Category Archives: eu

On The Collapse Of Our Civilisation, And More Cheerful Matters

So where are we today? (I did love the story the other day that NASA, I think, had detected activity in the outer atmosphere of Mars. A bit like the first chapter of HG Wells’ The War Of The Worlds. And a potential war between the nuclear-armed India and China. 2020 is truly the gift that keeps on giving, and we are less than half way through.)
Johnson has ended lockdown, effectively, because he thinks several hundred thousand more deaths will be less politically damaging than five or six million job losses.
Those job losses will be laid at his door because they would not have happened, thosee jobless will know, if he had not ended the lockdown. They will diminish that, to me, baffling popularity he enjoys among a proportion of the electorate who accept that bumbling, Billy  Bunteresque, fluffy haired persona he has constructed. (The reality is something much darker, as those who know him better than I do have written.) It will hit those people especially hardest in the former Labour constituencies that gifted him the last election.
Two hundred thousand deaths or potentially more can be spun away as an unavoidable sacrifice – “world-beating” efforts to combat the virus, the Olympic levels of lies and deceit we have seen so far. “Hundreds of thousands’” of tests each day. Demonstrably untrue. Just lies, in plain sight.
People want to believe Johnson because they do not want to accept they have taken in by the lies so far and been deceived. Confirmation bias, it is called.
Let’s move forward. Tory MPs know Johnson is leaking that baffling popularity that won him the last election like air from a deflating balloon. The Cummings affair only accelerated that. They will bin him when he is no longer able to win elections for them, they judge. Not long now.
No one wants to take over, even though, as I have suggested here, he might not want to continue. Get the next few months over, and let him and his advisers take the blame.
We face the twin effects of a virus-induced economic collapse, our national net worth down by a fifth as measured in terms of GDP already, and the aftermath of a No Deal Brexit, which looks like what will happen because madmen think it is a good idea and the hedge fund managers will benefit and make billions. Is this where you want to be, in a country run by the functionally insane and those who will become rich from your future misery? Answers on one side of the paper only.
Put those two together and think forward for a moment.
The consequences will be at best catastrophic. Five, six million unemployed, the end of whole industries, travel, hospitality, chunks of retail, commercial property now worthless, a disintegrating housing market, banks valueless as compulsory debt forgiveness destroys their net worth. This will happen.
That is the best case scenario. The worst is this. There comes a stage when the government can no longer print/create money because no one will take it. (Economists are divided on this one.)
Food shortages, leading to mass starvation as the poor, in inner cities especially, cannot buy what they need at prices they can afford.
A level of civil disorder that resembles a minor civil war.
The lack of basic pharmaceuticals as they are held up at our borders that means hundreds of thousands will die from a shortage of anything from asthma treatments through cancer drugs to antibiotics. (Try to work out how many of our antibiotics are sourced from abroad. Not easy.)
This is pretty much the collapse of our civilisation. It is all very well to say this kind of thing can never happen here. Not in this country. Except that we have already suffered enough from the myth of British exceptionalism.

On Corbyn, Eventually

I was never going to write this. I have supported Labour in pretty much every election I have ever voted in, but I am not a party member and not a party loyalist. It is not my place, then, to comment on internal party politics. And yet…
Fiona Millar tweeted today that she was not sure how much longer, after 40 years, she could stay with Labour. She is, among other things, the partner of Alastair Campbell. Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin are facing disciplinary proceedings over their respective challenges to perceived antisemitism among Corbyn supporters.
All are core party achievers who had much to do with Labour’s revival and its successes in government after 1997. Others have already left in disgust. The party that helped mobilise support against the Mosleyites in the 1930s now refuses to condemn outright and blatant antisemitism.
This is not so much the tail wagging the dog. This is the dog devouring its own entrails.
Why? Corbyn is eight years older than me. I recall the student politics of the mid-70s, a strident, fissiparous whirl of Trots, Communists, ultra-Trots, anarchists, ultra-anarchists, God knows what. They were forever passing motions in support of Albania, China, wherever, celebrating the death of Franco, condemning Pinochet or US policy, congratulating the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or the MPLA in Angola.
None of it meant anything outside that bubble. Most people involved in all that grew up and walked away, or used their undoubted political energy in more sensible ways, the trade unions, mainstream politics.
Corbyn and his ilk never grew up. There were plenty like him. He spent the next forty years swimming in the same waters. His like will have attended any number of events celebrating the Cuban revolution, condemning Israel and the US, in support of various former USSR satrapies, pro-Ghadafy, pro-Saddam, pro-Serbia in the Balkans conflict, even.
He voted for the UK to leave the EEC, as was, in 1975. This is in line with the views of Moscow at the time, as expressed by its then mouthpiece, the Morning Star, and the Communist Party. “Down with the bosses’ Europe!” (One reason I campaigned on behalf of the EEC back then was the view that anything the Kremlin thought was a bad thing, geopolitically, must have something to recommend it.)
In all this time, Corbyn and others like him will have shared a platform, especially at those anti-Israel events, with any number of antisemites, many but not all from the Arab world.
Scroll forward to 2015, and Corbyn becomes head of the Labour party, against all expectations, including, probably, his own, and against the wishes of most of those taking part in the election process. An accidental leader.
Then comes the steady drip of those meetings he had attended, in the company of antisemites and other undesirables. About one revelation a day, at present. There are the unapologetic apologies – I apologise for any offence I may have given from taking part, rather than, I apologise for even being there. Corbyn cannot apologise properly because he remains wedded to those causes.
He never grew up. He could never say, as most would and as would be the most electorally advantageous strategy for Labour today, yes I did believe some silly things in my youth but I have abandoned them. Because he hasn’t. He at least has the courage of his earlier convictions.
The people he surrounds himself with must share those convictions because this is how the far left operated all those years ago. Ideological purity is everything, so expel all those who disagree.
(I suspect John McDonnell knows this, which is why I would take a small side-bet on his becoming leader within six months. God knows what he will do with Diane Abbott.)
It is our misfortune to be alive at the concatenation of three unexpected events. The worst existential crisis to face this country, barring the Cold War, since 1945. The most grotesquely incompetent serving Conservative government since probably well before then. And the arrival of the accidental leader of the opposition, someone unable to abandon his juvenile views even though it is in his best interests, the best interests of his party and the best interests of the country, to do so.
What a state to be in.

On Brexit, A Scenario

I was talking over lunch with the finance director of one of our
larger companies about Brexit. He ought to have more idea on this than
I do.
What happens next? One scenario: May finally capitulates to pressure
from Tory Outers, say next January, and triggers Article 50, or
whatever you do with the wretched thing.
So come January 2019 the UK is no longer in the EU. It is
inconceivable that the necessary trade deals with EU members can be concluded by then.
I am a manufacturer who wants to ship my goods to my regular customers
in Germany. Does the German state impose tariffs? Not in their
interest, if it risks similar action by UK Govt. They still want to
sell us Mercedes.
If I were manufacturing in Norway, outside the EU, no problem because
the necessary trade deal is in place, as I understand it. But come January 2019 there will
be no UK-Germany trading pact.
Another complication: a huge chunk of our “trade” with the EU is
actually goods shipped to Rottedam and then sent elsewhere, to places
where we presumably have trade deals. Is that affected?
My point is that no one knows the answer to any of this. Neither me, nor
my lunch companion. It would be an utterly irresponsible act by UK Govt to
trigger Article 50 until we do, given  such huge uncertainty
So here is another scenario. We send those charged with bringing about Brexit with finding out the answers to those questions. That should keep them busy. We stagger on in this Heisenbergian state, in but potentially out, for three years and then both parties go to the election with a commitment to staying within the EU, given those uncertainties. Which is what most of the country actually wants. Boris could change his mind again.

The Tory right erupts, but none are going to vote Labour. Ukip is a busted  flush. The Daily Mail has an aneurysm. The next (Tory) government carries on with the UK in the EU. The last four years look like a bad dream. Bobby Ewing waking in the shower.

(Is that right? My grasp on some parts of popular culture is a bit vague.)


On Brexit, And Inchoate Rage

I was in Cambridge over the weekend, to see Daughter graduate. (A high 2.1, since you ask.)  As the vice chancellor of her college said to her and her fellow graduates, you are clever and self-confident young women. Now go out and take your places in the world.

What world? Cambridge is like London writ small. Prosperous, with plenty of job opportunities for the young, in vibrant local industries in IT and biotech, at the thousands of small and growing businesses  that have sprung up out of academe over the past four decades. With high house prices and choked infrastructure as a consequence.

Those leaflets still in the window said Remain. Cambridge, along with Oxford, Bristol, London and other areas that are doing well out of globalisation, all voted In. Those who voted Out mainly live in the other Britain, the one we don’t visit, the one we only talk about with hand-wringing desperation.

The faded seaside towns, the ports where the fishing fleet has long given up the ghost. The post-industrial wastelands, the agricultural areas where the locals are priced out of the only jobs around by immigrants prepared to work in conditions and for wages they would not tolerate. It’s all very well telling people to take whatever work is available, but there is a point where the dole is more attractive than trying to compete with the truly desperate.

These are the ones who voted for Brexit and will bear the brunt of whatever fall-out results from it – even if at a City lunch I was at today many believed, as I do, that for purely practical reasons we will never actually quit the EU. If I had one concern over voting Remain, it was the effects of uncontrolled immigration on those at the bottom of the heap.

They voted out of an inchoate fury that had little to do with the facts of EU membership – not that they heard much of these from either side of the argument. That fury was forged from seeing chief executives earning the equivalent of a lottery win each year telling them how to vote – those same chief executives, in many cases, who were enriching themselves from cheap immigrant labour. From an understandable fury at where they are and the non-place they are going, and an elite that might as well be living in another country.

That anger is not going away. We are now, just as surely as America with its fly-over states that the haves do not visit, two Britains, the Britain of Cambridge and London and the Britain of that inchoate fury and hopelessness. You and I live in another country now.

On Brexit

There is a perfectly simple way out of this morass, as suggested by the Labour MP David Lammy and others. Parliament merely refuses to vote through the measures needed for the UK to leave the EU.

The way our constitution works, and I channel here Edmund Burke et al, is that Parliament is paramount. Any piece of legislation passed today can be annulled tomorrow. Parliament cannot bind its successors, as I was repeatedly told when I studied the subject.

The referendum was a glorified, and very expensive, opinion poll. It has no legal status. The majority of MPs want to stay in the EU, and are entitled to vote thus. It is called a representative democracy.

If we had a democracy where MPs were required to back every single strand of public opinion, as expressed as a majority in opinion polls, we would still have hanging. To be strictly analytical, we would have hanging on the day after a particularly horrible murder of a child or a policeman or policewoman, and then not the next day. No way to run a country.

If MPs refuse to vote through Brexit, they have to go to their constituents, in those cases where there is a majority for Out, at the next election and face the consequences. It is called voting according to your conscience. Let us hope they are up to the challenge.

(Worth it to see the expression on Nigel Farage’s face, at the least.)

It is time for US to take back OUR country.

On Brexit, And Teenage Idealism

I appreciate that in some circles today this will be as popular as admitting an earlier interest in paedophilia, but I campaigned in favour of the UK joining the EU ahead of the June 1975 referendum.

Aside from the clear business benefits of an open market, I had two main reasons for doing so. One, the French had been blocking us for years, in what looked like either spite or a bid to protect their own inefficient markets.

Two, the Communist Party, active at my university, was dead set against it. “No to the bosses’ Europe” was their slogan. I thought that if the Kremlin didn’t want a more united Europe on its doorstep, a more united Europe we should have.

Since then, to misquote Emperor Hirohito, the European project has worked out not entirely to our advantage. We did at least avoid the euro.

This summer’s referendum will lead to a vote to remain in, just as did the Scottish referendum, and for the same reason. Referenda tend to be carried by people who do not want change, rather than those prepared to risk it. We are at heart a cautious people.

This has led to the unattractive sight of many of our elected politicians being prepared to subsume their principles to their political ambitions. No big Conservative figure has stepped forward to lead the out campaign, even though they wish to leave, because they know this is going to lose, and they do not want to risk any further advancement to their careers by upsetting Number 10.

Perhaps if they were not so confident that the next election will see a Labour defeat, so prolonging those careers, they might be more prepared to make a stand. Politics is full of such grubby compromises.

Next time one of those shy Outers, and we know who they are, uses in a speech the word “principle”, bear this in mind. They don’t have any.

And I do hope this is the last thing I have to say on the subject.

On Grexit – A Contrarian View

I have been writing about Greece for some time now, on and off, and I am still not sure I have grasped what all the fuss is about. We are told that Grexit, the departure of the country from the euro, might be followed by some unimaginable catastrophe that could shake world financial markets to their foundations.

No one has quite explained what it might be. World stock markets have been tumbling. Even Monday’s collapse on Chinese markets was being blamed in part on Greece, a country of ten million people a large continental landmass away. Rather than China’s unsustainable asset bubble, as unsophisticated investors have borrowed billions in the hope of striking it rich buying fantastically expensive tech stocks. (Sound familiar?)

If Greece exits, what happens? I am told the event would send shockwaves through the world economy and destroy confidence. Again, given it seems a foregone conclusion, no one can quite explain why.

The obvious consequences would seem thus:

A loss of face on the part of the unelected Brussels autarchs who put the euro together in the first place, on the assumption that no one would ever want to leave. Too bad.

A hit on European banks that were foolish enough to lend to Greece, the main reason the whole affair has been dragged out for so long. UK banks’ exposure is limited, and often in areas such as shipping that will continue regardless of what happens to the Greek economy. Those European banks are in far better shape than they were four years ago, and more capable of taking the hit.

Little real pressure among other southern European countries to quit. The likes of Spain, and even Italy, are likewise in a rather better place than they were three or four years. Their bond yields, the amount they have to pay to borrow, reflect this and are at historically quite low levels. They would not be if anyone seriously thought they could follow Greece of the door.

The collapse of the Greek banking system. Widespread social disruption and suffering. Probably the need for some sort of international aid package – as opposed to more debt. Desperately regrettable, but with Greece accounting for less than 2 per cent of EU GDP, again, little relevance outside.

The loss of the bulk of savings held in those Greek banks, both from their collapse and the sharp devaluation in the successor currency, the drachma, against the euro. Imported goods will become horribly expensive, while Greece only produces two things, food and tourism. For the social effects, see above.

Tourism, though, will suddenly become much more attractive to outsiders, who will bring in hard currency, though Germans might consider going elsewhere for a while.

As to the wiping out of those savings, someone really callous might liken this to the payment of all those back taxes the Greeks have been avoiding for years. I couldn’t possibly say.

Greece has always seemed to me one of those places that, amid much that would resemble chaos elsewhere, somehow seems to muddle along.

Obviously, greater minds than mine are worrying themselves sick over Grexit. There must be something I am missing.

On The EU, And Totalitarianism

I tweeted the other day about the rudeness and aggression of a Eurosceptic interviewed on the Today programme. An old City mate tweeted back that not all Eurosceptics are aggressive and unpleasant, just sick and tired of the huge waste of money at the EU.

Fair point, though the sceptics do sometimes descend to tooth-grinding rancour. Brussels is indeed a corrupt kleptocracy utterly immune to the normal democratic checks and balances that control the behaviour of national governments.

But I think there is one element in this debate that is often missed in the UK. We have an attachment to our body politic and belief in our democracy that goes back, rightly or wrongly, a thousand years  – look at this week’s celebrations of Magna Carta.

Almost every other EU country has, within living memory, either been overrun by undemocratic, tyrannical states from outside, fascist or communist, and seen a degree of collaboration with them, or had the same imposed on it from within. Eg the Nazis, Mussolini, Spain under Franco, Greece under the colonels. Within living memory. The only exceptions are Sweden and Ireland

There isn’t the same inbuilt trust in that body politic, especially in southern European states where government and the business world may themselves be corrupt to the core – Greece, Italy, Spain to a lesser extent.

The attraction of an over-arching supranational entity that was designed to ensure that those totalitarian regimes cannot return, and which promises to ensure the maintenance of a degree of human rights, is clear enough. If it, too, is corrupt, and squanders millions, well, so what else is new?

A point, I think, often not appreciated in the country we are fortunate enough to live in. What it says about the UK’s membership of or departure from the EU I cannot say.

On Tax, And Moral Choice

The unelected head of Europe has survived a motion of censure over tax avoidance. That is one hell of a sentence, and seems to sum up much of what is wrong with the EU, in a few words. The truth is even more illuminating.

Jean-Claude Juncker, who comes from Luxembourg, has just become president of the European Commission because no one could think of anyone better. True. The accidental president. Questions have been raised about his role in promoting tax avoidance by huge multinationals in Luxembourg in the almost 20 years when he was that tiny country’s prime minister.

Juncker was recorded detailing how such companies could route finance through his country and pay only minimal taxes. He now says he didn’t say it. There has been a vote of censure in the Parliament at Brussels against him, on the grounds that the connivance in tax fiddling makes him unsuitable to run Europe.

A reasonable enough claim, you might think. The vote of censure had no chance of succeeding, of course. Indeed, someone as powerful as him, subject to so few controls and balances, could probably have got away with embezzling several millions of euros while impregnating half the Brussels secretarial pool. It is how these things are.

(Not that he did, though there have been stories about how he likes a drink at a time of the day when most of us are sticking to the milk on our cornflakes.)

The interesting part is that the tax avoidance stories emerged, with names of the corporations who benefited, after someone leaked documents from one of the UK’s biggest accountants over its clients’ tax affairs. The tax breaks allowed insignificant Luxembourg to build a financial services sector which accounts for more than a third of its economic output.

There is no likelihood that the accountant involved, which is refusing to comment, is any worse than any of its competitors in this grubby little trade. Some Luxembourg politician was on the radio defending the tax schemes on the basis that, if we didn’t do it, someone else would. And other countries do.

This is the excuse made by arms peddlers, loan sharks and, for all I know though I’ve never heard it from one, people smugglers and drug dealers.

It hardly smacks of moral probity on anyone’s part. The bit that interests me is that there are thousands of accountants whose jobs involve ensuring quite legally that rich individuals, and even richer corporations, do not pay enough tax, so the rest of us, who cannot afford their services, have to pay proportionately more. It is a recognised sector of the profession.

This is a little like the senior people who work for tobacco producers, as I have suggested before, and choose to earn their living selling things that will kill one in four of their customers. Those accountants have transferable professional skills that allow them to do any number of other things in accountancy.

Yet presumably, when introducing themselves at cocktail parties, they say something like, yes, my job is ensuring people and companies already obscenely rich remain so by avoiding their fair share of tax. What do you do for a living?

It is an odd moral choice. And it is a moral choice, because as I say, anyone with that level of financial expertise could easily earn a living by other means.