While I was away….

Just back from Holiday, thought I’d catch up on a few stories that came up while I was on my travels….

When in Rome do as the Romans do….stay away from burning buses

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The 5 Star movement remain committed to good public transport….with heating!

One of my stops on holiday, was Rome, where they’ve a bit of a wee problem with buses that keep catching fire. The locals blame the new Five Star mayor and cutbacks on maintenance, which is merely one of a host of scandals she’s gotten caught up in. Which given that 5S are now part of the government in Italy, is hardly a good sign.

While there was a few things in the joint NL/5S manifesto I agreed with, e.g. ending austerity, a national citizens income, better public transport (you might want to focus on stopping buses catching fire first!). But they also promised to lower taxes at the same time as greatly increasing public spending. This in a country whose in debt to the tune of 130% of its GDP.

Now while its true there’s nothing wrong with a country borrowing money, particularly in a time of crisis, Keynes never said that gives governments a blank cheque to spend like a sailor on shore leave and ignore any form of financial responsibility. Clearly, at the very least they’d have to demonstrate some plan for paying off this debt (otherwise nobody would lend them money to spend in the first place). This could include putting up taxes for the wealthy, or increasing the tax on things like alcohol and cigarettes (which are both very cheap, I mean I was buying Belgian ales for less than they cost in Belgium!), or starting to introduce carbon taxes (which would eventually replace things like VAT altogether). Cuts could also be made in areas that are cutable, e.g. in terms of defence spending.

But there in lie the problem with a populist government, they can’t do anything unpopular, even if its in the long term best interest of the country. Indeed, the NL part of the government wants to hire more police and build prisons for the hundreds of thousands of migrants they are going to deport. Of course, it would be unwise to undertake such deportations (and unlikely they are going to succeed). Many of the countries in question may not take them back and others would not be a safe place to send them. There is a legal precedence going back to the holocaust, whereby those responsible for deportations to Germany (in the full knowledge that they were potentially sending people to their death) which would come into play, meaning members of this populist government could find themselves facing a war crimes tribunal in the Hague.

And their solution to their debt problems is to demand that the EU simply writes off a large chunk of Italian debt. The EU’s unlikely to do that because A) that would set a precedence, which could lead to both Italy and the entire eurozone’s debt being downgraded. And B) as Italy would now be considered to be in a state of default, banks would be a lot less likely to lend to Italy. So rather than freeing Italy from under the thumb of the ECB, they’ve be more dependant than ever on ECB money to keep the country solvent. Yes, the EU must take some share of the blame for Italy’s predicament, but Italy is mostly in mess of its own creation (something which no populist party could ever admit, hence why they have to blame the EU and migrants for 100% of Italy’s problems).

Print money? That’s really only a temporary solution and the window of opportunity during which that could help has arguably passed. Also such measures would drive up inflation, diluting the value of people’s savings and push up prices. Indeed inflation (or more accurately stagflation) is a big problem in Italy right now. One could argue a number of the policies announced are in fact more anti-stagflation measures than anti-austerity measures. But introducing policies to counteract inflation, which will just cause more of it is robbing Peter to pay Paul. Or in Italy’s case (given that the ECB would never allow this either), its robbing Peter in the full knowledge that he’ll catch you at it and then beat you and Paul up later with a baseball bat.

Oh and 5S and NL also want to drop sanctions on Russia. And this in the same week the Dutch reveal how they have direct evidence linking the Russians to the downing of MH17. You have to love Italian corruption. In America Trump has to at least pretend he’s not Putin’s ally. But in Italy, they don’t even bother hiding that. He helped us get elected, so we’ll be sharing the cake with him, what’s wrong with that?

At least they’ve backed down from their more extreme policies of withdrawing from the Euro and the EU. The NL in fact actually wants a referendum for Northern Italy to separate from Southern Italy. But as is so often the case, when confronted with reality, such headline grabbing (but utterly ludicrous) plans have had to be dropped (like the £350 million a week for the NHS we were promised in the UK).

That said, it is alleged that the reason why the Italian president rejected their pick for finance minister was that he heard that they were planning for a secret withdrawal from the EU over a weekend (think about that for a minute, the UK’s going to take several years to get out of the EU and this lot thought they can do something similar over a weekend!). In the wake of this the populists called for him to be impeached and replaced by the Prime Minster (which would be unconstitutional, this is kind of the whole reason why they are separate jobs). In short, it seems like they haven’t much of a clue what they are doing or how government is supposed to work.

The populists have also asked the EU with coming up with the means for a country to withdraw from the euro at some future date, if they were to have such a referendum. Well the bad news is, I suspect some eurocrat IS probably working on just such a plan as we speak. But its not how Italy can voluntarily leave the euro, its how the EU can kick Italy out of the euro if they break its rules, while minimising the damage the rest of the eurozone takes from the inevitable Italian bankruptcy that follows.

I think we can get some feel for how things will pan out based on one of the earlier sticking points the NL stuck with, they wanted Silvio Berlusconi to be part of the new government. Why in blue blazes would they want that? Well because they know full well they’ve made promises neither they, nor 5S can keep.

What Italy will get is just a less competent (as well as corrupt and more authoritarian) version of the previous government. Just one that picks random fights with the EU, which they will generally lose. There fear is, that Mr Bunga Bunga (whose probably more to blame than anyone else for Italy’s current woes) will exploit that and next thing you know, a year from now, he and Trump will be trading anecdotes about their criminal exploits at Mar-a-largo.

Barcelona tourism protests

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Across the sea in Barcelona, there’s been anti-tourist protests recently. Now yes tourists can be annoying (in London during the summer you’re tripping over them, Edinburgh during the Fringe you can barely walk down the street and I reckon the use of rocket launchers against campervans on highland roads should be legal, when they trundle along at 30 mph with fifty cars behind them). But statistically, Barcelona isn’t even in the top ten of tourist destinations in the world (and having been there, the numbers aren’t anything near as bad as you’d find in say Florence or Rome).

However, a Spanish tour operator did mention to me that there’s been a big upsurge in tourism in Spain over the last few years, due to issues across the Mediterranean making such destinations seem unsafe. And as noted, Italy is starting to get very expensive (and politically unstable), so that’s driving more tourists towards the Iberian peninsula.

So to the locals the sudden surge in numbers is probably something they’d notice. And there’s a few particular features of tourism in Barcelona that I can see would likely wind up the locals. Firstly, there’s been a proliferation of Airbnb’s, with long term tenants being thrown out of their flats so it can be rented out to tourists (for the record, I stayed in one of the older pension hostals).

Also there’s lots of large tour groups running around, who seem to follow a set formula of places to visit. So if you’re in say, the Boqueria at the wrong time, you’re barely able to move for the numbers. And this has also had the effect of pushing up prices (the days of cheap eats in the Boqueria are long gone). And part of what’s driving these massive hordes are cruise ships, which have been docking in Barcelona in ever increasing numbers.

Indeed, my bit of tourist advice for Barcelona (or other cities like Rome with similar or even worse overcrowding) is remember that said tour groups tend to mostly consist of old retired couples. So with that in mind go to the places they won’t go (anything with lots of steps, loud noises, young people or this thing called “rock and roll”). And similarly if going to the places that are likely to be busy, such as the aforementioned Boqueria, go either early in the morning (when the oldies are still putting in their false teeth) or later in the evening (or around lunchtime when they’re having their nap) and you’ll avoid the crowds. But suffice to say though, you can see how all of this would piss locals off a bit. But equally, its a little more complicated than the simple populist “too many tourists”.

Now the thing is all of these problems are within the capacity of the local Catalan government to solve (keep in mind Barcelona voted in favour of independence by a margin of 92%). As I discussed in a prior article, most likely most of these airbnb hosts are breaking the law (notably local fire codes), so even without any new legislation a crack down on them is possible. Tourist guides can be regulated. And those regulations could stipulate terms that mean they stay away from certain parts of the city at certain times or on certain days giving the locals a bit of breathing space. Limiting the number of cruise ships or imposing a 72 hour rule on them (once in the harbour they can’t leave again for 72 hrs) would also relieve pressure somewhat.

Should you be wondering why the Catalan government isn’t doing any of this…..you’ve not be watching the news have you? They’ve got their eyes on the bigger prize of independence. And for that independence to succeed tourism will be a vital industry, as it will serve as a key source of foreign currency (meaning they can raise the cash to buy things like oil or other stuff the rest of Spain will be refusing to sell them). So at present the Catalan government doesn’t want to reduce tourist numbers, if anything they want numbers to keep going up. Not that they’re going to point that out to the angry populists in their own party of course!

But at least it shows that left wing populists can be as prone to blaming foreigners for their problems, as much as the right wing ones.

The downfall of Rojay

And speaking of Catalonia, we’ve just seen the downfall of Spanish PM Rajoy. If Catalonia ever gets independence, it will largely be thanks to his reign of error. When he took office, support for full independence was hovering around about 25-30%, although there was widespread support for greater regional autonomy. Now support for independence is closer to 40-50%. A combination of his austerity measures and his stubborn refusal to even consider alternatives has effectively convinced a large portion of Catalan’s that they can’t get anywhere with the likes of him in charge in Madrid.

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Already, in complete contrast to Rajoy, his successor is talking about reconciliation and negotiating with the Catalan’s. However, I suspect the damage has already been done. The brutal crack down against the vote earlier this year has hardened opinions and nothing short of a legally sanctioned in/out referendum will suffice.

I bring this up because some in the UK have suggested that Westminster should copy Rajoy’s tactics when it comes to seeing off future moves for independence from the SNP. I would argue that would be an excellent idea….if the Tories WANT to guarantee Scottish independence.

As things stand, support for independence is hovering around the 45-50% mark. Given the fallout from brexit and the blow back the Tories will catch for that in a few years time, such tactics will all but guarantee the SNP will win any vote (official or unofficial) by a landslide. And while Rajoy could just ignore the Catalan’s, Scotland can’t be so easily dismissed (given that Scotland controls the majority of the UK’s energy supplies!).

In short, the Tories had best get used to conceding ground to Brussels, because the only way their going to hang onto Scotland and Wales is by conceding more power to Edinburgh and Cardiff.

Magic money trees

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You may recall how Corbyn talked about nationalising the UK’s railways and the Tories laughed and said, oh we can’t do that, its too expensive, there’s no magic money trees……Only low and behold, the Tories have just nationalised the east coast mainline and bailed out their chum Richard Branson (who you will recall tried to rub Corbyn’s face in it last year, over that skit where he sat on the floor).

And this is hardly the first time. Hinkley C, Heathrow, BHS and Carillon, to name a few, have all had a bailout. And let’s not even begin to mention the costs associated with brexit. Recall, the tens of billions paid to the EU is just the start. The UK will also now need to set up whole new government departments to basically do the stuff the EU previously did for us. And there’s all the promises they made, farm subsides to be paid and the tax revenue hole left by leaving EU citizens.

So it would appear that whenever the Tories need it, not only is there a magic money tree, but there’s a whole forest of them.

Border woes

On my travels I also passed through the wee seaside town of Ventimiglia. One unusual feature of this town is that it has three railway stations, of which only part of one is still in service (the rest are either demolished or slowly being taken over by weeds). And the disused sections are absolutely massive, consisting of marshalling yards with dozens of lines of parallel track.

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You may wonder why a town with a population of just 50,000 ever needed such massive railway infrastructure. A little geography will probably help. The town sits right on the Italian/French border and is the last stop before entering France. So obviously, back in the days before the single market, every train that crossed the border needed to stop here for a customs inspection. It kind of hammers home the issues the UK will face post brexit.

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The Tories are still stuck with their delusions that they can magically solve the issue of the Irish border with technology (and presumably more magic money trees). Well the experts don’t just say no, they say “are you mad or what!”. Every month 385,000 goods vehicles and 1.85 million cars cross the border. That’s an average of 75,000 vehicles a day that would need to be checked (and potentially double that number or more at peak times). And there are potentially hundreds of border crossings where you’d need to have inspectors or infrastructure in place.

I think the problem is that many brexiters still have this vision of Ireland as a nation of farmers who ride around with a donkey and cart. They don’t seem to realise that as a factor of GDP manufacturing represents a greater share of the Irish economy (about 40%) than it does the UK (about a quarter). And we’re talking several high tech industries here, everything from aircraft parts, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, to microchips and software. And yes, this does involve parts being sent north of the border, then onto the rest of the UK or Europe.

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In Ireland these days, we make more than just shamrock and stout!

And speaking of farmers, agricultural produce does represent a significant portion of our exports to the UK. And it is agricultural products that will likely see the largest shift in tariff’s and prices post-brexit (by as much as 50% accounting for currency exchange and differences in tariff’s) and the largest drift in regulation if the UK caves in to some of the demands its likely to face from trading partners such as the US (meaning certain UK food products would be banned from sale in the EU or visa versa). So there’s going to be a very strong financial incentive for smugglers to start shifting such goods.

Already there are smuggler gangs, moving narcotics (Ireland’s rugged coastline makes it a transshipment point for drugs), alcohol, tobacco and fuel. Many of these gangs have links to either loyalist or republican paramilitaries. So even if this “electronic” border did work, they’d take steps to thwart it. Such as taking pot shots at drones, blowing up cameras, or sending guys in balaclavas around to threaten the families of the technicians who program the surveillance software. And these groups also have politician connections to the DUP or SF (much as how the RHI scheme in NI ended up mired in corruption, so too is likely to be any electronic border).

But this is the problem with brexit. Its an idea dreamt up by posh public school boys who live in some ivory tower and are ignorant of what happens in the real world.

Changing tastes

Interesting article here about the likely impact of brexit on the full English breakfast. Let’s put it this way, about the only two ingredients that will be unaffected are the bread and the eggs. Well at least we’ll be able to make French toast then!

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The full English Irish Breakfast

The height of hypocrisy

And speaking of brexit, Nigel Lawson, a leading brexiter, is now apparently trying to get residency in France. And he’s in good company, Nigel Farage’s kids both have gotten German citzenship (and its been claimed he’s applying as well) and several unionist have applied for Irish citizenship.

Do right wingers have no shame, no sense of irony and do they understand the meaning of the word hypocrisy? Or are they just a bunch of idiotic self centred jerks? They see nothing wrong with campaigning for something that will drag tens of millions of brit’s out of the EU, then think nothing of applying for EU citizenship themselves. After all how am I supposed to get to my yacht on the Cote d’Azur! Hell, who wants to live in England anyway, why they eat French toast for breakfast since brexit.

What happens in Donegal, stays in Donegal

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Ireland recently had a referendum on abortion, which resulted in a resounding vote in favour of overturning the ban…..Well everywhere except in Donegal. That said, Donegal is kind of the land that time forgot. Its the sort of rural backwater where you’d be almost tempted to greet the locals by saying “how”. Its the sort place you fear that using a mobile phone might result in the locals burning you at the stake for witchcraft. So no real surprise really that they bucked the trend.

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This creates some awkward problems for Theresa May. Her DUP allies have, like their cohorts in the south, relied on the hypocrisy that they can pretend to be anti-abortion, even thought it just means anyone looking to get an abortion merely has to get a Ryanair flight to the UK. In a year’s time however, they’ll merely have to drive across the border, which will make something of a mockery of this policy.

The result was also was a major blow to the religious right in Ireland and their north American allies. One (catholic) priest even suggested that anyone who voted yes, should be bared from confession and basically excommunicated (which means 66% of the country!) until they do penance. Here’s an idea, how about as penance yes voters have to join the DUP or the orange order (given that they’re the only two groups in the country still in favour of an abortion ban).

Montecassino

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The abbey dominates the local landscape

Another spot on my travels was the Benedictine abbey of Montecassino. A bit off the beaten track, but well worth the visit. It is steeped in history (back to Roman times, as well as the founding of the Benedictine order and monastic orders in general). But its also famous for being the site of the battle of Monte Cassino in World War II.

To say this was controversial was to put it mildly. The Americans bombed the Abbey (effectively committing a war crime) to the point where it became the most bombed building in Europe. What was more tragic was that it was entirely unnecessary. While there were Germans in the hills surrounding the abbey, there were none within the abbey itself….well not until after the Americans bombed the place. After this the Germans argued, perhaps not unreasonably, that the allies had just made it part of the battlefield and they promptly occupied the ruins. The large Polish cemetery just below the abbey testifies to the consequences of this error.

And the Polish cemetery also hints at how the British have a warped view of history. Read a British textbook on the battle and they’ll go on and on at great length about how this commonwealth unit or that took part in the battle. They scarcely mention that it was Polish who had to come in and dig the British and the Yanks out of a mess of their own making and ultimately take the abbey. And then they’ve got the nerve to come over to the UK and get jobs, pay taxes and help to fund the NHS!

Trump’s Korean flip flop

A major story that broke while I was away was that of Trump pulling out of the Singapore summit, apparently because the North Korean media said mean things about his vice president (somebody call the wambulance). Of course the real reason he pulled out can be summarised in two words – John Bolton. He no doubt convinced Trump that he should have his little war with the North Koreans as a way of saving himself from impeachment.

Unfortunately, what Trump, or Bolton, didn’t seem to get is that there are other players involved here. The South Koreans, while they want to keep up the pressure on the north, they also don’t want to see a war start (as they’ll be on the receiving end of any retaliation). So they will keep the talks going if they can. Which, probably explains why Trump’s just flip flopped now. An egomaniac like him couldn’t bear the situation, where they carried out without him, even thought he’ll really just be meat in the room.

The other factor is China. They are often described as a North Korean ally. As I’ve discussed before, that’s not entirely true. But certainly they ain’t going to sit ideally by and let North Korea, get attacked by Trump because of some mean tweets (and anyone who knows anything about North Korea would realise those comments were merely for the purposes of domestic consumption). The danger is that they will use economic pressure against the US, or potentially interfere in any war.

So all in all, its a very worrying development. At the very least it means the US will increasingly see itself sidelined, much as Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal just means the US will have no say in how that deal progresses in future.

Eurovision boycott?

Also while I was away, Israel won the Eurovision song contest. This raises a worrying problem, as it was announced they will host the contest next year in Jerusalem.

What’s wrong with that? Well, it would be seen as legitimising their claim of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital. There is no way the Palestinians, nor the rest of the Arab world will ever accept that. They might be willing to accept a divided Jerusalem with one half the capital of Israel and the other half the capital of Palestine (or an international city which is capital of both), but a Jerusalem that is exclusively the Israeli capital is just not an option they’ll ever accept. Which basically means that the current conflict will go on forever…..or at least until someone gets there hands on a nuke or something. That effectively is what Trump endorsed when he moved the US embassy to Jerusalem.

Trump did this to placate the religious right in his country. They are some of the biggest supporters of Israeli expansion of its settlements on the west bank. Not because they necessarily like Jews, actually its because they’re hoping that this war forever between Israel and the Arab world will bring about the end times….during which most of the Jews will be killed or converted.

So to me its quite clear that there should be a boycott of the next eurovision, if its held in Jerusalem.

Trump syndrome in action

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And speaking of crazy Trump supporters, while I was away we saw the melt down of Roseanne Barr. And Kanye West, suggested that slavery was a choice. Well, at least we won’t be hearing much from either of them for a while. Indeed, this seems to be something of a trend for Trump supporters. Apparently many of those who quit the Trump white house are having trouble finding jobs afterwards. Supporting Trump is literally hazardous to ones career. On the other hand, both have done us all a service, by demonstrating the cult like behaviour of Trump supporters.

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There is a distinct difference between a cult and say a religion or a political party. For example, a catholic bishop doesn’t have to agree verbatim with everything the Pope says (many won’t be happy about his recent comments about gays). Similarly in most political parties its okay to criticise the leadership (up to a point of course). And they can praise the opposition when they do something positive.

With a cult however there are only two things you can say, praise for the leader and the vilification of his opponents (which will be anyone who has criticised him in the past). The leader is considered infallible and his enemies are evil and anything they say (such as the Russia investigation) is clearly lies and fake news. Unlike other political leaders at no point will you hear any of Trump’s supporters criticise him, even when he’s clearly done something wrong. Even things that sound like criticism are often phrased such as “the leader should do XYZ”.

And the trouble with getting involved with cults, is the difficulty in leaving. You want to leave the labour party, all you’ve got to do is cut your membership card in two. But once people are in the Trump cult, its not easy to leave, given that they’ve burnt all their bridges behind them (I can’t see Roseanne going back to the green party). Hence the hostility and lack of rational reasoning you’ll see from them.

Of course what this means is that anyone waiting for the penny to drop for Trump supporters, think again. If he makes it to the next election, regardless of how badly he screws up, he’ll still take in at least 40% of the vote at a minimum.

Gun hire schemes

A bunch of practical jokers thought to set up a mock “gun hire” scheme at subway entrances recently, as a way of mocking the NRA. A dangerous thing to do, because this lot have no sense of humour and don’t understand the concept of irony. The danger is they’ll decide this is a good idea and actually do it for real.

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Consider how a few weeks ago I joked how the Outing club should start carrying guns around campus, to get around some SAPS in administration who wanted to shut them down on Elf’n’Safety grounds. Well in another incident a Trump supporter recently showed up to her graduation with an assault rifle and “come and take it” written across her mortar board. Ya and if she’d been black she’d have probably been shot by the police before she got two blocks.

But like I said, your trying to reason with people who are not reasonable people.

Setting the range for hybrid cars

The current transport secretary Chris Grayling is known as a bit for being pro-car and not a huge fan of green energy, so you have to view everything coming out of his department with a level of suspicion. For example, they’ve recently announced that the UK reg’s will specify a minimum all electric range that hybrid vehicles must be able to achieve.

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On the one hand this sounds like a good idea. As things stand a car with a larger than normal car battery and starter motor can be classified as a hybrid, when in truth its really just a conventional petrol powered car. However, that said, the range that his department is talking about is in the order of 50 miles, which even well established hybrids such as the Prius can’t achieve.

Its important to realise that the range of vehicles do vary for good reasons. The all-electric range of a hybrid involves a level of compromise. Putting a heavier battery into a hybrid will deplete its fuel economy, which may well negate the benefits of hybridisation. And its worth noting that the bulk of car journey’s in the UK are less than 20 miles.

Of course with the UK pulling out of the EU, it hardly matters what the UK says on this matter. Inevitably the EU will decide what it thinks a suitable hybrid range should be and car manufacturers will build according to that specification. They’ll then simply sell either all electric or petrol only models in the UK, if they aren’t compatible with this new law. So all Chris Grayling is doing is restricting the car choices of future UK drivers. And the fear is that might be exactly what he’s aiming for, so he and his Tory pals can keep driving around London in their range rovers.

Noise machines

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And speaking of the EU, they have also announced legislation requiring future electric vehicles to have noise generators fitted to them. I would question the need for this. While yes, its eerie having electric cars creeping quietly up on you, but its something you get used to when you are in a city with lots of electric vehicles (such as Oslo or some Chinese cities). Maybe its just because I had the green cross code drilled into me as a kid that I instinctively look both ways when crossing the road, so its not really an issue for me.

One of the main benefits of electric cars is that they cut down on traffic noise, leading to quieter cities. This policy could negate this benefit. Now if people were being regularly cut down by electric vehicles, I’d agree we have to do something, but I see no evidence that this is a problem. And some experts have also questioned whether such noise generators actually work in the real world. So I worry that this policy is simply being imposed as a sop to those who are suspicious of electric cars, in the same way the first petrol powered cars had to have a guy walk in front of them with a red flag.

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The sadopopulist agenda behind brexit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dumb and dumber, spot the difference

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brexit reality bites

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now a word from the UK’s greatest ally

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

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

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

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

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

 

Local election autopsy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An election nobody wants

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So May wants to have an early election, in one of the biggest political U-turns in recent history. We were assured for months that there would be no such thing, why the whole reason for the fix term parliament act, which the Tories brought in during the last parliament, was essential to ensure stability and continuity of government….which they now propose to ditch at one of the most critical moments in recent UK history (hence why the markets suddenly dropped today as result of this announcement).

However the massive Tory 20 point lead in the polls proved just too irresistible to ignore. But this polling lead is due to a key electoral asset the Tories possess – Jeremy Corbyn. The danger is that sometime between now and 2020, he’d be unseated. And the upcoming local elections, where its expected labour will do badly, could be exactly the sort of opportunity for Corbyn’s opponents to do this. The Tories didn’t want to wait and risk having an election without Corbyn as labour leader, so they’ve decided to pre-empt any move to topple him.

Also there’s a lot of bad news in the pipeline over brexit. Prices are starting to go up, its starting to dawn on people that it might not have been a great idea. The Tories will face pressure from both directions during the brexit negotiations. On the one hand, they’ll have to make a lot of concessions to the EU which will infuriate the little Englanders. And on the other hand, there will be further rounds of cuts to spending in keeping with the expected fall in tax revenue. The impact of all of this on a 2020 election is difficult to foretell, particularly when you factor in a possible 2nd indyref. So the danger of waiting is their poll numbers could slide and next thing you know they’d be kicking themselves for waiting.

And there is history here. Gordon Brown was urged to have an early election after he took over from Tony Blair. Labour had seen a bounce in the polls, it was expected he’d win easily, gaining a mandate separate from Tony Blair’s. But he hesitated, in part due to some polls suggesting their majority might be reduced. Then the financial crisis hit and the rest as they say is history. Churchill too, delayed an election due to some ongoing European matters. Only for him to then lose the 1945 election to labour. So waiting might not be a terribly good strategy.

So should there be an election? My view no, and I’m not just saying that because I expect the Tories to win. They are setting a very dangerous precedence. We were told when the fix term parliament act came in that fixed terms are important for stability. However they now seem to be saying bolix to all of that, we only brought that in to control the lib dems. So instead the stability of the country will be sacrificed for the short term internal politics of the Tory party. Much as the brexit vote was held not because it was a good idea, but to resolve an internal dispute within the Tory party. And brexit is being negotiated not on terms that are favourable to the UK, but on terms that will be acceptable to the different factions within the Tory party. And of course the miners strike under Thatcher, the decision to join and then leave the ERM under Major were all made, not in the best interest of the country, but to deal with short term issues within the Tory party.

So the pattern here is that the UK national interest comes secondary to the internal politics of the Tory party. Which ever way you vote in this election won’t really matter. We’d be better off circumventing the process and all of us just joining the Tory party…although to sign up you’ll need a quart of blood from a baby and a handful of soil from your own grave! So it might not be for everyone.

Aside from this short term thinking, there is a more fundamental problem here. The Tories are going back on what they said with regard to fixed term parliaments. There is a convention of government that succeeding parliaments do not repeal bills passed by prior administrations without good reason or cause. Otherwise, the end result is political ping pong. e.g. Tony Blair or Brown repeals all of Thatcher’s privatisation policies, then Cameron spends much of his parliament bringing them back in. Nothing ends up changing. Arguably if a party campaigns on an issue at a previous election, then that’s grounds for repealing stuff. But I see nothing about repealing fixed term parliaments in the last Tory manifesto (nor do I see anything about a hard brexit either!).

So while I doubt the Tories will be stopped, its clear this election is being held for the most cynical of reasons at a time the country can least afford it.

Send in the Clown

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corbyn polling collapse

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We have local elections coming up in Scotland and the election junk mail leaflets have begun to arrive. And what’s the main point of attack for the Tories? yes Corbyn, even thought he’s not standing in Scotland and the one Scottish labour MP left won’t go near him with a barge poll. The Tories not only attack Corbyn for being soft on brexit (even though its obvious he secretly voted for brexit) but for being soft on Scottish independence. Meanwhile the lib dems attack him for being pro-brexit and an incompetent flip flopper. As I warned sometime ago, Corbyn has become an election liability for labour. And his pro-brexit stance has not won the party any votes, its probably costing them votes. Hence the recent terrible performances in by elections.

And polling from London puts Corbyn bottom of a table of party leaders, behind UKIP leader Paul Nazi Nuttall. His approval ratings are actually negative at -40%. And this is in London, the heartland of Corbyn support.

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Labour are looking at a collapse in the next election. My guess is that voters will split three ways, the Tories will probably end up with a majority, the anti-brexit voters will go for the lib dems and greens, while the hard brexiters who don’t understand why Theresa May didn’t just go to Brussels and urinate on Junker’s desk on June the 24th, will vote UKIP. The labour vote will be decimated .

Indeed, while the media were obsessing over the far right’s defeat in the recent Dutch elections, they missed the real story, the collapse of the traditional left wing vote in Holland, going from the 2nd largest party to only nine seats, slightly ahead of an animal rights party.

So what Corbyn’s supporters need to accept is that not only can he never win an election, but he is likely to put the party on a route towards eventual collapse and decline.

Trouble is brewing…

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I worry that we’re going to see a lot more strikes over the next year or so as the full impact of brexit works its way through the economy. Already, there’s been a number of strikes, southern rail for example, multiple ones at Heathrow, the London underground, etc. But I worry that is just the start.

I’m not usually the one to get too involved in Union politics, but I happened to go along to a recent meeting and I think it highlights many of the problems. No doubt the Tories will try to spin any strikes as some sort of leftist plot to get Corbyn elected. Well his name, nor did the labour party come up once in the meeting. The only time I’ve heard any union member mention his name it was as the butt of a joke afterwards.

What the union did discuss was the hypocrisy of lay-offs of some research staff while on the teaching side we’re massively overloaded, largely because brexit has made it so much harder to recruit. At the same time the unions worry that the drop in the value of sterling and rising inflation means we’ll effectively be swallowing a 20% pay cut over the next few years. And deducting inflation from any pay rises since the start of the financial crisis means we’ve already had to take a 9% pay cut since then, which is better than the defacto 10.4% average pay cut across the UK. And this cut in wages in real terms at the same time as inflation rises is also a factor in why a third of UK families are living in a defacto state of poverty.

So naturally, the unions are less than pleased and the likelihood of industrial action is increasingly strong. And across the public sector, the NHS for example, this picture of workers stretched and overworked while being forced to swallow a defacto pay cut is replicated. And in the private sector too, it is inevitable once people start to notice how their pay packet seems to get that bit lighter every month that they too will start to demand a higher salary.

One feature of strikes that I think people don’t get is that they often don’t start for the reasons they are really about. Take the Southern rail strike, officially its over who gets to close the doors on a train, the driver or the conductor. This sounds silly yes, but then again many marriages collapse usually for some very silly reason, such as the colour of a IKEA futon (IKEA is Swedish for “arguments” I assume, I’m sometimes surprised they don’t have marriage counsellors and divorce lawyers in their stores). Its all about trust and a break down in the relationship between workers and their bosses.

For example, another issue that came up in our union was some changes to the employee evaluation process. To cut a long story short, management told the union one version of why they wanted certain changes, which I have to say I thought seemed pretty reasonable. However, when one or two union members, who are also line managers of staff, went on a training course they were told a completely different version of why the management wanted these changes (to promote a more commercial style rank and yank system). Naturally they fed this back to the union who has now rejected these proposed changes.

And I’ve seen this happen in more than a few other occasions, both in the public sector and private. Management come across as two faced, they say one thing to the unions, then another thing to senior staff or the media, failing to understand that word will get back to the unions one way or another (such as by them reading a newspaper!). So you can see how, after being promised that they won’t be put out of a job, the conductors on southern rail assumed the worst when they learnt Southern was buying a load of driver only trains. And so they pushed the panic button.

If you go behind someone’s back and lie to them, they will generally assume the worst. Honesty is the best policy. If management really do want to bring about certain changes, then you need to get buy in from staff first. Trying to steam roller any opposition will just lead to the sort of chaos we’ve been seeing in Southern rail. In fact its worth noting that strikes in Scandinavia and Germany are less common, in part because there’s a much closer working relationship between unions and management, with union rep’s often sitting on company boards.

So a lot of the strikes we’ll be seeing may well start for seemingly silly or trivial reasons, but in many cases they’ll represent the straw that finally broke the camel’s back. And like I said, the bulk of that pile of straw represents the usual “we’re overworked and underpaid”. Pay staff more, hire more staff to take the load off and they’ll put up with a lot more hassle. That’s a big problem for the government (and the private sector) because it would mean them having to push up public sector pay (or hiring more staff). Whatever it costs to fund a hospital or university today, it could be 20% more expensive in five years time. And with falling tax revenue post-brexit those are bills the government can’t pay, nor can those in the private sector, so some union militancy is very likely.

Now the Tory reaction to all of this will no doubt be to look at ways of preventing strikes. For example, they might well ban public sector or workers in industries like power and transport from going on strike. Well let me head off that one, it won’t work. Other countries have similar laws and all that happens is you end up with more wild cat strikes. Keep in mind that all workers need to do is pull a bunch of sickie’s all at once. If management insist on sending in doctors, well its very easy to make yourself unfit for work, just don’t sleep or eat enough. In some safety critical jobs its actually illegal for a worker to attempt to work without getting a certain number of hours sleep first. If you work in the food and beverage industry you are supposed to avoid your place of work if you’ve been exposed to a food borne disease (so just visit a relative with a wee nipper with a tummy bug and you’re off work for 48 hrs!).

Also there’s the option of work to rules. We’ve got one of those running right now in our place and I think long term its probably going to be what forces a compromise from management far more effectively than any strike can. Work to rules can, over a long enough time period be crippling, as often there’s all sorts of things workers are expected to do on a daily basis, which their contract doesn’t even mention. For example a couple of years ago the Irish public transport workers noticed that there was nothing in their contracts that obliged them to collect fares, so rather than going on strike they simply refused to collect fares for a day, meaning the company had to pay for the whole system to run without any revenue coming in!

But perhaps the biggest danger for management is what if staff start leaving, either taking early retirement or immigrating to Europe. If I’m honest, the pay rates in Ireland look awfully tempting right now (thanks to the falls in the value of sterling). If I hadn’t bought a house recently, I’d probably be applying for jobs back home right now. And I’m guessing there’s plenty of junior doctors (who may not have mortgages) thinking the same thing, particularly given how horribly they are being treated by the government recently. The UK risks a brain drain post-brexit as workers move overseas. A situation that would not be helped if immigration is restricted. And this doesn’t just apply to highly skilled labour like doctors or lecturers. Keep in mind that even when it comes to say, train or bus drivers, its not as if a boss can wander down to the job’s centre and recruit a few dozen fully trained and qualified drivers right then and there. It takes time to teach such people and for them to build up enough experience to do their job effectively.

So I think the message is buckle up and get used to the fact we will see more in the way of strikes, work to rules and public serviced stretched. There is a way out (aside from the obvious, halt brexit), but it means management being willing to pay up, hire more staff to relief staffing shortages and increasing pay to match inflation. But that in itself will have a knock effect by making a lot of things much more expensive.

Delayed reaction

One of the problems with Brexit and Trump, is that while both are expected to cause serious economic damage, often to the very people who voted for such policies, but it might be sometime before the full impact of this is realised, as the primary risk is the long term damage.

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Indeed we are already seeing the effects. For example, recent rationing of vegetables in the UK. The supermarkets blame unseasonal weather in Spain. However, relatives I have in Spain, Ireland and Germany and they report that while yes supplies are down and the price of certain vegetables is up, there’s no rationing. The obvious explanation is that the drop in supplies in Spain has pushed up the prices. But with the UK pound having dropped in value by 20% the UK supermarkets are being outbid by their competitors from the rest of Europe who can pay the Spainsh growers in euros.

Similarly brexit has been disruptive to businesses, 58% of firms say so. There’s been many job losses since brexit, the banks are already quietly moving out of London. But employers, aware of how politically sensitive any such claim would be, are going out of their way to avoid saying so, often blaming other factors instead. e.g. we’ve seen a few redundancies in the uni. The official reason is that the research units they worked for didn’t bring in enough money….what they don’t mention is that the main source of research money was from the EU! The UK government has promised to pick up the tab for research, but we’ve certainly not seen any of that money, so now people are losing their jobs.

In another example, we have the recent revelation regarding NHS overcrowding. Well in part this is due to the fact that the NHS has been chronically underfunded since the Tories took office. But brexit has made it increasingly hard for it to recruit. They, like universities (we’ve been unable to fill a number of vacancies since brexit), will find it difficult to recruit staff from abroad to plug staffing shortages, as foreign staff will be fearful of the impact of brexit. The reduced value of the pound makes UK salaries look less attractive (and the rise in racist incidents and xenophobia doesn’t help either!). So the end result, waiting times go up and granny’s reward for voting leave is she’ll be waiting longer for that heart operation.

Politicians are experts at taking credit for something that happens through no action that they have taken (often despite their policy rather than because of it). At the same time, they are also very quick to try and avoid blame for something that is very much their fault. But the problem is that a lot of the time the effects of their term in office don’t show up until after they’ve left office.

Case in point, the Great Recession. The Republicans have tried to blame everyone other than themselves for this, Bill Clinton, Obama, Hilary, working class people, the tooth fairy, etc. The reality is that the two people who have to take the bulk of the blame for the financial crisis are Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Their policy of deregulation, neo-liberal turbo capitalism and the rat race “greed is good” attitude it brought with it, set up a massive bubble in the world financial system. A bubble that finally popped in 2007.

And the warning signs were there right from the start. There were numerous scandals, with companies going bust, billions lost and the government forced to step in, cheque book in hand to rescue reckless gamblers. LTCM (Long Term Capital Management), the Junk bonds scandal of the 80’s, Stratton Oakmont (of Wolf of Wall street fame), the Guinness trading fraud, the failure of Barings bank or BCCI, the American savings and loan crisis, ENRON etc.

Indeed, its worth noting that a number of these scandals and failures listed above occurred within the term limit of both Thatcher and Reagan, or their immediate successors. So nobody can plead ignorance and say they didn’t realise the dangers. And it was in this era that the concept of “too big to fail” was established. The lesson many on Wall street took away from these early scandals was that no matter how badly they screwed up, the government would bail them out. Profits had been privatised and risk had been socialised.

This is not to say all other presidents in between escape blame. G. W. Bush was clearly asleep at the wheel in the lead up to the crisis. There was a massive property bubble building and a huge rise in credit. A number of experts were warning that this wasn’t sustainable. He and his advisers should have realised the danger and taken away the punch bowl before the party started to get rowdy.

Bill Clinton often gets blamed for the crisis because he repealed the depression era Glass-Steagall act. However, we have to put this decision in the context that the banks were simply by-passing the act (via overseas subsidaires), in part thanks to legislation passed under Reagan and trading in derivatives had been left unregulated by the Reagan Adm. (which was ultimately the trigger for the financial crisis) Clinton’s options were to do nothing, or get rid of the act and then try to replace it with something that actually worked. So in and effort to get a GOP controlled congress to play ball with him and regulate derivatives, he signed a repeal as a concession (one that had been put on his desk by Republicans, i.e. they initiated the repeal, then pressured Clinton into signing it, not the other way around as its often presented). Of course Republicans being the backstabbing two faced gits that they are, they simply took the repeal and didn’t put in place any new regulations.

To draw an analogy if was Thatcher and Reagan who designed and commissioned the warehouse made of matchwood with no fire exits and crammed full of oil soaked rags built right next to an orphanage. Newly appointed fire safety officer Bill Clinton should have done something about it. But as it was already built and afraid of catching flak from the powerful builders lobby and their Mafia allies, he caved into pressure and just signed off on it without inspecting the building. It was however ultimately nightwatchman Bush, who was asleep on duty in the warehouse when it went up in smoke. And it was likely his habit of smoking indoors and his failure to extinguish his cigarette that caused the fire to start in the first place.

In short, yes it would be unfair to blame Reagan and Thatcher alone for the financial crisis, G. W. Bush, Gordon Brown, Blair, Clinton and anyone who with a credit card who spend money they didn’t have prior to the crash, we all need to take some of the blame. But clearly it was these two who set the world on the road to ruin. But the problem is that the bomb didn’t go off within their terms, hence they didn’t get the blame. Indeed there are (as noted) some Trump voters who blame Obama for the crisis, even thought he wasn’t in office until well after the crisis had started.

So one has to worry that history is about to repeat itself. Trump and Brexit will both have lasting long term impacts on the global economy. Potentially, we might well look back in a few decades time and point the finger at this moment as the point where Western capitalism and democracy failed. But it will take a while for such damage to appear. Indeed, given that Trump’s plan seems to be to cut taxes and increase public spending, we could well see a temporary jump in the economy, even thought he’ll just be starting another unsustainable bubble.

The US has a major problem with its national debt. As I discussed in a prior post, if something isn’t done about it, sooner or later the US government will go bankrupt. And Trump is talking about borrowing anything from $10 trillion to $20 trillion. This could potentially double the debt and push it to levels equivalent to nations like Greece or Italy. At the same time, his racist, xenophobic and anti-science policies will stifle investment. The next generation of investors and entrepreneur’s will bypass America and go elsewhere. Already in fields such as renewables or biotechnology America is falling behind its rivals. Tariffs and protectionism, will just make things worse in the long term.

In short, Trump policy will make it very difficult for the US government to raise tax revenue to pay off its debts. And with the baby boomers retiring the US needs to start raising income just to pay the pensions of those retiring. At some point, it could be a few years time or twenty, the US government won’t be able to raise the cash to pay its obligations, never mind service its debts and it will default. Of course the likelihood is the markets will see this coming and stop to lending any money to the US government, leading to a sovereign default.

Now Trump supporters will say, so what that’s only bad news for China and those pricks on wall street, isn’t it? Well two thirds of America’s debt is internal, that is to say held within the US. And American pension funds are the main holder of US treasury bonds. If the US were to default as Trump has implied, he’d be bankrupting every pensioner and saver in America. Print more money? That will destroy the value of the dollar, which is bad news for billionaires like him or anyone on a fixed income (such as pensioners). In short, there is no way that Trump or any of his successors (whether Democrat or Republican) can dig their way out of this hole without screwing over pensioners and baby boomers, or in other words the very people who put him in office. Trump’s economic policy is essentially the same as Argentina’s prior to the crash in 2001.

In Britain Theresa May has committed the UK to an economic policy that is also unsustainable. Brexit is going to be expensive, perhaps a cost of up to £66 billion just to leave and maybe as much as £25 billion per year to fund all those subsidies she’s promised to those who will lose out (car makers, universities, farmers, etc) as well as the loss of trade. Put quite simply that’s unsustainable. There was something of a stopped clock to Osborne and Cameron’s obsession with deficit reduction. In that they were doing it because they couldn’t bring themselves to spend public money on the poor and the needy (who’d just blow it all on stuff like pasties and rent). But that’s not to say that the UK hasn’t got a big problem here, one that will get worse with time as more and more baby boomers retire.

Digging the UK out of this hole becomes difficult post-brexit. Making it harder for young Polish workers to come in and take over paying the taxes that pay for the pensions of retiring British workers isn’t helping matters. Quite apart from making it harder for companies to recruit (i.e. longer waiting times in hospitals, you won’t be able to get a plumber, train and bus strikes and delays become more common, etc.). Letting the value of the pound slide leads to high inflation, which means pensioners take a hammering and workers start demanding higher wages (anyone paid in sterling reading this has essentially taken a 20% pay cut this year thanks to the falls in the value of sterling).

Cutting public spending? Well the two biggest line items in the budget are the NHS and the welfare bill. And pensions and working tax credits are the main source of welfare spending, not unemployment benefit (tiny by comparison). In short, there is no way the UK can dig itself out of this hole that doesn’t screw over the very pensioners who vote Tory and voted overwhelmingly for brexit. My advice to any pensioner is don’t retire....ever!

In fact here’s a prediction, my guess is that what will finally push the US over the edge will be its greatest ally the UK. You can just see the scenario. The UK, at some difficult to predict future date, goes broke as a result of brexit and defaults on its debts. American banks post huge losses. Worried the US might be next and needing cash in hand to prevent a run on their reserves, they all dump their holdings of US treasury bonds. The US government finds it impossible to obtain credit and defaults as well.

What about the IMF? Well do you think China or the EU is going to be terribly helpful after Trump and Brexit? They’ll rescue themselves and their own banks but that’s it. Keep in mind that some bankers may actually be able to profit handsomely from the crisis, the same way they profited during black Wednesday.

So the real danger with Trump and brexit is the long term lasting impact they will have, not the short term. Its important to realise this and when things do hit the fan, remember how we got here. And also as we go along, remember that while many may be reluctant to admit it (particularly those who voted for these clowns in the first place!), but both are already having an impact on the real economy and on people’s lives.

Blogging catchup

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There are dark clouds on the horizon…..

My travels down south

One of things you need to get used to in Argentina is the crippling bureaucracy, forms stamped in triplicate, checked, queried sent back and then recycled as fire-lighters. They say you have to be patient to be Argentinian. The brits could have stopped any invasion of the Falklands just by getting them to queue and fill out the appropriate paper work (trouble is the argie’s are so used to standing in large queues so they’d out queue the British!).

They do try to cut down the red tape at border control by streaming people into different groups, one for locals, another for those from neighbouring South American countries, another for everyone else and one for Americans (they implement the same harsh checks the Americans implement on Argentinians, so any American going to South America, bring a big book, expect a long wait and to be finger printed, photographed, body cavity searched and asked if your a terrorist/rapist/nazi or here to steal our jobs). Naturally one has to dread what will happen post-brexit if the UK tries to restrict immigration from its neighbours. The queues will be horrendous. As it was it took an hour to work my way through a half empty Buenos Aires airport and about four hours to go through the border into Chile.

Another little incident, on the taxi ride in London, the taxi driver saw a crash in the opposite carriageway. He dialled 999….and got put on hold…..for ten minutes before he had to give up and focus on driving (he was on a hands free btw). He was getting the same fobbing off from the cops as I’d been getting from BA. Imagine you’ve got an axe murderer breaking down your door and you’re on the line to the cops and getting put on hold like that. Britain truly is going to the dogs.

By contrast I lost my wallet. Within twenty minutes, as a result of a call to an non-emergency line (by someone else rather than me) there were two Argentinian cops outside. Granted there wasn’t a lot they could do and let’s face it a tourist losing his wallet is hardly a police priority, but its in stark contrast to what you’d expect in the UK. The fact is UK policing, like so many things in the UK (public transport, hospitals, roads, public housing) is kind of crap and no way near up the standards of those in other countries. We have public services many developing nations would be ashamed of.

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Of course Argentina is at the back end of a major economic crisis. Frankly all those brexiters whinging about how bad they’ve had it the last few years come across as a bunch of spoiled brats compared to what the Argentinians have been through since 2007. Are they voting for brexit from their South American neighbours? Are they blaming migrants from Chile for all their woes? No of course not. Yes the previous government Argentine did labour on about the Falklands (predictably), but the current regime’s gone quiet about that. In short it does tend to suggest Brits lack backbone.

Trump train wreck draws nearer

Trump hasn’t even been inaugurated and he’s already in a crisis. Normally a president gets a honeymoon period from Congress and the press. Even that’s run its course for Trump already. And some of those leading the assault are his fellow Republicans. It doesn’t bode well, particularly given his disastrous press conference. Then there’s him appointing his family members to senior positions and not putting his money in a blind trust fund.

All in all it leads me to the conclusion that Trump will probably be impeached at some point. For the moment the GOP will hang onto him, as they need him. But sooner or later, after a few scandals, after his supporters realise they’ve been had and start jumping on the anti-Trump band wagon, there will be moves to oust him.

Recall how all through the election he went through cycles of being denounced and disowned by his own party. That sort of cycle continues, things will come to a head eventually. And there’s several obvious flash points already, his differing views on healthcare reform, his sucking up to Russia, his dubious appointees, the very real possibility of corruption scandals and conflicts of interest, sex scandals, confrontations with China, etc. And keep in mind it doesn’t require a majority of Republicans, only enough to join with the democrats and swing an impeachment vote.

Tories let their brexit fantasies slip

A brain fart from the chancellor let slip the Tories post-brexit fantasies. He suggested that the UK could “punish” the EU for imposing tariffs on it by lowering its corporation tax. Let’s think about that for one minute. As noted in a prior post, the UK will probably have to in some way subsidise its manufacturing sector post-brexit. The governments overall costs will be up (by tens of billions), tax revenue will be down (no young Poles to pay for the NHS), so cutting taxes is not a long term strategy without some major cuts to public spending.

That means no subsidies to farmers, manufacturing, fishermen or the regions. It means big cuts in NHS spending and cuts to the welfare budget. Keep in mind that working tax credits and pensions are the main source of welfare spending (over 50% of total spending), unemployment benefits are less than 10% of the welfare budget. So any significant cuts to welfare would impact on pensions and working tax credits.

In short one has to ask how popular the idea of a massive tax break to corporations would be while manufacturers get hammered, millions lose their jobs. While those lucky enough to keep their jobs lose their pensions, benefits, tax credits and see big cuts to public services. It doesn’t quite tie in with the Tory mantra of looking after working families. So it is something of an empty threat.

Of course they can only make it thanks to their ally Corbyn. He’s rendered labour so unelectable that the Tories could conceivably get away with such a thing. It also betrays the reality that brexit will be negotiated to benefit only those in the UK who live within the M25. The rest of the country will get screwed.

True GDP

Speaking of London, its commonly stated how the UK is so much better off under the Tories. Actually, that’s not true, it depends on where you live. As the graph below shows, if you live in London or the South East then yes, the GDP in your region has gone up by rather a lot. However, in the rest of the country its a different story. Scotland and the South West has seen a decline and then a recovery (no thanks to the Tories), while the rest of the country has never really recovered from the crash. Northern Ireland has flatlined.

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So when you hear stories about how well the economy is doing, ask for a minute yes and for who?

Corbyn rebranded

Corbyn promised to rebrand himself as a populist firebrand prior to Christmas. To copy the tactics of Trump and co. to push labour to victory. So how is that working out? Predictably, not so well. Indeed, my suspicion is that this was a plot by some Blairite’s in his cabal to push the Corbyn train wreck over the edge.

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For starters what Trump calls “post-truth” the rest of us call “lying. Corbyn goes around promising the sun the moon and the stars and he’s going to be accused of the very thing he berates the likes of Tony Blair for. Recall that what got Tony Blair such a bad name with those on the left, was those lies over Iraq. While Trump and Farage might be able to stir up the laden racist living in some easily deluded fools, I’m doubting Corbyn can use the same tactic with those on the left. They like there “facts” too much.

And we’re ignoring the fact that the media are unlikely to give him a free ride. While they failed to take Trump and the brexiters to task for their numerous lies (perhaps because they were so numerous it was hard to keep up). But they are certainly not going to let Corbyn away with that. He says anything that sounds like a change in policy his flip flopping, he back tracks he’s dithering, he promises anything that’s probably undeliverable they’ll line up experts around the block to denounce him.

Is this fair? No, but its the reality that every left wing leader has had to deal with for some time. Brown, Miliband, Sturgeon have had to put up with the same. If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

And given that there’s two by elections coming up, at least one of which he’s likely to lose, it doesn’t bode well for Corbyn. Losing a byelection to a sitting and unpopular Tory government in a safe labour seat would be unprecedented and just plain bad. Losing one to UKIP would be disastrous and fatal. My guess is that if labour loses these next two byelections, we’ll probably see another leadership challenge shortly there after.

Perhaps more worrying for labour is the reasons for these byelections. Two MP’s simply up and quit. It suggests that many within the labour party are simply admitting defeat. They know Corbyn’s leading the party off a cliff but that they won’t be able to unseat him until its too late. They know he’s essentially allied himself with the Tories on brexit. Any political ambitions they have are about to be dashed. And come the next election a lot of them are about to find themselves unemployed. So yes, some are out looking for work already and if an opportunity comes along (such as to become director of the V&A), they are going to take it. So labour will probably face a dripping away of MP’s as they flee the sinking ship.

Cycle status

Chris Grayling, the transport secretary has shown himself to have some UKIP like views towards cyclists. Firstly he knocks one off his bike getting out of his ministerial car. Secondly he say’s they aren’t proper road users. I’m reminded of the the late (insane and drug fuelled) major of Toronto Rob Ford, who banned cyclists from the cities streets….then left wondering why there were so many new cars on the road.

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Any car driver who dislikes cyclists, just imagine he’s in a car instead. Do you want those tail backs to be even longer? More delays more misery. Cyclists are doing you a public service. And if you want to rant about them not paying road tax, well neither do you, there’s no such thing as road tax, roads are paid for mostly out of general taxation. And as for vehicle tax, cops, the queen and tractors (to name a few) don’t pay that either. Try screaming abuse at them and see what it gets you (about 6 months I’m guessing).

Either way, making Chris Grayling transport secretary is like making Jimmy Savile minster for children.

Brentry

On my travels I read an interesting article in the Economist about Brentry, that is the UK entry into the wider European economy. After the Romans abandoned the UK it had become a continental backwater, invaded and fought over by one group after another. By 1066, the rest of Europe had bounced back from the dark ages, international trade was expanding, new ideas from the east (well actually old ones that had be rediscovered) were being implemented and tried out. Britain however, was still essentially caught up in the dark ages.

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While William the conqueror and his methods were certainly brutal, one has to acknowledge the economic benefits the Normans brought with them. The UK started to trade with the rest of Europe. The Normans brought security as well as new technology and new ideas. They went on a building boom, castles, city walls, restored Roman roads and then later built many of the country’s now famous cathedrals. A sort of medieval Keynesian economics was at play. By the king’s death, Britain was booming. One is reminded of this Monty python sketch.

Indeed the Economist suggests that the Brentry might even explain the North/South divide. Its often forgotten that there were two invasions of Britain in 1066, one by the Normans, but an earlier unsuccessful one by the Danes (well more specifically the Norwegian king), that was beaten off. Much of northern England had been under Danish influence for sometime, so many supported this invasion. Needless to say they weren’t in a mood to bend the knee to a bunch of cheese eating surrender victory monkey’s. So they resisted, the Normans put down the rebellions with their usual brutality, but this put the north a good century behind the rest of the UK in economic development and they’ve been playing catch up ever since.

War of the worlds hysteria

I also came across a release of Orson Welles infamous War of the World’s broadcast. It is often remembered for the supposed national panic in unleashed when it was mistaken for an actual news broadcast. Well in truth this is mostly a fake news myth invented by the media of the era (sound familiar?).

While yes a small number of very silly people did mistake it for actual news, but these were isolated incidents. Most were quickly informed it was just a radio play of a book that had been available for several decades. There’s no evidence of anyone jumping from roof tops or being treated in hospital for shock, or mass evacuations of New York suburbs. The newspapers blew the story way out of all proportion. Why? Because they, in particular those controlled by Randolph Hearst (the Rupert Murdoch of his day) saw radio as a threat to their business. So the exaggerated the level of panic. And let’s face it, it sold lots of papers.

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Indeed, some pointed to how strange it was some getting in a tizzy over aliens from Mars while ignoring the very real threat from Hearst’s buddy Mr Adolf across the pond in Europe.