Friday, 3 April 2020

A haircut for the airlines industries?


It's a sign of the times when I put Malthus into Google just to refresh memory the first dozen  entries were about a contemporary  singer or entertainer.  However, adding Thomas R produced the following summary of his theory:

Populations [have] a tendency to grow until the lower class suffered hardship, want and greater susceptibility to famine and disease, a view that is sometimes referred to as a Malthusian catastrophe.

Doubtless some of the more hard-hearted population pessimists  will take satisfaction in the likelihood that the present pandemic will diminish the world population mainly in the lower part of the triangle of wealth distribution.

Be that as it may, I think Malthusian doctrine has considerable relevance to the airlines industries. 


 Most airlines are begging their governments for financial rescue packages, and it is right that governments should respond - on the condition should be that, post crisis, the airline  industry should be considerably smaller. 

Whether that is achieved by letting some airlines go out of business, or requiring all airlines to take a haircut is a matter for negotiations.

For some time it has been obvious, becasue of the industry's contribution to the the climate crisis, that this outcome is desirable anyway.  Not only do we need a much smaller industry, but there is no case for the expansion of Heathrow, Leeds-Bradford, or any other airport.

The overwhelming bulk of aircraft travel,  certainly from the UK and other developed countries, is for tourism, leisure and pleasure. 

With modern distance communication facilities there is very little need for business travel.  A few people need to travel for work and some to maintain family connections.  But, now we know what we know, there is no justification for  the present vast industry to be maintained at its present size just to facilitate the fancies of we wealthy for sunshine, exotic experiences or sex. 

The second reason that has now emerged is that when the causes of spread of the coronavirus are analysed it is pretty certain that international air travel will be found to have been a major contributor (perhaps along with cruises - that industry will probably need to take a haircut as well)

So in this context Malthus has turned out to be right.  Nature is telling us something, and we should listen.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Tory stupidity in spades


John Stuart Mill, one of the founding fathers of modern liberalism, famously identified the  Conservative Party was the ‘stupid party’,  If that was true of the nineteenth century Tories  than the the Johnson Tory party, dominated by the arch-Brexiteers, is surely the stupid party in spades.

Before the coronavirus crisis dominated the news channels sharp observers noted the following:*


  • the government has decided not to participate in the Unified Patent Court, which is not even an EU body;
  • nor the  Early Warning and Response System (EWRS) , a web-based platform linking the European Commission, ECDC and public health authorities in EU/EEA countries responsible for measures to control serious cross-border threats to health, including communicable diseases;
  • nor the European Arrest Warren system , even though it already has several non EU members, as some Brexiteer campaigners pointed out, giving the impression that we should continue to participate in it;
  • and not  to remain members of the European Aviation Safety Agency, (EASA) but to develop our own national system at a cost of between £30m and £40m.  Our contribution to EASA has been £3m add £4m per year;
  • and to leave REACH , the  European Union regulation concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation & restriction of chemicals;
  • and to leave the European Medicine Agency.  Not  only that, the EMA has already left us. Its headquarters were in London and provided jobs and thousands of poftitable bed-nights in London hotels;
  • and we're leaving EURATOM,which, among other things, supplies the stuff that makes our X-ray machines in our hospitals work;
  • along with, probably, the Erasmus system which provides students and apprentices with support if they take the opportunity of studying an an EU country other than their own.  (Full disclosure: as a mature (indeed post-mature) student I benefited greatly from this scheme);
   It can be argued, and probably will be by enthusiastic Brexiteers, that some of these are EU instutions and we must make a clean break.  But, as pointed out, they are not all, an even those that are often have non-EU participants. 

 It seems that, if the word European appears in the title, we are out.  Shooting yourself in the foot and cutting off your nose to spite your face just don't describe the half of the stupidity involved.

The implications of some of the above will not become evident until the long run, when maybe we''ll all of us be dead.

But there is one idotic omission which may very easily affect the very soon to be dead.  

That is the decision, or rather non-decision, not to participate in the European initiative for the procurement of ventilators and protective equipment to counteract the effects of the coronavirus.

The EU has made it clear hat the UK, still in the transition period, was perfectly entitled to be part of it.  Our  govermnet's astonishing excuse is that it either didn't know, through a "communications problem," or didn't notice the date.

A letter in yesterday 's Guardian from Martin McKee and two other scientists sates clearly that the initiative had been well publicised, that they themselves had written an article about it in  the British Medial Journal  on the 31st January, and that the EU Commission had announced it  at a press conference on the 17th March, which was widely reported in the continental  press. 

As the scientists  aptly point out, this is an example o placing "Brexit over Breathing."

"Stupid" doesn't describe it

Criminal negligence is more apt.

As fellow humans we must be sypmpathestic to  Mr Johnson, Mr Hancock and any other member of the government who may be suffering fom the virus, but this piece of ideological obstinancy occurred when they were all fully functioning.

This appalling piece of ideological obstinacy over their duty of care to wards the people for whom hey are responsible should not be forgotten or buried under a tsunami of other detail.

They must be held to account. 

I am indebted to my friend John Cole, another former economics teacher, and also for  for 16 years a highly respected Liberal Democrat on Bradford City Council, for compiling much of the following.

Friday, 27 March 2020

UK: Land of low-cost gestures.



Last night thousands. some say millions, of people stood by their doors and windows at 8pm and clapped for the NHS.  

It's hard to believe that only four months ago these self-same people gave an 80 seat majority in parliament to a party that had starved  the NHS of resources for ten years, and aspires to break it it up and flog bits to the highest profit maximising bidder.

To be fair, maybe most of the clappers weren't Tory supporters at all, but enthusiastic  Socialists, Liberals and Scottish National.

And, to be accurate only 44% of those who voted  supported the Conservatives in December last year, and the rest, saving the 2% who voted for Brexit, supported parties more likely to have the preservation of the NHS closer to their hearts. 

But the point is that we find it much easier in this country to make a one-off kindly gesture that we do to grasp the reality  that if we want decent public services we have to be prepared to pay for them, and that means higher taxes for all.

In fact  I think the only party to advocate higher taxes for all in recent years is us Liberal Democrats, and that was just a rather pathetic "penny on income tax."  Labour today  tend to imply that decent public services can be financed by increasing the taxes of only the very rich: the rest of us get off scot free. 

That was not the view of the post-war Attlee government.

Maybe the awfulness of the coronavirus crisis will bring about the change in our public perception of reality  similar to that  of the Second world War, which enabled  post war Labour to build up our welfare state.  

I look forward to the next election when parties are bidding, not to reduce taxes, not just to cut down on tax avoidance, evasion and havens, but for all of us to pay a realistic price for the kind of state that makes life worth living. 

Or will we just go back to the fantasy land of "more with less" supported by weasel words and cost-free gestures.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Our flacid upper lip.


I think it was sometime in the 1960s when the electricity in one or more of the the London Underground lines failed and passengers were locked in carriages stranded in tunnels. After an hour or two patience and fortitude cracked, windows were smashed and passengers poured out onto the lines.  Whether this was the result of anger or a dash for freedom is not clear, but some of the press reported it as the end of Britain's reputation as the home of the phlegmatic, "show them we can take it," stiff upper lip Blitz Spirit.

Of course the Blitz Spirit itself was by no means universal.  There was looting, there were spivs, a "black"* market and profiteering.  Nor was there universal deference.  I've read recently that the King and Queen were booed on at least one of their visits tot he East  End.

Events of the last few days have demonstrated that, in spite of universal secondary education and vastly more comfortable living conditions, public behaviour has deteriorated rather than improved.  Shelves of essentials have been stripped in most supermarkets, "self first" people have brushed aside NHS workers and the elderly in a supermarket  that had tried to reserve an hour during which these essential workers and most vulnerable could have priority.  And despite repeated advice to keep at least two meters apart, the weekend saw crowded shops,  beaches and parks,  and second home owners flocking  towards rural areas where medical services are even thinner on the ground than elsewhere.

Prime Minister Johnson looks pained and tells us that we really must learn to do what he tells us.

I suspect one of the reason so may people don't is that he is a proven serial liar who has demonstrated again and again that his only principle is his own advancement.  So why should they believe him now?

But Johnson is not the only culprit: he is just possibly the worst example of a culture of prevarication, half truths, misinformation, exaggeration, smugly-assumed unawareness of previously immovable positions, and now fake news, which has come to dominate our politics in the last fifty years.

Tony Blair and the "dodgy dossier " about WMD in Iraq poised to destroy us in 45 minutes remains probably the most destructive example to date.  Michael Gove, who in 2016 publicly declared that Johnson was not fit  for public office is now  now serving (cheerfully?) in Johnson's cabinet. The lies told in the Brexit referendum are too well known to bother repeating. The "red lines" that were sacrosanct in the early Brexit negotiations  are now ignored and agreements which cross them are hailed as glorious victories.

None of this excuses the decline in standards of public behaviour, but today's politicians bear considerable  responsibility for it.  Too many at the top are clearly not men and women of high principle dedicated to the country's service.

If and when this crisis is over we need to clear  up our act.

*When I taught economics we tried not to use this phrase but rather referred to the "informal" economy.  However, that is what it was called a the time, and for a long time afterwards.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Exeunt Buffoon Johnson...


...preferably pursued by a bear.

Mr Johnson is, of course, no buffoon, but a very shrewd man.  He has calculated, sadly correctly, that acting as a P G Wodehouse jackass- type will appeal to the electorate and get him where he wants to be.  So he won the London mayoralty twice in spite of making a mess of the job, and in spite of being being a failure as the buffooning foreign secretary, went to to become prime minister.

Now he realises that the upper-class-twit persona is not appropriate for the coronavirus pandemic, so the buffoon veneer is cast off and more serious facade adopted.

With astonishing chutzpah (possible something you learn at Eton,) he now appears in press conferences  flanked by the Chief Medical Officer  and the Chief Scientific Officer.  Mantras about "following the science" and "expert opinion" are repeated ad nauseam by ministers now permitted to appear on the Today Programme. The Britain that had "had enough of experts" is now airbrushed out of our history.  

How differenly our membership of the EU would have been resolved if Brexiteer Johnson had appeared flanked by the Governor of the Bank of England and the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury.

It is clear that Johnson is carefully covering  his back.  If the effects of the coronavirus are more devastating in the UK than in comparable countries than he can pass the blame onto the experts.

He may well have to do this, because the initial advice appears to have been mistaken.

In an analogy with "market rules OK" economics, the original aproach seems to have been to let the disease run its course.  A minority of vulnerable people, the elderly and those with underlying conditions, would catch it and die, but the overwhelming majority, inducing almost all children, would suffer only mild symptoms, recover, and the population as a whole would achieve "herd immunity."  

Modelling by scientists at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine** (see below for correction) showed that this approach, even if herd immunity could  be achieved in this way rather than through the normal vaccination process, would lead to a scale of sickness and death which  would be politically unacceptable and overwhelm the NHS.  

As one of the vulnerable (aged 82) who would have been a prime candidate for sacrifice for the common good in this approach, I'm relieved that we have changed tack, even if it does result in my self-isolation for several weeks.

Just as the government expects us to forget its former contempt for experts, we are also expected to have collective amnesia on the effects of 10 years of Tory austerity, not just on our NHS but also on the civil service, local government and other public services.  

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, has located not so much a magic money tree or even an orchard, but a veritable magic money plantation.  £350bn is to be sprayed into the economy to avoid the worst economic effects of the virus.  

Well, that's all to the good; in fact a tenth of that in 2010 would have avoided a lot of misery. 

But even if the economy is propped up by this infusion (and, as is often the case, simply expanding the money supply does not necessarily get the money into the right places) all the money in the world cannot suddenly conjure up extra doctors and nurses, extra hospital beds,more ICU equipment,  more local government health officers, more civil servants, more care homes and qualified carers.  

As a slogan "Whatever it takes," is a worthy successor to "our long- term economic plan," "strong and stable" and "get Brexit done" - an effective piece of PR with which to deceive the public, but of little practical value.

What we need is a sprit of self-sacrifice  and discipline.  Neither  Johnson nor his cabinet are effective role-models for these virtues.

** Sorry,I misremembered.  The research was not from the LSHTM but , according to an article in today's "Guardian"  by Dr Richard Hatton, editor of "The Lancet," by researchers at Imperial College.  The reasoning did not require higher mathematics.  The  laissez faire approach  assumed that 60% of the UK's 6.6m population  would get the disease.  That's just just short of 40m people.  If 1% of them die (the going rate) that's around 400 000 people.  

In China, where the spread of the virus appeasers to have been slowed if not halted , the total number of deaths so far is 3 245. 

Of course there's still some way to go, but thank goodness for the change of tack.

Friday, 13 March 2020

A mea culpa budget.


Well it certainly should be so labelled.

I have been studying economics for over 60 years now, and have throughout that time felt that budgets are grossly overhyped.  There was a time when some MPs wore top hats to celebrate Budget Day, (Rees Mogg prototypes?) and the newspapers, Guardian included, play up to the hysteria with speculation about what might be announced and then follow up with embarrassing tables on how the incomes of  households of different sizes and ages will be affected.

Full disclosure: according to one of this year's tables my income will increase by £4.05 a week, which, as my Australian friends would put it, is "better than a poke in the eye with a burnt stick," but hardly life changing.  However on anther page the table says the budget will make no difference at all to my income. "No worries," (another Australian-ism) it's ample for my needs anyway.

I suppose that these tiny variations can be very helpful to households that are desperately on the breadline, but not for most of us. And, sadly, and as always, those who benefit most from budgets are those whose incomes make them pretty comfortable anyway.

The whole idea that materialism is king and and that tiny variations in our ability to consume are life-enhancing (or not) is a damning comment on the tawdriness of our society.

Given that this budget takes place in Lent it would be far more appropriate  to construct  tables on the extent to which our attitude as a society towards our fellow humans, other  creatures and the environment has changed. Has our ability to "do as we would be done by," particularly  in relation to migrants, asylum seekers and the homeless, improved or deteriorated? Are we more or less resolved to limit our use of the earth's scarce resources so there's plenty  left for of future generations?  Are we still polluting the gifts of nature, or caring for them better?

These calculations, and many similar,  could indeed by life-enhancing.

However, although minor variations in household incomes  make little difference to the quality of our lives, variations in government taxation and expenditure make a massive difference, not just because they are by comparison massive, but also becasue they have a "multiplier effect." (see a text book: there is no time to go into it here.)

So Mr Sunak's expansionary budget (or spraying money round like water) is to be welcomed in the sense that "there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over ninety-and-nine just persons who need no repentance".

This blog, and many other more authoritative commentators, are among the ninety-and-nine just persons becasue we've been hammering the case fro Keynesian expansion for 10 years or so.  Rather than looking so pleased with themselves it would be nice to see the Tory front bench looking a little apologetic for 10 years of damaging and unnecessary austerity, which has caused  such pain  to the weakest in society.

Whilst the over-all effects of the budget will be beneficial, in the sense that Keynes is believed to have said "if you cannot think of anything better to do, pay some men to dig holes and others to fill them up again,"  Sunak's expenditure could have been more usefully directed.  Improvements to the northern rail network will do far more good than HS2: as would any further expenditure on the public transport that ordinary people actually use. The failure to re-enact the tax increases on motor fuel make a nonsense of the government's claims to be giving priority to reducing carbon emissions and pollution. Splashing money at an NHS almost on its knees after ten years underfunding is not going to heal it over night, and needs to be accompanied by other measures to improve staffing and working conditions at all levels.  We need urgent policies to expand the care system and reward properly the people who work in it (rather than the hedge funds that own so much of it.)

The greatest multiplier effect would result from increasing the incomes of those on benefits and the low paid, because they are more likely to spend their money in this economy  rather than salt it way in a tax haven or treat themselves to an extra foreign holiday.  If the Tories are true converts to Keynesianism they should take note.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Land of misplaced glory


There have been two announcements over the weekend to boost our fading self-confidence.

The "new" British passport is to be issued from the end of next month. Its cover will revert to the former blue (though I had a good look at my old one and, even in the daylight, it seems to me to be black) and will not mention the EU.  It was, however, designed in France and will be manufactured in Poland.  (The French sounding but British company Thomas de la Rue failed to get the contract.)  Further and better particulars are available here.  I find  it acutely embarrassing that we attach such symbolic importance to such a pathetic gesture.

It has also been announced that on the 8th May, the 75th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, there are to be commemorative parades, services of thanksgiving (national congratulation?)  in Westminster Abbey and probably elsewhere, and recordings of a speech by Winston Churchill blasted out in various public places.  This year 8th May falls on a Friday, but it will be a public holiday, not an extra one (the Tories aren't that generous) but to replace the normal early May Bank Holiday.

In my view, whilst not wishing to minimise the heroism and noble intentions of the many who fought in the War, the best way of remembering the conflict would be to show newsreels of the thousands  of refugees and displaced persons, the maimed and injured, and reminders of the 24, 000,000 military and civilian deaths suffered in the conflict by the Soviet Union, 20,000,000 Chinese, 6,000 000+ Germans, 5,600 000 Poles, (will their contribution to the success of the Battle of Britain even get a mention?) 2,000,000+ Japanese, 1,500,000 Indians, along with approximately half a million each in France, the UK, Italy and the USA.  Further and better particulars are available here to put things in perspective.

What is needed is not a nostalgic view of an imagined glorious past, but a reminder of why the UN, EU, Bretton Woods institutions, and   various Declarations of Human Rights with supporting courts were created: civilised nations working together to to build a fairer and more peaceful world.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

The Return of Keynesianism - inadvertently?


To note the the 83rd anniversary of the publication of Keynes's "General Theory " a leader in yesterday's Guardian gave this expanded definition of Keynesianism:


  • a state-guided investment policy
  • a generous social welfare system
  • progressive taxes
  • a low interest rate
  • monetary policy run by a nationalised Bank of England
  • strict capital controls
  • managed trade
  • non-casino financial markets.
I love the bit about "non-casino financial markets" (though Keynes himself did quite well on behalf of his college by dealing on the stock exchange).

The article claims  that Keynesianism was abandoned because the Tories felt that generous welfare spending undermined capitalism.  I'm not so sure about this.  In my view Keynesianism fell into disrepute not because of any flaws in the theory, but because its use was abused. 

The theory was and is that the government should moderate the effects of the trade cycle by deficit spending to avert a downswing (leading to stagnation and higher unemployment) but take demand out of the economy (by raising taxes of cutting expenditure, or both ) to moderate the inflationary effects of an upswing.

Unfortunately govermnets quickly learnt to use the policy, not so much to control the trade cycle, but rather the election cycle.  Bursts of expenditure were engineered to create a feel-good factor as an election approached, and then another one a just in time for the next election.  The "pay back" bit tended to be forgotten. This  led to absurdly high rates of inflation in the 1970s.

Keynesianism was replaced as the predominate orthodoxy by neo-liberal monetarism, growth was stifled has been virtually non-existent since 2008.  Unemployment has remained high (don't be fooled by the Thatcher  revisions of the method of calculating it, and the present precarity of those on zero-hours contracts, part-time workers who want to be full-time, and the involuntary self-employed, whose existence makes the crude figures look attractive)

The irony is that, if the Johnson government turns out to be as prolific as its utterances pretend (and the forced "amalgamation of No 11 with No 10 indicates that that is on the cards) then this Tory  government could bring about the revival that most macro-economists (and this humble blog) have been calling  for since 2010.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

No case for HS2


I suppose that, now the Johnson government has engineered for itself an 80 seat majority, we shall have to get used to fuming with impotence as it imposes wrong decisions on us.

HS2 is a case in point.  Given the enormous urgency of climate change, why on earth are we still toying (if a cost of £100bn+ can be called toying) with high speed vanity projects to whizz the wealthy hither and thither?  HS2, along with the expansion  of Heathrow, and Leeds and Bradford airports, should be off the agenda.  We really do have to shift our priorities.


Specific to HS2, at least one alternative project, by railway experts Quentin Macdonald and Colin Elliff, offers far better connectivity at a fraction of both the environmental and monetary costs. It is called HSUK. Details of the scheme can be found here http://www.highspeeduk.co.uk/
 If you're not convinced,Christian Woolmer, sometime aspirant Labour candidate for the mayoralty of London and a another well- informed railway-buff, has a highly critical article in the London Review of Books which is well worth a read. Find it at  http://www.lrb.co.uk/v36/n08/christian-wolmar/whats-the-point-of-hs2

My own inexpert opinion is that HS2, if it goes ahead, is more likely to suck enterprise out of our region  to London, rather than energise the Northern Powerhouse. 

There is just a hope that some of the new Conservative MPs  elected to represent Labour's former heartlands will flex their  muscles and give the scheme the thumbs down.

Friday, 7 February 2020

Windermere's children: What's in a name?


Yesterday I re-watched the BBC 2 programme about the 300+ Polish refugee children  brought to the UK  in 1945 for "rehabilitation" after their incarceration in concentration camps.  For details see this previous post:

https://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=4732407426313451205#editor/target=post;postID=8466891997733265179;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=3;src=postname 

and if you missed it I urge you to watch it on

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000dtcz/the-windermere-children

One of the most striking features is the emphasis the children place on their identities, names and families.

The first boy asked to introduce himself automatically uncovers his forearm to reveal his number tattooed concentration camp number.  We get the message of dehumanisation.

One  boy was included in the group at the last minute because another was withdrawn for reasons that I failed to catch.  Unfortunately the "paperwork" wasn't changed and so he was travelling under the others name.  He see him anxiously enquiring as to whether this has been rectified.  I think that by the end of their stay in Windermere it hadn't been but he was assured that: "as the wheels turned and in the fullness of time, it would be.  Welcome to England."

A third boy is addressed by the archetypally insensitive PE master as: "Son."  He responds angrily that he is the son of ***** ***** of Poland. Told that "It's just a phrase," he replies: "Well, don't use it with me."

A modern trend that I find disturbing as that we are urged, and in some cases required, to blur or disguise our identities with "user names."  These are widely used on social media platforms and we can have no idea who is saying what about whom, or being rude to whom and telling lies about whom.  

As Peter Pomerantsev in "This is Not Propoganda" describes, in the fields of "fake news" and opinion distortion the use of fake or untraceable identities is endemic.

This poses  a serious danger to the working of democracy, and is in urgent need of international regulation.

In all spheres, and not just politics, we need to know who is saying what, how they can be contacted for correction if necessary, and, where appropriate, who is financing  them.

Those Polish refugees knew from bitter experience the importance of their identities.  We should take a leaf our of their book.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Lock 'em up ant throw away the key?


The Tories have long prided themselves on being the "tough on crime" party, advocating tougher sentences for  all the errors some of our flesh are heir to.  It's popular stuff and helps win elections.  

So it's no surprise that the government's most publicised reaction to Sunday's knife attack in Streatham by  convicted terrorist Sudesh Ammam is to  alter the law so that those convicted of terrorist offences lose their right to automatic release when they've served half their sentence.

What comes as a surprise to me, and I suspect to many others , is that such a right to "automatic release" exists at all.  I had supposed that early release, for terrorists or anyone else, was conditional on good behaviour.  Such a condition is necessary to enable the prison authorities to steer their inmates toward co-operation.  It should be up to an independent parole board to decided whether or not "good behaviour" has been achieved.

Clearly Ammam  had not co-operated with the prison (he had refused to take part in "deradicalisation" activities) so did not deserve any favours and should not have been released.  So if that is what the law actually  says, then it should be changed, though whether it is fair to change it retrospectively in the case of prisoners to whom early release has already been promised is another matter.

However, the government  also urgently needs to look carefully and equally urgently at the other factors involved: the gross overcrowding in our prisons; state of the prison education service; facilities for rehabilitation; and the strength  of the probation service for supervision after release (and supervision of the many  who have committed offences but don't really need to be sent to prison.)  

All of these service have been starved since the austerity regime post 2010, and they weren't all that well funded before .

It was a Conservative Home Secretary,   Douglas Hurd, who warned their conference that, vote winner though it might be, "Prison is an expensive was of making bad people worse." 

Our prison, rehabilitation and probation services are now a national disgrace.  We can hope that the newly prolific Tories will use these recent and unwelcome incidents to put the fundamentals  right , and not just rely on the popular headline-winning gesture

Friday, 31 January 2020

EU: "This blessed plot* -" an interlude.


31st January, 2020

Day of shame, day of sorrow, day of humiliation.  The day we detach ourselves from a serious attempt at civilised progress.  A day our government of  deceivers  "celebrates" with the issue of a tin-pot 50p coin which, in my youth was worth 10 shllings (serious money) and is now the equivalent of a threepenny-bit.** Says it all.

First, let’s be clear about with what we’re dealing.  This is a coup d’├ętat.  We normally think of these being violent, or involving the military, but this is a coup nevertheless.  A  small group, but backed by enormous wealth and a supportive press have taken over the reins of the state to further their own ends. 

You  This group has never accepted the decision to join the EU, they’ve simmered in the background (John Major’s “bastards.”), supported a populist UKIP party and poisoned the press against the EU over a long period.  The three major parties have helped by using the EU as a scapegoat for unpopular decisions   Even we Liberals/Liberal Democrats have been complicit in this.  We hardly get “We are in favour of the EU” out of our mouths before there’s a  " . . .but."
“. ”
 Alarmed by a haemorrhage of support to  UKIP an overconfident David Cameron decided to finesse them with an “In-Out” referendum. Even though it was technically “advisory” he made the constitutionally invalid promise that the result would be observed, ”No ifs, no buts.”

Again all parties were complicit in this irresponsibility. No Liberal Democrat, in the Commons or the Lords (with lawyers on £300 a day just for signing in!) came forward to demand a super-majority, agreement of all parts of the UK, or any other normal safeguard such as any run-of the mill golf club or music society would include on any major decision affecting its constitution

A flawed referendum, an electorate in which the most affected were excluded,  lies and misrepresentation, illegal expenditure and possibly foreign involvement to destabilise the country, led to a narrow but apparent victory for Leaving.


For three years, in spite of some of the largest demonstrations and petitions in our history, the Commons failed to own up to its ineptitude and decide to repudiate the result of the flawed referendum, but kept on digging to find a way of squaring the circle of respecting the tiny referendum majority  while minimising the damage to the country’s economy, reputation and participation in the politics of the wider world. 
  
Despite flagrantly abusing the constitution and brushing aside its accepted conventions, thus bringing an end to the “good chaps theory of government,” the chancer but proven election winner Johnson took advantage of a weak opposition, what appears to have been a bribe to the Brexit party leaders, (we shall see),  and failure to form a “Remain” alliance and, although polling only 47% of the vote against 53% of the combined Remainers, has been returned with a Commons majority of 80 or so.  A condition of fighting as a Conservative was apparently a pledge to support Johnson on Brexit.  The clique’s  position seems impregnable. 

 We must not give up hope.

The UK's basic problem is that, whereas most if of the remaining 27saw joining the EU as a success, for Britain it was an acknowledgement of failure.

  For the original Six, after the second bloody war in half a century, it was an attempt to so integrate the countries of the continent  to make future wars impossible.  For Spain, Portugal, Greece and the Eastern European countries, joining the EU was an acceptance that they had successfully thrown off authoritarian dictatorships and become respectable democracies.

At the beginning, the formation of the European Coal and steel community in 1951, Britain  stood aloof. It might even be argued that at the Messina Conference which  led to the Treaty of Rome  and at which the UK was represented not my a minister but by a middle-ranking civil servant, a Russel Bretherton, we actually tried to frustrate progress.  However, the conference was successful and in 1957 the Six went ahead.

As the economies of the Six forged ahead and Britain stagnated, it took only four years for us to realise our  error, and in 1961, under the Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, the British government applied to join.  After protracted negotiations, in1963 the French President Charles de Gaulle said "Non", and again in 1967.  

In 1970,under the Conservative PM Edward Heath, the UK made its third a application and, possibly because by this time de Gaulle had retired, ir was were third time lucky and were welcomed into the club on 1st January 1973.
Sadly we have never been more than a semi-detached member, more sulking on the side-lines than giving enthusiastic support.  Sections of the Labour Party, which became the government in 1974, wanted to pull out, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson "settled" the matter by having a referendum, in which the "people's will" proved to be to Remain by a majority of two to one - a much more solid seal of approval than the narrow 52/48% margin Leave achieved in 2016.

Our politicians in the mid 20th century would dearly have liked the UK to "go it alone."  They reluctantly realised that was not feasible.  Alone we were then still "a leading power of the second rank" but sinking slowly.  In the EU, together with our neighbours, we could still retain a seat at the World's top tables.

Prime Minister Johnson thinks that by optimistic bluster he can reverse history and that a soar-away  Britain will flourish alone.  I believe he is wrong.  We shall certainly survive and we shall remain rich by World standards.  We could all be comfortable if our national wealth were fairly shared.  But we shall gradually slip from being a "leading power" down to the third or fourth rank, in thrall to the US (effectively a 51st State?), China, India and, of course the EU itself.  

It will not be sudden - more like a slow puncture:  economically, culturally,  and politically we shall become less and less significant

Bur as time goes by those not allowed to vote in 2016, those deluded by false promises, the young deprived of a truly international future, will gradually form a more convincing majority.

The mission for we Remainers is to keep the flame alive.  

We must hammer away at the fact that Johnson's claim to be implementing  "the will of the people" is fraudulent and purely the result of our crude electoral system.  Of course, we shall be mocked as "bad losers" but both time and logic are on our side. In the long run , and before we're all dead,  Victor Hugo's prediction:

"A day will come when you, France; you England; you Germany; all you nations of the continent, without losing your distinct qualities and glorious individuality , will merge into a higher unity  and found the European brotherhood."

will again be fulfilled. It will be a sisterhood too, and I hope include Scotland and Wales and all of Ireland.

Roll on

*The delightfully ambiguous title "This blessed plot" is borrowed from the late Hugo Young's excellent account, subtitled : "Britain and Europe from Churchill to Blair" published by Macmillan, 1998

**  For younger readers: there were 12 pennies (d) in a shilling (s) and 20 shillings in a pound (£).   A threepenny- bit was a brassy-looking coin slightly smaller that the present  pound coin, and,  as far as I remember, with 12 sides. So there were four 3d "bits" in a shilling and each one was worth one 80th of a £ (compared with the current 50p, of which there are two to a £).  But you could buy quite a lot with a 3d bit: eg  ice-cream a bag of chips and around four miles-worth of bus-rides.

PS.  (added 1st February)  This letter from a Dave Skinner, was published in the Guardian  on 31st January.  It is a brilliant description of how we have arrived at the present mess.

"I am sad to see the UK leaving the EU, as are large numbers of my European colleagues.  I am British and have worked for the EEC - and then the EU - since I graduated in 1973.  I retired several years ago.  I remember the positive buzz in the early years of membership.

But then the rot set in.  The UK began to think it was special, too good for the rest of them.  Money back, opt-outs and so on.  In the 1980s we saw the beginning of Euromyths and the media enthusiasm for Brussels- bashing.   UK governments did not have the courage to emphasise the benefits of membership, and even laid the blame for many of their own unpopular decisions on the EU.  The British Public still think that "health and safety" is an EU invention.

This arrogant trend finally resulted in David Cameron's pusillanimous referendum.  The campaign was ridiculously vague, based on lies, and serious malpractices have still not been investigated.  The last three years have been a misery for those of us who know the reality (and were not allowed to vote in the referendum)  and had to listen to the lies spouted about the organisation we have been proud to work for.  

The outlook for the UK is not good.  The brave new world the government is promising could well become the desperate flounderings of a has-been island.  What a waste."