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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 mi…

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. Th…

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 …

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 t…

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…

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 remarkab…

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 …

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…

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 t…

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 tota…

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 th…

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 unce…

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…

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 millionair…

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.…

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…

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 …

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…