Who’s Playing Games Now?

A few weeks ago, Theresa May made a bid for the moral high ground by lecturing her opponents: “Politics Is Not a Game”. Indeed it isn’t. But she then played a cynical game by calling an entirely unnecessary general election. Following the tragic events in Manchester on Monday, she resumed hostilities by playing games with politics and the nation’s security.

Theresa Mat Andrew Neil
May losing it with Andrew Neil

At the G7 meeting yesterday, she is reported as saying “Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault”. No he didn’t.  She went on to lecture Corbyn thus: “there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester”. Corbyn doesn’t need the lecture, as his own words prove.

What Corbyn Did Say

I’ve read Corbyn’s speech in full. It’s available here courtesy of the New Statesman. It’s worth reading in full, but to counter May’s untruths, here are a few key extracts from his speech.

Corbyn spoke first of the shock and grief in the country and of people coming together and rallying around. He praised the public and people in public services:

“The people who we ask to protect us and care for us in the emergency services, who yet again did our country proud: the police; firefighters and paramedics; the nurses and doctors; people who never let us down and deserve all the support we can give them. And the people who did their best to help on that dreadful Monday night – the homeless men who rushed towards the carnage to comfort the dying, the taxi drivers who took the stranded home for free, the local people who offered comfort, and even their homes, to the teenagers who couldn’t find their parents.”

He went on to present his political vision of striving for peace whilst recognising the need for strong action when needed:

“I have spent my political life working for peace and human rights and to bring an end to conflict and devastating wars. That will almost always mean talking to people you profoundly disagree with. That’s what conflict resolution is all about. But do not doubt my determination to take whatever action is necessary to keep our country safe and to protect our people on our streets, in our towns and cities, at our borders.

There is no question about the seriousness of what we face. Over recent years, the threat of terrorism has continued to grow. You deserve to know what a Labour Government will do to keep you and your family safe. Our approach will involve change at home and change abroad.”

He then states that Labour in government would reverse cuts to police and emergency services. And then comes the part for which he was vilified – judge for yourselves:

“We will also change what we do abroad. Many experts*, including professionals in our intelligence and security services have pointed to the connections between wars our government has supported or fought in other countries, such as Libya, and terrorism here at home.

That assessment in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children. Those terrorists will forever be reviled and implacably held to account for their actions.

But an informed understanding of the causes of terrorism is an essential part of an effective response that will protect the security of our people, that fights rather than fuels terrorism.

Protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.”

(*He could have also mentioned Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee.) The emphasis above is mine, but you get the point. He then makes a clear statement of support to the armed services and gives them a clear commitment:

“I want to assure you that, under my leadership, you will only be deployed abroad when there is a clear need and only when there is a plan and you have the resources to do your job to secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.”

There follows some sections about unity, coming together and British values:

“Because when we talk about British values, including tolerance and mutual support, democracy is at the very heart of them. And our General Election campaigns are the centrepieces of our democracy – the moment all our people get to exercise their sovereign authority over their representatives.”

Near the end, he states his hopes for the conduct of the debate in the remaining days before the election:

“So, let the quality of our debate, over the next fortnight, be worthy of the country we are proud to defend. Let’s have our arguments without impugning anyone’s patriotism and without diluting the unity with which we stand against terror.”

Some hope, given the abuse already heaped upon him by May, other Tories and the usual rabid elements in the press!

Statesmanlike

Jeremy Corbyn
Corbyn on foreign policy

Reading the whole piece, I was left with the impression of a carefully thought out, intelligent and balanced set of arguments. This clearly is a moderate and nuanced speech which could have been made by any number of mainstream politicians in other parts of Europe. But not by “Team Theresa” with their shrill, ranting comments and their disowning parts of their own manifesto. The narrowing of the Tory lead in the opinion polls is clearly rattling them.

Who’s playing games with politics right now? It’s Corbyn who is looking statesmanlike, possibly even “strong and stable”. Dare one say it, even Prime Ministerial??

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Sub-Prime Crash 2.0

We are still recovering, painfully slowly, from the global economic crash of 2007-8. Average real pay is still below pre-crash levels, with only Greece performing more badly than the UK on this measure within Europe. I fear we now have the conditions in place to sleepwalk into the next crash. The 2007-8 crash started in the USA, the trigger attributed to the collapse in the so-called “sub-prime” mortgage lending market. In other words, mortgage companies lent money to people who, increasingly, were unlikely to keep up with the payments. The Tories under Cameron and Osborne seem to have successfully (and unfairly) laid the blame on the Labour Party, on whose watch the crash occurred.

financial crash graph

Assuming the Conservatives win on June 8th, I reckon there is a greater than fifty-fifty chance the next crash will happen on Theresa May’s watch. Only this time, the causes will be more home-grown. We don’t have the same set of circumstances as we had just before the last crash, but we have some very similar problems – and the lessons of the last crash have not been learned.

Household Debt

The level of debt in UK households has been climbing to a record high whilst savings have fallen to a record low. The number of County Court Judgements (CCJs) against debtors has hit a ten year high. And now real wages are falling again. The FT reported this last week, along with the assessment that the last ten years have been the worst for wage earners since the Napoleonic Wars 200 years ago. The economy as a whole has been growing at less than half the rate it did for the first 30 years after the war, when economic policies very similar to those in Labour’s manifesto were followed by Tory and Labour governments alike. Such growth as there has been in the last decade has been snuffled up by the richest 1% of the population – leaving the rest of us worse off than a decade ago. And that growth has largely been funded by more personal borrowing.

Sub-Prime 2.1: Credit Cards

On top of this, there are strong indications that banks and other financial institutions are finding new ways to lend recklessly. Low, or zero, introductory interest rates are luring more people into the credit card habit. As well as the increasing risk of default, companies have been flattering their accounts by a new piece of creative accountancy. They are including future profits from when the introductory rate ends in their current income and so are flattering their financial position. This practice is very similar to an accounting trick used by Tesco for which it was fined £129m by the Financial Conduct Authority, plus a bill of £85m compensation to suppliers.

The risk here is that finance companies engaging in this practice are giving a false (and flattering) account of their financial position.

Sub-Prime 2.2: Car Financing

Over the past few years, motor traders have frequently been in the news – good news – for announcing record car sales. Much of the growth can be attributed to a new way of financing the cost of the car purchase, known as “personal contract plans”. An article here includes a quote from a finance expert that “Borrowing is a very bad idea when it is done against a depreciating asset … such as a car,” adding that there was a “serious level of fragility built into the system”. Something similar is happening in the US, prompting the article Will Cars Be the Death of Us This Time?

Don’t be surprised if the wheels drop off of this wheeze sometime soon.

UK’s Unique Vulnerability

Add to all this, the UK is uniquely vulnerable to disturbances in the global financial system. In my 2015 post Two Gamblers and a Pint of Lager, I explained just how exposed the UK is, with our extreme over-dependence on financial services. With 1% of the global population, we have 37% of the most risky type of financial transactions. Total City trading gambles our entire annual national income every day and a quarter. The right word for such behaviour is “madness”.

So, all it would take is a bit of a shock to the system. If the opinion polls are correct, Britain will vote on 8th June for the maximum possible risk of the biggest shock to our finances since at least the 1970s, and probably since the Second World War. I’m talking about the distinct possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU without a trade deal. Prime Minister May has already ruled out staying in the single market by her obsession on immigration. Add to that May’s character: stubborn, inflexible and with strong control-freak tendencies – look at how the Tory election campaign is being hyper-controlled by a small team of close advisers. Together with her lack of understanding of European sensitivities, egged on by a rabid right-wing press, a vote for the Tories is the maximum risk choice.

Strong and stable? My arse.

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Metastasis

First, the good news. The primary tumour has been destroyed. The bad news is that the cancer has spread: metastasised. The prognosis is terminal. The primary tumour is UKIP. The metastasis is the Tory Party under Theresa May. The patient is decency, respect and fair play for the 99% of British who are not super-rich, including me.

cancer cell
Cancer cell

The results from last week’s local elections (covering about a third of the country) show that UKIP has been swept out of local government and, for all practical purposes, finished as a political force for evil. Good riddance. But the Tories have gained votes widely by adopting policies, tactics and attitudes from their defeated, bigoted opponents.

Prior Symptoms

The Tories, of course, have been showing symptoms of the disease for ages. The irrational, instinctive hatred for the EU has been around at least since Thatcher’s day. The woman herself approached negotiations with the other EU members in a totally adversarial, “UK versus the rest” kind of way. This culminated in the notorious “No! No! No!” speech in the Commons, shortly before she was deposed by her own Party for being totally mad. (I am certain of the truth of that last remark. Less than a year later, I was at a business lunch where Thatcher was the guest speaker. Sitting less than five metres from her, it was abundantly clear from her whole demeanour and, above all, those scary, stary eyes, that she was totally unhinged.)

As PM, David Cameron often echoed Thatcher’s approach: “battling for Britain” being a phrase that comes to mind. On immigration more generally, he set himself a hostage to fortune by his silly immigration targets. Implicit in these targets was that immigration, per se, was a problem. And of course, the immigration figures were totally outside his control in the context of free movement of people between EU countries. Theresa May as Home Secretary sent the notorious “not welcome here – we’ll catch you!” vans around streets with high numbers of immigrants.

And by now, as I said in Obsession, by choosing control of immigration above all other considerations, May has opted for the most damaging form of exit, economically and socially, from the EU. The metastasis is confirmed.

Disease Progression

And so, what’s in store for the next few years? Let’s look first at May’s statement: “No deal is better than a bad deal”. This vacuous statement is devoid of meaning, depending tautologically on how you interpret the word “bad”. The sentence, while not an oxymoron in itself, it certainly appeals to actual morons! This ridiculous threat, which amounts to “Do what I want, or I’ll shoot myself”, is a well-worn theatrical device.  An excellent example comes near the end of Mel Brooks’ film Blazing Saddles. The sheriff (who the townsfolk discover “is a ni…”) threatens to shoot himself if “the next man makes a move”.

But, as the EU negotiations get under way, another comedy classic provides a good analogy. Outnumbered 27 (or 28) to one, Britain is like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Staunchly defending his territory against all comers, he starts a sword fight with King Arthur. First he has an arm chopped off by his opponent’s sword, then the other. Kicking and shouting insults, he then loses both legs. We finally see him, his torso balanced upright, threatening to Arthur: “I’ll bite your legs off!” A perfect metaphor for our approach to the EU negotiations!

As the delusional nature of the UK’s negotiating stance hits the reality of the EU27’s clearly stated position, things will inevitably turn nasty. The government and its cheerleaders will start to thrash around and lash out in all directions, blaming everyone but themselves. Don’t mention it, but we started the war. We told our neighbours, those with whom we have the most in common, to fuck off when we (narrowly) voted leave. So why do we expect any favours?

At this stage, the cancer will spread more widely beyond the Tory Party into wider civic life.

Prognosis

Whether the UK succeeds in negotiating a deal or not, our position will be worse off than as a member of the EU; that much is guaranteed. (Ask any of the hated “experts”.) In the nastiness to come, there’s a real risk that common decency, respect, compassion and all those aspects that make life worth living will be driven out by the cancer of intolerance and nationalism.

The patient will be dead.

So, folks, there you have it. Cancer and comedy in one blog post. Two for the price of one. Keep the people entertained as the iceberg strikes the Titanic. Cheer up, it may never happen! (But don’t bet on it.)

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Don’t Vote for Mayhem!

“Every Little Thing She Does Is Tragic”, as The Police didn’t sing in 1981. When I wrote my previous post, Mayday! Mayday!, I was unaware of the news about the disastrous meeting Theresa May had in Downing Street with Jean-Claude Juncker. But the extent to which May annoyed and frustrated the EU delegation is entirely consistent with my “clash of cultures” analysis in that post. By poisoning the atmosphere before negotiations are even under way, May has got off to an extraordinarily worrying start.

Theres May in Downing Street
May “declares war”: Mayhem alert!

But there’s worse, much worse: namely, yesterday’s speech in Downing Street. In it, she made some very serious accusations against EU officials and politicians in other EU countries. Several newspapers have spoken of her “declaring war” on Brussels, either approvingly or disapprovingly, according to their world views. I’m obviously in the disapproving camp. May’s accusations were probably slanderous and, deliberately delivered in the full pomp of the Downing Street setting, are unworthy of the role of a British Prime Minister.

In Johnson, Davis and Fox, May chose to appoint to key EU-sensitive positions a narcissistic loose cannon, a maverick and a deluded fool. Fox was sacked as Defence Secretary for a breach of the ministerial code so serious he should never again have been put anywhere near an office of state. Egged on by these three, she has allowed a delusional view of the EU exit negotiations to become official government policy. The UK government was signatory to the drafting of Article 50 – the drafting was even led by a UK diplomat! Has no one explained to her what the rules are? Or did she just not listen?

May’s Personality

Not listening – or refusing to accept what she was told – fits with my prior understanding of May’s personality. In Obsession I refer to her authoritarian streak and small-mindedness. Today’s Guardian reminds us that May’s (untrue) justification for calling the election was the intolerable temerity of opposition parties in Parliament in doing their job: i.e. opposing the Government. Now she accuses EU officials and politicians because they challenge her “facile and confrontational” approach to negotiations. The Guardian concludes from this that May sees the world as “a place where everyone is out of step except her”.

Let’s face it: the UK is outnumbered 27 to 1 in the negotiations: 28 if you include the EU itself. Some measure of respect and mutual understanding is essential if the talks are going to go anywhere. This is recognised by all the leaders of the other main parties (except, of course, UKIP). May’s tone and her whole approach, if not changed, will mean she is doomed to failure. Her personality is her own – and her country’s – worst enemy.

Add to this her approach to the election campaign. May has refused to debate on TV with other party leaders. She is cocooned in a series of set piece events filled exclusively with party supporters, hiding away from the wider public. She has alienated several sections of local media by locking them out of these events.  These are not the actions of a “strong” leader, but rather those of a paranoid, over-controlling one.

Hemmed In

May’s stark, confrontational words yesterday seemed designed to do just one thing. That is to buy her short-term voting advantage in the general election. Specifically, she wants the vote of former UKIP voters. They could hardly refuse, as May’s rhetoric is now indistinguishable from UKIP’s. But the words will come back to haunt her over the next two years, having ruffled feathers needlessly. On BBC Ten O’Clock News last night, political editor Laura Kuenssberg pointedly said to camera there are some things that can’t be unsaid – especially in the formal, iconic setting of a Downing Street campaign launch.

May is hemmed in from all directions. She continues to feed the beast of the Irreconcilable wing of the Tory Party. (Cameron tried this, first with undeliverable immigration reduction targets, then with the EU renegotiations, and finally with the commitment to a referendum. That went well – not! The beast that is the Irreconcilables will never be satisfied until Britain declares war on its nearest neighbours!)

She is hemmed in by her reckless choice of Johnson, Davis and Fox. She is hemmed in by her (self-imposed) need never to cross the Daily Mail. She is hemmed in by her need always to get her own way. She is hemmed in by her failure to listen to advice. Her aggression will further split and divide us. (The other EU members would much prefer to negotiate with someone leading a united nation.) The result will be an economic and socially catastrophic crash out of the EU on the worst possible terms. In other words, mayhem.

All this, of course, is true only if we, the British public, let her. Only if we give her what she wants: a crushingly overwhelming majority. So, get real: don’t vote for Mayhem.

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Mayday! Mayday!

Happy May Day! 1st May is celebrated in lots of countries around the world, to commemorate and celebrate the efforts and achievements of workers. It’s the only public holiday in the UK specifically dedicated to ordinary people. But, of course, this being Britain, it’s usually euphemistically dressed up as the “Early Spring Bank Holiday” to avoid offence to the establishment.

Mayday is also, of course, the internationally recognised maritime distress call, “help me” or “m’aidez”. This blog post is also a distress call, an alarm warning against the impending catastrophe of the forthcoming, and entirely unnecessary, general election. All opinion polls show a large lead for the Conservative Party, leading to a forecast of a massive Tory majority in the Commons. In that event, it will be only a matter of time before a cry of “mayday” will be heard from progressives and from a large majority of ordinary people.

Strong and Stable? No Way!

There’s a (not particularly funny) joke doing the rounds in Westminster that all Tory MPs have been fitted with a brain chip to make them say the words “strong and stable” every 18 seconds. This is no more than a reflection of the vacuous nature of the Tory election campaign so far. The mantra (a repeat of the one used by David Cameron in the 2015 election campaign) is designed to make people fearful of Labour and other dissenting voices and to run for cover to the “safety” of May’s Conservatives.  As I said in my recent post, Hatred and Humanity, this mantra is the last refuge of anti-democratic tyrants and would-be dictators.

May would have us believe that the only way we can have “strong and stable” leadership is by re-electing her as Prime Minister with an increased Parliamentary majority. I believe this is the reverse of the truth, as I explain below.

Strong? No, Stubborn!

May asserts that she will provide “strong” leadership in our EU exit negotiations, further asserting that this is essential in our “battle” with the 27 other member nations. This could be seen as a good thing only if the future negotiations are seen in purely adversarial “win/lose” terms.

Theresa May stubborn look

In Anglo-Saxon societies, there seems to be a cultural bias towards this adversarial approach, whilst much of mainland Europe is more used to a consensus, or compromise-based approach. I cite two examples.

Firstly, our first past the post, winner takes all voting system tends to lead to a binary two-party alternating system of government, often with considerable lurches in policy, often negating the previous government’s approach. Education policy in the UK and the stark contrast between Obama and Trump in the USA are typical examples. Continental Europe often has voting systems which lead to long, often continuous, periods of coalition government, with negotiation and compromise the norm. Fans of the BBC4 Danish drama series Borgen a few years ago will be familiar with this approach.

Secondly, our legal systems often differ, In the UK and USA, an adversarial approach, with two parties cross-examining witnesses, is designed to lead to the truth via some gladiatorial approach between sharp-tongued lawyers. In mainland Europe, it is common to find an inquisitorial approach where neutral third party investigators aim to seek out the truth with their investigatory skills.

Many of the comments, from the EU and other countries’ politicians, speaking of British “delusions” and May’s “living in another galaxy” stem, in part, from these differences of approach. This bodes ill for the negotiations.

A further cause for concern follows a remark I heard from a very well informed source at the Cambridge Literary Festival. He said that the German government is basically predisposed to finding a favourable outcome for the EU and the UK in the negotiations. There concerns were this: Theresa May, in their view, is totally ignorant of European history. This means that arguments and disagreements flare up because she has a tin ear about concerns and sensitivities based upon mainland Europe’s past experiences. This makes May particularly ill-suited to lead negotiations where goodwill between parties plays an important part.

I have written in the past about May’s instincts towards autocracy. Her “reason” for calling the election after only 2 years, although untrue, contained one insight into her thinking. She dislikes it when people disagree with her: there are numerous on-camera episodes where her irritation shows when anyone questions her thinking. The result is that she is a poor listener: extra dangerous given the risk mentioned above of annoying her EU counterparts through ignorance of what really concerns them.

So, forget “strong”. “Stubborn” would describe it better.

Stable? No, Straight – Over the Cliff!

May’s second assertion is that she will provide “stable” government. But surely the events of the past two years give the lie to that. Cameron promised stability in 2015. And what did we get? An ill-considered referendum in an attempt to manage internal Tory Party conflict. A spectacularly destabilising referendum result – the largest since WWII and in my lifetime – all unnecessary and definitely not “in the national interest”. A PM resigns. A palace coup with May becoming leader – and so PM – without a vote, either in the Tory Party or in the country. Bloodletting within the cabinet. Appointment of highly destabilising figures to key posts: Johnson, Fox, Davis. And, above all, May’s stubborn insistence on pressing for the most destructive terms for Britain’s exit from the EU, by giving supremacy to immigration control above all else – including reasoned arguments against and the wishes of the 48% of us who voted Remain. Do you call that “stable” government? I don’t.

Car going over a cliff
Straight Over the Cliff

I liken the UK’s present predicament to a car ride, with May at the wheel. She holds on to the steering wheel for all it’s worth, her eyes fixed firmly ahead. Despite the cries and screams from her fellow passengers to change course, she holds the wheel firm. Straight ahead is a clifftop: the so-called “hard Brexit” she appears to insist upon.

The only thing “stable” about this are the speed and direction of travel. The fact that this will lead inevitably to a car-crash of instability is never mentioned. Instead we get platitude after platitude, vague generalism after vague generalism. That’s treating us voters with contempt, as 8 year-olds.

So, forget “stable”. It’s “straight” over the cliff.

Hideaway Until Mayday

Finally, there is the abject cowardice of May’s approach to electioneering. She refused to appear in TV debates, as she will not risk having her absence of any coherent plan exposed on live TV. Her election “rallies” are all stage-managed in front of the party faithful. Videos of her sneaking in the back door of village halls. Fear of revealing what the booking is for, lest opponents gather, by booking sessions as a “children’s party”. Meeting in a factory after all the workers have gone home and party workers shipped in in their place.

My fear is that all this will succeed, that June 8th will be the next May Day. Only this time, this will be one decisive step on the journey to when we all cry “Mayday!”

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Coprocracy

Our dog eats shit. My wife and I were not pleased to discover, a few weeks ago, that our 21-month old Labrador has acquired a new habit of eating poo. It’s dog poo mainly, plus the occasional droppings from horses and cows. He seems to have really developed a liking for the stuff. We have asked friends and consulted the internet about what causes this new behaviour and what we can do to stop, or at least to discourage, it. The information and advice has been inconclusive and contradictory.

yellow labrador
Yellow Lab very like our own!

But a by-product of this research has been that we’ve found the technical term for such behaviour: coprophagia. The word comes from the Greek: kopros, meaning faeces and phagein, to eat. This led my mind to consider related words and, in particular, this one: coprocracy.

The Brave New World of Coprocracy

I was much struck by this thought, that this new (to me) word was just the right one for our times. Coprocracy, in its fullest sense, has clearly already arrived in the USA. The word can be used to describe the leader of the movement, in this case the Trump creature as kopros personified. Kopros can also be applied to the fake news or “alternative facts” that pour out from Trump and his acolytes. Closer to home, any number of coprocratic individuals spring immediately to mind. The more obvious would include the leaders of the EU Leave campaign: Johnson, Gove and Farage. But it can easily be applied to those wielding current power: Johnson (again!), Fox and their media cheerleaders in the “usual suspects” press. Theresa May, for reasons of internal party politics, is slowly turning into a coprocrat.

dog repulsed by Trump
Yuk!

Further symptoms of creeping coprocracy are seen regularly in press statements by government departments in response to some controversy. A good recent example was the (allegedly legally unsound) reason given for the Government’s further delay in publishing a proper plan to clean up the illegal, polluted air in our cities. It’s obvious the person who wrote the statement didn’t have their heart in it. I can imagine their mood swinging between the hope that that early retirement package may come through and the despairing wish that the ground might swallow them up. Shovelling shit wasn’t part of the career plan.

I feel nothing but sympathy for the long-serving civil servants who get posted to the press office of a government department. I can practically see their dead eyes staring into space as their fingers on the keyboard can barely get to the end of another flat, deadpan sentence “justifying” government policy. This phenomenon was particularly noticeable during Gove’s sojourn at the head of the Department for Education. But examples are seen almost daily in the press statements from other departments, including the Home Office, Cabinet Office and Department of Health.

Coprocracy and Corpocracy

I must give due acknowledgement to the QI Elves, who succinctly explained the difference between the easily-confused terms corpocracy and coprocracy. The former is “rule by corporations” and the latter “rule by shits”.

Corpocracy was, of course, the guiding principle of government policy in the years 2010 to 2016. But trends towards this state of affairs were evident during the Thatcher, Major, Blair and (to a lesser extent) Brown years. (There was, I believe, clear evidence that Brown was beginning to lead world political opinion away from the failed economic policies in the years following the 2007-8 global financial crash. One day, I must write my take on the tragedy of the failed opportunity for saner economic policy when Brown lost the 2010 election.) But there is a danger, too, that Britain is sliding towards coprocracy. A landslide win for May will only hasten the trend and must be avoided at all costs.

Let’s Hear It For Coprocracy!

But enough of this, and back, for a moment, to our shit-eating dog. The only solution in the short term is to keep him on a lead and to watch him like a hawk during his walks. Similarly, we can only hope that the famous “checks and balances” of the US Constitution, coupled with constant vigilance, will keep Trump on a “short lead” and curb his worst excesses until saner government can be restored.

In the meantime, let the rest of us call out shit policy and shit leaders every time they transgress normal moral decency – which is often. So let’s hear more about coprocracy. The word is derived from classical Greek, so lends the speaker an air of authority. It’s also a bit of a tongue-twister, so care is needed to get it right, aiding clear diction. And its similarity to corpocracy is a reminder of the close similarity of the two political systems.

So I want a lot more coprocracy: the word – as a warning to us all – and not the policy!! So, repeat after me: coprocracy, coprocracy, coprocracy…

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Hatred and Humanity

My early-morning reading yesterday came from two very different sources. Firstly, I checked my Twitter feed, which included comments about the media coverage of Theresa May’s calling of a snap general election. Then, I continued my read through the latest volume of Alan Bennett’s diaries, entitled Keeping On Keeping On. It brought into start relief two very different aspects of human nature: hatred and humanity.

Hatred

On Tuesday, May spoke a transparent lie that she called the election because Westminster was making things too difficult for her to lead EU exit negotiations. This lie encouraged the usual suspects in the media and morphed into something akin to fascism. Britain’s chief daily harbinger of hate, the Daily Mail, turned this into the headline “Crush the Saboteurs”. The saboteurs, in this case, are those who disagree with the Mail’s views favouring the most extreme and economically-damaging departure from the EU. Any dissent is treason.

Anyone who knows any history can see both historic and current resonances. “Stability”, a word much in vogue with May yesterday, is the last refuge of every tyrant, despot and tin-pot dictator down the ages. It’s easy to make a list of such autocrats, but a topical example is shown below. May’s words could (with a little adaptation) have been spoken by President Erdogan of Turkey as justification for his referendum to secure an autocratic power grab for himself.

Dialy Mail and Erdogan
Daily Mail and Erdogan

Let’s turn to the other main media suspect, the Sun. Those with attention spans longer than a gnat’s will recall that it’s only nine months since much-admired MP Jo Cox was murdered in the street by a right-wing fanatic. His barbaric act was no doubt spurred on, and legitimised in his own mind, by the vile xenophobic outpourings of many of those in the Leave camp during the referendum campaign. And yet now, a few months later, Rupert Murdoch’s scandal-rag is talking of “killing off” and “murdering” Labour MPs. And, in his bid to grab full control of Sky, Murdoch asserts he is a “fit and proper” person. Not in my book, sunshine.

Sun and Jo Cox MP
Sun and Jo Cox MP

Humanity

So, anyway, I turned away from this Twitter-fed poison to read more of Alan Bennett’s diaries, covering the period 2005 to 2015. What surprised me was that they were more political than I expected. Several of his comments were remarkably prescient and he was plainly no fan of Tony Blair! But what strikes me above all – and is no surprise – is the sheer humanity of the man. His ear for a fine turn of phrase is legendary: the cadences, nuances and idiosyncrasies of the spoken language. But he also has a fine eye for character: moods, body language, real or suspected motives, strengths and human failings are all deftly portrayed, whether he’s writing about someone rich and famous or the lowliest of strangers he just happens to meet.

Bennett also displays a quiet, comfortable sense of place. He’s clearly very much a man of Britain in an unshowy, sort-of-patriotic way. There’s a sense of rootedness which is the antithesis of the hawkish, jingoistic variety espoused by the Mail and by the unhinged, irreconcilable EU-haters on the Tory back benches.

Alan Bennett
Alan Bennett

A Matter of Character

All of this brings us back to Theresa May and her character now on show. Check out both her speech in Downing Street on Tuesday and that in the House of Commons yesterday. It’s all “me”, “I” and such, displaying an autocratic nature that I’ve commented on in earlier posts. May is pushing the line that the election is about strengthening her negotiating position “in the national interest”. But the truth – that her decision to go to the country is all about cynical Tory Party advantage – easily belies that. Yvette Cooper got it exactly right when she called that out in the Commons debate.

Conventional wisdom is that the election result is a foregone conclusion: that may well turn out to be right. But I do have this to say to anyone who, like me, cares a lot about emphasising our common humanity. Firstly, whatever you do, vote – even though our first-past-the-post system may make it a wasted one: it’s moral authority we’re after here. Secondly, think very hard about what you can do to minimise the number of seats that the Conservatives win. I’m pleased to see that Gina Miller, the brave woman who forced May to act constitutionally with the Article 50 vote, is setting up a tactical voting unit to help those who want to avoid giving May even more hubris and the most damaging form of EU exit.

There’s too much hatred and not enough humanity afoot in the UK right now. And it’s not the fault of the “saboteurs”. On June 8th, think very carefully indeed about what you’re voting for.

 

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The Weight of History

As I left home this morning, the sky was grey and overcast. It had just stopped raining, but there were occasional periods of intermittent drizzle: you know, the kind of “will it, won’t it” weather only too familiar in Britain. The weather matched my mood exactly. On the day the UK Government’s letter triggering Article 50 reaches Brussels, the weight of history hung over me like an oppressive dark grey cloud hanging low in the sky.

storm cloudsMy thoughts were as gloomy as the portentous weather. How will future generations ever forgive us for an act that Michael Heseltine called “the worst peace-time decision taken by any modern post-war government”. Quite.  (Things must have reached a spectacularly low point when I’m quoting Thatcher’s former Defence Secretary in support of my argument!)

The death of the liberal Britain that I have been comfortable to call my own will be a slow and agonizingly drawn-out process. The delusional fantasies of the implacable Europhobes (including those in the Cabinet) will soon hit the immovable object of 27 other countries’ demands and those of the EU institutions. The shits will hit – not the fan, exactly – but the rock of opposition. What will follow won’t be pretty. It’s probably only a matter of months before the hardcore Leavers will start to look around for someone else to blame. So, too, will those who believed – or colluded with – their lies.

Add to this the EU-hating press. The drip-drip poison from the pages of the Mail, Express, Sun and Telegraph will grow into a steady and corrosive flow of bile and invective. Public discourse – which already hit rock-bottom during the referendum campaign – will sink to even lower levels. Social media and the Twittersphere will become even more of a sewer of hatred. Expect a further increase in hate crime. The pound and the economy will take a dive – those who predicted this would happen already were wrong, but these are unprecedented times. It’s a matter of when, not if. Staff shortages, particularly in the NHS and in agriculture, will add to the pressure of NHS spending cuts and supermarkets’ abuse of their bargaining power against the farmers.

And, of course, it will be the poor and vulnerable who will take brunt of the fallout from all this. Keir Starmer has said some sensible things about Labour’s “red lines” in relation to workers’ rights and living standards. Other than that, I don’t see anyone coming to their rescue. On the contrary, it creates scope for opportunist populists to wreak further mischief. None of which is an endearing prospect.

On this day, Prime Minister May has called for the whole country to unite. To be fair to her, she has signed a letter to President Tusk that is reasoned and fair-minded in tone and content. But to unite behind this ragbag bunch of intellectual pigmies, moral cowards and deluded fantasists masquerading as the UK government? No way, May. No way. It would take a far, far greater person than you are, or will ever be, to make me unite behind that.

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Happy Birthday to EU!

The European Union is 60 years old today. Happy Birthday! On 25th March 1957, the six founding nations – Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – signed the treaty of Rome. The EEC, as it was originally, has become the European Union and grown considerably, to 28 nations today. 27 of those 28 nations are gathered together today in Rome to celebrate the anniversary. The 28th, i.e. the UK, is staying away and skulking at home, ashamed to show its face – and deservedly so. We all know why.

The EU at 60
The EU at 60

Progress

The EEC /EU has developed from being a trading bloc to a wider union with a single market allowing tariff- and hassle-free flow of goods and services between all its member states. The EU is the world’s largest trading bloc. The shared values and democratic principles of the western European nations were a beacon of principle to inspire countries of the former Soviet bloc to democratize and join the Union. Europe has enjoyed the longest period of unbroken peace in modern history.

The EU has used its size and trading weight to take on anti-competitive behaviour of large multinationals such as Microsoft. It has led to practical consumer benefits such as ending the rip-off by mobile phone companies of roaming charges within the EU. The Erasmus programme has inspired generations of schoolchildren and students to work collaboratively across Europe, to mutual benefit and understanding. It has enabled the free flow of ideas and culture between its nations. Here in the UK, our eating habits have become much more Europeanized and varied. A significant proportion of Europe’s youth sees itself as European first and their national identities second.

Flawed

But let’s not get too carried away. Even its best friends, including me, realise that the EU is a flawed institution. Its ways can seem frustratingly arcane. The euro is a project whereby the politics of the case trumped the economics. Politically, it’s a good idea to bind countries further together in a currency union that makes armed conflict between members unthinkable. But the economic strains on yoking the very different economies of northern and southern Europe has led to much real pain – not least for the Greek people.

The EU can appear extremely bureaucratic. Ask anyone who has tried to fill out an EU funding application form! The need for simultaneous translation in its formal sessions slows down discussion and adds to costs. And yet the total EU budget is small – less than that of Birmingham City Council for a union of over 300 million people. And as for the frustrations: I’m almost embarrassed to repeat the old chestnut that it was Winston Churchill who said it was better to “jaw, jaw, not war, war”.

The EU has struggled to cope with major challenges in the past decade. The shock caused by the global collapse of the economic order in 2007-8 and the failure to come up with a more effective alternative has led to ten years of low growth and real economic pain for individuals and families. The unprecedented level of migrant flows resulting from the chaos in the Middle East has strained, to the limit, compassionate and liberal attitudes towards vulnerable migrants. Exploitation by the far right and populists of the fears aroused by these forces poses an existential threat to the EU. A lot of us have our fingers crossed that the centre – and decency – will hold.

So when the EU needs to be concentrating on its challenges and agreeing a common view on the way forward, energy and effort need to be diverted into negotiating with the one who wants to leave: the UK.

The Future?

The EU commission has produced a White Paper outlining five scenarios for discussion amongst the 27 other member countries. The UK government is threatening to turn our country into some devil-take-the hindmost, lowest-common denominator, race-to-the-bottom, low tax and low skills rogue state if we don’t get what Theresa May thinks Britain wants from the exit negotiations. It’s easy to imagine some future scenario when the UK becomes a pariah state.

Freed from the constraints of the UK’s strong rear-guard action to prevent stronger EU-wide regulation of financial services, I can see the EU collectively enacting rules that prevent some of the more obviously risky “smoke and mirror” City practices. Add to that the City’s role as the hub in a network of Crown Dependencies who are offshore tax havens facilitating money-laundering and tax evasion. (See also my earlier blog post: The City: Paragon or Parasite?) And you get a situation where the UK is out in the cold, with trade sanctions and a permanently damaged global reputation.

So, Happy 60th Birthday, EU! May you prosper and continue to set an example of freedom, democracy and civilized values. It’s a tragedy – especially for our children and grandchildren – that we won’t be there with you.

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Ignorant and Misled

Viewsnight is BBC Newsnight’s recently created, visually gimmicky, slot to present a wide range of opinions from individuals, often themselves mavericks or non-mainstream, to provoke debate about current topics. It’s a welcome initiative (apart from the gimmicks).

Thursday night’s slot was given to Richard Dawkins on the subject of “Brexit” – his word, not mine. In two minutes, Dawkins is able to demolish the whole EU referendum process and I agree strongly with everything he said. Er, except, perhaps one thing – see below. But first, see for yourself:

Dawkins on ViewsnightClick here to view video

Dawkins makes a concise case about the dangers of referendums and the need for safeguards to be built into any well-designed constitution for a country. This is because of the long-lasting effect of constitutional change, compared to a normal election, where the decision can be reversed a few years later. Neither David Cameron nor the UK Parliament saw fit to build any such safeguards into the EU referendum process last summer. And to cap this, the British public were lied to on an unprecedented scale during the pre-vote campaign. Dawkins rightly condemns David Cameron’s stupidity in running scared of UKIP and the lies told in the run-up to the vote.

He similarly, and rightly, condemns the bullshit along the lines that “the British people have spoken” in the May government’s line ever since. The idea that a small majority of votes in a simple binary choice, in the absence of factual information, represents the enduring wisdom of a nation is palpable nonsense. Similarly, the outright bullying since by the usual rabid sections of the anti-EU press has no place in a modern liberal democracy.

Condemn the Act, Not the Person

But now I come to the one problem I have with Dawkins’ piece. About 20 seconds from the end, he refers to the “ignorant and misled public”. Whilst both epithets may be literally true, he loses sympathy with much of his audience at this point. Referring to the public as “ignorant” is politically unwise: playing the man, not the ball.

A reasonable analogy would be in the upbringing of children. Parents and professionals such as teachers are told, when a child is naughty, to criticise the act, not the child. Just because a child has done something bad doesn’t make that child a bad person.

naughty child

The same is true for stupidity. We’ve all done things in our lives that we regret as being stupid. That doesn’t necessarily make us stupid people. David Cameron was stupid to cave in to his more rabid backbenchers by announcing an EU referendum after 40 years plus of lies and misrepresentations, by politicians and the media, about the EU. That stupid decision doesn’t mean I think that Cameron is stupid: weak, certainly, but not stupid.

Similarly, May’s desire to give parliament and the people no further say in whatever deal her government is able to negotiate does not appear to be the result of May’s stupidity. But it does reinforce my impression of May as someone with very strong authoritarian instincts and a determination to get her own way, come what may. That’s more sinister than stupid.

Meanwhile, back to Richard Dawkins and his video. The man has a reputation of getting up people’s noses – even of those who agree with him. It’s a shame he does this again in the Viewsnight video. Because on this topic, as on may others, he’s absolutely right.

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