Saturday, 20 January 2018

Labour's identity crisis


Traditionally Labour has been the party of the working class. Whatever it is, it isn't that anymore. The people now setting the agenda on the left tend to be white, urban uppper middle class men and wetter than a haddock's bathing costume. This explains why Labour is not presently very popular with actual "working class" people.

Throughout the Brexit campaign we were told that leave voters are basically thick racists. That is not true but it would be wrong to suggest that a strong contingent of the leave vote was not comprised of people who could be characterised as thick and racist. People more likely to identify with the politics of Nick Griffin or Nigel Farage than Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn, however, is from the tradition of the Labour left that was once a working class movement. He is, therefore, the perfect empty vessel and can be morphed into a role dependent on the circumstances just so long as he keeps quiet. The art of populism is to have a leader who can be all things to all men. Corbyn can be sold as a Bennite eurosceptic or as a Waitrose liberal.

In many respects Corbyn is the perfect candidate for the statist paternalistic left though his quiet euoscepticism is increasingly inconvenient to them. His supporters, however, will not rock the boat because Corbyn is the one element which can command some of the working class vote. Labour is now an alliance between Islington, Liverpool and Sheffield. But it is a fragile one which depends on Corbyn never coming off the fence. He is only useful so long as he is an empty vessel.

The crisis for Labour is that if it does take measures to define itself along either lines then it loses half of its vote. It can just about hold together since Labour is prepared to reluctantly concede on Brexit. As an issue it has never really cared about EU membership either way so long as it is convenient stick with which to beat the Tories. Tony Blair is perhaps the only true believer Labour has ever had.

What is notable about Labour is that much of its politics, or rather the behind the scenes bickering, is caught up in a new strain of identarian politics where victims groups compete with each other for control of the narrative. A dispute that will not be resolved until one side wins decisively. Were Labour not one of the establishment parties with a parliamentary presence, it would now be going the same way as Ukip, shredded by its own internal conflicts. The only thing keeping it on life support is an utterly dysfunctional Tory party.

One of its problems is that it has a romanticised notion of the working class. They imagine the working class to be poor huddled masses taking a shellacking from austerity and waiting to be rescued by their betters. At the root of this is that same identarianism. The assumption that class, colour, or victim status dictates one's voting habits. Labour sees itself as entitled to the vote of the working class and minorities.

To understand this you have to understand the likes of John McDonnell who wants to overthrow the establishment. He openly speaks of insurrection. He speaks of mobilising and occupying the streets but I can't help thinking that he thinks this is 1930 and the unions can instruct the dockworkers and ship builders to down tools and bring the country to a grinding halt. It fits with the delusion that Britain is an impoverished huddled mass poised to overthrow their oppressors.

The chief reason Labour is in a world of its own is because the working class as they imagine it to be does not exist. In the same way that you cannot speak of the North as a homogeneous polity, you can't speak for the working class as a bloc either. Working class can mean anything from a young aspirational family in Bristol  with a car on lease, a mortgage, two dogs and a conservatory, or it can mean living in a council owned pebble-dashed hut in the arse end of the Pennines with not a pot to piss in. Tony Blair understood this which is why he managed to win elections. 

What is missing here is a moral purpose. They are ever happy to parade their "compassion", but Labour ambitions are really only about taking control of the state in order to redistribute wealth in the direction of people who will vote for them. Not unlike the Tories.

Where Labour falls over is that it seeks to broadcast its own virtues and carve out exceptions for victim groups. Presently it occupies itself with the gender pay gap and seeks to use regulatory mechanisms to secure equality of outcomes. It seeks to intervene, placing obligations on businesses in the form of quotas rather than addressing the causal factors.

If there is one major factor responsible then it's an experience gap as women often have to take time out of their careers to raise children or look after the elderly. The obvious issue here is access to vocational training. Solve that and you also solve the problem of white boys from the bottom decile being left behind. At the same time we need to be removing the perverse incentives in the welfare system.

Successive governments have failed at this. New Labour's famous New Deal was initially successful but training and opportunities under that scheme varied in quality, and since it was only available to those on the dole for six months it incentivised long term unemployment. Given that spaces on the scheme were rationed, claimants found they could manipulate the system to stay on Job Seeker's Allowance for years. The total package of benefits for a single person outweighed the benefits of employment. 

I remember at the time I was surrounded by people who thought playing around with creative software and smoking pot all day was better than an eight hour shift in the local sausage factory. Had I not trained as a computer programmer I probably would have joined them. 

What we now find is that as a consequence of long term youth unemployment we now have a legion of dysfunctional adults now written off as suffering from depression and prescribed antidepressants. Another class of people now given the status of protected species by Labour's victim culture. No surprise then that South Wales and the industrial regions would have voted to leave the EU. 

The difference for me is I was probably the last generation to fall out of school to go and work for the biggest local employer. They paid for two week long commercial training packages which gave me most of what I needed to become an applications developer. I have never held a professional qualification but thanks to that, whatever else I may fail at, I always have a trade to fall back on where I can make a decent salary. 

Somewhere along the line, business stopped paying for that training. The burden was shifted on to the state which ran its own schemes which by and large were terrible and if you had done a government training scheme you certainly wouldn't admit to it, let alone put it on your CV. In this I might note that business doesn't need to invest in skills simply because it has a limitless supply of labour through freedom of movement. The UK has been taking Eastern Europe's labour surplus.  

If Labour was remotely interested in improving the lives of poorer people it would be looking at the many barriers that hold people back. The near impossibility of home ownership, a grossly unfair council tax system, legal aid in tatters, affordability of vocational training, access to decent education, business rates for small businesses, the uselessness of regional public transport.

But what do we find instead? An entire party apparatus obsessed with transgender rights - something affecting 0.001% of the population. Were it actually to do with civil rights it wouldn't be so bad but it's a vanguard for a more sinister agenda. It could not be less interested in governance.

Ultimately we need a government that governs for all. One which sets a moral standard where there are expectations of people and mutual obligations. Labour is in the business of fashioning excuses as to why victim groups should be exempted from having to compete. Instead of trying to level the playing field for equality of opportunity, it seeks equality of outcome. Nothing good can come from that.

This is the malign influence of the white middle class Waitrose liberals who see themselves as saviours - the white knights racing to the rescue of the downtrodden. They who believe it is the primary function of the state to act as a provider and surrogate parent. That condescension is in their DNA from welfare to Brexit. It is the belief that the working classes are a homogeneous polity, but one utterly enfeebled and incapable of being more. 

It is that kind of thinking which has become the dominant strain in governance which is why government has become a managerialist entity attempting to use state resources to produce universal outcomes. On a long enough timeline it is effectively a technocratic version of communism financed centrally by the supercomputer in the City. 

Ultimately Labour is no longer about the emancipation of people. Quite the reverse. We live in a system which gradually imprisons us on the basis of race, class, gender and those limitations we ought to have according to victimhood scripture. It is geared to disempowering people, dictating their limitations and prescribing their choices. It's not just anti-working class, it's anti-human. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

The end of ever closer union


Last night MPs voted against including the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after Brexit. A Labour amendment, tabled in the name of Jeremy Corbyn, sought to retain the provisions in the Charter but was voted down by 317 votes to 299. We can expect some idiotic wibbling from the left over this.

Three basic points. Firstly it wasn't required to begin with. It's largely a series of entitlements tacked on to basic human rights for the purposes of Federalist integration. It is an instrument of ever closer union laying the groundwork for "social Europe". It has no bearing on the core principles of human rights which owe their existence to the British system anyway. We are not withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights either. Not yet at least.

Secondly, this does not repeal any of the laws passed to implement the Articles. ECFR brings into being a number of laws via directives (as I understand it), all of which is standalone domestic legislation. There is next to zero chance of them being repealed.

Finally, it refers to the Union as the legal territory and grants it authority. "This Charter reaffirms, with due regard for the powers and tasks of the Union". If we are ending EU jurisdiction then it has to go, simple as that. That anyone would vote to retain ECFR demonstrates they have not actually read it. Bottom line... this is a total non-story.

This then begs the question of whether we want our own charter of rights or whether we revert to the British model of having the constitution undefined but embodied by the broader statue book. If we are to have something like the ECFR then it should be looked at in the context of wider constitutional reform.

This issue, however, reaffirms my conviction that Brexit is the right thing to do. For the UK to be a genuine democracy then the laws must be derived from the people and subject to their alteration according to their own common values. The people, not parliament must be sovereign. 

In this we hold that there are some universal values to be enshrined as the cornerstone of our constitution which is why we uphold the European Convention on Human Rights. The EU, though, increasingly deviates from the fundamentals.

This mode of governance places undue obligations on governments extending far beyond the scope of human rights thus entrenching a technocratic system of government trespassing on the fundamentals of civics. It renders democracies inert, giving rise to politics being pursued through the courts, thus making it the domain of QCs and their wealthy backers. 

One might even call them the new ruling class. It would explain their near universal opposition to Brexit. It is a substantial loss of power over us. They lose a key method in subverting the public will. More than anything it is this that draws the battlelines over Brexit and the process of withdrawal. It is on these lines we measure whether the instruction to leave has been honoured. 

The remainers see the EU as a proxy for a hard coded constitution. They do not trust democracy. They believe themselves to be the embodiment of enlightenment and a backstop to the whims of the barbarous masses. Power is not something to be entrusted to the people. This is the crucial disagreement. Either you believe in democracy or you don't.

Thus, if we want a principled Brexit it does require that we end the jurisdiction of the ECJ. This to some extent explains the opposition to the EEA in that Article Six, embodying the principle of homogeneity appears to trample on the core principle of Brexit.
Without prejudice to future developments of case law, the provisions of this Agreement, in so far as they are identical in substance to corresponding rules of the Treaty establishing the European Economic Community and the Treaty establishing the European Coal and Steel Community and to acts adopted in application of these two Treaties, shall, in their implementation and application, be interpreted in conformity with the relevant rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Communities given prior to the date of signature of this Agreement.
This is where I differ from mainstream Brexiters. As per the illustration above, the EEA agreement mainly covers technical governance - issues which barely touch on constitutional fundamentals. This is really a question of what we are prepared to go to the barricades over. Technical regulation may be a cause of petty annoyance but its inherent utility, in my view, is worth the trade off. 

Brexit is chiefly about ending the political integration that undermines our own constitution and broader sovereignty through such instruments as the ECFR. Brexit is about ending "ever closer union". This is where it is necessary to the make the distinction between political union and economic integration. The EEA primarily pertains to the latter. As to the applicability of fundamental rights, I leave you to judge.

The measure is whether there are sufficient democratic protections, which in my view there are. Though Article Six of the EEA agreement is unequivocal, the systems that the EEA brings into being create a space for dialogue with safeguard measures giving us the nuclear option. 

What should be noted is that irrespective of Brexit, the UK is still obliged conform to a number of regional and global conventions where previously the EU has acted as the middleman. We will find in a number of instances that the removal of the EU aspect brings little remedy. 

Many Brexiters hold the expectation that Brexit will be fundamentally restorative. This ignores the march of globalisation and underestimate the influence of international agreements which have influenced the EU's own legislative agenda. In many respects there is no turning the clock back and little scope for acting unilaterally. 

I would remind those Brexiters that Brexit really is only, fundamentally, about one thing. Leaving the EU. No longer being part of the European federalist project. Great as that is, whatever else our aspirations may hold, the fight is only just beginning. 

Monday, 15 January 2018

Still left to guess

According to The Guardian, "Theresa May has been hit with a double Brexit blow as the EU toughened up its terms for a transition period and Norway privately warned Brussels that giving in to the UK’s demands for a “special” trade deal could force it to rip up its own agreements with the bloc".
"...the Guardian has learned that repeated representations have been made to EU officials by Oslo over their fears that an overly generous offer to the UK will fuel calls in Norway to renegotiate its ties with the bloc, according to senior diplomatic sources. The Nordic intervention presents a fresh hurdle for Theresa May’s aim of delivering a “deep and special partnership” with the EU that goes beyond the scope of a Canada-style free trade deal, an arrangement under which significant barriers to trade in goods and services remains."
Course, this isn't news. If the UK is granted anything close to the level of market particpation Norway presently enjoys with fewer obligations then Norway will seek more favourable terms. This is precisely why we're not getting anything approaching EEA levels of market particpation without remaining in the EEA. It was never on the cards. This comes as no surprise. 

In other news we are told that Member States are pushing for a more comprehensive deal than Canada but issue illiteracy is not unique to our own government and there will be a similar lack of appreciation for the EU's political position - and the legal constraints it must operate within. In respect of that, Norway's shot across the bow is entirely redundant save to put on record that which could safely assume. 

Again it seems to point to the obvious that if the political agreement on the Northern Irish border is to be respected then it will have to use the EEA as a basis for free movement of goods. If not, then the UK will suffer a penalty in terms of services access in exchange for those same levels of frictionless trade. There is no free lunch to be had here. 

As to whether this reality sinks in at Number Ten remains to be seen. In all likelihood, Mrs May will continue the pretense of "steady as she goes" with no outward sign of coming to terms with the issues. Calls for pragmatism and honesty will fall on deaf ears and any decisions will be kicked down the road at every opportunity. 

Meanwhile, tucked in at the bottom of the Guardian report, is the "news" that Member states have ruled out allowing British carriers the freedom to fly passengers and luggage between destinations on the continent post-Brexit, with UK carriers to be permitted only four of the nine “freedoms” to operate they currently enjoy. 

Precisely why that wasn't the headline item (assuming this is something new) is known only to the Guardian, but this is very much a consequence of quitting the EEA. That could very well be one of the issues that forces a rethink. It is on these such issues key battles will be fought. We shall have to wait and see. 

Trade policy has become the tail wagging the dog


At one time I would have said I was in favour of "free trade". I used to consider protectionism to be a dirty word. Then as I learned more about trade I came to realise that "free trade" is an entirely meaningless term - or at the very least one so widely abused that it no longer carries meaning. And then as I have learned more about non-tariff barriers and the function of regulation, I became a firm advocate of trade liberalisation. A more meaningful description of free trade - the removal of barriers to trade.

But then I came to understand that protectionism also has legitimate uses. We may wish to to place restrictions on trade to either preserve a strategic national asset or to develop domestic capability. More broadly, trade policy is there to protect legitimate traders from the predatory practises of nations and corporations who seek to damage competitors by unfair means. By its very nature, therefore, an effective trade policy is "protectionist".

I then came to understand that globalist trade wonkery is a form of fanatical tunnel vision. It seeks to identify and erase all barriers to trade. In order to do that those who control trade policy and make the decisions must have the ability to modify or remove regulations. They are in the business of making the world more convenient for commerce.

The underlying assumption in the discipline is that growth is good, expansion is the goal and that trade, generally speaking makes nations wealthier. Networks of trade deals improve the efficiency of supply chains thereby bringing more varied goods from all over to domestic markets, increasing choice and driving down prices through competition.

In this there are winners and losers, but the losers are viewed as collateral damage - they who are sacrificed in the name of the greater good. Protectionism must not be allowed to interfere with the dream of total harmonisation on all goods and services bringing about a global free market.

Where the EU is concerned, its vision is one of a pan-European single market encompassing goods and services. But then it also seeks a single regime of rights for workers throughout with equal rights to benefits, eventually bringing about a uniform European welfare system.

The process, however, is far too slow if nation states are allowed to place reservations or make unilateral exceptions. The decision making, therefore, has to be centralised where ever more power over increasingly more areas of governance is transferred to Brussels. This is either done by way of incremental agreement or ECJ rulings. Member states gradually cede control.

The process is called "integration" where really it is better described as homogenisation. We are, therefore, increasingly powerless as a people, where policy is concocted by trade liberalisation fundamentalists and decisions are imposed upon us while lacking the necessary democratic safeguards to overturn policy. This leads to policy stagnation.

Politicians are only too happy with this arrangement because it offloads the responsibility for technical governance and frees them up to indulge themselves in tribal retail politics. The running of the machinery is handed over to the faceless experts largely without supervision and with minimal input or consultation from the demos.

As we gradually liberalise markets the collateral damage mounts up, leading to de-industrialisation and supercharged growth. This is viewed as a universal good in that we now have a cleaner environment, safer, easier jobs and a longer life expectancy. Obviously the march of technology can take much of the credit, but supercharging consumer markets is a driver of that technological advancement.

The question that plagues policymakers is how to adequately deal with the social fallout of this, which is leading us ever closer toward a universal basic income. In effect we are moving toward a soulless utopian model where work is all but obsolete and the bottom decile are simply provided for rather than treated as humans with agency and ambition, where the power is held by the few over the many.

In this the fallout of trade liberalisation is often blamed on an inadequate domestic response to it. Perhaps they are right. Nobody can say that our response to the social problems created by mass immigration have been adequately handled. Health, education and housing is not keeping pace with demand. That problem is exacerbated in that increasing supply of housing, thus maintaining affordability, is its own pull factor. Our last remaining defence against further immigration is presently high costs for shelter.

What we have noted, however, is that immigrants from all over Europe and beyond are willing to make extraordinary sacrifices in order to claim a piece of the dream. We find city squares and parks becoming makeshift transit camps, and we find overcrowding in houses of multiple occupation along with the phenomenon of "beds in sheds" which are part of the exploitation economy. Many of the low priced goods and services we enjoy as wealthy consumers absolutely depends on abridgments of workers rights.

In this we find that migrants from Europe are not necessarily Europe's poor and uneducated. Among Polish migrants doing menial work we find grammar educated middle classes who very obviously present themselves as a better hire than a working class native. Being that the latter is not keyed into the transient worker economy, and being part of the settled community, they have overheads meaning they cannot compete on price. Statisticians may say on average freedom of movement does not depress wages, but the pressure is felt the most acutely in the bottom two deciles.

In this there are moral consequences. As much as London robs UK regions of their youth and vitality, the UK has in recent years pulled in much of the talent from Eastern Europe thus depriving those countries of its best resource. We also find that companies no longer look to train when they have a Europe wide recruitment pool. This means that working class people who cannot obtain credit or access to expensive training are gradually left behind.

Around the edges of this, in times of "austerity" certain resentments fester, while coping with the quality of life issues caused by rapidly expanding populations, where leftwing social democratic parties assume the remedy is to simply pay out more in welfare, adding to an already huge welfare bill. Whatever training exists is that which is mandated and supplied by the state which generally means it is of low value and poor quality.

In this a largely insulated middle class who enjoy cheap goods and services will seldom complain, and will enjoy the freedom to travel and work elsewhere in Europe. Little wonder this demographic would have voted to remain. All the while the political class congratulates itself for perpetual growth and what it considers a healthy economy.

What we have, though, is a political class in widespread denial, often discounting the corrosive effects of atomisation and lack of societal cohesion. The erosion of the familiar. With the inbuilt inequalities, and having to lower life expectations, it is not surprising that at least half of the country feels like a change of regime is necessary. There is a justifiable feeling that the political class is out of touch, is not listening and is largely unable to act even if it was willing. Which it isn't.

The main reason for inaction is that politicians know that many of our entitlements and state provisions cannot be sustained without continental immigration, and that immigration allows them to continue to evade many of the hard questions about future sustainability of entitlements - which no politician seeking re-election will ever touch with a barge pole. What is not discussed, however, is that even with present turnover, we are still sitting on a demographic timebomb, with poor savings rates and underperforming pensions.

It is my view that one way or another the UK is staring down the barrel of a huge crisis that will necessitate major economic structural reforms. Unpopular ones too. That makes a period of political turbulence inevitable and most likely another "lost generation" as the economy reorders itself. This is why I think a remain vote would simply be delaying the inevitable - and it's why I am unmoved by economic arguments from the remain camp. Remaining provides only temporary certainty.

Where Brexit brings about some remedy, as mentioned above, trade liberalisation is all about the convenience of commerce to the exclusion of all other concerns. This changes. Already the drop in in the value of Sterling has made the UK a less attractive destination for casual labour, thus the restriction in labour supply means that business will have to pay properly and train workers to plug skills gaps. It also brings about a slowdown which allows space and time for integration.

We have also seen a surge in factory orders due to the exchange rate. Whether or not this can be sustained will depend largely on what kind of trade relationship we secure with the EU. We should be cautious of such economic news in that Brexit will undoubtedly result in a number of trade barriers with the EU leading to job losses. Unless our place in the European air travel market is secured, to name one sector, a lot of high quality jobs will vanish.

What matters, though, is that the decision making over trade defences (of which control of immigration arguably is one) rests with parliament, and more importantly the British public. We can have a trade policy geared to the wellbeing of UK society rather than working toward the goals of the Euro-federalists. What technocrats may call protectionism I call acting in the national interest (which may or may not be economic in nature).

The propaganda of the EU has it that there is something inherently sinful about acting in the national interest. That's really a matter of perspective and is entirely relative to the individual. There is nothing preordained about Brexit being protectionist, rather it means that the policy resides in Westminster rather than Brussels so that proper national debates on trade will take place with scrutiny repatriated.

In this you can very well pick fault with my reasoning, and you may tell me that we cannot possibly predict how the economy will re-order itself, but we have undeniably kickstarted a process which puts British voters closer to the driving seat and in many respects arrests a number of unwelcome trends our political class were unable to even acknowledge let alone resolve.

For all that "free trade" brexiteers are (rightly) denounced as ideologues, trade policy wonks are equally so, working to an entirely sterile depoliticised trade agenda with only one goal in mind irrespective of the social consequences. Trade has become a technical discipline rather than a tool of political economics and foreign policy. It is no longer integrated with politics yet it increasingly has more power over us while we have fewer democratic means to forge our response to it.

Trade liberalisation for its own sake globally, or for the ends of a European superstate, is to completely ignore the preferences of the public, their economic, social and spiritual needs and is therefore profoundly anti-democratic. One might even say anti-human. The fundamental question here is whether we serve the economy or whether the economy serves us.

The laws and rules we make for ourselves locally are there for the governance of our own distinct cultures derived from our unique heritage and geography. In some areas there is every advantage and all good sense in seeking harmonisation and modernisation, but the political dimension is where that line is drawn. For this there is no scientific answer, or even a correct answer. It is only a question that democracy can resolve. It is fluid and it is cyclic but if that choice is removed, where trade is locked into a single agenda beyond our control then we can no longer say that we are a democracy.

For all that there are votes and vetoes within the EU and global apparatus, those voting rituals are far out of reach and off the public radar. Without that public involvement then by definition it is not democratic. That we call the empty and sterile voting rituals within the EU "democracy" is an indication of how debased that word has become. We no longer know what it means. Brexit, I hope, will reunite us with a truer definition of it. Taking back control is not an empty slogan.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Getting Nowhere


There are some Brexit articles on Google when I type in "Brexit". One might have thought, therefore, that there would be sufficient material for a blogger to pass comment on. I suppose one could wade into the debate over a second referendum, but what is there really to be said that has not already been said, and why would one bother when a second referendum simply is not going to happen?

The opposition leader doesn't want one, the government doesn't want one, about half the population doesn't want one, and the window for holding one closes by the day. It's only even a topic of conversation because there is presently nothing else happening save for a few ill chosen remarks by Farage, which largely go to demonstrate how little anyone cares what he says - save for our media whose news values are entirely tone deaf.

One might then choose to comment on Corbyn insisting that the UK must leave the single market, but has also said the UK would "obviously" have to be in "a customs union". It is apparent that neither he nor Andrew Neil have a functioning definition of either nor understand the utility of them. Depressing though that may be, this is also not news.

Meanwhile, though some sense is being spoken behind the scenes in the DExEU select committee, it's still at Janet and John level and nothing we haven't been over a dozen times before. None of it seems to penetrate the noise of the mainstream debate which is still struggling with the basics. I'm still having to confront all of the usual tiresome arguments in respect of the EEA and I am very very close to losing the plot completely. 

A point lost on seemingly everyone in the EEA debate is that Norway adopts a lot of the rules without contest because it's a small country whose capital city is smaller than Leeds and lacks the domestic capacity/technical expertise to pushback in any meaningful way.

Where it does have considerable clout is in oil and petrochemicals - but not financial services because it does have much of a financial services sector to speak of compared with, say, London. For the more arcane stuff, there is no point in developing domestic rules. It's duplication.

There have been examples of clashes and that is where Norway will fight its corner, usually through the EEA secretariat, and the Efta court as a last resort. In this it is listened to by way of building up capital by being an early adopter of technical rules. There are some instances where Norway has attempted to delay or stall implementation, where it has been overruled and it probably loses most cases brought against it - but you have to see it in the context of the process.

These sorts of complaints only ever go to the Efta court if they cannot be resolved through the EEA secretariat or the various joint committees. The latter is where most of the battles are fought. Norway might still end up adopting the framework of rules but with a number of exceptions which are then added to the system of annexes. That is why no two EEA members have the exact same relationship with the EU.

In terms of how many cases Norway loses, the "score" is often measured only in context of the Efta court. That gives the impression of Norway as a passive rule taker with no defences, but that really is only the most superficial analysis of how the relationship works.

Lazy mischaracterisations of the EEA relationship only really serve the hard Brexit cause. It's an intricate process of codetermination, and the UK as a larger more complex economy would put up more of a fight - and more often. This also says nothing of the Efta court process and the politics therein, nor indeed what happens in the technical committees and standards bodies. The continued assertion that Norway has no say is a lie, and misses the point that we are not Norway.

All of these arguments, however, are increasingly redundant as the debate is regressing even further, with the stupidity of our commentariat resetting the clock to zero every time the subject is raised. Our media has no institutional memory. There is zero chance of developing the debate when there is still no understanding of the terminology. Until that situation is resolved (fat chance) we will continue to bunder between unforced errors while the EU runs rings around us. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The battle for Brexit is over. The battle for Britain is just beginning.


I'm often told that many of my observances about the state of UK governance and society as a whole have little to do with the EU. Directly this is very often true but then so much of the EU's influence is over invisible governance which extends to just about every area of regulation. Its influence is profound but it very often leaves no fingerprints. It certainly contributes to the political malaise.

But then if I am guilty of having complaints that are nothing to do with the EU the same can be said of remainers. All the pro-remain arguments are statist. "We need the EU for the NHS", "We need immigration for the NHS", "We need immigration to fund pensions". "Brexit will mean cuts". It has nothing to do with the EU.

Just about every core argument of Remain is an argument on how Brexit will interrupt the status quo. Moreover, their fondness for the EU is not rooted in a principled advocacy of EU aims (not least because hardly anybody does support its federalist agenda). Rather it is as blogger Conservative Woman notes:
"It’s clear that, for so many, the overriding attraction of EU membership is because it enables as much politics as possible to be made immune from the need for popular consent – to be put beyond the reach of the capricious domestic democratic process and the electorate whose views they not only by and large do not share, but for whom they actively feel contempt."
In effect any powers transferred to Brussels means that whatever is decided is carved in stone and out of the reach of the plebs, which is why the liberal elites collude to enshrine ever more social rights at the European level. It puts law and lawmaking into a stasis field.

Their fear of Brexit is largely based on the fear that conservatives will dismantle leftist entitlements so they seek to bin their successors leaving them to tinker at the margins with the powers that remain. This is why we do not get radical reforms. Effectively the left sees the EU as a proxy for a hard coded constitution and a charter of rights and entitlements.

In respect of that, given how horrifying the prospect of a Tory libertarian slash and burn government would be you could almost sympathise. These people are wreckers. That though, of itself, is insufficient justification for remaining in the EU. If the lack of a codified constitution is the problem then they should start up a movement to get one. That which we have is offshored and mired in seventy years of dogma - based on the mirage of shared European values.

It is that supreme arrogance remainers which is in the main responsible for Brexit, at every turn seeking to take us further into the EU without consultation or consent. The process of removing politics from the political. We might well have been content to surrender sovereignty over food safety standards, but the EU increasingly tramples on that turf which is essential to self governance.

We should also not be surprised that populist movements are still stampeding all over Europe. With a system so unresponsive and deaf to calls for reform, with the EU unwilling to address the federalism in its own DNA, it is little wonder that "liberal democracy" (as they insist on calling it) is on the wane. A system that stands in the way of reform is neither liberal nor democratic and the longer electorates a frozen out the more severe the democratic market correction will be and the uglier the consequences.

In fact, the Brexit process gives us some indication of how much damage has been done. Opposition to remaining in the single market is largely irrational and wholly counterproductive, but there is little trust that such a settlement will not be used as a back door to re-entry. We are, therefore, headed for an unnecessarily hard exit which will take considerably longer.

But then we must contend with the shift in political tides on the domestic front. The left s no longer what it was. It no longer exists for the emancipation of working people. Rather it serves as a fanatical cult devoted to enslaving us to an all pervasive cradle to grave managerial state. It is a servant of the old order seeking to preserve the grip of command and control socialism.

This is the battlefront on which the culture war is waged. All the attacks on social norms are designed to break all of the traditional bonds and instead make us supplicants of the state. "Social justice" has become a vanguard for totalitarianism. It is spoken of as identity politics, but to me it looks more like victimhood grading, where one's political standing is conferred by whichever righteous victim group you belong to.

On a long enough timeline, being that the EU embodies all of the politically correct orthodoxies, it is only a matter of time before the degeneracy of the Social Justice movement is imposed on us by the EU and enforced through its courts. The EU, therefore, is a tool of subversion of popular moral norms, whereby the majority are held hostage to those "shared European values".

The danger in this is that this kind of social engineering by the few has the potential to reverse decades of social progress. On the whole people are tolerant. But tolerance of the thing does not require acceptance of a thing. When the state starts to impose its morality on people rather than having law derived from public morality then it becomes dictatorship. Again the backlash is far worse as contradiction becomes an act of defiance. I'm not the first to remark that the Alt-Right is a product of political correctness.

The social contract is that we consent to be governed on the basis of majority rule, where minorities are protected by certain fundamental rights. We are, however, traversing into a state where minority rights trump majority rule. From that flows entitlements which reinforce victim status. The equilibrium is undermined. This is not without consequence.  

For as long as I have been writing about politics I have charted the growing gulf between the governors and the governed. There can be no political unity when the values of the polity are so alien to those they nominally serve. It is for this reason the party system is now at the fag end of its useful life. 

The upshot of this is that culturally, politically and economically, we are on a path which is abstract to reality. Britain is in flux. The left is fighting to preserve a social order in which it has all of the power. That is why it seeks to resist Brexit to the bitter end. Without the EU it has to compete in the marketplace of ideas in a battle where it cannot win. 

But then as much as the social order it seeks to impose is dying, it isn't Brexit that keeps me awake at night. If we are talking about Titanics hitting icebergs, then the iceberg is the massive unfunded pensions and welfare black hole which will be upon us long before I draw my pension. That particular iceberg will force us to confront all of those issues that this present order has chosen to kick into the long grass. 

I have long felt that the post war social order was on a life support machine, with reform made impossible by the toddler left. Britain needs an transformative economic policies but we are not going to get that while the wheezing ghost of late forties welfarism rattles its chains over everything. Brexit will bring that conversation forward as tax receipts start to collapse.

With the death of of the old order it will then become apparent that our political institutions are no longer fit for purpose. Hopefully public tolerance for our grotesquely archaic "representative democracy" will run out. When the state is no longer able to provide from cradle to grave, we can perhaps move beyond the grubby retail politics of yore.  

Politics from here on in is not going to look the same. There is a little way to go yet before we hit rock bottom, and possibly we will have to tolerate another Labour government. Though I am somewhat perturbed by the prospect of this, I think it just has to run its course. After that though, there are no certainties. Everything will be up for public debate, there will be no cast iron guarantees and everybody's entitlements and protections will come under the microscope. That which we want we shall have to fight for. 

It will be a long time before we reach anything like a political settlement but what we can say is that which we do have will be one of our own making and not one imposed on us by an illiberal left wing minority elite. The dinosaurs have had their day. As we enter a new era of history, in a new phase of globalisation, Britain must reinvent itself whatever that may cost. We can no longer put it off. 

Remoanerism may well linger on for a while but it's just the swansong of the old establishment. It does not want to let go of the power but does not yet realise it has already lost. When it recruits Alastair Campbell and Yasmin Alibhai Brown it has nothing left to do but choke its last. That may be a cause for some celebration, but what comes next is the much more difficult question. 

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

A crack in the dam


According to The Guardian the British government may have breached a major "environmental democracy" law by failing to consult the public when drawing up Brexit legislation. A UN-backed committee has confirmed it is considering a complaint from Friends of the Earth that the government’s EU withdrawal bill breached the UNECE Aarhus convention, which requires public consultation on any new environmental law.

"Michael Mason, associate professor at the LSE, says the government remains legally bound by the Aarhus convention after withdrawal from the EU, and by abolishing laws relating to [UNECE] Aarhus provisions the UK would be in breach of the treaty."

I reckon this is clutching at straws (as FoE so very often does) but the UK government will need to be aware that much EU law exists in response to global conventions to which the UK is a signatory in its own right and consequently does not have a carte blanche in deregulation.

This is inconvenient to both extremes of the Brexit debate in that those who were assuming Brexit equals sovereignty are in for a shock, meanwhile those remainers who assumed the EU was the source of protections/rights are about to learn how mistaken they are.

That I know of this is the first time (but far from the last) we have bumped into the double coffin lid, where we the removal of Brussels' influence reveals a much underreported sphere or global regulation and international obligations with which we shall have to contend.

Though the Guardian cannot bring itself to mention UNECE or indeed link to it, eventually the veil will be lifted. Maybe then we can start a serious conversation about Britain's role in single market regulations after Brexit. 

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Winding back the clock


It's very often the little things that point to the broader malaise in UK governance. Today I learn that Flintshire County Council has removed the 20% discretionary funding relief for business rates for all Flintshire Scout Groups. This has left groups with annual rates bills of upwards of £300 per group. 

Scout groups are not businesses. The Scout Association and Scout groups are registered as charitable organisations and are entirely run by local volunteers who give up their time and put energy into providing the adventure of Scouting to young people across Flintshire.

These such activities, along with cadets and other comparable groups are part of the social fabric. They have a role in socialising children, giving them skills and learning opportunities outside of the education framework, providing them with role models and routine along with opportunities to make friends. They are essential to community. 

In the modern mode of local governance, however, they are just another taxable entity on a spreadsheet regardless of their social function - and the value they add in keeping kids off the streets and giving them something worthwhile to do, which no doubt has an impact on their later lives. 

What this move points to is a culture of remote corporate governance which has no connection to those it nominally serves. One that sees these such activities as yet another burden rather than an integral part of the community. 

Essential to the functioning of any community is the volunteer ethos and in times when local government is having to scale back its provisions, its first course of action should be to promote any and all voluntary activity in the wider community from playgoups, churches and mosques, through to cadets and scout groups. Instead it dreams up new ways to tax them. 

Over Christmas, admittedly after a quantity of gin and tonic, I tweeted "My mum spent her life making dinners for the elderly on our street, popping her head round the door to check if all is well every other day. Now she's 70, nobody on the street will do the same for her. That's what's changed. That's why Brexiters want to "wind the clock back".

To my surprise this went viral, prompting a number of sneering (and hugely predictable) remarks, even spawning its own article in The Poke. The subtext being "Ha ha, look at the silly brexiter harking back to the olden days". But the point stands.

We have over the years seen a gradual erosion of community and community minded people. That, in part is a consequence of the bureaucratisation of civil society where everything must be stamped, sanctioned, numbered and approved by the state - and subsequently taxed.

Childcare used to happen on a community basis. Playgroups and Cubs groups were commonplace. But then everybody suddenly become a criminal or suspected paedophile and everybody had to go on a database at their own expense. 

We saw the professionalisation of childminding which then meant registration, certification and real world adult wages and workplace rights. Soon after childcare become an industry and it ruled young mums out of taking part time work. If you work, you need expensive childcare. The response to this was another bureaucratic voucher system consuming yet more more money. 

This gradual appropriation and regulation of just about every facet of life has destroyed the voluntary ethos and in so doing has destroyed communities and made people entirely dependent on mechanisms of the state. Our welfare policy is an extension of this. The nationalisation of poor people.

If I "wind the clock back" to about 1998, I remember working as a database developer in a disability charity. In a short time I saw it close its volunteer run high street charity shop (formerly a major source of funding). I saw it close its doors to community activity to become primarily a fundraising and grant chasing organisation. 

Any actual community work directly for disabled people went on the back burner and was scaled down. By taking over some of the statistics gathering functions of social services it become a quasi-corporate enterprise with full time pensioned staff, most of whom performed administrative functions. I have watched the same happen to dozens of charities ever since. The quangoificiation of charity. 

The state has expanded to the point of demolishing spontaneity in the community, and part of the reason "austerity" bites so hard is because we lack the civil society institutions to plug the gaps. It is then little wonder then that we find an epidemic of loneliness in pensioners, and an increasingly selfish society far too used to abnegating citizenship obligations to local government.

The consequence of this is remote governance acting without civil society participation, and a culture which actively excludes it. Now we have a situation where we find bin collections and road gritting (that which councils are actually for) are pruned to keep social provisions running. So deeply ingrained is this managerial mentality that the left scream blue murder at the very existence of civil society enterprises like food banks. 

As to what this has to do with Brexit, this is not especially the fault of the EU, rather the EU is a symptom of this drift toward technocratic managerialism which starts in local councils and goes all the way up to the Brussels level. At every level, government confiscates power from the public and that power drifts toward the centre. That is why Brexit of itself only goes part of the way to restoring a civic balance.

Where Brexit becomes more relevant is when we ask the question of whether this paradigm is sustainable. We are seeing a collapse of civil society while government finds it is unable to effectively cope with all the demands placed upon it. It's doing too much and doing it less well than civil society could. Only civil society is no longer allowed to perform those functions. 

Since we are incapable of having that grown up debate about whether we, as a society, can continue to have our cake and eat it, adding ever more pressures while demanding the same entitlements, we really have to force the issue. Most people will admit that Britain is a far wealthier place than it was but by the same token, we can all admit that something has been lost, something vital is missing and for many, Britain is not a better place than it once was to live in. 

Sneer at that if you will. Pour scorn on it, belittle it and mock it. That's all fine. But in so doing, you become the very reason why 52% of the public voted to leave. Meanwhile, here is a petition so you can tell Flintshire Council where they can shove their business rates. 

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Brexitology: a redundant trade


The study of the nooks and crannies of Brexit, or Brexitology as it is known, is now a cottage industry. There is a platoon of self-appointed experts, myself included, each pontificating on various aspects of the process. For the most part we have all been elaborating on the same few morsels of progress and the debate has barely advanced in all this time.

Noticable is the space race between various think tanks seeking to own the issue, positioning themselves for greater influence in the bubble - keen to divide the spoils of war. Here I have to laugh at the futility of it because if there's one constant throughout this entire proceeding, it is that the government is not listening to anyone. The most prestigious "experts" in the field might as well be talking to themselves.

Parliament has its preferred and sanitised sources, but very often it adds little to the debate, and it is way over the heads of MPs who are generally unable to focus and they themselves are incapable of wielding any influence over the process. Though I might well complain that my message isn't getting through, nobody else can claim success either. Wasting an hour talking to a room full of MPs in a committee meeting might well add to reputational prestige but in terms of progressing the understanding, it is a wholly futile pursuit. 

With that in mind, the running commentary on Brexit is largely redundant. The government has set the tone and we know how this will go on the basis of previous form. The government will plough headlong into each stage with its own galactic misapprehensions and then prat about until the clock winds down. It will then be forced to concede, hailing each micro agreement as a great success - all the while the more difficult issues will be kicked into the long grass.

The media will get bored, tuning in only for the biff-bam showdowns while the Brexitologists churn over the same handful of topics, devoting its entire runtime to debating ever more arcane aspects of the debate to no useful purpose. As far as the trade debate goes, we are a way off that yet. It will be some time before much of the institutional knowledge of the Twittersphere can be put to good use but even then the government still won't be listening.

By then, the government will be taking its cue from the Tory right cronysphere pushing the usual predictable dross about mutual recognition. People who know what they are talking about (the few that there are) won't get a look in. Outwardly it will appear that Legatum Institute is running the show, but actually they're not being listened to either. They are just in the habit of telling the Brexiters what they already think.

By the time it comes to trade talks we will be trapped in the same cycle where one by one, the government's delusions will be dismantled by the EU and we'll be told what we must agree to. What form it will take will largely depend on the EU's regional policy at the time. If Mrs May sticks to her line that we are leaving the single market then we'll end up taking what we are given.

At this point, unless there is a change of government or some sort of seismic political event, the chances of the EEA/Efta solution are now somewhere around nil. Just as well since I will bleed internally if I have to have yet another conversation about Norway. It's really then just a question of how quickly we lose the trade that depends on the single market. Will it be a body blow or a slow bleed of vitality?

All the while, as an adjunct to the debate we will see the topic of trade with the rest of the world occasionally making a splash, but this will be considerably less political than the Brexit process, largely kicked out to civil servants and of interest to hardly anyone. This you can guarantee they will make a pigs ear of because trade wonks will be tasked with the technocratic task of replication without any political instruction, leadership or vision. Something that has dogged the entire Brexit process.

Tories have pressed hard for an independent trade policy but have zero idea what to do with the power when they have it, and all the dismal functionaries tasked with doing the job will be political appointees and one trick pony nerds who can't even acknowledge anything beyond the realm of free trade agreements. There won't be anything close to a global strategy simply because it means diving into the singularly unglamorous world of technical standards and interagency cooperation.

According to UK IPO's OECD report, 60,000 jobs were lost in the UK due to counterfeiting in 2016. Counterfeiting may have resulted in a potential loss of almost £3.8 billion in tax revenue for the UK government. Solving that is a bigger win than removing a dozen tariffs and yet it features nowhere in the Overton Window.

There has always been plenty of scope and opportunity for the UK in a post-Brexit world, and having explored some of the options, I think a motivated UK could do quite well for itself. The problem, however, is that the energy and drive isn't there because those concerned with delivering Brexit think only in terms of the constraints without thinking of creative ways around them. I do not think our political establishment is capable of recognising or mobilising the sort of talent we need.

This is ultimately why we are in for a long fight. We cannot expect economic renewal until we have political renewal - and unless we can restore some vitality and vision to our trade and foreign policy then the UK will gradually vanish from the international stage while our economy stagnates.

For that reason, Brexiters should focus their efforts on political reform. Brexit of itself cannot deliver - and that was always the case. Ridding ourselves of Brussels is only half the job. Driving a stake into the heart of the monster on the Thames is our biggest and most pressing concern. Let the Brexitologists carry on waffling to themselves.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Another day, another deceiver

I do not like to use this blog for personal disputes because I have been there before, and did not wish to be here again. However, when attacked on a personal level by someone who pretended to be a friend, I am forced to respond. Cutting to the chase I am responding to this post (archive version here) from Oliver Norgrove. A dagger in a velvet glove. I urge you to read it in full before I address one or two points.

He describes how he consulted both my father and me over a number of months. I took him at face value; as a well meaning, good natured, inquisitive man with a lot of potential, worth my time and the investment. It was a pleasure to see him succeeding in a domain where I never will (and would never wish to), and was happy to do everything in my power to see him go further.

I happen to know that from my dad, he's had nothing but tolerance and encouragement - because he always is happy to teach those who are willing to learn as many of his of readers will confirm.

Over the months I knew him, I was under the impression we had built a friendship - to the point where I could confide in him. Not so it seems. One afternoon I see a number of tweets from him distancing himself from me and then find he has unfriended me on Facebook. I had a feeling that was going to happen because he's not the first person to tap me for my knowledge and stab me in the back. What is galling in this instance is that that Norgrove himself admits that was his plan all along.
The friendships I built with both men, though, had a shelf life. I knew that at some point I would have to discard them for the sake of avoiding toxicity and protecting my own name and employment prospects. Black marks against their names are deeply embedded in the Westminster ecosystem. This is fine for them because they live miles from it and do not job-seek within it. For me the reverse is the truth, and I must look to London to find avenues whereby I can influence politics. 
It was never my plan to continue the relationships for very long, which is why ending it was so easy. I got what I needed and moved on. Call this Machiavellian, call it whatever. They are both horrendously bigoted, closed-minded, lacking in self-awareness and pointlessly rude even to those who have not wronged them. It is such a waste of two very clever men that they have about as much in the way of interpersonal skill as an untamed rottweiler. 
So here we have a kid who has, by his own admission, used both RN and me, exploited our hard work, rebranded it for his own purposes (to enhance his own reputation), and now that he thinks he has a foot in the door he feels able to casually discard relationships. He made a career decision to win the trust of someone and then betray that trust. This is a man who then preens about his personal integrity.

Norgrove, on his blog says "Pete, despite being rude, lazy, weird in company and unspeakably ignorant about welfare state issues, is at least more patient than his father, whose tolerance of error and divergence of opinion rivals that of third world dictators".

The reason I am "weird in company", apart from a mild manifestations of Aspergers Syndrome (which he knows about) is largely because I don't trust friendships I make in this business. I've had the same with Ben Kelly who we invested a lot of time in during the referendum, but in the end decided to hawk his derivative works to the IEA - where he must have known how we would feel about that - and how hurtful it was.

As to the barb about me being "unspeakably ignorant about welfare state issues", I worked three years in a disability benefit appeals clinic, have myself in the past been on the dole long term, and having grown up in (and lived in) some of the most deprived areas in the UK, Bradford especially, I am not going to take any lectures from a well pampered child yet to take his first steps outside the education system.

Mr Norgrove needs to think long and hard as to why the Norths have a black mark against our names. In part it is precisely because of two-faced users like him who live in and around London who like to gossip. It defines the culture. Because both of us have been in the game a very long time, facing people who would very much like us to shut up, there has been a quarantine zone built around us, which Norgrove has elected to be on the other side of.

Admittedly I do myself no favours at times, but as Norgrove remarks, I am not seeking employment in that domain, largely because doing so requires group conformity. I would lose the objectivity that makes me the sort of person that little suckholes like Norgrove need to consult.

There's also the fact that when there are so many feeble minded sheep willing to believe gossip about me, I really have nothing to lose by playing into it. It has not affected the growth of this blog. When it comes to my overall "toxicity" toward those in the "Westminster ecosystem", it is derived from a contempt for the plagiarists, quacks and frauds who claim expertise on the basis of prestige. Duplicitous shits just like Norgrove.

As to to his judgements about my character, he has me at a disadvantage. You see, though Mr Norgrove feels able to divulge that which he believes was told to him in confidence, in order to set the record straight I would have to divulge things about him that I know he would find deeply humiliating. That's not my style.

Mr Norgrove has called me "homophobic" which presumably relates to some Twitter banter we were having just a couple of days before he blocked me. He knows full well that I m not a homophobe (as per my liberal views on gay adoption which we debated) but he has simply elected to take offence in order to weaponise it against me. It is so often the case that those who stab me in the back invest a great deal of time afterwards attempting to smear me.

As it happens, I'm not really all that bothered what the kid wants to say about me. You see there are dozens, perhaps even a hundred or so people now bitching about me behind my back. They will still be gossiping and bitching about me long after I don't even remember their names.

What I would say though is that you should mark Mr Norgrove well. This is a parasite of a man who is dishonest to the core; a user, a manipulator and someone acting purely out of self-interest. For whatever my faults, I would rather be thought of as whatever it is they are saying about me than to be a bottom feeder like Norgrove. If his conduct is what it takes to make it in the bubble then my contempt of it is wholly justified.

Norgrove should also note that those he has aligned himself with would just as readily use him and discard him just as casually. If there is one thing I have learned in this game it is that alliances are fickle. It is interesting to note how Owen Paterson had his Damascene conversion to the WTO option when it became politically and socially more awkward for him to operate among his leaver backbench colleagues. He was willing and able to discard much of what he knows to be true for the convenience of dogma. And that is the sort of man Norgrove is.

Effectively Norgrove has buckled under peer pressure and in so doing has joined the ranks of the Westminster bubble, the very evil that prompted me to take up this cause to begin with. Eventually he will hit a wall where he is no longer useful to the people who are presently exploiting him, and having burned all of his bridges the intellectual currency and prestige he has borrowed from others will dry up, with his reputation as a liar and a user preceding him.

I've seen these types come and go. Plenty of ambitious bright young things have made their way to London to make a name for themselves but in the end become dismal functionaries inside mediocre think tanks, incapable of adding anything original to the debate - and that's only if they conform. They're a dime a dozen.

At the end of the day people of integrity will ignore the smears about me. Virtually every day people remark that they follow me in spite of whatever problems they may have with my style or conduct. The reason being is that I have plenty to say now, plenty of value to add, and long after Brexit is over I will continue to have worthwhile things to say. Not so for Norgrove, who will rapidly find himself with nothing else to say unless he is able to cynically exploit somebody else.

That, it would appear, is his main talent, because when you strip away what we have taught him, there's just an arrogant preening little boy with a vicious and vindictive streak that far exceeds my own. I am not at all surprised he has found comfort in the company he now keeps.


Admin note: I have closed the comments because this is the last I have to say on the matter and the last time Norgrove will occupy a nanosecond of my time. 

Thursday, 4 January 2018

We must put the local back into local politics


If there is one thing that defines a Northern town it is the river or canal that runs through it. From the peaks of Derbyshire all the way up to the top of Lancashire, the North was built on canals. Depending on which artery you are on, two towns nearby to each other (but only as the crow flies) can have very little relationship with each other. This means there are still subtle cultural differences.

A trained ear can pick out distinctions in the accents and it stems from the whichever port or city the canal serves. This is particular to the Pennines where even now a thirty five mile distance, say between Bradford and Buxton, weather dependent, can take up to two hours. For comparison, I can get from Bristol to Reading in about an hour on the M4 which is about seventy five miles.

So as a motorist, local is relative to the region - and nothing redfines local quite like having your car in for a repair. That which is "just two minutes down the road" becomes a half day trek, and if you never drove again you would likely never see those places again. Similarly in the olden days, unless you had a very good reason to travel to a nearby town, you wouldn't. That mentality still exists today.

This is not just an education thing. For some it is a personal preference. I have a friend in Bradford with two degrees, one in electronic engineering, and it's taken a wonderful woman and getting past forty to get him to even venture beyond Leeds, which to him is usually unnecessary and unwelcome travel. Folks are funny like that.

As it happens, my friend is from the other side of Bradford, brought up in the village of Idle, home of the world famous Idle Working Men's club. That's where he goes drinking. That's where he thinks all the best pubs are. Compared with Wibsey where I'm from, he's not wrong. They have Black Sabbath on the jukebox and you can catch a live band, whereas Wibsey village has a dozen pubs, all of them awful.

It's about as working class as working class gets. Filthy, crap beer selections, blaring TVs, dartboards and tacky horse brasses hanging off the wall. Irony of all ironies being that I now frequent a pop-up microbrewery pub on the high street in what used to be the old opticians because it's the only one that doesn't have Sky Sports on all the time. For Wibsey, that's hipster!

The point, I suppose, is that even among the white community, even between the suburbs, there is diversity of culture, albeit subtle. Then for a lot of older drinkers who don't bother going into Bradford, just four miles away, it might as well be on Mars. In that respect local politics is entirely relative. I once thought Bradford sufficiently small enough to warrant a larger council but actually it could do with two or three. North Bradford has nothing to do with the South.

Then there's the Aire valley, where Manningham and Heaton socially interacts with Shipley, Bingley, Keighley and Skipton. That's the night bus route up into the Dales where most of my drinking buddies met each other as kids. And of course, if kids mingle then so do the parents. In terms of sector models, the Hoyt Model seems most fitting for Bradford but the segments follow the main arteries out of the city and into the mill towns.

South Bradford interacts differently with the region. Cleckheaton, Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Halifax are more likely destinations. My mum never bothers going to Bradford at all. Her operational radius does not extend into North Bradford at all.

Now keep in mind that Bradford is not exactly a mega city. It is bigger than a town, larger than Leicester but smaller than Bristol. It is its own distinct polity from Leeds and for most, even Leeds is not local, despite it being about ten miles away. Let's face it, who would go to Leeds without good cause?

This same mentality exists in South Yorkshire where it is an unwise person who lumps in Rotherham, Barnsley or Doncaster with Sheffield. Again there is a distinct difference in culture. West Yorkshire is practically Tory compared with Sheffield, which I regard as a communist shit tip.

Then over to the West there's Manchester, which isn't remotely like Liverpool which has its own politics that doesn't really conform to the typical Northern politics being it heavily protestant and closely connected with Ireland and Irish politics. It's the North's answer to Glasgow.

So you can really imagine my scepticism when any politician in London speaks of the Northern Powerhouse. If you can't even find a unified polity in a city like Bradford, itself having a strain of tribal politics reaching into the back hills of Pakistan, you can't really talk about "the North" as a political concept. In fact, to a Geordie, we're midlands, and Birmingham is in the South.

And we have seen what Whitehall considers to be devolution in the North. Thus far it consists of a metro mayor for Manchester with a view to making Manchester the "London of the North". Simon Jenkin describes this quite well in the Guardian yesterday.

"Whitehall’s policy towards devolution within England has long been to whittle away traditional sources of local revenue, and replace them with ad hoc central grants, for which local politicians must grovel and plead. It is centrism at its most humiliating and demoralising. Regeneration, so desperately needed in Yorkshire, is not about state patronage but about local confidence and self-help".

Bingo! Most of the places I describe, Bradford especially are known for dilapidation. But the most dilapidated thing of all is morale. My nihilistic streak is most definitely a product of my Bradford upbringing. The propensity of relentless miserablistic negativity defines Bradford. We're an abandoned, forgotten city and we know it. So much so, that even I don't live there and I actually quite like the place.

The very last thing we want is Whitehall imposing its reject politicians into cushy devolution jobs in what are essentially regional development agencies. There is nothing that much wrong with the local authorities as they are save for the fact they are too big with not nearly enough sovereignty. As to the the notion of Manchester being the London of the North, any politician who thinks a Yorkshireman is going to take political direction from the Mancs has a deathwish.

You can see this command and control mentality in the constituency boundaries. We actually have a Skipton and Ripon parliamentary constituency. It takes an hour to drive the thirty miles between the two, and the two places couldn't be more dissimilar. Ripon is a wealthy North Yorkshire rural city with a cathedral to rival any, whereas Skipton is a rainy little market town in West Yorkshire with Bradford postcode. It's Bradford facing and it's on the Leeds-Liverpool canal. Ripon relates more to Harrogate, a wealthy spa town.

Then, as I understand there is talk of even deleting the Bradford South constituency and putting Wibsey into Spen, which is nowhere near Bradford. There are similar absurdities here in Filton where for some reason the council is based in a town twenty minutes down the road that in ten years I have only ever been to once.

The simple truth is we do not have local democracy. We lack the instruments for it. We are not even allowed to define ourselves and our own polity. How then can we have representative democracy when our regions and districts don't even reflect the political reality on the ground?

During the EU referendum much was said about sovereignty, which as a concept has already been perverted, but now it has come to mean parliament's authority to rule over us. I don't know where they get that fanciful idea. If I don't want to be ruled by Brussels then I certainly don't want to be ruled by London or represented by an MP where the constituency is a piece of technocratic guesswork.

If we are to have meaningful democracy then the prerequisite is that people are able to define themselves and their communities. The people themselves must be sovereign. Then and only then will there be sufficient legitimacy in the system for any politician to speak in our name. If I don't want Poland having a say in English affairs, why should the London government be interfering Bristol education, health and much else?

Westminster is a hive of perverts, degenerates, thieves and sociopaths. For reasons that escape me, we have them all under one roof, advised by charlatans and quacks, "informed" by London media - and then we let them make our choices. It's madness. If Britain is to be a modern, independent country of sovereign peoples, Brexit is barely a start. Our local politics is not local, and representative democracy is not democracy. It is time we changed that.

Public policy and the tyranny of spreadsheets


About ten years ago I did a stint working for a major consultancy firm. The offices were out in an office park on the A1 near Wetherby. Because of the then fashionable eco-dogma, planners had deliberately underprovided on parking. Consequently parking was allocated on seniority and length of service. Consequently you had to either park in a housing development about ten minutes down the road or park in the Sainsbury's car park - until they put a stop to that.

The theory was that people would instead choose public transport. That was no use to me because the commute was an hour on the train to Leeds and then another hour on the bus. It was a non-starter. They tried a company car share scheme but that didn't last because generally people don't like to be forced into socialisation with their colleagues.

Then having expanded the business they had to admit defeat where everybody had to park in the designated car park and block each other in. You had to put your phone number on your dashboard so you could be contacted if someone wished to leave. It was farcical. I quit. It was stupid. Then a year later I was working in a different company in a different office park with exactly the same problems.

Who could have foreseen this? Who could have foreseen that that building an office park miles from a railway station, an hour from the centre of any major city would have people driving to work? Seemingly everyone except for those in charge of planning.

If I recall, this was Whitehall initiative passed down to councils to put a quota on reducing car journeys. Either that or a tax on parking spaces. Something stupid like that. It was utterly retarded and everybody thought so.

To me this is absolutely totemic of the New Labour era. Central diktats dreamed up by god knows who, passed down to councils who were obliged to enforce them. No doubt this is coupled with the shortsightedness of developers and local planners.

I remember at the time, it was part of an integrated policy not least to avoid spending on extra road capacity. The bottom end of the M606 was turned into a car share lane which instantly doubled the waiting time to get on the M62 as virtually no-one took up the offer of locally coordinated car share schemes.

Drivers are not communitarian at the best of times, but woking somebody else's morning faff into your own when all you want is a Starbucks, Radio 4 and to be left alone for an hour before an eight hour shift is just too big of an ask. Again, you didn't need to be Mystic Meg to see that coming. The car share lane has since been deleted.

Everywhere you look in modern Britain you see examples of whoddathunkit planning. I mean, who could have thought that an Ikea and a KFC drive-thru on the M4 Reading-Calcot junction would have traffic backing out on to the M4? Real genius move that was.

And then, as mentioned before, 15,000 houses added to Didcot. That will be a super smart move. Parking is already at capacity, the railway station is already at capacity even after a major refit, the narrow road through the centre of Didcot can't take any more traffic, the town is always jammed and there comes a point where you cannot physically put more trains on a particular line. The result will be antisocial parking with people using the nearby housing estates for parking.

Reading already has this problem. If you live on the West side and you drive out to the supermarket there's a good change that when you get back somebody will have taken your parking spot and you will have to park anywhere up to a mile away from your house. When it comes to parking there are fewer more potent examples of human selfishness. All the while cars are only getting bigger to the point where a Mini barely fits into a municipal multi-storey carpark.

And here's where we come to the crunch. In December 2017 the Royal Statistical Society released their "UK Statistic of the Year". The statistic was 0.1%, the proportion of land area in the UK which is densely built up. Following on from this, Ipsos MORI asked the British public what percentage of land in the UK they think is densely built up. The findings show the public hugely overestimate the figure with a mean guess of 47%.

Clearly there is a gulf between perception and reality. Here is where the spreadsheet sociopaths start wagging their fingers at people who do think that we are full up. It's all very well saying that only 0.1% of land is built on but the recital of an extrapolated statistic doesn't make the experience of daily forty five minute traffic jams go away. It's a question of where people are and where they need to get to - which is usually wherever the jobs are.

Many will seek to blame decades of underinvestment in infrastructure, but that's not strictly fair. The question is whether development can keep pace with the pressures added to it. In this it's not just a question of transportation, it is also a question of all the below-the-street infrastructure from internet to sewerage, energy supply and reservoirs. Not forgetting waste disposal and the more arcane and overlooked art of flood management.

That's where things that should be straightforward just aren't. In recent years the doctrine of demand side management is has taken root, with planners favouring ever more limitations on existing capacity rather than adding more. It turns out that in order to keep pace we need to do both. We are also hit with the problem that we need people to give up their cars, but they are not going to whatever we try. Everybody thinks there are too many cars on the road but nobody is volunteering to set an example.

The consequence of this perpetual growth is that places do become oversubscribed leading to increasingly selfish behaviour and planning decisions that do have a negative impact on quality of life. And that is the missing element of the development debate. Growth obsessed policymakers treat governance like farming, seeking the maximum crop yield or the ideal productivity ratios. Things like democratic consent don't really come into it.

Moreover, GDP is a poor indicator. All that really tells you is the rate of economic expansion. It says nothing about real wealth and access to opportunity but even then those factors neglect quality of life issues and the value we place on national heritage assets. With each new development, with each year of expansion with see that little is scared and the developers bottom line always takes precedence irrespective of the negative externalities - and who really foots the bill.

So if there's a point to this piece, it is that we should be wary of the spreadsheet jockeys peddling statistics. Policy must be informed by perception and experience as much as the statistical extrapolations. Something as simple as personal preference is reason enough to defy the technocrats. It is entirely a respectable view to rejection the expansionist dogma of economists - especially when they seek to downplay, deny or even ridicule the social consequences of their ideas.

Very often rapid expansion comes with the erosion of community and the destruction of tradition and heritage; Things that people value more than all year round new potatoes and cheap flights to Spain. Until policymakers are capable of understanding that material wealth alone is insufficient for a harmonious society, we will continue to see populist movements.

Ultimately what we are looking at is the product of top down governance. From EU directives through to Whitehall targets, the political ambitions of technocrats have overridden local knowledge, local preference and the inherent wisdom in democracy. We have taken the decision making away from people and put it in the hands of the unelected few both in London and Brussels.

Most are now acutely aware that the global population is rising and immigration is indeed a fact of life, but attitudes to immigration will sour if people lack the tools to manage the consequences of that population growth. In this people need to be free to innovate and be free to say no without being overruled by London.

For decades now we have been subject to the tyranny of spreadsheets. We are so often told that the statistics contradict our direct experiences - and that all of our preferences and values are subordinate to the holy grail of GDP growth. It gives way to a command and control mentality where the public are reduced to the status of serfs grazing on the land and subject to ever more diktat from people who openly despise them. For as long as local government is subordinate to the whims of metropolitan sociopaths, governments will continue to find that contempt travels in both directions.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Brexit is a search for Britain's soul



In a nutshell, Brexit is a national identity crisis. There is a gulf between the governors and the governed. There is a distinct cultural and moral disparity between the ruling class and the public. More broadly the culture divide is the regions against the capital and its increasingly alien values.

The Labour party, a party nominally a party of the working class now represents the politics of juvenile urban leftists who wag their fingers at the great unwashed from their well insulated citadels of conformity. Meanwhile, the conservative party cowers in terror at the thought of expressing any actual conservative values and is so out of touch it thinks the populist sops like grammar schools, Thatcherism lite and blue passports are enough to unite the country.

As a whole we call this the establishment. In more granular terms it is a collection of competing micro establishments positioning themselves for power, poised to exploit the political vacuum when the time is right. This is how Momentum captured the Labour party and this is how the Brexit ultras are calling the shots inside the Tory party.

In fact, the Tory party no longer exists as such. It is an administrative apparatus to assist in the election of self-proclaimed conservatives but as an ideological entity with distinct values, it has gone the way of the dinosaurs. As with Labour, the corpse of that party is only animated by way of being infested with parasites in the same way that roadkill appears to be breathing when infested with maggots.

The response to Brexit has demonstrated better than anything ever could that UK politics no longer functions and out self-absorbed media is no longer capable of holding it to account. We are therefore, adrift, rudderless and without leadership.

Depressingly, it is only going to get worse. Nobody within Wesminster can put their finger on the pulse of the nation and arguably it is now too fragmented to ever unite. Moreover, the single most unapproachable concepts for Westminster are that, firstly, Westminster is the problem, and secondly, there are no solutions to the problems ripping at the social fabric of the UK until that singular reality is acknowledged.

Westminster though, is not in the business of reforming. The entire apparatus is designed for continuity. It exists for the perpetuation of the status quo, to preserve its own dominion, and wherever possible, enrich the denizens of it.

We are, though, at a turning point in history. One in which a small country cannot be expected to wield the same influence, nor can it sustain the politics or policies of yore. We are faced with the reality that you can have control of immigration, but not a welfare state and you can have trade, but not democracy. Our establishment wants an all pervading welfare state and it wants trade. The public want control of immigration and democracy. On these lines the culture war is fought.

We are told that without the preset rate of immigration we cannot sustain an NHS or expect to keep our pension entitlements. That may be so, but one certainty is that we cannot carry on as we are with a fiscally illiterate population that does not save and to a large extent cannot save. The entire British model of governance is one of robbing Peter to pay Paul. It just about functions but is increasingly unable to cope with demand.

Consequently we need an entirely new model and a profound re-imagining of our values. That though, is not going to come from Westminster. Too many vested interests stand between us and reform.

We are therefore at a stalemate where there is no possibility of a frank and mature debate. As Sam Hooper notes, "Good healthcare systems don't have entire industries and political parties devoted to praising them and thwarting any kind of meaningful reform. Only in Britain do we seem to think that our NHS Industrial Complex is something to be proud of".

And there we get to the crux of the issue. You cannot have honest politics unless you have a n honest electorate. We demand change, we demand good governance, but were Mrs May to run on any policies of serious reform, she would lose the next election. I'm quite sure that the so-called "Dementia Tax" cost her a parliamentary majority. 

Because of that, there is nothing to be done. We just have to wait for it all to gradually fold in on itself while the politicians cannibalise defence, policing and anything else that isn't nailed down in order to keep the ponzi scheme running. We can expect the Royal Navy to be trimmed to one operational carrier and half a dozen escorts. As much as running ships is expensive, the RN cannot secure the man power. As a nation we are not even interested in power projection or even defending ourselves in any meaningful way.

That brings me to what prompted this post; an article by Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, entitled "The incredible shrinking Britain" in which he charts the demise of British influence in the world. Rightly, he notes that Britain's decline is nothing new under the sun, and is only really accelerated by Brexit. EU membership of itself was not arresting the decline and nor should we expect it to.

Makiyama notes that "The country’s role has been hollowed to the point where special interests gain more from gaming domestic politics than from playing a bigger role in the world. Indeed, for backbenchers, hedge fund managers and think tank quacks, Little Britain seems far more lucrative than a Great Britain".

He's not wrong. Brexit is largely defined criminally stupid backbenchers, Tory cronies, The Legatum Institute and its crossovers into financial interests in the City, not least the BBA. The vultures are moving in for the great British fire sale. 

This is one of the more regrettable consequences of Brexit, but I'm still not persuaded that that Brexit of itself is a bad thing. It really comes back to what I said up top. We are a nation in the midst of an identity crisis, deeply at odds with ourselves and incapable of protecting our values not least because we don't know what they are. Or at least our establishment does not.

A worthwhile comparator in this is recent foreign policy moves by the USA. The move to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the move to defund UNWRA and taking Pakistan to task for its role in assisting terrorism, are not of themselves bad things. Trump is breaking from decades of mealy mouthed international politics, shattering the hypocrisy of the two state solution pretense, and abandoning the head-in-sand approach to Iran. 

Now you could say that this is bull in a china shop diplomacy, needlessly expending international political capital, but these moves are indeed signals to domestic politics. We have long ignored the elephant in the room that UNWRA is a corrupt slush fund that props up the Palestinian kleptocracy and nobody doubts that Israel will annex the West Bank in entirety. Though the "international community" is offended, no conservative is going to care especially about that. 

Meanwhile, the USA is turning its back on the pretense that Iran can be brought round and that it will eventually liberalise. An unequivocal message has been sent that the USA supports secularist efforts to topple the mullahs. Whatever you may think of the strategic acumen behind these moves, there can be no doubt that the USA is unequivocally backing it's liberal democratic allies. And that is important. 

It's important because after a decades of a mealy mouthed hypocritical globalist consensus we have lost any sense of what it is that we do stand for in the world. Iraq certainly didn't help. It was a body blow to western self confidence and this might well be a sign of recovery. 

Now compare that with the EU which has virtually silent on Iran, has refused to back the USA over Jerusalem, stays silent on Pakistan, is impotent in Syria, and will always back away from a fight. I am no fan of the orange baboon, but I do know that if the USA is opposed to Hamas, Hezbollah, Pakistan and unequivocally pro-Israel, then I've got more in common values wise with the USA than the EU. I rather suspect much of Britain does too. 

When the EU talks of defending European values I don't know what the EU is talking about. If it stands in opposition to the USA, then with whom is it aligned? I don't know. And this is why I'm not especially troubled by the loss of UK influence. 

The globalist elite consensus is one of habitual capitulation and moral cowardice. It extends goodwill to those who conform to the consensus and joins the ranks of polite society. The bland functionaries working inside the EU, marinated in political correctness, are a product of that culture of conformity and the policies and directives which flow from it are a reflection of that "progressive" groupthink. 

This is where London establishment political culture differs little, in that there is no virtue signalling vain initiative they will not throw UK resources at regardless of how counterproductive or amoral it may be. There stands the gulf between the public and the Euro-elites. 

We cannot expect an unequivocal moral stance from the British left because it is what it has always been. A loose alliance between corrupt islamists and antisemitic far left degenerates masquerading as a social democratic movement. It will make no foreign policy proclamations that could hurt its chances in local elections. In this, you would expect a self-confident conservative movement to stand proudly on its values yet for some reason it has allowed itself to believe that the left have the moral high ground. 

So entrenched is this sense of self-doubt, undoubtedly a product of the Iraq war, Britain isn't sure in a test of values which side will win out. Until we resolve that question we cannot possibly hope to project or influence. Meanwhile had we stayed in the EU would would have lazily gone along with the consensus of the Euro elites having soured the public's relationship with the USA through its military adventures.

Ordinarily elections have served to to settle the question of who we are and what we believe in but because of the Westminster system we have a hollowed out husk where neither party especially represents the values of the public and consequently any actions the UK government takes on behalf of the UK will not enjoy the legitimacy that Blair and Thatcher commanded. We are simply lumbered with whichever motley crew wins power by way of an accident of numbers.  

In effect Brexit is a search for the soul of Britain. It perhaps requires a period of disengagement while we sort this out through democratic means. Those are the conversations we need to have because we can legitimately project an image into the world. To do that we first have to reunite the country.

To do that we need to recognise that the current model of Westminster rule is no longer fit for purpose. The cultures and economies between north and south are too different to be ruled as one, and decisions made in London, and the values of London media are not suited to the nation as a whole. In respect of that we need extensive devolution, de-Londonisation, and a new constitution. 

Britain is never again going to be a global superpower, and its diminishing influence in the world is a fact of life irrespective of Brexit. Long before Brexit was ever even a word our FCO diplomats said that Britain was becoming "self-absorbed an insular". The trend is deep set. It cannot be reversed. What we can expect and demand though, is a government by the people for the people which adequately represents the values of those it serves. 

I am at ease with the UK becoming a mid ranking power if the tradeoff is a country that at least knows what it is and what it stands for. That is the purpose of Brexit, that is the process we have embarked upon. The politicians could not take the tough choices so we have forced the issue. Being that our establishment does not represent us, I do not want it influencing the world in my name. 

When remainers speak of a loss of influence, they are speaking of a loss of influence for the British establishment. Its influence, though, is really contingent on the degree to which we conform with the globalist consensus. That to me is not influence, nor is it especially principled. It is subservience.

We are told that Britain's "clout" is amplified by the EU yet time and again the EU has demonstrated that when it comes to a fight it will quietly acquiesce, appease or surrender. There will be technocratic sanctions and much empty posturing but by the EUs silence shall we know it. 

If the EU will not stand up for liberal secular democracy and will not defend us from the many threats we face I find it difficult to believe that UK values are advanced by being a part of it. In the international arena the beacon enlightenment is where it has always been - to the West of us. And how depressing it is that it takes a man like Trump to remind us of that. 

Our globalist technocrats and trade wonks see influence mainly through the prism trade and the WTO. Presently China is is making all the right noises to much applause. This is the China of censorship, mobile execution vans, human rights abuses, counterfeiting, and mass pollution. If a few duplicitous words from a communist monolith is all it takes to turn heads away from our oldest and most valued ally then we really have lost our way.

Brexit may well be a mark of decline and it probably is an economic miscalculation, but it's about something more important than that. It's about who we are and what we stand for. In that assessment the EUs detatched political elites are on the wrong side of history. The EU is a construct lacking legitimacy and support for its eventual aims. It is a political project done to the peoples of Europe rather than one born from them. Around the edges we are seeing the real" will of the people", ever more at odds with the globalist consensus. 

For as long as the EU continues there will be an existential question hanging over its head. European unity is a myth. How then can we be an active member of an entity that does not know what it is, where it is going, what it stands for, and who it even represents? Its self-confidence is only skin deep and what it projects is based on a delusion. It sees itself as the keeper of the peace but it does so through incremental surrender of its values and it would seem that incoherence has rubbed off on us. Brexit may not be the remedy, but at least we have hit the pause button.