Brexit and the game of dolts

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Brexit seems to becoming a byword for foolishness and folly as well as deceit and betrayal. And we need only look at the strategies being pursued by Corbyn and Johnson for proof of that. Both appear to be adopting a policy towards brexit that is reckless and foolhardy. But equally for both leaders, their stated policy is just a charade for what is their real agenda.

Corbyn for example says that he will support a general election as soon as the EU rules out no deal. This despite predictions suggesting he will likely lose a general election. Either by a small margin (but with the Tories losing enough seats to offer labour the chance of a coalition with other parties), or by some massive margin. Naturally this has labour MP’s with small majorities (and even some with big majorities) in jitters.

A more sensible strategy would be to use his defacto majority to take control of parliament (with the aid of Tory rebels and the smaller parties) and start amending and then pushing through Johnson’s withdrawal deal. They could amend the deal to put back in a customs union and protection for workers rights. While it seems unlikely he’d be able to attach a public vote to it (that said, according to the lib dems the main barrier to people’s vote right now is the labour party), but certainly Corbyn could lay the ground work for that.

This would turn things on its head. Labour would go into an election with a clear brexit position – vote for us and we will put this amended deal to the public. Only labour can “get brexit done”. Instead it would be Johnson whose left with a ambiguous position on brexit. Out one side of his mouth he’ll be promising a no deal (maybe tomorrow, maybe at the end of the transition period, but some day and for the rest of your life). Out the other side, oh I want a deal (maybe the amended one, maybe a different one, who knows!)….and presumably out his arse whatever Dominic Cummings reckons will win the most votes!

Instead Corbyn is committing labour to yet more fence sitting contortions, with a brexit policy as clear as Irish stout. And since we are talking about it, he’s not taken any action to punish the 19 MP’s who defied the whip and voted for a brexit deal that would strip UK workers of their rights and allow the wrecking of environmental standards.

This has led to howls of protest from labour supporters who now say that not only do they not know where labour stands on brexit, but where does it stand on anything else for that matter. And can you blame them. On the one hand we have labour promising a carbon neutral UK (if they win an election…and the climate deniers in the party can be made to vote for it one assumes). Yet the same week we have labour MP’s voting for a bill that will roll back environmental protections. Can any part of their manifesto be taken seriously now? Naturally, this is not the sort of scenario where you want to go into an election.

Meanwhile the sensible strategy for Johnson would be to carry on regardless. Given that there seems to be momentum to push the brexit deal through, ride that wave and try to thwart efforts to edit or amend it too much. In other words follow through with his own election slogan to “get brexit done”. Yes that will require a short extension, but so what, it still happens in the near future.

But instead he’s pulled the vote on the deal from parliament and focused on getting an election. In fact he’s even implied that if he doesn’t get his election he’ll just take his toys back to Downing street and sulk, then pretend he’s having one by going out campaigning. This has put the possibility of a brexit extension from the EU in jeopardy. And, as I’ve discussed before, while yes the odds are good that Johnson could win, it would be huge gamble as it could easily backfire (particularly if the opposition promote the line, we were willing to vote through a deal, only reason we didn’t was because of Johnson).

And since we are talking about it, an election at Christmas time, seriously? Are you lot for real? Is Boris related by any chance to the Grinch? Do these clowns have any idea of the logistics involved in holding election at Christmas. At a time of year when people are either going to be busy finishing work before the holidays (students will be up to the eyeballs in coursework and exam preparation) or Christmas shopping you want to have an election. With the risk that weather related events could disrupt the vote, postal ballots will be delayed and every church hall & function room in the country booked for a Christmas related events.

So the positions of both party leaders appears to be foolish. At least until you understand what’s really going on. Johnson knows his brexit deal is bonkers. I mean he’s putting a hard border down the Irish sea, such that British people will have to show a passport and go through customs and immigration controls passing between two parts of the same country. But its a placebo deal designed to serve one purpose, get him an election so he can get a majority. After that he couldn’t give a monkey’s.

To Johnson brexit has always been a means to an end. I won’t be surprised, if he wins a large majority, if he then tosses the ERG lot under the bus (same as he did to the DUP) and pushes for a soft brexit or even revokes article 50. Anything is possible with Johnson, as it depends what the hedge funds managers backing him think will net them the biggest gain. He’s the ultimate disaster capitalist.

Corbyn meanwhile doesn’t want to lay the ground work for a public vote because then he’d have to hold one. And he knows full well the likely outcome would be remain. The reality is that Corbyn is a more committed brexiter than either Johnson or the ERG. He’s basically playing the long game. Corbyn knows he’s unelectable, nor is it likely any hard left labour leader could ever be elected under normal circumstances. But a damaging no deal brexit, brought about by the Tories would allow a future hard left leader (and there’s a number of viable candidates within labour) to do just that. Its not so much disaster capitalism but disaster socialism.

But either way, brexit has become a political football. A game to be played for political advantage. And the politicians are placing the pursuit of this game over the best interests of the country. And neither of them shows the slightest inclination towards actually resolving the brexit question. I mean who’d want to go and do a silly thing like that!

Revoke or referendum, the lib dem’s dilemma

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Normally what’s in the lib dem’s manifesto hardly matters, given the very low probability of them ever being able to implement it. However, with them now vying for 2nd place against labour and the brexit party (and a meltdown with more defections from labour is likely due to heavy handed tactics at conference from Corbyn’s red pioneer brigade), it suddenly becomes a little more relevant. And they’ve promised to not only support a people’s vote, but try to revoke article 50 and cancel brexit altogether.

This has drawn criticism from many quarters, even from other remain supporters, such as Caroline Lucas. And while I would tend to agree, the way out of the current mess is another referendum (preferably legally binding with remain and a definite brexit option on the ballot), but that’s easier said than done. While a 2nd referendum is probably inevitable (even if the UK leaves, there will just be another in ten years time to rejoin), it does not follow through that this will resolve the divide brexit has created in the UK.

To illustrate my point let us suppose that a pro-people’s vote coalition either force Johnson out in October, or win an election. Firstly, in order to have a people’s vote, they need to get another extension. And it will have to be a longish one, ideally a year. The brexiters will run resistance at every turn, slowing down legislation and you need time to run the campaign (the electoral commission says a minimum of 6 months will be needed). Plus, while polls do suggest remain would win, you’d have to allow sometime at the end to get the country ready if leave wins a 2nd time (as there will be no stopping brexit at this point, as its a legally binding poll).

This creates the first obstacle. A long extension might be refused. The eurosceptic nations in the EU want the UK to leave, but leave with a deal, hence they’ve been willing to grant extensions up until now. They might well veto one if its for a people’s vote (especially if its a bearded leftie like Corbyn who is the one asking for an extension). And some of the more pro-EU nations might even veto it, calculating that the remainers will not follow through with a no deal and simply cancel brexit instead.

Granted, they may get around this problem, and a clever PM (which rules out Corbyn!) would find a way to bargain with the EU leaders (or just threaten to revoke article 50 and then re-issue it at a time when it will be most inconvenient for Brussels). But next there’s the hurdle of getting a referendum bill through parliament. Remain’s going to be one option on the ballot, but what about the brexit option?

As I mentioned before, the reason why no other EU state has tried to leave and the reason the UK still hasn’t left is that once you take away the unicorns and start getting specific about which brexit option you want (Norway model, reverse Greenland, Swiss plus, Canada dry, etc.) opinion divides, largely because it means accepting that you are worse off out than in. And as noted, polls do show that once you put a specific type of brexit to people v’s remain, remain typically wins by a comfortable margin.

The brexiters, all too aware of this fact, will therefore be reluctant to commit to any specific brexit option, other that perhaps no deal. This appeals to them largely because its kind of a blank canvas and they can paint on any outcome they like. It sounds like a clean break. In truth however, it just means that when we run out of bog roll, food and medicines the EU will have the UK over a barrel in negotiations. As will the US and the Chinese. Plus no deal is likely illegal. Hence putting it on a legally binding ballot might be impossible, as it will likely be challenged in court.

Some talk of a three way ballot or multiple choice ballots. I’d argue that’s risky. It might confuse voters and you can be guaranteed the tabloids, the brexiters and Putin’s trolls will make damn sure they are given incorrect instructions, as they try to game the outcome they want. As a result it could lead to a messy outcome that makes the current situation even worse. I mean imagine if we had two brexit options that each got 30% and remain got 40% and remain wins by a 10% margin. Or a alternative vote ballot, where remain wins the first round by a high margin, May/Corbyn’s deal gets eliminated, but the transferable votes from it allow no deal to sneak through by a few hundred votes (with claims afterwards of several thousand who were given incorrect instructions by Twitter trolls). There would be howls of protest.

Realistically, the only way to hold a people’s vote is with two options on the ballot, some sort of brexit deal and remain. But who will decide on which? And more importantly who will lead the leave campaign? Corbyn has suggested he’d be happy to negotiate a deal (in other words cross out May’s name and insert his!), but will then hide in his allotment shed for the duration of any referendum campaign. While I’m sure May could be tempted to front such a campaign (she’s a glutton for punishment after all), but the leading brexiters, Farage, Johnson, et al will all refuse to participate and they’ll tell their supporters its a remainer stitch up, boycott the poll.

Why you may ask? Well simple Fabian tactics. If you know you are going to lose (and like I said the polls put remain ahead by +10% over most of the brexit options), why fight when you can just march off the field. And for them brexit is a means to an end. If there were to be a 2nd referendum which they lost fair and square by a comfortable margin, they’re finished. As I’ve mentioned before, a 2nd referendum will be something of a grudge match. While Cameron prevented any “blue on blue” attack ads during the 1st campaign, labour and the lib dems will let lose with both barrels.

After all, the best way to win would be to question the motives of those pushing for brexit (i.e. the fact that are involved with hedge funds who will do rather well profiting from the UK’s decline), while pointing to the hypocrisies of the leavers (e.g. that Farage has a German citzenship). Plus do you really want to trust the country’s future to someone like Boris who isn’t even trusted by his own brother. So many of those in the Tory party who hitched their wagon to the brexit train will be forced to resign and the brexit party will be sunk. Even if by some miracle brexit still won they’ll still take a hit, it would still be a zero sum game for them. Better to stay out of the fight and encourage a boycott.

And yes, the outcome of such a scenario will be remain wins by some massive crazy majority (90% sort of thing). But unless the turn out is suitably high (and if you know remain’s going to win anyway, are people really going to waste their time going to the polls?), the brexiters will argue it wasn’t a fair fight and they can ignore it, promising to re-issue article 50 the first chance they get. In other words you’ve not changed anything.

So given such facts of life, the Lib dems proposal to revoke is actually quite pragmatic. There’s no point in holding a people’s vote if its not going to resolve anything. But I would add a caveat. I’d suggest cancelling brexit, by revoking article 50, but putting a grandfather clause in that requires the government to return to this issue after a suitable delay (say 5-10 years after which the government must pass another bill confirming we are staying in or else a legally binding referendum to leave will be automatically triggered). This means they can say to leave voters, look we wanted to have a 2nd vote and settle this issue, but it takes two to tango and the brexiters just took off their dancing shoes and downed a bottle of scotch. So by deliberately kicking the can down the road the current crisis is resolved, but it leaves open the option to return to the issue at some point in the future.

And delaying a 2nd vote does have advantages. While I’d argue it would be hard to hold a fair and balanced poll now, that doesn’t further divide the country, emotions might not be running so high in the future. Given that presumably such a remainer alliance will have by then, ended austerity and gone some way towards fixing the mess left by the Tories (plus issues like the migrant crisis might well be resolved), a referendum can be held under much fairer and more rational conditions. And simple demographics means that many of these swivel eyed no-deal supporting pensioners will have died off, replaced with younger voters (who tend to want remain, or if they are pro-leave, they tend to want a soft brexit).

In fact its entirely possible that even if a Troy/brexit party coalition could get into power in ten years time they’ll come up with some excuse not to have a 2nd vote (because they know that they’ll lose and even if they win they’ll be throwing away their time in office, repeating the mess of the last few years). So while yes, I support a people’s vote, I think we need to be realistic about how it will be held. And revoking article 50 certainly has to be an option that gets considered.

News roundup

Unfit for office…or opposition!

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I would argue that that there are two problems with British politics right now. Firstly a radicalised Tory party, whose broken every one of their pro-brexit promises, that seems to be committed to some sort of pointless and unconstitutional brexiter banzai charge. Which they will of course blame the EU for (as well as migrants and anyone who voted remain). But part of the problem is also a lack of effective opposition.

Labour have been facing the biggest open goal in politics for 3 years now, but have actually gone backwards in terms of support. And this is largely why we’ve gotten to this stage where no deal could be seriously considered. If labour were providing effective opposition, going up in the polls and largely seen as a government in waiting, there is no way the cabinet and Johnson’s ghoulish minions would even be considering no deal.

Case in point, given that an election after a vote of no confidence isn’t guaranteed to work, as there might not be time remaining to hold one (or time afterwards to form a government and do something). And that’s assuming labour’s poor poll ratings don’t see them get annihilated. So the sensible solution proposed by a number of pro-remain MP’s is a government of national unity to sort out brexit one way or another (revoke article 50 or a 2nd referendum) then dissolve itself and call an election.

This government would be led by an interim PM, likely a veteran politician with some prior ministerial experience (this would reassure allies and businesses that there was a safe pair of hands at the helm who wasn’t going to do anything crazy). Such a unity government would have a very narrow mandate beyond brexit. All they can do is slap a few band-aids on public services to undo the damage the Tories have done. Anything more radical (re-nationalising the railways, major tax or welfare reform, etc.) won’t be possible as they’ve have no electoral mandate, no guaranteed support in parliament, insufficient parliamentary time and the lords would just block it anyway. So it would be something of a thankless task. Likely candidates for this role include Dominc Grieve, Anne Soubry, Vince Cable or Tom Watson.

But no, instead Corbyn is insisting that he’ll be PM (why? ego one assumes). Indeed he’s implied that labour won’t even negotiate with the other parties, but try to force through a minority government. His deputy McDonnell even suggested (and I’m hoping he was joking) that Corbyn would go to the palace and demand to be made PM if they win a no confidence vote (so basically he’s going to launch a one man coup d’etat…presumably armed with a cucumber from his allotment). It would be funny if it wasn’t so serious.

Basically this means one of two things. That Corbyn and his cabal really are so deluded that they think that they can just walk in and take over the government, wave a magic wand and put everything right in the world….while ignoring completely the impending crisis of brexit and its aftermath. Honestly Trump seems to have a better grasp of politics than Corbyn et al. And they are ignoring polling which suggests they will at best lose dozens of seats, or worse, potentially finish 4th behind the lib dems and brexit party. The last thing he wants now is an election.

The alternative theory is that Corbyn is really so desperately anti-EU that he’s willing to put the country through a no deal brexit shredder and scupper his chances of ever becoming PM to achieve it. If he sabotages any effort to form such a unity government then a no deal brexit will have his grubby paw prints all over it. And you can be guaranteed this will be pointed out to voters next election.

And in another facepalm moment, McDonnell also suggested that labour won’t block a 2nd indy ref in Scotland. While this is a sensible strategy, it was a grave error last time for labour to whip its members and MP’s into backing remain, but its the sort of position that needs to be rolled out tactfully. You’d only want to adopt it once it was clear a referendum was imminent and use it as a bargaining chip to make sure the SNP behave themselves (i.e. they don’t go the full Cambridge Analytica).

Inevitably the right wing media reported it as labour is in favour of Scottish independence (no they aren’t that’s not what he said). And because he’d not cleared this with the Scottish labour party leadership first, it got a very angry reaction from the Scottish wing of the party.

All in all it shows us that Corbyn’s cabinet is as dysfunctional, factional and chaotic as the one in the white house. He’s completely delusional, has no clue what he’s doing and seems to have no real goal other than making sure brexit happens at all costs, even if it destroys his party to achieve it.

Dragging the queen into brexit

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In another example of how utterly dysfunctional both the main parties have become, there’s the fact that both seem determined to drag the queen into the debate about brexit. Either by getting her to intervene in the selection of who is PM, the date of any election (till after brexit happens) or by asking her to suspend parliament (i.e. suspend democracy) and force through a no deal. This is politically very dangerous. The queen, like any head of state (America being the exception) is supposed to stay out of politics (and this I’d argue is the flaw in the American system). As it can get very messy very quickly if she does get involved.

For example, let’s suppose she backs Boris and a no deal brexit. That is going to upend the lives of millions of people. Families will be split up, millions of jobs will be lost, the UK’s GDP will go down but 6-10%, there might be food and medicine shortages (we might even run out of bog roll!). And any issues with the NHS or medicines means people will die. And all of that the Queen will now be responsible for, with it all played out on the 24 hr news cycle.

So the royals will now have millions of angry voters who’d be wanting a referendum alright. But not on re-joining the EU, but on whether to packing her off back to Saxony. We’d be in the same situation the royals were in after Princess Diana died. And the only got through that thanks to Tony Blair. Boris by contrast will quickly toss her under the first passing bus to save his skin. And Corbyn has co-signed bills looking to remove the queen. And such a train wreck could re-invigorate the republican movements in Canada, Australia and NZ, who might also have similar votes.

So the trouble is that once she makes one decision she’s going to have to make more. This is exactly the sequence of events that led to past royal dynasty’s failing or kings loosing their heads (recall it was proroguing parliament where Charles I troubles started).

So for example, what if Scotland wants independence? Let’s suppose she backs Boris and blocks an official referendum. The danger is that if SNP can demonstrate enough support in an unofficial poll, then they can force their way out of the union by just making themselves such an pain in the ass that the rest of the UK throws them out (e.g. they could ask Scots to refuse to pay UK income taxes, refuse to hand over oil or VAT revenue, run up massive debts on the UK’s credit card then refuse to service those debts, organise wild cat strikes which lead to power cuts and gas shortages in England in the middle of winter, etc.).

All the queen will have done is ensure that Scotland becomes a republic (as Ireland and India did) and it increases the chances of a disorderly Scottish exit. Or worse, the Scots might take a leaf out of Norway’s book and invite some member of the royal family to take the crown of Scotland. Meaning there would be two British monarchs and allies (such as Canada, Australia and NZ) will have to decide who to back. The one whose kingdom is let by racists and disintegrating largely due to actions taken by her (and her heir apparent is Charles remember). Or some dashing new Scottish king (Harry and Megan maybe?), whose kingdom sits on lots of oil, has whisky galore and is applying for EU membership.

The sensible thing for her to do in such a situation would be to either respect the poll but ask the SNP to negotiate an orderly exit (which would be a bit rich given how she supported no deal with the EU), or ask for a 2nd official poll (after she helped Boris block a 2nd EU referendum) or call for some sort of compromise (Devo Max). Of course while this would preserve her crown, it would put her on a collision course with the PM and the cabinet.

Or how about a UK-US trade deal? If that goes through after brexit, farming and manufacturing will be devastated, the NHS sold off and we’ll be eating chlorinated chicken (meaning more people die). So she might have to get involved in that or block it entirely. Putting her on collision course with the government. And the same equally applies if she backs remain. She ends up with lots of angry people beating down her door.

My point is that both Corbyn and the Tories seem to think the queen is some sort of jack in the box. They can take her out of the box, get her to sign a national death warrant and they climb back in her box and stay there. But of course, she can’t. Its impossible to predict what way she’d go (and my advice to her would be, stick to protocol, throw it back at parliament and if they can’t decide, put to some sort of public vote). And once she gets involved in politics its very difficult to untangle her from it.

The channel hop

A French man recently demonstrated a flying platform (basically an enlarged drone) and flew it over the English channel. As Trevor Noah pointed out, you can imagine the reaction of brexiters, they got brexit to keep out the foreigners and next thing you know some flying Frenchman lands on the white cliffs and starts chasing after their daughters.

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A flying foreigner, every brexiter’s worst nightmare

But jokes aside, and while this flying platform does have certain limitations, it does show how quickly technology can change. And how that change has many consequences. For example, we can make multiple criticisms of Trump’s wall and the ease with which it can be breached. But its one fatal flaw is it can’t stop planes and aircraft. Yes, you have some chance of stopping illegal migrants at airports….assuming they are dumb enough to tell you they are entering on a tourist visa with no intention of leaving.

Now we’ve gotten to the stage where drones can carry people, that opens up all sorts of possibilities. Notably of Mexican people smugglers at the border offering migrants an air taxi service into the US. Such a drone could carry people several km’s into the US (i.e beyond the zone currently patrolled by border agents), drop them off and then flying back and pick up somebody else. This would negate the wall completely.

This is one of the problems with conservative governments, their inability to see future trends and changes in technology. Hence why they tend to get blind sided by them and their knee jerk reaction is to try and get it banned.

Case in point, when mp3’s and online file sharing first came out the entertainment industry tried to get them banned. They poured millions into anti-piracy ads that were often parodies of themselves. How can we make money off a service that we just give away for free they said?…to which Google, Facebook and You-tube responded, hold our beer….Now streaming is a massive multi billion dollar industry and the main means of distributing media.

The oil industry and its vested interests, promote climate change deniers, even despite the fact that the oil industry is losing money hand over fist, with 50% drop in oil stocks over the last few years, while renewables are a growing industry. The brexiters want to bring back Britain’s trading empire, ignoring how globalised trade in the 21st century works. They also want a 3rd runway and a new terminal at Heathrow, which will involve demolishing several nearby historic villages and subjecting London to more noise pollution. This despite the fact that airlines are ditching their large planes and abandoning the hub and spoke model in favour of smaller planes and more direct flights, largely due to the availability of newer more fuel efficient aircraft (such as the Airbus A350).

This to me just serves to demonstrate the fatal flaw in conservatism. You’ll get a lot of kicking and screaming. They’ll tell you that television, flying, rock and roll music, gay marriage, abortion, gun control or acting on climate change will be a slippery slope to the end times. Yet in the end they are forced by circumstances to adopt it anyway, upon which they’ll conveniently forget their opposition and move on to the next artificial controversy.

UK College goes bust

The UK government has spent quite a bit of time recently promoting private colleges and universities as it attempts to emulate America’s heavily commercialised higher education system. I’ve long opposed this because I know how ridiculously unfair the US system is. It means large sections of the population simply can’t go to uni as they can’t afford it. And even those with better off parents often still leave uni with massive debts that cripple their finances for life.

Of course the other problem with the US model is the frequency at which their universities go bust. Something that’s practically unheard of in Europe. And such bankruptcies have very real and serious consequences, as this news piece on one such failure discusses. Not just to students, but to local businesses and employment. There are some small towns or neighbourhoods in the UK whose economy would implode if the local uni shut down.

And inevitably one of these new colleges, GSM London has now failed. Fortunately, it doesn’t look too bad…suspect any students or staff caught up in this will have a different view on that! But I’m talking about the wider impact. Its in London, so the impact will be dampened somewhat. Hopefully they can all find alternative employers or courses to enrol on. However, it is a worrying sign of the times.

While the UK government has shown a willingness to quietly bailout uni’s in trouble. Much as I predicted, that’s not always possible. They might be in such a state to be beyond saving. Or the creditors, anxious to get their greedy paws on the valuable city centre real estate the uni owns might refuse any bailout and force through a bankruptcy.

And its also worth keeping in mind that government’s plans are to cut tuition fees. Which would be a good idea. Only they aren’t planning to provide any additional funding to universities (so they are expecting that they can just cut their funding by 30%, on top of the drop off in student numbers from the EU and loss of research funding and expect the uni’s to cope). Naturally its been pointed out that this would be disastrous and almost certainly push many universities over the edge. So we might not be so lucky next time.

A most convenient death

Word is that the alleged sex trafficker to the rich and famous, Jeffrey Esptein, has apparently killed himself in his NY cell. Now call me a tinfoil hat wearing conspiracy theorist, but when someone that well connected (Trump, Clinton, Prince Andrew, you name it) magically happens to die, just days before he can be put on trial and such connections were due to be subjected to legal scrutiny (which could have involved said individuals being required to testify in court under oath), well its a little bit suspicious.

Which probably explains why his victims are arguing for the investigations to continue. Perhaps even try him posthumously. And there is a legal precedence for this. But of course, fat chance of that happening! I mean why do you think they killed him/let him commit suicide for in the first place? So they can brush the whole thing under the carpet of course.

Loosing sleep

The Caledonian sleeper is (or perhaps I should say was) one of those hidden gems of UK transport. Its a train service running from London to the highlands of Scotland, with stops in the central belt (and Northern England) along the way. So you can literally go to sleep in London after a night on the town, wake up in Fort William the next morning, grab some breakfast and be on the summit of Ben Nevis before lunchtime.

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The Caledonian sleeper works its way across Rannoch Moor in winter

However, the rail companies have long hated it, as it means keeping lines open at late hours, screwing up their maintenance schedules. So they’d like noting better than to cancel it. Unfortunately, as its quite popular, plus its also used by MP’s to travel between their constituencies and London, any talk of cancelling it has been thwarted. So instead they tried to let it whither by not investing in it or just making the service poorer. For example, you used to be able to book half board and share a cabin with somebody else, but they’ve tried to did away with that due to “customer demand” (we are too believe there are customers out there who prefer to pay double for their tickets!).

Well now it seems they’ve figured out a solution. Invest money in the sleeper service. Because nothing in British transport will royally screw something up and make things worse than investing millions of pounds in it. Since this £150 million revamp the service has been dogged by complaints of late or cancelled trains (keep in mind, you are showing up to the station at 23:00, you can’t just wait for the next service, that’s not till the following morning!). Others complain about poor catering, lights being left on all night (which can’t be turned off) and noisy air conditioning.

So it seems like the rail companies will finally get their wish and do away with the sleepers…by trying to make them better! To them their own incompetence is now an asset.

Brecon by election autopsy

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Its worth reflecting on the recent by election in Wales, which was won by the lib dems, overturning a Tory majority of about 20% at the last election. Inevitably the Tories cried foul, as they tried to make various excuses. But clearly this shows that if the people did indeed vote for no deal as they claim (and we’re still waiting for the evidence no deal was even mentioned in the referendum campaign), why didn’t they take this safe seat comfortably? Haven’t just had a bounce in poll numbers since Boris came along?

All in all there’s a lot for the major parties to take away from this by election. Notably as it cuts the Tory majority down to just one seat. All it takes is one or two back benchers to disagree with the PM and he loses, even with the support of the DUP. In fact if SF were to take their seats, he’d be facing a deficit of 5 votes against him.

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I’d argue that while the results are bad for the Tories, its not terrible. Ruling parties rarely do well in by elections. Losing a safe seat by 5% isn’t great news, but its not a disaster. By elections have been lost in a similar fashion before (by both major parties), only for the seat to retaken in a general election shortly afterwards.

On the other hand, the brexit party took 10% of the vote, despite the strong line taken by the PM as regards brexit. The Tories are backing no deal because they reckon that it will allow them to out UKIP UKIP. However, they’ve been trying to do this for the best part of a decade and the reality is that there’s always some right wing nutter who’ll be able to outflank them. Those voting for the brexit party are placing comforting lies and free unicorn fantasies over…well slightly less comforting lies….and white horses with traffic cones.

In fact the 10% support here is about within the margins of what I’d assumed the brexit party would likely get in any future election. Ironically of course, this is similar to the margin of support they were losing to UKIP before the referendum. They’ve put the country through the last three years of hell in order to win back that support. But instead, much as I predicted before the referendum, its ended up costing them even more support support.

Because by backing no deal it just means they are now also losing votes to the lib dems. Which is perhaps not surprising, given reports that the country is now even less prepared for a Halloween brexit than it was back in March, with warnings of potential food shortages and panic buying in the run up to Christmas. Now in a general election, while they might not lose as much support to the lib dems/brexit party, they’ll probably lose enough to make a difference in many marginal seats….one of which is now Boris Johnson’s!

However, the real loser in this by election was the labour party. They crashed into 4th place and nearly lost their deposit (just ahead of the 5th place candidate, Lady lily Pink of the monster raving loony party). This represents a drop in support of 12.5% (earning just 5.3% of the vote), a pretty catastrophic showing, but entirely within the margins of what the last few months of nationwide polling has suggested.

For several months now Corbyn and his inner circle have had their fingers plugged in their ears refusing to recognise these polls and screaming bias at anyone who dared draw attention to the fact that the cult of the one true Corbyn labour is haemorrhaging support. Least we forget, labour needs to WIN SEATS next election (and lots of them!) to have any chance of gaining power, not lose the ones they’ve already got. And even the most optimistic polls say they are going to lose dozens of seats in any future election.

As I’ve long pointed out, fence sitting on an issue like brexit isn’t a strategy. Unless the plan is to make sure nobody votes for you! While there aren’t many leave voters who would vote for Corbyn anyway, I suspect few of them would be endeared to him given that he’s spent the last three’s dithering on one of the most important issues of our time. Is this likely to convenience them that he’d make a good PM? Probably not. He’d probably earn more votes from leavers if he took a firm remain position, as they’d at least respect him for taking a stand on the issue.

And remain supporters are reluctant to back him, given he’s a eurosceptic surrounded by a cabal of eurosceptics (the lib dems have an interesting quiz here, did Corbyn say it or Farage?). Even when Corbyn claims he now backs remain and a people’s vote, few believe him and why should they? He’s reneged on pass promises to support remain before, how can they be sure he won’t do it again?

And labour can’t simply rely on the assumption that remain voters will be so scared of a Tory government that they’ll vote labour. The lib dems showed in Brecon that its possible to form an electoral alliance and unite the left wing and centrist vote. They do the same across the country next election and labour is in serious trouble.

To my mind labour has one of two options if it wants to win an election. Firstly unequivocally back remain in a way that cannot be unpicked by any of Corbyn’s merry band of saboteurs. I’d bring forward the party conference, or hold an emergency one, to legislate that labour, once given the chance (by forming a government with rebel Tory remainers or winning an election), will back a people’s vote with remain as an option. And the entire party will actively campaign for it (three line whip and all that). An electoral alliance with other pro-remain parties should also be attempted.

Anyone who has a problem with that, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And yes Hoey, Cruddas et al will leave (and likely join the brexit party), but so what, they’re effectively brexit party MP’s anyway, we may as well make it official, guaranteeing they’ll lose their seats next election.

That is pretty much what Corbyn needs to do to convince people to vote labour. Noting that had he not spent the last three years fence sitting and dithering, he’d not be in this mess. The alternative way for labour to win back voters, is that Corbyn goes and a pro-remain party leader (but presumably someone from the left of the party) takes over. Polls do suggest this might well revive labour fortunes. The longer labour sits on the fence, the more likely the latter becomes their only option.

The worse case scenario for labour is they stick with their present ambiguous policy and next election (which could be as early as September) they will get annihilated. While the most likely outcome is a Tory/brexit party coalition, that’s not guaranteed, as they may well fall short (creating a real crisis and the left would equally be unable to form a coalition either and I doubt the lib dems would be stupid enough to go into power with the Tories again). Of course this could destabilise the UK and cause it to break up, which would deprive the left of a big chuck of left wing voters making it very difficult for them ever to win an election again (and of course Corbyn will have to resign…likely replaced by a Blairite).

So the message for the Tories is that, yes they might be able to win an election, but that’s a big maybe. And it relies not so much on them being able to take votes off Farage, but on labour losing them to remain supporting parties (and of course if labour forms an alliance with remain parties they are stuffed). Inevitably the Tories will lose some seats, as they will be losing votes to remain supporters as well as too the brexit party. Hell, even Johnson might lose his seat. So it would be a bit of an audacious gamble.

As for labour, they have a month or two to decide, do they want to win power (by backing remain), do they want to keep Corbyn as leader (which is impossible now unless they quit dithering) or do they want to risk being wiped out.

Populists, corruption and disaster capitalism

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If I was to tell you about a newly installed government, whose minsters and party donors were making millions betting against their own country via offshore firms, who openly earn large sums in kickbacks for a few hours of supposed work (e.g. after dinner speaking fees, “consultancy fees”, etc.), a government that was now using a crisis to give out sweatheart deals to its cronies, you’d probably assume I’m talking about some tin pot dictatorship in the developing world. But no, I’m talking about the UK under Boris, which has got to count as the most corrupt in the country’s history. But its actually the new normal (you think this is bad, wait till they are in coalition with Farage!).

Recently Channel 4’s dispatches did a piece on “brexit millionaires and how many in the Tory party, or their donors, were cashing in on brexit and making millions. Front and centre was Jacob Rees-Mogg, aka the right honourable member for the 18th century, the new minister for silly walks leader of the house of commons. In between being a grammar nazi (he’s set a whole bunch of grammar rules for civil servants, rules he has himself broken 700 times), he has been profiting from brexit. His offshore investment firms have racked in millions since brexit started. With him personally profiting to the tune of at least +£7 million. So much so he can afford to buy a a multi-million town house in London (to go with his country estate) and pay for it in cash. This is corruption, pure and simple.

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Rees Mogg’s little country cottage

And he is by no means alone. Boris is going for a no deal brexit, not because its what people voted for (he and his ministers have been challenged to provide an example of when in the referendum they suggested the UK might have to leave without a deal, we’ve yet to get an answer). In fact polls show the public would rather just cancel brexit all together than except no deal. Even Teresa May is warning no deal threatens the union (pity she didn’t say that while in office!). But the cabinet backs it because they know its the best way for them and their mates to make a quick buck. Food and medicine shortages! millions loosing their jobs! civil war in NI! Scottish independence! how is any of that their problem?

In fact here’s a good one, from a young Tory whose whinging that Boris can’t ignore him and implement no deal against the wishes of parliament and the country. LOL, the naivety of youth. He can, he is and he will. If you have a problem with that you shouldn’t have voted Tory.

And in other countries we are seeing similar trends. Trump hasn’t drained the swamp, he’s made it deeper and released alligators. In Italy, the horseshoe government of populists are now literally surrounded by steaming piles of garbage as the cities public services have collapsed. And corruption is as bad as ever (if not worse), so much so some are thinking of voting for Berlusconi. And if that sounds unlikely, well consider that in Greece, the populists there made such a pigs breakfast of things that the very party who got the country into a massive mess in the first place have just been voted back in.

Rome is now in such a mess, tourists are been giving advice about the risks to their health while visiting

Many people voted for populists because they were appalled at self serving politicians divorced from reality. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, voting for even more corrupt and incompetent populists has just made the situation worse. The very same elites these voters hate, just took to bribing and manipulating the populists. And guess what, they are even dumber than the regular politicians and cheaper too! In fact they’ll do things the regular politicians won’t dream of doing (because the latter are prone to rare moments of clarity where they actually giving a shit).

Angry desperate voters, voted for the most extreme option on the ballot paper thought they were sending a message. But the message that arrived in elites HQ was that these voters are even more naive and stupid than we thought, so let’s take full advantage of them (I mean they could have voted for some established third party candidates, or others who can’t be bought, then we’d be really screwed, but instead they vote for some complete idiot whose in our pocket). The elites can basically do whatever they want now, just so long as their boy remembers to make the odd racist dog whistle and some vague promises that they’ll never have to keep.

The fact is that populists leaders know that they aren’t held to the same standards as other politicians. It used to be a politician made the slightest gaffe, that was it, game over. Remember how Ed Miliband lost because of one photo of him looking awkward for a second eating a bacon roll, or the whole plebgate business. It used to be a politician said something to the media that was inaccurate, or broke the ministerial code and they’d be gone within a week (a good example, Brian Lenihan and the 1990’s Irish presidential election, he went from odds on favourite to being sacked and losing by a landslide over one phone call he made back in 1982).

Now they can get caught in a lie live on air and nobody bats an eyelid, because its one in a string of so many lies nobody can keep up (well unless you are a member of the labour party of course….or black….or worse both). Its understood that voters will ignore this, they are voting based on anger and tribal loyalties, not facts and policy. So long as said leader stays on message and keeps them angry (i.e. they have absolutely no good incentive to help these voters in any way, because then they might calm down and start acting sensibly) he can get away with anything.

Consider for example how both the Tories and the GOP have abandoned their long term commitment to balanced budgets. Both came to power talking about the dangers of deficit spending and how they would be pro-business. Now the policy is bollix to that and fuck business. Like Trump, Johnson seems to be planning to spend like a sailor on shore leave. But not on hospitals, schools or helping the poor (Tory policy here has been branded by the UN as ‘mean-spirited and callous), but instead on no deal preparation, tax cuts for the rich and big infrastructure projects than can be farmed out to Tory donors.

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The Tories new motto

I mean seriously, why do you think Boris gets paid over a £150,000 to show up and give an after dinner speech? You think they like the sound of his voice that much? No its a bribe and now they’re going to cash in. And its hardly as if any of this should be a surprise, given his past performance as London mayor and foreign secretary.

Of course the fact these policies, combined with the economic impact of a no deal brexit (or Trump’s tariffs), will make a mess of the economy and wreck the public finances doesn’t matter to them. They’ll get rich, who cares. In fact they’d even see a silver lining to that. They can use such a crisis to sell off state assets (such as the NHS) to themselves and their allies and dismantle the welfare state.

Its a strategy the rich have been applying in developing world countries for decades. They’d take advantage of the country’s naive or incompetent populists/autocratic government, to swoop in and wreck the economy on purpose, knowing they and their allies (juiced in local elites) would be able to take advantage of the chaos. Now they’re just doing the same in western countries (what goes around comes around I suppose).

And furthermore, even if some leftie such as Corbyn or Bernie ever gets into power, so what! They’ll not be able to afford to implement any of their policies or even reverse the mess the current government is making. In fact, the conservatives can just blame them for everything (as they did with Obama). What’s that? the lefties might putting up taxes? So what! let em! all their money is offshore….course if the UK was only part of some big pan-European club which was determined to do something about such tax avoidance …just a thought!

A spoiler alert for the EU elections

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The UK’s local election results (in England, Scotland wasn’t voting this time around) have shown a massive swing away from the pro-brexit parties, towards pro-remain parties. Now while it is certainly true that local elections tend to be fought over issues such as fortnightly bin collections and the cost of the Christmas lights, certainly there’s clearly something of a trend here that’s a bit too obvious to ignore.

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At the end of the day, even if you are voting on local issues, who do you want in charge of local affairs? The party that proposed brexit, got a deal and then voted against it. Or the party that backed remain, but voted in favour of article 50 and who has been sitting on the fence ever since, with the party leadership trying to come up with an excuses for why they should vote for a Tory brexit plan they all hate. Or maybe you’d rather put some grown up’s in charge instead? And its also worth remembering that as these elections didn’t include London or Scotland, its probable the swing on this issue is if anything understated.

This is exactly the point I’ve been making for sometime. Corbyn and May seem to think that if they can just sneak brexit through, that’s it done and dusted, all the 17 million or so who voted remain, many of whom can show very real personal loss and hardship brought onto them by brexit, will go away and shut up about the issue forever. Well obviously no, they won’t. As the economic impact of brexit takes effect it will mean that instead support for rejoining the EU will grow. Corbyn’s plan is to let brexit happen and then blame the Tories. But, as these results should make clear, the outcome of a Tory brexit is voters backing pro-EU parties, not other forms of euroscepticism.

So they’ve got the message loud and clear, we’ll be having a 2nd referendum then. LOL! Nope, both party leaders are arguing instead that a strong swing to remain indicates support for their policy. May wants a 3rd vote (or is it a 4th vote? honestly I’ve lost count!) on her deal (once she’s changed the font). Corbyn seems to think it means voters defecting from him to the lib dems and greens means they want labour to back May’s deal this time (brexiter logic, don’t even try to understand it!).

As I’ve said before, so long as Corbyn (aka Captain Ahab) is party leader, labour are a pro-leave party. He will prioritise getting brexit through over becoming PM or reversing Tory austerity. Even thought labour is overwhelmingly a remain party, labour voters need to remember you are essentially voting for a Tory brexit by voting labour. It doesn’t matter what you vote for at conference, or what’s in the party manifesto, Corbyn has consistently shown he will ignore both and push through his own agenda. And you can also be guaranteed, even when he does go, he’ll make sure his own hand picked successor (eurosceptic and clueless) takes over.

But, what’s really troubling me is the upcoming EU elections. I’d be inclined to vote Green party in these. While its claimed the UK’s EU elections operate on proportional representation, its a flawed version of PR, as it doesn’t include a transferable vote (and hence tends to favour the major parties). A party needs about 15% of the vote per seat in Scotland. And last time the lib dems and greens split about 15% of the vote between them (so no seats for either party).

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However, now Change UK threaten to split a pool of about 20% of the vote 3 ways. This means that when you add that to the SNP’s 40%, 60% of Scottish voters will likely vote for pro-remain parties. Add in labour’s 14% (Scottish labour is very much a remain party, even more so than in England) that works out at support at 74% for remain. However, thanks to Change UK’s spoiler action, its possible the seat allocation will split more like 50/50.

Why didn’t Change UK do an election deal with the other parties and run on a joint ticket? And worse still, while no lib dem or greens got elected in Scotland last time, several did get elected in English constituencies. Change UK spoiler action now threatens to cost these MEP’s their seats (in fact one of their candidates recently pulled out for this very reason, she doesn’t want to stand and help brexiters get elected).

Looking at the UK wide polls add up the pro-remain parties and they do have a lead (although a narrow one at that) and again you add in labour and support for remain represents a majority. But inevitably the media won’t report that. They will focus on seat allocation (which will likely split 70/30 in favour of leave) or which individual party got the most votes or seats (which will be Farage and his gallery of ghouls).

So my advice to anyone in the UK is don’t vote for Change UK. Check your local results and opinion polls and back incumbent pro-remain MP’s (in Scotland that would be the SNP, in England Greens and lib dems, in Wales Plaid Cymru). And whatever you do, don’t vote for labour either (the media will count that as a pro-leave vote). Certainly if there’s a big shift in support in Scotland, whereby the green’s stand a chance, I might well vote for them and I’d advise everyone else to watch the polls closely and do the same. But the priority this time is maximising the number of remain supporting MEP’s who get elected. Particularly when you understand what’s going on in the rest of Europe.

I appreciate what Change UK is trying to do. They know that the Tories are now just enablers of fascism and xenophobia. The nasty party. That Corbyn is a pighead numpty, who hasn’t changed his views on anything since 1970 and hasn’t got a clue how to win an election. However simply compounding the main parties mistakes while waving a pro-remain flag isn’t progress. A hard defeat might snap them back to reality and force them to change tactics (such as doing forging an alliance with the lib dems).

Parliament cracks on brexit

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The roof of the house of commons leaks – insert brexit inspired metaphor or joke of your choice below

One of the founding myths of brexit was that at the last minute, the EU would crack and give the UK everything it wanted. Instead the opposite seems to be happening. Boris & Mogg, having derided May’s deal as “worse than remain”, “a betrayal of leave voters” or that it would turn the UK into “a vassal state of the EUvoted for her bill last time ….which probably had something to do with her offering to resign (which just goes to show their motivations have always been selfish opportunism).

May meanwhile, apparently troubled by the risk of the UK breaking up in the event of a no deal, seems to be trying to prevent it (at last!) by offering indicative votes (which she previously whipped her MP’s against), considering a long extension, holding EU elections and opening talks with the spawn of satan the leader of the opposition comrade general Jeremy Corbyn.

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Now granted, these talks are unlikely to go anywhere, clearly the goal is to ensure labour shares the blame for whatever follows (be it no brexit, hard brexit or a long delay). And while Corbyn wants brexit to go ahead, he can’t be seen to support it. Allowing enough of his MP’s to “rebel” on key votes (e.g. stopping a peoples vote or even his preferred option a customs union) is one thing. But openly backing brexit would split his party, or force him to go along with what was agreed at conference, which was that if they can’t get an election labour backs a people’s vote (with remain on the ballot paper). And we can’t have that now can we (as remain would almost certainly win and Corbyn would have to hide in the woodshed again for 6 months).

And MP’s, aware that May is just winging it and Corbyn ain’t going to do diddly squat have panicked and are now desperately trying to get their own bill through parliament that will legally force the PM to request a long delay. Of course brexiters in the lords (where remain holds majority support) are trying to frustrate it and filibuster, complaining, with no hint of irony, of “the tyranny of the majority. Okay, so forcing a hard brexit that nobody voted for (only about 37% of the electorate voted leave, closer to 25% when we account for those who weren’t allowed to vote and support for May’s deal is as low as 6%), without any sort of consultation either with the opposition or remainers is implementing “the will of the people”. But a majority of parliament voting for something, that probably isn’t far off the majority opinion of people in the UK (delay brexit to avoid a no deal) is a tyranny. Asking the people to vote twice on something is undemocratic, but asking MP’s to vote on the same bill 3, or maybe even 4 times is okay thought. Conservative logic, don’t ever try to understand it.

But anyway, my point is, its all too little too late. May’s deal is basically dead, even if it goes through it might now be subject to legal challenges (as its questionable she’s followed parliamentary procedure). Any agreement Corbyn reaches with May will be meaningless, the withdrawal agreement can’t be changed at such short notice and the political declaration isn’t legally binding. May’s replacement could simply renege on anything signed. Pushing a bill through to stop no deal at this late stage has no real teeth (that would require a nuclear option to force the revocation of article 50 on the 11th of April if all else fails), it can be delayed for long enough to be meaningless.

And the EU has to agree to any extension. And May has asked for an extension, which the EU has previously turned down for solid legal reasons. If brexit is delayed until June 30th and the UK doesn’t hold elections for MEP’s, then what happens if the UK needs a further extension? After the EU’s elections, there will be nobody in a position of authority in Brussels to offer such a thing until mid July at the earliest. What if the UK were to revoke article 50 on the 29th of June and thus plunge the EU into a constitutional crisis? So no, its either a no deal brexit at the end of the week, passing May’s deal and then leaving on the 22nd of May. Or coming to the EU on the 10th of April with a solid plan, which would probably have to include participating in European elections and either a general election or referendum (or both). Pick one of three options. My guess? An accidental no deal is the most likely outcome.

What I’d argue has been laid bare here, is not how dysfunctional the EU is, but how broken the UK parliamentary system is (and I don’t just mean the roof!). To those who say brexit broke the UK parliamentary system, actually I’d argue it was broken all along, its just they’ve been very good at papering over the cracks until now.

They claim that the EU is undemocratic, when it is painfully obvious that it is the UK government that is undemocratic. The UK’s FptP system means an MP can be elected with just 25% of constituency votes. And a party can get a majority of seats with just 35% of all the votes (so about 25% of all voters once turn out is accounted for). Hell even Hitler had a stronger democratic mandate than many recent UK governments. And many stand in safe seats where losing is nearly impossible. Hence why several of Corbyn’s lackies (and several Tories) in seats that voted strongly remain, can back brexit and not have to worry about any blow back.

And of course nearly all of the real power in parliament lies with the PM, the leader of the opposition and (to a lesser extent) the speaker. Three MP’s, elected by a perhaps 30,000 votes each can basically overrule the votes of the remaining 50 million voters…and all three are among the safest of safe seats in the country (so its questionable if even their constituents have much of a choice!).

They claim that the EU is out of touch, yet it is clear that it is MP’s who are out of touch. While they squabble and play their games of thrones, the country is gradually descending into recession and despair. And its also painfully obvious that MP’s are utterly clueless not only as to how the EU works, but how their own parliamentary system works. Hence we have the PM trying to submit bills multiple times and having to be told no, you can do that. Or how every week the ERG quotes out of context some clause in EU or WTO rules, only to get smacked down by legal experts. Or on the remain side, an inability to properly organise a consensus around an alternative to the PM’s plans. And now they’ve probably left it too late to do anything, because IT TAKES TIME TO PASS A BILL! If they were serious about stopping no deal, they should have initiated this process back in December when May first delayed the first meaningful vote. Now its just pissing in the wind.

Of course the difference between the UK and either the EU or the national governments of many EU states is that, unlike the UK, they all have written constitutions. These documents lay out in clear detail what MP’s (or MEP’s) can do, what they can’t do, what are the limits of state authority, what is the position of the courts in all of this, when there should be a people’s vote, etc. And given that most elected officials across Europe are elected via proportional representation, this more or less forces them to work together. Consensus politics is the norm.

By contrast in the UK, its more normal for one party to govern, the other to vote against everything and whinge to the tabloids how the government is pandering to the EU and wrecking Britain. Then when the roles reverse, they spend half their time trying to unpick what the last lot did, while the other side nit pick and whinge to the tabloids that the government is pander to the EU and wrecking Britain.

So remain or leave, if there’s anything we’ve learnt from the brexit process began its that we need to take a leaf out of Guy Fawkes book. And I don’t mean getting rid of the building (that said its falling apart and would probably make sense to just demolish and rebuild it), I mean the UK’s system of government is fundamentally flawed. It needs to be completely torn down and replaced at every level.

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One possible solution?

A written constitution (which presumably will require a referendum to alter), proportional representation, a reformed judiciary, the elimination of numerous hereditary property rights, breaking the class system (which sees a disproportionate number of CEO’s and MP’s coming from a handful of public schools), replace the house of lords with a democratically elected upper house, changes to a massively unfair social welfare system (that doles out cash to wealthy pensioners without means testing, but drives genuinely poor people to food banks or forces them to sleep in doorways while their benefits are means tested).

I’d argue that if you want to waste 20 years of parliamentary time on something (and that’s about how long brexit and the post-brexit negotiations are going to take), leave the EU alone and focus on this project instead.

Ending the anarchy

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Back in the 12th century the UK went through a traumatic period in its history, known as “the Anarchy” where two factions of the ruling Normans fought for control of the country, each supporting rival rulers. In this 18 year period, the many commoners were left to fend for themselves, as the lords fought, brigands ravaged the countryside and “the saints slept”. Well brexit has now driven the UK into another anarchy, as effectively the country does not have a functioning government.

The latest nickname for May is LINO, leader in name only. Hard to nail down, but easy to walk over. She sits surrounded by a cabinet of fools, which she is not the leader of. The traditional UK policy of cabinet collective responsibility having been abandoned some time ago. Hell at one point last week the brexit secretary gave the cabinet’s speech in support of a bill, then voted against it! Ministers are united in their incompetence, for which none are at the slightest risk of being sacked over (like Chris Grayling, aka Failing Grayling, Calamity Chris whose cost the country over a billion through shear incompetence and still in his job).

And can you blame them. May spent the last few weeks going around, threatening her party, the ERG and the DUP with a long delay if they didn’t vote for her deal. But to no avail. And parliament then subsequently voted to rule out no deal (which makes sense as it might not be legal to implement it) and request a long extension from Brussels. Then came her cabinet meeting last week in which a bunch of her brexit supporting minsters shouted at her and threatened to resign. And rather than fire them all on the spot (as any actual PM would have done) she just sat their nodding and saying nothing, turned around afterwards and said, we’ll only ask for a short extension (so in other words the ERG & DUP now have absolutely no reason to vote for her deal), then tried to turn the people on their own MP’s, blaming them rather than her and the hard line brexiteers for the mess the country is in.

No wonder the EU thinks she’s lost the plot. I mean they tell her to show up with a plan to the summit in Brussels and she basically shows up looking like a kid whose dog actually did eat her homework, forcing them to come up with a plan for her. And while the grown ups did the hard work, she was forced to sit in windowless room waiting for several hours while the UK’s fate was decided by the EU (that’s taking back control!).

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And not to be outdone in incompetence, Corbyn, walked out of a meeting with the PM because Chuka Umunna happened to be there. That’s how childish things have become. I ain’t sitting in a room with him, he called me a big fat meanie…and he smells. Corbyn will sit in a room with Hamas or Sinn Fein, but coffee with Umunna is a bridge too far.

And Corbyn (plus most of the labour front bench) were not only absent from yesterday’s rally (biggest demo in UK history, I’d have been down too but that would have involved using Chris Grayling’s railway service!), but according to labour party members he sent a sneaky notice out to them advising them to work on local party affairs this weekend. I’ve never heard of a labour party leader advising his members not to show up to a protest…well other than Tony Blair of course!

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Such a large show of support for remaining, a million people, the largest protest in UK history (contrasting that with support for leave consisting of a few hundred following Farage on a pub crawl), should have politicians sitting up and taking notice. Not to mention the article 50 revocation petition which has attracted over 5 million signatures. Well think again.

Politicians are by nature very slow to change course. I’m reminded of the story of how in the command economies of the soviet union, they’d set up committees to decide on the latest fashions, but by the time they actually got around to producing the clothes, nobody wanted them, as they were now out of fashion. The only difference with the UK parliament is that its probably easier to unseat a member of the soviet politburo that it is a UK MP in a safe seat. Such is the unfairness of the UK’s FPtP voting system.

For any UK politicians looking to advance their careers, best to ignore the people (what have they got to do with anything? Hell many of them voted leave in the first place!), hooking themselves to the brexit wagon is the best way forward. You want to be a future Tory leader/minister? You’ve got to join the hard brexiteer gang. And in labour, you’ve got to join Corbyn’s cabal, proclaiming lip service to the idea of a people vote, while actively working to undermine such a possibility (he had his party members abstain from a vote on a people’s vote the other week).

And the only way this is going to change if MP’s are faced with the threat of losing their jobs, or seeing their party destroyed. This unfortunately is how UK politics works. Unless you are prepared to go all the way, you’ll be walked all over, just like PM LINO. The reason why the ERG and the DUP are commanding so much attention in the brexit process isn’t that they command a majority (even amount Tories), its because they are prepared to burn the house down to get their way. So remain supporters need to be willing to do the same.

Everyone in that rally, or anyone who supports a people’s vote, needs to go away and figure out who their MP is and consult their voting history. If they are a leave supporter, then you need to tell them (I’d show up in their constituency office) they have lost your vote, not just for the next election but permanently, unless they succeed in reversing brexit.

Consider that over 26,000 have signed the article 50 petition in Corbyn’s own constituency that’s not far off his majority of 33,000. Yes, if enough people in his constituency were to commit to it, one of the safest of safe seats would suddenly become a marginal seat. Corbyn could actually face a Michael Portillo moment of being unseated over brexit. And any labour party members need to quit the party (ideally by cutting your membership card in half in front of your labour MP). Doesn’t mean joining TiG, or the lib dems (although the greens are a close match), you can always rejoin later. But so long as you support labour, you support leaving at any cost, even if it means leaving with no deal. Only when confronted with the reality that they are going to get annihilated next election can we expect to see any change of course from either the Tories or labour.

And the sort of action needed? That means parliament needs to take control of the situation. Neither May or Corbyn can be trusted anymore. They’ve made promises and broken them, even going against decisions already made by parliament (which would technically put them in contempt of parliament) or votes at party conferences. And while I’d prefer a people vote, arguably the window of opportunity for that has now closed. I’d argue the only realistic option left is to simply cancel brexit altogether. If, after he’s finished his pub crawl, Farage wants to have another go, let him win a general election first and then have a 2nd referendum.

The fall of the Roman Republic: Lessons for the modern world

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I stumbled on this youtube channel, Historia Civilis which, amongst other things, presents the fall of the Roman republic in quite an interesting and entertaining way. Worth a look, if you are a history buff. It occurred to me however, that the downfall of the Roman republic presents several valuable lessons for us in the modern world. As one can see parallels with current events and those leading up to the fall of the republic.

At the heart of the matter were three men, Julius Caesar (who presumably needs no introduction!), Pompey (the veteran general, not the football team) and Crassus (the richest man in Rome and victor over Spartacus). These three men formed the a loose alliance known as the Triumvirate in order to help push their various political agendas through the Roman parliament, the senate.

Key among there demands was money. Pompey and Caesar needed financing to maintain their armies (Crassus was also keen on various tax reforms), but also there was the issue of looking after their retiring soldiers (after all if they didn’t look after them, nobody else would sign up and pretty soon they’d have no army and a lot of angry ex-soldiers gunning for them). There was also the issue of land reform, putting land the republic owned to better use (possibly by settling the former soldiers and commoners of Rome on it). Caesar was also keen on making northern Italy a formal part of the Roman republic (many of his soldiers came from here, which means they’d all become voting citizens and would likely give him control of a vast voting block).

So a lot of their demands, weren’t that unreasonable……unless you were a member of the Roman upper classes of course! They formed a conservative faction within the parliament, the Optimates (or conservatives, think the GOP), who were opposed by the Populares who favoured the commoners or plebs (think the democrats). The triumvirate really didn’t care who was in charge so long as they got their way. But there was a tendency, particular with Caesar, to favour the populists.

In essence friction caused by the conservatives attempts to block the triumvirate’s demands led to an increasingly hostile and partisan mood in parliament, ultimately eroding support for the senate. This eventually spilled onto the street, with political debate becoming increasingly tribalist, hostile and eventually violent. Then fighting began between the triumvirate members, which led Pompey to align himself with the conservatives.

Towards the end the two factions morphed from populists v’s conservatives to Caesarian’s v’s Pompeyan’s, with both sides effectively backing a dictator, while accusing the other faction of being autocrats tying to put a dictator in charge. After Caesar’s victory the senate basically became a rubber stamp facility for him to get his way. After his assassination by senators, things got even worse, leading to the rise of the first Emperor (Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son and chosen successor), upon which it eventually became little more that a debating club.

The “will of the people” can be used to justify anything, even dictatorship, slavery and genocide
Beware of anyone who cite’s “respecting the will of the people” as the justification for their actions….but then seems suspiciously reluctant to allow the people’s wishes to be confirmed in some sort of free and fair vote. This went on all the time in ancient Rome, where it was used to justify pretty much anything, murder, ignoring the law, violating parliamentary procedure, genocide, slavery, burning down of temples or public buildings, theft and ultimately dictatorship.

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Roman legions enact the “will of the people” by enslaving non-Romans

In short, the many checks and balances we have in society exist to stop autocrats doing this. Part of why the Roman republic collapsed was because many choose to ignore those checks and balances, in order that they could “respect the will of the people”.

And another factor was how populists manipulated the public. While the Roman republic was a democracy, it wasn’t a very fair one, it decidedly favoured the rich (even when we ignore the corruption and bribery that went on). Part of the reason why the plebs began backing extremists was probably out of a certain level of frustration with how the upper classes treated them (why does that sound familiar). They also backed Caesar, in part because some of his policies did appeal to them. But mostly because the Optimates hated him.

Beware of ideologues bearing grudges
Good politics is about good compromise. And there were several ways that the disputes between the populists and conservatives could have been resolved. But passions ran high on both sides and eventually the senate descended into partisan politics, where bills were passed more as a means of scoring points against rival factions, rather than any real purpose (such as you know like maybe running the country!). And needless to say, filibustering and numerous acts of skulduggery were rife. In effect the senate stopped governing Rome, which created a power vacuum and it was inevitable something else would come along to fill the gap. And the void was filled by the autocratic rule of first Pompey and later Caesar (then later on an emperor, important to note that at no point was Caesar appointed emperor).

Again, one can draw direct parallels with modern politics. On any topic, healthcare or gun control in the US, brexit in the UK, there are a number of ways a compromise could have been reached to resolve these issues. But the parties (notably the conservatives) have refused to compromise. Again, this leads to a government that doesn’t govern. One that misuses procedures to ensure nothing gets done (or railroad through legislation that clearly doesn’t have majority support). Parliament fiddles while Rome burns. As Lincoln said, a house divided against itself cannot stand.

God is a busy person, he seems to be always on everyone’s side….and always against your opponents
Modern day politicians, particularly those on the right, are always banging on about religion. Being very quick to say how their policies are inspired by Jesus….which leads one to wonder how they managed to skip the bit in the bible about Jesus throwing the merchants out of the temple, or claiming that it would be easier for a richman to ride through the eye of a needle than get into heaven. Well, misusing religion to justify your policies aren’t a new phenomenon. It happened regularly in ancient Rome.

For example, at one point Julius Ceasar managed (by which we mean bribed) to get himself elected to the post of Ponitfex maximus, effectively the Roman equivalent of the Pope. He then set about exploiting this for political gain. And his opponents would do likewise, getting legislation they didn’t like or elections they disagreed with overturned on the basis of “bad omens”. Naturally this proved to be a major problem as it led to a general breakdown in the rules of the house.

Beware of “spontaneous” street protesters turning violent
Like I said, the tribal politics on the senate floor quickly spilled out onto the street and political debate took on a darker more tribal tone. While pushing, shoving and maybe the odd punch up were not that uncommon in Roman politics, gradually this fighting became worse and worse. Eventually, people started carrying weapons to political events. And it was only a matter of time before they started using them, leading to much violence and blood on the streets of Rome.

One can draw direct parallels with, for example the tea party types showing up with the guns outside polling stations, or the recent harassment of politicians in the UK outside parliament. Hence why its important that this behaviour gets nipped in the bud, presumably by making it illegal to use violence to pervert the political discourse (or the threat of it and I don’t see how showing up with a gun to a rival political rally, or a polling booth in a predominantly black distinct can be interpreted any other way). Its worth noting that under the laws of the Roman republic you could be executed (or banished) for showing up armed at political events (or so much as laying a finger on certain government officials). While that’s probably going a bit too far today, but some time in the clink to cool their heels would seem appropriate.

Not least because this violence in Rome wasn’t initially as random as it seemed. Its quite clear that many of these thugs were working on behalf of various members of the triumvirate. Similarly, call me paranoid, but I find it more than a little coincidental that the tea party’s stated goals just happened to meet those of plutocrats in the GOP (and its strange they seem to ignoring the fact they’ve reneged on a number of the tea party’s stated goals and nobody’s making a fuss about it). Similarly, are we to believe that these yellow vest protesters in France are a “spontaneous” anti-government protest….which just happens to align itself with the goals of the far right.

The problem in Rome was that this violence soon ran out of control. Which should hardly come as a surprise, that’s kind of what happens with a brawl. Its easy to throw a punch, what’s harder is getting everyone to stop. Those behind the violence were soon fighting each other, with Roman citizens, the senate and triumvirate getting caught up in the cross fire. Things came to a head with two factions, one led by Milo (from the conservative faction) and the other mob led by Clodius (of the popular faction) fighting each other in the streets of Rome. This violence eventually led to Clodius being murdered by Milo’s gang and Milo being expelled from Rome.

Eventually this violence on the streets forced first Pompey and later Caesar to move armies into Rome to put down the violence….and maybe help them rigsupervise” an election or two. This is of course the danger. Look at any other country (recently in Brazil or Venezuela for example) and once the military start getting involved in policing protests, they get involved in the politics. And its difficult to predict the outcome of that. Because in the end the Roman senate, and its inability to reconcile its own differences, left them faced the choice between two dictators.

Cooler heads don’t always prevail, smart people do stupid things and never underestimate a dumb person
One of the things we often get told, is oh don’t worry, nobody wants a no deal brexit/Trump dictatorship, cooler heads will prevail. Why our leaders are smart people, they’ll come up with an answer. Well that’s not what happened in Rome. In fact very smart people did very dumb things, leading them to be out manoeuvred by street thugs (such as Milo, Clodius) and the less than intellectually gifted (such as Mark Antony). Largely because they were too caught up in their own ideology and too busy settling petty scores with their rivals.

Take the Roman senators Cicero and Cato. I’m guessing that even if you know little about Roman history, you’ve probably heard of them. They were two of the sharpest minds in the Roman world. Yet they committed various howlers during this period that I suspect even Trump could have seen coming. At one point for example, Cato got tricked into taking up a task in Cyprus, which put him out of the senate at a crucial time. While Cicero found himself on the run facing trumped up charges. They’re own arrogance became their undoing.

By contrast, the members of the Triumvirate weren’t exactly a bunch of heavy weight intellectuals. In fact some accounts suggest Pompey was kind of “slow” and not exactly the sharpest tool. However, they managed to command armies in battle and lead them to stunning victories. And they outmanoeuvred their political opponents on several occasions.

In fact, one could argue the most sensible of the triumvirate was the one you hear the least about, Crassus. He cashed out early, gaining control of the wealthy province of Syria. So he kind of made off like a bandit. It could have ended well for him….if he hadn’t made the crass decision to start a war with the Parthian Empire and dying on the battlefield.

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Crassus died on the battlefield fighting a pointless and illegal war in what is now modern day Syria….why does this sound familiar?

The frog in the saucepan isn’t true, but the political metaphor is correct
There’s the old saying that a frog put into boiling water will jump out, while you put him in tepid water and warm it up he’ll sit there and get cooked to death. Well firstly, its not true (yes somebody has actually checked!). But the political metaphor is correct. Like I said, the decline of the Roman republic was gradual. At no point did either Pompey nor Caesar declare themselves emperor (although they were made dictators). It would be difficult to put your finger on the exact point where the republic’s collapsed.

I would also argue that neither Pompey nor Caesar set out to become an absolute ruler. They were certainly greedy and ambitious men, but I don’t think they intentionally destroyed the republic, no more than Cato or Cicero intentionally hastened the decline of the senate. It just sort of happened that way. Because once they pulled the pin on the autocrat hand grenade, they couldn’t put it back in.

One of the reasons for example, why Caesar marched on Rome, was that he was facing the risk of prosecution for his actions as consul several years earlier. Just prior to his assassination he was made consul for life (which was one of the reasons why he was killed of course), because he didn’t want events to repeat themselves (he was planning to leave the city and go off campaigning again). And one can draw direct parallels with modern dictatorships. Castro in Cuba, Maduro in Venezuela, Trump in 2020 or Putin in Russia. In other words, the boiling frog applies to the would be dictators as well.

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The Ides of March, Roman senators express no confidence in Ceasar’s rule.

Of course, Caesar’s violent death at the hand of 23 senators, several of them his friends and allies (notably Brutus), was unfortunately to set something of a precedence for future Roman rulers. Indeed, a horrible histories fun fact about Rome was the frequency with which Emperors met their doom at the hands of the praetorian guard, the men who guarded emperors while they slept. And of course, we can draw similar parallels to many recent dictators (Gaddafi or Saddam for example). In short, being an autocrat can be hazardous to one’s health.

Beware the law of unintended consequences
Which brings us to the final and perhaps most important point, it is remarkably easy to break a democratic system. Many people in the west, having lived their entire lives in a democracy, having never witnessed the sort of civil unrest or break down of the social order seen in other countries don’t seem to be aware of this fact. Hence they just don’t have any concept of life without it. We’re not even aware of the idea. Hence how Francis Fukuyama can naively proclaim the end of history, without getting laughed out of the room.

After all, think how the Romans at the time of the republic felt. Their republic was many centuries old. From Rome they controlled a quarter of the world’s population and half the known world. No doubt, they too were supremely confident that the republic would survive anything, even a little political crisis, that seem to just drag on and on. After all they’d faced similar crises in the past. If there’s one lesson we can draw from the Roman republic, its that the surest way to kill a democracy, is probably to assume it will never fail.

Now this will be something that some will react with glee to, as truth be told, many on the right (and some on the left too) want to bring down democracy. But be careful what you wish for, as you are unlikely to have any control over what replaces it.

Like I said, neither side the Optimates nor the Populares wanted the republic to become an empire, but that’s what ended up happening. So similarly, Putin in his efforts to undermine the EU needs to think carefully of the consequences. Because while he might break up the EU, NATO (which is the thing that really worries him) remains as united as ever. Does he really want NATO forces on his border, run by various populist mini-Trump’s itching for a fight, while inviting other states, such as Ukraine or Georgia to join (and basically encircling him).

Or alternatively, I’ve heard it argued that the problem with the EU is its too decentralised. A federal state (not unlike the “united states of Europe” Churchill once argued for) with a democratically elected president, plus an upper and lower house might be the solution. So anyone committed to break up the EU needs to be aware the danger is that by provoking such a crisis, the very EU superstate of their nightmares might be what replaces it. And similarly, the Tories, in their effort to create a fantasy cartoon Britannia 2.0, might end up driving the country to the extremes (a far left or far right government) or even cause the UK to break up.

And plutocrats in the GOP who want to shrink the US government and drown it in the bath thumb, ya and what will be the end game after that? I see two possibilities, an authoritarian fundamentalist Christian administration (think handmaidens tale). And if you think Bernie Sanders is anti-business you need to read the bible sometime (some of the stuff in it would make Ocasio-Cortez look like Rand Paul). Alternatively, you might find the wealthier and generally left leaning parts (Eastern seaboard, new England & Northern states) of the US cede from the union, forming either their own country, or perhaps merging with Canada (Super Canada?).

My point is, be careful what you wish for. It might come true and you might find you preferred the status quo, but by then it will be too late.

The supreme irony

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The UK government recently announced their plans as regards no deal and what tariff’s they’d charge. And they’ve proposed to drop nearly all down to zero, except those for agricultural products. This will disproportionally impact on Ireland more than any other country.

However, as the Irish PM noted, there’s a supreme irony here. A clause in the tariffs makes NI exempt from these, so Irish goods can cross into NI without being effected by any tariffs (and visa versa), unless they cross the Irish sea into Britain. So the customs border will now be at the Irish sea.

Of course, as you may recall, the EU’s original proposal to May was to put the customs border post-brexit, on the Irish sea. But May said no to that, in order to placate the DUP. And recall, the only reason the backstop exists, is because of this. So the brexiteers have spent the last few months arguing over something and refusing to back May’s deal, yet now they’ve essentially just caved in to the EU’s original proposals and not a peep out of either the ERG or the DUP. One is forced to the conclusion they only opposed the NI backstop because the Irish and the EU were in favour of it (which isn’t entirely true, the Irish and EU went along with it as better than the alternative of a chaotic no deal).

Of course there is a crucial difference, the EU’s proposals were carefully written by those very same Brussels eurocrats the Brexiteers love to demonise, in order to make sure that they were legally watertight (to prevent smuggling or abuse) and won’t be subject to legal challenge (at the WTO for example)….which is kind of what we need those eurocrats for! While by contrast, the Tories tariff proposals were hastily drafted on the back of a fag packet by some of the most incompetent people to ever hold public office. Hence these measures will likely prove to be wide open to abuse.

There would for example, be nothing to stop someone shipping Irish beef into NI, stamping “made in Britain” on them, then importing it all into Britain tariff free. Or cheating of cigarettes and alcohol tariffs and undercutting UK businesses. Any post-brexit immigration controls are now in name only, as the wide open Irish border makes it impossible to enforce them. And both the UK and Ireland will likely see disputes launched at the WTO claiming unfair advantage is being given. So while it stops a hard border for now, its a recipe for chaos long term and all but guarantees hard border eventually.

Meanwhile parliament has voted overwhelmingly against no deal and in favour of extending article 50, yet not providing any alternative to it. Which is like the Titanic voting for the iceberg to move out of the way. They’ve also rejected the option to vote for a 2nd referendum, largely because Corbyn won’t back it (I told you he couldn’t be trusted to keep his word). Which is a pity, because the UK now faces three options. May’s deal (which everyone hates, support runs currently at just 6%) or no brexit, or no deal by accident (which will likely lead to either of the other two once the economic consequences kick in).

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And contrary to their protestations, the real reason parliament don’t want to give the people a 2nd vote, isn’t because they feel support for brexit is as strong as ever (option polls say its faltering), or they fear the far right exploiting it (they are exploiting the chaos in parliament anyway!). No the real reason is that we’re in this mess thanks to the 1st referendum and many MP’s simply doesn’t trust the people any more. Much as I predicted prior to the referendum, the consequences of brexit are that the UK people will never be trusted by any UK government with a decision of this magnitude ever again. That in effect is what you voted for.