jobs for British people, with the UK more foreign owned and more dependant on foreign workers being brought in to meet temporary skills shortages.

And much of what any future UK trade delegation will be negotiating, likely from a hotel on the Beijing ring road rather than a royal yacht, will essentially be the orderly surrender and fire sale of what’s left of the UK economy.

A history lesson for Brexiters…which they’ll never learn

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On Tuesday a group of 500 history academics signed a letter calling for the UK to remain in the EU. They warned that to leave the EU would be to condemn Britain to “irrelevance”. This list included many well known household names such as Ian Kershaw, Suzannah Lipscomb, Simon Schama and Niall Ferguson.

The last of these names was a bit of a surprise as he’s been critical of the EU in the past. However, like his colleagues Dr Ferguson has clearly decided that leaving would outweight any benefits. As he put it:

“The lesson of history is that British isolationism has often been associated with continental disintegration.”

He also accused the Leave camp of promoting a warped “scissors and paste” view of “plucky” Britain throughout history, that ignored certain historical realities (such as how impossible it would have been to win either world war without the aid of European allies or the US).

And this intervention comes on the back of a similar intervention from 150 leading scientists (including Stephen Hawking) warning that leaving the EU would be “a disaster” for science in the UK. And of course many leading economists and ex-US presidents and advisers have also warned of the consequences of leaving the EU.

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The leave camp will no doubt mumble about “bias”. But seriously, academics, particularly those from very diverse fields rarely agree on anything. All of them coming out against Brexit does kind of suggest there’s reasons to worry about it (no smoke without fire).

Unfortunately, I doubt these interventions will have any effect. If you are over 50, non-university educated, on a low wage (or retired or not working) and you get most of your news through tabloids, then you are more likely to be a leave voter.

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The reality is that most Brexit supporters aren’t going to influenced by any statement from academics, in part because they are never going to hear about it (the tabloids are certainly not going to publish them). This is why the leave camp know they can drive around in a battle bus with misleading slogans scrawled on it, despite the fact they have been thoroughly debunked weeks ago, and yet still keep a straight face.

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Indeed the “curry row is a good example of the sort of BS the leave camp is aiming for. At the moment thanks to a Tory policy (forced upon them by UKIP) you have to be earning over a certain threshold of money to become resident in the UK, which is making it difficult for UK curry houses to recruit staff from Asia. Some have responded by recruiting from Eastern Europe instead. The contrarian logic of the Brexiters is, oh leave the EU and the Eastern European chef’s will be on an equal footing with Asian ones.

Of course the reality is that actually Brexit will mean restaurants won’t be able to recruit any staff and some will be forced to close down. Clearly the problem here is a xenophobic immigration policy taken straight out of the Daily Mail and implemented without first working out its implications. However, this tactic of divide and rule is exactly the sort of methods the British used in India, pitting one ethnic group against the other. And ethnic minorities are overwhelmingly likely to vote Brexit, so you can see what the leave camp are up too.

And of course the irony is that anyone on a low wage (or worse retired and thus on a fixed income), many of whom will vote for Brexit regardless of what is said over the next few weeks, are the very people who will get absolutely screwed over if the UK leaves.

This is what worries me about the up coming referendum. It is not a rational decision being made by well informed voters. It is a vote based fear, prejudice, ignorance and lies. To paraphrase Churchill, never in the field of politics has such a momentous decision been made by so many so ill informed.

When you ignore the lessons of history…

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The election of a Green as president in Austria was soured by the high number of votes going to the far right.

While it seems that Austria has pulled back from the brink of electing a fascist as president. But hat nearly half the population were willing to do so is deeply disturbing. Those who ignore the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

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And for those who argue that the Austrian Freedom party are now mainstream, no fascists here, well what are they doing going around with blue Cornflowers on their lapels? For those not in the know, this was the symbol used by Austrian nazi party when they were banned between 1934 and 1938 (after trying to overthrow the government and murdering the Prime Minster). Hofer could not send out a stronger signal as to his views, short of dressing up in an SS uniform….only that would get him arrested!

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It would be a convenient time for many to go and watch Lawrence Ree’s excellent BBC series the Nazi’s a warning from history and its follow up “Auschwitz: The Nazis and ‘The Final Solution”. For there are many trends from the rise of the nazi’s that we see playing out again, both sides of the Atlantic.

Firstly the fact that Hitler was helped into power by those on the right (this is in fact the title of Ree’s first episode). Trump, and many European far right leaders, faced significant opposition from those on the centre right establishment initially, only for them to both become allies in the end. Well the same was true of Hitler. While in the history books we remember him for his fiery speeches. But when necessary he could tone things down, put on a suit and play the moderate deal maker. This was how he was able to worm his way into power.

Secondly, there is this myth of history that the nazi’s ceased power in an undemocratic way. Certainly once in power they began to abuse it and ignored or removed the checks and balances designed to limit or stop them destroying democracy. But the sad fact is that he was elected with 33% of the votes on a 80% turn out (this was the election just before the Reichstag fire). This means he had a mandate from 26% of the population, as compared to the recent Tory election “victory” of 2015 where they got 37% of the votes, with a turn out of 66% (i.e. a mandate from just 25% of the electorate). In subsequent elections the nazi’s achieved just short of a majority (although obviously one must doubt how honest such elections were). Even so the disturbing fact is is that Hitler won a larger mandate from the German electorate than David Cameron.

So while yes Hitler did abuse power, this would never have happened if it weren’t for millions of Germans buying into his racist rhetoric and voting for him. Of course the parties of the left in Germany at the time warned that he was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. But no we were assured, he’s only “talking tough” and “telling it like it is”. He has to say these things to appeal to the common voter. When he says he wants to ban all Muslims Jews he doesn’t actually mean that. The real enemy is bearded lefties like Corbyn who….might tax us a little bit more to help pay for the NHS (shock horror!)…and may have said something bad about Israel’s policy in the West bank.

And as Ree’s series describes, support for the nazi’s remained strong throughout Germany (Chaos and Consent), with many millions actively collaborating with the nazi’s (ratting out neighbours, turning in Jews, etc.), right up until the middle of the war (when it was obvious what madness they’d signed up too, but it was a little late then!). And crucially, as Ree’s 2nd series points out, it would be incorrect for us to lump the entire blame for nazi crimes on the Germans alone – many other nationalist groups in neighbouring countries supported them.

The Austrians, as noted, had their own nazi parties (yes they had more than one!). And they didn’t exactly put up much of a fight when the nazi’s took the country over (they were just as fascist already, it was more a dispute over whether they wanted to be Austrian nazi’s or German ones). Indeed, many became enthusiastic supporters of the reich (Hitler after all was Austrian, not German). I recall someone once pointing out to me that of all the countries that needed laws banning fascism it was Austria. This week’s result suggests those laws need strengthening.

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One can draw many similarities between current neo-fascists and similar parties that supported the nazi’s and collaborated in the holocaust.

In Hungary during the war the Arrow Cross, of which Jobbik is the natural successor, seized control and then allied with the nazi’s and fought alongside them. Many of the Jews and Gypsies who died in Auschwitz came from Hungary, rounded up and deported there by Hungarian fascists. The Poles too, even thought they had been invaded by Germany and many did resist the invaders, but some Poles did collaborate with the nazi round up of Jews and other minorities. Some played an active role in the Holocaust itself, as also happened in a number of the Baltic states.

Perhaps the worst offenders however were the Slovak’s. Not only did they hand over all of the Jews, but they actually ended up PAYING the nazi’s to take them away (yes really!). And of course there were plenty of people in countries like France (friends of Le Pen one assumes) or Norway who also collaborated with the nazi’s. Many tens of thousands from these countries actually joined the SS and fought on the Eastern front.

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Oh, and speaking of collaborators there’s another twist to these neo-fascist movements. Many are allied with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, either being formal allies, admirers of Putin (such as Trump or Farage) or are openly taking money from Moscow. Yes, all these ultra-nationalist marching around, waving flags, proclaiming how they are proud to be French, British, Hungarian and how they reject outside influence, yet they are essentially stooges of the Kremlin!

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Le Pen meets her bosses, how very patriotic!

So clearly what recent events show is that we have a major problem with an undercurrent of fascism throughout Europe and America that needs to be challenged. And I stress America, for as this documentary from the Beeb shows there is growing far right problem in the US too (which with the combination of guns in the US I fear is almost certainly going to lead to trouble).

My guess is that about 33-20% in some countries subscribe to these views. They are then able to con enough of the remainder (generally those from the centre right) into supporting them, often by stoking fears about immigration or other lies about the parties of the left. This is one of the reasons why the lies of the leave camp in the UK are so worrying. Its critical therefore that something must be done.

And what must be done is not repeating the mistakes of the past, when politicians and business leaders got into bed with the fascists, seeing them as a better alternative to those on the left. Well they are not. When a politician comes along advocating mass deportations, turning the country into a police state, defaulting on the nation’s debts, abolishing unions and the minimum wage we have to take him at his word. Even if he flip flops on it the following week. Because history tells us we cannot take the chance that he means what he says.