Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Future Tense

I think the major shock about the UK vote to leave the EU was the transformation in British culture that the vote seems to represent. From having been in the vanguard of the global economy and the globalized society, the UK seems to have rejected much of what it seemed to stand for. The aftermath of the vote- racist statements, racist attacks and all seemed to have turned the conventional wisdom about Britain on its head. The country was not as open or tolerant or globalized as it purported to be. This is despite the fact that a significant faction of the Leave campaign believed that the the problem with the EU is that it is not globalized enough. The reality is that whatever the Libertarians amongst the Leave camp thought they were getting, it is now all too clear that the isolationists, not the globalizers, are the big winners from the vote... at least so far.

If Brexit is a process, not a destination, as we are now being told, then it is still totally unclear what the destination might be. One nasty shock for the incoming May government has been that the option that would probably be accepted by the majority of the the UK- a kind of associate membership of the EU, via either the EEA or some kind of bespoke agreement- now looks by far the most difficult solution to bring off. The confrontational attitude adopted by the UK government has met its match in the Juncker Comission, which has wasted little time in inflicting as many petty humiliations on the new PM as possible. The appointment of Michel Barnier as the Commission's negotiator was the first, followed by the repeated cold shoulder to the UK at every meeting, including forcing Theresa May to wait until 1 am to address the meeting of the European Council. I suppose we can hardly blame the Commission for taking the hump against the UK, particularly since it reflects the deep anger that many governments feel about what the UK is trying to do. As Xavier Bettel, the Luxembourg Prime Minister Minister puts it  "Before they were in and they had many opt-outs; now they want to be out with many opt-ins.

Meanwhile Conservative blow-hards, such as Bernard Jenkin, insist - with precisely no evidence- that a total withdrawal from all form of EU collaboration was what was voted for on June 23rd. 

The choice is becoming stark: national humiliation as we create mayhem in much of our economy and face a serious and prolonged economic crisis through breaking all ties to the EU, or national humiliation as we seek to reverse the decision taken on June 23rd. As the storm clouds gather, there are more than a few people in London and in Brussels who believe that the UK may indeed change course. The Conservatives have sought to own Brexit, but now it is clear that whatever Brexit does in fact mean, it is bad and the Tories will get the blame. The big swing in Witney and the likely gain of Richmond Park is putting the Lib Dems back on the map, and despite the current high poll ratings for the Conservatives, the reality is that these leads could be very shallow indeed. 

Yet despite the growing economic and political storm in London, we can not ignore the abject failure of the Juncker Commission. The hapless former Premier of Luxembourg has now presided over the debacle of Brexit and the seeming collapse of CETA with Canada. This second failure is possible of even more moment than the first. The fact is that the crisis in CETA speaks to the very worst paralysis of the EU, and a failure to ratify would demoralize even the most fervent defenders of the Commission. Whereas the Commission has little choice but to be reactive to the UK, they have proven unable to be proactive to address the problems with CETA ratification. Clearly this bodes very badly for the far more complicated discussions to come with the UK. The fact is that the Commission may not be able to deliver any kind of soft Brexit- regardless that this is the majority will in both the UK and the rest of the EU.

Faced with the choice, it may become literally impossible for the UK to withdraw. Certainly there are voices on both sides of the channel that are beginning to think that, as the political pendulum swings in the UK strongly away from Brexit, that the British may opt for the economically less painful version of national humiliation rather than another. The paralysis that the Juncker commission has engendered does not seem to have been shaken by the prospect of the British departure, but just possibly it might be shaken up by a British lack of departure. 

Maybe the Brits will return to the global future after all.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Markets verdict on Brexit is coming & it will be ugly

80% of the British press is under the control of off-shore domiciled billionaires. These shadowy figures: the pornographer Richard Desmond, the sinister Barclay Brothers, the oafish Harmsworth, and the borderline criminal Rupert Murdoch have established a hard right-wing agenda. The press, especially titles owned by the creepy and boorish Mr. Murdoch, have a well merited reputation for powerful lobbying in support of an extreme right-wing agenda. Since the referendum, their shrill support for the ending of all ties to the European Union- the so-called hard Brexit- has pushed the Conservative government to ever more hardline positions.

However, despite the propaganda and the contempt that these newspapers have directed towards the near majority that preferred to stay in the EU, reality is- finally- beginning to bite.  The extreme position adopted by the May government has a price, and it is one that very few people on any side of the referendum debate would have been prepared to pay. The fact is that there are many fundamental reasons why a "hard Brexit" would cause significant economic damage, and the problem is that even the large-scale devaluation of Sterling that has taken place since the referendum debacle will not much ease the crisis to come.

The conventional wisdom is that the fall in Sterling will reduce costs and make exports competitive, but this is to misunderstand the huge changes in the global supply chain over the past few years. British exports in manufacturing are largely made from components that are imported, therefore the conventional wisdom that a devaluation makes the UK a more competitive exporter no longer truly holds. All that is going to happen is that the country will reignite a level of inflation that will erode the currency still further, without any improvement in the UK current account. In the quest for greater productivity there will be a need to shed jobs, while the government sector now faces a double whammy of a lower tax take, a higher social security bill, and rising gilt yields, and confidence in the UK continues to fall. 

Hard Brexit is a vicious circle. The expulsion from the single market that  Mrs May now says could happen in January 2019 is going to cause a rout in several critical sectors of the UK economy. Confidence is being eroded to the point that Credit ratings are coming under critical review and the negative outlook is being priced in. As long as Hard Brexit is the policy, there is no technical support for Sterling in the medium term above about 95 Euro cents, and if the Market continues to take a dim view of the competence of the May government, we could even see Dollar Parity in the short/medium term. The currency rout now taking place is already beginning to see the beginning of a rout in gilts- a 5% yield may be surprisingly close, and as we know this could in turn lead to the overstretched mortgage market also being pushed to breaking point, with a breakdown in property prices quick to follow and a major banking crisis the inevitable coda. Meanwhile the lackeys of the right wing press, like Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, suggest that the prospect of this major discontinuity is a good thing. According to their world view- backed up by whatever bat-squeek of hope they try to find in the gathering gloom- the UK was over indebted and living high on the hog, so that a collapse was inevitable. Yet the fact is that the market is delivering a verdict on the politics. Any sign that Brexit may be soft rather than hard and Sterling recovers a smidgeon. 

Yet Mrs. May made her case: "If you are a citizen of the World, you are a citizen of nowhere" is a phrase that will haunt the rest of her premiership. Business hates it. Universities loath it. It is a contemptible manifesto of Little Englander provincialism, and it will ultimately fail. The price, however, will be the prosperity and the stability of the the UK.  On June 23rd the British people did not vote to make themselves £66 billion poorer- and the absurd lies published by the verminous Mail, Express et al does not change the fact that the consequences of the vote will be deeply unpopular.

Mrs May currently has a Parliamentary majority of 12. Over twenty seats are currently the subject of Police investigations as to the legality of the Conservative expenses claims. That is not something the right wing press wishes to discuss.

As the chill winds of the Brexit Autumn turn into the bitter frost of Winter, one wonders how far the Tories can push the Bond Market before it bites back. Then the posturing fools of the billionaires' supporters club can face the wrath of the rest of us.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Eternal vigilance

The United States Presidential debates seem to have confirmed two things.

The first is that Donald Trump is totally unsuitable to be the President of the United States. 

I mean, not just inappropriate for the job, but most likely utterly catastrophic. His contempt for the niceties of the US constitution was just the cherry on a particular odorous cup cake of crap. His demeanor- petulant, childish, and his opinions- ignorant and boorish, suggest that as President he would respond to the slightest provocation with over reactions that could lead to breakdown domestically and war internationally.

The second thing the debate confirmed is that he could still step into the oval office next January. Despite the fact that literally no business leaders back him, despite his failure to release his tax returns, and despite his insulting and patronizing comments about more or less anyone who is not Donald J Trump, this man could become the President of the United States.

Even though the chances still favour Mrs. Clinton, the fact that it is even remotely close changes everything. The fact is that even if Mr. Trump is defeated this time (Please Lord!), there remains a huge block of voters that is prepared to consider possibilities that should be unacceptable in any sensibly governed democratic state. This challenges the whole basis of the global international order. The United States has been a force for democratic will and the free society since at least the second world war. If the US can not be relied upon to defend freedom, no matter what the cost, then we genuinely risk a collapse of the Pax Americana and a descent into a nuclear armed instability that risks the entire planet.

In the event the Alt-Right and the other post truth politicians may not get their man this time, but the shock of what is happening underlines the urgent need to develop a new kind of politics that can balance the political interests of society without the emergence of irrational and dangerous demagoguery.  

The price of freedom was, and remains, eternal vigilance. In a world where Vladimir Putin is attempting to subvert Western democracy, we must now drastically increase our guard.

Electing Trump would be a disaster as great  as May 1940 for Western Democracy.   

Friday, September 23, 2016

Punishing the Conservatives

A Conservative government has caused the greatest political and economic disaster in 50 years. The Prime Minister responsible, David Cameron, has resigned. Theresa May's ministers are consistently suggesting that the vote to leave the European Union means the withdrawal from all EU mechanisms- the "Hard Brexit". The result will be the exit of the car industry from the UK and severe damage to the City of London.

It is totally irresponsible.

It will cost the country millions of jobs and billions of pounds. The Tories now own the Brexit fiasco.

Voters are noticing: some major shifts in local elections suggest that the Liberal Democrats may be recovering fast.

Just maybe the new Tory programme of back to fifties- imperial measures, grammar schools et al- may end up destroying the party that is proposing this drivel. Backward looking provincialism deserves nothing more than contempt.

I bloody hope so.

In other news.

Last night hundreds of children went to sleep alone and hungry in the Jungle at Calais- a humanitarian mess that the UK is responsible for. Last night the food banks were doing good business. Last night the NHS faced just another day of strain and pain. Last night millions of workers in the UK were facing renewed threats to their livelihood because of the Brexit fiasco. 

This morning the British right wing press: 80% supporting the Conservatives and funded by five off-shore billionaires, decided that the marriage split of two actors was the chief story their readers needed to know about.

Contemptible. Disgraceful. Outrageous.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Burns and the charms o' nature

I was interviewed yesterday on the subject of the poetry of Robert Burns by the Scottish Cultural Society in Tallinn. This is a good organisation that promotes a wide variety of things Scottish with a fervour that should embarrass even the most intransigent nationalist. Whether ceilidh dancing or singing the songs of Burns, or even kilt wearing, this small group constantly delight with their enthusiasm and passion for the subject of Scottish culture, broadly defined.

Since I was a teenager I have read the works of Burns and felt that he deserves a wider audience than the annual festival of the unco' guid that marks his birthday each year on January 25th. Like the Slovene poet, France Preseren, Burns speaks not just for some exclusive national feeling, but the universal themes of love, nature and politics. Yet whether the lovely pastoral of Westlin Winds or the epic song of brotherhood a Man's a Man it has seemed until recently that Burns was condemned to the shortbread tartanry that makes him seem more of a museum piece than of any modern relevance. In the end though, Burns is really a bit of a rock star and though Holy Willies Prayer and Tam O'Shanter were radically subversive at the time, it really is the songs that make Burns so accessible. Possibly my favourite (and certainly my Grandmother's favourite) is Ae Fond Kiss

The links will take you to some modern performances of these great songs. Enjoy!      

Monday, September 19, 2016

Fighting the Culture War

After the fall of the Berlin Wall and the creation of a raft of new liberal and democratic states in 1989 and 1991, the argument about the values of the open society went into a kind of stasis. The debate was deemed by many to be closed, and the virtues of liberal democracy self-evidently triumphant.

25 years later that "end of history" seems at best more nuanced. At worst, the closed authoritarian model seems to have made a spectacular come-back.

This blog references Cicero, and in previous posts I have explained why. I have feared for a long time that the values and virtues of democracy are being eroded from within and without. The fact is that mass societies can be manipulated and subverted. Vladimir Putin spends billions of dollars on propaganda, and while much of this is to persuade Russians not to challenge his regime, equally his purpose has been to undermine confidence in the states of Europe and North America that he deems to be his enemies. He is achieving a remarkable success in promoting closed, right-wing models of society. His admirers are a rogues gallery of anti-democrats: Marine Le Pen, Diane James, Geert WildersDonald Trump, the Vlaams Belang in Belgium and many members of the Cinque Stelle in Italy.

The weakness that this subversion is demonstrating should give all of us some pause for thought. The fact is that both our media and our education system have already let us down severely. 80% of the UK print media is in the hands of foreign or off-shore ownership, with an extreme right-wing agenda. On my recent visit to London, I was staggered how many people read the Mail and the Express- two newspapers who seem to have given up on the truth altogether. The fact is that in a world of post truth politics, our general education level seems simply too low to challenge the false narratives that the biased and self-serving media is promoting.

When people ask me why Estonia is so much more successful than, say, Russia. I generally reply by pointing out that Estonian culture so strongly promotes education. It is a history of Lutheran respect for education, combined with strongly rooted values of hard work, discipline and openness. It is next to impossible to beat a bright kid with a good work ethic. Yet even in Estonia, I see signs of a culture being assailed. The astonishing growth in graffiti in recent months is one example, the rise of EKRE- an unpleasant and intolerant right-wing nationalist party- is another. Of course both are still much weaker than in the UK, but the fact that they even exist in Estonia is reflective of possible problems ahead.

In the end, across Europe and North America, the heartland of the West, it is our values, our culture and way of doing things that is being challenged. Some of this is the subversion of openness by the enemies of the open society, but we must also admit that we have made too many mistakes. The promotion of the Bush-Blair war agenda, against strong internal resistance was, in retrospect, the beginning of a crisis of confidence in democracy. Cynical politics has created a cynical society. Amoral decisions have contributed to a climate of moral indifference which is highly corrosive of the open society. The result has been the growth of an alienated and angry electorate. The result has included the economic, political and moral mistake of the Brexit referendum result.

As we contemplate the challenge of Putin, and indeed the coming challenge of Brexit, it seems to me that we will need more and more to renew our national political cultures. The cheerless and backward-looking managerialism on offer from Theresa May already looks dated, and such values as she offers- a return to the 1950s- are hardly robust enough to meet the demands of the new century. Although Taavi R├Áivas, the Estonian Prime Minister, offers a younger face, he remains the captive of older figures, and Estonia too needs to renew its political culture. The party-list electoral system is too closed for the increasingly open society that Estonia wishes to be, and the three ring circus of the current presidential election has shown just how locked-out the voters are from the process. 

In both countries a voice that reiterates the values and virtues of openness is much needed. The complications of a tolerant and free society must be explained, and that is difficult enough in thoughtful and educated Estonia, never mind the shrill and poisoned atmosphere of British politics. However, if we do not renew our culture and reinforce our values, I fear that all the gains of the global society could be rolled back and the locust years will be upon us. It is not just a question of economics, it is a question of ethics and morality. It is a question of good and bad. 

Cicero lived at the time of the death of the Roman Republic. The Republic had existed for 500 years in turbulent vigour. Cicero was instrumental in defeating the first conspiracy against the Republic- the Cataline conspiracy- but though he knew the Republic needed reform, he could not provide the leadership to thwart Caesar's coup d'etat. Within a very few years Rome was the prisoner of its Emperors and the power of the Republic was broken. Cicero, and his ally Cato had failed and the decadence and corruption of the Empire lingered in place of the vigour of the Republic. 

Is that to be the fate of the West?  In the end we could fail and with the failure of the global society a smaller, weaker, more violent world could come. Instead of creating a more open and integrated planet we could fall back on the failures of the past, possibly not excluding war and the eventual use of nuclear weapons.

Thus it is not for small stakes that we must fight. The renewal of our values in a world where virtually limitless data or information is free, but knowledge and understanding just as difficult as it ever was cannot be easy. Yet now- in a world of surveillance, both overt and covert-  we need to set the limits of power more than ever. It comes down to renewing our philosophy and living rigidly to our values. We must not let political compromise become moral weakness. Whether the challenge comes from Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping or our own media-political complex, we have to understand the scale of the problem- and the terrible price, if we fail. In the new cultural war, we cannot afford to fail.  
   

Monday, August 29, 2016

Back to School

September 1st is the traditional date when schools in Estonia reopen after the summer break. It is not only of significance for children, because for most adults, the summer is also definitively over. The season is one of the end of leisure and the beginning of work. So, after a long break from blogging, I return. 

However I do not hold out much optimism for the new season. Most of the things that I would like to see for the country of my birth- a more open society and a more Liberal (and indeed liberal) politics- have been defeated so heavily in recent years that any ultimate success seems to be years, and maybe decades, away. Of course some things can change suddenly, and by definition Liberals are required to be optimistic. Yet, as Theresa May settles into office as Prime Minister, it is clear that the UK will continue to be pushed further way from the kind of changes that it needs in order to create a more prosperous and harmonious society. "Hard Brexit" or not, the fact is that the Conservatives will continue to inflict policies that will create more inequality and less social or political harmony. Post Brexit Britain is set to struggle even to define what kind of country it wishes to be. After the phony war of the summer, the new season will reveal to London, as much as to the rest of the European capitals, just how daunting the scale of the task ahead truly is.

And I have not recovered from the anger that the vote brought me. We rejected our friends and pleased our enemies. We will now be diverted for years into a self-destructive mess. The worst leaders in the UK: George Galloway, Nigel Farage, Bernard Jenkin - a rogues gallery of shits- have come out on the winning side, but the thoughtful and the intelligent, from Mark Carney to Delia Smith, have been forced to take the abuse of the triumphantly stupid. 

On a wall in the old town of Tallinn some Brexit cretin has written "Rule Britannia, down with the Euro-Socialist EU". I tend not to take political lessons form those who write on walls, but what ignorance it is to write such drivel in a country that has just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of genuine socialism. The temptation is just to mutter "arseholes" under the breath and pass on down the street, yet actually I feel that this arrogance and stupidity is actually the dominant characteristic of the political discourse in Britain. 

They call it "post truth politics", and I find it hard not to becomes outraged at the way it pervades so much of what is happening in the UK. For example, the Daily Express is a newspaper that attracts a certain kind of readership, it pretends to an intellectual equality with other newspapers. Yet it refuses to comply even with the voluntary- and extremely light- code of press regulation that other newspapers do accept. The fact is that the Express prints stories which it knows to be totally false. It is a propaganda rag. It is a contemptible piece of crap, and yet it is treated as though it actually had something valid to say. The problem is that, although extreme, the Express actually reflects the way the majority of the British press does its business: the Mail, the Sun even broadsheets such as the Telegraph and the Times knowingly twist the facts to suit their predetermined point of view. This is not just the op-ed pages, but across the newspaper as a whole,facts are ignored, balance is ignored, honesty is ignored. Cheap laughs, cheap journalism and a profoundly cynical contempt for the truth characterizes the British press in a way that would appall a previous generation. In the end the huge economic and political mess we are setting up for ourselves can and should be laid at the feet of the foreign-owned (Murdoch), foreign domiciled tax avoiders (Rothermere, and the Barclay brothers) and fraudulent (Desmond) hypocrites who dominate press ownership in the UK. Unless this festering pus-filled canker can be lanced, I have come to think that the future of the UK will continue to lie in the hands of people who have little care for the best interests of anyone except themselves, and certainly not the country.

So where does that leave us?

The phony war, as I say, is now over. The three Brexiteers- Johnson, Fox and Davis that Mrs. May has, perhaps cynically, deployed to negotiate have spent the summer engaged in a turf war, but even they must now see that the next few years will be nothing but a slog. The European Union -continuing and possibly reinforced, despite Farage's schtik that it would simply collapse, post Brexit- is not prepared to roll over in negotiations. When Australia announced that it could- kinda, sorta, maybe- consider a UK free trade pact, this was taken by Dr. Fox as a sign that the UK could negotiate a pact "10x the size of the EU". He obviously did not understand that such a pact would have to include neighbouring star systems, given that the EU is a part of 40% of global trade flows. Incidentally, Australia has an economy smaller than Spain. New Zealand- another "Commonwealth hope" has an economy smaller than Romania. Both antipodeans are mostly primary producers, and it is the 1.3 billion of China, not the 65 million of the UK that can support those economies. We do 60% of our trade with the EU, but the Brexiteers stupidly believe that we can unpick our trade from our neighbours and rebuild it with countries that are as far away as you can get on this planet and which do not want our goods anyway. With such generals in place, the next step will be a retreat to Dunkirk and the comprehensive trashing of the Brexit idea- too late of course, but hey, the crushing of UK asset prices and employment will just be collateral damage. 

In the face of such a mess, one might expect Her Majesty's loyal opposition to be making hay. 

Err.. not quite.

It is not just that Jeremy Corbyn is an obvious dud- a politician who has been wrong about everything and whose incompetence alienates on a daily basis his entire Parliamentary party. It is that Owen Smith is a dud too- his left wing platform, however insincerely held, is an absolute gift to the Tories. The fact is that none on the Labour front bench have what it takes: mealy-mouth cowardice, even in the age of post-truth politics, is pretty hard to hide. The childish attempts to re-run Thick-of-It sketches as some kind of The Office-style documentary is about as painful as watching David Brent dance. If ever you had a doubt that Labour were past-it, then your worst fears are exceeded by the grim reality.

As the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness draws in, we see the naked British Emperor in all his stunted and flaccid glory. For the problem of government, press or opposition are linked by a failure so huge and so clear that sometimes it takes a second or two to grasp it. As David Cameron hummed his way off the Downing Street stage, (aged, let us not forget, only 49 after just over six years in office) the horrible truth began to dawn.

These people are not up to the job

Neither is it just the failed entitlement of the Etonian Jeunesse Doree. This is a systemic failure, not only of Tories but of our entire political-media complex. Whether the economic illiteracy of the Brexiteers, or the hypocritical calumnies of the press, or the tiresome playground antics of the Labour party, the UK faces a leadership vacuum on an industrial scale. Ignorance and arrogance are endemic across the media and across the political establishment. It is a poisonous brew to be taking into negotiations where we are much the weaker party.

So what should I say to the arseholes who write on a wall in the old town of Tallinn; those who buy the shitty Kardashian laden scandal sheets of right wing cant that masquerade as newspapers; those who call Corbyn "Jeremy", instead of "get out of the way you shit"; those who are prepared to see Theresa May eviscerate any pretense of Parliamentary sovereignty as she leads us out of the EU?

Well probably I should say that it will get worse. The redrawing of constituency boundaries over the next three years will probably reduce Labour to a rump, and may remove all other parties except the Tories from England and Wales. Mrs. May, despite leading the stupid party at prayer, will not flinch from what is necessary to hold power. Those who I despise will continue to dominate for some years to come- to the huge cost of our country. 

Secondly though, I ask myself some fundamental questions. Once day, I hope that those who have caused this catastrophe will be thrown out bag and baggage- preferably with a level of ignominy that prevents their return. However I don't think I want to return to the UK while the lunatics continue to wreck the asylum. I see many intelligent youngsters reading the same runes and coming to the same conclusion. I devoted decades of my life to fighting for a more open society in the UK, but in the face of the entrenched evils we face, I feel dejected and very angry.

Still, it is a new term and I have much to learn. If I can pass the exams I can at least settle here. Perhaps I should. The Estonian fight has always been my fight, just as much as the fight for openness, tolerance and freedom anywhere else, and for the same length of time. However it comes with the bitter sense that these fools would have taken my birthright away from me. Their self serving drivel would have driven me and many far better than me away from a country that for all its faults I still profoundly love. 

One day, one day, maybe the storm-tossed green hills, the moors and the great cities will host a people great enough to overthrow the imbeciles and poltroons who govern them and those in the media whose twisted lies support the whole disgusting structure.

We will see.     

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Know-nothing Arrogance or Machiavellian machinations?

As Theresa May forms her new government, she has certainly sprung a few surprises. The appointments of Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, David Davis as the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU and Liam Fox as International Trade Minister have placed a large part of the future interaction between the UK and the EU in the hands of the Brexit campaigners. Some regard this as a subtle plan to ensure that the Leave campaign takes responsibility for what they have wrought. To be honest I think the jury is still out. The utter chaos of the last few days has been largely down to a proven lack of responsibility amongst the leaders of the Leave campaign. Mrs. May is given points for Machiavellianism in forcing the Leavers back into the Conservative tent, however what she has also done is that the Conservatives must now take responsibility for the future process of EU-UK relations. The Tories are now irrevocably the party of Brexit.

The problem with the "Brexit mean Brexit" discourse is that no one has yet determined precisely what Brexit does actually mean. Even now there is a clear difference between the ideas of an associate membership, an EFTA solution, and EEA solution or a complete exit from all EU-led structures. It is by no means clear what version carries with it the support of the Conservative Party. Increasingly there seems to be some traction that the "Brexit means Brexit" narrative actually means complete withdrawal. If so, then Mrs. May's "safe pair of hands" risks being the instrument of strangulation of the economic well being of our country and its political survival as a single unit.

While 51% were not clear about what version of Brexit they wanted, 48% - led by the young and the better educated- did not want to lose any of the features of the European Union. A complete exit is a very clear minority position. The appointment of Mr. Davis- who apparently does not understand that Germany and France will not do any trade agreements separate from the rest of the EU, because that is the whole point of the EU- is nearly as controversial as the appointment of Mr. Johnson, and potentially even riskier.

Mrs. May has squared the circles of her party, at the cost of irritating all the UK's international partners. The fact is that the ignorant who have wrapped themselves in self righteous tosh about British democracy fail to recognize the idealism that also lies at the heart of the European project. That cynical and lying journalists may have persuaded the old and the poor that the EU is all about bureaucracy does not remove the fact that the rest of Europe regards the Union as a noble project designed to support European prosperity as a whole. Lecturing those who believe in the European ideal in the way that many right-wing Conservatives have often tended to in the past will isolate Britain still further, and the divorce could become very bitter indeed.

As the new government takes its first baby-steps, Mrs. May must know that, despite the current implosion at the heart of Labour, it is the Conservatives who stand to be tarred with the contempt of history if a suitable and moderate path is not established soon. 

Even Machiavelli ended up in exile.    

  

Monday, July 04, 2016

Open Politics

The rumble of the Brexit earthquake continues.

As both Labour and Tory politicians jockey for leadership in their prospective parties, it is becoming all too clear that a new political system is now struggling to be born. The traditional left-right split has for some time been overlaid with a different matrix. Partly one might call this a socially liberal vs socially conservative spectrum. David Cameron, by campaigning on issues such as gay marriage, laid claim to a socially liberal stance, and such issues were not always split on conventional party lines. More to the point there are now far wider signifiers- it case become a matter of an entire political culture. 

In short the Brexit has revealed a totally different political spectrum: those who support globalization and the open society and those who oppose it. Broadly speaking, the metropolitan, young, educated remain voters are supporters, while the rural, older and less educated leave voters are not. This cultural split seems set to create still further upheaval.

The political system, as currently constituted, does not reflect this fundamental split. Jeremy Corbyn's reactionary Socialist dogma barely even recognizes the growing power of the open society, and to be honest, Theresa May is not exactly in touch with the open minded concerns of youth either.

Thus there is now an obvious opportunity to recast British politics in a more modern and responsive form. Though the Brexit crisis is only just beginning, the result may lead to some fundamental changes in the future. As Corbyn continue his stubborn resistance, it seems more and more likely that a Labour split might form the core of a new grouping- though not necessarily a particularly cohesive one.

The tedious managerialism that has been the bill of fare in the UK since the fall of Margaret Thatcher and the Berlin Wall has led nowhere.

The new politics will not rest on questions of administration but of philosophy. Those who believe in the open politics and the open society will still need to carry the unconvinced, but in the end the closed society can not deliver the prosperity that the open can. 

I shall return to this debate, but the political sea change may throw up some big surprises in the coming months and years. Though Theresa May offers the comfort of a pause for breath today, by 2020 the pressure for real change may have out played her caution. 

The Brexit campaign leaders- Farage, Gove, Johnson- have demonstrated both a cowardice and a dishonesty that will rightly blacken their name for the foreseeable future, Brexit may be their victory, but it is already a Pyrrhic one, and as their hollow promises are revealed for the lies they were, there will be little forgiveness for any of them.

The vindication of the Liberal Democrats has been far swifter than they hoped, albeit that it has come with such a price for the UK. However, the party can now lay claim to being in the vanguard of political change. The game's afoot.   

Monday, June 27, 2016

As the political vacuum in the UK continues, the markets are filling the gap

The UK fiasco has continued unabated. Neither the Conservatives nor the Labour party have any effective leader. It is quite clear that the victorious Leave camp is totally divided as to what should happen next, and there is no clear plan as to what level of engagement or disengagement the UK will have with the European Union.

The market collapse that is taking place is the responsibility of the utterly irresponsible leaders of the Leave campaign. So, it could well be that having wielded the knife against David Cameron, Boris Johnson may yet go the way of a previous Tory challenger: Michael Heseltine. Perhaps Theresa May as leader could provide some reassurance, but in the face of economic meltdown, the calls for an early general election -which under the circumstances is clearly necessary- may create an untenable situation for any party. The fractious and divided body politic of the UK is on the brink of collapse. The cowardly, but sullen and determined Jeremy Corbyn is facing the total breakdown of his leadership, but there are few amongst the Labour leading lights who can inspire in the face of the national catastrophe that we now have to face.

Into this chaos the markets are injecting their own commentary. Despite the brief reemergence of the Prime Minister and his Chancellor, the market collapse is now assuming a very dangerous shape. Some are suggesting that the cable (USD/GBP) rate is now headed to parity, which implies a fall of one third from Thursday night's close. The implications are startling. The UK will fall from the fifth largest nominal economy to eighth, just above Italy. The recession that this implies is into double figures. It implies the implosion of the UK property market, it implies cuts in the government budget of the order of 10-15% across the board- a level of austerity that could seriously test the social order of the country. All of the gains made since the early 1990s will have gone over the course of a few weeks. UK bank stocks are now in deep decline- over a third of the value of the UK banking sector has gone in two trading days. The rout is expanding into construction, property and any business that relies on imports, which in the UK is pretty much all of them. The Brexit shock could push inflation very sharply higher. The scale of the meltdown is mind boggling and since there is still no clear plan emerging in London, there is no bottom on the market.

Nor have other European markets been immune- there remains considerable uncertainty as to how the impact of the UK exit can be contained. Wisely, Mrs. Merkel has shown a cool head, suggesting that there was no immediate hurry and that it would be counter-productive to seek to punish the UK for this disaster. She is, of course, right: the punishment being meted onto the UK already is severe enough. However within a few days London must set out a timetable for what is going to happen next- and there is no such timetable. It is not even clear if any new Prime Minister would be able to enact an article 50 notice without a new general election. Paradoxically this chaos may stabilize the European Union itself, as other nationalist movements see what could happen to them, if they push things too far. 

Yet even if the UK general election chose a solidly remain government and the referendum was indeed rescinded, the damage and humiliation being visited on the UK will not go away. Even though Scottish separation in the immediate future would be an economic neutron bomb if it was done too soon, there are hot headed calls for an immediate rerun of the independence vote: and the only leadership in the UK at the moment is coming from those who want to destroy it. 

Personally I think that a lot of people now want to the Conservatives destroyed- they and their UKIP cronies are responsible for this catastrophe. Yet the pathetic response from Labour reminds us that politics as usual is not an option. Any election, however necessary, could throw up a Parliament that can not form a government of any kind.

The fact is that we may still not have reached any understanding of where the bottom of this crisis is going to be, and for as long as that remains the case, the markets will be in turmoil. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Leadership vacuum

In the three days since the UK's referendum it has become clear that the Leave campaign were not merely lying about the impact of the EU, they literally had no idea about what would happen if they won.

The backlash has been enormous- I think the level of "buyers remorse" is now so severe that if the referendum was now re-run, that Remain would utterly crush the Leavers.

The problem is that even if the referendum could be re-run, the damage is already done. The differential vote, with Scotland strongly supporting the EU, and England voting to leave has restarted the divisive and difficult argument over Scottish independence. The economic damage is already in the billions, and the next week will see further carnage in the markets.

From the point of view of the EU, there is a clear temptation to push the UK out and try to reconfigure the Union without the uncertainty. In my view this would be a disaster, not just for the UK, but the EU itself. I have never been impressed by the leadership of Mr. Juncker, but I had hoped better of Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council.

The problem now is the total leadership vacuum in the UK. The political system is going to be shaken to the core, and it is entirely possible that the Conservatives and Labour could both face existential challenges. London is in no position to trigger article 50, and will not be able to do so for some time.

Previous referendums in the EU, in France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark have been rerun, and there is now significant pressure inside the UK, that this happens in Britain too. This is something that the EU leadership should welcome and tacitly support.

If they do not, and Brexit actually happens then, as George Soros forecasts today, we could be looking at the total breakdown of the EU. 

The leadership vacuum in London must be met with understanding in Brussels, otherwise the crisis in the markets in the coming week could finally destroy not just the UK, but the EU too.  

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Damage Done: The UK faces the Sunset


As I feared, the polls weren't wrong, but the bookies were. On a very narrow margin, the referendum in the United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union.

In the face of a great shock, there is a tendency to exaggerate the scale of the crisis. There is after all an awful lot of ruin in a nation. Unfortunately the UK has been pressing its luck for sometime now. I could write screeds about the narrow education system, the growing lack of social mobility and the economic imbalances, but that must wait for another time. The point is that the people of England and Wales have voted to Leave, but the people of Northern Ireland and Scotland have voted to Remain. 

As I predicted in May, the vote to Leave has triggered a thunderclap of a crisis. The Prime Minister has indeed resigned, Sterling did indeed fall through the floor, the FTSE went into meltdown and next week the UK will lose its AAA credit rating. Investment projects are being suspended, Millions of workers are facing an uncertain future and in the face of the divisive and ugly anti-immigrant theme in the campaign, many are making plans that no longer include staying in Britain long term. The crash is already causing damage that will lead to a permanent fall in the economic performance of the UK for many years into the future- the damage is already done.  

Yet, as we parse the result, it is not only that Scotland and Northern Ireland that have voted differently from the majority. The astonishing thing is the massive difference between older people, the less educated, the less well off and the rural populations, which largely voted Leave, and the young, the well educated, the better off and the urban populations, which largely voted Remain. A sociologist might suggest the vote was a rebellion by those with no stake in globalization, against those with a heavy stake in globalization. Personally, I am not convinced. The fact is that before the vote, only 30% of those who supported Leave believed that they would win. Even after the polls closed, Nigel Farage was forecasting a narrow Remain victory. Thus the shock of the actual result was pretty universal. It is clear that if people had believed that the situation was so close, that many people might have voted differently. "Buyers Remorse" amongst Leave voters has already been significant.

The question now, is is that "Buyers Remorse", and the growing understanding that "Project Fear" was nothing of the kind, but an accurate forecast of the impact of a Leave vote sufficient to change the country's political direction? There are examples of Referendum votes against the EU- in France, Denmark and the Netherlands- which have been either fudged or reversed. Can the UK change its mind, and would the EU accommodate this?

The early signs are mixed.

The decision of David Cameron to resign was accompanied by a further decision: not to activate article 50 of the Lisbon treaty until a new government can be formed. This will give a brief breathing space on the UK side. However, Martin Schulz, the German Socialist President of the European Parliament, believes that article 50 should be activated now. Meanwhile the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, is silent- suggesting that it is up to the exiting party to declare its intentions first. The likely new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is now suggesting that the UK intends to seek associate membership- like Norway or Switzerland. However, the European Commission suggests that even to negotiate the framework agreement would be far beyond the two year negotiation window that Article 50 requires. The problem is that article 50 is simply too inflexible and too short a window for the necessary agreements to be made. Despite Mr. Schulz's insistence, pushing the UK out in too quick a timetable will lead to chaos, and not just in the UK.

Yet, as the practical negotiations are considered, it is now clear that the vote will indeed lead to an existential crisis for the UK. The reaction in Scotland has been the collapse of support for the common state. Nicola Sturgeon, in the disorganized and emotional way of the SNP has, immediately announced plans for a second referendum. Personally, I think it is a little premature, but the clear direction of travel for Scotland is clear now. Unless the UK stays in the EU, Scotland will leave the UK.

That, I suspect will trigger another thunderclap in the rUK. All the institutions that have been taken for granted, from the Monarchy downwards, will be challenged. I see the end of the UK leading to a much weaker, smaller, but perhaps eventually more open society in England and Wales. A country that is less Pomp and Circumstance and more the Levellers, and eventually, of course, the rUK will return to its European ideals- just too twenty years too late, and too diminished, as usual.

As for Scotland, the swing of the establishment behind Independence will hopefully result in a significant change in the ideology of the emerging Scottish State. The hurried chaos of immediate separation- snatched quickly, less it be reversed- needs to give way to a more confident, but longer timetable. In order to gain support amongst the other 27 member states of the EU, Scotland will need to be a genuine force for European federalism. This implies membership of the Euro, not the untenable idea that Sterling can be retained. This implies full opt-ins to the European acquis, with the possible exception of Schengen, where a three way rUK, Ireland, Scotland passport zone may need to be retained, Although that can only happen if rUK becomes an EEA or Schengen member, otherwise, there will indeed be borders at Berwick, and we must accept the damage that might cause. Scotland will need to spend a great deal on defence and to keep the nuclear bases open, especially to the Americans. Russia remains a serious threat, and Scotland, with a strong martial tradition, should commit to help the defence of the EU as much as possible. The halfway house of the Common Monarchy should, in my view, give way to a ceremonial Presidency, with the powers of the Crown devolving to the Parliament or President, as appropriate. Yet, again, the details of the future will have to await further events. 

The people have spoken, but Messrs. Johnson, Gove and Farage, the nominal victors, are most likely to be the gravediggers of the UK.

Unless there is a popular uprising which derails the result and significantly changes the political scene, which I can not altogether rule out, the end of the auld sang of the UK is in sight. I regret it. In a fit of pique, the voters have unleashed forces that will bring about the precise opposite to what they may have intended. Unless they recant, through protest or through early elections that bring about an explicitly pro-European government, committed to staying in the EU, the first pebbles of the landslide to come are already rolling.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The evil that men do


The referendum in the UK has hardly been a spectacle of informed and intelligent debate.

We have seen absurd statements made by politicians who must clearly know that they are lying. The cost of EU membership is easily provable with the most cursory online research and yet the the Leave campaign have run with a number that is provably not true- £350 million a day is at least twice and probably three times more than any actual number, and anyway assumes that the UK receives no benefit from membership, which we do, even if Leave can hardly deny, although they try. Leave has predicted that the entire population of Turkey- all 70 odd million of them- would come to the UK as soon as Turkey joined the EU- an immediate prospect, according to them. The facts are simple: Turkey is unlikely to join the EU for years, probably decades, and possibly never, and even if they did, it is patently absurd to expect all the Turks to move from the sun kissed beaches of the Mediterranean to the millionaires playground of Scunthorpe. It is fear tactics pure and simple. Time after time the Leave campaign has been not merely economical with the truth, but excessive with the lie direct.

Now the Leave campaign, scenting that they may have been rumbled, is resorting to a whinging victimhood that is truly emetic. At a time when the opinion polls show the race to be neck and neck, they resort to the tactics of throwing mud: accusing the Remain campaign of the disgraceful tactics that they themselves are guilty of. The idea that anyone would wish to make a political spectacle of the brutal murder of Jo Cox is utterly repellent. Yet that is what the Leave campaign suggests the Remain in campaign is orchestrating. I would encourage a close reading of the headlines in the Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Sun in recent months. I would suggest that Nigel Farage's Immigration poster - cropped white faces and all- is not a dog whistle, it is as someone said recently, a siren:
   

So Farage, so unsurprising. But when Farage was predicting violence on the streets if immigration was not "controlled" he was doing a bit more than predicting: he was inciting. If, like the right wing press, you continue to put out the idea that immigration is creating a breaking point, you can hardly be surprised when a mentally ill person with extreme views may indeed break: and the result is oh so predictable, but not perhaps quite in the way that Mr. Farage intended. So lies about immigration, lies about the EU budget, what can we trust about the Leave campaign?

Well, we can judge them by their friends. The fact is that the "leadership" of the motley crew of Leave: Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Nigel Farage, George Galloway are hardly the mainstream. What is mainstream is the backing of the most right wing newspapers: The Daily Telegraph, owned by the non-dom Barclay brothers from their Sark off-shore haven. The Daily Mail, owned by the non-dom Lord Rothermere through a network of off shore trusts. The Daily Express- a "newspaper" so wedded to the truth that it refuses to accept any newspaper regulation- is owned by the porn baron Richard Desmond, again through a series of non transparent ownership vehicles and finally The Sun, a foreign owned newspaper that has been implicated in a series of scandals. 

This referendum may be the last hurrah for this cankerous right wing rag-tag. For years they have twisted the truth, insulted those who seek a more just country and undermined their political enemies through blackmail and threats. The fact is that Leave has become the voice and puppet of the the right wing political-media complex. I do not underestimate their power. Despite everything, the fact that 40% of the press supports Leave, with only the Guardian, the FT and the Economist wholly supporting Remain, is a big advantage. In the past there would have been little doubt that such a united front in support of a political cause would have carried the day. Yet perhaps for the first time, it may not happen this time. News is now gathered from a wide variety of sources, and the bias of the right wing is more obvious and more strident than it has been in the past, although also it is of course more easy to challenge. Fact checkers have stood ready to demolish any argument with a stout leavening of facts: something that the Mail journalists in particular have trouble with. This is why Leave have faced such an uphill challenge: their argument is not supported by very many facts, only be primitive emotions, which are the stock-in-trade of the Tabloids.

The battle seems to have been fought by the marionettes of Leave to defend their media masters, but this could be the last time. I for one have viewed the antics of the right wing press with, at first, disbelief and now with contempt. The British press has showed itself to be at their very worst. As today I read screeds of Leave propaganda in the Daily Mail, I have lost all patience. The shrill poison of their ignorance, coupled with the arrogant certainty of their invective has left a young mother murdered, but as the obvious accusation emerges, these hypocrites scream that the just anger of those who have seen what has happened is "playing politics".

It is a stain on our democracy that these people retain so much power that they could yet persuade the British people to embark on the economic train wreck that Leave would cause. It is an outrage that the deep pain that people feel at the senseless murder of an MP is dismissed as a mere pose. It is criminal that these vermin continue to have the power to twist and subvert with unabashed lies.

Whatever the result, the time has come for the stables to be cleaned: this cancer must be destroyed. 

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Politicizing things

Some are saying that it is important not to politicize the brutal murder of Jo Cox.

Her Murderer declares his name to be "Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain", but it is so important not to politicize things.
Nigel Farage not merely predicts violence, but practically incites it, but it is so important not to politicize things.
The Leave campaign calls anyone who suggests they are wrong self interested liars, no matter how neutral or respected they may be, but it is so important not to politicize things.
The Leavers suggests that the entire population of Turkey is coming to the UK- an absurd lie- but it is so important not politicize things.
The Leavers suggest that the UK pays in a sum everyday that is a massive multiple of any real number and suggests that there are no gains from membership, but it is so important not to politicize things.
The Leavers say that the massive economic damage they would cause is a price worth paying, perhaps easier to say when you are a millionaire like Farage, but it is so important not to politicize things.
Significant parts of the British Press supporting Leave becomes mere propaganda for the foreign and off-shore companies that own them, but it is so important not to politicize things.
The atmosphere of lies and hate stirred up by an irresponsible Leave campaign supported by a near criminal media leaves a young wife and mother dead, but it is so, so important not to politicize things.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The politics of a post politics era.

The position of the UK as a member of the European Union has been a persistent question since the inception of the ECSC in 1957. Nevertheless the general view is that the in/out referendum is as much the product of short-term political calculation as of any great vision for the future for the place of the UK in the world. David Cameron's decision to use the vote to attempt to unite his party and create a platform for a bigger majority in 2020 may prove to be a massive miscalculation.

A referendum is only occasionally about the issue on the ballot paper. Often it risks becoming the focus for a wider range of discontents. To me, that is exactly what is happening in this one.

To see why, perhaps it helps to consider the bigger picture in British politics. Trust in politics and the political process has been fading for decades. 

Going back thirty years, Margaret Thatcher was able to push through highly controversial changes, even in the face of bitter and occasionally violent resistance. A highly polarizing figure when in office, it was her defenestration that was most damaging. She was the classic model of a charismatic leader whose departure is disruptive. It was disruptive both to the country, and also- especially- to her own party. Her enemies among Conservatives did not get what they wanted from her fall, and neither did her opponents in other parties. John Major, whose diffidence masked considerable toughness, struggled to maintain peace in the party, but in the end he ultimately fell because of the collapse in confidence that followed the British exit from the ERM in September 1992. This occurred just five months after Major gained a Conservative majority of 21 against all predictions of a hung Parliament. The divisions amongst the Tories grew ever more bitter after the 1997 defeat, and these bitter Conservative divisions have lingered and festered to our own day- as the hatred unleashed by the Prime Minister's decision to support continued EU membership has revealed.

Nor has Labour been immune from the same kind of problems. The landslide victory of Tony Blair in 1997 presented Labour with a similar "charismatic leader" problem, and his controversial leadership combined with a genuine national repugnance at the way he filled his boots after leaving office. His focus on wealth, to the exclusion of all other considerations, including morality or even taste underlined a sense that political leaders were abusing their position for their own personal gains. At the same time the scandal of MPs expenses broke, and although the sums of money were quite small, there was a sense of disgust against the whole political class, virtually irrespective of party. Meanwhile Labour too- as the Conservatives had before them- gone through a succession of petty leaders. However, whereas after William Hague, Michael Howard and Iain Duncan Smith, the Tories had settled on the charismatic, or at least electable, David Cameron, Labour quickly passed through the highly flawed Gordon Brown the immature Ed Miliband before settling on the decided uncharismatic Jeremy Corbyn. Labour is as divided as the Conservatives and it is still essentially leaderless.

The fall of the British two party system, which has been a process lasting at least two generations, is now reaching a terminal phase. From the late sixties until 2005 it was the primarily the recovery of the Liberals/Liberal Democrats that chipped away at the two party dominance in the national vote, with an occasional blip of support for National parties in Scotland, and to a lesser extent, Wales.

During the 2010 election, the election campaign proved highly volatile- with a huge surge in support for the Liberal Democrats in the polls, after their leader's stand-out performance in the first leaders debate. However in the end all parties were disappointed- no majority and in the end even the Lib Dems lost five seats from their historic 2005 high of 62. The advent of the coalition was to prove disastrous for the Liberal Democrat interest, and in 2015 the Conservatives squeaked a similar victory as 1992- with an even smaller majority, this time of 12.

That victory came despite a shockingly low percentage of the vote- less than 26% of the eligible electorate voting Conservative. More to the point, despite the evisceration of the Liberal Democrats at the hands of their erstwhile coalition partners, two party support fell further. Labour were virtually clean bowled in Scotland at the hands of the SNP and the anti-EU UKIP attracted nearly 13% of vote. The fact is that the electorate is demanding more choice in politics, but the system is- so far- failing to supply it.

Thus this referendum has become a vector of rage against the political machine. The fact that the political class is largely on the side of Remain has been a cause of its weakness, not a source of strength. The inchoate rage has been channeled by the absurdity of a former Minister of Education -of all ironic things- decrying the value of expertise. Michael Gove's dismissal of "Experts" was greeted with disbelief- "whatever you think of experts, you wouldn't want to build a bridge without one"- but in a sense Gove's absurd vacuity captures the Zeitgeist that dismisses rationality in favour of personality. This irrationality captures the rage of those who feel weakened and disenfranchised by the globalization process. It is the province of the internet troll and the wrath of certainty denied.

I had just written this paragraph when the terrible news of the murder of Jo Cox MP came through. She was attacked while campaigning for Remain in her constituency by a man shouting "Britain First". It is an horrendous crime, and although of course it does not reflect the will of the leaders of Leave, it does reflect the atmosphere of irrational hate that they have created. It is the first political murder in Britain for many years. In the face of this shocking event, I almost throw up my hands in despair. I can only hope that we rally round to reject this poisonous irrationality. I will continue to make my case with mind as much as heart or spirit, but for today I shall close.



  

      

Thursday, June 02, 2016

The Conservatives will not be the same after this Referendum

The Scottish referendum was fought on a prospectus that had a bare nodding acquaintance with the economic and political realities of the early twenty-first century. Divisive and absurd ideas were bandied around by the SNP as a sort of alternate reality. The same has been true of the Brexit campaign. Although both sides have resorted to negative and nasty campaign tactics, the fact is that the statements made by the Leave side are repeatedly fact checked by independent scrutiny and found to be totally untrue. By contrast the evidence from genuinely independent research from a very wide range of sources still- despite the attempted rubbishing by Leave- strongly supports the case for Remain. As with the Scottish referendum, the intellectual case is overwhelmingly for the status quo. More to the point though, the moral case is also with the status quo.

The fact is that this debate has been conducted by Leave with an absolute contempt towards the truth. The fact is that the Leave attacks on immigration, framed in a narrow minded and bigoted way are little short of disgraceful. 99% of those who come to the UK come because they are not only social useful, they are needed. This article by Jakub Krupa, a Pole, points out that the attitudes revealed in this debate are little short of racist xenophobia and are threatening a hard working community that contributes a lot more to the UK than it takes out. 

The impact of the referendum on Europe seems set to be as unpleasant and divisive as the Scottish referendum, but the Brexiteers may not gather much of a boost for their ideas, as happened, perhaps only temporarily, for the SNP. Instead they seem set to be damaged from their encounter with the electorate. The Hard Right in British politics has revealed itself to be just about as incompetent as they are ruthless and obnoxious. The vituperation they issue is indiscriminate. Everyone, from distinguished economists, business people, journalists to even wavering Brexiteers, has been treated to insult and abuse. Caught in the cross-hairs of these shouts of rage has been the Prime Minister himself. The insane conspiracy theorists of the fruitcake, xenophobic Tory hard right have even had the gall to suggest that David Cameron does not even know his own mind on this issue, that he is a traitor to all he holds dear. In the face of this shrill cacophony it is increasingly hard to see how Mr. Cameron can reunite his party, or even that would wish to.

For the Tories now face serious problems. It is not just the bitterness that many seem to feel towards their own party, it is the growing number of scandals that beset the organisation. The tragic suicide of a young Conservative activist amid allegations of bullying and predatory sexual advances has seen a set of heart broken, baffled but decent parents caught up in a battle against some genuinely nasty individuals- some of them the same people now running the Leave campaign. The, at best, casual disregard for the niceties of electoral law has set off a chain of investigations into Conservative cheating in the 2015 General Election and several by-elections. In fact there is evidence that the scandal goes way beyond some small misunderstandings and amounts to a wholesale electoral and financial fraud which has subverted our democracy.

The fact is that the Tories have behaved with a contempt for the truth and quite possibly a contempt for the law. The arrogance that the Leave campaign has shown is of a peace with an attitude that regards truth as optional and that the only thing that matters is victory.

The referendum campaign has been a period of phony war. June 23rd will be an inflection point for a new crisis. If Leave wins, then there will be a national crisis which will probably distract to some degree from the crisis in the Tories. If Remain wins, however, then the storm around the Conservatives will break. Those who have felt obliged to keep silent in order not to affect the referendum result, will lose their constraints. Those on the Remain side who were aghast at Mr. Cameron's referendum gamble but could not speak out, will also gain the freedom to speak.

The explosion of noise that will follow could see not merely the emergence of the full scale of the details of the Conservatives alleged financial misdealing, but even further scandals may come to light.

The Conservatives who one year ago gloried in their trouncing of their erstwhile coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, may in one years time themselves be facing an existential crisis.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Post Referendum

The fact is that the Brexit camp is fighting an dreadful campaign. 

The fish rots from the head, and leadership is the first problem that the Brexiteers face. Farage and Johnson posture, but do not lead. Meanwhile Michael Gove has made his case and quietly returned to government. Only IDS continues his angry way, irritating his Conservative colleagues, but not really landing a blow. 

In the engine room, controversial but not competent figures such as Arron Banks or Dominic Cummings have a set a hostile and provocative tone which has even alienated their own supporters.

The campaign is divided- unable to put forward a clear vision of a post-EU future, because they can not agree on whether that should be completely separate, an association agreement, or full membership of the EEA. Meanwhile, despite the large amounts of cash available, the campaign is disorganised and increasingly dispirited. The polls are running increasingly against the Leave campaign.

A badly led, divided and weak Leave campaign was always going to struggle, but the unappealing personalities at the top seem to be condemning them to defeat, and possibly even a rout.

Of course nothing is certain, but from the point of view of the Conservatives, an unexpectedly wide margin of victory would open up several questions. Firstly the impact of a decisive victory on British politics could be interesting. Cameron has bet the farm on winning- and he has certainly proven extremely effective at destroying his enemies. 

The Lib Dems underestimated him, and not only did he put his tanks on their lawn, he pillaged their camp and scattered salt in their fields. In Scotland he has helped the SNP to rout Labour, and as the SNP tide turns, there is a real prospect that the Scottish Tories under Ruth Davidson (as Cameroon figure as there is in Scotland) could snatch a share of government in 2021, and many MPs in 2020. Labour is in disarray, and the chances of a recovery on either side of the border, for as long as Corbyn is in charge, seem ever more remote. 

So the biggest threat to the Prime Minister is the heidbangers on his own side. The bitterness amongst the Tory Leavers is palpable and in fact they may decline to function to the Tory whip in the coming months: the government only has a majority of 12, and there are many times that number who will be completely hostile to the Cameron-Osborne camp regardless. 

Then there is the cloud no bigger than a mans hand- the expenses scandal. IF that were to break, then the Conservatives would really be in trouble.

So even as Cameron seems set to complete another victory, having exorcised Scottish separatism and UKIP rejectionism, he still faces further battles. Although he is already quite a long serving PM, it may take another election before he can claim to have actually changed his party and his country, and the electoral commission or his own MPs may still deny him that chance- assuming that he even wants it.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Just supposing...

Although the opinion polls are close, the betting markets barely move: the punters are still backing the United States to vote for Hillary Clinton and the United Kingdom to vote to stay part of the European Union. 

Yet, just suppose the punters are wrong?

Just suppose that the polls are right and the UK does vote to Leave. Firstly this would trigger an immediate resignation from David Cameron. His luck would have run out. The Prime Minister himself suggests that his successor is most likely to be a "leaver", "that is where the heart of the Conservative party beats". Despite his unhappy performance so far, that still probably means that Boris Johnson would be the next Prime Minister. The new PM would have a massive pile of problems to deal with on day one. Quite apart from the critical choices that he will have to make on behalf of the UK and it future relations with the EU, he would also have to steady the economic ship, which would be more than a somewhat rattled by Brexit. An old fashioned Sterling crisis and a significant fall off in investment would just be the start of the new world of turbulence in the UK economy.  Then there is the growing prospect of a significant political crisis. The investigation into allegations of Conservative cheating is continuing, and if charges are preferred, then it is quite possible that the government would face a series of bye-elections that could take away their majority. All of this, of course comes on top of the calls for a second Scottish referendum. The UK could be facing economic, constitutional and political crises all at once.

Then there is the prospect of President Trump. Mr. Trump has won his nomination. Come November, there is a significant chance that he gets elected. Just suppose that he does. From the point of view of the West, the reputation of democracy will have taken a severe knock, the relations of the United States with its neighbours will clearly deteriorate, but the impact of Mr. Trump's declared wish to disengage from NATO and cut a deal with Putin would have catastrophic implications, and not just for Europe. The friction between the US and China would become outright animosity. All of the conventional security platforms would be weakened and the position of the UK, which bases a great deal of emphasis on the special relationship with the US, would be weakened drastically.

The outcomes of just two simple votes could undermine decades of progress, cooperation and peace.  

When people say that Mr. Cameron is exaggerating the scale of the crisis, then just maybe they are wrong: we may not be scared enough.