Saturday, 26 November 2016

Some thoughts on Trump and Brexit

The kind of face you send to a desperate older man on anonymous internet dating forums, indicating quite clearly that you are not actually a single Ukrainian 19 year-old aspiring model who wants a British visa, having just convinced him to send you intimate photos while dicking about with some of your friends. Almost a metaphor for the election and Brexit - these two are arguably the greatest trolls in history.

The last few months have been an extremely interesting time to be alive – just when it looked as if everything was pretty much settled and I could look forward to a tranquil, if rather boring, lifetime of political moderation, the establishment consensus in both America and Britain was kicked to death in the space of a few short months by an assorted army of green frogs, Russian trolls and the general left behind. By way of a disclaimer, I do feel qualified to voice an opinion on American politics – not because I lay any special claim to understanding it, but simply because almost every American I hate had a very strong, albeit normally shitty and ill-informed, view on Brexit and I feel that as such, a retaliatory strike is justifiable.

For me, the crux of the results can be summed up as follows: if people are having a crappy time, they will seek a radical adjustment of the status quo. If entire communities are having a crappy time, they will turn to identity to seek a radical adjustment of the status quo. If the status quo and all who represent it double down on themselves and seek to contain the insurrection by denigrating and insulting the people who are having a crappy time, lauding the policies that are perceived by the former group to have totally ruined their lives while also trying to start a cultural identity war off the back of meaningless, unrelatable quackery which only makes sense when you have three PhDs in pseudo-Marxist post-modernism, then you get Trump and Brexit.

Yes, I know that there were plenty of wine-swilling free-traders who supported Brexit and a lot of well-off country club Republicans who supported Trump, but the decisive factor was the revolt of northern workers in the former case and the blue collar vote in the Rust Belt in the latter. Yes, I know that the Stronger In campaign was run by a semi-literate man-child and that the Democrats nominated the most overtly corrupt sack of shit that the Anglosphere has ever propelled to high office, but the overturning of the establishment is a momentous pivot in itself that must be explained by the longue duree.

I am trying to write from a relatively objective standpoint about why Trump and Brexit occurred – not to refight the campaigns. For the record, I supported both Trump and Brexit, both for a variety of reasons. For a start, I do not believe in the establishment consensus – I don’t have fanatic beliefs of my own to put in its place, but I hate the lack of debate and I fear for the effects which this will have on the health of the body politic. Given the abysmal record that Western establishments have had over the last decade on everything from foreign policy (especially Middle East and Russia) to economics (2008, Euro, new emerging crisis), boasting about the success of these ideas is starting to look more and more like a cock crowing from the top of a dungheap. It has become increasingly clear that a hell of lot of rethinking needs to be done – for that to happen, the consensus has to be viscerally annihilated.

Rubbish joke: 'Why is the French national bird the cockerel?' 'Because it is the only animal that stands on a pile of poo and is still proud.'

More specifically, I supported Brexit for three main reasons. Firstly, the Euro, which will either bring the whole structure crashing down or will marginalise/isolate Britain to the extent that our interests are best served outside. Secondly, the EU is not a viable geopolitical structure. The conflicts between the EU and the states paralyse it in the face of any major challenge. This was not so important when the world was stable and debt was irrelevant a decade ago – it is urgent now and will only get more so. The EU is a rudderless ship that is powerless to shape events because its decision-making structures are so compromised.

Thirdly, democracy and sovereignty – while the trade and cooperation is very positive, history shows that being in a smaller, united polity with an executive, representative political structure is infinitely superior to being in a larger and richer yet hopelessly divided confederation with no clear executive structure and no mass cultural affinity, both in terms of domestic stability (which is far more likely to prevent aggressive nationalism than the EU even can) and the ability to quickly adopt appropriate, proactive policies.

To use historical analogy, the Holy Roman Empire failed because it had strong states and weak central authority – hence, it got the crap knocked out of it by much smaller countries regularly until it remedied the issue by becoming Germany (long story short but Sweden once managed to take over the whole northern half of Germany). The EU will not unite as Germany did, however – cultural diversity on the level of the EU’s can never be united under one powerful, centralised political structure without the domination of one group, either national, economic or, God forbid, military. To use another historical analogy, the Austro-Hungarian Empire failed because it was an ethnic mess – far from a source of strength, this meant that it was unable to deploy resources effectively and disintegrated whenever it came under pressure. The reason I used these examples is that they are constantly deployed by Europhiles theorising about the golden age a USE would create. None of the positive traits demonstrated by these examples is really that important to 21st century Britain or exclusively a competence of the EU.

I supported Trump for four reasons. Firstly, Clinton’s economic and social policies would likely created a much, much nastier populist movement than Trump in 2020. Trump’s mere election lanced this boil. He’s an idiot but he will not harm the fabric of the republic and counter-intuitively social relations will probably improve – ‘white militias’ which have exploded since 2008 will likely decline, as they have under previous republican presidents, and the radical left will be left isolated as it slowly dawns on African-Americans, Latinos, LGBT people and women that they are not going to shipped out to death camps in Oregon. As a challenge, name one thing that Obama or the democrats have done for Black communities (genuinely, I would be interested to know – giving hope doesn’t count) because every metric suggests that their lot has declined over the last eight years and the Dems have not even made an attempt to deal with this.

Secondly, and purely selfishly, I don’t want to die over the Donbass, lovely as I am sure it is. Euro-Atlanticism has been over-extended in Eastern Europe (to the extent that we have compromised the integrity of NATO while utterly predictably provoking Russia into confrontation) and Obama’s foreign policy has marked a massive Western decline in the Middle East. We are going to have to face the fact that we have lost to Russia in Syria, Russia in Ukraine and Iran in Iraq – through exceptionally poor and domestic-leaning leadership by the Obama administration. Attempting to double down on both fronts, as Clinton indicated she would, would in my opinion have been extremely reckless. I support a big stick when it comes to Russia, but only from a defensible position. Syria was one, as was Iraq, until both were given away by Obama’s isolationist tendencies, while Ukraine simply wasn’t. The Baltics are, however.

Absolutely gorgeous - but not quite worth dying for

Thirdly, Clinton is a seriously questionable human being. While Trump is deeply flawed and would normally have been disqualified for some of the comments he has made, his defects are mainly of a private nature and probably will not impact on how he would run the country (multiple allegations of sexual assault) whereas Clinton’s especially concern public office. Moreover, Trump, as an outsider, will be contained by Washington, whereas I suspect that Clinton would not have been, because the nature of her corruption has lent itself to the subversion of the capital’s power structures. There is enough evidence in the public domain already (and has been since early this year, even before she destroyed files under subpoena, gave classified documents to her maid to print out and the rumours of FBI collusion surfaced) to ‘lock her up’ for years for mishandling classified information, almost certainly leading to severe intelligence breaches by foreign powers. Moreover, the collusion with the DNC during the primaries that shafted Sanders and the intimate collusion with huge swathes of the US media during the general are deeply worrying and anti-democratic in themselves.

The 1st amendment is meant to protect the media, and hence the population, from tyrannical government by guaranteeing a free press. I’m guessing that the founding fathers never envisioned an eventuality whereby the ‘free press’ and government would combine in large part against the population’s right to a free, well-informed democratic choice. The reason for the explosion of the Alt-right and alternative media was the vacuum left by the majority of credible reporters who made it their mission to elect Clinton. Similarly, Hillary’s collusion with Wall St. cannot be in the interests of the American main street – I refuse to believe that investment banks were paying Clinton 6 figure sums simply for the pleasure of hearing her words (especially given that she struggled to attract 4 figure crowds at her free rallies later).

Then, there is pay-for-play. There are serious questions over various mineral concessions, to name one example, granted under Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State – e.g. uranium and Iranian oil – and it is also telling that various governments (Norway and Australia being the latest) have stopped all donations to the Clinton Foundation following her electoral defeat. This is all without even going into serious tin-foil hat territory (e.g. pizzagate). Corruption must not pay.

Fourthly, Trump is much more likely to be conciliatory regarding Brexit than Hillary would have been. The GOP are noticeably more anglophile than the Dems and Trump has already pledged ideological allegiance.

Oh, and it will be funny.

One mere example of how a Trump presidency will be much funnier than a Clinton one.

Anyway, I am getting sidetracked. When the French revolution happened, people did not just pass it off as a result of the incompetence of Louis XVI’s foreign policy and his wife’s lack of common touch; neither did they focus on the Utopian lies of the Girondist faction. Similar to both Brexit and Trump (I never understood why this was not branded ‘Trumph’ as in ’Triumph’ – someone somewhere really missed a trick), people were revolting against a system because they hated it and their lives had deteriorated, not because they had conducted a rational analysis of the alternatives.

The state of affairs that existed up until about 2.00 am on 24 June was eminently hateable. I, for one, was sick and fucking tired of being run by utterly unqualified politicians who only got their seats because either they were right-wing but had regional accents or because they had been involved with unions for a decade. With the greatest of all possible respect to those involved, joining the Labour party ‘to save ‘t’ local hospital’ and suddenly finding yourself on the green benches does not make you an expert on foreign policy and political economy. Similarly, being prominent in the Conservative Association of a West Country spa town, whose only real role is to organise a good booze-up at Christmas, is no guarantee of competence.

The Emperor’s state of undress was revealed during the referendum debate to a painful extent – the Leave side MPs stumbled through factual error after factual error like blind men down a coal mine and the Remain MPs were almost entirely reduced to meaningless platitudes that were not lies simply because they did not assert falsifiable claims. As far as intellectual cases went, the former were supported by a genuine bunch of swivel-eyeds and the latter camp was underwritten by the prestige of international institutions (like the IMF) that people simply do not believe any more. This is not post-truth politics or the decline of the expert. This is the direct result of giving guru-status to people whose record of success is probably worse than that of medieval plague doctors.

'At least we are not economists - then you would be really screwed.'

Moreover, to demonstrate by example, an expert telling people that all immigration is an unremitting success sounds ideological and hence leads to distrust. Generally, immigrants are a positive influence (including the vast majority from the EU – if anything our country could do with more of them) but packaging French bankers with unemployed unemployables from the 3rd world as an average and then using that as grounds for arguing we indiscriminately accept both because the mean immigrant in between adds to the exchequer, notoriously ignoring the social effects of mass immigration on certain communities, utterly destroys credibility with the electorate. The same can be said of financial reports which put a distinct figure on post-Brexit recessions up to 2030 – coming from the industry that has never yet successfully forecasted a recession in advance, no one will believe this.

The politics of the soundbite and media appearance, whereby every interaction with the public is damage limitation (including the selection of MPs) rather than a confident espousal of principle and argument, has done far more to undermine public confidence in the establishment than 100 Nigel Farages could ever do. As has the shrinking of the Overton window to keyhole size, policed by a ferocious battalion of sycophantic journalists and screeching hordes of zealot anti-…ists whose ideas, through generational/geographic ignorance, have served to make them the most hideous example of how out of touch the metropolitan caste is.

I live in the north and I can probably the count on two hands the number of genuine racists under the age of 50 that I have met in my lifetime. Even over the age of 50, there are not that many. I definitely can, however, take a trip down the A500 into downtown Stoke and witness the poverty and general desperation/lack of opportunity there. It is the kind of place where you can spot drunks fighting next to cash machines over benefits money at 10am (I am not exaggerating at all – I have seen this and it is only one example I could give you). Petty theft and homelessness are the only real growth industries for great unwashed. You can buy entire rows of terrace houses for £1 apiece – you only need to evict the heroin addicts first. It came as no surprise to me, therefore, that Stoke overwhelmingly (more than 2-to-1) voted for Brexit despite traditionally returning pro-EU labour MPs. The status quo was/is deplorable in Stoke and other northern working-class towns.

Much the same can be said of the plethora of rural counties that gave Trump the necessary swing states to seize the White House. A few years ago, I went travelling around North-East America. For a short stretch (from Boston to Toronto), I was by myself and I shared the journey up to Buffalo with someone who was almost the textbook definition of a blue-collar worker.

He was about 50, a White catholic of Polish/German descent, lived outside Buffalo and made a modest income as a handyman. His town (or what Americans call a town – to us, a collection of fast food joints and a Walmart) had been reliant on the car industry and he had been a mechanic. He had lost his job doing that in the 1990s as the factory closed and had been patching up people’s houses for them ever since. His town had been wrecked – jobs left, drugs arrived to fill the vacuum. Religion, long a final bastion against the social degradation of these communities, was being corroded as well. He was worried about Muslim immigration but was very clearly not a white supremacist neo-Nazi and was not bothered about, for instance, an increase in Latinos living in America. He had voted for Bush in 2000, felt betrayed by 2004, voted for Obama in 2008, felt betrayed by 2012 and said that he was a centrist. I strongly suspect that he would have voted Trump this election – not because he wanted Trump, but because he wanted change. People like him swung the election in those key states.

His tale of economic woes made quite an impression, especially as ghost-town after ghost-town passed outside the window and we crossed rusting bridges from the 1930s which spanned silted up canals. The further we got from the East coast, the worse everything looked. Buffalo itself was in a very sorry state. Allegedly, this had once been one of America’s most prosperous cities in the 19th century, building its wealth on the trade of the Great Lakes. Two years ago, it was full of very assertive tramps, needle-marks visible on their arms, and unattended roadworks. The streets were filthy, the shops and offices empty or for sale, and only a small area around the downtown felt vaguely metropolitan – or even safe. Having come from picture-perfect Maine through Hipster Boston, arriving in Buffalo, even the parts which were meant to be nice, was like travelling to a dystopian version of Stoke. Arriving in well-groomed Toronto was (literally) a breath of fresh air.

The city, in New York State, voted strongly for Clinton, as most inner-cities with majority non-white populations do, but the Democrat lead for Erie County (containing Buffalo with many white working/middle class suburbs) had fallen from 15% in 2012 to less than 5%.

There are several reasons for this decline, mostly economic. The first is globalisation. Free trade is generally a good thing, but the benefits to ordinary people tend to be more evenly spread and more incremental (cheaper, better products) whereas the costs are massively concentrated geographically. The manufacturing sector of the Rust Belt has been slaughtered by a combination of NAFTA and mechanisation working in tandem. Employment-wise, the benefits of the free-trade area have gone to affluent, well-educated cities capable of supporting globally competitive service industries or high value-added production. This has been exacerbated by brain-drain from bad areas into these globally competitive cities. The end result for Rust Belt towns is that the manufacturing jobs have left, the service industry jobs have also left because the lack of manufacturing jobs stifles demand and hence anyone who is economically productive also leaves.

I am not arguing against deals like NAFTA. I am not ever going to read them and to be honest, it is irrelevant whether they are a net gain to a country or not. The cogent point here is that these free trade deals have cut a bloody swathe through flyover America – and this was utterly predictable at the time they were signed (by the likes of Ross Perot and James Goldsmith, to name but a few). The state had a responsibility to mitigate the awful situation it had played such a large role in creating for tens of millions of Americans (e.g. by retraining, education, new industries). It didn’t, and so it is hardly surprising that 100 million Americans are now on food stamps, the middle class has cratered, shanty towns have started to reappear and, by extension, that Trump won.

All of this was exacerbated by the 2008 recession and government reaction to it. The recession obliterated Middle America, which had been living up to its eyeballs in debt and mortgages for a while. The recovery has been uneven at best and is non-existent in many places. Quantitative easing and low interest rates have spurred recovery among some large corporations, asset holders and globally competitive cities, but few other places. Elsewhere, decently-paid full-time jobs have fallen off while state benefits and the ‘gig economy’ have exploded (whereby people work part time on multiple low-paying jobs). Housing, encouraged into another speculative bubble by the eager Federal Reserve, has become unaffordable. The stock market has risen off the back of stock buybacks (considered less than forty years ago to be financial fraud), central bank purchases and low interest rates but very little of this has translated into help on the ground. Life is just a bit crap really for everyone else.

Purely hypothetically, imagine that your area has become a depressed dump since the 1990s, you lost your permanent job in the 2008 recession and have since scraped by working 3 part-time jobs, selling (or losing) your house to rent instead and taking on credit card debt, your daughter has gone to college but cannot really afford her student loans and you cannot afford to help her, one son is an unemployed, unemployable meth addict and the other is suffering PTSD from the battlefields of Afghanistan, Obamacare is going up by 50% next year yet your wife has a form of cancer which is not covered, infrastructure is crumbling and your area is rife with crime. You cling nostalgically to patriotism and religion – the church is where you go to socialise and patriotism gives you common identity with the people around you who are undergoing the same processes (especially as seen in contrast to the globalist other of the status quo).

This is extreme, but combines elements of what many Americans in these states are facing. Now imagine two presidential candidates come along. Put them in front of a camera. One, Clinton, promises the same old shit for four more years and is widely (quite rightly) considered corrupt herself. The other, Trump, promises to jail Clinton, jail a lot of people like her, salt the earth after them, end or renegotiate trade deals, rebuild infrastructure, rebuild the military as a source of American pride, dick on Muslims as a source of American pride, build a wall on the southern border to stop drugs and illegals, and MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! You probably are not going to care that he has been accused multiple times of sexual assault. Screeching Democrats are not going to be persuasive at this point, especially given that two of their greatest heroes have been sexual predators (Kennedy and Bill Clinton). Incidentally, smarmily asking ‘when has America ever been great?’ is also a very weak point with which to challenge this type of voter, given that they are literally living in the burnt-out corpse of the American dream, the industrial heartland that propelled America to global economic hegemony in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It rings almost as hollow as Hillary’s official response, that America is still great.

Now take the scenario one step further. Clinton, far from seeking to maintain the status quo, actively attacks you. Her campaign tells her that she has raise the turnout of minorities and women to win and so she turns to radical doctrines propounded by intersectional pseudo-academic neo-Marxists. White people have engrained privilege, men have engrained privilege, straight people have engrained privilege and the people who do not have privilege are being persecuted by those who do. If there are clear examples, such as police shootings, then a larger narrative involving all white people, all black people, slavery, the civil war and western imperialism must be invoked – if there are no clear examples, then just fucking blame them anyway for all minority problems and call it structural racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Do not pay the slightest bit of attention to the plight of the white working classes of the Rust Belt – they will vote Trump anyway – and when they try to claim attention, accuse them of racism, sexism and homophobia in order to try to win over minority/women votes. Works 100% of the time, 60% of the time.

Almost exactly the same processes have been present in Britain although to a much lesser extent. The north has been a knacker’s yard since Thatcher in the 1980s (although her policies were definitely good for Britain as a whole, some attempt should have been made at sorting out the north – although arguably the patient had to die to kill off the unions) and the post-war decline beforehand. The north (meaning anywhere not London) was again hit hard by the recession. Because Britain is much more adept at transferring wealth regionally than America is, recovery was not non-existent, but life there remains tangibly worse than people’s expectations – especially given the rise of the uber-wealthy metropolitan districts.

These divides have led to a sharp divergence in socio-political attitudes. As congruent with every other demographic in history that has done well for itself, affluent southerners do not much care for cultural identity in any meaningful sense. There is a tendency to self-identify as a ‘global citizen’, a mark of solidarity with other similarly affluent elites in other countries. People who do care for cultural identity out in the provinces are viewed as hunchbacked swamp-dwelling peasants. Some undoubtedly are but the bulk are not.
Southerners taking a trip up north
Outside London, cultural identity has been rising for years as a result of culturally-filtered economic distress (among other factors). Scots have turned to Scottish nationalism, many Muslims have turned to radical Islam in poor inner-cities and the working classes turned to Euroscepticism of a very non-academic bent. All three of them hate Westminster as corrupt, self-serving and/or Satanic imperialists. The Gentleman’s Club Eurosceptics were horrified at having to share a bed with the latter group but UKIP was not. Cameron, naively expecting a referendum in which every vote counted to be containable like an election in which many votes did not, offered a country (with all of these undercurrents starting to rise to the surface) a free chance to drive a train over his balls. The working classes, with a pre-existing powerful coalition of Eurosceptics, gleefully got to work warming up the engine. Hence, Brexit.

It is important to note that radical shifts in cultural identity do not have to be that big to have a sizeable effect on a country’s politics. Even the Nazis barely got over 30% of the vote despite having run a very competent election operation in the midst of a colossal economic crash (on a side note, it is interesting that Creditanstalt, the Austrian bank that collapsed in 1931 putting the ‘Great’ in depression, was torpedoed by the French in an attempt to stop the creation of an economic zone between Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria – God help us if someone like Putin were to gain similar leverage over Deutschebank… oh, wait). Similarly, the Communists were never close to a majority in Russia or China. Cultural movements that lead to seismic changes are much more about tipping points and other human contingencies (e.g. lesser of two evils or ‘I kind of like Hitler’s autobahn policy and that will affect me more than the annexation of Poland so I think I’ll vote for him’) than wholesale conversion of a majority or plurality to an ideology.

When researching for one of my last university essays, I came across an anthropologist, commenting on African development, called James Ferguson. A very prescient point that he made regarding Africa is that globalisation normally creates internationalised islands within countries rather than internationalised countries or populations.

For example, a bauxite mine in Guinea would probably employ hundreds of locals. A few hundred more would probably be dependent on the mine community. The senior positions would all be foreign, probably Western, the skilled positions might be Indian/Chinese migrants and the whole series of compounds would be guarded and patrolled by hired mercenaries (probably also largely Western/South African). The owner of the land probably lives in the capital city and probably retains ownership through connections within the political class while the company that owns the mineral rights will probably be based in Paris or Toronto. Outside the patrolled fences, life goes on as normal and the local population will see none of the money that the mine generates after the politicians get their cut – yet the mine shows up in trade figures and contributes to official GDP, while not positively enriching many people. As such, the mine is utterly self-enclosed, an economically global island which shares far more with, for example, a uranium mine in the Congo than the village over the next hill whose inhabitants are subsistence farmers. The subsistence farmers do not like this state of affairs, understandably, but get normally get shot when they try anything drastic.
The real divides of this election were between rural and metropolitan America 

To a surprising degree, this model of globalisation has blown back on the West. We now have affluent globalised enclaves and sullen, poorer hinterlands. The patchwork of towns and cities that once dominated the landscape has been out-competed by the by similar patchworks of towns and cities in countries with cheaper labour, whereas the larger cities have never been wealthier or more affluent. In Britain, the effects are more subtle – fiscal transfers backed up by an orgy of government debt and the welfare state have managed to mitigate the worst effects (although this in itself is problematic in the long term). In America, a much larger country with a different attitude to welfare, very little effort has been made to sort these places out. The ideal, of course, would be for some kind of second economic wind that means these areas do not need subsidy. Neither Trump nor Brexit will fix these enormous issues (although I doubt they will make them much worse once the dust settles simply because most of these people have little to lose) – but at least the elites who caused these problems so blindly yet so predictably, without making any serious attempts to mitigate the effects of the policies they were signing off on in areas where they would have a negative effect, have been told to fuck off.

1)      When whole communities are suffering, they turn to cultural identity as a means to radically redress the status quo

2)      The underlying cause of both Trump and Brexit was a shift in cultural identity caused by the effects of globalisation and the Great Recession

3)      Globalisation, while not necessarily a bad thing in overall balance, has hollowed out geographical areas causing an immense amount of harm to the people who live there – as such, it is hardly surprising that politics, dependent on geographical areas, has been strongly affected

4)      Many people and companies were tipped over the edge by the Great Recession, the effects of which are still omnipresent in those regions/areas/demographics – the recovery is largely non-existent there, having disproportionately been channelled into asset owners and globally competitive cities

5)      The outcomes of elections in Britain and America are based on demographic tipping points (swing states, swing voters) – the above trends led a strong swing in key areas to cause Trump and Brexit

6)      All of this was exacerbated by the state of politics in both Westminster and Washington – Clinton was hopelessly corrupt and sought fights with the white working class regarding immigration and minorities (trying to amplify their issues despite their not being that important any more); our parliament contains an alarming proportion of morons brought in to help media image

7)      All of this was exacerbated by the state of the ‘mainstream media’ (I hate that phrase) which sided very firmly with the establishment

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Why I am Voting to Leave

Sorry about the lack of pictures.

This probably comes too late to influence anyone’s opinion before voting tomorrow. To be honest, I really should have got around to this earlier. What follows is not a comprehensive guide to everything about the EU – just my thoughts and perceptions. The first half will set out the rudiments of a case for while the latter half will attempt to debunk remain claims. I will not argue about trivialities such as Erasmus – these things are irrelevant and if they factor enough to influence your decision, I fancy this post will go well over your head.


The EU is a political abortion. No, I am not saying that to be inflammatory – I am saying that because it is literally true. The EU’s intellectual genesis was in the inter-war years, a federalist pipe-dream to create a USE. After the war, pushed by continental opportunists, the project received the backing of the nation states – who promptly derailed the naïve, projectionist trajectory of the nascent union by asserting national interest. Between 1950 and 2010, roughly, anything the ECSC/EEC/EU has accomplished, successfully, has been because it has been backed by both the supranational and national interests. The former in order to increase federation; the latter for the benefit of the powers involved (although this is a generalisation – some national leaders did and do genuinely invoke federalism).

As such, the single market was a great success (designed to unite the European peoples economically or promote trade/create captive markets or both depending on who you asked). The euro also seemed to be a success at first (uniting the European peoples in a currency bloc would eventually ensure fiscal unity/debt collectivisation – the first step towards true supranationalism – or providing a shit-ton of cheap debt to satisfy electorates and just have a good time). However, reality asserted itself with the euro – because the nationalist interests wanted cheap credit without conceding enforceable fiscal limits (poor countries and France) and debt consolidation (rich countries), and the supranationalist interests were fine with anything that advanced supranationalism (meaning that they gave the go ahead for this model, economic failure as it was regarded at the time as they made it – they believed a crisis would provoke the integration they sought), the euro was still-born.

Because the euro was essentially designed with these flaws, the end result has been that the EU’s integrative process has been driven neither by national nor supranational interests for the last six years. The process has been driven by events – the euro crisis, where national interests are loathe to give up basic fiscal powers and debt control but must (eventually when the ECB runs out of options) in order to prevent currency collapse, and the much lesser migrant crisis brought about by middle eastern warfare and the collapse of Gaddafi’s regime, where national interests have collided and no one really knows what to do.

The Euro survived the ‘Euro-crisis’ by effectively shitting on southern Europe, a corrupt basket-case if ever there was one. However, nothing fundamental has changed. Bailouts are sticking plasters which will temporarily heal over the cracks. The real question is what would happen if there were a renewed Euro-crisis. If there were a market crash, this would happen – in 2011-12, there was no market crash, and so the euro was able to survive with monetary help from both the ECB and central banks in Japan, China, Britain and the USA. If there were another market crash, much larger countries than Greece would be the subject – bailing out these would be tantamount to impossible. France, Italy and various others would become the subjects. There is little chance that the Euro, intertwined with the fate of the EU, would be able to overcome this without a massive power-grab or an unprecedented devaluation of the entire Euro (which would cause its own problems).

So, where does this leave Britain? Already, we have been somewhat marginalised. In the council of ministers, between 2004 and 2009, Britain was on the losing side 2% of the time – between 2009 and 2015, the variable factor being the Euro-crisis, Britain has been on the losing side more than 12% of the time. This is clearly not the end of the world – but, as Peter Shore said so eloquently in 1975 during that referendum campaign, it is the trend, the trend that counts. This projection, largely glossed over by the Remain campaign who average the two together, has happened without any fundamental legal change. Now, as new QMV rules come into force (a result of the Lisbon Treaty) which give the Eurozone a workable majority by 2017 and the Eurozone is inevitably forced towards integration to avoid collapse (recessions come as night follows day, and anyone who says ‘this time it’s different’ is lying or incompetent), one can only imagine how this number will increase to Britain’s detriment. The trend is totally opposed to our country’s wellbeing.

The blunt truth is that Britain cannot have true influence as befitting our size and the needs of our economy without joining the Euro as the bloc seeks to integrate. If the EU integrates their fiscal spending and consolidates their debt, effectively forming one economic government for an area who’s GDP outstrips Britain’s by a factor of more than six to one. Britain will lose a lot of economic influence if this happens – apart from anything else, it will vastly magnify the power of the economically important countries in the Eurozone (France and Germany) while creating a caucus which always follows its own interests, which will have largely converged. It is an overstatement to say that Britain will become Europe’s Puerto Rico – but very likely by a smaller margin than most people imagine.

The alternative to this situation is the Euro collapsing. While the economic repercussions would hit Britain, in or out, why the hell would we be willing to accept the political shitstorm accompanying if we could avoid it. As such, Britain has been put through myopic ineptitude, a fundamental lack of understanding about the economics of the single currency and a naïve desire to reform the system, in a very poor position. If Britain did end up as above, joining the Euro could possibly be the only option.

Put simply, in my mind, there are three options for Remaining, looking forward to the next (inevitable) recession:

1)      The Eurozone integrates its fiscal spending and consolidates/mutually guarantees its debt – in which case Britain is left with no influence and will probably be subject to power grabs in the process, which will be traumatic for all
2)      The Euro collapses – in which case, Britain is a party to the political shitstorm as well as the economic one during the death throes of the union, very possibly involving significant power grabs in an attempt to save the Euro
3)      1) happens and Britain joins the Euro, hence losing pretty much any power we have left as we are co-opted into what economically becomes a functioning USE

Granted, Britain does have a national veto in many areas. But this is merely the power to say no – what fucking power is that? Given the enormous political pressure that a Eurozone caucus could place Britain under, this is a desperate argument to say the least. As a large country, Britain needs, and can get elsewhere, constructive influence – while remaining, the chips would firmly be set against us. Moreover, it only takes one Europhile in power or an incompetent government to lose a national veto (e.g. Blair – who lost the veto over the social chapter and very nearly opted in to the Euro, both things that Major had one opt-outs from, while Cameron has recently conceded a form of veto over Eurozone integration to get his pathetic deal earlier this year).

The Alternative

What is the alternative? I am not going to promise lands of flowing milk and honey (Israel is an arid dump anyway – I don’t know what the hell those biblical people were talking about), but a second option is less dangerous or disadvantageous than thought.

A blunt fact is that it is almost certain that should we vote for Brexit, an EEA-EFTA option, as per Flexcit, is what we will get as an interim, for at least 5-10 years. Without wishing to go into the skull-numbing detail, this is the only option which will pass a pro-remain parliament, a civil service which wants a smooth transition, the EU (which is desperate to avoid any kind of economic showdown, even with its own shadow – it is financially on the verge of something terrible, regardless of its trade leverage over Britain) and various EU national governments, who want continued trade. For the latter two, EEA-EFTA can very readily be portrayed as unfavourable towards the UK – as it has been by a sycophantic media quoting the Remainers during our own referendum debate. Reading between various lines, all of the parties mentioned have either mentioned explicitly or implicitly that this option would be an acceptable compromise. Moreover, I think for a sorely divided electorate, this option represents a good compromise between then defeated Remainers and then victorious Leavers.

This option will keep us in the single market, hence meaning no tangible changes to the economic terms of our interactions with Europe although giving us control over trade policy, fishing and farming. It is not ideal, but as one commentator pointed out, it signifies turning the ship around. Leaving is a process, not an event. We need a gradual parting, not a sudden break. To quickly bust a few myths – no, Norway does not pay more than us per capita (it pays about half – and if broken down, much of this is within cooperative schemes that Norway still is involved with, and a sizeable proportion goes to Eastern European countries to help them off the ground following communism), no, Norway does not obey all EU rules (it obeys single market regulations, which it has a say in – see below – and these amount to roughly a quarter of all EU rules according to the EFTA Secretariat) and no, Norway does not mean status quo regarding freedom of movement (while it is likely that Freedom of Movement would be continued by the neo-liberal Tory government, one study found that a tighter definition of the term worker could be used to shave 100,000 off the EU incoming figure, while the EEA emergency brake, which would allow Britain to follow Liechtenstein in setting quotas subject to 5 year review, could be invoked – either way, the important point to get is that the door is not closed to migration reform as it would be if we remain).

Another blunt fact is that most single market regulation is now carried out on a global basis following a WTO agreement in 1994 that signatory nations should accept goods which comply with global standards. The EFTA secretariat estimates the figure that has since accrued, regarding the EU, to be above 80% (I think 82.6%, of the top of my head) of all single market EEA regulation. Some have tried to argue that this point doesn’t work because the WTO agreement is unenforceable – I don’t know the legal merits of the case, but this evidence shows that this agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade is widely put into action. These standards are decided at global bodies, such as UNECE, WP.29 (a subsidiary of the former), the ISO, etc. In the EU, we are forced to accept a common position – in which we may or may not be outvoted. Outside the EU, we would be free to make whatever alliances we choose and hold any other positions we think are in our interests. Obviously, the EU has more clout than Britain – but as Britain’s influence declines within the EU, it could very well be in our interests to reassert agency to increase our influence outside. Bear in mind that Australia, spearheading the Cairns Group in the 1990s reformed the CAP from outside the EU more than Britain had for 20 years inside through external pressure. Freedom to make alliances, while daunting and definitely an uphill struggle, would allow us to exert at least some influence.

Moreover, UNECE, as a part of its foundation document, states that no government shall be forced to accept something against their will, a sentiment echoed in WTO in the 5-7 (the number is contentious) pillars of the organisation. Other intergovernmental organisations follow similar lines – e.g. NATO operates consensually. This is a change from the supranational talking-shop above a parliament system which the EU currently operates which has Qualified Majority Voting. While in practise, larger bodies exert more pressure than smaller bodies in all of this and strictly speaking, it is all politics (with winners, losers and deals, sometimes disadvantageous), the former system would give an independent UK better safeguards.

For proper details of this, see or look up Flexcit. Even if you do not agree with all of the assumptions/conclusions, in my mind at least, it provides a model by which the UK could leave the EU without economically imploding. While my outline of what EEA-EFTA could look like has been brief, Flexcit has been thoroughly thought through to an academic standard – I am satisfied, disregarding the economic claims about increased influence for the minute, that an exit along the lines of Flexcit will make an adequate start without an enormous downside risk to the economy or a scraping out of Britain’s remaining global influence.


Yes, the EU is anti-democratic. Yes, the parliament is a pathetic fig-leaf, made up of MEPs who are very distant to the law-making process, often understand little of what they are legislating on (for fuck’s sake, one of the remain Tory MEPs couldn’t even understand Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, mistakenly believing that a clause implied that Britain would not even be able to negotiate… in any of the leaving discussions – how the hell would she be able to wade through something like TTIP? – and that is without even going in to the UKIP, Green and Lib Dem ones who are generally far more nuts), cannot initiate or repeal legislation, normally are only there because they have doors closed to them in national politics, are by-passed by the flood of global regulation which usually goes straight to the governments and whose only tool against the commission (law instigator, although much is decided by the Council of Ministers) is so unwieldly that in practise it would represent using a sledgehammer to get out a splinter, if it were ever used – this is the vote of no confidence in the entire commission.

Yes, the Council of Ministers is undemocratic – because of QMV. While a lot is done consensually and the UK has in the past often got its way under QMV, as I mentioned earlier, this is a downtrend of quite alarming velocity. Future developments are likely to exacerbate this against the UK’s interests. Moreover, this is governmental negotiation, which the UK populace normally have no idea about (a necessary pre-requisite to democracy) – see the UK government’s attempts to block steel tariffs, despite the evident unpopularity of this with UK electorate who were crying out for steel protectionism. While the government may know best (I firmly believe that this is the case much less often than thought), the electorate should at least know what they are doing for major policy decisions which will have a huge impact (unemployment) on thousands of lives in Britain so that they can be held accountable. The lack of any meaningful oversight and the possibility of democratic mandates simply being outvoted make this less than democratic.

Yes, the EU is a honey-pot for corporate lobbyists, seeking to gold-plate regulation to safeguard themselves from competitors or simply to use the forum, that much more distant from national electorates but with a huge amount of supranational power, to give them favours. Factually, it is the second largest lobbying capital outside Washington D.C. and you can google evidence to support this. Anecdotally, I have come across this personally. A Europhile relative of mine works in this area with a major telecoms company, which may or may not begin with a ‘V’. The price it charged for the data roaming charge reductions (a global initiative that was actually held up by the EU, probably at the behest of major telecoms companies whose names may or may not begin with a ‘V’) was a monopoly on telecoms, enforced by the EU, over certain Eastern European countries. My relative, on behalf of the major telecoms company which may or may not begin with a ‘V’, was not even the one to pick up the phone – it was freely offered, probably in order to win popularity for EU governance, to assuage global pressure and to foster a sense of European unity. This is only one instance which I personally happen to know about – God knows how many more there are if this is a common modus operandi. Doubtless google also knows of similar tales – and doubtless google is involved in similar tales. There are reasons why large multinationals actually quite enjoy this system.

Yes, using international treaty law to bind internal laws is anti-democratic. The EU gets its powers from international treaties. These treaties cannot be altered or undone by national governments responding to the democratic will without either a new amending treaty or walking away from the entire structure altogether. International Treaties are perfectly legitimate – I am not arguing against them – but their primary use thus far in history had been to normalise relations between powers not within powers. While bodies like the WTO and NATO do this, and this does infringe on Britain’s internal affairs, they only do so to normalise external relations. For NATO, this is regarding military alliance, and for the WTO, this is to foster trade. The EU, on the other hand, formats these treaties to equalise internal conditions between all states – hence, the CAP and CFP, the two clearest examples – and the reason for this is the federalist desire for a USE, something to which other intergovernmental organisations simply do not aspire to. The EU can apply political pressure on the premise of this – no country can unilaterally change treaty law in response to popular demand (e.g. Greece and austerity, or indeed Cameron, with the non-deal earlier this year) without being forced to leave all of the European treaties. As this option is quite clearly traumatic when compared to something relatively trivial like fishing rights, no government will or even can mount a proper defence of their nation’s interest against the treaties. Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledged this when he said that ‘there can be no democratic choice against the EU treaties’ – he was stating a fact. In this very real sense, the EU is a ratchet for integration at the expense of the democratic will of its nations’ peoples.

Some people claim that Britain has sovereignty because we can choose to leave, assuaging the loss of power – but this is clearly bollocks. The only freedom this affords is a ‘prisoner’s freedom’ (by which I refer to the allegory of the prisoner who is free to kill himself or otherwise follow the demands of his captors – this is far from a perfect metaphor because the prisoner would have to be prisoner and captor at the same time, and would leave rather than end it all, but the point should be clear enough by now). What kind of democratic freedom is that?

There are other forms of anti-democracy, such as the lack of a demos (we cannot have an EU democracy because various national identities and cultures are too strong – and are only going to get stronger as the EU becomes more economically draconian) and the role of the commission (which, to be honest, I do not know enough about), but these forms are enough for me.

To recap my argument:

1)      The EU parliament is an irrelevant fig-leaf regarding democracy (Russia has a Duma – does that make Russia a democracy?)
2)      The Council of Ministers is also anti-democratic because of QMV and the distance from the national electorates
3)      The EU is a corporate honey-pot – meaning that democracy, or even the welfare of the peoples of Europe, are secondary considerations compared to profit (I am quite sure that the telecoms monopolies to be given by the EU in various Eastern European countries to a large multinational which may or may not begin with a ‘V’ benefit the company more than the consumer)
4)      The EU’s utilisation of international treaty law is anti-democratic to an extent which far outweighs intergovernmental organisations – and acts as a ratchet to enforce increased federal integration

My Argument

This is already growing rather long, so I’ll end my argument here to proceed with some pre-emptive rebuttals. To summarise:
1)      Wherever the EU goes, because of the Euro and its flaws, Britain’s influence will be diminished to the extent that it is better to leave or party to an even more undesirable political shitstorm if the euro collapses
2)      The opportunity cost of EU membership is really not that bad and can be achieved with little trauma – some would argue that it is even better than current membership terms in terms of influence, while I personally believe that it is certainly better than where we will end up if we remain
3)      The EU is undemocratic – for this reason alone, it is better that we leave
There are many more arguments, but these are the strongest in my opinion

Rebutting the IMF, etc.

A frequent argument made by hopeless, normally economically illiterate Remainers whose only recourse is to appeal to the authority bestowed on an organisation by its acronym is that we should remain because the economic studies from the likes of the IMF, CBI, HMT, LSE etc. agree that Brexit will be bad for the economy.

This is totally unfounded for several reasons:

1)      Many of these reports are straw man attacks on the Leave side. You can tell this by the fact that they do not even consider the EEA-EFTA (Norway) option, despite the fact that it is by far and away the most likely option when campaign rhetoric and the fact that Vote Leave is a PLC with no executive power is taken into account. The CBI/PwC’s reports are the worst for this – only one fig-leaf paragraph is devoted to EEA-EFTA. Only five out of about ten studies actually model the option. Of the five, two are crap – although I haven’t actually read the IMF one, so that might be as well. The HMT one is compiled using worst-case scenarios, and has been rebutted convincingly by better intellects than mine (were to use google), meaning that it gives a totally unrealistic downside figure of 4%, while the LSE one is even worse. The LSE study applies certain economic theses. One is that EEA non-EU countries trade less with the EU than other EU countries – given that this study has a sample base of Switzerland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland, two of which are insignificant and the other two of which are totally different to the UK economy (one accessing the EEA through bilateral deals), the sizeable drop in UK trade given to us by the LSE academics is totally unmerited. A similarly applied study states that countries in political union have increased productivity, for which, from memory, the UK is docked a healthy 10% productivity growth. Noticeably, this study’s fieldwork was from before the Eurozone crisis. The other models show a far more believable opportunity cost of leaving to equal between 1-2% by 2030 – I’ll accept that to be getting on with (see below).
2)      While there will not be some free trade bonanza, it is worth noting that these studies do not take into account opportunity cost – e.g. advantageous trade deals with other countries.
3)      To be honest, I’d take a 1-2% drop by 2030 for a nice slice of democracy (it equates to about 0.1-0.2% per year).
4)      This one is my main point. These studies are pure horseshit. They are extrapolations of present trends which are measureable today, modelled on the basis that the economy is a linear construct – that recessions and reversals are avoidable accidents or hiccups. This is unbelievably far from the truth. Our current economic structure (what one might call ‘creditism’ for the unbridled creation of debt) simply does not work like that. Recessions happen periodically every 7-10 years – these recessions are not linear blips, they are enormous global redistributions of wealth (through bankruptcy and changing value – e.g. property) and foreign exchange flows, a by-product of almost unlimited credit creation. This itself is a real redistribution of wealth and purchasing power, even if it is not felt until a recession. There is much to be said for this system (it gave us the internet, blew Communism and Nazism out of the water, and currently has created for us the globalisation that we so enjoy), but history shows that recessions are an integral part of the process. Yet, none of the models for our leaving the EU forecast any of this – instead, they are stuck modelling the trends of the growth period for which we are now in, which, if the history of the last 150 years is consistent (and economic indicators show every sign of this – for which I could write another 4,000 words) will only last for mere years more.
5)      The inescapable conclusion of any future recession is that the Eurozone will be hit very hard. 2007 and the ensuing Euro-crisis saw massive capital outflows from Europe – hence why the region is lurching from crisis to crisis, has not seen serious growth and is only really kept alive by global monetary easing. A further recession would devastate the Euro still further to the point of collapse (the premise for my earlier arguments) because there has been no fundamental change to its structure. Bailouts are limited redistributions of wealth – they cannot affect the long term viability of the whole unless they are an immersive commitment, which they simply are not in anything like present form. Attempting to forecast this would be near impossible, because the volatility and the circumstances of a market crash are highly contingent on a myriad of factors – but omitting the consequences of a future recession to tell us what would happen if we froze the global economy’s fundamentals until 2030 and treating this as gospel to persuade the undecided voters is an utter absurdity. Yet this is what all of the economic Brexit studies do.
6)      The IMF, OECD and HMT, and the like, are largely forbidden from forecasting recessions because, ironically enough, their prestige would make recessions a self-fulfilling conclusion. Any business worth its salt uses their forecasts in its business plans, meaning that a forecasted recession would prompt preventative action on the part of companies, a monetarists’ nightmare. This is why these organisations have a woeful record of long-term forecasting (in stable growth periods, it probably is quite good – hence their continued use) and also why any long-term model of theirs normally reverts limply to trend growth (2.75% for the UK) within 5 years despite the fact that everyone knows this isn’t going to happen. This is not to say that they are idiots – allegedly, according to one biography I cannot quite remember, HMT knew about the looming crisis before the end of 2005. Doubtless, this formed an integral part of Tony Blair’s retirement schedule.
7)      These organisations are terrified of a collapse brought about by a Black Swan event like Brexit – you only have to look at the S and P 500 to see what they are worried about. However, Brexit can never be more than a trigger for much deeper causes – aka, anything that Brexit sets off will happen anyway in the very near future.
8)      It must be said that neo-liberal dogma on the part of these organisations is a factor. The IMF is often accused of such regarding Greek austerity. However, a much clearer example of this is the treatment of Africa by the IMF, World Bank and powerful Western establishment politicians/economists during the 1980s and 1990s with Structural Adjustment. The twin prongs of neo-Malthusianism and privatisation were imposed on African countries against the protests of experts from opposing schools and African governments themselves – this resulted in the erosion of African states, in some cases to non-existent levels. Following economic crises, many succumbed to anarchic civil war during the mid-1990s giving us Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola and the DRC. Obviously some other factors were at play (e.g. the lowering of the costs of war from ex-Soviet arsenals) but the enforced dismantling of African states, done with the best of intentions, played a major role in the huge destabilisation and had few successes to offset its dismal failures.

Rebutting Prestige

Remainers love dispensing lists of people who support Remain against those who support leave (Trump, Putin – I know… banter). This makes for a poor argument:
1)      I could compile an unflattering list of people who like Remain. Anjem Choudhary, the radical Islamist preacher who wants death for homosexuals, the reduction of women to house-serfs and the conquest of Britain by radical Islam. Martin McGuiness and Gerry Adams, a pair who not so long ago were involved in the ordering of deaths around Britain, including the last four MPs before Jo Cox to be assassinated – something that neither Boris nor Nigel have ever done, despite their faults. Tony Blair, a self-serving, slimy sociopath who got us involved in the Iraq War (and his minion Alistair Campbell, who played a role in compiling the dodgy dossier and lying to the British public). Bob Geldof, an all-round loathsome prick with no redeeming features – even his music is utter crap. Hillary Clinton, a corrupt incompetent and the first Presidential nominee to run at the same time as being under investigation by the FBI for circulating classified information and potential political corruption charges – only marginally better than Trump, if at all. Goldman Sachs, J. P. Morgan and Morgan Stanley, all three on the hotlist of most immoral organisations that exist in the world today (coming from someone who likes free markets almost as much as Pinochet) – probably a bit lower than ISIS and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, but roughly around the level of FIFA. All three are proven to have taken part in financial market rigging, corruption, undue political influence, money laundering, etc. on a global scale. Ironically enough, their actions (with others – allegedly, of course) attempting to manipulate the Russian bond market in the late 1990s could be seen as the main reason for the fall of Yeltsin and for Putin, the Remain camp’s bogeyman, to have taken power in the first place.
2)      Politicians do not shit in each other’s back gardens. As such, they all disavow each other’s populists as part of an unwritten convention – for fear that other politicians will start to support theirs. Of course, this does not apply to countries which do not like each other – e.g. Russia vs. the West.
3)      The USA has reasons for keeping Britain in the EU – mainly as a moderating voice and also as a tidying up exercise – they only want one number to call in Europe. Originally, the EU was meant to be a self-funding second pillar of NATO, alongside the USA, to defend against Russia. This also explains NATO’s attitude – although by and large, our membership of the EU will not seriously affect defence against Russian green men. Of course, given that we are a continent of metrosexuals who quite enjoy our bloated welfare states, there is not a chance in hell of this happening – unless we reawaken Germany in a way we have been trying to avoid doing for 70 years.
4)      Given that very few of the people cited have special knowledge beyond that of the media, why are they included? This especially goes for actors. What the hell can Benedict Cumberbatch or Emma Thompson know that I can’t/don’t? If anything they are less well-educated than me – having gone off to acting school while I went to university for a serious subject.
5)      Mobilisation implies majority but does not entail it. E.g. 51 FTSE companies came out for Remain – but 49 did not. Similarly, 300 economists came out for remain – more than 1,000 work for the government alone. I am not implying that everyone who said no or was not surveyed is for leave, because clearly they are not, but these figures can be disingenuous and selectively surveyed, and hence give a misleadingly unanimous impression.
6)      If you were to survey actual independent financiers, as in the people who make money off getting this stuff right, not economists who make crappy linear predictions that rarely come true (ok, I’m being slightly hyperbolic) you would find a much less clear consensus, probably dominated by thoughts about the Euro crisis. I have read the opinions of a number of them, with sound records, who support Brexit on such a basis – e.g. Martin Armstrong, who comes across as slightly politically unhinged but has the best economic forecasting record of any known person through the modelling foreign exchange flows and cycles (he predicted the dot com bubble, the 2007 real estate crash, the ensuing recession and the 2011 euro crisis – all in 1999). He was called in to advise Major on the resolution of the ERM crisis and actually helped design the euro – he told them it would crash unless it consolidated debts and imposed fiscal limits in the 1990s, but the people he was talking to said that it was politically impossible and would have to follow later. As such, he gives it less than four years to live.

I’m voting to leave – very little could stop me doing so at this point.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016


Putin is a shit. Yes, I am that supposedly rare breed (which really is not actually very rare) - a Brexiteer who doesn't like Putin. He has committed, or been responsible for, war crimes in Chechnya. I read a few years ago (in one of those crappy plane magazines) an account of the conflict by a Spetznaz soldier - allegedly, a common practice was literally to make dissidents disappear by placing explosives between their legs and next to their heads. That way, there were no bodies to find - horrible, and well worthy of the Hague. Putin has acted in a similarly unpalatable manner in Georgia, Syria and Ukraine.

But why the hell do we have to forgo our democratic rights and freedoms for fear of this non-threat? Britain is not Azerbaijan or Turkmenistan. We live safe in the knowledge that we don't have to care about what Putin thinks about us because there is very little he can do against us. Russia is Mexico with 4,000 nukes and some oil. We no longer live in the Cold War - there are no longer 'Reds under the bed' or a very real threat to our freedom in the form of communism. Putin's lack of a global ideology is what ultimately condemns him to insignificance. Putin is just another cockerel sitting on top of a heap of seething failed ambitions, crippling self-doubt and bitter irredentism in the secure knowledge that at any moment his economy might collapse or he might be killed by his political rivals. As such, he needs to make a noise on the world stage to appease Russian sensibilities - but this does not equate to the desire for global, or even regional, dominance, which would be impossible for post-1991 Russia to achieve anyway.

We won the Cold War in order to earn the right to be able to ignore this crap and get on with our lives. He is simply not a threat to Europe in the way that the 22,000 battle tanks of the red army and Soviet-backed Communist parties were (there are about 2,300 Russian tanks now in service) - he will, like some insidious liquid, seep into space we allow him, but not further. If NATO/EU/Hillary were even vaguely collectively competent, he would not have been given that space in the first place. Obama either would not have declared a red line, or would have enforced the red line that he declared, in Syria. The EU would not have condoned the new Ukrainian government's desire for closer relations with the EU without holding a free and fair general election first, or a referendum, instead of waiting until a sizeable chunk of opposition territory was a Putin-induced warzone and thus making a landslide victory inevitable from the remainder.

What they hell did they expect to happen? The Black Sea is incredibly strategic to Russia - the only reason we put up with Turkey's games in NATO is because they geographically have their foot on Russia's throat, permanently. The Dardanelles lost Russia the 1st World War (98% of Russian imports had passed through in 1913 - Russian economic collapse can be directly traced to the Turkish blockade), potentially allowing the balance of power in the Black Sea to be called the root cause of the 1917 revolution, communism and the Cold War in the first place. Similarly, the Crimean bases are very important strategically - and politically far more dear to the Russians than the Falklands are to us, having a plurality of ethnic Russians (following some huge relocations in the 1950s, doubtless designed to make such a strategically vital region politically sound). The domestic political backlash had Putin not acted would have been enormous.

Yes, Russia should not have invaded, and yes, the democratic wishes of the Ukrainian people should be respected, but given the situation, this thinking is as naive as throwing a supermodel into a Miami Maximum Security jail and expecting her to come out in one piece in the morning because of laws and stuff. If we were going to support West Ukraine's desire for European help, we should have sent our own green men in to stop Putin - and if we were not willing to do that, as per international law, we should have sought a properly worked out compromise before everything got to hot and everyone started lobbing rockets at each other. Instead, we funded pro-EU opposition parties against pro-Russian, Putin-funded groups, leading to a successful revolution in our favour - at which point we just buggered off into the ether to let the whole thing sort itself out. With this kind of leadership, is it any wonder that Putin seems to be winning despite his weak position?

And yet, we are ordered by Remain to vote remain because voting leave is what Putin wants - apparently forgoing our democratic rights equates to winning the peace of the Cold War. Well, I for one don't give a flying fuck what Putin wants either way and I assume that the right to do so was the main point of fighting the Cold War in the first place. If I was planning to build a steelworks in Yekaterinburg, then I probably care about Putin's opinion, but now as I am planning to vote on whether Britain remains a sovereign nation or whether it should sign up to the European integrative process, I reserve the right not to have to consult the feelings of distant autocrats about my political future.

In realistic terms, Brexit makes little difference to Western Grand Strategy in Eastern Europe - as a continuing member of NATO, Britain's defence commitments will not change. What will actually happen on 24 June is that pretentious commentators of all shades of the cloth will realise that the widely feted signs of disunity and political fracturing don't actually alter the material situation on the ground at all. They can then go home and find something else to bitch and moan about. What fledgling EU practical defence cooperation there is will remain that - cooperation, not integration.

As for the US pipedream of a self-sufficient European integrated defence as a second pillar of NATO - that isn't happening. It is politically implausible and economically impossible for such a debt-ridden continent to even afford the amount of hardware needed (unless Germany were to fulfil her traditional role, the one that we and she have been trying to avoid her taking on for the last 70 years). If push ever comes to shove, we will come running to hide behind Uncle Sam's coattails - trying to teach us to fish for ourselves rather than furnishing our continent with weapons and planes is simply not going to work.

Our right to self-government should not be sacrificed on the alter of such a futile ambition and the Brexit vote should have nothing to do with Putin, because in terms of the importance of issues that the referendum addresses, he comes in lower than 20.

Friday, 8 April 2016

The EU is not democratic

No, the EU is not democratic. There are two senses in which the EU could be democratic: in the sense that it is responsive to the wishes of HM government or in the other potential sense, that it is democratic in itself – although the first sense is the more important because it guarantees that the second sense is a constant, an unchangeable feature of the EU monolith. At least through the democratic will – framing the EU as a thing we should be in to reform is wishful thinking and I for one am not content with just sitting around twiddling my thumbs waiting for the unlikely event of a senior EU bureaucrat deciding that EU citizens should actually be given a meaningful say in the project.

This should be obvious. Whether you want Britain to stay in or leave, it is pretty much an objective fact that the EU is undemocratic at present and exceedingly unlikely to become more democratic in the future, near or otherwise. If you think that Britain should give up democratic power because it needs influence within the EU structures or it is needed to prevent a general conflict, by all means make that case (obviously, I would not agree with you at all on those points) – but do not try to call it a democracy and at least accept the limitations that it puts on Britain’s parliamentary sovereignty.

Some sort of a definition for democracy must be offered – although I will not stoop to quoting American presidents. Democracy is a system of government by all eligible members of a state, typically by representatives (hence, representative democracy – the Westminster system). As such, the EU can either be democratic in two ways – one, that it is responsive to the elected parliament in Westminster, and two, that all eligible citizens of the EU take an active role in its governance.

The second point should be taken first because it is largely self-evident. The EU parliament is more of a fig-leaf than an organ of democracy. True democratic accountability means much more than having elections and voting – even the North Koreans let the people vote and Russia has a parliament (I wonder what would happen if they passed a vote of no confidence directed at Putin). To constitute an institution of representative democracy, the parliament elected by the citizen body must be sovereign, the basis of all real power exercised by the executive (meaning ministerial accountability and the ability to formulate/repeal laws). This is clearly not the case – as almost everyone reading this will know, the European Parliament is only permissive, meaning that it can only give assent or dissent to proposals put before it. Moreover, the parliament cannot adequately hold the law-proposing commission to account for its actions (its only power in this regard is a vote of no confidence in the entire commission to get a new one appointed – such a blunt instrument that it exercises little leverage).

On top of the fact that the EU parliament in its present form objectively cannot be described as democratic because its votes are not an exercise of sovereign power, it can never be democratic because there is no demos (uniform citizen body). For the combined European citizenry to constitute a demos, the European identity must become a powerful part of each and every corner of Europe – if the EU continues to aspire to replace the nation states of Europe as the ultimate government in Europe, this European identity must similarly replace national identities to a large degree as the chief loyalty of Europeans if a working demos is to be formed. When there is no demos, democracy ceases to function properly as the self-interests of internal identities take over, meaning that the country cannot be governed in the interests of a democratic majority because the interests of the citizens are diverse and separate from the interests of the superstate. 

Given that the national identities in Europe are steeped in several millennia of cultural assimilation, including distinct languages and political sensibilities, let alone economies, this is exceedingly unlikely. The EU flag is just about a recognisable feature here from the many park benches upon which it is proudly emblazoned, but no one on this side of the channel cares much for the anthem, if they recognise it, or would feel like joining in a people’s war to maintain European solidarity. In Britain’s particular case, I doubt that the public could ever be truly Europeanised – the national debate on the referendum is framed according to the national interest by both sides; if Cameron were to join the extremely fringe element claiming that we should act in European interests rather than British interests, he would be out of office tomorrow. Cameron’s entire campaigning strategy is based on keeping up a façade of parliamentary power (including the phantom repatriation of powers) to mask ever-increasing EU suzerainty.

Europhiles tend to argue that the parliament is only one part of the EU’s democratic mandate, the remainder being exercised by the Council of the European Union. Yet, this body itself is fundamentally undemocratic – it is carried out at two removes from the electorate through Qualified Majority Voting and is hugely constrained by international treaties. It is a stark contrast to the consensus-based system of most other international organisations (e.g the WTO - p. 6).

Do you genuinely recognise our EU commissioner?
The Council of the European Union is made up of ministers from the 28 states – it appoints the commissioners, co-ordinates policy and passes laws. Many would argue that this body is no less democratic than the sending of delegates to the WTO or UN, for example, because a supranational body has power but the ministers are accountable to electorates at home. They have either been misled or are deliberately trying to mislead.

Qualified Majority Voting, the method of decision making in the council, means that representatives from countries can be directly over-ruled by a vote – and hence, decisions are twice removed from the various European electorates. Effectively, the British public vote to fill a parliament, the lead party of which then sends someone to represent it at a higher parliament – the will and mandate of HM government, and hence their British electors, is not necessarily respected in decisions directly affecting them.

People compare this to the House of Lords and other organisations such as NATO/WTO. It is not like the House of Lords because the British upper house does not directly shape policy, but is purely permissive and more importantly is constituted to act in British interests – not the interests of the other European countries or a supranational union made up of them. Moreover, it can, and in my view should, be reformed by the British electorate (I would like to see all party affiliations of the peers ended, party politicians largely removed and the body self-electing – but with very severe legal constraints). The body is not democratic, like the Council of the European Union, but it quite clearly fits in the British system. People vote for stupid shit that we cannot afford all of the time – we need a body to check mob rule, prevent the chronic short-termism gripping our political decision-making and rationalise some of the slightly more crackpot things that come out of Downing Street. I would make the Commons much more democratic and the Lords less so – but that is not the point as we can reform it ourselves and it is ultimately responsive/subservient to the Commons that we elect.

The Council of the European Union is not like the WTO, or other international organisations, for two major reasons. The first is that international organisations are run on intergovernmental lines, normally, meaning that sovereignty is never ceded and measures are taken through broad agreement (one of the five fundamental principles of the WTO – although some commentators place the number higher, this is irrelevant). Practically, intergovernmental systems ensure that decisions are made through negotiation and consensus, with a full range of opt-outs and vetos at the disposal of participating states – hence allowing those states to remain democratically accountable to their electors. NATO’s decisions are taken consensually as well, as are those of the international regulators which create most single market law (which begs the question – why are still in? We would be sacrificing a larger share in a supranational irrelevance where our wishes are by no means respected to gain an albeit smaller share at a much more favourable series of intergovernmental global top tables). While the intergovernmental system can be taken to represent sovereign entities negotiating with each other, the EU is effectively a state above a state.

The other difference is that the EU interferes in internal affairs – it genuinely aspires to the governance of Europe. No other international organisations are intrusive as such for the sake of it, as the EU is – their remit only extends to relations, e.g. trade or diplomatic, between their member states. While this frequently interferes with internal regulations, the sole motive is to facilitate better trade relations between states externally. Hence the infringement of intergovernmental organisations is smaller (as the EU adopts international standards anyway as well as its own laws) and is not focussed on the erosion of democracy, which still has considerable leverage through consensus governance.

As a contrast, the EU will intervene as and when it sees fit within countries – not just to improve relations/cooperation between its members – but because it seeks to run the member states as far as its own interests dictate, which means that it is both far more likely to infringe on democratic sovereignty (it was set up to become a state, the direct opposite of a body espousing intergovernmental cooperation) and that when it does, as it operates supranational QMV which can leave a states’ representatives with little effective power to resist, democracy can be directly undermined.

Why do we listen to this man? The soft Greek accent and the unassuming demeanour conceal a breathtaking incompetence and inanity - not very well. I have friends like him - they ended up at Oxford Brookes.
Can we reform it? Could we turn the EU into an intergovernmental system which respects democracy, as former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis implores us to in the Guardian? The short answer is no – while it is hypothetically possible it is politically implausible, not least because there is a self-evident majority of European countries pushing for more EU power rather than less. Varoufakis' political nous is as good as his economics
The basic reason for this is the weaponisation of international treaties to further European integration. International treaties are designed to be binding on successive governments in order to give stability to, and normalise, external relations between states – the EU has turned this instrument into a ratchet for further integration and uses treaties to intervene within countries.

An international treaty is not in itself democratic – they are meant to bind successive governments to provide continuity in international affairs and as such can only be reformed by a further international treaty (or amendment agreed on the same lines as the original treaty) or revoked in its entirety. Despite this, treaties are clearly necessary if we want some degree of world peace – most are not intrusive as their main concern is state-to-state relations rather than what happens within a country,  and they can peacefully be revoked in their entirety by a future government, if they follow certain legal procedures, even if they are designed to stick.

The EU treaties to which Britain subscribes are enormously complex, wide-ranging legal packages, designed to be the foundations of a super-state. If the British public is confronted with provisions that we do not like (e.g. fishing), the UK government’s choice is to renege on the entire EU acquis or to swallow the bitter pill. It is far easier for a prime minister to accept a medium-term political scandal than the colossal political fall-out of an unplanned EU exit. The democratic discord at home is a grain of sand, even on quite a big issue, when compared to the consequences of tearing up the EU treaties. The EU knows this full well – when Jean-Claude Juncker said, ‘There can be no democratic choice against the European treaties,’ he was merely stating a fact, not affirming his dictatorial ambitions or deliberately trying to provoke UKIP. The only democratic choice is to leave the whole thing or abide by the whole thing – I want the former, along a well-worked plan (Flexcit/The Market Solution).

Trigger Alert!
Because the fall-out of abandoning the treaties will always be bigger than dealing with an issue within one of the treaties, a UK government will always choose to do the latter, ignoring the democratic voice of the British people. Typically if hard-pressed, HM government will secure a timed opt-out, maybe giving us a decade or two to implement the provision in full – enough time for the then present administration (e.g. Heath’s) to strut around proclaiming victory, lie to the House of Commons and then retire gracefully, dumping its successors in a massive bucket of shit (who will then be presented with a fait accompli and forced to follow the treaty in full). The EU knows this and exploits the crippling short-termism of our system to the full. Certain opt-outs and rebates were can be assured, but only with great difficulty and far bigger balls than David Cameron has. These are also a one-way street – it only takes one idiot (Blair) and they are lost forever as well in one-sided future negotiations. Hence, powers which we have now are by no means guaranteed eternally - in future the acquisition of power by the EU will continue and we do not know where it will end. 

Hence, the EU is a ratchet – it only goes one way towards ever closer union, unless a future treaty can be introduced that over-rides the previous ones. The chances of this happening are nought, nada, zilch, zero, fuck-all, as demonstrated quite beautifully by our own Prime Minister David Cameron in his negotiations of February, which are not even legally binding (as they are not written in a treaty, they do not carry legal force now and can be rejected by various EU national parliaments and the European parliament later) and make only the smallest impression on the EU acquis anyway.

I do not think that the British system is perfect – it is in dire need of reform (for a start so that the EU situation can never happen again without the full knowledge and full consent of the British public) – but how can subjecting ourselves to two intermeshed democratic Frankensteins be better than having to deal with one, in terms of making the voice of the British electorate heard? Saying we should stay in the EU because the UK is not a perfect democracy is the equivalent of saying that you will not miss a finger because you are already missing your other hand. Problems should be graded by the issues they present, not accepted because problems will always exist. The real difference is that the UK has democratic potential – there is a very real chance of achieving meaningful political reform in the UK (as has been done many times in history), while there is not with the EU.

One of the problems with Western European democracy - when you line up several 'hockey-mother' politicians who have never seen a gun before against a man who was forged in the fires/war-crimes of Chechnya, a bloke who plans gratuitous terrorism just to make himself feel better on long Fridays before the Mosque opens, someone who probably has his political rivals kept in a cage underneath his house and a man who looks like he used to eat Russian spies for breakfast, who do you really expect to win?
While I have no problem with people arguing for the EU if they accept supranationalism as a principle, I do not logically see how anyone can accuse the EU of being a democracy. Even though democracy is far from perfect, I personally fail to see it as a dirty word, despite its limitations.