Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Important New Year Message to the Labour Party


If you’re hoping to see Labour climb down from its mugwump position over Brexit in 2018, forget it. Labour will stay firm in its indecision. The iron may be rusty but it’s entered Labour’s soul.

It can’t take any firm position because to do so would split a party which has always been disunited on the EU. It took a revolt by 69 Labour MPs to take Britain in, and while Labour stood on a policy of withdrawal in 1983 by 2003 it had stood on its head to become the most Euro-enthusiastic party around. Now the divisions are even worse. Euro-enthusiasts led by Peter Mandelson’s deputy on earth, Chuka Umunna, fight to stay in and many MPs have a romantic vision of an illusory EU which their constituents don’t share. Some Trade unions have given up hope of a Labour government and look for crumbs of comfort from Brussels and several Labour local authorities feel the same

The number of MPs who want to withdraw has dwindled, but the leader, and his acolytes having consistently opposed membership, still see it as a capitalist ramp, hostile to socialist economic measures while a substantial number of others want to obey the democratic decision of the people in the least disturbing manner.

The result is a firm decision not to decide. Jeremy Corbyn has taken a lot of flack for this from Euro enthusiasts denouncing him for losing the referendum by his lack of enthusiasm and MPs who want to cling on to the EU attack him for not demanding that Britain stay in a single market which he thinks will make industrial regeneration impossible. A few who remain loyal to the old policy of coming out urge him to back the people’s decision. Others just want rid of the whole business. This is a party of 57 varieties of Euro-policy.

Yet neither Labour’s MPs nor the commentariat realise that the old serial rebel has grown into a leader, and a Labour Party leader at that. Jeremy is committed to what has been the central aim of every previous leader except Blair and Ramsey McDonald. He wants to hold a discordant party together to win power. Instead of condemning him for his radical past they should ask the crucial Labour question. What’s the would Harold Wilson do?

The answer is much the same as Jeremy is now doing, though Jeremy does it with less flair and cunning. In the early sixties Harold opposed membership of what was then the Common Market. As Prime Minister he attempted to join. He then reverted in opposition, to staying out. Finally he concealed Labour’s divisions and his own changes behind a pretended re-negotiation followed by a referendum This healed the splits and allowed Labour to win power and govern.

As he transforms from protester to politician Jeremy must ask himself why waste time and expose the splits over something that’s not central to his purpose of winning power and rebuilding Britain? Better to take the Wilson approach. Harass government in its difficulties, divisions and EU intransigence, while keeping quiet on what Labour would do, how much it would pay for a Get Out of Jail Card, and what kind of settlement it prefers. Instead of joining the battle, the opposition can carp and criticise the government’s position. Whatever it might be.

That may be unhelpful. It must weaken Theresa’s negotiating position. It will certainly encourage Brussels to be tougher and Lord Heseltine to support Labour but, as Lord Kindersley once said of one of his own dirty deals “it may be anti-British and derogatory to sterling but it makes sense to me” As it would for any Labour leader who puts party first.

Of course Jeremy still wants to win power, but not just yet. Labour won’t-indeed can’t- emerge from its bomb shelter until the Brexit war is over and either negotiations fail or Theresa comes away with a settlement which is less than the electorate wants. Why wander onto the battlefield before that? Why sink in mud to be hit by shrapnel, bombs and abuse when you can help a baffled government to fail. Just think what Harold would do.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Endgame or Eurocide?


The Brexit negotiations make it clear that the first past the post electoral system and the elective dictatorship it supports are no longer fit for use. Britain’s disintegrating party system needs proportional representation to work effectively and fairly.

The old system claimed give Britain strong government. It no longer does that. Since 2010 we’ve had coalitions and Theresa May’s shambling government, and now, negotiating with a devious oponent we look incapable of toughing our way out of a paper bag, let alone a game of 27 to 1.

The EU has grabbed the cards. It requires us to jump three ever rising hurdles, none of which can be agreed until we know the terms of departure, before we can even talk about them. It’s already hinting that there will be no concessions on that if we ever reach it

It would take a tough single minded government with a clear idea of the national interest and a determined and united will to fight out of this trap .Instead the political parties are divided, we argue among ourselves about whether we want a hard or a soft Brexit , (which only the EU can decide), the vested interests moan and threaten, the government bids against itself and the instruments of power are weak and broken.

The Tories are clearly divided. The Chancellor is cool on the whole enterprise, the vicar’s daughter hopes to win by being nice, the Brexiteers talk tough and a small, vocal group want to call the whole thing off and rejoin the Junker Friendship club.

The situation is worse on the Labour side. A substantial minority, hope that the difficulties will be so great that government will give up, and they’re ready to support anything that contributes to that outcome. A small number are ready to support the government, more just want to attack the Tories for making a mess.

The leadership holds things together by attacking whatever the government does while secretly hoping that Theresa will hang on long enough to prevent the poisoned chalice passing to Labour. That would force them to take clear positions on, immigration, even bigger payments for leaving, transition arrangements and all the other things on which the party is divided.

If it came to power before the settlement Labour would have to choose between rejecting the referendum verdict of the people and being nasty to an EU which many love almost as much as Vince Cable. Much easier to denounce whatever the government does

All this makes things easy for Junker, Barnier, Tusk and the abominable No men .It absolves the EU from getting 27 states with different interests and views to agree on any common strategy apart from “Just say No”. So we end up negotiating with a very taciturn “I speak your Weight” machine.

The EU listens to all our internal arguments. It encourages the protests of the vested interests. It pays undue attention to the disrupters and rampant remainers, observes our divisions and sees all of that as absolving the EU itself from any need to negotiate seriously.

All they need do is accuse Britain of having no proposals, being laggardly and speculate that Theresa May’s government is too weak and fragile to do anything, let alone commit Eurocide. It’s a pathetic spectacle, but one which is totally unacceptable to those who voted for Brexit and many who didn’t but are still proud of their country.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Brexit doesn't mean Brexit

Theresa May was wrong to say Brexit means Brexit. It doesn't. It means sitting in a trap,  forced to bid against ourselves, while recalcitrant remainers  encourage the EU to make departure so difficult we crumble and give up. That's their two pronged game

Article fifty was designed by Lord Kerr,(pronounced cur) a foreign office fool, gone native in Brussels. He claims it was intended to discipline dictators not Britons because he thinks we're"too bloody stupid" to leave. So he didn't make it easy. Then the Commission, which will be hit hard by the loss of the UK's contribution, made it even tougher by seizing control of the process, appointing a former French agriculture minister (and CAP lover)to "negotiate" for them . They demand that Britain  jumps through three hoops, before they'll talk turkey, and every time we offer to meet their unreasonable demands  they'll say "Not enough. Give us more" Barnier is the ever raising bar man..

It's the best trick since the invention of the mousetrap .It's also illegal. Article 50 gives the power of decision to the Council not the Commission. Negotiations on the relationship after departure should go on pari passu with agreement on the cash and conditions. Indeed  conditions, like money and borders, can't be agreed until we know what kind of deal we're getting. Yet the Commission not only insists that we should accept their conditions sight unseen  but gives the EU's joke of a Parliament a say as well, providing a platform to Verhofstadt, a failed Prime Minister of Belgium,to ponce around lecturing a nation which has twice gone to war to save his shambles of a country

 We're asked to accept the poke before we can see the pig .Unless we're to be stuck on this flypaper and humiliated we need to insist on seeing what we're getting to decide how much it's worth paying for. No tickee no takee as the Chinese laundry used to say. Having already made an overgenerous offer, Theresa May must now say"thus far and no further" until we agree on terms. Unless we do that we embark on an endless process of bidding against ourselves, while our Recalcitrant remainers encourage the Commission to make everything so difficult that Britain is locked into a never never process. While that goes on Labour will attack whatever the government does to conceal its own disunity, the divided Tories will fratch over their's,(and over the leadership)and all the vested interests will witter on about the terrors of Brexit and demand extended transitional arrangement they hope will last forever. Or to the Ides of Blair, whichever comes soonest.

That's a daunting prospect. Even mice have a choice of whether to walk into a mouse trap . Theresa May's generous instinct to be nice to Europeans is irrelevant. If the EU plays hard ball, so must we . That means being prepared and ready to walk away. Every trade union negotiator knows that's essential in tough deals. Get negotiations out of the hands of a Commission with its vested interest in keeping our cash, and into the Council's. Talk to the adults in the room not their office boys. To keep faith with our people Britain must assert it's national interests and stop the drain of money, jobs and assets to  a European monolith we neither need nor want. 

Wednesday, 13 September 2017



One lesson in politics  is always look behind the arguments at the interests. Ask "what's in this for them"? Let's apply that lesson to the rearguard action  irreconcilable Remainers are now fighting. When Jeremy Browne reports for the City that there's zero chance of the EU giving us a fair deal, we should remember that he was a Liberal MP, believing in My Europe right or wrong.

 Andrew Adonis, who came to Labour from the LibDems  wants the Party to commit itself to another referendum which he thinks will ensure the British electorate stands on its head as those of Ireland, Denmark and France have already done. Another EU worshipper.

Take Euro Tony who  thinks that if he changes his own policies on immigration the EU will give us a better deal and persuade us to stay in the affectionate embrace of an organisation of which he once wanted to be President. Or the Euro Androids who hope  that if they make enough difficulties and prolong the agony into a never ending transitional phase Britons will behave like Bo Peep's sheep:
Leave them alone
And they will come home
Dragging their tails behind them

Smart stuff. It's going to make the next year or so messy and divisive and encourage the EU to play hard ball against what it assumes (because the remainers tell them so) is a divided and frightened nation.

Looking behind all this querelous quarrelling with the people, shows that their cunning calculations  have three weaknesses.First they're keeping quiet about the terms on which they want us to crawl back. Unless the EU reforms itself, which it shows no sign of doing ,we'll go back to the periphery. All the EU action will concentrate on making the Euro work and we'll simply have to resume our  heavier contributions, the economic drain and our growing deficit with Germany.

Second they're making no effort to encourage their friends in the EU to reform itself or to offer Britain a better deal than the disadvantageous terms which drove us out. They just want us us back on a treadmill running  against us.

Finally there's the problem of the EU itself. A hydra with 27 heads cant agree on any strategy other than simply saying no. The Commission calls the shots, not the interests of the members. Since it would suffer if it lost Britain's disproportionate contributions the Commission's strategy is to put up a wooden puppet as negotiator andcreate a lose -lose situation for Britain by requiring us to jump three impossible hurdles which we can't do until we know the terms of departure which they won't talk about. If the Treaty of Versailles had been negotiated on this basis we'd still be fighting World War One

Britain's recalcitrant remainers and  Brussells' Junker Barnier double act are at cross purposes. The more Yesterday's Euro Chaps encourage Brussells' professional no-Sayers to say "no", the more messy things will get, the more the nation's time is wasted and the more angry a British public, which doesn't relish being buggered about, is going to get

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

OMG-where do we go from here?

The most potent force for change in Britain's political life  isn't so much  elections, which mainly mark paragraphs in the story, but the great mood swings  which occur every few decades and change the whole course of policy. One occurred after the First World War which killed  Victorian certainties and faith in the inevitability of progress. Another followed the second as the post war settlement shifted the balances from wealth and capitalism and towards the people, with a welfare state, progressive taxation and Keynesian demand management to ensure growth and full employment

This led to three or four decades of affluence, les trentes glorieuses for the French, the never had it so good years for the British but the settlement came under increasing strain from inflation and balance of payments problems and in its turn, broke up, ushering in what Jim Callaghan described as the next great sea change.

That brought in the age of neoliberalism. The state was rolled back to empower the market, austerity cut back the welfare state  and utilities were privatised, Finance ruled, industry declined and growth for all was replaced by a zero sum grab by wealth.

Now after its four decades neoliberalism is coming to an end. Living standards have stalled, inequality has grown, the elite have been excessively greedy, the promised regeneration has failed and a peasants' revolt has  protested against austerity, neo-liberalism and the long decline into the EU. This new change in the tide produces the major question. Where do we go from here? 

New tides surge in because of abuse of power by the dominant interest. The post war settlement was designed to favour labour as against capital which had abused its power before the war.It strengthened union rights, and empowered the people by welfare and full employment.

Instead of cooperating, as  German labour did, the unions took a confrontational attitude to business, opted for capitalist competition by free collective bargaining, empowered the shop stewards and defeated all attempts at reform by both Wilson and Heath.Union power used in this negative way was denounced as excessive by management and the media, and seen as the major cause of Britain's slow growth and comparative decline. Certainly it was powerful enough to bring down two governments, Ted Heath's in 1974 and  their own Labour government in the winter of discontent of 1979.

With the power of labour abused capital took its revenge.The incoming Tory government by broke the unions, under-ran the economy to discipline labour by higher unemployment, privatised the great utilities and decimated the industries which were the centres of their power to create a new balance in which capital, business and Finance were  dominant.

In its turn the new dominant interest abused its power by greed,speculation, debasement of standards by banks and financial interests, by driving down wages and cutting costs, and by tax evasion and levels of skullduggery unimaginable for earlier generations.

Now, after four decades that abuse of power has produced its own nemesis in a failing economy which can't pay its way in the world and a tax base which can't support strong defence and the standards of health care, housing and education demanded by a modern society. The left behind people have revolted against austerity, globalisation, inequality and static incomes .The time is ripe for the next shift in the balances and a new direction of travel.

Though Capital's dominance has clearly failed it's difficult to see what will replace it. Both major parties are treading water and groping for new solutions .Thought is palsied by the great Brexit debate which will dominate everything in the near future. Yet past experience  makes one thing clear. The interests must be better balanced to avoid swinging the pendulum so far in any one direction that the dominant interest can abuse its power as both Labour and capital have done in their time.

This suggests neither socialism nor neoliberalism, but cooperation in the national interest  with a balance ensured by effective, independent regulation so that power in any of its shapes and forms can't be abused. The market can't do it. The state is too cumbersome. Only  independent regulation of workers rights and capitalism's duties  can bring the conflicting interests  towork together to build a stronger economy and pursue the national interest, rather than continuing a zero sum struggle for a dominance which both will only abuse.