Wednesday 30 October 2019

Boris as Tsunami: Unstoppable

Many years ago, what I thought I knew about a tsunami was that it was a monstrous wave; a wall of water tens of feet high which smashed down on a coastline that was only prepared for waves of everyday size, and therefore caused much destruction. It made sense: a grotesquely scaled-up version of the first wave to hit a child's sandcastle on the incoming tide. Easy to envisage

However. More recently, when every person and public building has a camera permanently primed to capture whatever happens, we learn that it’s really no such thing. It's a wave only a little greater in height than usual, if at all - but instead of being a big ripple with nothing behind it (except the next wave), it's the front of an entire body of forward-moving water, all of which is a few feet above normal sea level. And it's inexorable, with the most epic volume of advancing water directly behind it, extending back into the ocean for miles. 

Being water, it does various things on reaching land. Sure enough, against some obstacles it rears up into the legendary thirty-foot wave. But against others, it just flows around, powering inland, on and on, with unstoppable force that demolishes and sweeps up trees, vehicles, light buildings, indeed everything not fully anchored to stable rock. It's no more to be stopped by regular sea defences than was the surging crowd at Hillsborough to be held back by mere crush barriers. 

What's this to do with Boris? Think back to May's fairly determined efforts to get her Deal through. We noted at the time that relentless slog is a strategy with something to commend it in certain circumstances - even if it's unattractive to watch, and unsatisfying to those who favour the bold and sudden stroke of a blitzkrieg or dashing, decisive flanking maneouvre. 

But May's resources petered out after four or five months. 

It seems to me, though, that Boris may yet be more relentless still. His whole career is one of being unstoppable - by setback, scandal, shame or scruple. The "greased piglet" moves, this way and that, around barriers and through attempts to lay hands on him. We're seeing this in his willingness and ability to pivot instantly in front of the roadblocks and tripwires hastily erected against his every move. Ordinarily, the cheap cries go up of "U-turn!" and "but, but last week you said ...". And Boris, knowing that nothing ever sticks to him with the great voting public, he cares as little for consistency as did the legendarily shameless editors of the Sun when the time came to declare "reverse-ferret". 

And as he moves, this way and that, it's always somehow net-forward. 

The XR-wallahs, just as the HK protesters, have adopted the old strategy-slogan, "Be Water". (They attribute this to Bruce Lee, but old Mao got there first; and Soviet military doctrine for the offensive could be described in a similar way.) Boris "Tsunami" Johnson, too, knows how to be Water; about swirling and flowing around obstacles, always surprising and outflanking the blocker, always relentlessly moving forward. His stamina for doing this has seen him past quite a few apparently insuperable roadblocks over the decades. 

Let's see where the waters stand by Christmas. And what counts as 'forward', so far as Boris is concerned. 


PS - gotta love Polly’s latest: "Even if the Tories win an election, Brexit will finish them".

From the sports pages: Even if England win the RWC, the Welsh are still very scary ...

Tuesday 29 October 2019

Book Review: The Power of Capitalism

In a break form our usuel dirge of Brexit non-news, I wanted to share a book review.

As you may expect from the title of the this blog, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. For me as an amatuer armchair historian this book really hit the mark. Rainer Zitelman is a historian rather than an economist or political scientist. 

In the book he start by giving over several chapters the real world examples of how Capitalism has worked across the whole worked in the last century or so. However, in a clever touch he selects pairs of countries that are obviously comparable where possible to show the distinction between the impacts on an economy of socilaist or capitalist policies. 

Easy to understand and contrast examples include North and South Korea as well as West and East Germany. There is no need to hold back an the ample statistics show for themselves. East Germany lost nearly 1/3rd of it population escaping to the West during its short lifetime. North Korea became the unlovable basket case it is today whilst South Korea - with no natural resources bootstrapped itself to be better than many Western European countries.

Interestingly when discussin China's move to economic Capitalism and also South Korea's, there is plenty of room for adaptation and moderation. Korea had and has the Chaebol families and orgnisations, China the communist party and State Owned Enterprises. Nonetheless, by using the simple manta of free markets, low taxes where possible and reducing state interference in the economy the largest transformation ever in world history was completed. All without democracy impinging too much and I found it left me wanting to explore more about how the different approaches to capitalism would work out in the long-term. For many years, neoliberals have tied capitalism to democracy saying you need both to survive, but the world shows us there is little inherent link as long as the rule of law around private assets is maintained. 

50% of people have been lifted out of extreme poverty in 50 years. The world has immeasurably improved where capitalist policies have been followed. The section on Africa, showing the dea hand of aid has likley held it back is also interesting, if less controversial than a few years ago. 

The last chapters on why intellectuals always favour socialism (envy, for the mot part) is useful if not that helpful. 

Overall all though, it is a superb read, easy to digest and full of uncontroversial statisctics that remind one of why capitalism is so succesful and why socialism is doomed to fail. There are other books that can get into the policital analysis of why Socialism or Capitalism appeals to human nature etc. For this book, it is more than enough just to historically explain the sucess of capitalism and why we must defend it and nuture it today. 

Monday 28 October 2019

Brexit becomes the Never Ending Story

So, another meh week ahead.

Johnson won't get his election today.

The EU will extend until 31st Jan.

Nothing will really happen, just a rinse and repeat of the past few months.

Parliament won't pass a Boris Brexit and there are too many at risk of losing seats to have an election.

So it seems we are stuck until the EU decide we must leave (hint#; they won't) or we have to have an election (2022).

The only way out is for Boris to no confidence his own Government, a move that will split what is left of his own cabinet and party.

Happy days!

PS The film the Never Ending Story really frightened me as a small child, little did I know it was a 6th sense predictor of what was to come. Many of the characters and plot lines are more realistic than those in the current UK Parliament.

Friday 25 October 2019

Kicking Off, Kicking On: RWC and Other ...

Apologies for my dereliction of blogging duties recently - have been abroad.  Sort of hoping, faintly, for a Brexit result whilst I was away.  Hopeless, of course; though something mildly amusing awaited at Gatwick upon returning.  In the big poster telling you which queue to join at the 'border', they've relegated the EU to just one among many flags of nations (etc) that don't require visas.  Nothing special, just one flag among many.  Made me smile, anyway (a touch of Gove?)

More of a result in the RWC last week, for the English and Welsh at any rate. We had a look at this a few weeks ago after the first round of matches, and things have panned out pretty much as they seemed at that point.  England going nicely; Wales OK too, provided injury doesn't strike;  Ireland confirmed as having peaked too early, as had been pretty evident for several months; and Scotland, well, ...

But now injury has struck for Wales, and with it their serious prospects of advancing against South Africa, IMHO.  The latter are really playing hardball now.

For England, drawing Australia in the Quarters was (a) predictable and (b) exactly what suited Jones and his boys.  A well-understood opponent presenting no fear-factor.  And on Saturday England showed every sign of just enjoying themselves thoroughly.  A great way to move forward to the big'un.

Ah yes, the ABs.  And because this fixture, too, was entirely predictable, we may be sure Jones has something in mind for the occasion.  Something he's been hatching for months, if not years - as he does.  Something special.

What made facing the Aussies in the Quarters ideal, was that Jones had no need to show his hand.  They were eminently beatable using basic means: solid defence, good territorial play.  (In the event, the defence wasn't even tested as much as in that epic Second Test against the same opponents, away from home, in 2016.)

The ABs know they will be facing something extra this weekend.  Will it be enough?  Can't guess.  But the whole 2019 RWC has been as favourable to England as could reasonably have been hoped for.


Monday 21 October 2019

Still no vote, progress or resolution

On it goes, no decisions and no real progress. Boris was never going to do it on chutzpah alone was he?

But this Parliament is rapidly becoming of the nature of the Long Parliament in that it is both unwelcome and unwanted. Labour said they would move for an election, but have not I note.

Instead perhaps the irony of ironies would be the EU refusing an extension; but that won’t happen as they want remain to win out too.

So how many more months of inaction, my bet would be on six as nothing can be achieved in 3 with Xmas due soon too.

Sunday 20 October 2019

Remainers gonna remain

Well everything is proceeding to the standard political model.

The remainers are going to frustrate Boris and the few leavers in Parliament by trying what is in effect a direct negotiation via Parliament. This aims to get both a softer Brexit and a new referendum.

They just have to make sure they don’t accidentally have an election and get kicked out.

Fun times!

Thursday 17 October 2019

Climate Change Gone 100% Capitalist Mainstream

Several weeks ago I wrote
I suspect the whole [green panic] thing has over-reached itself, overshot. It seems to me it's now in the sphere of people looking round for the sensible solutions - the whole world of Adaptation being top of the list. A lot of greenies really hate this, because it suggests nothing can be done to stop It; so nothing needs to be done to stop It - just build higher sea walls, use more sunblock, and invest in better water industry infrastructure. But anti-growth? - nah, mate. Growth is where the money comes from, innit?
Well now, see this: the Global Commission on Adaptation

Whatever one's views on this bunch of global-establishment troughers and NGO-wallahs, there's no getting away from it - this is Mainstream with a capital 'M'.  And their mission is Adaptation - not net-zero carbon by tomorrow afternoon.  Tough tittie, Swampy.  Mind out of the way, Greta.  We ain't gonna be living in caves.

(Of course, they're all out to steal our pension funds.  But - who isn't?)


Wednesday 16 October 2019

Can you make me care about IR35 and the Loan Charge?

We get a lot of comments from readers and emails from people concernced about how the Government is changing the rules on contractors.

Contracting is a key part of the UK employment market with nearly 15% of the UK population registering at self-empoyed. Of course in reality, a whole range of people don't register as their incomes are too low to really matter from a tax perspective or perhaps their job descriptions are not really appropriate.

However, HMRC and the Government have long seen that contracting can be bad on two counts. One is that Public and Private sector companies use contractors as an accounting trick to reduce headcount and employers NI (see all BBC presenters as a great case of this) and secondly that it allows contractors to create synthetic situations where they are really employed but are paying taxes at a much lower rate.

The loan charge was an attempt to claw back taxes owed by people who had used offshore vehicles to lower their taxes. On balance, I think they Government were wrong to backdate such a change, as a backdated law is never a good one and people were not breaking the law when they entered into these agreements. It would have been better to outlaw the schemes and start afresh, but on the other hand everyone entering these schemes new full well it was a tax avoidance ruse and for no other purpose - nonetheless, it is not a terrible aspect of HMRC that they can at a whim choose to retrospectively change tax laws (what would w say if they decide to increase income tax by 5% retrospectively...)

Now the IR35 rules are changing and it is having a big impact, major companies such as Lloyds and Barclays are firing contractors on mass and instead hiring fewer full-time people to replace them. It need not be like this, they coudl take on all the same people on a zero hours basis for example. the balance in the past has been Contractors (and it is minaly construction and IT on a large scale in terms of sectors) taking the risk of patches of unemployment  and no benefits for the much lower tax cost of the terms of contracts. For contractors doing up to 6 months nothing really changes, the big change is in trying to do a year or more of contracting on a single job. As the real world shows it, it is forcing employers to think more carefully about how they resource their large, long-term projects.

At the time of Brexit, this is an odd thing to pursue as it does seemingly reduce labour market flexibility in order to improve the HMRC tax take. In terms of an election, it loses votes from contractors whilst likely making little difference to those employed, although there are a few vote sin making celebs squirm in public.....still, I don't see it as sch a big deal and overall am in favour or employee taxes being fair across the board. The comments on this will no doubt be interesting...

Tuesday 15 October 2019

More time wasting

I really don't get the current Boris Strategy. My only explanation is he has been got at by the civil service who have outlined just how much doom there is in a no deal Brexit or it is a very cunning ruse to an election.

Yet that still seems where we are headed, the clever people in most of the media that I am reading currently are choosing to ignore some obvious points of parliamentary arithmatic:

1. Boris has a majority of -45
2. Labour won't vote en masse for Tory plans and most will only vote for Remain
3. SNP, Lib Dems etc will always and only vote for remain
4. Tory rebels will also only vote for remain.

Ergo, the deal, not matter how good, cannot pass. I suppose this is the part of the cunning plan, which is to get a deal, see it voted down and then by law have to seek and extension. Then have a General Election on the basis of his deal versus the remain coalition.

Either way, feels like No Deal is off the table unless the EU walk away first.

Friday 11 October 2019

The Not Inconsiderable Clout of the USA

While everyone gawps at the apparent Boris Breakthrough (The Grauniad has no idea what to make of it) and spiking pound (well, a bit of an uptick), here's an interesting development from a different front:
"China's CNPC has pulled out from Iran's $4.8 billion South Pars gas project, Iran's oil minister said on Sunday, after France's Total abandoned the deal last year amid looming US sanctions on Tehran"
Yes, even China.  Last year we noted the impotent attempts of the EC to assist Total in evading US sanctions against Iran; and the position remains the same: in the world of commerce, only outright pirates choose to flout US sanctions.

All this at a time where China is attempting to have its writ run over anyone daring to criticise what they are up to in Hong Kong - see this piece.  But China may not be quite ready to ignore world opinion and simply crush HK dissent.  Finessing this - its timing, and its impact on Xi's ultimate determination to retake Taiwan during his own tenure - is evidently going to be tricky.  Perhaps he's waiting for a Democrat prez: though that might be a bit of an unknown quantity ...

The struggle for global hegemony between the two superpowers is going to be a helluva 50-year firework display. 


Wednesday 9 October 2019

Which Factor Weighs More in a Ballot Box?

"The wellspring of Tory electoral confidence is Jeremy Corbyn... voters sense that the opposition is crawling with cranks and bullies.   Luckily for Corbyn, Johnson is striving to make the Tories look even more unhinged and thuggish ... Many anti-Brexit voters have no more patience with Labour and no respect for its leader.  But Johnson’s Trumpian excesses make Labour government seem sensible by comparison, even to people who once recoiled at the thought of Corbyn in Downing Street.  It is hard to know which of those factors weighs more in a ballot box."
Sounds about right. Who, indeed, can tell?  


Tuesday 8 October 2019

Dominic Cummings speaks

So, Dominic Cummings has decided to try and game the coming General Election by releasing a statement to The Spectator. it is very rare I would post like thism but given the state the Government has found itself in, this is quite some statement. Read it for yourselves:

‘The negotiations will probably end this week. Varadkar doesn’t want to negotiate. Varadkar was keen on talking before the Benn Act when he thought that the choice would be ‘new deal or no deal’. Since the Benn Act passed he has gone very cold and in the last week the official channels and the backchannels have also gone cold. Varadkar has also gone back on his commitments — he said if we moved on manufactured goods then he would also move but instead he just attacked us publicly. It’s clear he wants to gamble on a second referendum and that he’s encouraging Barnier to stick to the line that the UK cannot leave the EU without leaving Northern Ireland behind.
There are quite a few people in Paris and Berlin who would like to discuss our offer but Merkel and Macron won’t push Barnier unless Ireland says it wants to negotiate. Those who think Merkel will help us are deluded. As things stand, Dublin will do nothing, hoping we offer more, then at the end of this week they may say ‘OK, let’s do a Northern Ireland only backstop with a time limit’, which is what various players have been hinting at, then we’ll say No, and that will probably be the end.
Varadkar thinks that either there will be a referendum or we win a majority but we will just put this offer back on the table so he thinks he can’t lose by refusing to compromise now. Given his assumptions, Varadkar’s behaviour is arguably rational but his assumptions are, I think, false. Ireland and Brussels listen to all the people who lost the referendum, they don’t listen to those who won the referendum and they don’t understand the electoral dynamics here.
If this deal dies in the next few days, then it won’t be revived. To marginalise the Brexit Party, we will have to fight the election on the basis of ‘no more delays, get Brexit done immediately’. They thought that if May went then Brexit would get softer. It seems few have learned from this mistake. They think we’re bluffing and there’s nothing we can do about that, not least given the way May and Hammond constantly talked tough then folded.
So, if talks go nowhere this week, the next phase will require us to set out our view on the Surrender Act. The Act imposes narrow duties. Our legal advice is clear that we can do all sorts of things to scupper delay which for obvious reasons we aren’t going into details about. Different lawyers see the “frustration principle” very differently especially on a case like this where there is no precedent for primary legislation directing how the PM conducts international discussions.
We will make clear privately and publicly that countries which oppose delay will go the front of the queue for future cooperation — cooperation on things both within and outside EU competences. Those who support  delay will go to the bottom of the queue. [This source also made clear that defence and security cooperation will inevitably be affected if the EU tries to keep Britain in against the will of its government] Supporting delay will be seen by this government as hostile interference in domestic politics, and over half of the public will agree with us.
We will also make clear that this government will not negotiate further so any delay would be totally pointless.  They think now that if there is another delay we will keep coming back with new proposals. This won’t happen. We’ll either leave with no deal on 31 October or there will be an election and then we will leave with no deal.
‘When they say ‘so what is the point of delay?’, we will say “This is not our delay, the government is not asking for a delay — Parliament is sending you a letter and Parliament is asking for a delay but official government policy remains that delay is an atrocious idea that everyone should dismiss. Any delay will in effect be negotiated between you, Parliament, and the courts — we will wash our hands of it, we won’t engage in further talks, we obviously won’t given any undertakings about cooperative behaviour, everything to do with ‘duty of sincere cooperation’ will be in the toilet, we will focus on winning the election on a manifesto of immediately revoking the entire EU legal order without further talks, and then we will leave. Those who supported delay will face the inevitable consequences of being seen to interfere in domestic politics in a deeply unpopular way by colluding with a Parliament that is as popular as the clap.
Those who pushed the Benn Act intended to sabotage a deal and they’ve probably succeeded. So the main effect of it will probably be to help us win an election by uniting the leave vote and then a no deal Brexit. History is full of such ironies and tragedies.’

So basically, Cummings has gone BDS to denying the EU want a deal which they really do and instead now moving to blame everyone else for No Deal. Whilst there are elements of truth to this position re Varadkar, the threatening of EU members who will or won't entreat with us is just mad. After a No Deal Brexit the only thing on the Government's agenda will be seeking a deal to mitigate the downsides - blasting your future negotiating partner like this is very poor strategy. Yes we all know the Mad Parliament has created this situation unnessecarily but this is still not the only way out of the situation. 

Monday 7 October 2019

Monday Quick Takes

- Markets are unusually resilient given the shenanigans in both Washington and Westminster. I just hope this lasts!

- There is still no real insight from the EU as to what to do with Boris's new offer. Parliament is telling them to ignore it but there are a few worried in Brussels that their disingenuity will finally get spotted.

- Corbyn is well on the election war path, targeting football bosses now. Classic Corbyn timing as he attacks the Newcastle owner just as they finally have their biggest win in years.

- The Rugby world cup is still boring, the Group stages are entirely unnecessary as there are not 8 decent teams in the world worth watching.

Friday 4 October 2019

End Game?

One of the rules of journalism seems to be that a headline ending in a question-mark deserves the answer "no".  Still, we're in such uncertain times; we've pretty much eschewed prediction; and nobody want to advance even a tentative observation with the risk it will be trashed within the day.

So "?" it is.  However ...

Publication of the Boris Plan does seem to have characteristics of the starting-whistle of the End Game.  Immediately rubbished by the other side before they'd even read it; and statements like "we'll have to see how far they are willing to move on this before we go any further"  - those are classic gambits from Negotiating 1.01.   So much, so risible from the EC etc.  The more important factors, IMHO, are these:
  • it plays to the rapidly streamlining moods of the hour, which I would characterise as (a) Revoke Now (© J.Swinson);  (b) Get It Done (© B.Johnson);  (c) errrr... (© S.Milne).
  • [note that I don't list No Deal Now Or We'll Drag Everything Down To The Bottomless Pit, © contested between ERG and N.Farage.  Haven't heard very much of that just recently] 
  • the players that matter for its success have (apparently) been squared away: ERG, DUP (& maybe a handful of Labour MPs?).  For myself, with total lack of any inside information, Farage is an open issue in this regard [see above & below]
  • Corbyn has done nothing more subtle than reject it outright on the spot, and in so doing, tried to bundle up all Labour MPs into this rejection with a whisk of his hand - i.e. he has responded exactly as expected which means exactly as catered for 
It's pretty clear how Cummings/Johnson reckons this plays out from here.  Move to a Commons vote, irrespective of whatever noises are coming from Brussels (see below); win vote; present Brussels with a you-can-have-it-if-you-want-it fait accompli; if they still reject, Boris can No-Deal legitimately and legally.

  • the Pure Malice faction will be attempting to get a 100%, un-nuanced, total and utter rejection from the whole of the EU 27 and every organ of the EC.  That might cloud the issue if it's put to a Commons vote 
  • as stated here several times of late, the Grieve-Starmer-Bercow faction have proved to be fairly ingenious, and will be on the task 24/7.  Can't be sure (again, from my position of ignorance) what other outrageous parliamentary tactics they may try
  • SC seems willing to opine on whether government actions are in good faith or not - and everyone's screaming "Boris is acting in Bad Faith"
  • Farage.
Still: ERG + Tory Mainstream (incl most of the unwhipped rebels) + DUP = majority.  The key is sheer battle-fatigue, and maybe panic, amongst the Spartans - partly engendered by how 'clever' Grieve-Starmer-Bercow have been, showing them just how difficult it will be to drive for the Bottomless Pit.

Anyhow, that's my weekend summary.  Yours?


Tuesday 1 October 2019

BBC at it again - Hedge Fund Conspiracy nonsense

I really hate this BBC article. It is a classic bit of fake news.

BBC Fake news about conspiracy

It drives me mad when 'journalists' write this way. So the story is about the frankly ridiculous consipracy theory that somehow Boris Johnson is only doing Brexit at the bidding of Hedge Fund managers who want No Deal. This is a Labour party sponsored conspriacy, manufactured entiely by their PR department.

Rather than starting with the obvious point - that there is not one shred of evidence, anywhere,  for this baloney. The article instead spends ages saying why people might belive this were true, before, several tedious paragrapsh in, getting to the point that there is no evidence and even the tenets of the consiparcy have no merit.

Even then, it ends thus:

"The widespread acceptance of this current conspiracy theory demonstrates that this rings true for many. But, as yet, there has not been enough evidence produced that a few shadowy financiers are pulling the strings of a no-deal Brexit puppet."

So basically, it is OK to write about this becuase it sounds plausible even though there is no evidence for it. I would be hard pushed to say the article is even clear because the vast majority of it is spent re-gurgitating the Labour spin lines and only a tiny amount de-bunking at the end.

You may as well write articles about a moon made of cheese or Lizards controlling the UN. Someone remind me why I pay a licence fee to have people write badly hidden Labour Party propoganda?