Tuesday, February 28, 2017

News from Abroad

Some people have drawn parallels between the shock of Brexit in the UK and the shock of the advent of Donald Trump as President of the United States. In particular on both sides of the Atlantic there is a powerful sense of the role of the media in both events. Of course, Trump himself is a product of celebrity culture who managed, improbably, to turn a reality TV show into a platform for government. Through the power of the alternative media he was able to create a platform and a power base. The supporters of Brexit many of whom, such as Nigel Farage, are close to Trump also followed an alternative media playbook.

Both the Leave campaign and the Trump campaign played fast and loose with the truth, or to put it plainly- they lied.

There are doubtless many other parallels in the campaign, but what has happened since the the advent of May and Trump- May unelected as PM and Trump 3 million votes behind in the popular vote- is instructive. Neither government can claim a fully legitimate mandate, yet both are following an agenda that is extreme and, by the standards pertaining before 2016, illegitimate.

However the overwhelming difference is that in the United States the majority of the media are attacking the policies of the controversial President. In the UK, by contrast, the majority of the media is so supportive that they are demanding that the the Conservative government be even more extreme.

Theresa May is following an agenda that is directly dictated by the editorial policy of the Daily Mail.

What is particularly outrageous is that the newspapers that advocate the most extreme- and in my view damaging- policies have several things in common. The are all owned via tax efficient holdings, often foreign or offshore. They do not pay the full amount of tax due to the UK, while at the same time hypocritically savaging those deemed guilty of a lack of patriotism to the UK. These targets for abuse seem to include include such "radicals" as any judge, politician, actor, sportsman- or indeed any public figure- who speaks up against them. The disgraceful invective that is launched against those who dissent from their dangerous, damaging and occasionally out-and-out evil agenda is truly terrifying. 

The United Nations has condemned the hatred put out by the UK right wing press, but the response from the five off-shore and foreign billionaires who control 60% of the UK press has been to double down on the hatred, confident that no one will not dare challenge them, even when there is proof positive of activity- such as phone hacking- that is unambiguously and undeniably criminal.

So whereas in the United States the media is challenging power, in the UK the media is cheering on extremism- it is power. Figures such as Paul Dacre- backed by his proprietor Lord Rothermere, who Private Eye named as one who falsely claims non-domiciled status in order to avoid taxes-  spew forth an agenda that is fully in keeping with the Daily Mail of the 1930's. At that time the Mail supported the Blackshirts of the British Union of Fascists. The Barclay Brothers- the owners of the Telegraph- avoid tax by living on the island of Sark, where their attitudes have earned them the loathing of most of the islanders. The owner of the Daily Express- a newspaper that refuses to accept even the toothless regulation of Press Complaints Council and in consequence repeatedly prints lies with no sanction- is a porn baron, Richard Desmond

Then there is Rupert Murdoch. The charge sheet against this Australian naturalized American is long indeed, but the "dirty Digger" has acquired a level of power and influence that few- if any- have ever acquired without holding political office. Yet he has been investigated and censured by the UK Parliament and several of his highest executives jailed.

These five men, these five billionaires, are evil men who serve an evil cause. 

For as long as they control the UK media, the country will find it exceptionally difficult to change course. The incompetence and arrogance of the May government is coupled with cowardice in the face of the hatred and bile of the press. The result is that while Donald Trump is being challenged by his media, the UK is being incited to jump from the bridge by the baying mob orchestrated by the corrupt and criminal press barons.

As the break-up of the Kingdom moves inexorably forward, with Scotland now facing another referendum and Northern Ireland fearing a return to the abyss of violence that a Brexit hard border would very likely create; as millions- both British and European- now contemplate the economic disaster beginning to unfold and make plans to leave; as it begins to dawn on the British people how much they have been lied to by the Brexit mob; so the worst predictions emerge as the grim reality.

When the time comes to name the guilty men, the five billionaires, and those who did their bidding, should be the first to receive condemnation.

Monday, February 20, 2017

An Unreasonable Brexit could be fatal for the UK

The weeks pass and the position of the Conservative Brexit government grows ever more unreasonable. Many people who voted to leave the EU would still have been perfectly happy with an "economic association", indeed it was the default option for probably the majority of those who voted to leave: "we should have an economic not political union". Leaving aside the practicalities of how much economic issues require political engagement, the idea of limited economic cooperation is not unreasonable.

However the current position of the Conservative government is that Brexit means the end of British membership of any European cooperation groups, whether political or economic. Brexit means not merely withdrawal from the EU, but the outer group of European Free Trade Area (EFTA) nations that are members of the EEA. It even means the withdrawal from the EU customs union. This total withdrawal is not the majority position of the British people: 48% voted to remain full members of the EU and it is quite clear that many, possibly most of those who voted to leave still expected some kind of ongoing relationship short of membership with the EU.

Then there is the growing evidence that the Conservative position of complete exit is going to cause considerable damage to the the UK- both economic and political. The disruption in Northern Ireland could even trigger the renewal of violence in the province. The rage in Scotland at being forced into a complete severance of EU ties is bringing separatism back on the political agenda, even despite the horrendous economic mess that that particular Leave vote would bring.  Then there is the limbo into which we have placed 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, as well as a large number of our own citizens living in the continuing EU. Already UK farmers report significant issues with seasonal labour. Universities have seen a significant drop in EU applicants. The reputation of the UK as an open and tolerant society is daily being undermined by the moronic racism that the vote has ignited in its wake. It is quite likely that all of the GM plants in the UK will close after the mooted PSA acquisition, with the cost of many jobs. The City is losing thousands of jobs to Dublin, New York and Frankfurt. All of this before we even understand what kind of relationship will follow the enactment of article 50.

Yet EU governments are thinking carefully. The timeline for article 50 negotiations is too short and it is clear that without creating transitional arrangements, the Brexit on offer will be extremely disruptive. In a sense the aggressive statements by Michel Barnier on outstanding payments owed by the UK are a good thing, since there is at least something that the EU would want from the UK. Otherwise Britain begins to look like a total loser in any negotiation. There is sympathy in many quarters at the position that the UK finds itself in, but also frustration at how little the HMG is prepared to commit to. The 12 points that Mrs May has offered are simply too general to be a basis for any substantive agreement, while the threats of simple reversion to WTO rules are too weak a negotiating position to have credibility- the UK cannot negotiate separate WTO rules for itself in time, even if there was no opposition from such members as Russia. Neither are there well functioning back channels into Brussels. The UK is deeply isolated and in a very weak position.

All of this could have been avoided if a reasonable position had been adopted by Mrs. May's government, but "Brexit means Brexit" actually means an extreme and damaging Brexit. Total withdrawal will come at huge cost. 

The result is increasing rage against the Conservatives. Even if one could accept that leaving the EU would lower barriers, rather than raise them- a highly debatable point- the disruption of moving away from the largest trade block and the largest economy in the world is unlikely to create any benefit in the short or long term. Even if one believed the "Singapore without the sunshine" hype of the Tory Libertarians, the fact is that the timing is very unfortunate to say the least. The rise of Trump could bring to an end of a century of Anglo-American alliance at a time when Russian mischief making creates a huge threat to our freedom. Even if one accepts that the Tory best case scenarios are even possible, the questions of basic competence in the Cabinet room are more than enough to raise as many fears as hopes. 

The population and economic power of all the other 15 Queen's Realms: Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica (which has given notice it intends to become a Republic) plus 11 very small countries in the Caribbean and Pacific, all combined, is less than that of Germany. Furthermore the idea that Australia is going to switch away from trading with Asia to the UK is obvious nonsense. The world trades with its neighbours, which is why we trade massively more with Ireland than we do with India, and that will be true whether we have a free trade agreement with India or not. The Imperial nostalgia of such figures as Jacob Rees-Mogg is not credible as a policy either politically or economically. So the EU states continue to regard the debate in London with a growing sense of disbelief and unease.

Of course, the European Union is itself going through significant challenges: the Dutch, French and German elections not least. The wildest hopes of the UK anti Europeans rests on victories for their allies in these countries. Yet the meddling of Mr. Putin- so successful in the UK and the US- may find limits in the rest of the EU. It would make a great deal of sense for the UK to delay Article 50 until new governments are in place in these three founder states, yet Mrs. may does not seem to have a keen awareness of her own interests, and her Brexit bulldozer has no reverse gear. We can make no predictions, but the chances are high that Marine Le Pen will not be the French President, that Geert Wilders will not be the Dutch Prime Minister and that there will be no breakthrough for anti-Europeans in Germany. The British will not be waiting to see anyway. So we have to find a way to start the discussions without causing meltdown from the very beginning.

Several EU governments have reached out to the UK, but have been frustrated by the continuing internal dialogue in London: it is not that there is no running commentary, there is still no credible sense of direction, except further retreat from any position that could be considered a compromise. The UK expects nothing, but is not prepared to ask for anything anyway. 

In the face of one of the most damaging acts of policy since the 1930s, the British government has not been able to create a credible negotiating platform. It is a serious failing and one that unless remedied this year will cause a decade long crisis. The UK is on a knife edge, and one that carries huge risks not merely of damage but humiliation. It may even be a final -existential- risk. 

British pragmatism was always reasonable. Now this lack of reason may in fact finally destroy the United Kingdom. It would be a pity, but "whom the Gods would destroy, they first make mad".

It is time for the UK to find a reasonable position and a reasonable tone of voice. 

Can Theresa May deliver?