Thursday, November 01, 2012

The EU Budget Vote

So - Labour actually pulled it off. A bold decision to back the Tory MP Mark Reckless' amendment calling for a cut in the EU budget actually resulted in the first defeat in the Commons for Cameron and Co. And on an issue where he is vulnerable.

It's left lots of Tories feeling puzzled. Why did Labour vote the way they did? The first reason is rather obvious - with our people suffering badly from the Tory austerity, how could we vote to send money to the EU that just gets paid out to benefit scrounger Tory landlords like Cameron's father-in-law in the form of CAP? It was a no-brainer that if the ordinary people are suffering, the EU and wealthy landowners must take a haircut too. That's why europhiles like Dennis MacShane walked into the lobby to back the rebel amendment.

Cameron's inability to understand this is down to the same foggy brain that prompted him to approve the cut in the 50% tax to 45% while simultaneously raising taxes on everyone else, and then feeling puzzled that his popularity fell as a result. Maybe they don't teach them what "we are all in this together" really means at Eton.

The second reason is that with the eurozone crisis giving birth to euro-federalism, Britain may be out of the EU anyway.

For example Labour opposes the proposal that the ECB acts as the head and regulator of all the banks in the EU, regardless of whether they are in the eurozone. It's not that we oppose banking regulation - our issue is that we have ZERO control over the ECB, we don't even have a member sitting on it's board, and in addition it appears to be completely unaccountable, even to the European Parliament. Put a big chunk of our economy into the hands of people not accountable to elected Labour MP's in Parliament? Never. Can we prevent it happening while being within the EU? Unlikely, especially with the incompetent Cameron as Britain's representative.

The Germans seem to be pushing full on for federalisation of the eurozone and the French seem too weak to stop them. It's not in Britain's interests to be locked into an EU system dominated by a monolith that can outvote us every time.

So, our exit is on the cards unless the southern states of the EU decide to get out of the euro and pull away from Germany's dominance, at which point the old equilibrium in the EU will be restored.

With this vote in Parliament Labour is simply preparing the way for a possible decision on Brexit.

There is a further left-wing rationale for supporting Brexit, which has to do with corporation tax. Back in 2005 Treasury officials were puzzled that while the economy was doing nicely, tax revenues were falling well behind what they should have been - and it was down to corporation tax avoidance. Thanks to Margaret Thatcher's Single European Act, a company like Google can make the bulk of it's sales in the UK market, but pay no tax here because they are head-quartered in Ireland.

How would Brexit change this? Simple - while we'd have a free trade agreement with the rest of the EU in the way Switzerland does, we would not be bound by the Single Act's regulations, and could therefore pass a bill on Nexus Tax, similar to the one the Americans have.

"Nexus" simply means "connection" and a Nexus tax is levied when it is clear you are not an exporter but have a local connection, be it offices, employees, agents or affiliates. Once a nexus is established, then you are liable to be taxed on the sales generated within the state. So while Google could still route all their other European tax liabilities through Ireland, a Nexus tax would be levied on their sales in the UK, thanks to to the presence of Google agents here.

Would other Europeans mind? I doubt it as most of the corporations routing their affairs through Ireland or Luxembourg are American. Those two states might object that their parasitical practice of diverting our tax take to themselves has come to a halt, but they are too small to do anything about it. The big cheeses in these firms might object, but they donate to the Tories not us, so we can ignore them. There arn't a lot of jobs at stake with these companies either. The risk lies more with them losing all their UK sales rather than us losing a few jobs.

We can only enact a Nexus corporation tax if we were out of the EU however. The benefits to a Labour govt budget would be huge, which would give us the ability to protect the vulnerable while relieving the tax burden on the working and lower middle classes.

The eurocrisis and the global recession has created a whole new world, and Labour would do well to adjust to the new reality. In her autobiograhy Thatcher boasted that most of the ideas in the Single European Act that facilitated on tax avoidance came from her and she imposed them on the rest. It would be ironical indeed if we could escape them while the others were stuck with the old biddy's mad ideas.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Olympic Opening Ceremony vs The Jubilee - which tribe do you belong to?

It's well known that Britain is divided into two separate tribes who find each other incomprehensible. You have the Tory tribe which is feudalistic and believes that one should accrue status based on birth, and you have the Labour tribe which believes one should advance on merit.

We've seen both tribes strutting their stuff this year.

The Tory tribe got to go first with the Jubilee celebrations.

The jubilee had everything designed to send Tories into transports of delight and Labourites to shudder with horror. Elizabeth Windsor invited such horrors as the King of Bahrain (who tortures those seeking democracy in his kingdom) and the King of Swaziland (who is reputed to abuse his wives). Surely the Prime Minister would veto such guests? But he didn't - because in the Tory feudalistic universe, it's acceptable to behave extremely badly if you are a King. If Kim Jong-un had the courage to admit openly that he was part of a de-facto absolute monarchy, he'd have been invited too.

The Queen was delighted with her unsavoury guests, as you can see from the picture above.

The Olympics opening ceremony was an occasion for the Left. The Olympic games are by definition meritocratic - you don't get awarded medals for your status of birth or connections, but because you've won your race, you are faster, stronger, better than your peers.

The opening ceremony reflected that. It was opened by a choirboy with an angelic voice - he was chosen for how he sounded regardless of the fact that he lacked a left hand and had no fancy birth connections. The whole ceremony celebrated the ordinary people achieving things, overcoming the dark satanic mills, building, inventing (Tim Berners Lee) and caring (the nurses). It was intrinsic value that counted whether that was your talent or your character, not your status of birth (humble, disabled or ethnic).

Despite the Queen being invited to participate via the James Bond skit (and being pressed into it by her advisors), she clearly hated every moment.

She entered the arena as the James Bond skit ended and her face was like thunder.

She not only failed to politely smile at those who welcomed her, she conspiciously failed to get to her feet when the British athletes entered the stadium , in sharp contrast to every other head of state present, all 203 of them, who made a point of acknowledging their people. She chose to pointedly pick at her fingernails instead.

What, get up for the best, most talented athletes in nation? They're nothing but commoners, one only rises for thuggish kings. Got to stick with one's own class, you know.

Whether you belong to the Labour tribe or the Tory tribe depends on which occasion you empathised with most. Did you thrill to the sight of kings and queens and imagined yourself bowing and scraping to them? Or did your heart swell at the images in the Olympics opening ceremony of ordinary people displaying talent, compassion and inclusion?

And the crucial question - which tribe is bigger? I fancy it's the Labour tribe, which is why so many Tories were upset with the opening ceremony. We shall find out for sure at the next election.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Return of Tony Blair

I've been meaning to write about Blair ever since his interesting interview by Andrew Marr on Sunday where he said, “I have always said I am a public service person first. I would have been happy to carry on as prime minister. I would have been happy taking the job as president of the EU.”

It's very rare that you get blunt open statements like that from politicians. Note I wrote "politician", not "former politician".

I want to stress first that this is my personal opinion and is by definition speculative - but I think Blair is back in the game.

He's tried the go-off-and-make-money thing that John Major and others have done, but he's clearly bored with giving speeches to the "elites" regardless of how much they pay him. Not for him John Major's life of quietly turning up to directorships and pocketing a very nice salary for it. He's tried the Middle East envoy thing, but found that without office he was reduced to the thankless John de Chastelain role. John de Chastelain did not bring peace to Northern Ireland, his role was to suffer the idiots of N.I. for years and keep them in the process long enough till a powerful decision maker (Blair) could come in and resolve things. He doesn't want to be knighted and sent off to the Lords like Thatcher either.

The key to understanding Blair is understanding the seductive nature of democracy and elections and his addiction to it.

Most people fear democracy. The markets panic every time an election occurs, Brussels seeks to prevent referendums in Greece (they should have taken my advice and allowed the referendum last Nov) and appoint technocrats. Anyone who has been part of a political party and attended local meetings will recognise how difficult most people find it to stand election and lose. It's a staple of local party associations to find people joining the party who have had some modest success in their lives (promotions at their job etc) and then react with shock at the electoral process, especially if they are on the losing end. If you don't win a job or promotion, the rejection is handled in private, and it's the decision of one other person (your boss or potential employer) and thus easy to dismiss without much injury to your ego. When you don't win a selection or an election, you are being rejected by the majority of your peers, and the rejection is handed to you publicly. Voters often ask why better people arn't put up for election - and the answer is that all parties are desperate for good people, but finding someone good who also has the temperament to withstand the whole humiliating process is really hard. And politics is a humiliating business for most of the people taking part.

But for a rare minority who have the gift of winning, democracy and elections are like an elixir beyond compare. Votes are a validation and there is no feeling like the applause of your peers handed to you in public. It better than winning a war (which takes place by force) or being crowned king (which requires you to pass court injunctions preventing anyone from criticising you, Prince Charles style). Winning an election is about winning validations that are freely given and the sweeter for it. And the bigger the pool of the electorate the bigger the validation. The bigger the margin of victory the bigger the validation.

And so we come to Tony Blair, the man who won three general elections, two of them with the biggest margins since universal franchise. He doesn't fear the process, he loves it. He doesn't fear those who criticise him, he believes he can handle it and turn people around (see his masochism strategy in 2005 of speaking to audiences comprised only of people who hated him - who apart from him has done that?). And he's fairly young - 41 when elected in 1997, and 54 when he left office. He craves another win the way an addict craves another hit.

Blair is a populist not a conservative. The historical figure he most closely resembles is Pericles, who led the populist faction in Athens in the fifth C BC (opposed by the conservative faction led by Cimon), and who managed to get directly elected annually to the position of archon strategi every single year from 461BC - 429BC. He's the man who made going to the theatre free for the poor (their tickets paid for by the state), built the Parthenon (spending 5000 talents, equivalent to 50 million today, a lot of money for a town of just 50,000 people, they were really rich back then) and also the man who led Athens into the disastrous Peloponnesian war. And he has the same communicative gifts.

So what do we do with our modern day Pericles? He's not going to be President of the EU unless they suddenly bring in direct elections. Part of the reason Herman von Rompuy was chosen was because he was bland and innocuous enough to stick to his brief of chairing the council and not overshadowing Merkel, Hollande and the other decision makers. Blair in that role would immediately seek to dominate and usurp everyone else, which is why pigs will fly before they appoint him.

So that leaves being Prime Minister of the UK. If Ed Miliband fails to win the next election, I wouldn't be surprised if Blair stood for the leadership. He'd win too, thanks to debates and all the rest showing up his opponents as ordinary people.

In a way it all depends on the European situation. Martin Wolf of the FT is of the opinion that if the Europeans actually pull off a resolution to the crisis and make a federal eurozone, with the euro surviving intact, the only options for the UK are leaving the EU entirely, or joining the eurozone. The position of in the EU but out of the eurozone is untenable in that situation as we would not have parity with a powerful federal hegemonic eurozone within the EU. In that situation, Blair would lead those saying we'd be better off controlling the hegemon by being in it and taking it over (his boundless belief in his persuasive skills mean he thinks we can completely dominate them if we were in with him in charge).

If people want to avoid Blair 2.0, they need to work hard at making sure Ed Miliband gets to Downing Street and hope that the euro breaks up too.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Local Elections!

It was nice to win 800+ seats, and not just hold off the SNP in Scotland, but win a string of wards in the south, taking Southampton, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Exeter and many others. Labour wins general elections when Southern Labour finds it's groove and delivers victory, so this is an important milestone on the way to the next general election.

If you doubt it, click the following link to see an animated electoral map of Britain since 1832 - there is something thrilling about the way a few small red dots suddenly appear in Northern-England and Wales in the late 19thC and then sweep through Britain. When the red dots go south is when Labour wins general elections.

The other interesting thing about that map is how London, world city and great beating heart of Britannia, turns Labour in 1923, and then stays loyal to us, through the Great Depression, into the MacMillan era and throughout the Thatcher-Major years.

Even now it remains mainly Labour, so it's kind of sad that one of it's sons ended his career on Thursday, and by only about 63,000 votes out of more than 2 million cast.

Ken Livingstone's life and career was about London. He was born and bred in Lambeth, and the first steps in his political career involved him getting elected to Lambeth council and then controlling the GLC. When the GLC was abolished, he became a Labour MP for Brent East, a London constituency, and as soon as Blair established the London Mayorship, his ambition was to be Mayor of London, which he achieved in 2000 and again in 2004.

 In London legend, he's up there with Dick Whittington. He'll always be remembered for being open and putting the Congestion Charge into his manifesto, and then successfully enacting it and getting re-elected.

At the time of the Congestion Charge proposals, the Mayor of New York quipped that all of them would like to propose such a solution to the traffic problems of their cities, what was holding them back was whether they'd get re-elected after it was implemented.

Part of Ken's legend was not only that he was honest upfront about what he wanted to do - but that he made a success of it. That was achieved by shrewdly combining the congestion charge with improvements to the rest of London transport, and introducing the Oyster card. The Republican Michael Bloomberg tried to copy Ken in that other world city, New York, but failed to get his policy through. Cities like Singapore also successfully implemented a congestion charge, but unlike London's, it was done by fiat, rather than by democratic consent.

Ken Livingtone has his critics, but it takes a rare gutsy politician to be honest about a proposed solution before an election, to win democratic consent for it, to implement it successfully, and then to get re-elected on the back of it. This select group is tiny - Roosevelt in 1932, Thatcher in 1983, Blair in 1997. That's it.

Ken Livingstone's other great moment was his impromptu speech on the day of the 7/7 bombings, which he gave when in Singapore, having just won the Olympic games for London. Here's an excerpt:
This was a cowardly attack, which has resulted in injury and loss of life. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been injured, or lost loved ones. I want to thank the emergency services for the way they have responded. 
...I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever. 
That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city. 
Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life. 
I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail. 
In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. 
They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
I'm not being unkind to Blair when I say Ken's response was better.

So farewell Ken Livingstone. London will always remember you as one of it's most distinguished sons. You may have been defeated narrowly by Boris Johnson, but Boris is a piece of flotsam and trivia in the grand scheme of things. In a hundred years time you will be remembered as one of London's important mayors when Boris-I-spend-all-my-time-writing-frivolous-articles has long been forgotten.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Coalition government approval rating down to -43

... according to YouGov. Blair didn't reach that negative rating till late 2006, nine and a half years after he got elected, and well after he agreed to step down.

Obviously the last week and a bit have been packed with all sorts of excitement, and commentators are divided as to which event had the most impact - was it the granny tax at the same time as the top rate of tax being cut? Or was it minimum alcohol pricing, or the tax on pasties? Or Cash for Policies? Or was it the false panic on petrol?

My money is on the fake petrol crisis that turned into a real one thanks to the government.

A crisis has to inconvenience real people before it has an effect. Spending cuts, tax rises and all the rest are only theoretical events until they actually bite, which is the point when most of the public takes notice. The fake petrol crisis, stoked up to divert press attention from Cash for Policies bit hard on anyone who drove to work, drove to pick their children from school, drove to the shops, people who drove, period, which is most of the adults in Britain.

Some commentators expressed astonishment that people actually took notice of the govt when they claimed people had to stock up on petrol because of an imminent strike. What they don't realise is that despite widespread grumbling, at some deep core, every Briton trusts that the govt is telling the truth when it comes to crises. It's part of being British.

This reflex goes back to World War II, when Labour were running the Home Front, and in an effort to stave off the starvation and chaos that was prevalent during WWI, established a set of rules that they wanted everyone to follow for the survival of the tribe - so people followed rules about rationing, and what they should do in an air-raid, and how to keep calm and carry on diligently - and were rewarded when Britain survived the U-boat blockades and managed to produce enough food and keep the factories at full pelt to win the war.

Faith in the government continued after the war, despite grumblings about policy. When the Thatcher government leafleted the entire population about how they should avoid AIDS, people assumed (correctly) that the government was giving advice in good faith and that the advice was correct, and they followed that advice. When the Blair government leafleted everyone on safety advice in the event of a terrorist attack, it was again taken in good faith and the advice trusted as sound.

The terrorist attacks in 2005 were handled well by the public services and by the members of the public who had been primed by previous advice as to what to expect. Ditto the crises of 2007 (floods, terrorism etc) that Brown handled.

So it has come as a shock that the Cameron government manufactured the fuel crisis out of thin air, merely to divert attention from Cash for Policies, and worse, gave out duff advice, which has led to people filling up jam jars and other unsuitable containers with flammable liquid, whose vapour seeps out and is easily ignited. It resulted in the burning of a woman who didn't fully understand that it is petrol vapour that ignites (possibly because it has never been taught in school and has never been a subject of a government leaflet).

Most people don't have a lot of spare cash, so the petrol they bought at jacked up prices came at the expense of something else, or was borrowed on the credit card. And not only was there no strike, but Unite had to bail the government out by agreeing to drive heavy vehicles full of flammable liquid for eleven hours a day instead of nine to replenish the stores of fuel at petrol stations (I get tired after driving my small hatchback for four hours).

This is the first time in living memory that people feel they can't trust the government to tell the truth or give useful advice when a crisis hits. The first time people feel they are being manipulated and inconvenienced by the government for no good reason. The purpose of government is to keep the peace not disturb it, to protect the public not harm them, to solve crises not create them. How do people know when the next "crisis" is announced, whether there is some real danger they need to take note of, or whether it is all fake? They don't. A rubicon has been crossed.