Archive | July, 2016

Diplomatic skills

14 Jul

Theresa May, forming her cabinet, has appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. That is THE Boris Johnson, who has all the diplomatic skills of a fox in a chicken coop.

When I heard of the appointment on the news last night my jaw dropped. Was this some kind of joke? On reflection I can see that it in solves several problems for our new Prime Minister.

To sort of quote LBJ, “It’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.” For some reason I have never understood, Boris has a certain popularity and following within the Tory Party, unlike Michael Gove. So it is better to have him inside the cabinet.

If he does a terrible job in the role of Foreign Secretary, he will be sacked, and will lose all credibility. If he wants to make a go of it he will have to learn to behave, and that will mean that the Remainers within Tory ranks will have won the final argument. Either way he will have been neutralised or gelded.

What you need to know about Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson is that he has been trained for power by his upbringing and education. His is the politics of the debating chamber, the Oxford Union. This is about scoring points in meaningless debates among a vanishingly small and unrepresentive segment of the population. It has nothing to do with any real world.

So, the question we wait on is, what kind of job will he do? Watch this space.

Brexiteer Bolsheviks

5 Jul

The Leave campaigners won the referendum. They won by lying to a minority of people who believed the lies and were told that all expert opinion should be ignored. But they won.

The behaviour of the Leave campaign strongly reminds me of the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, during the 1903 Congress in London. Lenin, by manipulating the procedures and excluding many people who should have been allowed to vote, managed to get a majority vote on some issues. Having won the vote Lenin declared that his people were the majority of men (Bolsheviks), and his opponents the minority of men (Mensheviks).

As I have previously argued, the Referendum is a particularly blunt instrument which has virtually no legitimacy in the British political system. When we joined the Common Market, (as was), it was done by an Act of Parliament, and only another Act of Parliament can overturn this. That is the law.

Rigged votes were held as referendums in Germany in the 1930s which enabled Hitler to concentrate power into his own hands, exclude all but Nazis from government and approve the Anschluss merging with Austria.

Just because the Leave campaign managed to get a majority in a single vote it does not make that flawed vote the means whereby the country is put back sixty years.  Ours is a parliamentary democracy. We elect our representatives and they make the decisions for us. We should be choosing wise people who make wise decisions. Direct decision making is anathema to our system, as it bypasses Parliament. It is mob rule, not British democracy. To deny that is to be a Bolshevik.

Ben Goldacre’s view

5 Jul

This is what Ben Goldacre, science writer had to say about the aims of the brexit campaign:

1. A smaller democracy will not be “more representative”.
The UK government is no more under your control than the EU. Diluting your vote one in 65m or one in 500m amounts to the same thing: no control. You couldn’t get political agreement from the people in one family, one pub, or one bus. You can’t “vote them out”, you’ve never done that, stop pretending you can do it in the future. Politics is about compromise: terrible, soul-destroying, mature compromise with other people, most of whom are awful. Your local council don’t represent your views and values any better than your MEP.

2. Immigration is just going to happen.
In or out of the EU, there will be lots, and lots of immigration: bad luck if you don’t like that. We’re perfectly able to control non-EU immigration, right now, and yet no government ever does. They never will. This is not the fault of the EU, it’s more complicated than that. Deal with it. Immigration will never stop.

3. “Straining” schools, waiting lists, and hospitals are your fault.
This is not the fault of the EU. It’s your fault. It’s happened slowly. The UK has failed to build houses, failed to train hospital staff, failed to invest in the NHS, failed to build schools. Your country. Your UK. Your government. Your fault. Nobody else. The NHS is staffed by immigrants, they keep it running, they will save your life and build your house. Don’t try to blame them for things that are your fault.

4. The EU is a good shot at preserving peace.
Remember that news story about the British generals who think we should leave the EU because NATO preserves peace, not the EU? These are bad generals who only know about guns. Russia right now is an odd, aggressive country. But they didn’t show up at the Ukrainian border with tanks, out of the blue: they manufactured a social and economic pretext before they rolled in. A strong EU makes this kind of pretext harder to contrive. You want to be good close friends with all your neighbours, and their neighbours, as far as the eye can see. That’s how you hold a line that preserves peace: by sharing friendship, sharing trade, and sharing grumbles about crap admin in Brussels. You do not preserve peace by buying and using weapons.

5. Brexit use language that’s targeted at losers.
The Brexit campaign talk about “taking control”, about “building an optimistic future” for yourself. These are things you say to losers: to people who feel they have no control, or a gloomy future. It’s the language of crap self-help books in airport bookshops. You are better than that.

6. Countries come and go.
Right now, people talk about Eastern Europeans like they’re biologically destined to be parasites, because their countries are poorer, and some of their citizens travel for work. That could change, really fast. Polish people are not a biologically inferior race: they lived under communism for four decades, and now they’re catching up. Poland has the fastest growing economy in Europe (faster than Central Europe, faster than the EU-15). Warsaw is full of skyscrapers. Be nice. Make friends now. Cement those ties to a large, fast growing European economy with a rich cultural history.

7. Brexit will hurt the economy.
This means your children and neighbours. Stop pretending you don’t care. Just vote remain. It’s boring, there’s nothing awesome about it, but sometimes you have to take a break from useful productive work to stop idiots breaking things.

Ben Goldacre

British politics and the referendum

4 Jul

At the end of WWII Churchill wished to hold a referendum on any settlement in Europe. His deputy, Clement Atlee refused, as he believed that it was not the British way. Atlee was elected with a large majority and went on to lead the most radical government in our history. We elect our MPs and they are supposed to take decisions for us, as our representatives. Margaret Thatcher agreed with Atlee and would never have held a referendum. It is much to the discredit of Tony Blair that he first suggested a referendum on EU membership, and to the great discredit of David Cameron that he organised a plebiscite with a binary question to be won by a simple majority.

There were four questions answered in referendums (referenda?), by the Nazi’s in the 1930s. They rubber-stamped the Anschluss of Austria and making the country a one-party state. All were voted on and passed with large majorities. Historically referendums are much used by extremist regimes. They should have no part in our political system. In contrast, we recently voted in new police commissioners. This is a form of democracy we have imported from the US. But do we really want to elect the dog catcher? Surely the job of selection should be made by our elected representatives. Oh, and we need to change our voting system to ensure that all opinions are represented, not just of those who went to Eton or Harrow, Oxford and the Bullingham club.