Monday, 22 January 2018

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn

This week I mainly tried to understand Labour policy on Brexit.  I'm sorry to say that I spent many, many hours on this and came to the conclusion that it is beyond my skills as a blogger.  No, something as elusive, as paradoxical, as untamed as Labour policy on Brexit cannot be expressed through the everyday medium of sentences and paragraphs.  If I could present my findings as a dance I would do that but I'm very sad to say that I can't dance.  If my ukulele skills were more advanced perhaps I could attempt to express Labour policy on Brexit with a jaunty, syncopated strum but they're not.  If you'd ever seen my attempts at drawing you would immediately know that my woeful art skills are definitely not up to the job. Pottery? Sorry, I have no clay experience. I'm running out of options now. Let's see, what's left?  Hmm, can I express Labour policy on Brexit through the medium of poetry?  Well, we'll never know unless I gave it a go. Et voila, here is my poem about Labour policy on Brexit.  Simply enjoy.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
it is disappointing
to learn that your librarian
style hides an authoritarian
more interested in isolation
than international relations.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
it is your patrician
outlook that I despise.
Your intent of a 70s Bennite reprise
will end my opportunities
in the European Communities.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
it is just too frustrating
to listen to your view
that single market means EU
and the mistakes that you made
about rules on state aid.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
it is to my chagrin
that you reject the distinction
between tariffs and friction,
between regulation at source
and the need for a border force.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
I'm fed up with you spreading
the lie of a correlation
between low wages and migration.
These are the values of UKIP and Powell
and their dispiriting scowl.

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
when you accept Mogg's position
do you not wonder
if you have made a blunder
and now must fight
the policies of the far right?

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
what is your opinion
of my rights to study, to learn
to fall in love, to earn
throughout EFTA/EEA?
You want to take those rights away?

Oh, Jeremy Corbyn,
this is a voter writing.
I care about facts,
not McDonnell's Momentum pacts.
Resign, retire, but stop digging trenches and
take up your rightful place ... on the back benches.

Over and out,


PS I might still post something on Labour's Brexit policy in the medium of sentences and paragraphs.  Then again, I might not.  It is hard to keep up with their collective madness and even harder to decipher it.  As it stands, my clumsy attempt merely adds to the confusion.

PPS I would love to hear other poems (on any topic you like) in the comments.

PPPS I'm aware the poem was more fun to write than to read but, hey, it's my blog so there might be more of this in the future. We amateur bloggers have a tendency towards tyranny.

Monday, 15 January 2018

The Worst Thing About Brexit

What is the worst thing about Brexit? Is it the xenophobia? The nasty strain of English nationalism? The return of a colonial mentality? Or is it the growing sense of mob rule? Could it be the bizarre popularity of 19th century mercantilism? If you're Scottish might it be the threat that Brexit presents to the devolution settlement? Or maybe you feel that your voice has been completely silenced? Perhaps you're concerned about a return to a society divided by class and ruled by self-styled country gents attired in mustard cords and union jack underwear? These things are all profoundly depressing but the worst thing by far is the fire-sale devaluation of expert advice.

The Cabinet reshuffle Theresa May really wanted to implement.Got any union jack pants, squire?
If you've ever read anything posted on this blog then you'll probably not be too surprised to learn that I trained as a scientist. I am definitely someone who values facts, documentary evidence and attention to detail. In fact, I might even qualify as one of those unhelpful experts who were inexpertly dismissed by Michael Gove during the EU referendum. Should he or his department ever require advice on hardware-accelerated interactive software or any of its applications I shall point him straight to my local ukulele club. I might as well point Michael Gove to some Swiss strummers because the real prize won by the Brexit campaigners was tacit public permission to form a government driven entirely by individual gut feeling.

Gove's remarks were far more than a throwaway riposte. The reality today is that the UK government is a collection of individuals acting on their own instincts without regard for facts, evidence or attention to detail. David Davis admitted that the decision to leave the Customs Union was reached entirely on "gut feeling". He then made a series of misleading remarks over the course of 15 months to give the impression that his department had completed a sectoral analysis of the impact of Brexit. He promised that would be done before starting the Article 50 process. In reality, his department has done no work at all beyond the collation of data already in the public domain and a sparse collection of references to EU Regulations and Directives that would be well-known to anyone working in their respective field. The sectoral analyses were bulked out with filler explaining that fishing businesses were mainly located near the coast and that the space industry was collaborative. Can we conclude that evidence is driving UK government policy? Not really, no. We might as well inspect the tea leaves.

Can it get any worse? Well, there is significant evidence that Theresa May confused the European Court of Human Rights and the Court of Justice of the EU. During May's time as Home Secretary she repeatedly made disparaging remarks about the ECHR as she struggled and repeatedly failed to deport Abu Qatada to Jordan. The problem was that deporting Abu Qatada to Jordan would lead to his immediate arrest for historic offences and any subsequent trial would use evidence against him gained under torture. Deporting Abu Qatada to such a fate would be in breach of Article 6 and Article 3 of the ECHR, which respectively declare the right to a fair trial and prohibit degrading treatment. Theresa May's intentions were in clear breach of the ECHR. Her response was to hire more and more lawyers, at great expense, to try to find a way to legally subvert basic human rights. She went to court multiple times but each time she failed and became ever more frustrated. Oh how she must have hated all those annoying European judges and their concerns for human dignity. Eventually, she gave up and did what expert advice had told her to do on day one of this tragic affair - she sought legal assurances from Jordan that evidence gained under torture would not be used at Abu Qatada's trial. During this sorry process there was endless chatter from government insiders that the UK would suspend its membership of the Council of Europe, that the UK would leave the Council of Europe, that the UK should be free to ignore judgements of the European Court of Human Rights. The zinger is that until Thersa May claimed the CJEU as a red line she had barely mentioned it. Oh, Abu Qatada was found not guilty, if you're interested.

Can it get any worse? Well, when David Davis took office he thought his first job would be a tour of Europe to conduct trade negotiations with national leaders around the EU. He believed he would complete this by Brexit departure day. To be fair, he doesn't say that any more so I suppose he did listen to at least one expert on at least one occasion. Having said that, he could concoct a post-Brexit immigration policy based on a series of bi-lateral agreements with EU countries. He can do this because immigration policy and the rights of 3rd nation citizens to reside and work in EU nations is not an EU competence. I'm willing to bet that Davis doesn't know this because attention to detail is not his strong point. However, he should know this because UK immigration policy was at the heart of the decision to leave the EU. Moreover, he should know this because UK businesses are crying out for highly skilled workers from Germany and Denmark and Sweden. He should know all of this but he probably hasn't bothered to find out because the UK government has not yet formulated a post-Brexit immigration policy. That's right, 18 months after a vote to amend UK immigration policy there are zero agreed amendments to UK immigration policy.

Why are there no amendments to UK immigration policy? The answer is that ministers of the UK government cannot synchronise their intestinal tracts. Liam Fox says that the UK should import chemically washed chicken from the US then Michael Gove rules it out. Theresa May talks about transition periods and financial commitments on a public stage then Boris Johnson says the EU can go and whistle. Greg Hands proposes that the EU should remain in specific EU health initiatives regulated by the CJEU, despite CJEU being one of Therasa May's red lines. Theresa May signs an agreement with the EU to conclude Phase I talks then David Davis undermines everything by suggesting the detail isn't enforceable and the whole exercise merely a shared statement of intent. Theresa May underlines her pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands then Amber Rudd initiates a study on the economic effect of reduced immigration. Let's not forget that Boris Johnson and Michael Gove failed to communicate the most basic government position on a UK national imprisoned abroad. In saner times any of these ministers would have been shown the door but here they are implementing their own policy in their personal kingdoms driven by their own gut feeling.

Instead of a functioning government with a defined set of manifesto pledges and evidence-base policies to realise them, there is a collection of mini-governments, each lording over their own fiefdom, acting sometimes in tandom, sometimes against the other mini-governments. Tory manifesto has been largely abandoned and in its place is a random number generator gone wild. The UK will seek bi-lateral trade deals with Pacific nations; the UK will join the Trans Pacific Partnership. The UK will protect the environment with bold environmental law; the UK will import hormone-injected beef and drive down costs. The UK will maintain the rights of workers; the UK will immediately repeal the EU Working Time Directive. The UK will maintain all phyto-sanitary standards to keep the NI border open; the UK will modify phyto-sanitary standards to align itself towards the US. The UK will maintain farm subsidies at CAP levels; the UK will abandon farm subsidies. The UK will strike trade deals and completely change its tariff structure; the UK will maintain its current tariff structure. The UK will be free to reduce VAT; the UK will maintain VAT at the EU minimum to keep the NI border free from VAT checks. This is not coherent governance.

Despite all this governmental chaos, the Labour Party is failing to take a lead in opinion polls. Why? Well, they are in a confused muddle very much the equal of the Tories. Their key policies change from week to week as Barry Gardiner and Kier Starmer and Tom Watson jostle for influence. The truth is that Labour have no substantive policy on the most pressing decisions to face the UK for 50 years. They would be equally terrible in power and the electorate know it full well. Does anyone buy their "jobs-first" Brexit? It certainly isn't backed by data or evidence. Once again, there's that Westminster gut feeling spewing its lunch all over partisan journalists at UK's tabloid newspapers.

This is by far the worst government and the worst parliament I have ever known. I might have disagreed with Margaret Thatcher's political philosophy, her manifesto pledges and the way she implemented them but she still ran a government with evidence and data. For example, her monetarist experiment of the early 80s was quietly abandoned when it was judged to have quantitatively failed.  It might have been abandoned far too late but at least someone was able to come to a judgement and someone was listening to it.  Are there any signs of this methodology today? Not really, no. Voters have no idea what they are voting for, the Prime Minister has no idea what her own Ministers are doing, those very Ministers are driven only by personal gut instinct. Meanwhile, expert advice has been decried as the intervention of saboteurs and rejected as unpatriotic. Everything is done with the justification of the "will of the people", yet nothing satisfies the "will of the people" because Brexit is nothing more than a battleground of ministerial influence and breakfast digestion processes.

There is no end to this. Brexit will trundle on and on for years to come, consuming logic and reason as it continues. If you're Scottish there is only one way out of this mess and that is to vote Yes in any future independence referendum. Good governance is important - it ensures prosperity, rights and opportunities for citizens. The UK is not going to experience any of that for many, many years to come. Where will it be by then?

Over and out,