Archive | November, 2016

The biggest story of the year

23 Nov

That is quite a claim to make, considering the other stories. But I stand by the claim. Now, ask yourselves, why haven’t you heard about it?

I have no idea why the British newspapers, largely owned by tax-avoiding billionaires, made so little of the Panama Papers story. I mean, what possible interest could they have in the actions of corrupt politicians and drug cartels?

Just because they hardly mentioned the story, it can’t mean that the owners of these papers benefitted from dirty deals in tax havens. I mean, perish the thought!

Just a reminder, as you might not have noticed, the story broke in April this year, in the biggest leak of data in history. The records of the 4th largest Offshore Tax Law firm, Mossack Fonseca, were leaked to a German newspaper, and from them to the BBC, the Guardian and various other institutions who actually engage in journalism. The next part is from the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

“This investigation shows how secretly owned companies, many of them based in the UK’s tax havens, can act as getaway cars for terrorists, dictators, money launderers and tax evaders all over the world. The time has clearly come to take away the keys, by requiring the collection and publication of information on who really owns and controls these companies. This would make it much harder to launder dirty money and leave the rest of us safer as a result,” said Robert Palmer, campaign leader at Global Witness.

Among other facts revealed, it turns out that Vladimir Putin’s friend, a cellist, has secreted $2 Bn in one of these schemes. Now, not a lot of cellists make that kind of dosh, so I think that the money really comes from V Putin, as a little nest egg, in case things go a bit Pete Tong. But there are many other leaders of countries involved in such schemes.

Anyhow, to stop this getting too long, have a look at the initial Guardian guide to what is going on.

Just to point out that the largest and most important such tax havens are on British controlled territories, and can be controlled by British legislation. David Cameron, (bless!) said he wanted to do something to make the system more transparent. Then he resigned. No such qualms for Theresa May. Her government is resisting calls by the EU to do something about it.

Now, it would be unfair to infer that members of this government, or more likely the large corporate donors to the Conservative Party, had anything to do with such delaying tactics, so I will just leave that to you to decide.


Second guessing the electorate

21 Nov

I was listening to the radio 5 politics show yesterday and Oliver Letwin, talking about Brexit was being interviewed. He said something to the point that the referendum result had to be respected, and that the UK would probably not be able to control EU immigration if it remained in the single market, and most people had voted to control such immigration. He insisted that the only option was the so-called ‘hard Brexit’.

Now a couple of things occur to me now. Firstly, when I engage in conversation with Leavers and ask them what they wanted, they generally say that we should be free of EU political control. They do not say they voted that way to curb immigration.

Secondly, polls show that if offered the choice between leaving the single market and remaining in it, the vast majority wish to remain in it. They are also prepared to allow EU immigration if it means we can stay within the single market.

What Letwin’s remark shows is that the government is trying to second guess what the electorate wanted. The Referendum question was simply to leave the EU or remain in it, and made no mention of immigration. Last week I watched a compilation video of speeches made by the leading Leavers before the referendum. Every one of them insisted that leaving the EU did not mean leaving the single market. They either did not understand or they lied. Either way the electorate were misled.

So now we find the government pushing us towards a type of Brexit that the vast majority do not want on the back of an issue that is not even relevant to most of the voters. How is that respecting the wishes of the people?

My voting policy

10 Nov

I’m not sure if it totally defensible in terms of logic, but I have a policy when voting. I look at what the right wing nuts want and then vote the other way. It seems to have served me well for several decades. Bearing that in mind I notice that the proposed march on the High Court is to be populated with not just Daily Express readers and UKIP supporters but EDL thugs and BNP troglodites. By their friends you will know them.

At the last general election most politicians were bending over backwards to say that UKIP supporters were not racists. Well, listen, matey, many of them are full on racists. Most are not, but are easily influenced. The least offensive and most amusing of these are Little Englanders.

The populist extreme right feeds on a mixture of discontent and nationalism, and reason has little to offer when arguing with someone who refuses to look at the reflection you hold up to them. You can argue until the cows come home, but they are not listening to logic. They would rather continue in the certainty of their prejudice than consider reason. For example, if some convinced Brexiteer says that they are against all that weight of European law, ask them for an example, and wait for the silence.

Unfounded generalisations based on prejudice, not evidence, is one plank of their beliefs. Then there are the ringing but empty phrases, like ‘Take back control’, and ‘Make America great again’. These are not policies, they are bumper stickers. Trying to define what they mean is like trying to nail jelly to a wall, everyone has their own idea what it means, so it is meaningless. Finally, there is the refusal to look at the evidence. Everyone who has some knowledge which might inform the debate is either shouted down or ignored. But maybe people are really fed up with experts.

I have for decades wanted to see more study of ethics in schools. Now I think we need to teach how to look at evidence and how to interpret information so that the more reliable can be separated from the trash. It seems we are now in a Post Truth world, one where relativism and prejudice have as much to say as informed opinion. There are more than enough examples of where this vice leads. Currently we are going to hell in a handcart.

The Royal Prerogative

4 Nov

In the UK we live in a parliamentary democracy. We elect Members of Parliament (MPs) to represent our interests. Our best interests are not necessarily what the majority voted for. Our representatives are not our slaves. They are supposed to be the best of us, able to see further into issues than the average voter can. They must also represent the interests of all voters, even the ones who did not vote for them.

When questioned by pollsters recently a large majority declared that they do not want Britain to leave the Single Market. When presented with the option of leaving the EU and the Single Market or remaining in the EU, this same majority would wish to remain in the EU rather than have a clean break, the so-called ‘Hard Brexit’.

On the 23rd of June 2016, 52% of those who voted turned out to approve a simple binary question. Many voted to Leave because they thought it the safer option.  They were swayed or persuaded to vote in this way by the most mendacious campaign conducted in this country since Georgian times.

The European Communities Act of 1972 was passed in Parliament and enshrined some EU law in UK law. It also provides, in section 2(4), that all UK legislation, including primary legislation (Acts of Parliament) have effect “subject to” directly applicable EU law. This has been interpreted by UK courts as granting EU law primacy over domestic UK legislation.

In an interview with BBC News Theresa May promised that UK will introduce a bill to remove the European Communities Act 1972 (UK) from the statute book. In order to do this she needs to have a vote in Parliament to rescind the previous act.

The effect of triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is irreversible. We then have a two year timespan to negotiate the legal and economic ties with the EU. These negotiations are between diplomats and civil servants, but their direction and outcome will not be affected in any way by our elected representatives.

Theresa May and the Brexit cabal within the government wished to trigger Article 50 by the use of the Royal Prerogative. That is an ancient right of kings which is rarely used.  The royal prerogative has been called “a notoriously difficult concept to define adequately”, but whether a particular type of prerogative power exists is a matter of common law to be decided by the courts as the final arbiter.

As the courts are the final arbiter, Theresa May has no right to use the Royal Prerogative. Moreover, by triggering Article 50 without a vote in Parliament she would effectively have rescinded an Act of Parliament (the 1972 Act), without obtaining the permission of Parliament.

The judgement yesterday could not have been clearer. It is difficult to see on what grounds the government can hope to succeed in any appeal to the Supreme Court. When they fail, which they will, they could take the case to the European Court, but somehow I don’t think that will happen.

In yet another supreme example of irony, the more literate Leavers find their wishes frustrated by the very arguments they made for wishing to leave the EU. They argued very vociferously for the primacy of the UK Parliament and Law Courts. Now they have it. You won, get over it.

The great experiment

2 Nov

I know a little about scientific method, and a small amount about what constitutes statistically significant results. Even this modicum of methodology allows me to judge whether or not I am being presented with a pile of poo when it comes to political speeches and newspaper comment pieces.

Come the end of March 2017 Theresa May intends to use the Royal Prerogative option to bypass Parliamentary discussion of any deal and trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Once triggered there is no stopping this process. Any subsequent parliamentary discussions will be meaningless. Moreover, what is being discussed at cabinet level, (or by an even smaller cabal), is being concealed from not just Parliament, but the rest of the Conservative Party. The bosses at Nissan know much more about what is going on than the vast majority of MPs.

Michael Gove, during the build up to the referendum, told us that ‘People are fed up with listening to experts.’ It is about time that this government started listening to them. Stephen Hawking, at last night’s awards ceremony declared that he could solve many complex mathematical problems, but that he wouldn’t be willing to work on any Brexit deal.

Quite what will happen is open to interpretation, but the vast majority of expert opinion is that it will involve a deep and long recession, perhaps for a generation or more. Of course, we don’t know about the terms and conditions, and Theresa May says she is playing her cards close to her chest. The suspicion will continue to grow that she hasn’t any cards to conceal.

What we are entering into is an experiment that will decide on the direction the country is going to take. This experiment has no known method, nor does it have a set thesis to prove or disprove. No-one seems to have thought out exactly how the results are going to be judged or what the real objectives are.

It is quite breathtakingly arrogant for anyone or any group to conduct an experiment which will, in almost all probability, result in deep economic woes which adversely affect my children and grandchildren, their ability to find well-paid jobs and decent housing. And to do it without the advice and guidance of people who do know something is bonkers.

Of course, as I express this opinion I will probably be told to shut up and stop being a remoaner. My answer is that I need to know what the objectives are, how it will be achieved and what the results will be. Only given that information will the people of this country be able to see clear and peer-reviewed expert opinion as to whether or not any deal is a good idea or not.

Brexit means Brexit, and Stick This Stupid Brexit Up Your Arse means Stick This Stupid Brexit Up Your Arse.