Democracy Now-Invoke Article 50 immediately

5 07 2016

The post referendum campaign to remain in the EU is now fully under way. Those who never wanted us to Remain have now been joined by some of the people who voted Leave, but who are genuinely and understandably concerned about what we should do next. These latter people, who I would call ‘Soft Leavers’, are arguing for delaying the invocation of article 50 for as long as possible or as long as necessary. They are in many cases joining forces with those who did not want us to leave in the first place-the ‘Hard Remainers’ to find reasons why we should delay leaving the EU until some mainly unspecified date in the future.

The main reasons that the Soft Leavers are giving for waiting are along the following lines.

1. We need time to work out our bargaining position with the EU.
2. If we wait, the EU is well on the way to imploding after the French and German elections next year.
3. There is a split between the EU Commission and the national governments in Europe which we can exploit, even to the extent of bypassing the EU Commission and making deals with individual countries.
4. If we can get the EU to back down and make concessions on the free movement of labour it may not be necessary to leave the EU at all. This is where the Soft Leavers join with the Remainers.

The problem with all these arguments, whatever their individual tactical merits, is that they fail to take into account that the consequence of delaying the invocation of Article 50 immediately will be to strengthen the hand of those who wish to deny the democratic decision of the majority of the people. This would be a terrible blow to our democratic process and induce even more cynicism in those who have already demonstrated their alienation from the political establishment. It is far more important that we strengthen our democracy and the people’s belief in it than the specifics of a negotiating process. In 20 years time the EU negotiations will be history and the world economy will be in a different place, but if we abandon democracy now we run the risk of damaging the democratic process for good.

We need to take events into our own hands and not hope that other countries will come to our aid.Delaying the invocation of Article 50 sends a signal to the people with whom we are negotiating in Europe that we are not serious about leaving. Any serious negotiator on the EU side will see this as a sign of weakness and will draw the conclusion that if they are tough enough in the negotiation over trade then we will back down from leaving the EU. We need to take immediate steps to take the focus away from the EU negotiation in two ways

1. We need government action to stimulate the economy. The economy is weak and has needed attention for years. Remainers will try to pretend that the problems have been caused by Brexit and this will demoralise Leavers if there is a recession.The government should borrow money and invest in a major house-building and infrastructure investment programme. It should also find ways to stimulate technological and scientific investment. Existing plans to build a third runway and HS2 should be accelerated.

2. We should start making new trade deals with the rest of the world outside of the EU.

We should campaign for the invocation of Article 50 immediately under the banner of Democracy Now. The best bet for the UK is not to rely on the kindness of others, but to take matters into our own hands and make our democracy work.

After the referendum, fight for Brexit

29 06 2016

The Brexit referendum has  disoriented the political elite and demonstrated its distance from and contempt for vast swathes of the population, particularly the white working class. For years the elite has treated the white working class with contempt, now the compliment has been repaid. I would recommend for a full analysis of recent events. This blog is a contribution to what we should do next.

1. Demand the immediate triggering of Clause 50. The referendum was fought by the Remainers on the basis that Out is Out and that there would be no second referendum. There is no basis for delay except as a tactic to enable both the British and European elite to defy the will of the people. The referendum instructed this government to leave the EU and that is what it should do. There should be a cabinet reshuffle and prominent Leavers put in charge of negotiating the exit straight away.

2. There should be an immediate freezing of new EU directives until and unless they have been put to Parliament and agreed there. Sovereignty begins here.

3. Remain MPs in Leave areas and Leave MPs in Remain areas should resign and fight bye elections on the issue of implementing the referendum. This will create a Parliament which reflects the will of the people on this issue and remove the so called ‘constitutional crisis’ invented by Remainers after the event.

4. Institute a massive public spending campaign on infrastructure, house building and investment in scientific and technological development, financed by government borrowing. The economy has long needed a shot in the arm and the government is in the best position to deliver it. Long term interest rates are at a record low and there has never been a better time to borrow. This would help to overcome the investment strike in private industry predicted by Remainers .

5. Accelerate existing plans for HS2, the third runway at Heathrow and other projects in the pipeline. This would give an immediate boost to the economy and  provide new jobs.

It is clear that a majority of the political and business establishment are opposed to Brexit and want it to go away. It is vital that all those who support democracy and sovereignty campaign for the referendum result to be put into practice without further delay.



Reflections on Philip Roth’s American Pastoral

20 01 2016


On re-reading American Pastoral I was struck by how much more important it is even than when it was first published nearly twenty years ago. It is a, if not the, great American novel. It is a profound examination of the human condition and it is also, crucially in the modern context, a critique of the sixties and the rise of the Me generation. Roth should have won the Nobel Prize for literature for this and the two other novels in his late, great trilogy about America, the Human Stain and I Married a Communist. He is head and shoulders above virtually all the winners in the past 30 years.

Set mainly in the late 1960s, this book charts the rise, decline and fall of Seymour Levov, a Jewish boy known as the Swede because of his blond hair, who aspires to live the American Dream. A football player, ex-marine and successful businessman, he is idolised by his peers and marries a gentile beauty queen. The Swede is a man who, like the immigrant in the film of the Godfather ‘believes in America’. His American Pastoral means raising his family in an idyllic country retreat. He gives up his Jewishness in order to assimilate into the white Anglo-Saxon protestant ascendancy.

The Swede’s tragic decline stems from the troubled relationship he has with his daughter, Merry. Roth turns this family dysfunction into a study of; the decline of America as a global power, the hollowness of the American Dream, the hypocrisies of the bourgeois family, the coming undone of the American immigrant melting pot, the decline of the US as a manufacturing nation and the rise of narcissism. The genius of the novel is that it brings all of these themes into focus through dissecting the central relationship between the Swede and Merry. And while it would be hard to call the book funny, it is full of ironic twists and turns. The last hundred pages are a dinner party from hell.

Roth tells us at the beginning that this is the story of a modern Job, and so it is. As tribulations and humiliations are heaped on the Swede, there is no redemption, only a stripping away of illusions. However it is not God punishing the Swede, he is a victim of his own illusory belief in America as the Shining City on the Hill. His relentless decline and agonising fall are the result of profound changes in American society which he is both complicit in and the victim of. The Swede’s own conclusion is bleak;

‘He had thought most of it was order and only a little of it was disorder. He’d had it backwards. He had made his fantasy and Merry had unmade it for him.’

Roth looks at the sixties, not as the period of liberation for women, gay equality or third world liberation which formed baby boomers like me, but from the other side, not as freedom, but as the death of decency and the American way, and the birth of the Me generation. Roth shows how the pre sixties parents, the Swede included, lost faith in their own beliefs and encouraged the 60s generation to rebel. The Swede’s pastoral idyll is exploded by the Vietnam War, the moment when the US lost its way, which fuels Merry’s rage against the whole of traditional America, and especially her own family. Merry sets off a lethal bomb and disappears into the underground subculture of the Weatherman. The Swede’s tribulations reflect the agony of American parents in the sixties when they discovered, in Dylan’s words, that their sons and their daughters were beyond their command.

This novel is both timeless and timely, old testament in scope yet also showing how we got from the Me generation to the You Must Not Offend Me generation. At the end, despite everything, Roth insists that the Swede was right to pursue the American dream, of freedom, aspiration and integration. We can all agree with this, because, in the words of the song, ‘you gotta have a dream if you don’t have a dream, how you gonna have a dream come true’.

**This is an edited version of a presentation to the Bookshop Barnie 19/1/16


The Sharing Economy Debate

12 11 2015

Below is a link to a debate I did on the Sharing Economy at the 2015 Battle of Ideas. Thanks to WORLDwrite for filming the event and to the Battle of Ideas for giving me the platform.

The Sharing Economy: Radical capitalism or high-tech pocket money?

The Sharing Economy-Poverty of Ambition

20 02 2015


It is understandable but surely, at the same time, nonsensical for everybody in a town or city to own their own power tools that are barely used. many of us have far too many books on our shelves, most of which will only be read once. Cars sit on driveways or streets for much of their lives. For some,rooms in their homes remain unused. What a waste!

from The Power of Sharing: A Call to Action for Environmentalists

The Sharing Economy is a description for an amorphous and wide-ranging set of businesses and practices across the world. For the purposes of this discussion I will be looking at the main phenomena associated with the Sharing Economy which have developed over the past ten years or so.
There are three observations I would like to make:
1. A lot of what is called Sharing is not really Sharing.
2. Much of what is claimed to be new about the Sharing Economy is not really new.
3. The Sharing Economy, however defined, is not a solution to the big economic problems we face.

So what aspects of the Sharing economy are not really about sharing. Having friends to stay over on a Saturday night is sharing. Handing them a bill with their breakfast makes me a hotelier. Giving somebody a lift is sharing. Charging them for it makes me a cabbie. Lending somebody a tenner until tomorrow is sharing. Charging them 6% interest for it is usury. None of these things are sharing, they are selling. There is nothing wrong with selling, but I suppose the Selling Economy is a tautology. Indeed, the ultimate form of ‘Sharing’ in this sense would be prostitution, although I do not think the IPO for that is imminent.

Why does the misnomer matter? Because of the moral, environmental and ethical claims that are being made for the Sharing Economy. That somehow it is taking us away from traditional forms of ownership and into a new and more cooperative world. If anything it is taking us in a different direction, towards the monetization of everyday transactions between people and a less communal and more individuated approach to the world, as if we are all involved in a permanent car boot sale of our time, skills and possessions.

What can we say is new about the Sharing Economy? There are undoubtedly some great innovations in consumer services, such as JustParking, which make our lives a little easier. Generally these types of services are the product of the Internet and the capacity for disintermediation that it has brought. But disintermediation is a posh word for cutting out the middle man, and there is nothing very new about that. The Internet has undoubtedly changed things by allowing mass peer to peer connectivity and that has definite consumer benefits. However, the real winners in this have been the pirate capitalists who have moved in and used the technology to break up and disrupt existing industries. This has been and will be the story of capitalism, creative destruction. The Internet driven changes are the latest phase of a centuries old economic system, not the harbinger of a new one.

AirBnB has become hugely successful because it has adopted another old truism of the capitalist economy,sweat your assets, do not leave your house empty. Uber is succeeding partly because it has solved a problem that was fixed a while ago in the heavy transport industry, that is do not have an empty vehicle on the return journey. Peer to Peer lending is a more extensive version of the ‘friends and family’ approach to seed funding entrepreneurs and startups. At present Peer to Peer funding does not appear to be able to address the problem which faces most growing businesses once they have got past the start up phase, the step up funding of 2 to 10 million pounds or more of which there is a huge dearth in this country.

These and other innovations are all largely welcome . But they do not point the way to a different world. They all adapt traditional business methods through the use of new technology,and good luck to them.

Lastly, I would say that however smart and innovative some of these new businesses are, they do not have the potential to solve the big economic problems we face. The Sharing Economy really got going because of the recession and the economic pressures and opportunities it helped to create. But Sharing is operating on the periphery of the global economy, not at its centre. The taxi industry undoubtedly benefited from a one-off productivity increase through Uber and its like. But there appear to be few other major industries which can benefit in the same way from this kind of disruption. Also, in the case of both Uber and AirBnB, they have displaced existing services and therefore not contributed to much extra demand in the broader economy.

There is evidence in the United States, which is more advanced than Europe in the Sharing Economy, that many people have been forced into renting and driving cabs because their wages have stagnated and their living standards fallen. They have been driven, literally in some cases , towards Sharing by austerity. Low productivity in many western economies has led to stagnating wages. Inadequate productive investment by both big businesses and governments has been a major factor in causing low productivity. Until the twin problems of low productivity and inadequate investment are addressed the main sharing that is going on will be sharing out the misery.

(This is a version of a speech delivered to PWC on 19 February 2015)

Selfish Whining Monkeys

16 07 2014

Selfish Whining Monkeys by journalist Rod Liddle has had a good duffing-up by reviewers and commentators. Some of his harshest critics are, unsurprisingly, the sort of people Liddle blames in his book for many of the ills of modern life. David Aaronovitch, Will Self and Julie Burchill are among those who have lined up to put the boot in.

Why has Selfish Whining Monkeys, which, in style and content, is very much like Liddle’s popular column in The Sunday Times, had such a hostile response? Liddle could see this as proof that he has hit his target, as most of the hostile reviewers are part of what he characterises as the ‘faux left’, the metropolitan elite who ‘consider themselves left, or leftish, but whose views are either wholly irrelevant to the poorest indigenous sections of our society, or positively hostile towards them’.

And there you have the nub of why Self et al have attacked this book so viciously. The claim against Liddle is that his championing of the white working class, his opposition to immigration and his nostalgia for an overwhelmingly white, prelapsarian 1950s Britain (Liddle cites the decline of organised religion as one of the reasons for our current social malaise) automatically make him a racist. The critics do not prove this claim, preferring, as Aaronovitch does, to notice ‘the sly references to racial characteristics’. Self is subtle enough to suggest that Liddle may be suffering from a kind of false consciousness, that Liddle ‘thinks he believes’ he is not a racist but really he is, as evidenced by his use of words such as ‘tribe’ to describe the Muslim community.

If this sounds familiar it is because it is the same charge that has been made against the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and its supporters over the past year. In many ways, Selfish Whining Monkeys could be a manifesto for UKIP. Each chapter is its own furious polemic against an aspect of modern life – schools, the class system, the aforementioned faux left, the EU, the free market, London. Like UKIP, Liddle professes to give a voice to those who have been disenfranchised by the congelation of political life into a ‘New Establishment’. In his column for The Times, Hugo Rifkind helpfully summed up what this New Establishment stands for:

‘I find myself perhaps belatedly realising, I am a man of strong establishment views. I am broadly Europhile and certainly unionist. That’s only half of it, though. I am also politically correct, feminist, environmentalist and avowedly multiculturalist. It’s a bit of a shock to realise these are all now establishment views; they certainly never used to be.’
Liddle’s crime, in the eyes of the New Establishment, is to claim to speak for those who feel they have been left behind by modern life. These days, as we saw with the media’s relentless campaign against UKIP leader Nigel Farage, this is enough to turn him into a pariah.

But his book is more than a simple Farage-style saloon-bar rant. Like his columns, it is also often very funny, self-deprecating and quick to notice the absurdities of modern life. He reflects on the aftermath of his Spectator column, ‘Dr Liddle’s Casebook’, in which he panned the claims that ME is a physical disease. Among those who wanted him prosecuted for hate crimes against ME sufferers was a woman who, Liddle recounts, was told by police ‘that the man [Liddle] was a well-known arsehole and it was best to ignore him’. ‘So common sense still exists in at least one constabulary, then’, is Liddle’s witty aside.

Liddle’s crime, in the eyes of the New Establishment, is to claim to speak for those who feel they have been left behind by modern life. He also picks up on other, less populist aspects of modern life which he finds distressing, such as the intrusion of the judiciary into political life, the rise of censorship and intolerance (he defends Muslims who burn Remembrance Day poppies in public), and the false ‘choices’ we are offered in public services. In defending democratic rights, especially free speech, he is firmly on the side of the democrats (with the egregious exception of his opposition to freedom of movement).

Liddle’s instinct is that of a satirist. Part of the cause of the vitriol hurled at him is that nobody likes being mocked. But I think what has really infuriated reviewers is that, in the process of mocking, Liddle often transgresses the New Establishment’s most stringent rule: You Can’t Say That.

Selfish Whining Monkeys: How we Ended Up Greedy, Narcissistic and Unhappy, by Rod Liddle, is published by Fourth Estate. (Buy this book from Amazon(UK).)

This review first appeared in Spiked

Iraq-a primer for your children

17 06 2014

thGather around children and I will explain what is happening in Iraq today.

It all began a long time ago when the goodies (us, we are always the goodies, unlike others who sometimes are good and sometimes bad or just always bad) invaded Iraq to get rid of the baddies. Some of the baddies were Al quida(the unspellable), who had begun as goodies in Afghanistan and then became baddies. We thought that if we got rid of King Saddam ‘the weaponless’ of Iraq, Al Queda would be beaten too even although Saddam was an enemy of Al Qieda (go figure).

After a long time and lots of deaths of men, women and children which we regret every one of, the goodies won. When the goodies had won we put another goodie in charge and left. Meanwhile in another part of the forest another baddie, King Assad, was in charge of Syria. This baddie too was against Al kuida when they were fighting him but for them when they were fighting the goodies in Syria. This time we just encouraged the goodies in Syria to get rid of the baddies themselves, with our money plus guns from Saudi Arabia (see below). Lots of men, women and children died which we regret every one of, but this time it was not the we goodies but the they goodies (and the baddies of course) that did it, so phew.

Then the goodies from Syria did a bad, bad thing. Some of them became baddies because they were joined up with Saudi Arabia, which is a goodie that sometimes does BAD things (but not a baddie oh no). Some of these baddies were so bad that the baddie Al queida thought they were too bad even for them. Then these worse baddies crossed over into Iraq and became the new baddies there. It did not help that the goodie we had put in charge of Iraq turned out to be a bit of a baddie himself (you cannot trust these Arabs). Then we goodies went to another  (President ‘evil axis’ Rouhani of Iran) and said, we know you are a baddie, but would you help us with some worse baddies, who are even worse than the ones we thought were the baddies in the first place(Al Quiada). Which is sort of like joining the Evil Axis but not really as we cannot be evil only good (see line 1)

And then we thought, it would be a good idea if the baddies in Syria( Bad king Assad) got rid of the worse baddies in Iraq so that the remaining goodies in Syria (Whom we know well from many agreeable lunches in the Edgware Road) could then get on with beating the baddies in Syria (Bad King Assad) along with the help of the baddies in Iran ( who will help us beat the worse baddies in Syria until we win and then they will go back to just being the baddies in Iran). For our part, we will go to the office and rain down good bombs on everybody’s heads from our drone consoles and many men, women and children will die of which we regret everyone.

And then a strange thing happened.

We began to wonder if maybe King Saddam’the weaponless’ and Bad King Assad had not been so bad after all, and were a bit like the Pharoah Sisi in Egypt, a necessary evil. And even , even that so bad were the worse baddies in Syria and Iraq that Al queeda (who we wanted to get rid of by invading Iraq, see line 1) seemed like not quite so bad in comparison to the worse baddies.….but we are still thinking that one over.

So you see, children, the lesson is that sometimes it is hard to exactly draw the line between good and bad (except when it is us (see line 1)) and sometimes we take up to 5 minutes of thought to decide who is good and who is bad before we wreck countries and create failed states.

Next week’s lesson: Afghanistan, dizzy with success