Category Archives: Politics

Posts about politics and politicians

Forever Walk Alone

A song for Theresa “No Mates” May: no mates in the Tory Party, no mates in the right-wing press, no mates in Europe…

If you stir up a storm, build your hopes up high,
But show you’re afraid of the Mail
At the end of the storm, we all say “bye-bye”
And tweet that you’re wrong and will fail.
Plod on: you won’t win
Plod on, say again
Till our screams are crossed with groans
Limp on, limp on, no hope in your heart
You’ll forever walk alone
You’ll forever walk alone.
Limp on, limp on, you won’t tear us apart,
You’ll forever walk alone
You’ll forever walk alone.

For pity’s sake, May, just go.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

Enough Is Enough

Theresa May must go. Enough is enough.

The UK has now reached the greatest political crisis since 1945. Article 50 was triggered in March. The clock is ticking down to March 2019. The EU and 27 other countries have discussed, agreed their approach and are waiting to begin negotiations.

May, with a workable majority of 17, in a fit of hubris, decided to crush all opposition. After consistently denying she would call a snap election, she called one. Her argument – always a lie – was that parliament was thwarting her plans for negotiating exit terms with the EU. And this was after Jeremy Corbyn had led his party to support the triggering of Article 50.

Theresa May contrite
Fatally damaged

So, after 7 weeks of unnecessary distraction, where are we? Hung parliament, with May proposing to govern propped up by the Democratic Unionist Party. This is the party that wants the hardest, the most economically damaging form of exit from the EU. The irony is that Northern Ireland voted 56% to 44% for Remain. So the DUP is the least representative party in Ulster to express the province’s wishes. Tragically, Northern Ireland’s politics is frozen in a 17th century time-warp. The DUP’s anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage stance takes us straight back to the Dark Ages. Being beholden to this lot is worse even than the Tories own “Irreconcilable” backbenchers. They’re way outside the UK mainstream. Enough is enough.

Nasty and Greedy

Nasty: May once famously warned the Tories about being seen to be the Nasty Party. Their election campaign was full of nastiness, or repeated personal insults and false accusations against her opponents, Corbyn above all. I trust that by now, her campaign coordinator Lynton Crosby will have had the sense to fuck off back to Australia. I hope too that 2017 will mark the low point in such vicious, nasty campaigning.

Greedy: The Tories have championed the economically and socially disastrous policies of Free Market Fundamentalism. Since the days of Thatcher, the cry has been “greed is good”. The election result clearly expresses the UK voters’ desire for an end to austerity, which has always been a political choice, not an economic necessity. (Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s article in the Guardian on 8th June states extremely clearly why Labour’s manifesto policies will be best for the country.)  Well, May got greedy. She had a Commons majority of 17 – she wanted 100+. Look at her now, sucking up to the most socially conservative, almost mediaeval party (the DUP) in Parliament to scrape a fragile majority of 2 or 3.

The sight of sociopathic, narcissistic Donald Trump in the USA should be a warning to all countries where Nastiness and Greed ultimately lead. Let’s hope this is the end of both. Enough is enough.

Apologies Required

The Tories got us into this mess, almost all by themselves, with a bit of help from their bigoted, xenophobic outliers, UKIP. The British people are owed an apology, from these three people in particular:

  1. From David Cameron, for being too weak to manage dissent in the most rabid, xenophobic ranks of his own backbenchers, by calling a referendum, thinking it would quell the infighting in his own party.
  2. From Theresa May, for failing to listen and consult more widely, for her instinctive authoritarianism and for her hubris, greed and poor judgement in trying to secure a crushing majority in Parliament.
  3. From Nigel Farage, for… well, for being such a fraud and total gobshite.

The Westminster Parliament collectively has a lot to answer for, too. In passing the referendum bill in the form in which it was agreed, needing only a simple majority of votes. Such a constitutionally momentous change would, in any well-ordered democracy, have included checks and safeguards such as a super-majority of votes cast and a minimum percentage of the electorate.

Will anyone apologise for this mess? Don’t hold your breath. Enough is enough.

UK’s Negotiating Position

May spoke recently of the danger of the UK going “naked into the debating chamber” in the event of Corbyn becoming Prime Minister. Well, where are we now? May’s authority is fatally damaged. With her leading negotiations, the EU and the 27 other nations will just laugh at us. They were already incredulous about the referendum result and May’s choice of the trio of ministers most involved in negotiation, Boris Johnson in particular. Referring presumably to the Berlusconi years, a senior Italian politician remarked last summer: “We though we were the crazies!”

To extend the metaphor, a May-led negotiating team will not only be naked, but the wounds on her back from the lashing she has just had from the British electorate will be red and raw for all to see. Talk about “strong and stable”: the opposite is the case. May has already got the backs up of Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier (the chief negotiator) before the election with her bombastic approach. Now she can be expected to be treated with contempt. That’s absolutely NOT in the national interest. Enough is enough.

The Way Forward

What IS in the national interest seems screamingly obvious to me. Well over 50% of the votes cast in this election were for parties wanting to break from the old orthodoxy. In particular, they want a move away from austerity and an approach to the EU negotiations that reflects the wishes of both Leavers and Remainers. The latter, 48% of us, simply haven’t had a look in so far. A little humility from those representing us wouldn’t go amiss, either. Oh, and, after the resignation of its joke of a leader, UKIP can just fuck off and die, finally.

What we really need is a Government of National Unity, where a progressive alliance of parties work together to take a fresh approach to the many issues which face us. And yes, the government should include a few of the more forward-thinking, liberal-minded Tory MPs.

Goodness knows, the problems arising from the old politics are real enough. The dire, crumbling state of our public services, and especially the NHS, need urgently addressing. Proper school funding to ensure we have the best possible educated future citizens is a priority, too. And the crisis in the lack of genuinely affordable housing is building to a crescendo – one 35 years in the making since Thatcher started selling off council houses. We need to get productivity rising again, by strategic investment in promising industries of the future. And, not least, we need to address the evil of terrorist attacks, including through adequate community policing.

We also need a change of tone from our elected representatives. The point-scoring, fear inducing, hate-fuelled approach of the last few years must stop. And we need politicians who speak proper sentences, like the rest of us.

A more consensual approach to EU negotiations will pay dividends and maximise the chance of a better outcome that we’d ever get from May’s gang of zealots and the delusional. We’ve seen record numbers of younger people engaged in politics and actually voting. It’s more about their future than mine. And we need a new kind of leader to take this forward and build on the momentum generated by this new blood. A person who’s shown he’s at his best when painting a better vision of the future for – dare I say? – the many, not the few. (His talents are wasted in opposition, where he doesn’t really shine.)

Jeremy Corbyn
A new PM for a new age

Step forward, Prime Minister-in-waiting, Jeremy Corbyn.

 

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

Two Paths

Tomorrow, Britain faces what is, almost certainly, the most important general election of my lifetime. Two paths into the future are possible, depending on the choices we make. But hanging over the election are two dark and ponderous clouds. These are, of course, the impending EU negotiations and our reaction to the recent spate of terrorist attacks.

two pathsEU Negotiations

The first major issue will be the path we steer to leaving the EU (or not??), following the calamitous referendum result last summer. Neither of the party leaders has been straight with the British electorate on this point. Any conclusion to negotiations, short of changing our minds, will leave the UK worse off than now. The whole negotiation process is an exercise in damage limitation.

Recognising this, Jeremy Corbyn has been largely silent when it comes to reaching the “best” conclusion, or speaking of “success”. For this, Theresa May has accused him of being unpatriotic or failing to “believe in Britain”. These soundbites may play well as a dog-whistle to the Tory faithful – or, more cynically, to wavering Tory / UKIP voters. But the sheer vacuity of the comment exposes May’s own weaknesses. Her promise of a “successful” outcome means one of two things. Either she’s lying or she’s deluded.

Response to Terrorism

Following the shocking events in Manchester and at London Bridge, Jeremy Corbyn and other critics have challenged the government on cuts to police forces of 20,000 officers. Retired and serving senior police officers have explained the importance of community policing in building trust in communities. This is particularly important in areas where people feel marginalised and discriminated against.  The statement issued by Corbyn on Sunday evening was balanced, proportionate – even “statesmanlike” by one commentator.

By contrast, May’s reaction seems to have been twofold. Firstly, she has engaged in a series of personal attacks on Corbyn. These include questioning his patriotism and willingness to make hard decisions, often based on a distorted interpretation of remarks he has made in the past. (To his credit, Corbyn has not sunk to the level of personal attacks in return.) Secondly, she has made a series of what appear to be “on the hoof” policy announcements about the powers of police and security services. This smacks of panic and as an attempt to detract from her record over six years as Home Secretary and a year as PM. Comments about Human Rights legislation are particularly worrying. These seem to reinforce the strong authoritarian streak in May about which I have commented before.

The Leaders

All of which brings us to the contrasting personalities of the two leaders who could conceivably become Prime Minister on Friday.

Theresa May coffee

Theresa May has looked more and more uncomfortable as the election campaign has progressed. The first period was spent trying to build a personality cult: “Team Theresa”. We saw a series of set-piece speeches with selected party faithful hermetically sealed from the town or village outside. “Strong and stable” was the mantra repeated endlessly, to almost hypnotic effect. When May proved “weak and wobbly” over the social care spending cap, this entire strategy fell apart. Her “nothing has changed” squeaked out after this U-turn made her look like the proverbial rabbit in the headlights.

May’s now notorious lack of warmth has a number of consequences. Her inability to relate to people bodes ill for the EU negotiations. Her disastrous dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker got matters off to the worst possible start. His comment was “I leave Downing Street 10 times more sceptical than I was before.” Nicola Sturgeon described May’s lack of relationship-building ability in stark terms. “You literally go into a one to one with her and it’s like she’s reading from a script rather than having a conversation”, she said.

The same coldness means May’s personal support in her own party is thin, trusting and consulting with only a small circle of close confidantes. This could prove a serious problem when the going gets tough in negotiations. This also means that, too often, she is closed to wider advice. Many of her announcements seem to come as a surprise to the Minister responsible for the policy area: Education, Home Office and Foreign Policy spring to mind. Ministers support the party line on TV one day, only to find May has changed her mind the next. So the “Team” bit of “Team Theresa” is mostly a sham.

May’s wobbles, U-turns and panics during the campaign all seem to come from criticisms from the same quarter. The only pressure she responds to is her own right flank – the Incorrigibles as I call them – and the likes of the Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers. She has never shown the slightest concern for other members of society – including the 48% of us who voted Remain. She’s deaf, too, to the particular concerns of those from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

May’s refusal to appear in a TV debate with the other leaders won her no friends and effectively killed off the “strong and stable” strategy. Her excuse – that she was too busy “preparing for Brexit negotiations” – was an open goal for an obvious riposte: “So why did you call an unnecessary election?” Theresa May just looks awkward most of the time these days, like she wishes she could be somewhere else. None of this bodes well for the next five – or two – years with May at the helm.

Jeremy Corbyn campaigningOn the other hand, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be enjoying himself. The crowds greeting him around the country seem to growing larger and more enthusiastic. For sure, he’s had some embarrassingly bad moments, Woman’s Hour being an obvious one. Corbyn stood up well to pressure in TV cross-examinations from Jeremy Paxman and the like. His interactions with members of the public appear to be genuinely warm and sympathetic. The one thing this campaign has given us, under media impartiality rules, is greater exposure to the actual Jeremy Corbyn, rather than the straw man caricature. (I see that that most rancid of rags, the Mail, is today throwing everything they’ve got from their hate-filled, distorting sewer, in an attempt to blacken the name of Labour’s leaders. Quelle surprise.)

It’s true that Corbyn is untested in high office, having spent his entire political career on the back benches until elected Labour leader nearly 2 years ago. But it does seem that the man has grown in stature during the campaign and he has said, somewhat modestly, that he’s giving the campaign “everything he’s got”. There seemed to be  a certain refreshing honesty in that remark. It seemed to have come from the heart, in contrast to May’s “I speak your weight” robot. And Corbyn does seem to have enthused and inspired significant numbers of younger voters, whose future is most at stake.

The Choice

And so, tomorrow, decisions are to be made, votes to be cast. The polls have been all over the place, but the odds still seem to be in favour of a Conservative win. Anything different will depend crucially on the turnout by younger voters, who appear to favour Corbyn by about a 3:1 ratio. I have no idea whether the apparent enthusiasm for Corbyn can be turned into a higher turnout from this notoriously “won’t vote” age group.

For me, the decision is simple. Two paths are open to the country tomorrow. The path to a win for the Tories leads to the certainty of economic pain and misery for most. Five more years of austerity, further deterioration to our underfunded NHS, schools and police forces, plus a continuation of the housing crisis. All this compounded with a disastrous outcome to the EU exit negotiations, with implications for generations to come.

The other path to a Labour victory is less certain. A Corbyn-led, more consensus-seeking approach to EU negotiations should lead to a less damaging outcome for our economy – if the City and the media give him a chance. But Corbyn at least offers the hope of a better future, particularly for those younger than myself.

Sadly, my vote will not count: like 80% of the country, the outcome in my constituency is not in doubt, thanks to our first-past-the-post system. But, token though it may be, my vote will be a small gesture towards the uncertain path to a fairer, more hopeful future.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

Which Theresa?

I’m confused. Which Theresa May is it we are supposed to be voting for?

Is it:

  • The “strong and stable” Theresa of Tory Party fantasies?
  • The serial U-turner Theresa who ditches part of her manifesto after only four days?
  • The “bloody difficult” Theresa who soured relations with key EU officials before negotiations even started?
  • The “financially competent” Theresa whose only costed manifesto policy is free school breakfasts – at 7p per pupil?
  • Or the scaredy-cat Theresa too afraid to debate with other Party leaders on live TV?

Which is it? I think we have a right to know before we vote!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

Curiouser and Uncuriouser

Just after she retired, my wife and I were at a social function. She was asked what she was now doing with her time. She replied that she was doing English Literature as a part-time student with the Open University. The questioner without hesitation responded: “Oh, I can’t think of anything worse!” This, as it turns out, is a great conversation killer! Where on earth can the conversation go from there?

Reflecting on this exchange some time later, I wondered why I felt at the time such huge contempt for her questioner. My conclusion was that the questioner and I are poles apart on one spectrum of human attitude: curiosity. I was appalled by the fact that someone would find offensive the idea of a mature woman gaining new knowledge and learning new skills.

Lifelong Learning

I started to think about the wider ramifications of all this. To start with, we all have some fundamental principles that underpin our outlook on life. Two of mine, relevant to this subject, are these. Firstly, the development of the human brain by the random march of evolution is a thing of wonder and celebration. Secondly, when it comes to the brain, I’m a firm believer in the “use it or lose it” principle.

Alice and the Mad Hatter

Just look around any primary school classroom. Just talk to, or observe, any 5, 6, 7, 8 or 9-year old child as they explore new things about the world. See the joy that comes from each new discovery, and the further quest for knowledge that it inspires.  Sadly, for too many of us, that joy, that quest for learning, withers and fades. But for many – and I like to consider myself as one such – that curiosity survives into old age. The popularity of adult education classes, of institutions such as U3A, of mature students taking degrees are all testimony to that. To quote a tired – but paradoxically energising – old cliché, “You’re never too old to learn!”

Left and Right

I’ve often pondered what underlying characteristics separate politically left-leaning from right-leaning people. It’s part of the old “nature versus nurture” debate. Perhaps it’s something to do with our faith in human nature. The right might take a view that, left to their own devices, people are selfish and can’t be trusted. The left, by contrast, may hold an unshakeable faith in the improvability of human kind. They criticize each other as being bitter, cynical and twisted or being hopelessly naïve and utopian. Such an analysis may explain a lot, but I think it gets us only so far.

argumentI think there’s another dimension, a spectrum which characterises the left-right character differences. And that’s this dimension of curiosity: the preparedness to use one’s own brain to challenge received ideas and think things through for oneself. My observations of human behaviour over nearly seven decades have noticed one thing in particular. Those on the right (politically and socially) seem much more prepared to take at face value the word of authority figures, such as politicians, doctors, priests and anyone in uniform. (Increasingly these days, these also include business leaders and the rich of all types.) The left are more prepared to challenge and seek alternative views on the subject.

This underlying difference has many manifestations. Divine revelation versus the scientific method. Theocracy versus secularism. Royalist versus republican. Tradition versus progress. Order versus creativity. Views on the environment and climate change. Rote teaching of facts versus “learning to learn”. Attitudes to race, gender and sexuality. Nostalgia for a mythical “golden age” versus optimism for the future. The welcome, or otherwise, for different cultures and the immigrants who bring them. Win-lose versus win-win. Daily Mail versus Guardian.

To sum up: “I have nothing to learn from you” versus “I welcome the opportunity to learn from you”.

Sticking Together and Schism

There’s a further point I’d like to make concerning this phenomenon. And that’s to do with political parties. It’s a well-observed fact that parties of the left love to have debates and schisms, factions and splits. It seems naturally easier for left-wing party activists to split and form a new party than split the difference. (Think Judean People’s Front in Monty Python’s Life of Brian.)

Sorry, I meant the People’s Front of Judea.

Parties of the right tend to keep their differences to themselves. Last year, nearly half of Tory MPs voted Remain. But with literally one or two exceptions, you never hear from them now. There’s a strong cultural pressure to stick together / avoid doing something that is “bad form” / don’t let the side down / support the regiment / rally round the flag / supply your own cliché. (The exceptions, of course, are the extremist right-wing parties like UKIP and the Front National.)

In addition to the huge disparity in funding, this phenomenon hugely disadvantages Labour and the left in UK elections, with our first-past-the-post voting system. To recall an old joke of two men chased by a lion, “I only have to run faster than you, not the lion”.

It Makes Me Cross

One last thing about all this that makes me cross. It’s when religious apologists rage against that non-existent oxymoron, the “militant atheist”. You know, the person who’s going to undermine all moral authority by brainwashing our children into becoming atheists too. All the atheists and humanists I know want nothing of the sort. We just want people to think for themselves and draw their own conclusions. The uncurious just don’t get that bit. So I say, rediscover your inner eight year-old. Try using your brain a little harder and discover something new. Test your opinion against some facts. You might even enjoy it.

“Curiouser and curiouser!” cried Alice. Well, amen to that, I might say!! (Or not.) And, by the way, Alfie, what is it all about?

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

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??

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

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.)

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

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.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss

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!”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
twitterrss