Thursday, June 08, 2017

Polling day Blues

This election has been a bit like the Boer War. On paper, it should be bloody easy for the Tories (playing the British): they've got the men, they've got the ships (kinda) and, most importantly, they've got the money too. Jeremy Corbyn's rag-tag band of irregulars should be an absolute pushover.


And, in the end, the Tories are going to win. Steamrollering their way to an inelegant victory. But, God, it's been unedifying stuff.


For a party led by actual Marxists who are literally and verifiably terrorist sympathisers, Labour have proved extremely hard to lay a glove on. My guess here is that the Labour leadership is so very bad that even a dry recitation of their positions on economics, defence and terrorism sounds like a hysterical McCarthyite denunciation. Add to that an impressively disingenuous Labour campaign and you end up with the person accurately describing the Labour leader's views being the bad guy, and the kindly twinkly-eyed old useful idiot looking like everyone's favourite granddad.


Add to that the incredible, apparently unkillable tribalism of the left, and you end up with a Labour party that is almost certainly going to win more votes than it did last time round. Which is not what I thought would happen, to say the least.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

More bloody Brexit

I'm a bit confused by this Buzzfeed splash.
The UK will have to stay under the jurisdiction of European courts and in the customs union for the duration of any interim arrangement if it wants to transitionally retain access to the European Union’s trade agreements, senior EU sources have told BuzzFeed News.

Sources suggest the British government is exploring the option of asking to remain a participant in dozens of EU free trade agreements (FTAs), such as the recently ratified deal with Canada (CETA), as part of a transitional plan it wants to have in place for when it formally leaves the EU in 2019 – whereupon it will attempt to negotiate its own trade agreements with many of the countries involved.
OK. So rather than allow all FTAs with third party nations to lapse when the UK leaves the EU, the proposal is that the UK remain parties as if they were still an EU member state until the treaties can be re-negotiated. That makes a good deal of sense by preventing the cliff-edge scenario much beloved by people who confidently anticipate disaster.


So what are the EU saying?

But senior European officials have told BuzzFeed News that continued access to the EU’s FTAs would require Britain to transitionally stay in the customs union – and this would restrict the UK’s ability to conclude its own FTAs. Britain would also need to remain under the jurisdiction of EU courts as part of such interim arrangements.



There's an element of Mandy Rice-Davies about this, and the unnamed officials rather give the game away by saying “The UK cannot walk away with ‘better than membership terms’ even on an interim basis.” But take a step back, and I'm not sure the EU position makes much sense. As they stand, the FTAs are between the EU and a third party state (the actual list of active FTAs is pretty unimpressive). Let's take South Korea as a big example.

Post Brexit, the UK's membership of the EU/South Korea FTA would automatically lapse. So the UK says to South Korea, "while we negotiate a new bi-lateral treaty, please could you agree to treat the UK as if she were still an EU member, and thus party to the existing treaty?" Now, South Korea might not agree to this (that's a diplomatic issue), but the EU doesn't have a say. Even though it's shadowing an EU treaty, to all intents and purposes this would be a new transitional bi-lateral agreement. If the EU isn't a party to it, which it wouldn't be, then they wouldn't have the standing to insist that the UK remains inside the Customs Area.

I assume I'm missing something here, but it looks very much as if the EU is huffing and puffing without much behind it.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Short-circuiting Brexit

God but the endless peregrinations and peseverations about Brexit are trying. Yes, we know that the Government isn't offering a running commentary. Yes, we know that the EU is going to be extra extra hard on the UK to punish us for leaving. Yes yes, all Tory MPs are parochial thickies who've never been east of Dover. Christ. And there's going to be months and months more of this, regardless of the result of the Supreme Court litigation (although that'll be worth it for seeing how Mance and Sumption disagree with each other).


So let's just cut to the chase. Here's what the shape of the eventual deal will be (and feel free to call me an idiot again in 2019 for getting them all wrong, when we've been flung into outer darkness).


If there's one thing we're definitely sick of hearing it is that you can't be a member of the single market without accepting freedom of movement of people. Fine. So we won't be a member of the single market. That was pretty bloody obvious on the morning of the 24th. So a deal will be cut:


Free trade in goods;
Reduced UK budget contributions (notionally towards maintaining common standards regulation);
Access to financial markets governed by Solvency II style regulatory equivalence;
Continued close military & intelligence co-operation;
Free movement of workers.


That last one? Well, the Treaty of Rome set out the four fundamental freedoms that underpin the EU. Everyone (approximately) now sees the first of these as the "free movement of persons". The actual text of the Treaty, however, refers to the free movement of "workers" and grants the freedom of movement specifically to accept "offers of employment actually made". A reasonable compromise, therefore, would be for the UK to allow immigration into the UK of any EU citizen who has been offered a job in the UK.


Anyway, that's what should happen. And I think we all know by now how good I am at making these predictions.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gotterdammerung

Well. I think it's fair to say that, from the perspective of a socially liberal, metropolitan public school Conservative in 2016, political matters have developed not necessarily to our advantage. Having had for a decade a leader of the Conservative Party who had the same sort of childhood, went to the same sort of school, and had the same sort of instincts as I did, it's hard to adjust to the new reality where everything from my accent to my social sogginess is suddenly deeply unfashionable.


It is also quite hard to adjust to the fact that everything I thought I understood or knew about politics has turned out not to be true (although my doom-laden predictions for Labour seem to be holding up reasonably well). I never thought that Trump would even get the Republican nomination, let alone the Presidency. The world seems to be coming as a bit of a surprise at present.


Anyway, it's been hard to think of anything to say from my new perspective as an outsider that wasn't either trite or depressing. I have no idea what Theresa May thinks about anything. I no longer have any confidence in my own views of what will happen. And I find the whole tone of current political debate depressing beyond words. Ho hum.


I'm therefore going to channel the spirit of Marechal Foch: "My centre is giving way, my right retreating. Situation excellent, I am attacking."



Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Labour meltdown

In my last post I put an optimistic spin on what Labour might be able to do in response to Brexit, and I still wasn't desperately positive. But there's a compelling case that it could be much, much worse.

I started my Labour analysis by assuming that the coup to remove Corbyn would be successful. That in itself throws up all sorts of problems, but it's indescribably worse if the coup is unsuccessful. Here's a version of what might happen next:

The motion of no confidence (or whatever the technical term is for the vote today) is passed easily. Corbyn refuses to resign. The PLP get 50 or more MP/MEPs to nominate a single challenger (presumably Watson or Eagle) and Corbyn announces that he will contest the election, and that NEC rules mean he is automatically on the ballot.

The PLP don't agree with that, but the NEC (which is marginally pro-Corbynish) uphold Corbyn's view in the face of massive protests by the membership. Corbyn wins the vote by a reduced margin and is returned as leader.

What the actual fuck do Labour do next? Answers on a postcard please.

Some predictions

Having deliberately not written about the Referendum before it happened, because I found almost all the commentary and discourse around it so damn depressing, I am going to stick my neck out about what's going to happen next.

Tories

I think it's hard to see an outcome where Boris does not get onto the members' ballot. So far the only other declared Leaver running is Liam Fox (the Disgraced Liam Fox, as he's formally known), and I can't see him being the final choice for members. If Boris does make it, he'll almost certainly be elected. I'm conflicted about this. I've always liked Boris, and he is (I thought) on exactly the open, liberal, non-ideological wing of the Tories that hits my buttons. Against that, of course, he is a manipulative, treacherous, lying weasel. So, conflicted.

Anyway, whether it's Boris or Theresa May I think the Tory strategy is pretty much the same. Campaign for leader on a 'compromise' approach whereby details of access to the single market vs. free movement will be negotiated, but the ultimate endpoint is some form of Euro-fudge. Call a General Election for, say, 13 October and set out negotiating details (such as they are) in the manifesto. Win the election and then hope for the best.

Labour

Hoo boy. I'm a lot less clear about what Labour will do next, because I'm not even sure there will be any such thing in a month or so. Let's be optimistic first of all. Let's assume the coup against Corbyn works, he is removed and either Tom Watson or Angela Eagle take over without an election. The PLP should not then be  a problem, but there will be a big disconnect with the members. Assuming that can be overcome, Labour then need to come up with a policy on Europe.

But Labour are in more of a bind than the Tories here. They really can't argue for the full withdrawal/pull up the drawbridge option, because none of them agree with it. But if they don't they expose their northern seats to an obvious attack from UKIP that Labour won't listen to their own voters and members (as already shown by dethroning the High Sparrow). That's such a potent attack line that I can see Labour struggling to defend it. So maybe they have to argue for a more extreme vision. But then, that puts them into conflict with their urban professional vote (that, again, will have been enraged by deCorbynisation). Not a pretty picture.

UKIP

Easy peasy. "Betrayal! Treachery! You, the ordinary decent people of Britain, voted to leave. And what do these Quisling politicians do? They try and weasel in by the back door. Vote UKIP for a proper leave." Nasty, but it's going to be bloody effective.

Liberal Democrats

The first good news for the Lib Dems since 2010. Offer a platform of a second referendum, with a view to remaining in the EU. Impractical and highly unlikely ever to be achieved, but that's what Liberal Democrat political positions have always been. Throw in a couple of contentious bar charts and we're back in business lads! Particularly effective if Labour opt to shore up the north and abandon the cities.

Scotland

Good for the SNP too, but they have to be careful not to overplay their hand. The temptation will be (as Sturgeon showed immediately) to say that Brexit is a material change in circumstances and warrants a second referendum. But (despite the instant opinion polls) I'm not sure that this is a slam dunk. In 2014, Scotland voted to remain when independence was sold as being virtually zero-impact (same currency, same head of state, both members of the EU etc) and when oil was US$100pb. Independence now would mean joining the Euro and setting up a customs barrier at Berwick when oil is US$45pb. If the SNP lose a second referendum that really is it for a generation.

And there we are. It's Labour's future that looks bleakest, but there;s plenty of scope for bleakness all round.

Brexit blues

Anything happen while I was away?

For what it's worth, I was a Remainer. This was because although I've never been a particular fan of the EU, and would probably not vote to join it if we were not already members, I thought whatever benfits might result were not worth the economic, political and diplomatic pain and trauma of unraveling a 40 year relationship. Still, we are where we are now and there's little point in rehashing all that. The question is, where are we?

One of the biggest deficiencies of the Leave campaign was a persistent failure to spell out exactly what "Leave" meant. Albanian models, Canadian models, Norwegian models, Serbian models - all of them were raised, but none of them were defended in any depth. So despite the apparent clarity of the question, the answer doesn't actually get us very far.

By (very sensibly) declining to invoke Article 50 on the morning of the result, David Cameron has ensured that we now have a bit more time to thrash out what answer we are looking for. This really is something you would have expected the Leave campaign to be on top of but there we are.

There is, in fact, a perfectly good reason the Leave campaign ran on vagueness. The Leave vote was, effectively, won on the back of votes from people who feel left behind by globalisation and want much less immigration. The UKIP campaign deliberately sought these votes out. Many if not most of the Tory leavers, by contrast, stand for an open economy, open borders, and a sort of turbo-charged liberalism. Hey, me too but if this had been the tenor of the Leave campaign they'd have been lucky to get 15-20%. So what they did was hold their nose and pander to the anti-immigration ticket while presumably secretly planning to ignore it if they won. I don't think this shows Boris, Gove et al in a particularly good light.

What should we do? Fucked if I know, frankly. But the people have spoken, and now it's up to our politicians to try and parse their answer into an outcome that is as un-disastrous as possible. That's going to have pretty serious implications for all the main parties - without even considering the fact that at least two of them are going to be having leadership elections.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Peak Guardian

I was trying to think of a clever way to introduce this, by Gary Younge, on Gerry Adams's use of the word "nigger" on Twitter. But I can't.
To judge Adams, who has a life’s work of internationalism and antiracist solidarity, by a single tweet borders on the grotesque. People should be assessed on the body of their work, not just on a single off-colour statement. That doesn’t mean the statement should be ignored. But to fetishise it above a person’s record does a disservice not just to the person but to the issue.
"The body of their work". Nope, words fail.

Danny Finkelstein reminds me (in a piece that references an article that was the subject of almost the first Reptile blogpost all those years ago) that Michael Gove's nickname for the Guardian was the Prada-Meinhof Gang. It is, I suppose, comforting to see that the paper hasn't lost its terrorist sympathies despite Seumas's absence.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Tom Hollandest

Tom Hollander is the actual best.
When I met Yoko Ono, it was quite different: I spoke for about 15 minutes while she didn’t say one word in return. Not one word. I’d been sat next to her at dinner because the person doing the placement was drunk. There was nowhere for her to turn. Except to her neighbour, which she did eventually, after I’d been reduced to, ‘That’s a really nice shirt you’re wearing, where did you get it?’ Admittedly my chat had become a bit stilted, because in my head a voice was screaming ‘Why won’t you talk to me you fucking snotty cow you think you’re so special when the only reason anyone’s even heard of you is because you broke up not only the greatest band the world has ever known but also one of the few things this country has had to be proud of since we defeated the Nazis.’
But you can’t say that sort of thing, so instead I went quiet.