The 48 Letters And May’s Deal

The 48 Letters And May’s Deal

Currently, everyone is watching and waiting to see if the magic 48 letters required to bring about May’s downfall will emerge. I could be proved wrong, but my hunch is that they won’t come, and, moreover, as a Brexiteer, I hope they don’t. The numbers don’t add up.

First we need to understand the maths. 48 votes is what is required to trigger a vote of no-confidence. However, Then that vote is held, and if May gets a majority in that vote, then not only does she remain in post, but she is immune from further attack for 12 months.

Let’s do the maths. There are 315 Tory MPs.

Which means, following on from the 48 no-confidence letters needed to trigger a vote, the rebels would then need to win 158 votes in the subsequent vote to trigger a leadership contest.

For context, at the time of the 2016 referendum, there were 317 Tory MPs, 141 backed “leave” and 176 backed “remain”

The numbers have shifted a little with the 2017 general election, but not by much. Broadly speaking, the Brexiteer rebels would need somewhere around 17 “Rebel remainers” to go with them on the no confidence vote. That is, people who backed remain in 2016, but would be prepared to go with a  no confidence vote against the Prime Minster now. That’s a big ask. Only a handful of MPs who voted remain have seemed to show a genuine shift towards the leave camp since, and only in soft terms.

Moreover, a lot of the remainers, are apt to think that maybe May should be given a shot at getting her deal through parliament.

This is a really key point to remember about what it means to have “confidence” in a leader. For most Conservative MPs, it doesn’t mean “confidence in the ability to lead the country”. Oh no. It simply means “Confidence in the ability to lead the Conservative party and retain power”.

Now, as such, no matter how shockingly bad for the country May’s deal might be, in a sense, she will have done well as a leader if she gets her deal through the commons. In the world of politicians, getting your bill through the house means you’ve done a great job, even if the bill is shockingly bad legislation.

Of course, there are hardcore remainers who will hate the deal much like hardcore Brexiteers do, but I suspect the majority of soft-remainer Tory MPs just want this whole thing to go away now. They just want the deal done.

As such, I think it highly unlikely there is much appetite amongst the Tory party for kicking May out unless the deal flops in the commons. So if the 48 letters come in before the commons vote on the deal, I think May will win the subsequent confidence vote.

That would mean she would be in her one year immunity period if the deal then subsequently flops in the commons. This would be a pretty bizarre situation. At that point she would find herself floundering towards either “no deal” or having to get some kind of extension on Article 50, having pegged herself to her deal. One would like to think she’d resign in such a position, but she’d be immune from being kicked out of office, so, arguably, why would she?

So what will happen to the vote in the Commons?

Well, it needs 326 out of the 650 votes available to pass.

The Tories have 315 seats.

If there really are 158 people prepared to “no-confidence” vote Teresa May now, then  you’d assume they are all going to vote against the deal.

That would leave May 169 votes short. It seems unlikely the DUP would be getting on board. She’d be looking for some support from the 257 labour MPs, the 35 SNP or the 12 Lib Dems to get her 169 extra.

That seems an awfully big ask, as most of those will be ardent remainers. Unless she can convince them that the only option is vote for her deal or crash out with no deal.

For my money, that basically depends on May pushing approval of the deal as late as possible. The more “last minute” the deal goes through the house, the more real the fear of “No deal” looks, and the more likely remainers are to feel they have to get behind it. Thus, I think time is on May’s side. The more time left between the vote and Brexit date, the more likely MPs are to feel there is still time to play around if they vote the deal down.

However, there is of course, a converse argument from the hard line remainers, which is they want the deal voted down early to give the maximum time to get confidence behind a “peoples vote” after the deal falls on its face.

In any event, if the deal fails to pass through, then May will look very vulnerable indeed. That would seem the optimum time to get the letters in and trigger a leadership contest.

The numbers would seem to suggest that if there is really enough support for the rebels to win a “no confidence” vote, then there is probably enough support to defeat The bill in the House of Commons, and that would be much more advantageous to the hard line Brexiteers in the subsequent leadership contest. They need to be putting up a “No Dealer” as leader at the exact moment when No deal is really staring us right in the face. If they do it while, some are still clinging to the idea of a deal, then the “”No deal brexiteer” will lose the leadership contest.

The key thing they have to gamble on is that the Labour, SNP and Lib Dem MPs will take the gamble of voting against the deal – hoping they can still somehow engineer a way of remaining in the EU. Ironically, that’s the best chance of the deal flopping, which is also the best chance for the Brexiteers to strike against May.

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Dishonesty, Cowardice and Arrogance. The Toxic political poison of half a century that has led us to today.

Dishonesty, Cowardice and Arrogance. The Toxic political poison of half a century that has led us to today.

The last few days mark the point when it became crystal clear how badly the Brexit process is going. The reason? Dishonesty. Decade after decade of ingrained dishonesty, to the point that politics basically doesn’t know how to do anything else. Politicians on all sides are now faced with the shocking possibility of having to tell the truth – and simply don’t know what to do.

Actually, it’s more than just dishonesty. It’s a special toxic combination of dishonesty, accompanied by arrogance, and, somewhat paradoxically, cowardice, which seems endemic amongst politicians. This triad of unpleasant attributes so often accompany each other in politics, that there should be a special word for it, but I don’t know of one. I therefore refer to these three ingredients in combination as “The Toxic Political Poison” . I’ll shorten it to TPP, throughout this article.

The dishonesty is easy to spot: Over the last half century, it has become simply a joke “How can you tell a politician is lying? His lips are moving.” The problem is, it simply has become true on all sides. This isn’t a left or right issue. It’s not about Labour, or the Tories, or UKIP. It’s about politics. Politicians lie – at least in the sense of not saying what they really think as a matter of course. Their words naviagate a safe space between not wishing to offend the electorate, and not wishing to step out of line with party policy.

And there we see the cowardice. Politicians are basically terrified of being unpopular, either with the electorate (in case they don’t get re-elected) or, with the higher powers of their party, for fear they will not climb the greasy pole towards higher office.

Which is where the arrogance comes in: The desire for greater personal power. And.  often, politicians seem to think that if they lie now to get what they want, it doesn’t matter if it gets found out at a later date, because, by then, everyone will have become convinced that they were right anyway. Or maybe they think people are just too stupid to remember the lie provided it doesn’t come to light until some years down the line.

On no issue has this been more true than the European project. An endless stream of lies and half-truths back to the early 1970s. Each successive generation of politicians happy to lie, and put off “the problem” until tomorrow…because of this toxic mix of dishonesty, cowardice and arrogance – this Toxic Political Poison.

Let’s walk through that timeline to see what I mean:

1973 – Joining the EEC

We were taken into the “European Economic Community” in 1973 without a referendum at all. A fact which is often forgotten. The referendum was not held till 1975.

This was dishonest. At the time, the way this was justified was that the EEC membership represented just another trade deal basically and did not need to be referred to the people. It wasn’t a matter of great constitutional significance requiring a popular vote. Heath got the EEC vote through by cobbling together a enough votes between himself and labour rebels to get his vote through.

Even at the time of it’s instigation in 1973, Ted Heath knew a referendum at some point would be inevitable, but here’s the point: He banked on the fact that, once we were “in” people wouldn’t bother to vote “out”.

This was a classic example of TPP at work. It was dishonest to walk the UK into the EEC without a pre-approval by referendum. It was also obviously cowardly. He didn’t wish to face the possibility of losing a referendum. If he were sure he would win it, I’m sure he would have called it first. It was also clearly, in a sense arrogant, because Heath believed that, once in, people would see that we were right to join, so why risk the “stupid” people messing that up?

The referendum was held in 1975. An “overwhelming” 67% voted “yes” to remaining in the EEC. Notice however that only 64% turned out to vote, compared to the 72% of the 2016 referendum. This means only around 43% of people eligible to vote ever actually voted in favour of the EEC. This fell to just 35% in the 2016 referendum voting to remain. Meanwhile, for leave, in 1975 just 21% of people eligible voted to leave the EEC, versus 37% of the total electorate voting to leave the EU in 2016.

In other words an 8% drop in desire to stay of the total electorate and a huge 16% rise in desire to leave between the 1973 and 2016 referendum. Now personally, I think those are relatively meaningless figures, but again, TPP has been at work on the referendum result. Many remainers have dishonestly claimed that “only 37% of people ever voted to leave the EU”, while ignoring that being in the EU has never enjoyed an absolute majority in polling. It’s also arrogant, because it presumes to know what people who don’t want would vote if they did.

Nevertheless, Heath’s use of TPP worked well for him. He got the referendum result he wanted and we marched forward. On a TPP-fueled assumption that the people were happy this state of affairs.

1992 – Maastricht Treaty

Next,we  go all the way to Maastricht in 1992. This, in many ways was the critical moment. At this point the pretense that the EEC was just a trade deal was pretty much cast off. The EEC officially became “The European Union”.  We were members of it. We handed powers to it. It is frankly incredible in retrospect that this happened without a referendum in my view. Some how, the politicians of the day, John Major in particular, managed to utilise TPP to pass this off as a mere restructuring, which the ordinary British man in the street need not bother himself with. Dishonesty, cowardice and arrogance all in play again.

It is no wonder that John Major has so strongly supported “remain”. Not only is a leave vote, in many ways, a 20-year delayed referendum on Maastricht, but, if it comes to light that we now can’t leave, it will have been Major’s signing up Maastricht agreement which put us in that scenario. He will be responsible for taking an irreversible step in British politics, something which is generally understood to be unconstitutional, since “No parliament shall bind the next”. Of course, no one would ever know this was the case, unless they came to try and reverse Maastricht. TPP was at work again – in the fact that Major  and his political associates of that time presumably assumed no one ever would have the opportunity to do so.

One can only imagine Major’s horror at the announcement of the referendum if he realised what it might unmask. Something akin to a serial-killer realising that building works are going on, on land where 20 years previously they hid bodies. This seems to me very much what is going on with Brexit: We are seeing decades of consecutive weak and cowardly political capitulations to Europe being exhumed from places where politicians of the time thought them to be deeply buried.

It’s important to realise the important point of order here: If a politician is to sign a treaty which permanently and irreversibly gives away things which were previously under sovereign control, a) They really ought not to do that wherever possible and b) if they do, they surely must make that explicitly clear to the electorate, and give the electorate of the day a say on the matter by referendum. It is not for a single politician or even a single parliament to decide this kind of matter.

1998 – Good Friday Agreement

Here is a case of another “buried body” which the current Brexit debate has dug up. Repeatedly, in the Brexit negotiations, the duty of Britain to ensure there is No hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic has come up.

The reason this has been an issue is because the UK made this undertaking in the Good Friday Agreement. Essentially, the GFA has tied one hand behind our backs in EU negotiations and the EU have exploited this to maximal value. The UK has repeatedly promised unilaterally to put no hard border in Northern Ireland, but the EU has refused to do the same. However, the GFA makes it incumbent upon the UK to ensure there is no hard border even if it’s the EU putting it here, not us). So the GFA makes us “responsible” for an EU border.

Now, the politics of Ireland are extremely complex, and I do not wish to go to deep into them here, but to note that when Tony Blair signed up for this in 1999 this should have been seen as a very major concession with implications for all future British foreign policy in perpetuity. Essentially, it committed the UK never having a hard border in any part unless it abandoned Northern Ireland. (Since to have a hard border around part of the UK and not another would be clearly a nonsense). That’s an enormously big deal, if you consider that we have no idea what the geopolitical ramifications of that over the next 50 to 100 years might be.

An agreement which legally obliges us to not defend a border indefinitely sounds, really very much like the sort of agreement clause that a defeated party would sign up to – rather than the sort of agreement one might have from a mutually agreed peace.

A referendum was, in fact, held amongst the people of Northern Ireland and Eire. It’s notable that the south voted markedly more in favour than the north. (94% vs 71%). Given it was Northern Ireland that bore the brunt of violence during the troubles, what does tell us about the nature of the treaty? However, no referendum was held in the mainland UK. Yet this clearly, as we now see, has profound implications for the constitution of the UK.

However, I suspect that Tony Blair was extremely keen to be the man who brought peace to Ireland. For good reasons? possibly. Possibly also out of arrogance? I strongly suspect so.

A final point here is to note just how cynical the EU’s exploitation of the Northern Ireland question is in the negotiations. We know what the subtext is here: If there’s a hard border, the GFA falls, if the GFA falls, there might be guns and bombs and bullets flying in Ireland again. That’s the real fear here. That’s the rarely openly mentioned reason why the Ireland question is “difficult”. However, the failure for reasons of sensitivity to state that explicitly mean we fail to really get the full force of the EU’s negotiation position one Irish border question: The EU are using the threat of violence via a proxy army to apply political leverage. Men in balaclavas with bombs are, ultimately, the muscle behind the EU’s negotiating position in this question. That’s despicable.  That’s also an insight into the way the EU really thinks and works in my view.

2008 – Lisbon Treaty 

The Lisbon treaty started out life as the “EU constitution”. This was  put to several nations of the EU in referendums, and was largely rejected by the people. Not so in the UK. With cosmetic changes, it re-appeared as “The Lisbon Treaty”, now apparently, no longer needing referendum approval and was approved without the explicit consent of the British people. And thus was passed into UK law by a Labour government. In 2009 David Cameron recognised this as a handing away of power, yet once he had power in 2010, and taken a good dose of “TPP” along the way, he never actually tried to revoke the power given away at Lisbon.

2015 – The Manifesto Pledge For A Referendum

Here is a clear example of  TPP at work. David Cameron never wanted an In-Out EU referendum as we can see here in 2012 Yet, in the manifesto for the 2015 General Election he pledged one. All the polling suggested that UKIP were a major risk to the Tories holding onto power.

By offering an In/Out vote on the European Union, Cameron split the UKIP vote. (even so UKIP polled 3.8 million votes). Cameron’s aim was to achieve enough seats to re-enter a coalition government with the Lib Dems, an arrangement which had worked really rather well for the Tories for the previous 5  years, as it allowed Cameron to silence the right wing of his party, on the grounds he needed to keep his Lib Dem colleagues happy.

There is little doubt in my mind, that the referendum manifesto pledge was supposed to skim off enough potential UKIP votes to keep the Tories in a coalition with the Lib Dems, and then would have been dumped in the subsequent coalition agreement.  It also allowed him to appear “tough on Europe” to his party right-wing.

I think Cameron saw the incredible power of the coalition agreement that he and Nick Clegg came up with in 2010. Effectively, the leaders of the two parties could go into a room the day after an election, tear up their manifestos they had just been elected on, swig down a big dose of TPP, and then walk out with a new agreement to do whatever they wanted. and make their parties and the electorate take it. This happened by accident in 2010, but I believe it was entirely the plan in 2015. Dishonest? Absolutely – it meant making manifesto pledges with no intention of keeping them. Arrogant? Clearly – it allowed for near total control of policy. Cowardly? Again – clearly. Rather than actually telling the electorate what you planned to do, you hide it from them, for fear they might reject you.

This time it backfired – the election result ended up being a small conservative majority, and suddenly Cameron was left with a manifesto pledge he previously had no intention of keeping.

2016 – The Referendum Campaign

Cameron’s referendum campaign was classic Toxic Political Poison.

Dishonesty in bucketloads. The ludicrous project fear claims. Over and again, a reliance on argument from authority – arrogance.

As for cowardly? There were two distinctly cowardly elements in my view. First, having failed to achieve a meaningful concession from the EU, it was, in my view, Cameron’s duty to come back and lead the campaign to leave. If you call a referendum, if you stir hornets nest, you have a duty, in my view to support the “change” position and lead that forward. Or, at the very least, he should have stepped aside ahead of the referendum for someone who was willing to lead a Leave Campaign to take the helm.

Otherwise, what you end up doing is abusing the fact that you happen to hold the reins of power to disadvantage the other side in the referendum. Cameron repeatedly argued that “voting leave was a step in the dark”. Well, who’s fault was that? Clearly no one not actually holding the reins of power could really put in place any meaningful “leave” plan, so this was an abuse of power  to advantage the “remain” side in the referendum.

Which is problematic, because remember it was supposed to be Cameron who wanted the referendum. Surely, if he were sincere and decent and honest, he would have wanted to do all he could to ensure a level playing field in the referendum he himself called?

The fact is, having called the referendum, he then tried as hard as possible to pull the strings of power to unfairly advantage the “remain” camp, including attempting to stop Purdah – which failed, and using millions of pounds of government money, outside of the conventional campaign spending limits, to send a leaflet to every household in the country.

Again, this seems both arrogant and cowardly.

And if you disagree with me on the last point, I doubt there is anyone who disagrees with my second point, which is this: Cameron’s resignation the day after the referendum was surely one of the most cowardly things ever seen in politics? To lead the country off a cliff entirely of his own making and walk away was truly shocking.

2016 – Theresa May’s accession

It might have made sense were it to allow a brexiteer to take the helm, but instead it was to allow the bland and ineffectual Theresa May to take the helm, hardly anyone’s idea of an inspiring leader anyway, but certainly not when she herself had backed remain.

Let us remind ourselves that she got the post by virtue of every other candidate pulling out. I’m fairly confident, that had a genuine leadership contest gone ahead and been put to the grass roots members, a Brexiteer would have taken the helm, but the party inner guard were not about to let that happen. Spinelessness at the critical moment from those who should have stepped up, and deviousness meant May took the PM role unopposed.

The arrogance for her to stand, the dishonesty of claiming she somehow could legitimately be the flag-bearer of brexit while having not a single positive word to say about it, and the cowardice of others in the Tory party to stop it led to her premiership.

I think it’s now abundantly clear that a leader who’s only approach to brexit has been some vague idea of limiting immigration while trying to change as little as possible about anything else was never going to come back from Brussels with a half-decent deal.

2017 – General Election

The election itself shoud have been unnecessary.  in retrospect, seeing the deal that Theresa May now has, it becomes clear why she felt she needed to reshuffle her deck by calling an election – She needed to a house stacked much fuller with “Maybots” who would vote through her awful deal, because although had a majority, she would never see off the Brexit rebels.

Nevertheless, the election was called, and this time it was Jeremy Corbyn who was the chief culprit where The Toxic Political Poison was concerned. The Labour Party ran on an explicitly “Pro-Brexit” manifesto, yet, nearly every remainer I know voted for them.

Somehow, Corbyn’s labour managed to sublimate to the British people that they were actually the “remainer” party – even though the manifesto said otherwise. This was so spectacularly duplicitous. Much like Corbyn’s own role in the 2016 referendum. A life long euroskeptic, at the one time it really mattered, he bottled backing “leave” in order to maintain credibility in his party. This was clearly dishonest, and clearly cowardly.

It left him, following the leave result, powerless to influence at the precise moment, had he backed the Leave campaign, he could have been ready to conquer all before him.

2018 – Where we are now

The sum total of all of this is as follows:

Over decades, politicians have backed us into a corner with Europe, that, it seems increasingly clear we can’t get out of.

Or at least, we won’t get out of it without being bold, decisive and brave. Which amounts to the same thing, because the number of MPs who have the qualities it would take are so few and far between, there isn’t enough to make a cabinet.

Some people think that “if only” we had, perhaps a Jacob Rees-Mogg at the helm, he could get the job done. While I admire much about JRM, I think this fails to realise that were JRM in number 10 he would be stabbed in the back so fast, and so repeatedly by so many remain-backing MPs I doubt, at this point it would make much difference.

The Trilemma we are faced with is problematic because it really doesn’t seem that any option allows for politicians to resort to their favourite three virtues of dishonesty, arrogance and cowardice.

  1. We could leave on no deal – I just cannot see any politician who would be brave enough to do this. Cowardice is such a strong feature of British politicians, and there would be significant harms from no-deal, and no politician is going to be brave enough to say “This is going to hurt – but it’s the right thing to do..so let’s do it”
  2. We could leave on May’s deal – This deal locks us into a potentially perpetual customs union which we can only escape with the EU’s say so. This seems such an obvious problem, that I just can’t see how it can get over the line in the commons, although it does kick the can two years down the road, which may be just cowardly enough for it to have some merit for some MPs.
  3. We could remain in the EU – This is, of course, the preferred option of Theresa May and most other politicians and always has been. The problem is that it would require enormous bravery for anyone to actually stand up and announce they were simply turning the ship around. I would dislike intensely any politician that did this, but I would at least, admire their bravery if they did so.

It does seem to me another referendum is an escape from this. A second referendum allows the politicians to continue to feed on their diet of Toxic Political Poison.

If remain were to win a second referendum – every single politician would breath a sigh of relief. They would have been let off the hook .All those weak decisions they took, which gave away power to Europe to such a frightening degree could be safely buried again. They will be quiet and sheepish initially, but after a while, they could even start to say things like “Of course, we could have left the EU if we wanted to! But the people decided not to! We had a referendum! it was the people’s vote!”

And if leave did win again, but supposing it was a vote for “No deal”, any catastrophic disaster could simply be blamed on the people. The fact that weak, spineless politicians failed to negotiated a good deal, because of decades of other weak spineless politicians weakening our negotiating position could simply be ignored.

This, in conclusion is what we are now faced with. The dead end that decades of non-leadership eventually leads to. The point where putting off the difficult decision until tomorrow can no longer work – “tomorrow” has arrived. it’s not easy to see how there is any kind of easy way out from this point.

If Maastricht and Lison had been put to referendums, or better still ,rejected in their current forms, we would not be where we are today. Weak and arrogant leaders meant they were not, and now we are paying the price.

So what seems the likely way forward from here?

At this point I am skeptical of the ability of May’s deal to get through parliament, but I rather suspect there are many politicians who just so want this brexit thing to be over that they will simply back it in any case, so I wouldn’t completely rule it out.

If the deal passes then we exit on the May-deal. We are then locked into an agreement which we can only exit with the EU’s permission. This really does give them every advantage in the future trade deal. It is inconceivable to me that we could get anything like a good deal from the starting point of being locked into a terrible transition deal which we can only escape with the EU’s permission.

There would of course, be another exit from it: We could simply make an article 49 application to rejoin the EU. Given we would be held in in total regulatory alignment this would be extremely easy to bring about. We would probably have to take the Euro,  and possibly Schengen. and lose our rebate, but in return we would “Gain” MEPs and a say in the running of the EU! I strongly suspect this is the long term game plan here.

If the deal fails to pass and we are suddenly staring no-deal in the face, a lot will depend on whether the brexiteers have already played the leadership-contest joker at that point.

If they haven’t they will – and we might get a No-deal Brexit prime minister. A Churchill to come along after the May-Chamberlain.

If we have a leadership contest before the vote, I suspect May will win it, or possibly she could even win a leadership contest after a failed vote. – in either of these circumstances, I’d expect a hastily arranged “people’s vote” between No-deal and remain, which will stacked up in every way conceivably possible to ensure a remain win.

 

 

Libertarianism And Freakshakes

Libertarianism And Freakshakes

“That’s it. Things have gone too far. Time to become a libertarian” declared one of my more left-leaning friends on social media in response to an article from the BBC about anti-sugar pressure groups advocating for banning freakshakes from restaurant menus.

I doubt my friend will be burning his Jeremy Corbyn fan-club membership card anytime soon, but it raises an interesting point, which is that I rather suspect that most people who are “left-leaning” have some personal breaking point at which state over-reach becomes problematic to them.

For each person, that’s going to be different. If you’re not a smoker, but enjoy a glass of wine, you may not care, or even applaud the state for banning or severely restricting access to cigarettes, but, suddenly find the shoe is on the other foot when the state decide to limit your access to to a decent bottle of Chablis. Maybe, for someone, somewhere, the breaking point actually is the state deciding you can’t have access to an Oreo and double-cream milk shake with fudge.

This is a problem for socialism, because the standard response for any failure of socialist policy is that it simply wasn’t socialist enough. The thing is, that this is clearly a principle which could be extended ad absurdum. Until we live in a society in which a surgeon earns exactly the same as a street cleaner and they live in exactly the same house, exactly the same distance from the same local amenities, it’s always going to be possible, at least in theory to point at some form of inequality as the source of society’s ills.

And society will have ills. Indeed, many of them will get much worse. The power of freemarket capitalism to improve quality of life is truly remarkable. For decades, the west has poured charitable money into Africa, with limited benefit. However, the nature of African economies is being dramatically shifted by access to mobile phones. Staggeringly, 2% of Kenyans were lifted out of poverty between 2008 and 2014 simply by gaining access to M-Pesa, a mobile digital money service. This is game-changing stuff, in a way that charity, even on an enormous scale has never been. And it’s happened for free-market profit. Ironically, one of the things which continues to hold it back is over-taxation of the mobile networks by government, which limits accessibility to the population.

The kind of social and regulatory restriction that would be required to ensure we all work the same, eat the same, live in the same houses, etc, would utterly strangle free-market capitalism and drive us all into poverty.

This, however, is a real problem for socialism ideologically, it is targeted at an “ideal”, which is not, actually ideal at all. Anyone but the most blinkered extremist would have to see that there can be such a thing as “too much socialism” at least in theory, and yet, in practice, the trend is always to think the right amount of socialism is “just a little bit more” than a society currently has. That’s a real problem, and explains why societies can easily sleepwalk into leftist totalitarianism.

This is one of the reasons I advocate libertarianism, because its own self-regulating entity.

The basic principle of libertarianism is that the best kind of society is the one which maximises individual liberty. Maximal individual liberty is the ultimate end of all society.  It is an end in itself. Everything should be pointed at that goal

Now, that may, at first glance sound like an extreme position. Does it mean that everyone should be able to do exactly what they want? That there should be no rules? No. That would be anarchy. Anarchy is not libertarianism. In fact, it is antithetical to it.

To see why, let’s take the most extreme example. One might, (mistakenly) think that a libertarian would advocate for decriminalizing murder, on the grounds that I should be maximally free to do whatever I want, and therefore kill someone if I want to.

That would be a fallacy, because, of course, in a society where murder was not illegal, I would not be more free, I would be less free. The average person would live in greater fear of going about their normal business, they would fear being out in the street. Making murder illegal doesn’t inhibit individual freedom, it protects it.

This is an extreme example, but makes a point which is extendable to much less radical proposals. A libertarian need not, necessarily be opposed to all socialised medicine for example. They could reasonably say that a government organised system of elements of universal medical care, such as vaccination etc. helps individual liberty, because, of course, it is very hard to be maximising your liberty if you are dying of polio.

It might of course, mean that you are skeptical of certain degrees of over-regulation and control of medicine by government, and different libertarians might differ in their view on exactly what that point is, but it doesn’t in principle rule it out, provided that it can be seen that the key principle in play is ultimately the end of individual liberty.

Likewise, in education, it seems basically plausible that ensuring a high level of  universal literacy and numeracy enhances individual liberty, and therefore a libertarian could advocate for some elements of government coordination to that end, all be it, looking to have the minimal level of control required.

This shows why libertarianism, is therefore, not as is often portrayed, an extreme position, but actually, properly understood, an inherently moderate one, because it advocates for a sweet-spot of “maximal liberty”, while recognising that liberty can, somewhat paradoxically be actually enhanced by some degree of regulation and organisation. Although it’s apt to consider that the exception rather than the rule.

Socialism, is intrinsically, aimed at an extreme: Absolute equality, which, as previously described, is an intrinsically non-ideal “ideal”.

If one imagines a graph, socialism is like trying to push as far towards one end of the graph on the X axis as you can possibly get. Libertarianism is not like that. Libertarianism envisages the graph as looking like a bell-curve shape, and aims to hit the apex of the bell curve, the ideal amount of government that maintains public order, allows for organisation of free markets, and offers a degree of social safety netting to the vulnerable, while being ultimately pointed at the goal of maximal individual liberty.

In the example of the milkshake, we see this ideological divide playing out. If, ultimately, you think society should be aimed at absolute equality in all areas with no clearly defined principle of restriction to pull you back the other way, then, it does become hard to justify why the government should not regulate exactly what everyone eats and drinks to the maximal public health good of all.

On libertarianism, though, you can keep having your freakshakes.  And if that doesn’t win you over, I don’t know what will.

Why Are We Not Worried More By the European Union’s lack of Democracy?

Why Are We Not Worried More By the European Union’s lack of Democracy?

A really striking feature of the European Union is how we, on all sides, take for granted that the EU is not democratic, and yet seem not remotely troubled by this.

Let me explain what I mean by way of a counter example. Suppose Scotland had won independence from the UK in their referendum.

There would have followed “Scotxit” negotiations. In which things like trade deals and everything else which is under discussion in Brexit would have to have been agreed.

Does anyone imagine they would have been anything like as fractious as we are currently seeing?

The answer is no. The dynamics, in many ways would be similar. Scotland would be much the smaller party, yes, with some bargaining chips, but essentially the “underdog”.

However, how likely is it that the UK would have taken the approach of negotiating by threatening a hard border and a complete shut down on Anglo-scottish trade?

Now, of course part of the answer to this is that, if both states were to remain in the EU, a lot of this would be moot. If Scotland were leaving the EU, then, arguably, it would be having discussions with Brussels more than London regarding many of these issues.

But let’s suppose neither nation were in the EU however. How do we see the negotiations proceeding?

It seems obvious, does it not, that were negotiations to stall and result in a slamming shut on the door of trade between the nations that would be seen as a disastrous outcome for both negotiating parties.

English people, particularly in the border areas would doubtless be furious if an agreement on cross boarder travel and trade could not be reached. They would be writing to their Westminster MPs and complaining. The Westminster government which presided over a “No Deal Scotxit” would probably be mauled at the next general election.

Yes, it’s true, there would be a jingoistic English element that wanted to “give the Scots nothing”, but they’d soon start complaining when the Whisky supplies dried up. The reality is, that two democracies would come to an agreement which their respective populations were happy with.

In summary. It’s unlikely that either side could politically afford a “No Deal”. It would get sorted. Both sides, politically, would have to ensure it did.

Now back to Brexit and the EU.

The one thing which everybody just seems to take for granted is that “No Deal” is politically problematic to the UK, but has no political blow-back whatsoever for the EU itself.

We can argue about whether proportionally no deal Brexit is worse for the UK or the EU, and even agree its probably worse for the UK, but there’s little doubt that no-deal brexit is bad news for French dock-workers, for Spanish Orange growers, for pan-European airlines etc. The chaos of no-deal brexit will be bad news for the whole EU.

And yet, there is almost no comment at all on how this would be politically bad news for the EU. Why?

The reason is surely obvious? There isn’t much political blow-back for the EU, precisely because those making the calls in the EU on the deal are un-elected. The EU citizens who see damage to their trade, or lose their jobs through no-deal brexit can’t vote their EU representatives out.

While those sitting on the UK side of the negotiating table are ultimately elected representatives, (Theresa May, David Davis, Dominic Raab etc) those sitting on the other side, are not.

This colours the negotiations significantly. The EU representatives can, and will do, what they see as being best, ideologically, for the EU – by which I mean that organisation which resides in Brussels and Strasbourg, not the half billion EU Citizens. The UK representatives, on the other hand, can only agree to that which will see them re-elected the next time they face the people at the ballot box.

This assumption that the EU will act as a dictatorship is just so innate, that it barely seems to surprise anyone. For example, there is an increasing amount of debate about whether there should be a “peoples vote” on whatever deal is agreed in the UK.

How is it that there is not even the slightest whisper of a suggestion that the EU would need to get a democratic mandate for whatever it agreed to in a trade deal with the UK?

You might say this is because the UK is proportionally smaller, but this is not the case. The EU was deep in negotiation with the USA over a trade deal (TTIP), in which the EU would have been the smaller partner, and the impacts on various aspects of EU life would be marked, and yet there was no serious suggestion this would have gone to a EU wide referendum.

Why not? Well, because the EU isn’t a democracy, so why should it?

There is just virtually no expectation of the EU acting in a democratic fashion in anything. GDPR has changed businesses significantly, yet it appeared in no manifesto that any citizen of the EU ever voted for. If you don’t like it, you can complain to your MP, and your MP will gesture vaguely in the direction of Brussels and say “Blame them”. The same will happen with the forthcoming internet copyright legislation which could, ultimately shut down even this very blog.

Maybe this is just all to abstract. Maybe the danger of this really won’t hit home until its too late. It’s now pretty clear, at some point, the EU will have something akin to its own military capabilities. One day, it might have an army. One day, they might be sent in to battle. People’s actual real-life grandsons may well shed actual real blood under the banner of the EU flag. Their parents may ask why they were sent to war, who by, and on what authority and for what reason. Will the answer again be a vague gesture in the direction of the post-modern buildings in Brussels?

I can hear what the response would sound like already. “The strategic security planning executive for European union border Integrity made a recommendation to the Council to approve the commissions directive for military action.”. Is that going to cut it as an answer to who is responsible for why your son died in a bloody and seemingly unnecessary conflict? At least we know we can point the finger at Tony Blair for Iraq. In many ways this faceless, unaccountable government is worse than a dictatorship. At least you can rise up against a dictator. A single dictator, while being a single point of strength, is also, by definition, a single point of weakness. He can die. He can be overthrown. He can be reasoned with. The EU style of government, by contrast, has many of the fearsome powers of a dictatorship, but with none of the individual accountability.

The thing that I simply cannot understand is why the same people who are desperately agitated to have a “people’s vote” on Brexit, are absolutely unconcerned by the EU’s lack of democracy.

My suspicion is that many individual governments of the EU nations are not at all keen on the idea of “No Deal” brexit. Yet, they are beholden to the EU to negotiate on their behalf. If the EU launches the UK and the EU off the cliff edge of no-deal brexit, to the significant harm of its own citizens, it will be those individual governments which will bear the brunt of the displeasure of those citizens. Not the EU.

This is a demonstration of how much power those nations have given away to the EU in return for very little accountability-. Brexit is, I think, likely to be historically seen as the moment the true “nationhood” status of the EU started to actualize. When the dust has settled on this, there will be very little point any more in pretending that the 27 nations of the EU are really independent nation states in the fullest sense. The more of a catastrophic failure brexit is, the more obviously true that will be.

The question then becomes, if the EU is a nation, what kind of nation is it? A democracy? Apparently not. Half a billion people who used to live in democracies will no longer do so. That really ought to worry us.

“No Deal” Brexit doesn’t Exist. It Won’t Last 24 Hours Past Midnight On Exit Day

“No Deal” Brexit doesn’t Exist. It Won’t Last 24 Hours Past Midnight On Exit Day

“No deal” Brexit. Hardline brexiteers seem convinced somehow things will “be alright”. They might be right, but only if “No deal” mutates into an “on-the-fly” deal. Which just is a deal. A really bad one.

First we need to understand a few terms.

  1. “European Union” – A political organisation, based in Brussels and Strasbourg, with aspirations towards nationhood and empire. It has presidents,  a parliament, it has a flag, it has an anthem. It is developing foreign and domestic policy. It has a particular  centre-left political leaning ingrained into its constitutional structures. It is a nation in waiting. It’s also, (in my view) destined to end in a bloodbath sometime in the next 50 to 70 years, similar to that which befell parts of the former USSR, because it is anti-democratic, aggressively secularist, and forces people of disparate cultures and groups together into a pseudo-shared identity, and exists entirely for the benefit of the elite and its own political class. It is also dangerously engaged in an expansionist policy which some day may bring it into serious conflict with Russia, or perhaps even the USA. Some day that saber rattling is going to get it in really deep trouble, and I don’t want to be there when it happens. I want to leave the EU. Badly.

2. “Customs Union” – Country A and B both lock themselves into an agreement to charge the same tariff (taxes) on imports and exports for particular items rom  country C. So if Country A charges 5% tax, country B is obligated to do so as well. All countries of the EU are in a customs union, with the tariffs determined by Brussels. Being able to set a country’s own tariffs is essential to being able to pursue an independent trade policy.

3. “Single Market /European Economic Area” – A region in which there is regulatory agreement on the standards for particular products, which is the same across that market. Many standards for things are agreed worldwide. For example, if you buy any USB device in the world, no matter whether it was made in the USA or Hong Kong,  it will fit in any USB socket, no matter where that was made, because both are made to the same agreed regulatory standard. The EEA is a particular set of regulatory standards for an enormously wide range of items and services which ensure conformity and compatibility. These have been determined by various committees and bodies within the EU.

We voted to leave the EU. Leaving the Customs Union follows logically from this.

In the 2016 EU referendum, we voted to leave the first of these. For a ridiculously long time politicians debated whether to leave the second. It is pretty obvious to anyone that allowing another nation to determine your trade policy with tariffs with respect to third countries is to effectively still be under direct political control, and therefore we must leave the customs union.

What about the Single Market?

There are a few reasons why a country needs border checks. One is the check who is coming in and leaving the country. The second reason is to check the items which are coming and leaving the country.

The things that need to be checked are a) Are there any taxes and tariffs that need to be paid? (relatively straightforward) but b) Are the items being brought in, legal under the law of the receiving nation.

For example, if you are importing toy fire engines in the the UK, does the paint on those fire engines contain levels of lead which are illegal under UK trading laws and restrictions?

This is clearly not easy to check. It requires testing and analysis. If you had a shipment which came from who-knows-where, you would need to take that shipment to a laboratory, take some samples and test them. Your toy fire engines will take weeks instead of days to reach their destination. Little boys will be disappointed to find there is no toy fire engine in their Christmas stocking, because they did not get through the checks in time.

There is a way around this: The way around this is to know the origin point of a shipment, know what specifications it was built to, and know in advance that those specifications are compatible with your own country’s laws.

There are two basic ways of doing this. Either the country producing the toy fire engines produces two versions: One which is especially low in lead content, and suitable for import to the UK, and one with higher levels which are legal in the manufacturing country,  in which case you are still going to need to have some kind of authenticity checks that the right products are coming in, or the manufacturing country has an agreement to make it’s own domestic laws on lead-content of toy fire engines the same as the UKs. Now a “single market” exists for toy fire engines between the UK and that country. No checks are required provided both sides are holding to the standards agreed.

The EEA obviously doesn’t just have standards for toy fire engines, but the principle is very similar across a vast myriad of items.  In many cases, this regulation is overly complex, but what it does allow for is for goods to cross borders uninhibited by checks.

These standards also apply to services. Things like how many flying hours are allowed to elapse between an airliner undergoing overhaul and service are determined by agreed regulations. If you don’t meet those regulations and standards, your aircraft can’t overfly the EU. This matters, because it would be no good having EU airliners beautifully safe and well maintained, if you then allow an airliner to fly into UK airspace from some country with shoddy safety regulations, and that airliner then has both its engines fail and crashes into your house while you sleep in your bed.

This vast array of regulatory agreements on everything from toy fire engines to the way airlines operate allow interaction to occur between the nations of the EU seamlessly.

Now, if we leave the EU on 29th March 2019 with “No Deal”, then, every bit of agreement on regulatory alignment falls.

Now, at 1 minute past midnight, of course, in practical terms, the UK will still be in regulatory alignment, but, from that moment on, it’s theoretically possible that our regulations could start to diverge and be in a mismatch with the EU. We would no longer be legally  in regulatory alignment.

From a legal standpoint, therefore, there would be no option but to take midnight on 29th of March 2019 as a cut off point, and simply stop “recognizing” UK standards after that moment.

Think of it this way: When you insure your car, you undertake to make sure that your car has a valid MOT. If your MOT has expired, then your insurance is invalid. This is obviously to make sure you don’t have a car with failed brakes, and then claim on the insurance when you crash.

So when does your insurance become invalid? Well, obviously, at midnight on the day your MOT expires. Now, practically your car isn’t any different one minute before midnight to one minute after midnight, but your insurer is perfectly entitled to consider your insurance invalid from that moment.

This is what it will be like on 29th March 2019 under no deal. All sorts of business have insurance for their products. No doubt the toy fire engine manufacturer has insurance against some child managing to choke to death on parts from their toy, to cover the company against being sued for damages. However, the insurance for that almost certainly has clauses which require that the product is legally imported and exported in line with agreed international regulations and is sold subject to the regulations for Toy Fire engines in the country of sale. The moment those regulations become invalid at midnight, so does the insurance.

Same toy fire engine, same situation, but clearly, it would now be highly risky for manufacturer to keep on trading and importing and exporting into that market until that legal framework is established. So no toy fire engines can move until the insurer, the manufacturer and the relevant governments thrash out some kind of agreement and are satisfied that a legal framework for the import and export of that particular good is in place.

This is of course a silly example over-simplified to make the point, but the problems faced in trade after 29th March 2019 are likely to be at least  as complicated as my silly example, not less.

The only result I can foresee is that numerous industries will simply have to come to a halt until they figure out exactly what the hell the rules are post 29/03/19.

Won’t WTO rules cover us?

At this point, someone is probably going to shout “WTO rules!”, as if they were somehow the answer to everything.  The first thing I would say in response to such a person is that these WTO rules are still internationally agreed rules that our nation must play by. Why do you not find those as offensive as the Single Market rules?

Second thing is, WTO rules are a mere skeleton framework in this regard. They are almost entirely related to rules around how much tariff and tax you can apply to items. They have nothing to say about the items themselves and the standards they are built to.

Virtually no two countries in the world trade on WTO rules alone. Even countries which don’t have actual trade deals with have pages and pages of agreements and memorandum of understanding to facilitate trade. It is just insane to think that the UK, with its deep and complex trading relationship can get by trading with the EU on WTO rules alone.

So What Will Happen Under “No Deal”?

As I see it, there are two possibilities.

Option 1

First, we could resolutely stick to “no deal” after 29th March, 2019. We refuse to agree to anything, or to promise regulatory alignment.

This means the EU could reasonably say they don’t trust our airliners to fly in their airspace, they don’t trust our goods without checking them first. Every consignment of anything gets checked and laboriously monitored for conformity to EU standards. The ports become choked.

It’s critical to realise that the UK depends on trade from the EU like a fetus depends on its umbilical cord, through what are known as “Just in Time (JIT)” supply chains.

To take one example, Honda In Swindon receives 350 lorries of parts per day. At any one time they only have enough parts on site for one hour of production. If parts are routinely held up in customs and standards checks at port, that model of production is simply not sustainable. In the short run the factory could not operate. In the long run, it would have to either completely change its way of working or move elsewhere.

So if we do hit some kind of block in trade after midnight on leaving day, the ripples will go out quickly through our industry. There will be no shortage of crises for the news to report on.

It is just feasible that, had we seen this scenario coming and planned for it, night and day, as a nation for 2 years prior to it, we could mitigate the worst of it. However, we have not done this.

Option 1 gives you your full blown “project fear” come true. Closed ports, log jammed motorways, closed factories. This is followed by a plummeting pound, a crashing FTSE. A chorus of remoaners saying “We told you so!”

Option 2

Most leavers seem to think that, in the event of “No Deal”, everything will be all right, and “We’ll sort it out”.

I actually think they are (probably) right.

However, what they seem to fail to realise it that this just is agreeing a deal, but piecemeal.

So, on the day after brexit, there’s a crisis because the channel tunnel trains can’t run. The transport minister and some EU suits hurriedly get together in a meeting a scribble down a memorandum of understanding that UK rail rolling stock maintenance will continue to maintain the same standards as previously agreed to in the EU (or whatever the particular point of contention happens to be), and, hey presto, the trains get rolling again.

This won’t be one deal. It will be tens, hundreds, even thousands, of individual such agreements being thrown together at incredibly short notice to “get the trains moving” or “keep the planes flying” or whatever.

On the surface, after some short lived initial crisis, the brexiteers will now look smug and say “See! We told you so! No Deal is OK!”. Except, what they will fail to realise is that we just have agreed a deal in all those deals quickly done in the wee small hours after midnight on leaving day.

And here’s what I’ll bet: Under pressure, with lorries stacking up and the threat of crisis, we will end up agreeing to absolutely shocking deals. Agreed piecemeal, but, adding up to giving away vastly more than we would ever have agreed to as a single agreed deal.

Neither option works for a True, sustainable Brexit

No real Brexiteer should want option 2 to emerge, so what happens if we simply stuck to “No Deal” – option 1?

Well, I simply can’t see how this could happen. At some point, the government would cave and start going down the option 2 route. They would have to.

However, lets suppose they stick with it for a few days, or weeks. Pretty soon the country, under this approach , would be in flat out crisis.

A general election would be inevitable. The result would be a victory for whichever party promised to get us back in the EU as fast as possible.

Dejected, demoralised and defeated, we would end up begging for EU membership. We would probably be offered it. On the condition we give up the pound, give up the rebate, and become more fully integrated into the EU than ever before.

This is a real threat. Brexiteers who do not acknowledge this are not patriots. They are traitors. It is absolutely imperative for the future of Britain that we do not end up shackled permanently to the EU. I believe that passionately, but I truly believe that a “No Deal” brexit has a significant risk of leading to re-entry to the EU within a few short years on worse terms than ever before.

EFTA is the Answer

We have a get out from this mess. To be a member of the EEA, a nation must be a member of either the EU, or EFTA . (The trading bloc of Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein)

Article 50 says we are leaving the EU, but it does not specify leaving the EEA. This is taken as read, because it misses the loophole that we could join EFTA and not leave the EEA.

This is a spectacular way of dodging around the EU’s biggest bargaining chip,  single market access. We don’t need the EU’s permission to join EFTA, only the agreement of the other EFTA states.

The EFTA states are in a loose trading arrangement. They have their own independent trade policies, but benefit from “package deal” trade deals, which we would immediately become party to.

Moreover, if you add the UK to EFTA, EFTA becomes a serious player in international politics in its own right. It would be the third largest trading entity in the world behind the USA and the EU itself. This is an often missed point when people talk about the current situation between Norway and the EU, and Norway having to take whatever the EU throws at it. The dynamic would look extremely different with the UK beefing up EFTA membership to the status of global player.

Yes, we would have to work within EU regulatory rules on goods and services, but EFTA would be a big beast, able to wield significant influence over the nature of those regulations going forward. The EU simply could not ignore EFTA’s opinion on the shaping of regulations.

The Best Compromise

Of course this is not perfect. It doesn’t give me everything I want as someone who voted leave. It does, however, give me a fair chunk of it, while maintaining some cohesion. Yes, it might even allow remainers to feel they have had some kind of victory, and, frankly, although I might not like that idea much, we need that, because we cannot go forward as a country of 52 vs 48 indefinitely. That’s not patriotic. Its sectarian. It’s the opposite of patriotic unity.

Hard brexiteers, are I think, rather hoping that leaving the EU is going to be a magic bullet to cure every ill of multiculturalism, immigration, and social decline. It’s not. It never was going to be.

It is an important step to dealing with some of those things perhaps, but only if brexit is successful, and sustainable. A brexit which leads to nothing but news story after news story of crisis and disaster and closed factories and medicine shortages is not going to get us anything we want, if what we want is a long term stable Britain which re-establishes itself as a serious international player.

 

The Two Types Of News

The Two Types Of News

There are two entirely different types of news story. Any time you ever read any news article, it always pays to think about which you are reading. Let’s look at a couple of stories to understand why

 

Sandi Toksvig is paid only 40% as much as Stephen Fry to present QI

Number of white people arrested for terror offences outstrip any other single ethnic group, new figures show

 

These are both news headlines from the last couple of days, they are both, theoretically “News”, but, are they?

What is News?

I’d say there are two types of News story:

The first is the what most of us probably think of as news, current events unfolding in the world which are of significance great enough to report on. Wars, plane crashes hurricanes, major sports results, changes of government.

Often these events are unscheduled. When the news reporter gets a phone call at 3am, they have no idea what the story is about to be. The role of the news, at least initially, is to tell you what has happened.

Less and less news is like this. More stories are of a second type. This type of story is not really telling you about an event that has happened. Rather, it is pushing a narrative, and elevating an otherwise non-significant event to status of “News Story” in order to push that narrative.

The division is not always entirely clear cut. With the first type of news story the degree of relative importance and coverage attributed can be significantly magnified or minimised to alter perception of the story, however, it’s still always worth asking the question “What facts or events are the actual story here?”.

Let’s take a look at the two stories I gave at the start.

Sandi Toksvig is actually a very good TV presenter. I think she’s witty and smart, consider her every bit as good at the role of QI host as Stephen Fry.

However, the thing is, there are many incredibly talented media students, drama students and stand up comics working in bars around the country for minimum wage who would also be just as good and would probably do the job for free just for the opportunity to get a “break” into the big time.

So why are both Toksvig and Fry paid large salaries (even if Fry’s was much larger?). The answer is that, while their egos may not like to accept this, they are not really being paid for their work or their talent. They are being paid for their familiarity, their recognition, their star power.

And, by any measure Stephen Fry has vastly more star power. Sandi Toksvig has just 10 credits on IMDB to Stephen Fry’s 158. Toksvig has around 150,000 Twitter followers. Stephen Fry has over 12 million.

Here, bluntly, is what happened. When QI was a new TV programme, the show was keen to secure it a big audience. So they got in a big name, Stephen Fry, to present it. Bluntly, the show needed Stephen Fry more than Stephen Fry needed it. A sizable fee was probably required to secure Fry’s services.

Now QI is a highly popular TV show, and when it started looking for a new host, the question was which lucky person would get the opportunity to raise their public profile by replacing Stephen Fry? Sandi Toksvig was chosen, and quite rightly so as she’s excellent.

However, i’m willing to bet she bit the hand off the show’s producers for the opportunity to present it at 40% of the fee Stephen Fry took. The show, meanwhile, having secured itself as highly popular in its own right, no longer felt the need to secure the biggest possible name to present it, and so saw the opportunity to cut some expenditure. Given the show is produced for the licence-fee funded BBC, this seems entirely prudent.

However, the subtext to the story is, of course, sexism. A woman is doing the same job but not for equal pay! The most obvious form sexism there is!

This is clearly not the case as discussed. There is no “sexism” news story here. Salaries in media and sport just do not work this way. In Formula One, Lewis Hamilton is reported to earn well over £20m a year, while his team mate Valtteri Bottas earns around just £7m for doing the same job. This isn’t because Hamilton is a “better driver” either, because his results are paid out additionally as performance related pay. This is their base salaries before taking relative performance into consideration. Yet, they are both men – so – no news story. No sexism “angle”.

The Toksvig story was on the front page of the BBC news website and covered across numerous media outlets. It was, at one point the 2nd headline on the BBC news page. Supposedly the second most important thing happening in the world that day was a non-news story, except in so far as it acted as a conduit for the ongoing news narrative around workplace sexism and pay.

Let’s turn to the second headline.

Number of white people arrested for terror offences outstrip any other single ethnic group, new figures show” sounds pretty dramatic. This so obviously fits into the Independent’s ongoing political and social narratives that it shouldn’t really need much commentary from me to explain that.

However, what is the actual news story.

Well, the “event” is that some new statistics have been released by the Home Office on Terrorism arrests. That should be your first “red flag”. Statistics are released by various bodies every single day. This, in itself, is not news. “New statistics show” is nearly always an example of a newspaper having a particular narrative, and fishing around press releases for something which acts as a “hook” to hang that narrative on that particular day. A new set of statistics is a classic “hook”. The other classic is an “Opinion poll”.

So what were the actual statistics? Well they were as follows:

There were 351 arrests in the year to June for terror related offences.

White Suspects 38%

Asian Suspects 37%

Black suspects 9%

Now, in the context of this post, all I’m seeking to demonstrate is that this is clearly an example of the Independent having a narrative, and then picking their facts out of the statistics, rather than presenting a fair report on the statistics themselves.

The wording of the headline itself is the first clue “any other single ethnic group”. Of course, it needs this wording, because, taken together, black and Asian would be 48% and still outstrip whites. The headline “Majority of people arrested for terrorist offences are from ethnic minorities” is at least as valid as the headline the Independent chose, from the very same figures! I should state I think it would be an equally bad headline to choose.

Percentages, in this case, are actually not very helpful though. There were 351 arrests, so we can easily break the story down to the actual numbers and what we get is:

White suspects 132

Asian suspects 129.

In other words, the basis for the Independent’s headline, which is clearly supposed to make us think a certain way about national trends is just three arrests all year.

We’re not done yet though. It’s a relatively obvious point to make that the UK is 87% white and 7% Asian, so, by any fair analysis, there is massive statistical over representation. There is as long discussion to be had about why that might be, but it’s a very clear omission from the Independent’s story.

There is another, in a way, far more disturbing element however. The news story, after giving these numbers then seamlessly transitions to saying “The demographics of terrorists in prison, where Islamists make up the majority, is also changing as the number of far-right extremists jailed rises.”

Notice the subtle shift which is taken for granted? White = Far Right Extremist Asian = Islamist.

I’d suggest that this need not be true in either direction. Far right wingers can be of ethnic minorities, and certainly, white people can be Islamist terrorists. The independent article is making a tacit assumption of the kind which usually leftists scream about as “prejudice”. Have we forgotten The White Widow ? how many of those “White Suspects” were Islamic extremists? We don’t know.

Bluntly, the question of terrorists skin colour is of very little interest to me at all. The question of the ideology is, however, a very important one. I’m not clear why the Independent felt it had to go with a race-based headline at all.

The story goes on to talk about people actually in custody, where it states that there are 178 Islamist extremists compared to 28 far right wing extremists.

Almost none of the statistics below the headline serve to support it, but this really doesn’t matter. This story really only exists in order to be a headline. It’s not really intended to be read.

It’s intended that you casually scroll down your social media news feed, and read only the headline and have narratives subtly reinforced to you day by day:

Scroll…scroll…

There’s institutional sexism – women are paid less than men!

Scroll…scroll….

Far right white extremism is on the rise and just as big a threat as Islamist terrorism!

These things are dropped as ideas into your mind by repetition. All that matters to the news media is to continually drip-feed news stories into your consciousness on a daily basis which feed these narratives, no matter how loosely they are actually based on any meaningful real world facts.

Essentially, the news media isn’t giving you daily news. It’s giving you the same news stories every day, re-interpreted through the light of that particular day’s story, or by elevating a non-story to the status of news.

Does the right wing do this too? Well, I honestly think the answer is “no”, or not in the same way. It can’t. For this tactic of opinion influencing to work, you need to be able to really continuously “bathe” your audience in your output, and the nature of the mainstream news simply doesn’t allow the right wing to do that.

Of course, the right wing news media has it’s own flaws. It often seeks to be hysterical in order to grab your attention “Migrants are going to kill us all!” It begs you to click a link, to drag you in, with some hysterical headline and seeks to influence for the brief moment it has your attention with exaggeration. It has to do this, because it has far less expansive reach than the left.

The left doesn’t need to do this. It doesn’t need you to click every link. I It just needs you to keep scrolling down your news feed and half-register the gist of a head line. It will get to subtly feed into your opinions by osmosis. You end up holding an opinion or view, without really knowing how you came to hold it, other than believing it’s what “everybody knows to be true.”

The right wing media doesn’t operate like that at all. Look at Alex Jones’ videos. They start with the headline “If you are watching this…YOU ARE THE RESISTANCE!”. It seeks to represent itself as being the opposite of the consensus view. He often spurts out all kinds of nonsense, but there’s very little chance of his audience accidentally mistaking what they are seeing for “the mainstream view”. This is why, frankly, I find it hard to see it as representing any great danger.

The far greater danger comes from feeding untruth into the mainstream media narratives. While more subtle, while in the short term less problematic, it is, in my view, far more sinister in the long run.

 

 

 

 

Tommy Robinson And Free Speech

Tommy Robinson And Free Speech

Tommy Robinson has been freed. I have not previously blogged on this subject, despite drafting several paragraphs, largely because it was abundantly clear to me that the facts were far from clear. However, as is often the case with Tommy Robinson,  for many people, their minds were made up long before all the facts were in.

One of the most notable examples of this was The Secret Barrister. This is a blog that I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to follow and read regularly, as it provides excellent insights into many legal issues. However, the author is quite clearly a left-leaning liberal, and on this occasion allowed their prejudice to significantly colour their commentary of the case. To their credit, they admitted as much in their subsequent review of the appeal

To Quote The Secret Barrister:

“So I hold my hands up – imperfect information makes for imperfect predictions. But is there a wider issue here, among me and other legal commentators? Were we too quick to dismiss the case with a “nothing to see here” wave of the hand, blinded by the unappealing nature of Robinson’s supporters and the organised maelstrom of fake news stirred up here and abroad? Maybe we were. Maybe we could have – should have – cleared our ears and browsers of the white (pride) noise and paid greater heed to the arguments of due process. Maybe a little more humility is required in these difficult cases. I am normally conscious in all legal blogging to couch in terms of conditionals – if this report is accurate, then the explanation might be X. Was I too quick to assume, wrongly, that the judge had acted correctly?

I think I may have been.”

I am genuinely heart-warmed at the fullness and frankness of this admission by The Secret Barrister. It is rare, if ever, to see someone comprehensively hold up their hands and say that their own prejudice influenced their thinking. We need more of this.

To cover, what, for me, seems the most notable aspect, it was reported at the time that Robinson had pleaded guilty. This was not the case. In the judgement the shocking (to me at least) revelation is that Robinson was given no opportunity to plead.

“The particulars of the contempt were not put to the appellant and the appellant was not
given the opportunity to admit or deny the contempt.”

Part of the issue with Robinson not pleading was that it was not actually made clear exactly what Robinson would have been pleading guilty to. Exactly what aspect of his actions constituted contempt was not properly defined or argued.

Essentially, the Judge used summary powers to put Robinson behind bars for 13 months.

And not just any 13 months. As Robinson makes clear in this interview following his release, he was held, for the most part, in solitary confinement for his own protection because of his reputation meaning he was so high risk for suffering attack while in prison.

That is, surely, by any measure, an incredibly harsh sentence. Solitary confinement for any significant length of time is something close to a form of psychological torture, and normally used only for the most serious and violent offenders for short stretches of time. For 13 months of solitary confinement to be handed down as a summary sentence by a judge seems quite incredible.

It is true that Judges have summary powers in order to maintain control of a court room, however, that is the reason why the judge has those powers: To maintain the smooth and regular running of the court room. They primarily exist so that judges can administer a quick firm “slap” to those who might otherwise disrupt their courtroom proceedings.

Serious crimes resulting in serious punishment should be appropriately tried by jury. The accused has the right to know exactly what they are being charged with, and the chance to plead. This seems basic stuff does it not?

So the question is why? Why were the mechanisms of state so quick to put Robinson behind bars and trample over some pretty basic aspects of due process along the way?

The real, underpinning reason, it seems to me, is that, at this point, in any political dispute, the fall-back legal position is the “Police And Criminal Evidence Act 1984”. (Commonly known as PACE.) and it’s catch-all term “Breach of the Peace”.

Interestingly, it was on these grounds that Tommy Robinson was originally detained when outside Leeds court.

The powers of arrest granted to a police officer in this scenario are extraordinarily broad. Essentially, they allow for someone’s arrest if their presence puts someone at risk of harm, even if it is themselves.

An example of the flaw in this occurred with Canadian reporter Lauren Southern in Luton earlier this year. Watch the video here. In essence, what occurred was this: Southern had noted that there were numerous articles in the progressive media claiming that Jesus was gay. Southern cited one in particular here. Southern pointed out, quite reasonably, there seemed to be an odd double standard here, because while journalists could speculate about the sexuality of Jesus Christ with nothing more than a murmur of dissent, and quite a lot of approval, it didn’t seem the same would likely be true of other religions, particularly Islam.

To prove her point, Southern set up a stall in Luton (a predominantly Muslim area) with literature asserting a pro-LGBT view of Islam. The conservative Muslims on the street quickly became angry and the police arrived. Southern was threatened with arrest.

While the police officer refrains from being explicit about his concern, it’s pretty obvious from the video what is being implied: Southern’s literature and presence was making the Muslims angry, and the police officer was worried they would turn violent against Southern, or against property in the area, rioting etc.

For that reason, he ask Southern to desist. There was no sense in which Southern was herself being accused of being violent, or inciting violence towards Muslims, but rather her speech may have incited violence towards herself and that was sufficient reason for the police to invoke PACE and threaten her with arrest.

This had a subsequent backlash. Southern was later banned from entering the UK, and, in fact, she was held under the Terrorism Act at Calais, as she relates here. (Go to 4min 40 seconds in the video for her speech).

Notice the subtle shift here? Having been identified as a “troublemaker” in the sense that she might disturb the peace, (because others might react violently to it), the accusation becomes that she is herself violent or inciting violence, even though there was no real evidence to this effect.

Here is the problem: An overworked, under-resourced police officer is only really concerned with one thing: Having a quiet day. If it’s a choice between infringing someone’s free speech rights, and having a quiet shift where no-one get’s stabbed, we can hardly blame the average bobby for choosing the former every time.

In the society that existed in Britain in the 20th century, that was probably quite reasonable. The reality was that there was a wide consensus of what was appropriate, and, frankly, anyone saying anything inflammatory enough on a street to trigger a real threat of riot must have been saying something pretty outlandish.

Unfortunately, that consensus is falling away rapidly. In areas of the country where there are sizable communities with significantly conflicting values and beliefs, what PACE essentially causes police officers to do is to stifle free speech in the public forum. In each individual case, it’s quite understandable why a police officer might choose to do this. I don’t doubt that the police officer  who told Southern to desist was genuinely worried that he might end up with stabbing or riot on his hands. Of course, to defend the freedom of speech he would need A) the bravery to protect Southern from the angry mob and B) the support of several hundred other officers to do so.

In reality, even if he had (A), he certainly didn’t have (B) and had no other real options but to shut Southern down. The problem is that this becomes a habitual response. The result is a cumulative suppression of public free speech, and, if the aim of the police remains primarily the maintenance of “the peace”, they will tend to favour suppressing the more peaceful faction, because that’s the easier option.

In other words, mob-rule wins. The most threatening, most violent group gets their way by virtue of intimidating the police into using “breach of the peace” as a reason to silence anyone who says anything that the angry threatening group don’t like.

As this plays out over and over again at the level of individual street incidents, it starts to become increasingly the culture of the authorities as a whole.

For another example, see this video of street preacher David Lynn. At 1hour 4minutes in the video he makes a few comments about the last days alluding to 2 Timothy 3v1-4 and Romans 1v26 . Some brief references to homosexuality resulted in causing significant amounts of anger towards Lynn which unfolded over the next few minutes.

Subsequently, while Lynn was packing up, the police arrived. You can watch what unfolded here. In the end, Lynn is arrested and taken away in the back of a police van. The sight of a man being pushed into a police van while declaring “Jesus is Lord” should surely be deeply disturbing in a nation with an established Christian church, but seems to raise hardly a ripple of dissent. It’s unclear how anything he said or did constituted a criminal offence, except in so far as it “disturbed the peace” which, it seems, is the key concern of police.

One particularly interesting aspect is that the police were keen to have his details. I suspect the reason why Lynn was reluctant to give them was that as a foreign national, much like Lauren Southern, it would be a very “simple” option for the police to simply ban him from re-entry to the UK.

The pattern repeats over and over again. Prior to his last arrest, Robinson had been due to conduct an interview with Brittany Pettibone, an American reporter. Her boyfriend Martin Sellner had been due to speak in London. Video regarding their story here They were held in custody for 2 days before before ejected from the UK, for the reasons given here:

Pettibonedoc

Now, at best, the reasons would only seem to justify excluding Sellner from the UK, not Pettibone, but the letter is flawed at nearly every turn.

First, the letter references Tommy Robinson as “A far right leader whose materials and speeches incite racial hatred”. Now, the fact is, Robinson has no convictions for this. His charge sheet is long and undistinguished, and includes assault and mortgage fraud, but, actually he has no convictions for “racial hatred”.  Even if you think this to be plausibly true, it’s not a legally proven fact.

The second reference for why they are not allowed into the UK is that Sellner is associated with an organisation Generation Identity. It is interesting that even the letter itself only claims this to be “Right Wing”, not “far Right Wing”. So are we to take it that being even “Right wing” makes you undesirable in the UK? Generation identity is not a proscribed organisation in the UK, and its website repeatedly and explicitly states it is committed to non-violence, so again, it’s unclear why this would be grounds for exclusion anymore than being a member of the boy scouts.

The next reference for why they were not allowed to enter the UK is “”leaflets with scenarios regarding possible violence”. This is very odd wording.  Sounds pretty sinister doesn’t it? Presumably the leaflet laid out battle plans for attacking the opposition or something pretty damning? Weell…not exactly. Are you ready to see the shocking leaflet that got Martin Sellner and Brittany Pettibone banned from the UK? Here it is:

generationidentityleaflet

So there it is: The “scenarios of possible violence” are specifically about not being violent!!

What about the inflammatory interview with Robinson? Well, Pettibone subsequently interviewed Robinson in Austria. Judge for yourself whether it was hateful. Disturbing if what Robinson says is true, but, hate inspiring? Surely not.

What the leaflet possibly does tacitly admit is that others who oppose Sellner may react violently. In other words, the leaflet is mindful that “Antifa” may respond aggressively to them.

And that, is, I think the real reason for Pettibone and Sellner’s exclusion. The authorities simply don’t want to risk the reaction from the other side. The police do not wish to police it, or do not have the resources to do so.

Which takes us back to Robinson. Much of what Robinson says and does is unlikely to be illegal by any reasonable measure but is likely to be inflammatory. What the Southern, Sellner and Pettibone incidents shows us is that, where possible, the police would rather not deal with the grief, and simply not have such people in the country. Of course, as a British citizen, that’s not an option for how to deal with Robinson.

So judge for yourself, if, the way the authorities deal with Robinson is really to do with criminal justice, or more to do with maintaining “The Queen’s Peace” when it is potentially disturbed by a man they can’t just eject from the country and don’t really know how to handle.

You don’t need to like or agree with Tommy Robinson, or Southern or Pettibone to see that what is going on here is a sign of a society which is not at peace with itself. Whether it’s the religious divides, the left/right political divide, or the remain/leave EU divide, the UK is becoming ever more divided.

Are Robinson, Pettibone, Southern et al  causing the division? Or are they merely shining a spotlight on it? Do we think that if we don’t shine the spotlight on it then it will just go away?

Essentially, we are papering over the cracks of ever deepening ideological divide by clamping down on free speech. The fear is that even relatively mildly inflammatory speech may trigger violent reactions which the authorities have neither the will nor the capacity to control. So ever-more mild expressions of “non-mainstream” speech are becoming taboo. Street preachers get taken away in police vans. This is not the Britain I know and love.

While it is understandable why the authorities are dealing with things in this manner, this is not ultimately sustainable. The cracks are getting wider. They cannot be papered over forever. Something will have to give. It looks like what is giving way fastest is freedom of speech. This does not bode well for our future.