Friday, March 29, 2019

BREXIT: The Machine Stops

344 to 286: for the third time, and for many differing reasons, Parliament has rejected the velvet-clad handcuffs of the Prime Minister’s draft Withdrawal Agreement.

‘But Kuno, is it true? Are there still men on the surface of the earth? Is this — this tunnel, this poisoned darkness — really not the end?’
He replied: ‘I have seen them, spoken to them, loved them. They are hiding in the mist and the ferns until our civilization stops. To-day they are the Homeless — to-morrow—’
‘Oh, to-morrow — some fool will start the Machine again, to-morrow.’
‘Never,’ said Kuno, ‘never. Humanity has learnt its lesson.’

-          E. M Forster, ‘The Machine Stops’ (1928)

The EU Parliament’s Mr Verhofstadt is willing to show flexibility now - unlike with the Irish Backstop, yet just as the Community did with its supposedly unalterable rule on Italy’s debt-to-GDP ratio at the time of her entry into the EU.

 ‘The only way to avoid a no deal now is for MPs to finally act next week & define a cross-party way forward. If they do, we are ready to change the Political Declaration.’

Mrs May threatens a General Election. Bring it on, say not just Labour but disaffected Tory members across the country. If she wishes to bring the Party down with her, like blind Samson, so be it. What would be in its manifesto this time?

And what has the modern Conservative Party conserved?

As we began our Common Market membership in January 1973, the then PM Edward Heath told the nation on TV:

‘There are some in this country who fear that in going into Europe we shall in some way sacrifice independence and sovereignty. These fears, I need hardly say, are completely unjustified.’

17 years later, he said the opposite on BBC TV’s Question Time:

Peter Sissons: The single currency, a United States of Europe, was all that in your mind when you took Britain in?
Edward Heath: Of course, yes.

For by then, with Mrs Thatcher about to fall from office, Heath must have felt the double satisfaction of seeing ‘that woman’ defeated and his dream of a Britain permanently locked into the EU coming true at last.

He was not to know that Lord Justice Laws would rule, in 2002, that Parliament had retained her sovereignty throughout and in fact did not have the power to give it away (see para 58 here.)

How was it possible for Conservative Prime Ministers Macmillan and subsequently Heath, to plan and carry out their Constitutional Gunpowder Plot? For it was clear that they knew exactly what they were about, since the Lord Privy Seal had told them (December 1960):

‘It would in theory be possible for Parliament to enact at the outset legislation which would give automatic force of law to any existing or future regulations made by the appropriate organs of the Community. For Parliament to do this would go far beyond the most extensive delegation of powers, even in wartime, that we have experienced and I do not think there is any likelihood of this being acceptable to the House of Commons.’

Yet that is exactly and precisely what happened. And a later Conservative PM, David Cameron, spent millions of public money in a pamphlet, to convince us in 2016 that we should stay in; and even got the leader of a foreign country, President Obama, to fly in and say the same.

All Conservatives!

And today, whatever its motives, Labour has saved us, for now – only 5 voted with the Government.
There is still grinding and crashing going on, but the Machine. Must. Stop.

FRIDAY MUSIC: Golden Hour Of Brexit, by JD

In the Film "The Wild One" Marlon Brando plays Johnny, the leader of a motor cycle gang. One of the most telling scenes in the film is this exchange between a girl and Johnny -

"Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?"
"What've you got?"

It felt a bit like that in the House of Commons on wednesday night when every single amendment was voted down. They were rebelling against everything because, like Johnny, they do not know what they want, only what they don't want.

Naturally, the cartoonists and gag writers have been having fun. Take your pick from this selection -

- but I think we should have a bit of music in these difficult times  to provide some tranquility(?)
Or maybe not!

Purcell's Cold Genius (fifth clip from the top) seemed appropriate given that they are all frozen with fear they might lose their seats at the next election.

You might prefer this 'fairest isle' which is from a French production of the opera and is very good:

Yes, this fairest isle or as Shakespeare described it -

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England. 

In that book I referenced the other day, All Done With Mirrors, part of it includes the speculation/theory that these islands and especially the Orkneys is the centre of the world and the origin of European civilisation. The standing stones all over these islands and as far south as carnac in France are all distributed in geometric proportion with the Ring of Brodgar being the centre. The Greeks referred to Hyperboria in the far north which could have been these islands.

Blake wrote " All things Begin and End in Albion's Ancient Druid Rocky Shore":

He illustrates why we are apart from and above the EU!

Europe will eventually come together just as Wessex, Mercia, Hibernia etc gradually merged into England then the UK, and Europe will be governed by Albion.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

An Email To Quentin Letts

Dear Mr Letts

I am sorry you have left the Daily Mail, but quite understand why. Under the egregious Greig it has become a crossword with garbage attached. You are one of the few people that made it worth reading (I wonder how much longer Littlejohn will stick it out?)

But judging by today's column in the Sun (re Letwin), you seem to have swapped your epee for a bludgeon. Are Sun readers really not up to appreciating your usual - natural - wit and subtlety? I think not. In fact if you were to continue writing as you did in the Mail I would consider making the Sun my regular, despite its being owned by a saltwater crocodile. But perhaps the house style is necessary - I guess I have to leave it to your professional discretion.

Btw I think we have discovered a new political principle: no-one called Oliver should be allowed anywhere near the levers of power; whether Letwin, Robbins or Cromwell.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Brexit: There, And Back Again

After the usual argy-bargy, we had agreed that the trip would be to the seaside. Not that the decision stopped the sulking and door-slamming, of course.

But the real trouble started when Fi insisted that the children had to decide beforehand what flavour ice-cream we were going to have – it had to be the same for all. Yurt, ever the reborn Labrador, insisted on a double scoop of chocolate; Pashmina, despite her teenage body dysmorphia, dug her heels in for strawberry.

Of course we hadn’t told them that the beach kiosk didn’t offer either and when we broke the news there were tears and shouting.

So this morning Fi kept phoning the vendor who now only stocked a mint and quinoa mix – we suspect that’s because the first was all that grew in his garden and the second was leftovers from his cereal cupboard, but he claimed that all his customers wanted it and in any case that’s all they were going to get.

Then the children started to call her a bad mother and Fi said, fine, you work it out between you. The train was due to leave at ten and if they hadn’t sorted out their differences by then there’d be no ice cream at all, so there.

Well naturally, the inevitable happened and there’s an ongoing thumping and hair pulling situation in the lounge. Fi has been online and tried to change the tickets, but the only option is a later departure and much pricier fares, so now we’re over budget before we’ve even started.

I’m the shed and I suspect Fi is eyeing the organic Molina a Vento Grillo Siciliano in the fridge.


Aaaaand that’s democracy, folks.

At least, the Parliamentary version.

Like John Major and David Cameron, Mrs May has spent a long time trying to ride two horses; as in Ben-Hur, except in this Circus Maximus the steeds are galloping away from the finishing post and heading for a fork in the road, determined to take both tracks at the same time.

There is a difference, though: Major, who reportedly prided himself on “knowing how to talk to the man in the four-ale bar” must have been surprised that the latter agreed with the “bastards” in his party; Cameron’s misunderstanding about oddballs who could be sectioned with a visit from Doctor Democracy, turned out a right Eton mess.

At least May knows the score. Now it’s the Commons that is full of “fruitcakes and loonies.”

It’s no use her telling them that the Referendum was on a binding official promise to respect the result; that there was a nationwide majority for Leave that was larger than in many Commons divisions; that most MPs were re-elected on the promise of implementing Leave. For they are the People Who Think They Know Better – the ones that have being making a rowlocks of the country for decades.

And now they’ve thrown out the coach driver and taken charge of the Magical Mystery Tour. They’re all going to sit in the driver’s seat and agree the destination.

What could possibly go wrong?

It’s going to be an interesting few days.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Cashless, by JD

Following the post about the prospect of a cashless society
and the observation that cash in bank notes is not real money, our blog host sent me this link which highlights 'the risks of a cashless society' -

An interesting post and  there were two things he wrote in there which are worth further comment:

(1) "They [the Government] firmly believe if everyone paid their taxes, they would have no problem. Of course, that is a fantasy. Whatever they collect will NEVER be enough to sustain their power."

I remember two years ago Narendra Modi decided to outlaw large denomination notes because 'they were used by tax dodgers' and later I read somewhere that his 'experiment' had been a disaster because it turned out that there was very little in the way of 'black money' circulating but more importantly many businesses collapsed and unemployment went up. Plus it cost the Government in that it resulted in lower tax revenues. Can't recall where I read that but I have found this Wiki page with a summary of events -
Further down the Wiki page it has these reactions from a few real experts -
"Steve Forbes described the move as 'Sickening And Immoral'. He stated that "What India has done is commit a massive theft of people's property without even the pretense of due process--a shocking move for a democratically elected government." Nobel laureate Paul Krugman said that it is difficult to see gains from demonetisation, while there may be significant costs to it. Economic analyst Vivek Kaul stated in a BBC article that "demonetisation had been a failure of epic proportions.""

(2): "In Europe, there is already the tradition of canceling their currency. This is done to prevent people from hoarding cash and not paying taxes."

Long time ago it occurred to me that changing the design of banknotes was a subtle way of preventing people from keeping cash under the mattress. The last time the twenties were changed I had to go to the bank because my mother had rather a lot of notes neatly stuffed into envelopes. She had spent her whole life budgeting for the household and being thrifty. Saving up for what she and the family needed. Everyone did the same in the old days. The only outside savings she accumulated were the 'divi' on her Co-op shopping in an account there, all recorded in her 'Pass Book'. When I went to the bank with the envelopes full of cash I just said "Don't ask!" but they understood because they had mothers like that too and knowing the people who worked there helped also. How things have changed and not for the better. I still keep a wary eye on the papers for the first hint of any redesign of the currency.

Over the years I have learned the hard way that financial institutions are, like governments, not your friend! I know now that my small private pension was pointless with the returns being a lot less than promised and we all know what successive Governments have done to our pension funds.
I also know that the insurance and surety companies will do anything to avoid paying out money. Do you know the difference between a bookmaker and an insurance company? The bookie will pay you without any argument over the sum he owes you!

In the eighties virtually all mortgages were linked in some way to endowments or other 'investment for growth' vehicle. I was looking to buy a property in 1987 but could not find a normal straightforward repayment mortgage. They were very rare beasts indeed so I abandoned the idea of buying at that time. It was quite obvious to even my limited understanding of finance that the projected growth of these funds was highly unlikely to happen and so it proved.

So where to place any savings to keep it safe from all the 'sticky fingers' of government agencies and other financial  wizards with their promises of unlimited milk and honey flowing from their 'safe' investments?

Not a new problem as I see from this randomly generated blog post which appeared in the right hand sidebar of this blog today.


Yesterday I saw the end of one of those RT documentaries and it was Noam Chomsky saying 'money is a form of speech' quoting a legal judgment, Buckley v Valeo 1976. That pricked up my ears so I looked for it and found this -

Truly, "the Law is a ass" as Dickens observed. Legal opinion is based on the extreme logical definition of the words in the legal text with judgments handed down which defy common sense. Remember Bill Clinton defending himself during the Lewinsky affair "... it depends on what the definition of 'is' is."

Humpty Dumpty is the patron saint of Lawyers everywhere -

 “When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
’The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.”

― Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

I think we have inhabited a looking glass world for a long long time!

Brexit: We Never Lost Our Sovereignty

… but we could.

Until recently I thought as so many still do, that the EU had taken over. At the Third Reading of the 1993 Maastricht Bill, that great if sometimes a little crazy Parliamentarian Tony Benn said it was “my last speech in a free Parliament.

Not, it turns out, quite, thanks to our judiciary.

It began with a pound of bananas. Or rather, 454 grammes.

In February 2000, trading standards officers visited the Sunderland market stall of greengrocer Steve Thorburn and warned him against using pounds and ounces. After another visit in which they erased the authorisation stamps on his weighing machines, they finally raided him on 4 July 2000, seized his scales and successfully prosecuted him in the Magistrate’s Court in March 2001.

For what?

The Weights and Measures Act of 1985 had entitled traders to continue using Imperial as well as metric units; but the Act was amended in 1994 in accordance with various EU directives, outlawing the use of Imperial measures after the end of 1999.

Now, the EU only had the power to issue such orders because we had joined the EEC under the 1972 European Communities Act. A key point is that ECA 1972 included provisions of the type known here as ‘Henry VIII clauses’ that allow Ministers to pass secondary legislation on matters arising – ‘statutory instruments.’ Hence the basket of Weights and Measures Act 1985 amendments laid before Parliament on 19 July 1994 by the then Minister for Trade and Industry, Lord Strathclyde – see Column 182 in Hansard here.

Statutory instruments represent a partial devolution of power from the Legislature to the Executive, obviating the need to pass new primary legislation and so escaping bothersome Parliamentary scrutiny. This is an issue that goes far beyond the meddlesome nuisances of the EU.

Thorburn’s defence was that of ‘implied repeal’: since the 1985 W&M Act came later, surely it overrode ECA 1972? The magistrate correctly observed that EU law had primacy so long as we were still in the Community, and found against him.

Thorburn and other victims of Germaniacally zealous officialdom appealed to the High Court in 2002. Giving judgment against the ‘Metric Martyrs’, constitutional expert Lord Justice Laws explained that it was not a case of EU law versus British law, since ECA 1972 had imported the former into the latter.

So why could the 1985 law not ‘implicitly repeal’ the one from 1972?

The answer was that ECA 1972 is a ‘constitutional statute’ – a special kind that stands above the common run of laws. But – and here is the key to our prison – it arises from and remains in British law, and can be repealed by us. 

Laws LJ went on to say (para 58 here):

‘There is nothing in the ECA which allows the Court of Justice, or any other institutions of the EU, to touch or qualify the conditions of Parliament’s legislative supremacy in the United Kingdom. Not because the legislature chose not to allow it; because by our law it could not allow it. That being so, the legislative and judicial institutions of the EU cannot intrude upon those conditions. The British Parliament has not the authority to authorise any such thing. Being sovereign, it cannot abandon its sovereignty.’

And so, on 25 June 2018, the EU Withdrawal Act was passed.

I am sure that His Lordship is too modest to wish it, but surely he is a strong candidate for a permanent statue on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. As is a humble, freedom-loving greengrocer who died tragically young, mistakenly believing he had been defeated.

This is only the beginning. ‘We need to talk about Parliament’ – the use of statutory instruments, of Orders in Council (such a useful tool for the Constitutional vandal Blair), the general ‘bullying’ as Angela Eagle called it last week, of Parliament by the Executive.

Worse, Bruce Newsome's TCW article today shows the outrages that the latter, or at least the Prime Minister personally, is now prepared to attempt.

How tragic, that she seems willing to assist the relentless drive of the EU to make itself master of all Europe, and to snuff out our near-thousand-year-old flame of liberty before its captive nations try to light their own candles from it.

She has gone from laughing-stock to weeping-stock. She, and they, will, must, fail.

Friday, March 22, 2019

New post on "The Conservative Woman"

... in which I discuss Bercow's Monday statement and the points of order arising.


FRIDAY MUSIC: Fandango, by JD

The Fandango is a lively couples dance from Spain, usually in triple metre, traditionally accompanied by guitars, castanets, or hand-clapping ("palmas" in Spanish). Fandango can both be sung and danced.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Why the "Withdrawal Agreement" does NOT mean leaving the EU

Htp: Wiggiaatlarge, JD

I Promise To Pay The Bearer - Nothing, by JD

Reading this in the Daily Mail the other day reminded me that I had seen people waving their cards at the tills and then walking away without collecting any receipt or verification. How do they know at the end of the day what they have spent and where? Do they all have such wonderful photographic memories? Very often the purchase is for a minimal amount which baffles me even more.

But the use of credit cards and debit cards is annoyingly widespread. I say annoying because the users of cards are the ones who hold up the queue while they fumble in purse or wallet trying to find the card. Then they take an age to put their pin number into the reader and then take their time replacing said card in purse or wallet.

(It doesn't really annoy me, it just amuses me and I have all the time in the world.)

But in among the comments was this: "A misleading article. Whilst payment volume is higher by card, transaction volume is still note and coin ahead of card, including contactless."

So what exactly is the percentage of cashless transactions in the 'market place' and what is the percentage of cash purchases?

An illustrative tale:

I was watching the racing from Cheltenham last Friday (Gold Cup day) and enjoying it as usual of course. The coverage includes news from the 'betting ring' at regular intervals. There is one reporter standing watching the bookmakers and telling us about the changing odds. Before one of the races he was standing with £10,000 in cash in his hand and saying it was from a punter who was waging it on a particular horse, he then threw the money into the bookmaker's satchel while shouting at the camera. He did the same again before the Gold Cup. He counted out five bundles of £1000 each and said 'this is for a friend of mine' and he handed the money to the bookie and received a betting slip in return. (Both horses lost, by the way!)

So I thought to myself: how is that going to work in our new exciting and wonderful cashless society? And if 'cashless' betting ever arrives, what happens if you have a winner and you go to collect your winnings? "Give me your bank details please and we will transfer your winnings electronically.", no I don't think so.

 I can't imagine that the bookies will welcome such a thing. More to the point, owners and professional gamblers are all happier to deal in cash and some owners are very rich men indeed and are not without influence in this country.

And then I thought of other instances where cash is the best choice; car boot sales or craft fairs or 'flea' markets and other second hand markets.

My father always had a pocket full of cash and so did I in the days we were building houses. Most traders did prefer cash because it was and is quicker and easier than anything else if you need to buy materials and other odds and ends during the working day. In fact up to the early seventies there were still things like wage packets and people were paid with real cash money! (Pound notes are not 'real' money; they are promissory notes. It is written on every bank note - 'I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of £xyz')

I still pay for everything with cash as far as possible. In fact I have forgotten the pin number for my credit card; if I use it at all it is for buying on line. Last time I used it outside was to buy a second hand car - half cash and half card! I suppose I would get arrested if I tried to do that now :)

Will we all be forced into this plastic world or will enough people resist? And is it as widespread as the papers are telling us because I have seen contradictory articles saying that there is still £x billion in notes in circulation.

As my grandfather used to say when he looked at the state of the world "I'm glad I'm on the way out!" and then start laughing at the absurdity of life. I am pleased to say I have inherited his sense of humour!
Sackerson says:

The Bank of England responded to a Freedom Of Information request several years ago, saying:

"The link with gold was finally broken in 1931 and since that time there has been no other asset into which holders have the right to convert Bank of England notes. They can only be exchanged for other Bank of England notes. Nowadays public faith in the pound is maintained in a different way - through the Bank's operation of monetary policy, the object of which, by statute, is price stability."

Faith and trust are in short supply these days; and "price stability" doesn't mean what it used to. The BoE says: 

"Monetary policy affects how much prices are rising – called the rate of inflation. We set monetary policy to achieve the Government’s target of keeping inflation at 2%.

"Low and stable inflation is good for the UK’s economy and it is our main monetary policy aim."

To keep pace with target inflation (and how is that measured? RPI? CPI? Something else?) you need your bank account to give you 2.5% per annum pre-basic rate tax - on all your savings, not up to some wretchedly low limit.

Money used to be a store of value. For centuries, a loaf of bread was a penny. And as I said a few years ago:

"The Bank of England's website has a page that lets you calculate cumulative inflation for any period from 1750 onwards. According to them, a basket of goods and services costing £1 in 1750 would have cost (the equivalent of) £1.80 in 1900 - an average annual inflation rate of 0.3%. That period covers the tremendous increase in productivity introduced by the Industrial Revolution and further late-nineteenth-century scientific and technological developments, so inflation is not needed for business and prosperity."

Then there's the danger of strangers electronically hacking into one's bank account; and the wholesale spying by retailers and potentially the Government, on all our transactions.

But if you want something worse to worry about, there's the EU's Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive (BRRD). Under this, if a bank is in crisis, it can cut its debt to creditors and/or exchange the debt for a share in the ownership of the bank ("Congratulations! You are now part owner of a dodgy business!")

So what, silly creditors, who'd lend money to a bank, you might think. What many people still don't realise is that their bank deposits are no such thing - money left with a bank is, legally, an investment. And, dear "depositor", you are not first in the queue to be paid when a bank defaults.

If more people understood the implications, they would be a little less likely to leave their life savings in those reassuringly solid marble-and-plate-glass fortresses. This is causing concern in high finance circles, too.

Except holding cash - paper receipts for Nothing At All - is hardly an attractive alternative.

Can you imagine that at a time like this, Canada's comical boy PM sold off the rest of the country's gold? Keynes called gold a "barbarous relic", but it has an intrinsic value - they used to say that "an ounce of gold buys a handmade suit" and that's still pretty much true. Compare that with a rotting paper relic.

Clap hands for Tinkerbell, everyone. Only the power of faith keeps us aloft.

Why it's so hard to agree a deal with the EU

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

The Times They Are A-Changing, by Wiggiaatlarge

I had to make a journey down to London from Norwich the other day to see my sister who is not at all well. Having been twice diagnosed with pleurisy by her GP she was taken into hospital just after Christmas in excruciating pain to be told she has bone cancer and ten fractures to ribs and spine and as well as being on a chemo program she is encased in a brace that resemble Robocop.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I rang the door bell but she is amazingly upbeat and is of the ‘have to get on with it’ brigade which certainly helps at times like this.

She has always been the family archivist. If you want a photo, essay, whatever, she will have it tucked away in the dozens of boxes full of photos and much much more. With her husband being a not well man with numerous serious ailments the place resembled a cross between a care home and a museum. So much stuff is kept there, it borders on hoarding.

She started to show me old photo albums and there were dozens of myself as a child that I have never seen, ‘Oh you will have to look at this then’ and out would come another full of family photos going back to before WWI.

My sister has also just taken in the contents of an aunt who just died, the last of the generation of my parents who was 96. A brilliant student at St Martins School of Art before the war, she went on to be a fashion editor for a large magazine group attending the Paris fashion shows and others; always immaculate, as she was to the end when going into hospital more worried about her hair than the illness - habits die hard.

There were folios and boxes of her drawings, not just of fashion, also going back to her student days. Much is being collated and given to St Martins for their archives; some individual pieces were stunning.

Anyway, among all this nostalgia was a series of wartime magazines called Parents, sixpence monthly. I took one copy as it contained a picture of me inside (no, I am not going to show on here): I had been entered for the Bonniest Babies competition. Amazingly it had a £50 prize for the winner, a lot of money in 1944 ! And sadly I did not win, but my mum still loved me ?

Inside this small austere magazine are the articles and adverts of the time and as always when confronted by something like this the usual, “I remember” prefixes dozens of items displayed within plus much within the articles.

The adverts naturally are child associated…..

Some of the articles today would be laughed at - or would they? So much then was basic common sense, something sadly lacking in many areas of today's world, from how to make slippers for your child from scraps from your rag bag (who has one of those these days?) to health tips on how to handle baby’s first tooth, and the problem of “dirty heads” - we all met with nitty Nora at school with her metal comb in the bowl of disinfectant ! Also we all lined up for a dessert spoon of malt from a very big tin, always a wonderful antidote to the cod liver oil we also lined up for. And how to cope with your child and his listening to the radio and its educational value ?

And Ministry of Food adverts with tips on how to make nourishing healthy meals out of very little and what we can do with cheese - the MoF recommends Cheese Moulds using grated cheese, unsweetened custard breadcrumbs, a teaspoon of made custard, a pinch of salt and pepper, all blended and mixed, poured into a mould and set: turn it out like a blancmange and serve with green salad and tomato and cold potato salad, Does anyone remember that ?

And what appears to be a curious ad for saving paper. Obviously it was a war time request, but the ad does not say what the paper was saved for. It finishes with in bold: “but it is so important, so vital, so necessary  to continue to save paper all the time.” Wartime naturally had a very different set of values, so much today is taken for granted; war condensed requirements down to to the basic, the vital. It is hard to imagine going back to all that. Though the utterances of certain scaremongering idiots would have us believe Brexit will achieve the same; they have no idea.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Brexit: healing divisions, keeping the peace

A few days ago, I posted a piece titled "Fighting Talk: Brexit and civil disorder," arguing that the disconnect between Parliament and the people was potentially - in the long run - a threat to the Queen's peace in this country.

But if that sounds over-the-top (as is so much in the language of public debate these days), consider Professor David Starkey's article in the Daily Mail today

"It is no exaggeration to say that British democracy, which stands in direct line with Magna Carta, is now unravelling before us [...]

"The EU referendum tore apart the veil: it was now the People versus the Parliament...And where will it end? In [an]other very British revolution? Or something nastier?

"I don’t want to prophesy, good historian that I am, but I fear the worst."

Trouble starts with intemperate language, and there's a lot of it now. Not just in the illogical and ill-tempered exchanges on social media, but in mainstream print news. Even Boris Johnson, with all his experience in both journalism and politics, is so reckless as to say that Mrs May has wrapped a "suicide vest" around the Constitution.

And then there's the Union Jacks sprouting everywhere on Facebook, and the self-styled patriotic groups. At first this may be seen as a bit of venting, not to be taken seriously; but then what I remember seeing of the first formations of the Serbian Army in Bosnia was a bunch of fat, scruffy oiks.

Maybe there's a historical rhythm to riot, insurrection and war. It could be that every generation has to start a fight. 1914, 1939, the youthquake of the 1960s, the fall of Russian Communism in 1989... we're about due, perhaps.

These days the word "extremists" is usually accompanied by the adjective "far-right", as though that is the only element that threatens us. I would argue that the State will manage to deal with such people - they identify themselves with little disguise and can easily be spied on electronically, policed, infiltrated, warned, tried, jailed. The task of the State is made harder by the fact that the Internet allows for the proliferation of "echo-chamber" sites, reinforcing the prejudices of the deluded so that they drift ever further away from common sense; the number of these madhouses is such that  not all incidents will be prevented. However, the perpetrators are likely to be caught, sooner or later. It is like the fire service: there will be outbreaks, but they can be addressed swiftly and contained.

A real conflagration requires really serious mass discontent, often with help and encouragement from outside; an analysis of events that promises a better alternative; organisation and leadership; a trigger. And it may succeed if the ruling power has its energies divided.

Think of the historic difficulties between Catholic and Protestant in Northern Ireland. The Fenians  bombed London's Clerkenwell Prison in 1867, but it was the middle of WWI that was an opportunity for a mass uprising.

Then there was Germany in WWI, supplying 50 million gold marks to Russia's subversives so that they could circulate propaganda newspapers among army and navy units and factory workforces; and then sending Lenin to them in a sealed train; all to collapse the established order in Russia and free German divisions to come West and tackle the Allied Powers.

Too late. But the law-abiding, freedom-loving, God-fearing German nation was driven mad with war, starvation through blockades that were continued after war's end, vindictive peace terms that bankrupted them and gave them a hyperinflation that wiped out the savings of the middle class.

Then think of China in WWII, torn by warlords, and Stalin's sponsorship of Mao Tse-Tung as the latter was carried thousands of miles on a litter, reading voraciously so he could learn from the tyrants of the past. And later, Mao's own sponsorship of Communism in neighbouring countries.

A lot has to go wrong, and be made to go wrong, before ordinary people tear up their ordinary lives.

But when society is put under extreme stress, millennial movements spring up. Norman Cohn's classic "The Pursuit Of the Millennium" (1957, revised 1970) shows how mass anxiety and despair, caused by economic breakdown, drive communities crazy.

We're not there now, nothing like. In fact we in this country could lose a lot before we got to be merely as poor as we were in the early 1970s, and that was luxury compared to a generation before, and the privations of the interwar years (the Roaring Twenties didn't roar in Britain, and that was before the Depression.)

Yet there are historians and economists who claim to have identified a long economic cycle of boom and bust (remember Gordon Brown's claim that he'd beaten it?) For example:

  • Nikolai Kondratiev theorised a wave length of 40-60 years, which implied that it was beyond the power of a centralised Socialist government to buck the pattern; so Stalin had him shot in 1938.
  • Irving Fisher's analysis of the 1929 Wall Street Crash and the ensuing Depression saw a cycle of debt growth followed by deflation; these ideas were later developed by Hyman Minsky and then Australian Professor Steve Keen, who was one of the mere handful (he said 12 at first, later revised to perhaps 20) of economists to foresee the 2008 Global Financial Crisis (most of his fellow professionals tend/ed to ignore debt and inflation, thinking that the effects would be spread around in society and offset by wage rises.)
  • Original thinker Charles Hugh Smith sees an even longer wave of 150 - 200 years and thinks we are approaching the breakdown point. 
  • Financial analyst Martin Armstrong has developed a pattern-theory around the number pi and speaks of a "monetary crisis cycle" repeated throughout history (including in the ancient world); he sees 2020/2021 as a turning point ("that is probably where we will see the dollar rally break the world monetary system.")

Rulers of the past had seers and astrologers; today, governments have economists. Maybe it's all nonsense. But modern history certainly shows periodic horrible disruptions to our peaceful lives. What a wonderful period of relative peace and unparalleled prosperity we have enjoyed so far; but it's not guaranteed and not going to continue without our support.

I think there are two points to make here. One is that when disaster strikes, it may not be "far right extremists" we have to worry about so much as mass movements led from the Left and representing groups that feel excluded, ignored, despised and put down. How else to explain the success of Trump's Presidential campaign, and the Leave vote in the EU Referendum? These upsurges may not have been captained by Lefty politicians; but they could be captured by them. And when times are harsh, people become harsh.

Which leads us to the second point. Just as Noah built his Ark in sunshine, and Joseph advised Egypt's Pharaoh to store grain during seven good years to tide over the people in the following lean ones, so this (if not rather earlier) is the time our political leadership and news commentariat should be mending the divisions in our society, so that we can pull together when we face challenges of the scale that we have never confronted in our lives, though our parents and grandparents had to.

Imagine if, in 2016, either David Cameron or his successor Theresa May had said something like:

A very serious and difficult decision has been made, after a long period of fair and thorough discussion and a vote in which a record 33 million people participated. We promised that it would be a once in a generation choice, and that we, your Government, would be bound by it and would implement it faithfully.

This we will do.

A referendum like this was always going to be contentious. But just as the Government itself accepts the outcome, no matter how close, those who were of the alternative opinion, by taking part in it, have also agreed to accept it; and those who did not vote at all, as was their right, have thereby shown their willingness to go along with the result whichever way it went. This is how Parliament itself works - often on much narrower margins of votes - and it is what makes us a democracy and keeps us at peace. After a division, we reunite.

The key decision was whether we should remain part of a political organisation called the European Union. Together, we in Britain have chosen another path. So, in two or three years' time, we will once again have full and exclusive control over our laws and judiciary, our taxes and trade.

For of course we shall continue to work and trade with and visit the continent of Europe and its peoples, whether or not they are themselves members of the EU.

During the transition period, we will be negotiating agreements with the EU about how we deal with them in terms of goods and services, immigration and emigration, travel arrangements, the rights of foreign people working here and British people working abroad, financial services and so on. There is a lot of hard work to be done, and it will be done. We look forward to constructive discussions with our European partners in our changing situation, as well as with the rest of the world.

In the meantime we call on all people in this country, their political representatives, the news media and others to understand and accept that the nation's decision is collective, clear, binding and final. The agenda from now on is to manage the transition as smoothly as possible and to the benefit of all. Not for the first time, the British people have made history together and now we set ourselves once again to work for the common good.

Yes, just imagine.

Politicians and OCD, by JD

Like I said, they are all insane because they haven't the faintest idea what they are doing. It is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; there is a fixed, immovable idea in their heads and they are blinkered by it. Closed minds.

But, interesting developments yesterday (18th March):

First the Speaker put the brakes on Theresa May's 'mini' juggernaut. The papers did not explain it but ITV news did; Bercow was quoting 'Erskine May' which is the 'bible' of parliamentary procedure. I doubt if he enjoyed having to do that because he is a 'remainer'  but he is duty bound to follow the rules.

Then I followed a link from The Slog to Robin Tilbrook's page -
He has written to the Government solicitor to say he will take legal action against any extension of article 50, which will delay Brexit on 29th March.

This is the main legal point -

" 6.    The Issues:-

Following the Judgments of the High Court, of the Court of Appeal and of the Supreme Court in R (on the application of Miller and another) – v – Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2017] UKSC5 and the consequent enactment of the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017, there is no remaining discretionary prerogative power vested in Her Majesty’s Government to agree any extension to the Article 50 Notice, or to Revoke the said Notice without a further express Act of Parliament to authorise such Extension or Revocation.

Accordingly any purported Extension or Revocation is void and of no effect."

He is using Gina Miller's successful challenge on Brexit as a precedent.

That made me smile; I recall a blog post by Tom Paine at (sorry can't find it at the moment) He wrote, when she won that injunction, saying she was correct because the PM would otherwise have agreed her deal via a 'statutory instrument' which she was entitled to do under the terms of the 1972 Act which took us into the EU.

Miller has accidentally done us all a favour; she wants to remain part of the EU but the effect has been to allow Parliament to frustrate the PM's plans and delay and delay to the point where we will leave on the 29th without any deal. The EU will be the losers and they know it which is why they are so desperate for May's deal.

All we need now is Graham Chapman to intervene, Monty Python style, saying "Stop! This is all getting very silly!"

If I am reading this correctly we are leaving on the 29th because that is the legal position and we leave with a clean break; not crashing out as 'project fear' keeps saying but a clean break.

I have lost this link but I also read somewhere recently that German banks are owed one trillion Euros which means they are in serious trouble. I can't verify that but it would not surprise me, target2 and all that.

I am enjoying this because, as you know, the EU's financial stability is worse than anybody realises.

Friday, March 15, 2019

FRIDAY MUSIC: Waiting for St Patrick, by JD

It is St Patrick's Day this coming Sunday so for this year's musical celebration, something slightly different. All of the music here is impromptu, unplanned, occasionally slightly chaotic but all are an illustration of the inherent music in the Irish soul looking for any excuse to burst forth into an unsuspecting world.

And the world responds with great joy as this selection of comments appended to the videos shows:-

"They say an Irish Funeral is more fun than an English wedding..."

"These are the people who keep our traditions going. Other nationalities look on and wonder 'where did we lose it all'."

"Fantastic musicians. They put sunshine into peoples' hearts, and smiles on their faces."

"It's really fantastic seeing people of all the ages playing and dancing the traditional songs of their country. I've only see this in irish people and its something fantastic, the love that they have to their traditional folk is really really amazing."

....and the final video here is a delight (it takes about 8 minutes before the music begins) but you may need to turn up the volume because it was impromptu and the recording was not 'professional'

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Gran Tourismo, by Wiggiaatlarge

Back in the Sixties there was a renaissance of sorts for big-engined gran touring cars, this was the original concept of GT unlike the hot hatchbacks today that tack on the GT label to cars that are in no way touring cars.

The Gran Tourismo goes way back in motoring history with cars from all the top manufacturers fitting the bill, all were top end price models from Bentley to Bugatti and many in between.

WWII saw the class disappear along with many other luxury automobiles as the war effort found many of the same factories diversify into military production, and it was some time after the war before luxury cars of any sort started to reappear in the showrooms.

By the Sixties however the automotive industry was in full swing again and the utilitarian vehicles of the immediate postwar years were being superseded by much more advanced models. Cars such as the Citroen DS from ‘55 showed the way ahead, and the revolution in design of racing cars that was spearheaded in this country from the likes of Colin Chapman, John Cooper, Eric Broadley and others not only transformed racing cars but the ideas filtered down into production vehicles and for a short period we were at the forefront of car design.

What the Sixties saw was the re-emergence of the Gran Tourismo model. Fuel was cheap and big engines proliferated, American V8s became the go-to engine of choice for many of these luxury cars providing a lot of power with little fuss, big 5.7 litre Fords and Chrysler hemi 6 litre engines being the most popular.

The cars varied depending upon the maker. Most British versions of the type were in the gentleman's sports tourer mode with lots of leather big seats and plenty of wood in the cabin, all this signified class and wealth to go with the comfort and speed supplied.

The most enduring of these models was the Jensen Interceptor with its distinctive curved wraparound back window and tailgate, originally with the Chrysler 6.3 ltr engine and later the 7.2 plus torqueflite auto gearbox.

There was an earlier Interceptor using 4 litre Austin running gear but that was a small run car and did have not the success of the V8 model.

Another to some, a lookalike, was the  Gordon Keeble very similar in concept with the same luxury interior exuding a gentleman's club. This car used a Chevrolet V8 and the distiguishing feature was the slanting headlights. This car was never the commercial success the Jensen was and only just a hundred were produced, and for this reason alone they are much sought after.

Bristol cars started as an amalgam of Fraser Nash and a new company producing the beautiful 400 series BMW powered cars and they could be rightly included in this listing, but it was the later Sixties Chrysler powered cars the 407 - 410 models being the ones in the Gran Touring category. The company had an interesting history and is worth a read for that alone. Personally the later big V8 engined Bristols never appealed - "barge-like" came to mind - but they were hand built and had a loyal clientele.

Facel Vega preceded Jensen with the 500k models coming into production in the fifties. The Facel II model is the contemporary of the above but the company went bust in ‘64 leaving this luxurious car as the most sought after of the group. Another Chrysler powered auto but using an upgraded version of the V8 with in manual form 390bhp from its 6,3 litres, it could outperform all but the most out and out sports cars of its time.

It was very much the car of choice for the stars with Ava Gardner and Dean Martin being just two who owned Facel Vegas.

Needless to say the Italians were in the mix with this class of automobile, though they always found it difficult not to be ‘sportier’ than those shown above. The nearest to the style of the British cars was from ISO: the Revolta, an unfortunate name, was the nearest in looks and purpose to the others, in fact it was easily mistaken for those other cars, it could be that they all had Italian coachbuilders and the style was almost generic. The ISOs used a small block V8 Chevrolet engine and transmission for the Sixties cars. An older firm started in the early Forties, they made motorcycles  at one time and were famous for two extremes of powered travel, the Isetta bubble car and the outrageous ISO Grifo sports car. The last models from ‘68 had the 7ltr Chevy engine and were capable of 186mph.

De Tomaso shouldn’t be here as it is really a four door saloon. First produced in ‘70 it shares a chassis with the Maserati Quattroporte of the same period, but it was powered by a Ford V8 and had the same type of gentleman's interior so it just about squeezes in. Again the company was better known for its V8 powered sports cars such as the Pantera.

Maserati produced their very own gentleman's sporting carriage with the 5000 GT from ‘59, with Maseratis own 5ltr V8. Only thirty three of these exclusive cars were ever made and many went to high profile names of the period.

The Maserati Indy, first seen in ‘69 with an in house 4.2 ltr V8 and later with a 4.7 ltr and finally in ‘72 a 4.9 litre engine is one of a long line of Maseratis that fall into the Gran Turismo classification, the earlier 3500GT being the obvious classic, but the Indy had the V8 and therefore qualifies to sit alongside these other fast touring vehicles of the period.

There is no doubt this was a golden age for this type of car. Pre war every major manufacturer made these Gran Turismos and that was the original golden era. Sadly once the Seventies came along bit by bit and not helped by the fuel crisis of the time they became almost extinct. They represent a time of open roads and cheap fuel, jaunts at speed down to the Cote d’Azure and beyond.

Happy days.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Fighting Talk: Brexit and civil disorder

“We should cut the heads off the politicians,” said the waiter in Corfu to us, as EU-imposed austerity crushed Greece in 2010. Before the week was out there were riots in Athens, buildings were set on fire and three bank employees burned to death.

Thankfully, we’re nowhere near that stage, but if you lift the lid off social media you’ll see the pot is bubbling ferociously. Britain is split in two, each half calling the other all sorts of names. Most of these ranters qualify for jury service and the franchise; one trembles at the thought of “direct democracy.” One in four of the population is said to suffer from a mental disorder and to judge by Facebook it’s plausible.

But in a way, hardly surprising. Far from seeking to reunite the country, professional politicians in the UK have been fomenting discontent among Remainers and have even advised EU leaders on how to subvert the Referendum result.[i] Is it a coincidence that the Daily Mail has been given a new editor who has U-turned the paper’s line and now characterises Brexiteers as “saboteurs” leading us to an “abyss”?[ii]

Even the Eurocrats are infected. Mr Van Rompuy, who looks as if he couldn’t decapitate a boiled egg, fantasises about holding a knife to our throat[iii]; Mr Tusk, even less loved in his native Poland than here[iv], smirks at a vision of “those who promoted Brexit” in Hell[v]. Their intemperate language is a clue to the fact that there is not one but two crises brewing.

The first is the European Union’s. Jean Monnet’s dream of a Europe that could never make war with itself again, has been caught in the trap of confusing aim with method. Full political unification has been pursued clandestinely and with an almost suicidal obsession, like Captain Ahab after his White Whale. As a prelude, the single currency was forced into being despite the unreadiness of participants like Greece and Italy, both of which fudged their economic data to qualify and have suffered for it since.

The EU’s appetite for centralised control and aggrandisement remains unslaked (would C P Snow have dubbed them “the labradors of power”?) Straight after the centenary of the Armistice, Frau Merkel returned to her theme of a European intervention force.[vi] Now she is after an aircraft carrier[vii] - just when it is rumoured that China plans to sell off her own to Pakistan.[viii] How does one justify the expense of such capital ships, with their increasing vulnerability?[ix]

And the interference in the Ukraine that has heightened tensions between the Western alliance and Russia – see the military build-up in the region on both sides[x] [xi] - hasn’t put the EU off its plan to foster supranational order elsewhere, too: “Africa is the future,” said Mr Juncker in his 2018 “State of the Union” address, urging more collective arrangements there of the kind that were the foundation stones of the EU.[xii]

In the midst of this, Brexit and the common man threaten to spoil the grand project of the philosopher-kings. Again and again, on shows like Question Time, ordinary people are bluntly challenging their elected representatives to do what was solemnly promised in 2016.

This brings us to the second, local crisis. By affirming (not only orally but in the official pamphlet[xiii]) that the Referendum would be held once only and that the result would be implemented whatever the outcome, our leaders effectively turned it into a binding plebiscite; and now they wish to resile.

That has raised and dashed expectations in the most emphatic way, and the implications are dangerous. If this vote is delegitimised, then so are all the ones passed in Parliament, many of them by a smaller margin than four per cent[xiv].

What would the consequences be? Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said on last week’s Question Time that there will be a “day of reckoning” if Brexit is nullified[xv], and he may be thinking of deselections, Party membership cancellations and the shattering of the two-party system itself. But some think, or worse, wish, that it could go further – even Dr Richard North has said, perhaps only half-jokingly, “It is not only ideas that develop in the provinces – so do revolutions.”[xvi]

Fortunately, revolutions and civil wars don’t just happen, and a good thing too, as whatever the outcome the process is horrific; and often long-drawn-out, because unlike a war there’s nobody to make peace on behalf of the whole country. They need an evil constellation of factors, but that discussion is for another occasion.

Having said that, one of the possible triggers is major financial dislocation. Not just the vindictive awkwardness in trading arrangements that the EU appears to be preparing for us, cutting off its nose to spite its face, but the kind of long-cycle economic downturn that Irving Fisher[xvii], Nicolai Kondratiev[xviii] and others have theorised.

The role of debt has been overlooked by many economists and Professor Steve Keen has estimated that only some 20 out of 10,000 professionals foresaw the 2008/2009 Global Financial Crisis. For those who think the crisis is over because of Quantitative Easing and Modern Monetary Theory, it’s worth noting that global debt is now bigger than ever – some three times the size of the world’s GDP.[xix] Despite high levels of money-printing we are not yet seeing significant inflation, but that is because economic demand is dropping and debt servicing is a growing challenge; the turnover of cash is slowing and offsetting the effects of monetary inflation.[xx] Also, the US dollar, the world’s reserve currency, is being snapped up by foreign countries scared of local currency depreciation/default, so at present those dollars are not cascading back into the USA and boosting the price of everything, says analyst Martin Armstrong.[xxi]

Harder times are coming: goodbye cheap energy, a booming consumer economy and abundant public services; hello to cheating WASPI women of their promised State pensions, trimming the social benefits of the gilets jaunes and so on. Ordinary wage-earners now need additional financial support to make ends meet; real hourly wages have pretty much stalled over the last 40 years since the multinationals saw massive opportunities for capital in global workforce arbitrage. Sir James Goldsmith warned[xxii] about the socio-economic consequences at the time of GATT in 1994, and now it has all come to pass.

It will go on until it can’t, but who knows when or how that will happen?

When the times come that “try men’s souls”, the search is on for an ideological map to find our way out. Power relations come under scrutiny. In the eighteenth century, the American colonists adopted the Enlightenment analysis that rooted power in the consent of the people, so that when General Gage defended his lumping American rebel officers with their men by saying that he recognised only ranks derived from the King, George Washington replied that for his part he could not conceive any rank “more honorable that that which flows from the uncorrupted choice of a brave and free people - the purest source and original fountain of all power." Five months later came the publication of Tom Paine’s “Common Sense”, arguing on the same lines and setting the movement alight.

Ian Geering QC’s piece this week on the Bruges Group site (10 March) follows this tradition.[xxiii] It is a normative political philosophy – this is how we feel things ought to be, rather than how they have been for most of recorded history. Did the Americans complain of taxation without Parliamentary representation? Leeds, Birmingham and Manchester shared their plight, while Old Sarum had seven voters and two MPs.[xxiv] Up to the twentieth century, only a fraction of the adult British population could vote at all, and had to resort to other means to register their dissatisfaction: as Tony Benn observed at the time of the Maastricht capitulation, “Riot has historically played a much larger part in British politics than we are ever allowed to know […] Unless we can offer people a peaceful route to the resolution of injustices through the ballot box, they will not listen to a House that has blocked off that route.”[xxv]

And that, as of last night (12 March 2019), is where we are: watching a cloth-eared Parliament rejecting an "open prison" Withdrawal Agreement yet fighting against a clean break, either way negating what the people decided upon.

Yes, the people are divided – by their very nature, votes are divisive; the key to peace is to accept them as decisive. But those with access to power and the media have worked hard to jemmy the cracks wider. The process of re-radicalisation has started, and this time the State seems either unconscious of the peril, or (like George III) sure of its ability to patronise and repress.

Britain nearly had a conflagration in 1789. The philosopher Richard Price, a friend of Paine, gave a French Revolution-inspired speech: "A Discourse on the Love of Our Country", looking at the fundamentals of politics and, like Paine, rooting power in the people. The reception was enthusiastic (a term with distinct connotations of danger, in those days.)

The State was alive to the danger, and acted. Certain gentlemen came to advise Price on his future conduct. Burke began to compose a justification for the British Constitution in rebuttal. 1789 marked the last time a woman was burned at the stake (in London, for coining.) Radical groups such as the London Corresponding Society were infiltrated by government agents and ultimately suppressed; yet even with the brakes on, the vehicle of power was pushed inch by inch, over the next century, towards electoral reform and democratisation.

Answering the radicals who took revolutionary France as their model, Edmund Burke articulated a pragmatic scheme for the Parliamentary government we now have, a balance between the royal Executive and popular representation, and between constituency representation and mere delegation. This circumvented the bloody conflict of first principles that played itself out on the other side of the Channel.

But Burke was addressing the problem of how we govern ourselves, not whether we should be able to govern ourselves at all; even pragmatism has its limits. And on this latter issue, the people - firmly assured by their representatives that this vote would be decisive - made their determination. The task of their representatives was then to carry it through, while closing the divisions among the people as they went forward. They have failed on both counts. The issue has now turned from UK versus EU, to people - a confused, disunited, squabbling people - versus Parliament itself.

All our democratic progress is in danger of being thrown away.

For if the solution to the threat of revolution in Britain as France burned was to fashion its own sustainable form of democracy, then to discard democracy is to wind the clock back to pre-revolutionary days. And then the clock will start forward again, towards fresh crisis – and solutions that have already failed.

[xiii] “The EU referendum is a once in a generation decision… This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide.”
[xiv] E.g. the Callaghan government fell in 1979 when the vote of no confidence was carried by a single vote.
[xvi] “Brexit – too late for panic” (6 March 2019)
[xxii] Part 1 of 5 here: