Archive for the ‘Brexit’ Category

The Economist and the UK General Election – what a squirm

Two years ago I critiqued the Economist’s advocacy of the Conservative Party to form the next UK Government under David Cameron. The magazine, in my opinion, disingenuously dismissed Ed Miliband’s programme in favour of the “stability” offered by more economic-liberal austerity by the Conservatives. The magazine overlooked the commitment to an in-out referendum on Europe despite its avowed support for the European Union, at least in the context of a single market and customs union.

Fast-forward 2 years and here we are with another General Election having been called – we are told by Theresa May – to protect the will of the people translated as her vision of Brexit from those who would oppose it (saboteurs according to the Daily Mail), like parliamentary oppositions are supposed to do under the Country’s usefully unwritten constitution. May, not being a democrat, or not one that I recognise, duly called her General Election after having been on a walking holiday. Though I am minded that she first had a word with the architect of the Conservatives’ last election victory, the benighted Lynton Crosby.

I was waiting to see what stance The Economist would take this time. Let me have a look. First of all, the leader of the opposition is called “ineffectual”. However, that is not the real story. May looks to achieve a landslide victory and increase her majority from the current 17 to something approaching 100. “For the 48% of voters who, like this newspaper, opposed Brexit, this may look ominous” says the Economist, un-reassuringly. However, we have mis-read this. Indeed, argues the newspaper, “[i]nfact, it offers an opportunity for those who believe in a more open, Liberal Britain”. Really? We need to know more.

If I read it correct, if May gets her increased majority, she will fear the Commons less when it comes to the final deal. The House of Commons fought hard to have a say on the final deal and would, if the “deal” was not as good as what the country has at the moment with EU membership, tell her to go back and try harder. One assumes she is particularly fearful of her “hard Brexit” backbenchers. If she has a bigger majority, goes the argument, she can accommodate their wrath as well as that coming from the depleted opposition benches. This means, continues the argument, that she is more likely to be able to make compromises with the EU with this safety net. And that means a softer Brexit. Brilliant!

Dear Economist, that is nonsense. May wants to close the borders. Only a hard version of Brexit will enable that. Plus Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has himself described it as a “power grab”. Moreover, she also does not want to be bound by the current manifesto of her party written by her predecessor. So, her Finance Minister, Philip Hammond, who suffered ignominy when his budget tax increase was rejected, can now make this a manifesto commitment. Also, May herself is obsessed with selective education and already has in train a return to grammar schools at the expense of children from less privileged backgrounds. The Economist thinks that Theresa May with a majority can fix the housing shortage and make good the “funding crisis in social care”. Bearing in mind that her party is the cause of these two problems and policies so far pursued seek to make it worse, not better (for example, right-to-buy housing association dwellings).

We should not be surprised by this spin and support for the Conservative Party; but we are where we are because of the Conservative Party (austerity policies and THAT referendum). The solutions and future must lie elsewhere.

Brenda says…

Brenda is just an ordinary woman in Bristol. She was questioned on the street by a BBC journalist and she said that she was fed up with politics – there is too much of it about at the moment – and she just wanted to live her life in peace. That is a bit of a paraphrase, but only a bit.

Let me be clear, I do not want an election. What is the point in a fixed-term parliament if an insecure Prime Minister decides that she needs a personal mandate for her mendacity and push for majoritarianism and the limited state? However, if we are going to have one – precipitated to some extent by the EU’s interregnum over exit terms – then so be it. But this is no ordinary election. I’m 53 and I believe this is the most important election in my lifetime. We can let the Conservative Party for the foreseable future dominate the executive and legislature (not to say judiciary if recent experience is anything to go by) or we can stand up for something bigger.

This is not a party-political election in the normal sense. Notwithstanding Brexit, this is an election to stand up for public services, the NHS, education, housing, social care, the environment, liberty and decency. All of these things the Conservative Party seem to be willing to denude or abolish in pursuit of power. Not the public good.

This will be an ugly island if May achieves her aim. All opposition parties have to work together on this one. This is not about Labour, LibDems, SNP, Green. This is about a future. Brenda needs to engage, vote and learn.

End.

 

The concerted attempts to destroy the post-war consensus in the UK

The UK at the moment is in a mess.

Daily I am subject to the effects of ongoing industrial action by two transport unions – one for train drivers, one for (what we used to call) guards. It being awp-1484414323498.jpg privatised and fragmented railway network, this is happening in a single region, and hence the effects are localised. The objective for the railway workers is to run the trains safely (drivers have recently been given total responsibility for safety on trains, over-and-above the driving, which they argue is not safe). The same unions are in dispute with Transport for London over safety and staffing on the London Underground.

Last week it was the turn of the National Health Service. People are dying waiting to get into a hospital. The Government is now blaming General Practitioners, the primary carers. Seemingly because they do not provide a 7-day service, too many people are going to the emergency departments in hospitals at weekends and evenings.

Then there is my own profession, university teaching. The Government’s priority is to push ahead with a bill that uct_leslie_social_science_lecture_theatre_classenables private companies to award degrees and add further metrics to the practice of teaching. This progressively turns teaching into a proscriptive exercise rather than a learning experience. The arrival of private companies, it is argued, will provide choice in the ‘education market’ (as if there are not enough universities to provide choice) and innovate.

My take is this. With respect to the railway disputes, this is a Government that wants to impose new working conditions on railway workers that have the potential to make travel less safe. We have seen this before at privatisation, It can be deadly.

With regard to universities, the advent of 9000 pound fees per year changed the relationship between teaching staff and students. The fees effectively commodified learning and universities have been complicit in this. Private companies such as the large publishing houses want to control content and merge their content production with delivery. This will squeeze out any critical thinking.

Euro_flag_yellow_lowAs we have seen with Brexit, all is not what it seems. The Conservatives, with hindsight, were always Eurosceptic. They never embraced membership or tried to change it from within.  The incoming Prime Minister, Theresa May, simply sees it as an opportunity. The opportunity to leave the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and to control border (something that she failed to achieve as home minister in the Cameron Government). The mandate from the referendum is there, even if the damage done to the economy is significant. This is not about the economy, it is about nationalism.

And not unrelated is the situation with the National Health Service. It is the ultimate outcome of  a postwar rejection of conservatism. A majority Labour Government in 1948 enacted legislation to enable healthcare to be provided free at the point of use. The UK conservatives see now their opportunity to end this once and for all. They have prnhsogressively been privatising it with many familiar private-sector firms cherry picking services (leaving the public sector with the difficult stuff like geriatric care and chronic illness). Now, the crisis that has erupted in recent weeks with Accident and Emergency services struggling, the blame has been put on General Practitioners who are opposing 7-day working. It is reported today that some are indicating their intention to leave the National Health Service. On the one hand, this looks like something that the Government cannot ignore. On the other hand, maybe it is just what they are looking for in order to introduce an insurance system?

Pictures: A lecture in progress in Leslie Soc-Sci building in theatre 2A. Discott 

Researching Brexit and the effectiveness of dead cats

Lynton_Crosby_Political_StrategistIt was in the UK General Election of 2015 that we seemingly encountered the concept of the dead cat. It was a campaign innovation by the Conservative Party’s campaign strategist, Linton Crosby (left). Essentially, throw the dead cat into the arena even if it is not a cat. Or dead. It does not matter. For most observers, it is a dead cat and it is the only thing that people can see. So, for example, linking Labour and the SNP – with Alec Salmond calling the shots. Never on, but enough to worry English voters (and possibly Scottish).

I mention this because this is the year that the implications of all of 2016’s successful dead cats – Brexit and Trump to name but two – will be realised. At least partially. Both fill me with foreboding – the former because of the apparent incompetence of the Government to manage the transition; the latter because…well, anxiety about a Trump presidency is natural, is it not? The bigger questions, however, are about how to counter the dead cat when it is thrown in to the arena and to understand the causes of the Brexit vote. I have short observations oEuro_flag_yellow_lown both of these.

Let me deal with Brexit vote first. Over the Christmas break I read a very interesting academic paper with some poignant empirical observations. The paper is called “The 2016 Referendum, Brexit and the Left Behind: An Aggregate-level Analysis of the Result”. The authors are Matthew J Goodwin and Oliver Heath and is published in the Political Quarterly (Vol 87(3), July September 2016). This is an early peer-reviewed analysis of available data that the authors have interrogated to ascertain who were the key voters. This is a summary of what they found:

  • There is a statistically significant positive correlation between (high) levels of education and propensity to vote Remain (excluding London and Scotland).
  • The over 65s – particularly in areas where UKIP polled well in the 2014 European Parliament elections – significantly voted Leave. So, 19 of the 20 “oldest” local authority areas voted Leave.  By contrast, 16 of the 20 “youngest” local authority areas voted Remain (Oxford and Cambridge are the youngest of these). The exceptions again are London and Scotland.
  •  Areas with the fewest recent immigrants from the EU that were most likely to vote Leave (for example, South Staffordshire and the West Midlands). Of the 20 local authority areas with the most EU migrants, 18 voted Remain.
  • Those local authority areas that have experienced a sudden increase in the number of EU migrants over the last 10 years tended to me more pro-Leave.

What conclusions can be drawn from this analysis? The authors conclude that the Brexit vote was determined by a high turnout by older voters, those with lower educational qualifications and in lower-skilled jobs. Essentially, those “left behind” in terms of economic transformation and whose values are at odds with those of a “liberal elite”. I conclude that these are all political factors that successive UK governments have ignored.

new_worldSo, what do I have to say about dead cats? I was listening to an excellent suite of programmes on BBC Radio 4 this week under the umbrella title of The New World. In the the first of these, Jo Fidgen examined the concept of post truth. In this programme, there were a few uncomfortable findings. It seems that we are all as likely as each other to disregard the truth particularly if we disagree (with it) and live with others who disagree. Most disturbing is the dead cat syndrome. Fidgen uses the example of a murder inquiry to make the point. An aristocrat has her jewelry stolen. The media report that the gardener had been arrested on suspicion of the theft. However, the gardener was released with no charge; but in a controlled experiment, on his release, a sample of people still believed that he was guilty, despite the no charge report. It was not until the media reported that the butler had then been arrested and charged that the people in the sample were prepared to believe that the dead cat gardener was in fact innocent. Truth is perhaps beyond political.

It’s racism, not the economy

 

A couple of days ago, I wrote a post flagging up the considered view of Professor John Gray on the potential motivation of voters in the USA and the election of Donald Trump. The underlying point of his “letter” is that economic factors rather than social factors account for the result.

This opinion is not shared by all, and for good reason. The ever-vigilent Mehdi Hasan – has looked at the available data on the demographic that voted for Trump. It may not be as clear cut as we had thought. In actual fact, he argues, those who have been left behind economically – despite the logic – were not those who voted Trump. Rather it was those who have done better than average under neo-liberalism who put him in the White House. And the disturbing conclusion is not that the election was decided on economic issues. It was pure racism.

Reflections on a future

wp-1480168450862.jpgAfter the Brexit vote I was grateful to a number of thinkers who had contributed to a week of short talks on BBC radio. I wrote about them here. The BBC revisited this format last week to help us to make sense of the US election. It was – as with Brexit – left to Professor John Gray to present a hard truth. I’ve taken the liberty of uploading it below.

The stark reality, for Gray, and I fear for the rest of us, is that (liberal) progressivism is not the norm in European human history. Autocracy and war are more representative of earlier times over the continent. Moreover, humanity may get into an autocratic and illiberal mindset – indeed, vote for it – because progressivism is itself partial. Essentially, not everyone benefits and progresses. And this comes back to bite society. The question for us is whether what we are experiencing in 2016 – and probably further into 2017 with elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany – a reversible phenomenon. John Gray, I sense, is not so sure.

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Das Ende der Welt

derspiegel_11_11_2016_coverRegular readers of this blog will already know my political philosophy. The election of Donald Trump as president of the United States of America is truly regressive. It represents not only an existential threat to liberals, people on the left and humanity more generally, but also a mortal threat to minorities, people of colour, LGBT, amongst others. In my lifetime, this is unprecedented. I grew up anticipating nuclear war – this was a time of Threads – in a bi-polar world of two ideologically-fuelled superpowers. But equally I grew up in a post-fascist world. This missing link, however, is about to be filled. Fascism has arrived.threadsmoviecover

The appeasement has started. With the noble exceptions in Europe of German Chancellor, Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, world leaders waited for a call from Trump for an all-important opportunity to cosy up to him. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had to wait quite a while on Thursday – she was 10th on his list – to receive a call only to find that Nigel Farage, UKIP leader, got a very early selfie-opportunity (below left) to discuss “freedom and winning” with Trump in his trump_farageeponymous tower.

The litany of regressive policy preferences for Trump is shocking. Trump is a climate change denier. To him, it is a hoax, despite all of the scientific evidence. Trump intends to pull out of the Paris Climate Change Accord that came into force on 4 November 2016 (but conveniently it was not ratified by the US Senate). This is an international agreement to hold global warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial levels. It is a problem for Trump because his isolationist stance and job creation objectives require energy self-sufficiency through fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas and shale oil). The science points to a climate climate-agreement-finalcatastrophe involving fire, drought, desertification, flood, mass extinctions and rising sea levels. One man – and his like-minded cabinet – can render the planet uninhabitable even without nuclear weapons. Talking of which…

…Trump, in his election campaign, also asked – and I paraphrase – what the point of nuclear weapons is if they cannot be used. And similar to his belief in allowing guns into schools  counter-intuitively to prevent mass shootings, he believes in nuclear proliferation for the same reason. At the very least we might finally confirm that  Israel is a nuclear power and maybe it is time to expedite North Korea’s nuclear aspirations? Back to a Threads scenario, I think.

enemiesThis  fascism has consciously crept into the UK. There is no better example than the Daily Mail’s front page after three lawlords interpreted British law – as they had been asked to do by a British citizen – and noted that, constitutionally, the Prime Minister does not have the power to invoke Article 50 (the leave the EU mechanism) without the approval of the sovereign parliament. This decision is being appealed by the Government and will be heard next month. But Brexiters – led by UKIP leadership candidate, Suzanne Evans given a platform on Today (Radio 4’s flagship news and current affairs programme) – that Judges are trying to impede “the will of the people”; namely leaving the EU. Nothing of the sort. But Evans believes, seemingly, that independent judges should be subject to control by the parliament (the very same one that the Government does not wantlego_pg to inform about Brexit conditions).

This headline has fortunately had quite an impact. Stop Funding Hate is pushing to get advertisers to abandon newspapers that propagate hate as a matter of course. These titles include also The Sun, The Daily Express and The Daily Telegraph. Last week Lego stopped advertising with The Daily Mail (see below). The current effort is to put pressure on the John Lewis Partnership, a supposedly ethical employee-owned high-street retailer, to do the same. Its  Christmas high budget mini film advertisements have become an anticipated festive season event in recent years. And they work. But some of the profit made goes into the pockets of these newspaper owners whose racist bile has undermined the fabric of British society’s values of tolerance, compassion and inclusiveness. John Lewis has so far responded with an anodyne statement (left) indicating that the company does not judge newspapers by their content. Fascist supportjohnlewis_tweeting, then? Customers need to know that. And we must stop normalising this thinking. They will come for us, too.

Finally, it is very difficult to enjoy comedy these days. Everything is beyond parody. Consistent throughout this US election campaign has been John Oliver. He tried hard to expose Trump’s fascism. His final show of 2016 screened on HBO on Sunday evening. Unfortunately it is not available in the UK to view. Some people have the means to Americanise their IP address. If you are one of these, I recommend. By the time the next series starts in 2017 he may have been deported (and HBO closed down).

Brexit watch – w/c 18 July 2016

David DavisWell, the Brexit Minister, David Davis (left) has been on overdrive this weekend. Whilst most of us have been overwhelmed by events in Turkey and Nice, Mr Davis has been busy making trade deals. Or at least feeding the Daily Express – that paragon of truth – some guff about the irrelevance of the EU single market.

I am also reassured that Mr Davis is the right man for the job. Having spent many years and much effort trying to get out of the EU, it is curious how little he understands about negotiating trade deals. He seemingly is of the opinion that it is possible to negotiate individual trade deals with EU members. He does really need to be briefed better before he starts negotiating.

What’s more, it is not even clear if it is his job. He’s minister for Brexit, that is not the same as Minister for Trade (and presumably agreements). That job goes to Liam Fox as Secretary of State for International Trade.

Oh, and then there is ARM, described correctly by ITV’s political correspondent Robert Peston, as Britain’s ONLY world-leading electronic company (sic). Mrs. May, in her Birmingham launch speech on 12 July, said that she would protect firms in strategic industries from foreign takeover. It did not take long for that pledge to be converted into Treasury orthodoxy; namely, that all firms have a price, strategic or otherwise.

The Founder does not think it is such a good thing!

And looking at this graphic above, it really is not good for the UK.

Brexit watch

OnoraO'NeillThe BBC is currently running a series of short talks by leading thinkers – real thinkers – on Brexit. I listened to two this morning as I traveled in to work. The Philosopher and Reith lecturer, Onora O’Neill (left), talks about the responsibility of media in a democracy and how the referendum debate was poorly served by the media. This was followed by John Gray (right), political philosopher, on the nature of opportunity arising from Brexit (however distant that may seem) and the legacyJohnGray of the European project. This one almost made me feel human for the first time since the referendum result. Worth a listen (click on name below).

Onora O’Neill

John Gray

Since writing this initial entry, three more speakers have made a point. Least tenable, as expected, was Roger Scruton; I have a lot of time for the constitution scholar, Peter Hennessy (I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him a few times); and the excellent Cambridge classicist, Mary Beard, who summarises the whole episode so well. If only we had listened to these experts, Mr Gove!

 

Pictures: BBC

Brexit watch

Euro_flag_yellow_lowOk, there is a lot happening at the moment. Today has been quite significant in terms of economic impacts of Brexit.

The Governor of the Bank of England, who seems to be our de facto Prime Minister running the country in the absence of anyone else, has reported that the economy has started to respond to Brexit.

The low value of the Pound Sterling – the UK currency – makes imports expensive. Prices will go up and hence inflation. Inflation coupled with low growth = stagflation. Not good.

Whilst the FTSE 100 index has increased in value, this can be explained by the fact that most of these firms are international and trade globally. The more pertinent 250 index, which tracks the value of more domestic-focused firms, is much less healthy.

Three property funds have suspended trading on UK property – basically, too many investors wanting to redeeem investments in anticipation of a property crash (see above link).