Thursday, February 15, 2018

Brexit, Ayn Rand and democracy: is emigration the most rational solution for Remainers?

On Brexit, we're often reminded that this is the "will of the people". But we're as easily reminded that Brexit is also the "will of old people". Given that half the electorate's wishes are being actively ignored by the government, and with the support of the media are characterized as people who should "get over it", what can the "48%" do?

If their voices are being ignored by the government, one simple suggestion might be take the government's implied instruction to take advantage of Britain's unique place the world, and leave the country completely. If the government simply ignores half of the electorate, and the opinions of those under fifty, what moral authority does the government over them?


Democracy has been called by Marxists as "the dictatorship of the majority". But this is a false understanding of the term, because in a properly-functioning democracy the government is meant to represent and reflect the views of all the electorate, not just its own supporters. It's only if a government only listens to its own side when it becomes a system of majoritarianism, also known as "elective dictatorship". Sadly, this is the system that is too often the reality in the adversarial parliamentary system in Westminster.
The "First Past The Post" system has tended to create a system where governing parties simply take turns doing what they want, so that at each election when there is a change in government there is a chaotic "changing of the guard" that results in successive governments forever changing how social policy and national institutions are run. This explains how, for example, education in the UK is such a structural mess. The same is true for many aspects of government institutions. In this way, short-term thinking and an instinctive desire by new governments to change things for the sake of it have caused institutional chaos, with the civil service struggling to pick up the pieces.

Brexit and Theresa May's interpretation of it as a "divine cause" has meant the same culture of majoritarianism being applied in the most dogmatic and divisive way. As her instincts are toward a more authoritarian and hierarchical style of government, it has followed that those who are against this are against the "will of the people".
In a situation where half the electorate's opinions are ignored, what happens to their "will"? Have they lost the right to have a "will"? Free speech is an integral part of a properly-functioning democracy. Some in the Brexit-supporting media and in politics seem to suggest that the free speech of half of the electorate should be muzzled or at least questioned as "unpatriotic" if half of the electorate are opposed to what the other half are doing. These Brexit zealots argue that the opposing half should simply be quiet and let the country get on with it. In this sense, they want the other half of the country to pay taxes but otherwise not exist.

This is not how democracy is meant to work. Yes, there is a democratic process where all involved respect the process and institutions of government. But respecting the process doesn't mean being quiet. I'm reminded that when Theresa May made a speech that pitched why she called for the snap election, one of the reasons was that the opposition were daring to oppose the government on Brexit; in other words, she wanted a new election because parliament was acting as a parliament instead of just a rubber stamp! It should not be forgotten that many dictatorships in the world also have parliaments and elections, and some even have a legitimate opposition; the difference between those regimes and proper democracies is that in a dictatorship free speech is curtailed by the government and media and an opposition is only allowed to exist for cosmetic purposes. Is this the kind of regime that some Brexiteers would prefer?


In the current political environment in Britain, when the government is choosing to ignore the will of the 48%, one option open to them is emigration. As often said, the British passport is (or was, until recently) perhaps the most valuable passport to have in the world. As "Remainers" are often well-traveled, educated and open-minded, why should they not take heed of Theresa May's derision of calling them "citizens of nowhere" and become citizens of the world, using their passport to make a success of their lives outside of a Britain that no longer cares for them?
With the self-destructive direction that the government seems to be taking Brexit, European migrants are already ahead of the curve on this, with new arrivals declining to a trickle, and a steady stream of those already here returning home. In this way, economic self-interest serves as the best motivation over emotional ties. Likewise, Japan's recent warning to Theresa May that Brexit could easily lead to their businesses simply pulling out completely is another reminder of the economic consequences; those that see no future will leave the country. "Remainers" might be wise to follow the same track of economic self-interest, using their skills and experience to migrate to countries where they are in more demand and will get greater respect, a better salary and better quality of life.

There is a delicious irony in this "solution". Those that voted to leave the EU tended to be either the entitled, looked-after middle classes of the shires, or the uneducated, unskilled segment of the population who only saw "abroad" as the place to get a sun tan and get drunk. Their motivations to leave the EU were emotional, not rational. As Britain's government seems to be ran by the same combination of incompetence, ignorance and entitlement, then is it not a fate that the people who voted for them deserve? The "leavers" voted for Brexit for emotional reasons, some of them so impassioned of their hatred for the EU that they would seemingly happily live in a Britain that was impoverished as long as they had their "freedom". Boris Johnson's recent speech reminded us that those that voted to leave the EU did so because many of them simply didn't understand how it worked. This is an tacit admission that Brexit is guided on the emotions of ignorance.
It is not for "Remainers" to feel any obligation to try to live and work in a country with a government that treats them with such contempt, ran by ignorant incompetents and charlatans. Any appeals by the government for "Remainers" to stay in the country to make Brexit work - when the government seems to be doing all it can to ensure it doesn't work - are nothing more than emotional blackmail; appeals to blind patriotism from a government on a self-destructive mission. If the "leavers" want to run Brexit Britain into the ground as an economic basket base, why should others who didn't choose this fate be obliged to assist them? They have their passports; why not make full use of them?

"A Is A"

One last irony to mention is how this emigration "solution" bears some parallels to the plot of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged". The "Brexit Agenda" is at its heart a libertarian project, and many of its advocates are well-versed in Rand's thinking and her literature. In "Atlas Shrugged", the country's "great and good" began disappearing from public life against the onset of an increasingly-pervasive Socialist government. After disappearing into voluntary exile, the country quickly began to fall apart as its institutions and businesses became ran by incompetents and boneheaded ideologues. The "great and the good" would only return when they could transform the country into a "libertarian utopia".
This is the delusional vision that many "Brexiteers" have, except that in our reality it is they who are the incompetent and boneheaded ideologues, and it is the "Remainers" who are being implicitly pushed into emigrant "exile".
If a significant proportion of the native population did emigrate (for the sake of argument, let's say ten per cent), this could make Brexit and its after effects economically-comparable with Russia in 1990s. The other irony is that, as all predictions are that Brexit will have significant negative effects on Britain's economy, "Remainers" are the best equipped people to "ride out the storm", especially if many of them did emigrate, at least for a while. Then, when things did eventually get better - one way or the other - they would be well-placed to return to Britain to bring their skills and experience to "make Britain great again". By that point, maybe the government would have even restored its respect for "citizens of nowhere".
And at this point, the poetic parallel with the plot of "Atlas Shrugged" would have come full circle. The "Remainers" would return to rescue Britain once the deluded, incompetent Brexiteers had finally shown their true anarchic colours for the rest of the world to see. The Britain that followed from this traumatic set of events would hopefully be one radically more progressive and innately "European", after seeing what nightmare Britain became if left to be ruled by a reactionary, parochial elite. In this way, from a "Remainer" point of view, the only positive to "Hard Brexit" might, might, be that the resulting economic meltdown would utterly discredit all the rhetoric of the Brexiteers, and Britain would embrace a strong European partnership as the only feasible option the country has for its future.
This might all be as much a pipedream as the vision that the "Brexiteers" have of Britain thriving as never before outside the EU, but for "Remainers", it's the only way to see any potential positive out of "Hard Brexit".

One wonders if this isn't precisely the kind of thinking that is going on in the mind of Jeremy Corbyn; keeping his powder dry, biding his time and waiting for the Tories to destroy themselves (but also, alas, half of the country with it). In the minds of some Momentum activists, it's easy to imagine them waiting for the rapture of "JC" to follow from the "end of days" rule of the "satanic" Brexiteers. "St Jeremy" Corbyn's strategy - a monastic Brexit vow of silence - is certainly morally questionable, as is his presumed strategy of biding his time. But, given the grim political situation which provides a lack of other real options, what else is there?

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Brexit Britain and free trade: a "bargain basement" economy and a "whore to the world"?

The true meaning of what Brexit means for Britain's global standing is starkly illustrated in this piece.
It was a few years ago when Cameron was still Prime Minister that this author was discussing how the government had already debased Britain's dignity in its desperation to seek investment from foreign powers.

Brexit simply amplifies this strategy to the nth degree. In its desperation to get free trade deals with countries outside the EU, the government would pay almost any price, would have to do any deal possible; because the alternative, like with the EU, is "no deal", and falling back on to WTO rules.
This is the natural result of the government putting itself in a "diplomatic no-man's-land", by refusing to follow any other existing arrangement between the EU and other countries. As someone else once said, "Hard Brexit" is Britain telling the EU: do what I say or I will shoot myself!

The situation would be laughable were it not so serious. The government's post-Brexit global strategy appears to be to do deals with rogue regimes and dodgy dictators, and when not doing that, its ministers are proposing Brexit Britain as some kind of unilateral free trade area to attract foreign attention.

As pointed out, the idea of effectively turning Britain into a worldwide "bargain basement" would be catastrophic for many sectors of industry and manufacturing. The author elsewhere has made the point that some of the Brexiteers' ideas seem to cross over into the realm of anarchic fantasy. Because these people in government see that trade with the EU is so seamless, they have not the faintest comprehension of the deep complexity involved behind the scenes that makes this seamless world possible. Without creating the complex infrastructure necessary to get through the plethora of EU systems, once Britain left the EU that "deep complexity" would be an almost insurmountable barrier to easily trading with them, as this complexity would confront almost every aspect of the modern economy. It is a pipedream (or dangerous fantasy) to think that Britain would be able to trade freely and easily with the EU while simultaneously wishing to be separate from its systems. The recent example of Catalonia's brief quixotic escapade into "independence" demonstrated how legislators with no idea of the practicalities of their ideas quickly become tragic figures of mockery.

Meanwhile, we have the speeches of the "three stooges" - Boris, David Davis and Liam Fox - to look forward to. What's already clear is that they see Brexit as, at the very least, an instrument to turn Britain into a low-regulation, low-tax economy and potential free trade zone. Put in these terms, it sets up Britain as a "whore to the world": with Britannia's legs metaphorically spread open, inviting all and sundry around the globe to her take advantage of her flaunted assets.

What this feels like is not Britain ran for the benefit of its citizens, but for the benefit of its amoral elite, who are happy to exploit its native population, with rich foreigners invited to a "bargain basement" economy to make the most of the opportunity. In this sense, the Conservative Party seems to treat its governance of Britain as though they were an occupying power rather than fellow natives. When the Normans first took over England, they faced years of opposition and insurgency in the North, resulting in the so-called "harrowing" that left a landscape across that part of England called simply "waste". The Thatcherite agenda of de-industrialisation left a similar, post-modern sort of economic "wasteland" across many towns in the North of England and South Wales, which has never really recovered ever since. All that was left was insecure, poorly-paid employment and a local population in the depths of poverty and the inevitable social malaise of crime, drug and alcohol dependency brought on by a feeling of abandonment. The vision that the Brexiteers offer here is even more apocalyptic to those areas already feeling abandoned after decades of neglect. Either by ignorance or by design, this vision is one that yet further punishes the areas that traditionally voted Labour, with a similar heartless mentality as that of the Normans towards the Anglo-Saxon miscreants of yesteryear.

The completion of Britain's "de-industrialisation" agenda seems to be being pursued by some sections of the Brexiteers, so that when "hard Brexit" is achieved, Britain's final state will be an economy ran on banking, retail and services alone, with manufacturing, industry and farming decimated, and everything else being imported. It is almost as though some advocates of "hard Brexit" wish to take Britain back to an pre-industrial economy, like that of the middle of the 18th century, albeit with cosmetic modern structures. The author is reminded of how the modern Gulf States are an example of medieval societies ran with 21st century technology. Is this the kind of vision the Brexiteers have for Britain in the near future?
The only parts of the economy that the rich elite are interested in are the ones where they can make a quick profit. After all, this is how the property bubble has expanded in London. As they see it, there is no future in manufacturing, as this is all done in China. The government is only useful in the short-term sense that it has assets that they can sell off to foreign investors. The "skilled economy" is only useful in the narrow sense that they see from their own background. This explains why there is so little time spent on investment or training in large parts of business and government. If it's cheaper to get a foreign company to do it, then why bother with the time spent training up a native? This is why the growth in employment is largely in the unskilled sectors, and will continue in this trend as long as the economy continues down the same self-destructive path. The end result of this would be a native British population that is treated as an uneducated rabble, lorded over by a profiteering elite and their "foreign investor" friends. Britain would be ruled like a third world country.

The "Brexit Agenda" is no more than the logical conclusion of wanting to turn Britain into the bargain basement of the developed world, where its assets are sold off to foreign buyers without a moment's thought for its effects on the population. Brexit Britain's ruling elite seem to relate their interests far more with the other rich elites of the world, such as the Middle East, China or Russia. It is these people who pay for their children to go to Britain's best universities, buy up luxury property as a way to hide their dodgy assets, spend their money shopping in London's high class stores, make use of Britain's tax havens, and so on. The Brexiteers relate to these people and their motivations far more than the "ordinary people" of Britain, who by contrast are as distant to their own lives as peasants are to landowners. The "little people" are of no consequence.
This explains why the Brexiteer elite are in hock with so many profiteering interest groups; because they think like they do, and only are interested in ways to make money for themselves. Lazily, they might assume that if they are making money then it must be good for everyone else lower down in the economic food chain too; all those who are worse off from this would then only have themselves to blame.

This is the morality of the sociopath, who has little understanding or empathy for the problems of others, and only assumes that other people's problems are brought on by themselves. As he sees it, his success was by his own actions alone, and any good fortune that came his way was nothing more than "karma".
Corruption and exploitation are the inevitable result of this mentality, and we can see this is the kind of economic model that Brexiteers seem to be championing.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Brexit and the Conservative Party: a political nervous breakdown

There's a perceptible "last days of the Roman Empire" feel to Britain's governance under Theresa May and the Conservative Party.

Brexit seems to the Tories like the political equivalent of a nervous breakdown: some kind of unresolved psychological trauma that has been haunting the party's psyche ever since the UK joined the EEC, pushed to the back of the collective party's mind, until it was forcibly brought to the front of their attention by UKIP and David Cameron's referendum.
The issue could have been ignored, I suppose; UKIP would have won the European elections in 2014 regardless of whatever Cameron decided to do. That fate was settled with the unique result of the 2010 election, that kicked out the Labour Party, but neither gave a ringing endorsement to the Tories either. So we had the "coalition", with the result that Britain's three main parties were either in government, or had just been tarnished by it. It was this landscape that gave UKIP its opportunity.
As UKIP were really just the outside "radical wing" of the Conservatives, with many Tory MPs having views that were barely distinguishable from UKIP itself, the result was a "militant" arm of the governing party, with "moral support" from UKIP. This was the landscape that Cameron had to deal with after the 2010 election. The decision to give in to these pressures, rather than "ride out" the storm until the next election, tells us a lot about Cameron's personality. As well as appeasing this dual threat from his own party's radicals and the guerrilla tactics of UKIP, he also called the referendum for other, more vain, reasoning; he called for it simply because he assumed he would win.

Once the referendum was "lost", Cameron effectively handed to moral authority of his party (and the government) to his party's "militant wing", and the agenda of UKIP. The result of this was that Theresa May copied much of UKIP's rhetoric as well large parts of its social agenda, in order to appear on the side of the 52%. Apart from leaving the EU, May went even further with her radical envisaging of Britian's role outside the EU: to leave leave not only the single market, but the customs union as well; something that not even many UKIP supporters had considered feasible. Thus, in May's over-zealousness in want to appear on the side of the 52%, she went down a path that only a fraction of her own party's backbenchers (represented by the "European Research Group") followed.

In this sense, May's course of action since the referendum has been to place the government into the hands of the radical agenda of a faction in her party. She has disavowed any hint of moderation, and doggedly pursued an agenda that to any reasoned person's eyes looks completely unhinged. Although she has been able to keep her cabinet and her party's divisions from bringing down the government, this has only been achieved through her and her ministers' pronouncements that are feats in nonsensical semantic waffle. The government and its party are only held together by their fear of allowing Jeremy Corbyn become Prime Minister if they should fall. On Brexit, the Conservatives are impossibly divided.

As Michel Barnier has said, the clock is ticking. As well as the "clock ticking" on Brexit, the clock may also be ticking on the fate of the Conservative Party. Because the party has brought its own European psycho-drama out into the open, as it once fatefully did in the late '80s and early '90s, any observer can see that the party's differences are intractable. Now that the "clock is ticking", sooner or later, Theresa May, or her successor (more on that in a moment) will have to decide. If they don't decide, the EU will decide for them.
Theresa May so far has kept the government together simply by not dealing with the central issue, but putting it off repeatedly at each juncture with more useless waffle. The central issue is Britain's future relationship with the EU, and what the government's agreed position is. The problem is that the government doesn't have one. As the party is really a coalition of ideas, with the radicals in the ascendancy, everyone has a different opinion, as can be seen by ministers giving contradictory views on Brexit, even on the same day.

None of the options look good for the Conservatives.

If Theresa May somehow manages to get the government to have an agreed position that is somehow agreeable to the EU, this implies that a compromise would be involved, which would infuriate the radicals. The result of this could well be May losing confidence of her backbenchers and a new (radical) leader being selected, leading to a retraction of any previously-made agreement. Therefore Britain would likely leave the EU without any agreed terms (i.e. WTO). The result of this on the British economy is likely to be catastrophic, with the Conservative government getting the blame.
If May continues to procrastinate (as expected) and fails to reach an agreement on a transitional deal with the EU, the Tories will do badly in the local elections in May. This is likely to precipitate a leadership challenge and a new (radical) leader. Therefore Britain would likely leave the EU without any agreed terms (i.e. WTO). The result of this on the British economy is likely to be catastrophic, with the Conservative government getting the blame.
If May continues to procrastinate (as expected), fails to reach an agreement on a transitional deal with the EU, but the Tories don't challenge her leadership, then May will continue through the rest of the Brexit process until next year, when she can then be safely replaced and any mess can be blamed on her. The difficulty this would bring, and the likelihood of leaving the EU without a deal before March 2019, is that the Conservative Party's inner contradictions on Britain's future may well reach a point of detonation.
A last option (for the sake of brevity I've reduced them to four) is that the government somehow falls completely later on this year as a result of an impasse in the talks with the EU, or the government being forced to make a choice on Brexit that is simply impossible for some parliamentarians to accept; they would rather Labour take the heat for any future Brexit fall-out than themselves.

With the clock ticking, the EU will soon force the government to choose, or the EU will choose for it. If the government chooses a "soft" of "hard" Brexit (which will be indicated by how the transition talks pan out), it will anger one of the sides of its party, as just said. If the government doesn't decide, the EU will assume that the UK wants a "hard" Brexit, for the lack of receiving any other instruction from London. Ditto result for the Conservative Party.

Put it these terms, the Conservative government is quickly running out of time. They will face their fate, regardless of what they say or do. It is unavoidable. For now, they are running around like headless chickens, talking about Brexit "blue sky" thinking for how to make their contradictory and nonsensical ideas become a reality.
But Brussels will give the hammer blow of reality to the Conservative government sooner or later. What will be the state of the Conservative Party after that is anyone's guess. This fatalistic "end of days" narrative that seems to apply to the Tories reminds me of an article I wrote several years ago about the film "The Dark Knight Rises" and the psychology of the antagonist, Bane: it feels as though the Tories are in hock to their own ideological "league of shadows" - the "radical" Brexiteers - who are hell-bent on completely severing Britain's relationship with Europe, regardless of its impact on Britain or even their own party.
The looming threat of "hard Brexit" (like in the plot of "The Dark Knight Rises") feels a lot like the slow countdown of an economic time-bomb; the radical Brexiteers are either blindly-ignorant to this fate, or seem to implicitly welcome it, for their own reasons. "Hard Brexit" seems as the economic equivalent to Gotham's nuclear bomb, where the only people who hope for "zero hour" are the ones that either hope to get rich from Britain's carcass, or have a violent, millennarian agenda that requires the collapse of British society.
In this real-life "Gothic tale", the only saviour seems to come from the voices of the sane, who are being ignored.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Theresa May: Britain's worst Prime Minister?

The title of Britain's worst Prime Minister must have a number of contenders, but for the sake of contemporary relevance, Theresa May has few rivals in living memory to compare with. David Cameron's tenure in office ended in being defeated by his own vanity; in the EU referendum, gambling one time too many that he could predict and manipulate the political weather for his own benefit. His time in office was therefore an exemplar in the use of vain posturing and low politics that covered his own shallow sense of morality. His term as Prime Minister achieved little of real substance, except for his "austerity agenda" setting up his successor with a plethora of mounting domestic problems (economic and social), and the self-inflicted mess of Brexit.
The author has said before how Theresa May was dealt a poor hand when she succeeded, so anyone would have struggled. With hindsight, it is now painfully apparent that Theresa May was perhaps the  person in Cameron's senior cabinet least psychologically and intellectually qualified to deal with the issues at her door. She is a prime example of an utter mediocrity who has risen far above her station, and is now holding her office simply for the convenience of her party.


If the definition of the Prime Minister's role is to deal with the nation's problems and make decisions, then Theresa May is by definition failing to carry out her constitutional duties. As wonderfully satirized by John Crace, "there’s hardly a part of the country that isn’t falling apart around the prime minister’s ears as she devotes all her attention to doing nothing about Brexit" . 
Crace sums up the situation succinctly. Week by week, aspects of life in Britain take on elements of Gothic Horror: hospitals unable to cope while they also face mounting staffing problems; the education system seemingly in slow meltdown as teachers leave in droves over the ever-mounting and soul-destroying work schedule, while many private academies are facing their own financial apocalypse; some local councils now facing the very real threat of insolvency due to government-imposed austerity; an economy that provides only poverty-level work for many, leaving thousands in malnutrition and struggling to pay the bills; a housing market that works more like a Ponzi scheme for the rich, while leaving everyone else struggling to pay for ever-rising rents in (often unsafe) housing. And then there's the homelessness epidemic that is a result of much of the above.

All these problems, and countless other social issues, are going unaddressed while the Prime Minister is supposed to be dealing (but not dealing) with Brexit. While the fact that she now presides over a minority government she helped create doesn't help, this doesn't mean the government is incapable of action. On the contrary, a more pro-active and forward-thinking Prime Minister would take the opportunity to work with the opposite bench in parliament to get legislation through, in the manner of a "national government". This has happened in the past, as it is necessary for any minority government to function in a meaningful way. But she is psychologically and intellectually incapable of doing this (more on that later).
As her role in Downing Street seems to be simply to hold her party together long enough to see Brexit through - by the end of March next year - everything else becomes neglected, even critical decisions on Brexit itself. Because her party and her cabinet is irrevocably divided on Brexit and the desired outcome, May can do nothing but make pointless, superficial noises on the issue that are in reality meaningless. In this sense, she is the helpless adjudicator in an ideological coalition of incompatible ideas. If she seems to veer too close to the "softer" side of Brexit, the "hard" Brexiteers rein her back. If she veers too close to the "hard" end of the spectrum, those at the other end make their own "noises off". So far, hers is a government by procrastination and indecision, incapable of making a decision.
And because of the lack of any real decision-making, the UK may still end up leaving the EU next year without any real deal at all and no meaningful transition. The indecision is also causing the country's business leaders to seriously wonder about the future of the British economy. It's no wonder that in receiving no words to the positive from London, the EU is drawing up its own plans. The only place to get sane council on Brexit these days is in Brussels. 


The other problem with May is that on the rare occasions she is decisive, she seems heartless.

When it comes to Brexit issues such as EU citizens rights and migration, her former role as Home Secretary seems to colour (or more accurately, tarnish) her outlook: keen to reduce immigration regardless of its human impact, she seems willing to use EU citizens as "hostages" in the negotiation, threatening to withdraw their rights after March 2019. Apart from the psychological toll this would have on the millions of Europeans in the UK, it demonstrates how little thought she has given to its real impact on millions of families. Then there are the draconian methods used by the Home Office to detain and deport EU migrants currently, effectively persecuting them for being unable to make an economic success of their life in the UK.
Apart from Brexit issues, there are the already-mentioned domestic issues that May is making worse, not only through her inept inaction, but also through her stubbornly-myopic view of politics. Her background as a provincial (insular?) Home Counties vicar's daughter seems to play a part in this, being incapable of seeing the many problems of other parts of society, except at the most superficial and prejudicial level. Margaret Thatcher seemed to have a similar problem (and with, in some ways, a similarly-provincial mindset). But Theresa May takes this lack of empathy to a different level of indifference: while Thatcher's indifference might have been explained by a form of intellectual detachment, May's indifference seems to come from a more deep-seated psychological insecurity, where she dresses up her own sense of inadequacy in an unbending persona of rigid orthodoxy. This also explains why her instincts are reactionary and authoritarian.
This also further explains why she struggles to look human at times, and why she struggles to understand the problems of people she can't relate to. In times like this, when under attack for her perceived lack of humanity, her instinct is to become psychologically abusive and mean-spirited. As seen in her recent attacks on Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs, she laid into the NHS problems in "Labour Wales" and the policing problems in "Labour London", even though her government is ultimately responsible for cutting the funding to both.


Another form of May's failure is her long record of incompetence and political short-termism.

The earlier example of May's commitment to restricting the rights of EU citizens in Britain after March 2019 is also an example of her insular thinking: by restricting the rights of Europeans in Britain, it forces the EU to restrict the rights for Brits living and working in the EU. So May's thinking is both counter-productive and thoughtless.
This pattern continues to her stubborn insistence on Britain leaving the single market and the customs union, which anyone with a semblance of understanding of the practicalities would know it meant the British economy quickly falling apart without any replacement systems in place. But again, apart from her failure to grasp even the basics on many issues, from the economy to social issues, she is only able to think one step at a time, incapable of longer-term or three-dimensional thinking.
This form of political short-termism has plagued government and the economy for years, but Theresa May seems to encapsulate the problem completely. Her job is to keep her party in government long enough to complete Brexit; what happens to the country in the meantime or afterwards seems irrelevant.
Incapable of thinking two steps ahead of the game, she is constantly being manipulated into doing whatever the person with the loudest voice at that moment (usually a Brexiteer) has to say. As said earlier, her minority government was her own fault, but as she is intellectually incapable of any forward thinking, it also means she is incapable of knowing how to work with the opposition to get anything done in parliament. Even on Brexit, the one thing she is meant to be focused on, she is incapable of getting opposing sides to work together and reach a sane compromise. As far as she is concerned, the opposition is the opposition, and working with them, even in the national interest, would be anathema. Better that the country go to the dogs than let the opposition get a sniff of power, so it would appear.

For all these reasons, Theresa May makes a strong case for Britain's worst Prime Minister. The fact that she is running the country (at least on paper) during the most diplomatically-intractable time the country has had since the Second World War, which will have long-term consequences for the country's future, is appalling.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Theresa May and Brexit Britain: A "Jekyll and Hyde" personality running a Gothic Horror show?

There are mounting reports of people within the parliamentary Conservative Party at the end of their tether with Theresa May's premiership and her "handling" of government.

The symbolism of Theresa May's tenure is not good, to say the least. She has presided over a mounting number of scandals that have cost her ministers their jobs. Meanwhile, there are ministers who ought to have been sacked, and ordinarily would have been sacked, but haven't. While the economy is meant to be at its highest level of employment for years, in every other sense, large parts the country look like they're falling apart. From councils unable to pay for basic services, massive staff cutbacks all across the public sector (including HMRC), the mechanics of the state seem to be seizing up.or disintegrating.
From the shocking rise in rough sleeping and homelessness, to the shockingly-inhumane state of much rental property, the country is simply "not fit for purpose" for much of its own population; it's a struggle to simply exist from day to day. Meanwhile, in London the property bubble is in its own unreality, where there are now more and more luxury tower blocks being built when there isn't even enough demand for what is already there. This is an economy that is in denial, where those building luxury pads didn't seem to even notice or care that the property was built not as an asset to be used but as just a speculative tool to be sold on again before it was even finished. It is another example of the "Ponzi scheme" mentality that appears to exist in the minds of many of the rich and powerful that run the country, from the now-bankrupt Carillion to London property builders who seem to be living on borrowed time.
From the symbolism of MPs refusing to leave a parliament building that is unsafe and no longer fit for purpose, to the symbolism of a "zombie" Prime Minister too paralyzed by circumstances and her own neuroses to do or change anything, an atmosphere of "Gothic Horror" seems to seep over the halls of government. And this is all without even mentioning the ongoing train-wreck that is Brexit. 

"Weak and dithering" versus "mean and dictatorial"?

Presiding over all of this is Theresa May. It could be argued that she happened to become Prime Minister at the wrong time. Her pallor and demeanor make it more apt to call her "Theresa Gray", a monochrome personality more in tune with the dour 1950s, while the various flaws in her personality give that moniker an extra-Gothic symbolism. Yes, she inherited Brexit. Yes, she inherited the same economic model as Cameron and Osborne that has seen food banks and zero-hours contracts soar. Yes, she inherited the same broken housing market with the same property bubble. And all those problems are now bit by bit coming home to roost.
However, her personality is making all of those problems worse, either through inaction, intransigence or incompetence. In some ways, it could be argued that she has something of a "split personality". A recent commentator talked about her in relation to the "Wizard Of Oz" -  being a pitiful nobody behind an imposing front - and that analogy makes a lot of sense. Her tenure at the Home Office (though in my view this antagonistic agency ought to be re-named the "Hate Office") was marked by her making a name for herself through highly-visible acts of meanness, from her poor relationship with the police, to blaming underlings for immigration and border problems, to the "Go Home" vans. This, and her loyalty to Cameron, was what kept in place until 2016.

It was her role as Home Secretary that made us see the "mean and dictatorial" side to her personality. As she was rarely put in a position that challenged this persona, by the time Cameron resigned, this all fed into an impression among some that this meant she was also "strong and stable". It was here where the Thatcher comparisons started.
This "Wizard Of Oz" perception continued up to the election campaign. Supported by Nick Timothy - known by his detractors as "Rasputin" - and Fiona Hill (who both seemed to run the show behind the scenes), it seemed to bring out the more unpleasant aspects to May's personality, running the government as a near-dictatorial personality cult. Of course, this is all very easy when someone's status is unchallenged, like May's was in the Home Office.

It was the disastrous campaign of the snap election that she called that changed all that. "Strong and stable" suddenly became "weak and wobbly". The "Wizard Of Oz" had had the curtain pulled down before him (or rather, her). Under pressure for the first real time in the public sphere, May crumpled.
Since then, May's tenure has all been about "damage limitation", to little real effect. Although she often seems to find the time to find her malevolent inner "Mrs Hyde" when at PMQs, (such as by attacking Corbyn's sincerity or mocking his style of politics, or by disseminating a barrage of linguistic nonsense to deflect from her government's failings) she is no longer really "running the country".
Thanks to her government now being reliant on the whims of Brexiteers in her party, "Brexit" is really the only thing the government is focused on; and even on that, no-one can agree. So in this sense, there isn't really a functioning "government" of the meaning of the word at all. Without a majority, and refusing on principle to compromise with the opposition, the government can not do anything, except "Brexit". And as already said, on "Brexit" no-one had the first clue what they are doing.
Because she lost the election and her party's majority, she is the "prisoner of Downing Street", hostage to the will of the personalities in the cabinet and the wider party. She has no moral authority. All that is left is the weak and dithering "Dr Jekyll" aspect to her personality: the persona with no sense of purpose, indecisive, ill at ease, insecure, paralysed by self-doubt. This is the worst type of persona to have in a national leader at any time; at this current time, with Brexit and a burgeoning host of other domestic issues that have been left to fester, it is catastrophic . When the main feeling towards her that those who meet her get is one of of pity, it is a terrible indictment on the mental state of the Prime Minister.

In this sense, the (perhaps harsh-sounding) "Jekyll and Hyde" analogy is there more to reflect the apparently contrasting manifestations of May's ego; it is not there to accuse May of being some kind of abomination. From a psychological perspective, the mean and dictatorial "Mrs Hyde" part of her personality seems to be the coldly-inhuman and narcissistic public persona she has often exhibited, and is the one that made her Prime Minister; the "Dr Jekyll" part of her seems to be the fragile and fraught "inner child" inside her, where her humanity is reflected only in the sense of it demonstrating her frailties.
In order for her to have success in her political career, then, she may have had to repress the more humane aspects of her ego; in the dog-eat-dog, masculine-led world of politics, this makes some practical sense, although it is still an indictment of a pervasively-toxic psychology within the system. Her "Nasty Party" speech early in her parliamentary career, that marked as appearing as a "compassionate conservative", was long forgotten by the time she had become an antagonistic Home Secretary. Unfortunately, her own neuroses could not hide the fact that she lacked the intellectual grasp and the sharpness of mind to tackle the (in her own words) "burning issues" of the country. As a result of this, her own incompetence as premier that had been been initially masked by a sycophantic and loyal coterie began to desert her once it was clear that she was incapable of changing. 
In this way, the much-mocked "running in wheat fields" story actually reflects a lot on May's self-image: the child who never did anything wrong becoming the Prime Minister who could not do anything right. She has become a truly tragic political figure, coming to symbolise all that is wrong with how the country is run, and everyone can see it. It's hard to know if her stubborn refusal to stand down is through some twisted sense of "duty" to her party, or through a "head-in-the-sand" inability to deal with the forlorn reality of her position.

The fact that the country feels as though it's slowly falling apart is symbolised by this Gothic mood music coming from Downing Street. If the country is slowly falling apart, it's because no-one is running the show: a powerless national leader unable to focus or make decisions on anything, reliant on a "freak show" of personalities around her. Through either lack of thought to the country or from lack of drive from within, this has become a live-action horror show. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

An ABC of immorality: From Austerity to Brexit and Carillion

Morality is a political issue, and different sides of the political spectrum tend to see what is "moral" and "immoral" in a different way. To say that something is "immoral" is to make a judgement on another person's behaviour i.e. that what someone else is doing is "wrong" and harmful.

Politics enters the equation when you answer the question: "wrong" to who? For example, conservative morality (what many would call "traditional values") teaches us that homosexuality is "immoral", while capital punishment is not. Liberal morality would consider the former to be neither moral nor immoral (as it is private behaviour and not "harmful" to anyone else), while the latter (capital punishment) would be immoral as a form of state-sanctioned murder, apart from its ineffectiveness as a deterrent. In this way, liberals would see the traditionalists' view of morality as more emotional that rational: capital punishment is "moral" because it makes traditionalists "feel good"; likewise, homosexuality is "immoral" because it makes traditionalists "feel bad". For moral traditionalists, it is not about what is better for society, but what makes them feel better themselves. It is a form of moral imposition of their perspective on the rest of society. While traditionalists always couch their morality in the perspective of what is meant to be better for everyone, the reality is that they are imposing their morality, in dictating what they think others must and must not do. This "moral imposition" has been displayed in its most sadistic form in the territories controlled by ISIS.

Traditionalists in Britain see the liberal changes in social policy, such as the legalisation of gay marriage, to be a sign of the country's immorality. It is not coincidence that there is a large overlap in the same people who oppose gay marriage also being against EU membership, and against policies such as foreign aid, while also believing that a large proportion of welfare recipients are "scroungers".
From a liberal perspective, what traditionalists see as "wrong" are nothing of the sort; meanwhile, the real problems that exist in society (such as poverty, crime and social disparity) are explained by traditionalists as being down to individual decisions; choices that people have decided to make. Those at the top of the pile are there on merit, and therefore their behaviour is automatically considered more "moral" than those at the bottom.

Put in this perspective, both liberals and traditionalists in contemporary Britain may well think that the country has entered a pit of moral lassitude and denigration, but for very different reasons.

The symbolism of decline, decay and a rotten state slowly falling to pieces seems to run through Theresa May's government.
It was the Grenfell Tower fire that seemed a physical symbol this. The fact that this fire happened due to a careless attitude towards the rules, as well as a careless attitude towards residents' safety, epitomises all that is morally wrong with modern Britain. The rules, so it seemed, were only there "for show": the many loopholes in the system in place demonstrated how little those in charge of the systems in place really cared. What mattered was the appearance of safety, the appearance of following the rules. Then there are other examples related to Grenfell, that demonstrate the sheer "fuck you" attitude prevalent in some of the elite towards those less fortunate than themselves.
The immorality of those in the elite in Britain is now becoming more and more transparent. There was a time when their views were expressed in private, knowing that they would face a rightful barrage of criticism if they were ever leaked out to the wider public; now these immoral ("non-PC") views are expressed openly. In this way, the immoral elite are lauded by some parts of the press for "saying it how it is".

"Moral regression"

The liberalisation of society and the progress towards a more moral (i.e. considerate) view of dealing with others such as minorities is now facing a strong push-back from traditionalists, who support the regressive agenda driven by UKIP. The financial crisis seems to have been the hinge point on this "moral regression". Up to that point, David Cameron had supported many aspects of the progressive social agenda of the governing Labour Party, including its stance on public spending. But the financial crisis saw him opportunistically support "austerity" as a way to differentiate his party, and create a real "moral" difference between their visions.
Put in this perspective, "austerity" was labelled as a "moral" act, as a way to restore the traditional values of society. Aside from his progressive agenda on issue like gay marriage, on the issue of "austerity" and its wider social effect, Cameron became almost puritanical in his use of this agenda as a way to remodel the morality of British society. However, the reality of this agenda, in meaning to reduce public spending as a deliberate act to change society, was to make society more unequal.

As "austerity" has now caused councils to radically scale back on the kinds of services they can provide, the day-to-day reality has meant less money to maintain street lighting, clean the streets and collect rubbish. And that's just the things that can be seen on the surface. When the same agenda is applied to the criminal justice system, the result is more crime. When it is applied to the welfare system - such as through "reforms" like Universal Credit and changes to other benefits - the result is more poverty; poverty that means that some people cannot even afford to properly eat, or afford to live in proper accommodation. The visible effect of this is a huge spike in homelessness and rough sleeping. The effect of "austerity" has been to make some parts of the country resemble a "failed state".
This is the real "moral" effect of austerity, and this agenda is pushed even further by those who support Brexit. The case for leaving the EU was put into words that made it seem like a divine cause ("Take Back Control!"); the EU was seen as an "immoral" institution that was undemocratic and destroyed Britain's ability to manage its own affairs. The EU was seen as the reason for many of Britain's ills; the reason that many parts of the UK felt ignored was (apparently) because of the EU.
This campaign was based on deceit and exploitation of people's genuine fears to further the agenda of an immoral few. After David Cameron had used his position as Prime Minister to gamble the future of the country on a party dispute, Theresa May grabbed hold of the "Brexit Agenda" to cement her own place in power.

A moral nadir?

Theresa May has presided over perhaps the most immoral British government in living memory. At a personal level, May's only quality as a politician seems to be able to disseminate, abusing the use of the English language in order to communicate garbage. All of her apparent "strengths" are merely a sign of her lack of empathy, while she sits in Downing Street as the "zombie Prime Minister". In the first phase of her premiership, the day-to-day running of her office was done by two advisers who everyone else was terrified of and who seemed to be ones really in charge. After losing the election she called, they were sacked, and her government continued only due to a billion-pound payment (in effect, a "bribe") to the DUP. As this was a payment whose effect was simply to keep May in power, the moral denigration of government had thus reached new depths.
This was going on at the same time as the Grenfell fire, while the Brexit negotiations that went on through the latter half of the year were being ran from Britain by a government whose strategy seemed designed to madden its European partners in its incoherence, double-dealing and dishonesty. Meanwhile, the government was treating parliament with contempt over its handling of Brexit.

By the time that three ministers had resigned (or been sacked) in the space of seven weeks due to various personal and professional failings, nothing seemed surprising any more. Even the fact that in the first of those resignations, the Defence Secretary was succeeded by a man who kept a pet tarantula in his parliamentary office, felt like something that was to be expected of a former Chief Whip. The "freak show" of personalities that now run the government, while parliament legislates in a building that is literally falling apart (and is a fire hazard) is emblematic of the moral collapse at the heart of the country.

Apart from the slow-motion train-wreck that is Brexit, the news about Carillion's collapse explained how broken the government-backed system of "crony capitalism" really is. This is a system that literally makes no economic sense to the government, other than to give the appearance of private sector success, while appearing to save the government money. Like with the fake system of health and safety in place at Grenfell, PFI is another "fake" system. Carillion ran its business like a Ponzi scheme, with each new contract paying for the last one. This follows the same path as has happened in other sectors, like energy and transport.
Lies and the facade of following the rules are what runs through how contemporary Britain seems to be ran. The housing market in London is supported by dirty money from Russia, the Middle East and elsewhere. The tax system is there only "for show", as the rich know all the loopholes they can use to avoid it, leaving it to the "little people" to be the ones that follow the rules. The only "moral" people, it seems, are those not rich enough to know how to exploit everyone else.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Austerity and Brexit Britain: "managed decline" or destroying the state?

The term "managed decline" when referred to Britain has been banded around for decades, ever since the end of the Second World War also marked the beginning of the end of its Empire. Joining the then EEC was about banding together with other European nations as a way to recognise the reality of Britain's diminished status as its Imperial status fell away. Since then, and in the last thirty years especially, Britain has seen a "restructuring" of the economy away from those sectors that effectively relied on its Imperial status for its survival and towards a service and finance-centred economy that was more dynamic to modern demands.
That "restructuring" is what the Tory Libertarians in government see as Britain's future. They see Britain outside the UK acting as a "Singapore-On-Thames", free from the shackles of EU regulation, free to trade with developing economies around the world; a "stripped-down" state that encourages its labour force to be forward-thinking and proactive about the country's challenges.

This vision is as delusional about the future as it is dishonest about the past. Just to name one example, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, is now talking about how the government ought to in the future grant subsidies to allow fields to return to their natural, wild state. As he claims, the CAP benefits wealthy landowners to provide perverse outcomes to agriculture. Thus, "Brexit Britain" will be about returning some of the countryside to its pre-industrial state.
This kind of policy would be considered laughable, except that this is a policy recommended by the chief minister responsible for agriculture. It is certainly true that the current rules benefit landowners; but to suggest that the answer would be for the government to pay for land to left deliberately unused is, for one, financial suicide from the government's point of view, and two, an utterly inefficient use of a commodity when the country will need to make money from all the land it can get after Britain leaves the EU. This "solution" also offers nothing on the much bigger issue of how much of the land in the UK is owned by a tiny number of people.

In other words, the government identifies a problem, then recommends the worst possible "solution". This has been a trend in this government for years. Other examples include the subsidies that the government pay to the privatised train companies (some of which are owned by foreign governments); the subsides paid to the privatised energy companies (some of which are also owned by foreign governments); the money now paid to universities by government in the form of student loans (much of which will remain unpaid) to pay for its policy of hugely-increased tuition fees. Then there are the numerous companies that the government "outsource" to in various capacities, from the justice system (prisons and detention centres), to the welfare system, and so on. These companies then almost always do the job that government did in a far more incompetent manner, because they have much tighter overheads to worry about (even with government assistance).

To pay for all this corporate largess, one solution the government came up with was "austerity". In the government's (false) narrative, the financial crisis was the result of the Labour government's overspending. Therefore, the Conservative government's main priority was to reduce government spending in any way it could. This also served the wider purpose of fitting in with the Libertarian agenda close to the heart of some in government, including those also in favour of Brexit. In this way, "austerity" was a means to an end: about permanently changing the perception in society that government was a reliable "safety net".
Cameron's idea of the "Big Society", formed prior to his conversion to the "austerity" agenda, was originally about the community helping out those in trouble, in order to help government. Instead, the "Big Society" under an "austerity" government has become a sick joke: where Food Banks are established in order to help those who cannot even afford to properly feed themselves (even those in work!), thanks to the government's own policies. In this manner, the government now praising the "Big Society" during a time of government-imposed austerity is a little like being attacked on the street, to then see the attacker later visiting the hospital where you are being treated for your injuries, in order to praise the staff for their work! The "austerity agenda" has spread into the welfare state, so that thanks to changes to disability assessment and the introduction of Universal Credit, more and more people are now unable to afford simple essentials, and some are homeless as well as starving.

A "failed state"?

In this way, aspects of Britain under the Conservative government have took on the appearance of a "failed state": where the government has effectively wiped its hands clean of whole areas of civil government and social welfare. Local governments are now deliberately starved of cash, with the result that essentials like bin collection and street lighting (without even mentioning the closing of "non-essential" things like local libraries) have been downgraded due to lack of money. Parts of the country look increasingly grubby and ill-maintained precisely because central government refuses to provide the cash. Meanwhile, the nakedly-visible increase of homelessness seen on the streets is the marker of a government that is failing its citizens.
Bear in mind again, these are conscious decisions by central government: they are choosing to do this. The money could be found if it wanted it; it simply chooses not to find it, and chooses to allow these services to wither.
In other areas such as policing and the prison service, cuts to funding have a direct consequence on public safety: the increase in violence and street crime is there for all to see, while the police state openly that certain crimes (like petty theft) will go un-investigated because they simply lack the resources. In prisons, violence is reaching levels closer to those seen in the developing world, rather than those expected for a G7 country.
Meanwhile cuts to defence also have reduced the country's ability to even properly monitor its own borders, let alone its involvement in overseas engagements. Vanity projects like the huge aircraft carriers now being put into service simply act as concrete evidence that the government is more interested in vain distractions than the reality of Britain's pygmy-like status on the military front, compared to its rivals.

The "austerity agenda" has now morphed into the "Brexit Agenda" since the referendum, but the goals are almost identical, in terms of its internal impact on the country.
The Libertarians in government behind the "austerity agenda" are the same people behind "Hard Brexit". They believe in a stripped-down state because their faith in the free market comes above all else, and clouds their judgement over the positive effects that government can have on society. Because they believe that free market will always do things better than government, it follows that for their agenda to succeed, "government", by definition, must be seen to "fail". If government is seen as efficient, this hampers their agenda for the free market to take the place of government services. To give one example, the success of the temporarily re-nationalised "East Coast" train service is an "inconvenient truth" that goes against their belief that privatised rail must, by definition, be better than state-owned rail. The fact that no other countries in the world operate train services like they are done in the UK (because it is seen by outsiders as madness) is besides the point. Following this logic, only if society sees that government cannot function will society believe that the private sector is better than the public sector.
The government's agenda is to prove to society that government cannot work. As they see it, this is the only way that people at the lowest rungs of society can be pulled from their torpor of dependency - the toughest form of "tough love". If the result from this agenda is mass poverty, homelessness, an epidemic of crime and a breakdown of the social fabric, this is just a "means to an end".

Put in this light, the "Brexit Agenda's" advocates inside government are working to effectively bring down parts of the system of civil administration from within. It is about destroying faith in government by deliberately destroying government. Because its advocates are from a wealthy elite that pays for services that it does not use (such as the welfare state), the predictions of economic collapse following a "Hard Brexit" perversely work in their favour, as a trashed economy would be ripe for the picking. This also explains why, on the other hand, those in the corporate elite who are the beneficiaries of government largess (while the rest of society gets a metaphorical kicking) are tied to those in government. The corrupt connection between Westminster, Whitehall and the corporate elite, through the common thread of the establishment, explains all this.

The largess promised on the landed elite after Brexit, like the example Michael Gove has given, is another form of patronage in a broken system. The "managed decline" that was first seen after the Second World War was, for some parts of the country, not rectified by being in the EU, but was used by the Thatcher government and its successors as an excuse to "restructure" a society stripped of union power. This explains why there are parts of the country, in the North of England and South Wales, that look more like a kind of urban dystopia, plagued with under-investment, unemployment, ill health and crime.
This policy of deliberate "managed decline" is another facet of the "stripped-down" version of the state envisaged by some Brexiteers. The parts of the country (and the economy) that are dynamic should be encouraged; the parts that are not should be allowed naturally to "die". This is a form of Social Darwinism by another name.

Whether the advocates of this agenda are dangerously delusional or deliberately dishonest is unclear; but the outcome for the rest of society from this agenda is as clear as day.