Friday, 11 October 2019

"Just Johnson?" - a QC's warning

Lawers have been trying in a Scottish court to get some sort of "order" to force Mr Johnson to comply with the Benn Act "come what may."  The court as so far refused, on the grounds that Johnson has already agreed to comply with the act so a further order is unnecessary - they have to believe him.

In his appeal against this decisions Aidan O'Neil QC told the judges:

"One shouldn't be taken in by the kind of shtick that the prime minister is simply an overgrown schoolboy  playing at being prime minister, as if he was Just William  leading his cabinet  band of outlaws.
This is serious stuff.
This is calculated
This is deliberately focus-grouped , 
workshopped and
war gamed
to appeal to their base."

(My emphasis)

I admire Mr O'Neil's insight.

We cannot know for certain, of course, but all the evidence points to the probability that Johnson and his advisor Dominic Cummings are playing games in Johnson's interest rather than the nation's.

As argued in an earlier post, Johnson has created a win-win situation for himself. 

If he gets a deal, however inferior to the present arrangement, he will be hailed as a hero.

If he fails, he can blame  the intransigent Europeans for refusing to play his game.

We must strongly suspect that Johnson is gaming our future to the advantage of himself and his supporters rather than negotiating for the benefit of the nation. 

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Tory tunnel vison

The Tories have a long history of calming to be the "party of law and order,"  so much so that journalists in the 60s invented their standard bearer as "Lora Norda."  At their Conference this year the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, revived the claim and warned criminals to "watch out, we are coming for you." 

Given that:
  • their prorogation of parliament  was declared illegal by the Supreme court;
  • the entire government is apparently seeking ways to circumvent the Benn Act which make leaving the EU with no deal illegal;
  • the prime minister is under investigation  for improper use of public funds for whilst Mayor of London;
  • the Leave campaign, on which they set such store, was found guilty of financial irregularities in the referendum.
warning criminals to "watch out" is perhaps an unwise thereat for a Conservative to make to make at the moment.  

Or maybe M/s Patel just thinks that what's sauce for society's misfit ganders  doesn't apply to its  rich and powerful geese.

Another case of tunnel vision was exposed on Radio 4's "Any Questions!" on Friday.  When asked the very pertinent question "Has the government suddenly found a whole Magic Money orchard" given the amounts they are currently promising to spend on police, education, hospitals, infrastructure,  and more, Tory Minister Robert Buckland had the sauce to explain that  the because interest rates were at an all time low this made now a good time for public expenditure.   

Interest rates have, of course, been at an "all time low" for the past decade, throughout the long drawn out period of austerity which has caused so much misery to so many of the less well off, and, through the starvation of funds to Local Government, done so much damage to the public realm.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Brexit Profiteers?

A front-page headline in yesterday's Guardian (1st October) highlighted ministers defending Mr Johnson on "groping allegations."   Whilst not wishing to downplay the importance of this incident (these incidents?) I should prefer greater prominence to be given to the allegations that supporters of the prime minister and Brexit are hoping to make considerable, indeed very considerable , financial profits if we do indeed leave the EU with no deal on 31st October.  The report of these  (actually a denial) appeared only on Page 9.

The possibilities of profiting from Brexit by "shorting"* (see below but please don't try it at home ) are detailed in Gavin Esler's book, Brexit without the Bullshit (page 89).  Esler explains that one fund manager, Crispin Odey, donated almost £9 000 to the Leave campaign, then "shorted" sterling and maybe other UK assets, and made a financial "killing"  when the pound fell in value as a result of Leave winning the Referendum. 

Since then, according to Esler, Odey is reported to have "shorted" Talk-talk to the value of £7.5m, Intu (£40m), Lookers (£2.5m) and some retail stores, including Debenhams (£17m).

In the event of a no-deal Brexit the pound is likely to depreciate yet again  and Codey and his associates will experience  another "morning with gold in its mouth."

Odey, of course, denies any such intention.  However, the possibility is sufficiently serious to have caused no less than Phillip Hammond, former Chancellor, and Lord (Nick) Macpherson, former permanent secretary to the Treasury, to "question the political connections  of some of the hedge funds with  a financial interest in no deal."

Lord Macpherson has warned: "They are shorting the pound and the country, with the British people the main loser."

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the machinery of government has been high-jacked with the help of a group of the super-rich who aim to make themselves immeasurably richer and the rest of us somewhat poorer through an action of national self-harm.

*  How to "short."

It's risky and you need a lot of many to start with (or iron nerves)

1.  Identify a currency or  asset you think will fall in value.
2.  Borrow shedloads of the currency or asset.
3  Sell them quickly at the current price.
4.  When the currency or asset falls in value buy them back at the lower price.
5.  Return the currency or assets borrowed to their original owners
6.  Pocket the difference.

Monday, 30 September 2019

Three curiosities.

1.  Why is the government, at our expense, allowed to advertise on television and the motorways that we should "Get ready for Brexit  on 31st October,"  when parliament has passed a law, which has received the Royal Assent, that such a move will be illegal?

 I suppose they could argue that, strictly speaking the law, known as the Benn Act, says no Brexit without a deal approved by parliament.  But there is as yet no sign of such a deal, and even if one were to emerge, it  far from certain that parliament would approve it. 

The most that the government can legitimately advertise is "Get Ready for a possible Brexit on 31st October" which would puncture Johnson's chutzpah.

I wonder if anyone has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority?  Maybe I should.

2.  I am a great admired of the BBC, which is one of the few things we have left which, as an impartial news source,  is still "the best in the World and the envy of the World."  But surely their impartially is damaged by the fact that they are running Volume 3 of Charles Moore's respectful biography of Margaret Thatcher as their "Book of the Week" in the very same week that  today's Tories are holding  their conference.  This amounts to product  placement: it surely can't be a coincidence.

I haven't a record of what was "Book of the Week during the Labour conference  (I've tried to find out but the BBC website defeats me) but I'm pretty sure it wasn't John Bew's sympathetic biography of Clement Attlee.*  Nor did they run Jo Grimond's excellent autobiography** during the Liberal Democrat conference.

3.  There have been in recent weeks a surprising number of programmes about the First World War, the rise and fall of the Nazis and the Second World War.  Are we the only nation in Europe still quite obsessed by these events as we look back to our moments of greatness?

It could be argued that these programmes support we Remainers as they illustrate the horrors which the formation of the EU was designed  to avoid in the future.  It is more likely, however, that they feed the Leavers' nostalgia for a world in which so many mistakenly believe that Britain stood alone and saved the world from a terrible fate, and so could thrive alone again.

*   Called "Citizen Clem," published 2016  and well worth a read.
**  Called "Memoirs,"  published 1979 and contains in two sentences  the reason why we in  the UK have made such a mess of things since 1945:

" . . .we came out of the war being told that we had saved the world by a unique act of courage  against fearful odds.  We naturally became convinced that the world must see that we were  natural leaders of the West  entitled by our deeds of valour and skill to rest on oars as far as work was concerned and owed a debt, indeed a living, by our neighbours."  (Page 99)

Thursday, 26 September 2019

Yesterday in Parliament

You would think that, on the first day of its historic unrevokedness the debates in the House of Commons would  be statesmanlike and of lofty constitutional erudition.  Instead, by all accounts, it was a day of rudeness, squabbling and name-calling such as would  disgrace a school playground.

By accident or design, MPs have succeeded in changing the reporting of the debate from one of high constitutional significance to  to one of scorn for and condemnation of politicians.

On Newsnight  last night Labour MP Barry Gardiner claimed that Mr Johnson's inflammatory language was deliberate and designed indeed to "change the subject" from  the embarrassing failure of the government's policies to  "the general state of politics."  A presumably impartial commenter on this morning's Radio 4 Today programme took a similar view - that the government front bench were  "deliberately provoking the opposition to change the debate."

I suspect this is not chance but that  the hand of Dominic Cummings lies behind it. 

Another ploy seems to be to discredit the present House of Commons.  The Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, instead of explaining the reasoning that led him to advise that the prorogation of parliament was legitimate, instead scorned the parliament as "dead" and "without legitimacy."

This is nonsense.  This parliament was "refreshed by contact with the electorate" only two years ago and is less than halfway through its term.  The election that formed it was called by the Conservatives for their own ends. Hard lines on them that things didn't work out as they expected, but they must live with the results of their own folly.

The  Opposition parties are right in their refusal to let the Tories off the hook by calling another election (which would in all probability  produce yet another Commons in which no party had a majority).

Instead it is the duty of this Parliament  to disentangle the Brexit knot by "quiet calm deliberation." (Gilbert and Sullivan got so  much right even 100+ years ago).

How about this for reasoning?

1.  The overwhelming majority on all sides recognise that to leave the EU with no deal would be highly damaging, and in any case parliament has already declared it to be illegal.
2.  We could possibly leave on a minor variation of Mrs May's deal, but that has ben rejected three times, so is really a non-starter.
3.  We could follow Labour's present official course, which would  be, after an election,  to negotiate a better deal.  It is unlikely, though not impossible, that Labour  could win enough seats to form a minority government and achieve this, but their published aims include remaining in the single market and customs union - otherwise known as Brexit in name only, or BINO.  That is, leaving the EU but still obeying most of the rules without having any say in making them, so what's the point?
4.  So the best thing to do is to Revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU.
5.  To calm any resulting  agitation this should be accompanied by a sympathetic and reasoned explanation as to why it is sensible  and democratic to set aside the result of the referendum, along with  concrete and calculated proposals to ease the factors (unnecessary government austerity, punishing of the poor, neglect of the regions etc) which have lead to the discontent which lay  behind the Brexit vote.


Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Labour disappoints, Supreme Court delights

Labours conference decision on Monday to be indecisive and remain on the fence re Brexit  will undoubtedly benefit we Liberal Democrats if an election takes place before a People’s Vote.  Nevertheless, as a dedicated Liberal/Liberal Democrat activist for nearly 60 years I should have preferred Labour to make a clear decision in favour of Remain.  Then we could have seen 23rd September as the date the tide turned positively in favour of our chances of putting an end to this act of national self-harm which will irrevocably damage our political, economic, social  and cultural futures, along with the living standards of many Labour's loyal voters.
Why is it that Mr Corbyn and his supporters cannot recognise that leaving the EU is simply a plot by which series of fortuitous chances  (Cameron’s fear of UKIP, a complacent parliament which failed to include normal safeguards in the rules for the Referendum0, a hugely biased press, much of it owned by foreign-based tax avoiders, illegal expenditure, lies  and dubious practices via digital targeting, not to mention the possibility  of foreign interference) have enabled a tiny clique of the Tory elite to gain temporary control of the machinery of government in order to establish a neo-liberal off-shore island for their own economic benefit.
 All power to Labour's Remainers to to come on board the Exit-Brexit alliance and bring more of their party with them,  even if this does lead to a less convincing performance in the next election for we Liberal Democrats.
 In other words, I'm prepared to but the national interest before my party's interest as , I suspect, would most Liberal Democrats.
 Corbyn et al shamefully and misguidedly do the reverse

By contrast Tuesday's (24th September) unanimous Supreme Court ruling that our prime minister acted unlawfully in using residual prerogative powers to prorogue parliament certainly makes up for Monday's disappointment.

This is a moment of genuinely historic significance. Britain's shambolic uncodified constitution is actually working and, for, as far as I know, for the first time in our history a British prime minister has been declared to have acted unlawfully be our own judicial system.   

We should declare every 24th September  a National  Holiday  and  could call it Constitution Day.

What now happens is anyone's guess.  Ideally I should like our present parliamentarians, their powers restored,   grasp the nettle,  and Revoke Article 50 here and now.  They could do it before the end of the week.

Monday, 23 September 2019

A Liberal Democrat manifesto?

Some commentators claim that we Liberal Democrats  are so well identifed with trying to stop Brexit that, if and when Brexti is sroted out, we shall have nothing left on which to campaign.

Happily, a contribution by a Paul Hindley, on Liberal Democrat Voice, 20th September 2019, gives a good summary of various motinons passed at this years conference which , in my view , form a convincing basis on which to campaign.

Here's an outline:
 According to Hindley, the Liberal Democrats are now committed to:

  •  investing an extra £5 billion into the welfare system every year;
  • establishing a £50 billion Rebalancing Fund to address the investment disparities between the different nations and regions of the UK.;
  •   abolishing  benefit sanctions;
  •  establishing  a legal right to food;
  • building 100,000 new social homes a year;
  • ending   rough sleeping within five years; 
  • bringing  work capability assessments in-house; 
  • increase the minimum wage by 20% for people on zero hours contracts at times of normal demand;
  • raising the central government grants handed to local government in real terms every year, 
  • ending austerity in local government;
  • initiating  a “secure income guarantee”, the first tentative step on the way to making a universal basic income or a negative income tax.
 Hindley concludes:
At the next general election, we Liberal Democrats must embody three of our core principles; pro-European internationalism, radical political reform and social justice. We must stand to 

 Revoke, Reform and Redistribute

 Let’s revoke Article 50. Let’s reform our broken politics. Let’s redistribute wealth to the poorest and most vulnerable members of our society. Only then will the Brexit crisis be resolved. Only then will the social divisions that led to Brexit and the constitutional crisis which has been caused by Brexit be truly overcome. 

All that seems to me to be a sound basis for our domestic manifesto. and is something that most Labour -leaning voters will be able to support, along with genuine "One Nation" Tories.

I stil believe that the best sequence is to;

  • revoke Article 50 here and now with the present paarliement;
  • if our MPs haven't the courage, then have a People's vote on Brexit;
  • and after that, whatever the result, a General Election.

Whatever eventuates, when the General Election comes I shall be happy to campaign enthusiastically on a manifesto based on  the above.