The Twists and Turns of Brexit

Well here we are again. I wrote in early December last year of a British Brexit.  Various spins and roundabouts ensued as this continued issue of the UK border backstop continued, yet here we are with the same solution being proposed again; what a waste of 10 months!

The ideas as I understand it to solve this issue of the Northern Ireland border, to not break the Good Friday international treaty, now known as the ‘backstop’ is for the UK to remain in the Single Market and Custom union for an undefined transition period, in place of a backstop. Effectively a Soft Brexit and creation of time to develop a harder Brexit or a complicated trade deal.

It would likely be a lot longer than 2-3 years, international treaties tend to take a long time and this one would be veru complicated as it woudl need to ensure that no-one gained an advantage through  different regulatory mechanisms. With so much political division within the UK over Brexit and its ineffectual democratic system, it would likely take much longer if ever and <whisper very quietly> probably require a succession of referenda.

Such a solution however will probably satisfy the EU and it’s other national governments and will likely pass through the UK parliament as much of the Labour party will support it, indeed the Labour leader has said he will support an agreement that involves remaining in a Custom Union. So is Brexit solved the same way once again?

Possibly not. While the Brexiteers in the Tory government do not have the numbers to force a no-deal Brexit in Parliament, they can instead topple May’s government by forcing an internal Tory party leadership contest. The Tories are likely to elect a Brexiteer and then  there will not be UK -EU withdrawal agreement. But as there are not enough hardcore Brexiteers on the Tory benches, the government would be likely to force a vote of no confidence in itself and subsequently a General Election, which will be ugly. The question would then be would there be time to get a withdraw agreement before the March deadline. Especially as a General election takes 6 weeks + a few weeks for the Leadership election + problems with the election potentially falling during the festive period + some time to form a coalition.

On the other hand, would the Brexiteers risk splitting the Tory party, gifting Corbyn the PM job and the lead in developing the vastly complicated trade agreement with the EU that would allow an open border between the UK and the EU to continue. There is the argument that they would be quite happy for Brexit to fail and Article 50 to be rescinded by a Labour/ SNP/Lib Dem coalition. For the Brexiteers have been happy grumbling about the EU for 40 years and have spent the last three years continuing to grumble rather than put forward a single positive argument for a UK or indeed an England outside of the EU.

It really is all about timing, who will jump first. This is  May’s strategy, to get the timing of this right to get this deal through. Then she can stand down and leave someone else deal with the mess a la Cameron.

Advertisements

Brexit and Respecting Democracy

This whole argument coming from the UK government that people in the UK must ‘respect the Brexit decision and democracy’ just annoys me. It completely misunderstands what Brexit is all about.

I saw a video this week of people who support Brexit being interviewed. i was Particularly interested when they were asked why they were supporting Brexit. Their view was that their community was in in decline, shops had closed, wages stagnated, services declining and everything getting more expensive and harder, so to have a meaningful vote on something would be a refreshing bit of democracy, and promote change, to give Brexit, which will solve of the problems in UK society.

The only thing I disagree with them about is Brexit being the answer, there is no logical path from the premises to this conclusion. It looks unlikely that whilst we are remain a country with an outmoded democratic system where the Tories keep getting re-elected on an ever slimmer popular vote. It is Tory governments that have caused the decline of the UK. Leaving the EU won’t alter the decline by itself.

What I passionately agree with these Brexit voters is the need for democracy in the UK and to ‘take back control’. Leaving the Tories negotiate Brexit entirely missed the whole point of Brexit, which was for more democracy.

What I mean by democracy is simply government that represents the people governed. The UK parliamentary system of representative democracy is based on sound principles. Every area of the UK elects a politician to represent them in Westminster, then the elected politicians get on with the job of making decisions to continually improve the functioning of the UK economy and solve problems as they arise. The politicians job is threefold, firstly to listen to a full range of arguments and positions, their constituents, business leaders, trade unions, academics, economists, lawyers, anyone with a view essentially. A Policy is then produced which the politicians scrutinise, debate, amend and eventually vote on, to ensure there is a broad consensus that that policy is the right thing to do. To be a good politician you need to be a good listener and a good decision maker.

The modern politician isn’t selected to have these qualities though. The modern politician is skilled in climbing the ‘greasy pole’ of the competitive career ladder in a major political party. Along the way they acquire the skills of effective electioneering to win power. This means that the is no incentive to develop the skills of arguing for something, listening or rigorously analysing an issue, these are not the valued traits. Instead the modern politician skilfully avoids saying anything noteworthy, for fear of alienating those who may disagree with what may be a good idea. Indeed, any politician who does open their mouths to argue for a cause is shouted down. It is a sad state of affairs, society is rapidly losing debating skills.

I would argue that is is the failure of the political class and the democratic systems that support them that have failed. We now have a political class who are in cahoots with the capital class, drawing ever more wealth in top their hands and away from the productive economy. The problem with modern capitalism is that there is too much capital. But you can’t solve the problem of capital when the political class also have their noses in the capital trough. Capital no longer invests enough in research or innovation and instead increases their share of the pie by rentiering, or making money from their capital, by renting out their land, rather than using it for anything productive.

If you speak to someone ‘in the street’ in the UK, you will often hear the phrases ‘politicians are all the same’, yet few do anything about it. The problem with the UK economy is too much capital because of the political class and the failure of democracy. It is democracy that needs to rediscover its roots and represent the people again. The tragedy of Brexit is that the EU and Brexit became the scapegoat for the UKs troubles rather than the UK government.

The EU has always had a bad press in the UK. Most of the popular newspapers have regularly run stories blaming and often misreporting the EU for many all sorts of things. However wrapped up in Brexit is this truth of Brexit. The EU is a corrupt, centralising, weakly democratic organisation. It would be beneficial to leave it to obtain a genuine representative democracy. To take back control to a more accountable, more local institution. However this isn’t going to happen just because of the Brexit vote, it will take action within the UK for democracy to rise again, though through Brexit may be how that process is ignited.

My argument has always been for devolution, for bottom up decision making. It is why I support independence for Wales and for stronger local government. Simply because it is more representative of a population and there is less chance of corruption due to smaller organisations and because the politicians have to live in our communities, to speak daily with those they represent. Big states or  supra-national organisations need to be accountable to their constituent regions to function well and in accordance with their founding principles, you need to be strong locally before you can help wider society and make any efficiency gains through cooperation.

The counter argument I often hear is ‘Where do you stop, will each village be its own kingdom?’ Of course not, the principle isn’t ever smaller territories, but local accountability and finding the right size population for decision making. Once you reach the optimum size you don’t surpass it!

This reductionism has been very rife in Brexit. Especially so in the big issue of the Brexit debate, immigration. ‘Immigration is bad, we must stop it!, the only way we can do this is Brexit”, the Brexiteers cried, again and again, over endless months. Except immigration is only a proxy for the actual problem. It goes something like this:  ” I don’t mind foreigners/ people of other races, but every time I visit the hospital I rarely see a native British doctor or nurse. There are too many immigrants, we should have more British doctors and nurses” I don’t disagree. The problem isn’t “allowing” overseas people to be doctors or nurses in the UK, the problem is not producing enough doctors and nurses natively in the UK economy. Unfortunately that issue has not been tackled by the political class and it’s been around for decades. What you would need to do is invest more in training and then paying the doctors and nurses at an adequate rate to retain their services in the country. But that involves spending money, putting taxes up and the political class knew that to win that next election they needed to prioritise tax cuts and not spending on doctors and nurses. So we got tax cuts they didn’t give us any more money and more immigrant workers. There is no problem with this system,  in the medium term, until the population suddenly decides it no longer likes immigrant workers, not realising they have facilitated this by voting in the same career politicians, election after election.

Historically, this was kind of how European society functioned for most of human history, albeit without the democracy. The typical person would work a small patch of land to raise enough food for their family and be taxed to give a proportion of what they grew to the local landowner. The local landowner gaining their titles competitively, not all that dissimilar to how the modern politician achieves power! These landowner had at least some spare time and energy to develop new solutions to problems and thus society developed. Many of them were benign and often helped their serfs who hit difficulties

The industrial revolutions changed all that. A new breed of people with capital emerged who built factories in large towns and cities. and drew people from the land to work in these factories on the promise of a better life. It soon transpired that the city life of the newly emerging working classes was worse than when they had worked the land.

Modern capitalism came into being perhaps when it was realised that there is no point having an amazingly efficient mass production if there aren’t enough middle classes to buy the products. So the later 19th and 20th century saw new middle classes and decently payed working populations and the Western economies emerged and fast paced economic growth, where almost everyone’s quality of life improved. The typical wage grew as the overall economy grew, most of the time so everyone was happy. The capitalists were happy as their wealth grew faster than the working man.

After centuries of a system that increased the wealth of the capital class, which laso slowly gave the common man an improving living standard, In the UK all this changed, when Thatcher broke the social contract in the 1980s and particularly so after the financial crash of 2008 when the Tories brought in Austerity, to cut public services to deprive the social and economic life of the UK. Wages stagnated, what economic growth there was has gone entirely to the capitalist wealthy class. Things have got more expensive, and for the typical Briton the quality of life is in decline, something not expected in the 20th century.and against the bulk of human history in Britain. This is perhaps why there is a feeling of a need for change and to bring about that change requires reform of the democratic structures that have failed. There needs to be less capital and more money in the market, to ordinary people to spend on what they need, for liquidity or cash flowing around rapidly from person to person to provide market forces for the technological developments of the future, rather than the fat cats squeezing more out of the system that is shrinking. There needs to be less capital for capitalism to function.

The problem with this is that it sounds like old skool socialism. The barons of our times sneer and jive at the ‘socialist’ and focusing on the narrative of the failures of communist governments in the 20th century. The principle is not socialism, the principle is economic efficiency and getting the balance right. To get the balance right you need democracy so the decision maker has to be good decision maker and make decisions for the benefit of the community.

The other issue is that communities function well when there is a sense of belonging, that you feel that you are a valued member of a society. This inspires confidence and an outward looking attitude. So when you tend to agree with the government that governs your community, this fosters this sense of belonging. Surely in a democracy your views are going to chime with those of the government, because you voted for them, you had a say in the kind of ideas that shape your society.

However we have had a divide and rule Tory governments for all of my adult life. We are now loving with the consequences of that , a non-representative government, one that has failed to listen to people’s concerns with immigration.

When Brexit is discussed in the media you will often hear the phrase ‘The UKs position is…” or “the UK reaction is…”. Having learnt a second language, this looked like sloppy English, when they should be saying “The UK government says…”. However was it ever thus? If you look back to the mid 20th century and UK election history, from election to election you see massive swings between the Tories and the Labour party. When one party won big, it had consensus and support of a majority of the UK population behind them, a genuine mandate to govern. So even if you were in a minority, there was a sense of ‘ok, I’m in the minority on this, but my community has made a decision it’s my duty to go along with it’. This doesn’t happen anymore. The last few UK general elections have been hung parliaments, there is only a small difference in percentage support for both of the traditional big two parties. I remember a world where politicians of either side would try to argue the case for their position to bring across support from the ‘other side’. Times are now that politicians don’t even bother trying to argue, falling voter turnout had led to it being more important to fire up your natural supporters to vote than trying to persuade a new voter by argument. Trump being the epitome of this.

I am perhaps the product of this. I have never felt represented by a UK government. It’s not just being an odd ball outsider though.  I have come to realise. It doesn’t have ot be this way, which is why I’ve always supported Welsh independence. i believe that an independent Welsh government would represent all the people of Wales, democracy can be re-built. The adage of ‘think global, act local’ comes to the fore, by having genuine democracy in Wales, it could then spread to the world.

The thing about belonging , when you find a community that you fit into, that you belong in, gives you a great strength and confidence. So when you are not afraid to encounter new or different things. It is this sense that has been neglected by UK government no longer being representative or leading by consensus. There is a general disconnect felt by the UK population towards the UK government. So as a people the Britons feel less confident, are a bit bothered that their doctor speaks a language they don’t speak, a sense of being alien in your own country. I know what they feels like from when I lived in Southern England and you do yearn for a sense of belonging.

It is possible this is the explanation of what Brexit is, for a return to investing in Britain once again. That Britain is gone, we need to build a new Britain and it is simply not possible to do that without reforming the constitution and democracy itself. We live in a diverse, changed world. We need new solutions to old problems.

There needs to be a raising of awareness of the need to constitutional reform, to increase local accountability away from centralised power structures. For awareness to grow that the cronies of the UK establishment are as bad if not worse than those of the EU. Then better decisions are able to be made by accountable decision makers, not career politicians. We can do all play our part by supporting things like Welsh independence. To get behind good local ideas and not moan about bad decisions made far far away. To not seek scapegoats , by race, religion, nationality or sexuality, but to acknowledge that we need to build things up and not tear other people down. That there are no easy catchphrases to solve our problems, but complicated analysis and rigourous debate to get to the answers we need. We need everyone to work on this building process. Brexit, leave or remain will not achieve this, we just need to create a new way of doing things.

Brexit – The Board Game

I had the idea rather too late last Christmas that it would be possible to produce a board game based on Brexit. The first player would take on the role of Theresa May with the objective of surviving Brexit [stay as UK prime minister and keep the Tory party together], whilst the other players would try and remove May and achieve their own objective. The other players being Jeremy Corbyn, Jean-Claude Jancker, Boris Johnson, the LibDems and so on. Essentially May’s job would be to achieve balance on various spectra, whilst the other players try to get their objective. Thus far Theresa May has done rather well at the Brexit game and it still is very much a game.

We are now entering the Brexit end-game, will Theresa May get to the end? It is perhaps unfortunate that May has been unable to make her plan clear to anyone. Her board game objective is essentially to achieve a soft Brexit of membership of the Single Market and Custom Union  or something closely equivalent to it without the Tory hard right bringing her down. May’s challenge is mainly is to prevent two things happening. Firstly to not allow Article 50 to be rescinded and the UK to remain in the EU, because this would be disastrous for the Tory party in failing to deliver the outcome of the Brexit referendum would lose the Tories the support of the bilk of the people who vote for them. Secondly to prevent the hard right getting their no deal Brexit and allowing them to create a low tax, low regulation tax haven on the edge of Europe, which would be disastrous for everyone who doesn’t have large sums of wealth safely off-shore.

The sensible way to have proceeded with Brexit, respecting the referendum vote was the “Norway” EFTA option of single Market membership. However the Tory hard right would not be happy with this, so May has sought the ‘Chequers Deal’ option of a looser bespoke deal locked in that prevents the hard right from taking away European standards from the British economy. Essentially the Chequers deal is the tight rope between the hard right and centre right of the Tory party, the centre-right being scared of losing what social cohesion the isles of Great Britain has left.

Essentially Brexit is and always has been internal Tory party politics that the people of the UK and the institutions of the EU have been dragged into. There has always been a clear majority of the UK population for a looser relationship with the EU. The UK has always failed to address it’s internal problems on things such as immigration  that it hasn’t focused on development of the European Union. Of course Brexit isn’t about what the British people want, it’s all about keeping the Tories in power in the UK.

May’s failure has been to effectively communicate her plan. Her every public facile Maybot utterance “Brexit means Brexit”, “In the national interest” ,”Strong and Stable”, “What we are doing now is …[avoiding whatever the question was]”. The 2017 General Election was an opportunity to rally support for her position, to get a parliamentary majority so she could safely ignore the hardcore Brexiteers, but the Tories have alienated so much of the electorate that there were simply not that many more votes she could get without everything becoming too much out on the open. And May’s every u-turn to keep her fellow party members on-side has alienated her from any potential outside support.

The really sad thing about this debacle is that the citizens of the UK are kind of waiting to see what form Brexit will be: the effective remaining in the Single Market or the perils of a no deal and managing a population of 70 million people in an offshore tax haven. May’s problem is that she needs to go with a begging bowl to elicit the help of someone from the EU to find a fudge that everyone can accept to hold back the right of her own party.  The endgame of “Brexit – the board game” will be fascinating.