Monday 26 September 2016

A crisis of competence

So then, it looks like we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mr Jeremy Corbyn! And how could it have been any other way when his opponent was so utterly ghastly? What were they thinking? The troubles though do not end here. It does seem that Labour is in a real mess.

Alarmingly the Labour party elected not to have a debate about Brexit at their conference and all we’re getting from them is mixed signals based on a shallow understanding of what Brexit entails. Nearly all of Labour’s key people cannot make the distinction between the single market and the customs union and none can specify whether they want access to the single market or membership of it. We can read a lot into that.

What that says is that the left as a whole don’t really care about Brexit as an issue and have no real intention of forming themselves into a coherent opposition. That’s a problem. I am all in favour of Brexit but there are many different paths to achieving it and I do not want the Tory right setting the agenda with their obsolete ideas. This is a shameful dereliction of duty.

Instead, Labour has spent the week bickering over Trident, the UKs nuclear deterrent. What this tells us is that Labour is engaged in an ideological retrenchment. The issue of Trident is not actually the subject of any rational analysis. It’s just a totem of the old left. Mr Corbyn wants to reshape the party in his own image and is willing to shed support in order to do it. It’s a bold, if flawed strategy.

David Wearing remarked in the Guardian this week that there are two competing approaches as to how Labour should address the question of electability: marketing, and movement-building. The marketing approach treats the electorate as consumers with fixed preferences, where the ideal politician is a polished salesperson armed with a perfectly calibrated retail policy offer. The movement-building approach treats public opinion as a changeable landscape, where elections are won not only by competent politicians but by social forces mobilised in support of a transformative agenda.

The marketing approach is the approached favoured by centrists and was successfully employed by Blair and Cameron. The pitfalls of such an approach are that politics becomes a hollowed out shell where politicians of principle are replaced with identikit anodyne clones. It spawned a substance free politics that we are all uniformly sick of. This in some way explains Mr Corbyn’s appeal. You may not like his politics but he is at the very least an authentic leftist who believes in all the things leftists are generally supposed to believe in.

It has been a long time since anybody can say that. It has been a long time since there has been any real choice but the status quo at the ballot box. That at the very least is a welcome development. The problem though is that Mr Corbyn’s transformative agenda is an old fashioned one. I could very well see a movement-building approach working but at the heart of any revolutionary movement there needs to be a tangible set of relevant demands and ruthless political competence. This cannot be said of Mr Corbyn.

From Mr Corbyn I’ve heard all the classic leftist mantras such as renationalising the railways, building social housing and dropping university tuition fees, but he suffers from that time honoured leftist ailment; an inability to specify how it will all be paid for. We are told that he intends to borrow the money - but what that tells us is that he is formulating a fantasy agenda without any reference to what is happening in the real world. Likewise the suggestion that we should reopen coal mines - at a time when we are closing down our coal fired power stations. It tells us the man has only a passing relationship with reality.

Had this suggestion come from anyone else I might think that it was a piece of devious populism but I genuinely believe he thinks it’s a viable idea. It is now inescapable that Mr Corbyn is caught in a timewarp and has little to say to modern Britain.

It also raises a lot of serious questions about his political competence. Brexit is the single most significant change in the balance of power since World War Two and he has vacated the field entirely, leaving it for the Tories to do as they please. In all my days I have never seen such criminal impotence. If the role of the Labour party is to stand up for the working class then it has abandoned that role in order to indulge in philosophical navel gazing.

As it happens Britain is quite safe from the fantasists on the Tory right in that they are so completely unhinged that Mrs May can safely ignore them and we will get a more moderate Brexit – but that will be no thanks to the Labour party. In that, though, Mr Corbyn will have missed a genuinely revolutionary opportunity.

The truth is that Mrs May does not want to leave the EU. Few in the establishment do. They know they won’t get away derailing Brexit or holding a second vote but they can engineer a Brexit so that things stay pretty much as they are. If Mr Corbyn wanted a window of opportunity and a genuine “democratic moment” then this is the time to engage fully in the process.

Brexit in the very first instance gives the UK control over trade, aid, fisheries and energy. These are the polices areas that could redefine everything. There are massive opportunities for increasing wealth and reducing the cost of living. This is where we could see a transformation of public administration. The referendum campaign was fought on the promise of “taking back control” and if that applies to Westminster then why should it not apply to our local authorities too? If Labour wanted to make themselves relevant then this is the golden ticket.

But then we are suffering a wider crisis of competence in government. Throughout we have lost any sense of political maturity. Public scrutiny is a dead art. MPs are no longer capable of focussing on grown up issues and applying their intellect. Everywhere you look adult areas of policy, Brexit especially, are dominated by show-boating imbeciles playing to the media for political advantage. This is not sustainable if we wish to remain a first rate power in the world.

It was said during the referendum that an issue like the EU was too complex for the public to be able to vote on and that it should instead be left to the deliberative process. What we have seen though is that our politicians on both sides of the divide have an embarrassingly limited notion of what the EU is and what it does - and that they are ill equipped for such a momentous task. It seems that political competence is a thing of the past – if it ever existed at all.

Friday 16 September 2016

Brexit is only half the job

The "alt right" is just another iteration of libertarianism popularised after the 2008 crash. It morphed into the Tea Party and has now become an amalgam of right wing nationalist themes. It's remarkably tedious.

What is interesting though is that talk among the "alt right" in Canada and the US is picking up on the globalist theme. I've just sat through an interminably dull video blog of some Septic banging on about global government. Imagine that. Americans complaining that they don't make their own laws anymore and their sovereignty is under attack. Does this sound at all familiar?

And that's what I've been drilling into Brexiteers all these months. You can grunt "invoke Article 50 now" until the cows come home but it's not actually going to do you any good. Once we're out of the EU we are just a parallel node under the same umbrella. If there was a European demos (which there isn't), like the septics, they would be moaning that the EU doesn't make its own laws.

It may actually be that the principal benefit of leaving the EU is that Brits do actually wake up to what is going on and realise Brexit makes no difference. We've had a horribly stultifying EU debate around the thin gruel notion of sovereignty when it turns out that nations very much famed for not being in the EU are having similar complaints. Just about every Western nation is now spawning its own Ukippy movement. With good reason.

In most cases, the EU adopts international rules and regulations on our behalf and tells us how to vote, but now we are leaving the EU we will have our own vote. But leaving the EU while keeping the same establishment in place means they are more than likely going to vote along with the EU at the top tables with or without a diktat from the European Commission.

And then of course we have our own version of the Executive Order known as statutory instruments - which means we still end up with laws on our books that go nowhere near parliament for any kind of meaningful scrutiny. That is where we need serious domestic reform to make sure they can't do to us what they did when they took us into the EU.

And while folks have been getting their knickers in a twist over TTIP, TTP and CETA, these are the decoys. In most respects they deal with convergence of legacy regulation - which will never be fully aligned - and so they have set about a process of gradual equivalence based on recommendations from Transnational Private Regulators and International Organisations. They may fail for now, but they will find a way.

In respect of all new regulation and lawmaking though, they are already signed up to a global harmonisation agreement. So that then gives all of these private regulators serious power. They claim in public that they are not governmental organisations with the power to dictate but through unrelated treaties the "guidelines" they produce become articles of soft law. Nations then become harmonised by way "guidelines" being implemented by national parliaments. And nobody bats an eyelid.

While something may look superficially like it is homegrown law, if it is anything remotely technical, you can bet your ass it isn't. From food safety to internet governance, it did not come from a domestic source. By contrast, the EU is fairly straightforward and transparent.

As far as I can work out, apart from instruments like the WTO Technical Barriers to Trade agreement, there are no hard and fast treaties to bring this global governance into being - and it has no real name. Unlike the EU it has no headquarters and no flag and no expansionist agenda. It's just a morass of bland, seemingly innocuous items of legalese and technical minutiae which is so tedious that nobody in their right mind who isn't directly involved in it would give it a second look. This is the domain of Transnational Private Regulators - and there are more popping up all the time.

A reader yesterday pointed me in the direction of ICANN. I have no real idea what it does. Wikipedia says it the "Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is a nonprofit organization that is responsible for coordinating the maintenance and procedures of several databases related to the namespaces of the Internet - thereby ensuring the network's stable and secure operation. ICANN performs the actual technical maintenance work of the central Internet address pools and DNS Root registries pursuant to the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) function contract".

As I understand it, it resides in the US operating under US laws. There is a huge push from Facebook, Twitter and other big internet players to drag ICANN out of US control in order to make it a multilateral system. There is presently a huge row as to whether such a move is legal. America has very strict laws on the transfer of powers. No nation on earth more keenly guards its sovereignty. (This though is as much a mode of trade protectionism as it is anything else).

Should ICANN become one of the many Transnational Private Regulatosr (TPR), the corporates themselves author their own codes of governance which then become codified into law independent of any scrutiny. This has prompted concern over internet privacy, freedom of speech and net neutrality. Some are in favour of this move in that they don't like the idea of the USA being in control of the internet. Some however, prefer China having a hand in it. "The capitalists will sell us the rope we hang them with". We've had the same debates about GPS and Galileo.

Chances are, ICANN will become a TPR - and unlike things like ITU and Codex, they will not involve governments. Dispute resolution will be on a pay to play basis where corporates have the same rights as governments. The richest wins. This is where we might want the ITU to intercede. But then the USA feels pressured to go along with this move in that if they do not cede control of ICANN then a corporate competitor will spring up. It's unstoppable.

If at this point your eyes are glazing over, then you now know how they get away with it. Like I say, it doesn't have a flag or borders or a headquaters. It's not even hidden. It just exists. In many respects the EUs mistake was to ever have a public face. If they could have resisted the urge to form European superstate and instead simply built the treaties without a parliament and all the fluff that goes with it, nobody would be any the wiser and nobody would have campaigned to leave the EU, (same as hardly anybody is making any noises about global governance).

Now that we have left the EU, Brexiteers think that means we have carte blanche to "take back control" and that post-Brexit we are moving into a free trade world of unicorns and rainbows. We're not. We are moving out of a sub domain and into the parent domain. And that's where things get tricky. We could start feeding all the EU laws into the shredder but would soon find them replaced with practically the same thing only from the original source.

So if you voted to leave the EU to be free of technocracy we're not even started yet. This is a global problem where governance is becoming so complex and so technical that governments cannot keep up, they cannot control it, and increasingly find it hard to even influence it - even if you are a giant like the EU. To stop something happening you first have to know that it is happening, and there are now many creative ways for corporates to back door the legislative procedure. The EU is slowly realising this and has an agenda of its own.

In a recent report on global governance the Commission states that "The EU is committed to a global order based on international law, which ensures human rights, sustainable development and lasting access to the global commons. This commitment translates into an aspiration to transform rather than to simply preserve the existing system. The EU will strive for a strong UN as the bedrock of the multilateral rules-based order, and develop globally coordinated responses with international and regional organisations, states and non-state actors."

This is EU-speak for turning global govern-ance into a global govern-ment. A top-down EU on steroids. A horrifying thought when you look past the rhetoric. That is why it is necessary to leave the EU and this is why I'm hoping Brexit will kill it. The monster of global governance we have created cannot be destroyed but it can be tamed. Governance is no bad thing in that it can improve our lives, but only if the people have supreme authority and veto. If however, we have that same establishment who sees no evil then that veto is useless. It must be a people's veto.

But this is why the post Brexit debate lacks any coherence. I see Brexiteers putting on meetings all over the shop, debating what Brexit means for Britain, assuming that we are now free to enact compulsory serving of asparagus at breakfast, free corsets for the under fives and the abolition of slavery. We're not. There is no rowing back on the technocracy and there is no way we are going to simplify the inherently complex. I did not vote to leave the EU so we can nationalise railways or abolish health and safety laws. The point is that the EU is a useless line of defence against global governance and it revokes our only safeguards.

What we need to do is re-establish our system of safeguards and put more power of veto in the hands of the people. We also need some constitutional constraints on the government to stop them handing powers away, and to stop laws getting in by the back door.

We need to modernise our constitution so that we have better protections against laws we did not make. We are always going to be the recipient of laws and as a matter of fact there is no way we can scrutinise all of them. We can however have a system of opt outs and exemptions and a means by which we can make the implementation fairer. What we need is a system of politics that serves as a goalkeeper rather than a striker for the other team. It is that which makes Brexit necessary, but Brexit alone does not achieve that. The enemy, as ever, resides in Westminster, not Brussels.

Friday 9 September 2016

The debate beyond Brexit

JD Wetherspoon chairman Tim Martin has slammed David Cameron and George Osborne for their conduct during the referendum campaign. In great detail, he criticised them for failing to see the "political chaos" that continued membership of the EU - which he dubbed "an organisation of Byzantine complexity, run by five unelected presidents, with input from numerous other parts of the many-headed Hydra" - would create for Britain.

He's actually got this wrong. The EU is one of the head of this "many-headed Hydra". Normally when dealing with reptilian creatures if one cuts off the head the body dies. In our scenario though, cutting off this particular head causes it a good deal of pain and some considerable inconvenience But it it still a many-headed Hydra.

And the problem with describing the EU as an organisation of Byzantine complexity implies that to leave it that one is also leaving behind that Byzantine complexity into a simpler, more easily understood world. Thus you can understand the appeal of Brexit. But this is where the Brexiteers have it ass backwards. There might have been a time twenty five years ago when that other world existed but as we have headed down the EU cul-de-sac, the rest of the world has been arranging itself along similar lines.

They each take their technical regulation from the same organisations using more or less the same structures. What makes the EU unique is its supranationalism where there is a central authority with a monopoly on trade powers where member states have none of their own.

The problem though is that many newer regional integration bodies are gradually forming themselves in the EU's image whereby member states opt for bloc deals, which use the globalisation agenda to further regional integration - so this notion that post-Brexit the UK will be banging the drum for bilateral deals with independent states is looking increasingly spurious.

What we are actually going to have to do is engage on a multilateral basis looking at a universe of different agreements. Anyone talking about "free trade deals" is at the Janet and John level and they are in for a rude awakening. The agreements we have through the EU will have to be replicated and broken away from one system in order to join another. Through a series of negotiations we establish our own customs code, our own subsidy quotas and re-establish ourselves as an independent entity. But in so doing we being to participate in systems and organisations which did not exist when the EU was conceived.

And this is why there is not going to be this renaissance of sovereignty. It simply does not exist anymore unless you go the way of North Korea and have an internal economy. Some things won't change, can't change and if we did change them we would soon change them back to how they were because much of our technocracy is designed for the removal of obstacles to trade.

All we really get from Brexit is an enhanced voice in shaping that "Byzantine complexity" at the global level with some greater powers to refuse but in most cases, we probably won't. If you have a say in designing the rules then you don't need to veto them. If people think we need to leave behind this complex and tangled web of governance then our only option is to somehow relocate the British Isles in outer space.

And if people really do want to be taken seriously, and indeed if Britain is to make the best of Brexit, then we need to be having a realistic conversation about the world as we find it rather than the one that existed twenty five years ago when John Redwood last read a book.

Brexit to my mind has always been about taking a different path to the EU and navigating the global trade system in a new way. The classic arguments about sovereignty and democracy don't quite fit the mould anymore. This prompts a new debate about globalisation and whether we are in a post-democratic age where technocracy has a place and cannot be easily dispensed with.

It sounds superficially appealing to depart from technocracy but the consequences of doing so, when you give it any serious consideration, are less appealing. Those who argue for it do not seem to have thought it through. To my mind they sound like survivalists who want to live out their lives in a faraday cage and a tin foil hat.

But then of course we now we need democracy as a periodic corrective. So Brexit does present some interesting opportunities and a chance to redesign participation but that debate must include a debate about the limitations of it and a recognition that the people, generally speaking, do not want as much control as they say they do. Their actions do not match their words. That begs the question of whether we accept this dynamic or arrange our affairs so as to encourage greater participation. How much democracy is too much democracy and where do we draw the line against globalisation if we must draw one at all?

Brexit is not a transition from the complex to the simple. It is simply a reconfiguration of a complex machine that will stay complex. It is now complex to a degree where no single individual can possibly comprehend it where some of it works better for the absence of democracy.

Systems that run themselves often have no need of politics and do not benefit from the application of collective ignorance. This might offend the purist democrats but many of these systems enhance our wealth and our liberty And we need to start asking if part of the function of democracy is to defend those things against the extremes of political ideology. In some respects technocracy has abolished socialism and mutes the externalities of capitalism. It would appear we are creating a self-governing machine for the running of the planet that makes our short stay here materially wealthier. Is that really something we should take a wrecking ball to?

But then there's the rub. Humanity thrives on reinvention and renewal. We are not designed to cope without conflict and struggle because conflict and struggle is what defines us and gives our spiritual lives meaning. Like in the film The Matrix, the first Matrix failed because humans were too happy. Perhaps we are a species ill equipped to adapt to a utopia where we want for nothing. Perhaps we should write it all off as a bad idea? I would like us to be sure before we do though.

Thursday 8 September 2016

There are no good reasons to leave the single market

The main reason we should not quit the single market aspect of the EU is because people are fucking liars. Brexit-o-mongs keep telling me that we should take back full control because democracy. Which is a fucking stupid argument. I am told that "In a democracy you are allowed to have, and even implement if you have enough support, a variety of ideas about how to run things. The single market membership does not allow for this. It puts certain things beyond debate".

Yes it does. And that's a good thing. In a modern, hyper-globalised trading environment we accept that something just work better if they are harmonised. This is the daily grind stuff that nobody gives a tinkers fuck about. If I give you two choices of things to debate, one being something to do with the Black Lives Matter protest and the latest convention on shipping container weighing regulations, an overwhelming majority of you will choose the former because it's idle chatter and you do not have to apply yourself to the subject.

But in terms of which is more likely to have a direct impact on you and the availability and affordability of goods you buy, it's the container regs. Because you are normal people with normal lives and normal concerns and fairly pedestrian desires you do not give a solitary toss. You may say we want to take back control but in actual fact you don't care who regulates these things, why they are regulated or even if they are regulated at all.

And please don't take this as an insult. People are (for reasons that escape me) social animals and prefer the social politics over the technical. You are never likely to get outraged by a trade deal that decides there must be a higher minimum sugar content in strawberry jam unless you are one of the intellectually subnormal Kiptards who think this is a threat to Western civilisation and proof that Sharia law is on the way. There is a good reason we point and laugh at these people. If this were the middle ages we would appoint them as village idiots. In the modern era we just elect them to the European Parliament.

I didn't vote to send Britain back into the stone age and so that we have the freedom to buy a bag of stoats ears in pounds and ounces. There are some things that politics can let slide. We went through the pain of the Single European Act in the 1990's (installing the EU regulatory regime) and it cost a lot of money, killed a lot of businesses, and it was to small producers what Mrs T was to the mines. It was done shabbily, in a rush and without proper consent. But it's done now. Trade has been modernised, regulations have been harmonised and they have been refined over two decades. They are now embedded. Everybody knows how to work with them.

The only reason we would pull out of the single market is if we wanted to go to the massive hassle and expense of reversing that process. Inspectors would have to retrain. Universities would have to completely change their syllabus. Factories would have to run two productions lines; one for the domestic regime, one for the export market. Inspectors would have to train in both regimes. We would lose our automatic mutual recognition agreements and have to be assessed individually by every third country we trade with.

We would also be the odd one out since the EU, as I have outlined time and again, stopped being the driver of regulation some years ago. It now only implements global rules. So if we are moving away from the EU standard then we are also moving away from the global standard. So what you are proposing is a completely pointless revolution in regulation for no commercial advantage over areas of technical regulation where politicians haven't the first clue and don't care either. More to the point, nor do the public. Nobody is going to go to the barricades over the right to sell misshapen fruit.

Britain is part of a modern, global rules based trading system. Pulling out of it would make no sense. Regulatory harmonisation reduces red tape, makes trade faster and consequently makes food and other consumer products cheaper and higher quality.

By leaving the EU we have ended EU legal supremacy. It means we are no longer subordinate to the EU and we have the right to refuse rules we don't want. That's fucking awesome. We have safeguard measures we can invoke as part of the single market and we get an enhanced say in the rules. In the process we are no longer subject to EU supranationalism. But that does not mean we want to end economic integration nor do we want to turn the clock back. Free movement of goods, services and people is a great thing.

What matters is that we are free of the common agricultural policy and CFP and that we are no longer bound to EU directives on energy production and other environmental legislation. We take back control of trade policy and aid, we no longer let the EU make our choices for us and we get to design our own rural and habitats policy. We also bin the "social Europe" nonsense. That to my mind is more than enough.

So again I ask why you are willing to throw away the single market for no reason? Is it that you want to pay more for goods? Do you want us to lose our exports? Help me out here. I don't understand why you would do such an irresponsible and nihilistic thing. Is resetting the clock back to 1991 really that important to you? No.

The fact is, there will always be technocracy. Life is never going to get any simpler and protectionist measures are not going to bring back manufacturing or mass employment. Harmonisation and specialisation is the way things are done now and that is about to explode beyond the confines of the European single market to become a global phenomenon. If we give ordinary people control over technical rules and regulations we'll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner.

What matters is that we create better early warning mechanisms for new laws, that we have better consultation and a better, more democratic means of dispute resolution. The EEA agreement gives us exactly that whereby we can be outside of the EU but still, for the most part, trade freely and maintain present levels of trade.

Cutting ourselves off from the single market and erecting barriers serves absolutely no purpose. For sure we would notionally gain control over our laws down to the granular level but you wouldn't take the slightest bit of notice and it really doesn't matter who makes them. Not least since most of what you think comes from Brussels actually comes from Geneva.

If I genuinely thought for a moment there would be a level of political engagement in these things and that what was happening is sufficiently harmful I would says so. In fact I did during the referendum. We're going to get back that vital power of veto.

The truth is though, for the most part, you are all lying bastards and you don't care who is making the laws and when it comes to the test, on any platform you care to mention, this kind of lawmaking is the thing you give the least fucks about. So puhlease, don't give me that "democracy" crap.

People having power over their lives matters but only over the stuff they care about. The rest they are happy to roll with. Nobody has cared about regulation since the 1990's except for Toryboy mouthbreathers and kippermongs. That, if nothing else, is reason enough to think the system doesn't need to be changed. We could leave the single market but there aren't any good reasons for doing so. Not one.

Wednesday 7 September 2016

It's time to confront Brexiteer dishonesty

There's a lot of intellectual cowardice around at the moment. There is an ongoing pretense that Brexit is simple. It isn't. It's fraught with uncomfortable compromises and dilemmas. Much of EU integration was designed to be irreversible and if we want to do it properly we have to do it slowly and by the book.

Some would have it that the Article 50 process is designed to prevent us from leaving. It isn't. It's just that forty years of global evolution in trade law presents us with choices none of which are encouraging and whichever way we turn the options are not good. We still have a very expensive and time consuming process on our hands.

We are told Brexit means Brexit but in truth the government has no way of satisfying the expectations of leavers without inflicting a good deal of unnecessary self-harm. People think we are leaving a European legal system but it isn't that simple. We are stepping out of a partition and into a broader global legal system where we have to reconfigure our own laws while honouring legacy commitments and also being mindful that close cooperation is still a necessity for the normal functioning of business.

The leave campaign has caused a number of problems. They pretended that sunlit uplands were only a single bound away and that the alternative is instantly preferable to EU membership. It isn't.

The alternative is something we have to build over a long time. The process will be costly and time consuming and it doesn't come simply by waving the Brexit magic wand. Embarking on the Brexit process is the beginning of a long journey which does have a high risk of failure. I still voted to leave because I think that culturally it is necessary and because it's a festering sore that won't go away. Also because Britain does have the potential to be a world leader in global trade - but I won't for a moment pretend it's simple.

Over the years the EU has made some impressive inroads in its trade agreements and if we adopt the EU bilateral approach we could never in a thousand years hope to match them. I believe the alternative approaches are where we can made smaller steps and progress incrementally and in the end surpass the EU while it's still negotiating big bang deals like TTIP to no avail.

I am however becoming increasingly intolerant of Brexit-o-mongs who think we can just rip up treaties, contracts and agreements and then "free trade deals" will just materialise out of thin air. They won't. They will come but we'll have to invest to get them and we're not going to get them if we're sudden breaking international treaty law for shits and giggles. There is no unilateral Brexit and there is no complete restoration of sovereignty. In terms of laws made outside of London we are exchanging Brussels for Geneva and the volume of laws we accept will be about the same if not more. All we get is the power to refuse them, which in most cases we won't.

The Brexiteer vision of Brexit is a child's fantasy filled with rainbows and unicorns. It is a dishonesty of epic proportions and these pet theories belong to 1975. Since then globalisation has happened and nobody gets to do as they please anymore.

Worse still, if you thought Brussels lacked transparency wait until you try deciphering what the nexus of global governance is up to. It's all hidden in plain sight but you have to know what you are looking at. It makes TTIP look transparent by contrast. Brexit will mean that eventually we are in control of that agenda but for the time being we'll be taking baby steps and we're not going to get there without considerable cooperation with the EU. They are not going to help us if we start tearing up agreements and breaking the rules. So please, put your pet theories away and try to engage in the real world - or at the very least pipe down so the adults can get on with it.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

Technocracy is here to stay

I'm not so concerned by calls for a second referendum. There isn't going to be one. Democracy is not "hanging by a thread". There are no dark forces amassing to derail Brexit. What we have are sore losers who are presently incapable of organising themselves into a coherent movement. Lib Dems, Labour and the remains of the remain campaign. They cannot tell Mrs May she cannot invoke Article 50 and there is no appetite for a second referendum.

There is only really one choice left to be made. One between a careful measured Brexit that allows us to evolve slowly out of the EU - and then a Brexit that needless completely fucks everything with little chance of bouncing back to our present standing.

The latter is on the table because some think that Brexit offers us a choice between "Brussels bureaucracy" and the free world. But as we find with most things, if we scrub away the Brussels bureaucracy we find Geneva bureaucracy. There is no wiping the slate clean nor is there any buccaneering "free trade". There are global rules for trade which are just as extensive, just as bureaucratic and just as opaque as anything produced by the EU.

The nexus of international organisations create a worldwide rules based systems governing everything from customs to tariffs all the way through to marketing standards and agricultural practices.

What makes Brexit complex is that even out of the EU we still have to play by the rules. There are legacy rules we must conform to and there are rules that countries not in the EU must obey in order to trade with the EU. Then there are those rules that apply to everyone only they come to our statue book via the EU which have to be re-registered with a number of global organisations.

Some believe that Brexit is simply a matter of sketching out a free trade deal and then we are free to slash and burn regulations like they never existed so we can trade with the lesser developed nations who don't have all these pesky rules. Except that world has not existed for two decades now. Even Bangladesh follows the same health codes and regulations as the UK and they can't export unless they can prove the conform.

And so this notion that Brexit is becoming the province of "educated nincompoops" trying to manage away the Brexit process is a bogus one. The fact is that we have to be global citizens now and Brexit has to be by the book. If we want trade agreements once we have left then our ability to get them depends on our reputation for upholding international law and honouring our treaties. Simply ripping up contracts "because democracy" is not on the cards if we wish to maintain our current level of exports.

We really have to navigate one of the most intricate legal systems ever devised coming from a position of having completely abandoned that kind of administration for four decades. Almost everything to do with trade and regulation has been surrendered to the EU and the process of bringing it back under our control is a mammoth task.

In this we are discovering systems and subsystems that we never knew existed. I was only dimly aware of the TIR system until recently and now I find that there is the AEO system and all of the customs processes developed since 9/11. As to banking rules and trade in services, you will notice that I seldom speak on such matters. Better to say nothing and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt.

But in this age where cross border trade in goods is diminishing while we increasingly export innovations, the issue of digital rights and intellectual property and patents comes into play. This is a major sector that makes up a significant portion of our GDP. It is governed by the EU as well as WIPO, ITU and the EU. Not to mention the WTO at the centre of it.

If you have been following recent developments then you know that the process of breaking away from the EU to become an actor in our own right at the WTO is no small undertaking. The problematisers make out that it is next to impossible as it requires approval of all other members - which isn't actually true but it is a serious undertaking which has the potential to stall the Brexit process.

Effectively, a unilateral withdrawal would be like bulldozing a house without checking for occupants. As much as it is murderously negligent it doesn't make you very popular in the wider neighbourhood. The people who advocate this do so from a position of complete ignorance. They would gleefully pull the plug on the whole thing just to see what happens in order to rebuild it in accordance with their own dogmas.

The truth is that if we really wanted to depart from all this bureaucracy and go back to a world where things were simpler we would not only have to leave the EU but withdraw entirely from the entire international order and pull out of every multilateral agreement. If you want to make that case I am sure a compelling case could be made but the fact is that if your aim is to move away from technocracy and complexity then Brexit does absolutely nothing for you and would put us in a minority of nations where the nearest comparable nation is Zimbabwe or North Korea. Even China is a fully signed up to the global rules based trading system. There is no winding the clock back.

Brexit is about asserting ourselves as an independent actor within a global community. It means making our own decisions free of EU interference and it means the EU cannot tell us how to vote. It does not mean that the UK is free to do as it pleases and though we have a considerably large economy it is largely built on the basis that we do follow the rules which is why the banks keep their money here.

So really it is not a matter of stalling Brexit. What matters is that we disabuse hardliner Brexiteers of their daft notion and win the battle for a managed and well executed Brexit that doesn't collapse our exports and ruin our international prestige. I am in no rush to press the Article 50 button until this dispute is resolved.

If Brexit is going to work for Britain then we will need to engage more on all the multilateral forums and be a leading global citizen within the institutions that govern trade. We will need to be a leading light in exporting the methods and tools for implementing good governance. That is how we prosper.

And though Brexit will cost us in the interim, this is ultimately why Britain will be richer and and more influential outside the EU. Right now we are having a very serious debate about our trade strategy, exploring the methods and tools at our disposal. It is a debate no longer confined to the tatty offices of the Commission in Brussels. It is a nationwide debate which participation form every sector, with just about every industry engaging with the government to ensure we get a good deal.

In this we are building consultation mechanisms that will outlive the Brexit process and business will get used to the idea of steering trade policy same as the wider public will reacquaint themselves with the topic as a facet of our politics.

Until then managerialism reigns supreme while we work out what has been done to us and how. There are no shortcuts and there are no magic wands. It will be a slow deliberative process and there will be little room for ideologies and political mantras. In most respects the political battles have been made obsolete by way of having a developed system that needs no politics.

As much as anything our rules trade rules exist to prevent conflicts and to resolve disputes. And they work. If you want it some other way you will have to develop a viable alternative and quickly - but you won't find many takers. In the final analysis the world is better now than it was before all this "red tape" and you'd miss it if it were gone in ways you never anticipated. This is the era of technocracy. Get used to it.

Monday 5 September 2016

A process without a destination

If you were outside of parliament today you might have been inclined to shout "Invoke Article 50 now". If however, you were live-tweeting the proceedings on the inside you might well be so horrified you switch sides entirely. I must confess, my commitment to project mayhem was almost in doubt this afternoon.

You see it's all true what the remainers say. Most Brits have no idea what the hell they were voting for. The nuance is that remainers don't either. And though that is nominally an argument for not having a referendum our politicians enjoy no greater enlightenment.

Some people voted for immigration control. Some people voted to cut off payments to the EU. Some voted in order to deregulate. Some voted against technocracy. Some voted for absolute sovereignty. Some voted simply because they hate the EU. Some voted mainly because they hate our politicians and the establishment. Some voted against globalisation. Some voted for more of it.

So how do you reconcile all these conflicting opinions and how do you produce a Brexit that is sufficiently brexity to satisfy the masses while preserving good relations with our allies?

In this, ignorance reigns supreme. Nobody really has a cost effective idea how to reduce immigration. There are only marginal gains to be had from deregulation, everything falls to pieces if you don't have technocracy and in this age of global regulatory harmonisation there is no such thing as absolute sovereignty.

I would venture that voting to leave because you hate the EU is a perfectly valid reason. There isn't much to like about it or its advocates. But then having dealt with most kind of leavers who seem to take pride in the ignorance it s difficult not to despise both sides of the argument.

What's worse is that every stupid assertion requires a detailed and technical rebuttal. In this nobody really wants to know. All they know is they want Brexit as soon as possible yet nobody as yet knows what that is supposed to look like.

The problem is that most people imagine Brexit means going back to that state of independence that existed before the EU. I don't want to be patronising and say people want to wind the clock back but they do want things to be a certain way in a way they can never be again. Supply chains have become ever more sophisticated and integrated where there is simply no value in divergence. Internet has brought people places and things closer. We could dismantle the EU and erase it entirely but the world would still have to turn and it would still require cross border governance in place of the EU.

If it be the case that people want the simplest and most literal Brexit possible then that would be to simply move into the EEA and leave as much in tact as possible. That would on paper accomplish Brexit. And who is going to argue? But then people also want political change. People want a Brexit that is more than just Brexit on paper.

So how is that defined? How much integration do we want, what are we willing to pay for it and what are we willing to sacrifice to have our cake and eat it. Everybody enjoys the product of free movement of goods and services yet politically they oppose it.

And this is the problem with such an open ended and ill conceived referendum question. We voted not for an alternative. We simply voted to dismantle the status quo without specifying a destination. Thus we are in a limbo. We must devise a Brexit that avoids economic chaos that also appeases the unappeasable. It is likely we will be no closer to defining that even by Christmas.

It's all very well saying we should just get on with it but we must first learn the anatomy of the beast and understand its functions before cutting away at the many strands of integration.

As it happens, some of us did go to the trouble of doing exactly that and we did produce a plan but a certain anti-intellectualism grips the land whereby people would rather not engage in the complexities and have absolutely zero interest in shaping the outcome. They seem to think that building a new model for government comes after the Brexit process. Not so. A transition has to go from one state of being to another.

If it were all down to me I would be invoking Article 50 sometime next year but that's after two years of extensive analysis of the issues. But it's not up to me. It's up to a political process involving one of the worst crops of politicians in living memory. One that is impossibly attached to obsolete narratives and incapable of comprehending what has been built over the last forty years at a very granular level by technocrats, lawyers and experts.

This is like asking cavemen to reverse engineer a jumbo jet. They could conceivably break it down into its components but would have no greater understanding of how it worked and would have no real ability to reassemble and fly it.

But then we are are told that the same time that expertise is neither trusted nor demanded. So what's to be done? Without answering the very basic questions you cannot conceivably commit to a negotiation.

For sure would could just pull the plug and let this civilisation of ours grind to a halt but I don't imagine for a moment this is what the majority voted for and never imagined Brexit had the capacity to do that. Well, it does.

Foolishly the remain camp overplayed their hand to the point where nobody believed them. There's always a problem with crying wolf. But there are risks if we pull certain levers and we need to be clear that everyone is clear on what happens when we pull on them.

The ultimate joke is that if people do not want to understand the issues and do not wish to participate in that deliberative process then once again we surrender the process to the technocrats to simply reconfigure the system according to their best guess.

Ironically, the Spiked "Invoke Article 50 Now" protest in London today was a a group who largely celebrate the mass availability of consumer goods. This does not happen without technocracy and systems of good governance. The very thing they oppose. The group is also broadly in favour of freedom of movement. Yet most would say if we are leaving the EU then it must be curtailed. It seems to me that if the public cannot reconcile their own basic hypocrisy then how can they expect the same of their politicians?

How can one say one is defending democracy when one is perfectly at ease with abdicating the details to the politicians. Is there any real advantage in transferring the technocracy from Brussels to London if the same basic lack of engagement exists?

The notion that we simply instruct our politicians to "get on with it" without defining what that means is to simply abdicate the running of our own affairs to government - which really makes our predicament entirely our own fault. In which case, what am I expending another nanosecond on this for? If the people themselves are not defining what Brexit means then we might as well not bother at all.

Friday 2 September 2016

My brexit, your brexit or their brexit?

The reason the government does not have a direction on Brexit is because there is a battle going on to define what Brexit means. Hard liners think we can get by with no deal at all. Then there are those who think we can spend years coming up with a custom arrangement and then there are those moving for something more pragmatic. An off the shelf solution.

And there really is no compromise on this. one is a complete departure from international law and a complete reset of everything, the other is a limbo and the EEA is something workable but not too far removed from what we have.

A complete reset of everything as per what is known as the WTO option seems superficially appealing but when you start to look at the real world consequences it looks far less appealing. We might complain about regulation and technocracy but in the modern age it is as certain as death and taxes. There is no escaping it. More to the point, it doesn't deliver on its promises. There are no sunlit uplands of "free trade" and there is definitely no money in the kitty for firehosing on the NHS.

The limbo model, the model which is "some form of free trade agreement" is one that ignores the highly technical and complex peripheral concerns which dwarf the issue of trade. That is what takes years to sort out. It seems that this route is becoming the more popular largely because it is vague by definition. It is only defined by what it isn't. It is neither the WTO option nor is it the EEA Norway Option.

Then there is the EEA Norway option which is adequate - but hard liners see it as Brexit in name only and not sufficiently brexity.

So like I say, there's little room for compromise. It seems the government is also quite determined to make immigration a red line even though it was not the lead reason for voting for Brexit. This is the power of narrative at work. There is also a lack of political courage in speaking up for the truth that ending freedom of movement largely accomplishes very little at great cost.

So it seems, in the absence of a champion, the EEA route is struggling to win traction among opinion formers and those in power. We will manage to fend off the hard right who want to pull the plug on all of it but the course will be set for a magical mystery tour of of this unspecified third way.

That means we are presently looking at several years just to negotiate and then several more years to transition. As it happens this could be avoided by negotiated in the EEA terms up front as is our right as an EU member and then invoke article 50 to deal with the rest but this is a point lost on MPs and commentators.

It would seem many options MPs are quite keen on the EEA option and so is the new incarnation of the Stronger In campaign. It does have allies but none in any position to wield much influence. Now is about the time where it might have been useful to have a functioning opposition party but restoring the railways the to glory days of 1989 seems to be their leading concern in all this. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems see an urgent need for a 5p tax on coffee cups. That should see them roaring back to life imminently.

The ultimate enemy in this is prestige. There are supporters of the WTO option who are wrong, know they are wrong but will not speak against the consensus of the group. None wish to be an outsider. In this it's perfectly acceptable to write complete and utter drivel so long as it is not a threat to the orthodoxy and is not in conflict with the words of prestigious sources.

Then there are those who know full well that the EEA option does give us much of what we want but are afraid to challenge the normalised lie that Norway must accept full freedom of movement and has no say in the rules. Again, it is cowardice.

And so politics being what it is, we will attempt to negotiate something else. We don't know what that something is, how extensive we want it to be, what we want it to cover and if possible we want to be outside of the single market while participating in all the features we like, none of the ones we don't and paying nothing into the budget. That is the only politically acceptable position within the bubble yet Mrs May cannot press the button because absolutely everybody privately agrees that this nonsense is for the birds.

This is why we absolutely must have a parliamentary vote on which path we choose. In this I have every confidence that opposition MPs can defeat the Tory right while at the same time collectively bringing some sense to the proceedings. Looking at the mess in front of us, you can hardly blame remainers for wanting another referendum regardless of how implausible an idea it is.

What it now looks like is that no agreement will be reached before invoking Article 50 and Mrs May will have to choose a path of least risk - but this will be in the final hour where we will pay severely for not having a coherent plan or an endgame in mind. It may be that we won't know what Brexit means until we are actually out.

This of course does not change my view that we should leave. This is just the process we have to go through to correct a historical mistake. It's just a pity we will harm ourselves in ways that could have been avoided. People will look back and ask where it went so wrong. Well, mark this moment in time. Because this is where it went wrong. The bit where people should have been engaged and making a saner case rather than waving placards saying "invoke Article 50 now!" Ho hum.