The Battle of Britain, myth v’s reality

dunkirk_bob.png

One of the defining founding myths that drives many of the brexiters is the early day’s of world war II, “the Dunkirk spirit” and Britain’s victory over Germany at the battle of Britain. However the reality is that there are a whole host of myths surrounding this period that are simply not true. It is therefore important to debunk these myths, as doing so reveals a lot of hard truths that the brexiters seem anxious to ignore.

Dunkirk was a defeat

Firstly it has to be acknowledged that Dunkirk was a defeat and there’s no real way to sugar coat that one. While yes a significant number of British soldiers did manage to escape encirclement and get back to the UK, the British did ultimately lose large numbers of men, the majority of their heavy equipment, and quite a number of ships and aircraft. The word by which we would describe one side fleeing the battlefield while losing a significant quantity of its forces in the process is “defeat”.

Keep in mind that in military terms any losses greater than 10% is considered bad. Losing more than 25% in a single engagement is considered a rout. The charge of the light brigade saw 16% of the attacking force killed (with a further third of the force wounded or de-horsed), while Pickett’s charge during the American Civil war saw 22% of the attacking force killed (and again a further third of the attacking force were wounded). So by any yard stick, while yes a significant portion of the British army did escape, the losses they took were significant. Soldiers and their equipment doesn’t grow on trees, losing large numbers of either isn’t a sustainable strategy.

Its also important to acknowledge how the British and the French (who also were evacuated at Dunkirk) got themselves into this mess in this first place. Both went into the war assuming it would be fought under the same conditions as World War I. The French devoted the bulk of their forces to the Maginot line, so they looked to the British to take the strategic initiative. The British instead took up positions along the Belgian border waiting for Belgium to be attacked, upon which they’d rush into to stop the Germans.

What both sides failed to understand was that developments in combined arms tactics (i.e. the blitzkrieg) meant waiting to be attacked meant waiting to lose. Only a well fortified position could hope to halt the enemy and tank warfare allowed such strong points to be simply bypassed and outflanked. The Belgians (and the low Countries) also have to take some of the blame. It should have been obvious after the attack on Poland and then Denmark that Belgian neutrality would not be respected. And, as noted, it should have been obvious from the early battles of the war that there was no way the Belgian army could hope to defend the country. Hence Belgium’s options were to either join the allies and invite in the British and French forces prior to a German attack. Or conclude that if you can’t beat’em join em.

The German ruthlessly exploited this naivety with their attack through the Ardennes forest, which directly lead to the fiasco at Dunkirk. As one British tank commander confessed at the time, of the month or so his forces spent in France, they spend most of that time in retreat, barely got to fire a shot, other than the odd rear guard action. And his men spent a significant portion of the their time in France drunk. He was then forced to abandon his tanks on the beaches and in some cases the first use of the tanks ammunition was when the crews scuttled them.

Furthermore, the British were only able to evacuate because of a major tactical error by Hitler. Convinced by boasting from Goring that the Luftwaffe could finish them off, he halted his armies. Of course, as with most of Goring’s boasts, the Luftwaffe failed. That said, there was a certain logic to the Germans letting the British forces escape. If the British forces had been captured, then the Germans would have had hundreds of thousands of prisoners to look after, a drain on their resources. By all accounts it looked like Germany had won, the British would be forced to negotiate a peace deal.

And it should be remembered that the Nazis admired the British and their Empire. As they saw it, what Britain was doing in India or Africa (concentration camps remember were invented by the British during the Boer war), they were doing in the East. So even when it became obvious that a significant proportion of the British forces were going to escape, they probably thought no harm done.

Britain did not stand alone

The enduring myth is that Britain stood alone against Europe. Not really! As noted, quite a few French made it over to Britain, including more than a few pilots, crucial given that the British were desperately short of experienced pilots. Also many Polish and Norwegian pilots had made it to Britain, where they played a key role in the Battle of Britain.

spitfirecolour

A spitfire…..with Polish markings…damn Poles comin over here, defending us from the nazi’s…

The Poles also brought with them most of the their intelligence apparatus. Much of the Ultra code breaking set up at Bletchley park owes its origins to Polish code breakers. The Poles had come up with many of the very tactics the British would later utilise to good effect. Even the design of the first mechanical computers (the Bombe) was based on a Polish design. The problem for the poles is they lacked in terms of resources and had basically run out of time to complete their work by the time the Germans invaded. So their arrival would prove crucial to the outcome of the war.

And of course there’s the role played by the empire, notably Canada, Australia and New Zealand. And there was also the contribution of the Indians, something which is often forgotten. Quite apart from the direct support they offered in terms of men, machinery and supplies, they also took over roles guarding overseas bases, allowing more of the British forces to be moved back to the UK.

And while countries like the US or Ireland were officially neutral, it was a strange form of neutrality. The American blatantly favoured the British, openly shipping military supplies across, in some cases without proper payment. At one point, when the German U-boat attacks proved problematic, US sailors began dressing up as Canadians and served on ships escorting supplies across the Atlantic.

Similarly, while German pilots were interned, the Irish looked the other way while British pilots escaped. They supplied the UK with food supplies and took no action to stop thousands of Irish going to the UK to join the British military (one of my relatives actually came to the UK during the war and worked in an airfield as an aircraft mechanic). Weather forecasts were strictly controlled, with none broadcast over the Irish radio’s during the war, yet weather data was quietly passed on to the allies (a weather forecast from Valentia Island would prove to be crucial later in the war regarding the timing of the D-Day landings).

The Spitfire was, at best, a mediocre aircraft

For the British the spitfire is an almost mythical beast. The best fighter of the war, if not ever made. The reality was a little different. It was certainly fast, however it also came with a number flaws and quirks. The most notable of these was its engine was prone to cut out if the aircraft was inverted, a quite serious flaw to have in air to air combat, not least because the Germans soon figured it out and began exploiting this flaw, forcing the British to develop a quick fix.

The Spitfire design had evolved from a racing floatplane of the 1930’s (which only had to fly in a straight line, hence it had a carburettor engine and hence the problems with the engine cutting out), which made them fast but left them stuck with lots of legacy issues. Faced with a faster opponent, a Spitfire was in trouble. Fortunately, the German pilots were at the limit of their range during the Battle of Britain and could not use their aircraft to their fullest extent.

Also the obsession with the Spitfire ignores the fact that the mainstay of the RAF during the Battle of Britain was the Hawker Hurricane, which equipped the majority of RAF squadrons and accounted for the bulk of RAF kills. The Hurricane was a workhorse next to the Spitfires fancy dressage pony. It was simple and rugged, not particularly fast (but not exactly slow either) and surprisingly nimble for such an old aircraft.

So while the Spitfire wasn’t a bad aircraft, it certainly wasn’t any sort of wonder weapon and its role in the battle is somewhat exaggerated.

Radar wasn’t a secret weapon

Another myth is that the British had a secret weapon the boffins had come up with that the Germans didn’t know about – radar. This allowed the British to have their airforce in their air waiting for the German raiders, acting as a sort of forces multiplier. While the second half of this statement is true, the British did use radar to good effect, the idea that this was a secret is not.

The Germans were more than familiar with the existence of radar, they were working on it themselves. They were a bit behind the British, but by 1939 they had their first working units. They certainly knew the British had radar as well and one of the first things they attacked was British radar stations along the coast.

The problem for the Germans was that Hitler saw radar as a defensive weapon and he prioritised work on offensive weapons. So the technology was never pursued or deployed effectively during the Battle of Britain.

Hitler’s policy did have repercussions later in the war. It meant the Germans sought to miniaturise their radar such that it could be fitted into an aircraft, which they then used to equip night fighters. These night fighters would become so effective as a result that it meant being over Germany at night was just as dangerous as the American daylight raids.

Enigma code breakers played only a minor role in the battle of Britain

The cracking of the Enigma code (code named Ultra) proved crucial to allied victory in world war II, no question. However, its benefits would only kick in much later in the war, notably during the Battle for the Atlantic and the run up to D-Day. During the battle of Britain it played a minor role.

In part this was simply because it was early days, Ultra had limited resources and their successes were a lot of hit and miss. As noted, the Polish code breakers had only just gotten their feet under the desk and their British counterparts were still digesting all that they’d learnt. Indeed, they’d only succeeded in breaking the Luftwaffe code for the first time around the end of May. Also at this early stage, the penny hadn’t dropped with military high command as to just how valuable Ultra intercepts could be.

This debunks one of the great myths of World War II, that Churchill allowed the bombing of Coventry to go ahead in order to protect the secret of Ultra. This is contradicted by multiple sources and furthermore, it makes no sense. British commanders would consider an industrial city like Coventry as far more valuable than some boffin being able to read Goring’s e-mail….occasionally! Now granted, later in the war, when the true potential of Ultra had been realised, that’s a different story (which is probably how this myth got started). But certainly the impact of Ultra on the battle of Britain phase of the war was fairly limited. It had an impact yes, but it wasn’t decisive.

Churchill was not a great military leader…although he was a great drinker

If you believe the propaganda Britain won thanks to Churchill, who personally directed the battle from his war room under the the Treasury. This is simply not true, Churchill knew very little about aerial warfare so he wisely delegated this task to those who did, such as air chief Marshall Hugh Dowding.

And too be honest “great military leader” and Churchill are two things that rarely appear in the same sentence. Its more than usually “Churchill” and “military disaster”. In the first world war the fiasco of the British defeat at Coronel was largely Churchill’s fault, because he was too busy trying to help one of his aristocratic friends (a German) keep his job (for some reason someone thought it was a bad idea to have a German in charge of the Admiralty when the UK was fighting them). Then there was the small matter of Gallipoli one of the greatest military blunders of World War I, which was largely Churchill’s idea.

During the Irish war for independence, the Black and Tans were Churchill’s idea and they ultimately destroyed what support remained in Ireland for remaining part of the UK. And in World War II it is ironic that the defeat of British forces in Norway led to the downfall of Chamberlain and Churchill’s appointment, when it was largely Churchill’s fault things had gone so badly wrong for the British. So during the Battle of Britain Churchill instead did what he did best, he focused on keeping morale in the country up and basically staying out the RAF’s way.

Also it is difficult to avoid the topic of Churchill and not bring up the matter of his drinking, because he was a seriously heavy drinker. Now yes, it is true people drank more in those days that we do these days. And being Irish, me giving out about someone else’s drinking is bit of pot calling the kettle black. But he’d drink me under the table and probably a room full of my fellow Irish too. He’d have a bottle of champagne with his breakfast, beers with his lunch (not sure if that should be “with” his lunch or “for” lunch), and the best part of a bottle of Cognac in the evening, with several Whiskey and soda chasers throughout the day.

Do the maths and that’s at least ten times the recommended daily limit. If I drank that much in one day, I’d need a week’s detox to recover, nevermind doing it every day. They must have had an entire brewery going just to keep Churchill well oiled. Of course this means Churchill likely spent much of the war in a constant state of inebriation. I always thought his slurred speech was a speech impediment, but its more likely that its because he was permanently shitfaced. Which means that his infamous “fight them on the beaches” speech was basically a drunk roaring into a microphone for ten minutes. How very British.

So why did the British really win?

Well, as noted the British were better organised than the Germans. While radar wasn’t a huge secret, the British used it to good effect. They used home advantage, ensuring any pilots shot down were quickly picked up. Any RAF plane that got shot up, so long as the pilot could make it back down, the airfields had a pretty good system in place for repairing battle damaged planes and getting them airborne again pretty quickly, generally (according to my relative) within 24 hrs or less. By contrast German fighters faced a perilous journey back across the channel. And if they made it (and many of them didn’t), they could be waiting several days for spare parts to show up.

And while the nazi’s considered women to be little more than breeding machines for the master race, the British recruited many women (including the current Queen) into a wide variety of roles, land girls, the RAF wren’s, factory workers and transfer pilots (who flew planes from the factory to the airfield). This meant that the Germans neglected 50% of their work force.

So how is it that the Germans were so un-Germanic in their organisation? That was largely the fault of certain fat Prussian meat ball by the name of Goering, proof of everything that is wrong with the German diet. The only way he was going to kill a British airman was by falling on him. I have my own personal theory that Hitler became a vegetarian not long after meeting Goering for the first time. Suffice to say that even when Churchill was laying on his office floor nursing an empty bottle of Cognac he was still doing a better job than Goering was doing awake and sober.

First of all, you’ll recall what I said about the limited range of German fighters. They only had a range of about 700 miles, while a range closer to 1,000 miles (which the spitfire and hurricane’s had) is more appropriate for a cross channel battle. This meant that the German fighters had only a few minutes of combat time over England before they had to turn around and head for home. And they’d have been constantly watching the fuel gauge. And inevitably if the pilot miscalculated, they’d end up in the Channel. And as it was Goering and his air staff who specified the range for those fighters, when they were ordered them one has to wonder why they didn’t consider ordering a fighter with a longer range.

Also many German aircraft were just not up to the task. The attacks on radar stations was handled by Stuka’s, an excellent attack aircraft….so long as the enemy doesn’t have an airforce! The RAF inflicted dreadful losses on the Stuka’s, forcing them to be withdrawn. The Germans did have one long range fighter, the twin engined BF 110. However it had all the grace and manoeuvrability of a large brick. In the end they would suffer the indignity of needing single engined BF 109’s to escort them.

And Goering interfered with the tactics his pilots would like to adopt. Their preferred tactic was to try and catch the British fighters as they were climbing, ideally ambushing them by diving out of the sun. However Goering insisted they stick close to the bombers. Doubly disastrous given the range issues they were faced with.

Its worth noting that when the Allies were fighting for air superiority over Germany they were very quick to realise that needed to hit the German fighter forces while they were still climbing, or even still on the ground. Famously, when American General Doolittle arrived in the UK, on a tour of a base he noticed a sign saying the fighter squadron’s job was to protect the bombers. He ordered the sign taken down and made a new one which said the fighter’s job was to destroy the Luftwaffe.

In short he was saying to his pilots that this wasn’t an aerial jousting match between gentlemen, it was a dirty mean back alley brawl. He was telling his fighter pilots to use every underhand below the belt bastard trick they could think of, such as (as noted) jumping enemy fighters while they were on the ground or still climbing, following wounded fighters back to base and shooting them up as they landed. Or, as the British did during the battle of Britain, shooting down rescue planes as they picked up German pilots in the channel, even thought they had red cross symbols on them (which was against the Geneva convention).

Despite it all, the Germans were gradually wearing the British down with attacks on RAF airfields, by the end of August they were perilously close to succeeding. However, at this point they changed tactics and began focusing attacks on UK cities. There is debate about why Hitler ordered this change in tactics. Some argue that the German attacks on the airfield simply weren’t being effective and they Hitler sought to win through shock and awe tactics. Others content that he was angered by attacks by the RAF against Berlin.

However, what is often forgotten is that the Battle of Britain (or Operation Sealion to the Germans) was a two phase operation. Phase one was to win air superiority over the channel. Phase two was for the German army, with the aid of the Navy, to cross the channel and invade England. Now while the general consensus is that had the Germans stuck to their guns they should have been able to complete phase one. However, a cross channel invasion is a different matter entirely. Many German generals thought it was a silly idea and openly predicted disaster. Amphibious assault is one of the most difficult of all military manoeuvres to pull off. Recall what I said about 10% casualties being bad and 25% being a disaster. With an amphibious assault if you “only” lose 20% and achieve your objectives, that’s considered a success.

For the D-Day invasion the allies assembled a vast armada of nearly 2,000 ships, with lots of special equipment such as landing craft of various types, swimming tanks, obstacle demolition equipment, even a pair of portable harbours and a self assembly oil pipeline. The Germans in 1940 had only a few hundred leaky canal barges that they’d robbed off the French. So throughout the air war there had been quiet lobbying by some generals for the whole operation to be called off. Because even if the Luftwaffe could win (and few had confidence in Goering’s ability to do that), it won’t matter, an invasion in 1940 was impossible, they’d need time to prepare. So in that context, this change in German tactics doesn’t quite seem so crazy. And recall that the allies were also bombing cities, so nobody can really claim moral superiority at this point.

Of course the picture that emerges from a more realistic appraisal of the battle of Britain is very different. It portrays how the British only ended up in this mess because of past military failings and amateurist political dithering. That they were aided by allies and friends from abroad. And that had they done a brexit and gone it alone, they would have likely lost pretty quickly. That if any “boffins” and their secrets were responsible for victory, it was probably Polish immigrants rather than the engineers behind the spitfire. And it shows the allies as being a good deal more brutal and underhand than they’d like to think, and the British won largely because they were willing to fight a dirty war.

Advertisements

The dangers of Trump on Korea

173742

Prior to getting caught by his lies as regards protesters at Charlotteville, and thus being exposed as the racist that he is, Trump was busy trolling the North Koreans. Which isn’t so much a case of waving a red rag at a bull, its walloping the bull across the nose and then calling it gay. Its worth reviewing the situation here, as it reveals the dangers present in having the likes of Trump in the White House.

Firstly its worth looking back at North Korea’s history, or more precisely the North Korean propagandists version of its history. They say, we didn’t start the Korean war, nobody knows which side started it. The controversy over who started this war is only a controversy in North Korea. All other sources agree that it started after Kim Il-Sung, acting under orders from Stalin, sent his armies north.

Stalin calculated that he could achieve a quick and easy victory here and score first blood in the cold war. The regime of Syngman Rhee was not popularly supported, given that he was every bit as brutal as the regime up the north (if not worse). Also there weren’t that many American troops in the South prior to the start of the war because Rhee and the Americans didn’t trust each other. Incidentally, the North Koreans also try to claim that the Rhee & the US were planning to hand Korea back to Japan. The idea that Rhee, who had been implicated in plots to kill the Japanese royal family, would go along with that is obviously absurd.

So by all accounts it looked like a slam dunk, all Kim needed to do was kick down the door and the whole rotten mess would collapse before the US could do anything. There’s an old military saying that all plans survive until first contact with the enemy and this was very true in Korea. Firstly, the South Koreans by and large resisted (they disliked Rhee, but they disliked the Communists even more), costing the NK army valuable time. Secondly, the Americans pulled off an amazing feat of logistics, moving troops first into the path of the NK army to halt its advance, then undertaking a sea borne invasion deep behind enemy lines.

Thirdly, seeing the UN as just League of Nations 2.0 (a talking shop where nations left passive aggressive notes on the fridge for one another), Stalin underestimated the blow back he’d get as a result. The Russians were at the time boycotting the UN (over issues related to Berlin and Taiwan) and thus were unable to prevent the US getting a resolution passed which authorised military force against North Korea.

Now while this UN resolution was clearly taking liberties with the UN, equally it was a corner Stalin had painted himself into. If there’s one positive we can draw out from the Korean war (there ain’t many), it was how countries started to take the UN a little more seriously afterwards. Either way, this put Stalin in a tight spot, as he couldn’t directly assist North Korea, as that would be going against a resolution from the UN (which Russia had helped to found). So as the NK army was routed in the South and forced to retreat, Russia was forced to rely on the Chinese to repel the Americans.

This is perhaps the tragedy of the Korean war, it amounted to two superpower blocks basically blasting the crap out of each other and the Koreans, both north and south, getting caught up in the cross fire. Its a bit like one of those movie scenes where the two protagonists getting into a gun fight in someone else’s home/place of business and basically thrash the place, then move on and leave him to clean up the mess (if he’s still alive).

If North Korea has a motto, it would have to be “with friends like ours, who needs enemies”. Its “allies” have repeatedly screwed the country over, so it probably explains North Korea’s isolationist policy of Juche. The trouble is, that Juche doesn’t work. Consider that prior to them adopting this policy, back in the late 1970’s the North Korea economy wasn’t in that bad a shape, there GDP was significantly higher than in neighbouring China and not that far behind South Korea. Since then the Chinese economy has grown eight fold while the North Korean economy has contracted (with a slight recovery in recent years). North Korea has gone from a net food exporter with good modern farming methods, to one which can’t feed itself and is dependant on welfare from abroad. It merely serves as a poster for everything that is wrong with isolationist economics of the sort Trump or the brexiters peddle.

The other major policy of North Korea is what CIA agents refer to as the crazy gang” gambit, often expressed using the acronym CFC for Crazy, Fearsome and Crippled. The logic is that nobody will attack them because, while there is little doubt the NK army can be defeated, the cost of that victory will be high and the winner will face the enormous costs of essentially rebuilding the country from scratch.

However there is a fatal flaw in this combination of Juche and CFC. It means the North Koreans, have to be constantly playing brinkmanship with their neighbours. THey need to do this for reasons of domestic politics and to ensure that the supplies that China sends that keeps the regime going continue to roll in. And they must be careful not to be seen to back down as that could leave the regime vulnerable on the domestic front. The trouble is that this is simply not a long term sustainable strategy as it requires everyone else to be the grown ups and naturally with Trump, that’s unlikely to be the case.

Also the danger with Trump is he might intentionally try to start a war with North Korea to distract from domestic politics (his impending impeachment for example). However, as I discussed in a prior post, this could escalate very quickly and end very badly. The Republican’s concept that they can safely leave Trump in charge and then quietly knife him at a time when it is convenient for them to do so is simply not a sensible strategy.

Local election autopsy

download

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.

C_GDtC9XcAQh61Q.jpg

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.

C943oK7XsAAdzQo

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

Nolan_chart

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

Daily_mail_goat

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).

Daily_mail_1938

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

Caxe9atXIAABaVA.jpg

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.

mara_largo_trump_costs.png

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.

2693

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.

trump-syria-tweets.jpg

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.

2300russia

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.

nkparade.web_

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.

article-2725415-208925A500000578-155_964x644

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.

china-north-korea

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.

1042695217.jpg

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.

67616829_south_china-sea_1_464.gif

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.

RussiaWW3_STATIC2.0.0.png

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).

inline_6454f734-b94_859410a-1.png

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

p04t3lz8

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

gove-johnson-farage-brexit-cartoon

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).

screenshot_25_06_2016_11_07

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.

czdyqpgxcaao_xv

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.

donald-trump-701512

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.

jan-27-17-may_-the_-first_-in_-the_-queue_-to_-meet_-trump_-1024x724

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.

_43002069_ap416behind

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.

inequality_world_bank_2016

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.

_91520192_elephant_chart624_arrow

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.

2002-11-1620free20trade20agricultur

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.

_91530997_protectionist_policies_g20_v2

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.

20120414_fbc899_3

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.

pound_v_dollar_oct_2016

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).

mind_the_gap-_uk_pension_deficits_have_ballooned_since_the_brexit_vote-line_chart-ft-web-themelarge-600x396

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!

somalia-1

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!

the-royal-yacht-britannia-in-1960-136397590004503901-150416125808

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.

british_leyland3

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.

dr-liam-fox-with-former-prime-minister-baroness-thatcher

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.

top_economies_2050-2

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.