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18 march 2016, germany’s ukip

Although they have just one seat from the last general election, the united kingdom independence party is a massive success, getting 13% of the vote and having won outright the european elections. Much more importantly, they have shifted the country's political landscape. There is no doubt that without the party started in 1993 by a few professors to stop britain joining the euro, we would not now be having a referendum. If the uk does indeed leave, a mighty blow for the eu itself, ukip will have become one of modern history's most successful political movements. Germany now has its own ukip. The alternative fur deutschland, afd, has quickly accelerated along the same path from anti-euro, to anti-eu, to anti-migrant, opportunistically capitalising on general discontent. Germany is of course different. First, migrant volumes were not the gradual heating a lobster in water story of the uk, but a massive shock of refugees driven by the syrian war. Second, although opposition to the eu was not prohibited, until recently it has not been evident, largely as "europe's" roots in post-war germany are deep, the eu being in many ways an ersatz identity for where the patriotism common in france or britain has only over the last decade had any place at all (see flagging). Third, with its grand coalition and power distributed over a large number of federal state governments, all the main parties are essentially co-opted into, and largely agree with, the political consensus of pax merkela, who has squatted clearly over the centre ground, both left and right, meaning in effect the germany government has had no proper opposition. With afd's mould-breaking 24% in saxony and great results in the west too, it does now.

12 march 2016, knowing the price but not the valeu

Still stuck in referendum world. A particular bugbear is the "leave" camp's claim that britons "give" £20b a year to the eu; £50m a day. Firstly that's wrong, as almost £10b comes right back, in cash for projects like manchester's metrolink and royal eye hospital, promoting tourism to the lake district and a large number of schemes for and investments in small and more risky businesses outside london that would not otherwise receive funding. That means there is a not a single uk-wide picture, as while london is a strong "net contributor" to the eu, wales is a net beneficiary, ie better off in cash terms in than out, as are many other areas. That though is not the story, as this is all about value, not cost. We just paid £45 for a new kettle - but that doesn't mean I should vote to leave john lewis. The question is whether we got value for money from them (which I think we did). The total money spent by the entire eu is 1% of its gdp; for comparison, uk government spends around 42%. Everything done for those 500m people is managed by the commission, which in its entirety has around 30,000 people working for it, less than 10% of the uk central government civil service and less than 1% of its total public sector. The single market alone brings the uk an estimated annual benefit (lies, damn lies & statistics) of £25b, which if we want to translate it to a fanciful figure for each uk household is almost exactly £1000 each a year. For that we also get a slug of external benefits, like 53 free-trade agreements across the world, with another 81 on the way, which enable british firms to export and prosper, and an undervalued foreign service, hand in glove with the uk's own, that bolsters europe's ability to project peace and security across the world. That may sound trite in a world of syria, libya and afghanistan, but it has helped amplify british efforts to bring stability and democracy to eastern europe and beyond and remains an effective global partner for the great powers that is pushing for solutions to these conflicts and which at least tries to make a positive difference. Like the romans, the eu has also brought us the roads. Boris may rant about the "burden" europe has imposed on crossrail (though note britain explicitly agreed to and indeed pushes for this european level playing field) but his small-minded opposition based on london being forced to allow for the possibility that german trains might one day go through it is to rail against the same fundamental single market building block that enables british firms to export a majority of their goods and services to europe. Back at #pulseofthenation hq then, we're still on course to leave. I'm still sad but increasingly sanguine about it.

26 february 2016, how britain’s next prime-minister was selected

In the heat of battle it is difficult to see what tactics are being deployed to what ends and also what the ultimate outcome will be. Whilst they lost the vote, the scottish nationalists clearly won last year's scottish independence referendum, rising from just 6 members of parliament before, to an all-conquering 50 after. Last weekend's intervention in the eu referendum campaign by boris might not have swung that result, but chances are it swung the one afterwards: for the conservative party leadership. Dwell on two facts. First, whatever happens in june, david cameron has already categorically said he will resign before the next uk general election. That could be soon and abrupt, or could be triumphant and some years away, but it's a racing certainty that by 7 may 2020 he'll be gone. At that point the conservative party will select a new leader, who will almost certainly become prime minister, probably a little way ahead of the election to let the radiance of office so helpful in elections rub off, (not that the same manoeuvre did brown or callaghan any good, though it worked for major). Barring an unknown unknown then - second fact - britain's next prime minister will be chosen by the conservative party's membership. The way the system works is that the parliamentary party chooses two colleagues, who then get to romp up and down the country trying to convince the 150, 000 or so rather aged but more importantly overwhelmingly eurosceptic members, with a high-likelihood the eu will be very much on their minds. Boris, like george, theresa (who surely took a hit by seeming sceptical then coming out for in) and the rest, continues to assiduously court mps, and should they choose him as one of the two - his biggest hurdle, as he's not great close up - the race is over. This is true whatever the referendum result. If britain stays, and so he likely faces victorious george, the membership will be seething; if we're leaving, he'll be the all-conquering hero and there probably won't even be a contest. Boris then is very much looking like the uk's next prime-minister then and quite possibly by year-end...

21 february 2016, in or out ?

Despite so much political capital being wasted on so little substance, let's not even pause on the entrails of a piffling deal, but look instead at the question on the ballot. The die seems already cast, with brits set to wake up on 24 june amazed that they've just voted to leave history's strongest ever democratic pooling of sovereignty (see 1 january 2016, the year of leaving). Why should we have stayed ? The union is not perfect, but europe together is very much better off than it would have been without it, as, selfishly, is the uk. Britain joined as the sick man of europe but leaves as a star economic performer of sorts, hard to square with the argument that the eu hobbles us, rather like the oft-repeated slogan that exit will free us to ramp up exports to the rest of the world, like china, and catch up to the mighty german export machine. Yet germany is also in the eu, and isn't even in the "best of both worlds" position we say we want and already have, of being outside the integrationalist bits, schengen and the euro, we seem to find most objectionable. Once our continental colleagues are over the snub, we are told, we will effortlessly retain free access to the internal ("single") market we helped create which is at the centre of our global trade and investment framework, and, by far, destination to more british exports than anywhere else. Not really; bruised and eager to show that exit is ugly and comes at a high price, working out its cost to little england will be tortuous and bad-tempered. In 1994 norway decided not to join and does indeed now have access - but it pays in 83-91% of the uk's per capita contribution; switzerland is less but similar. Neither country has any influence whatsoever on the "acquis communautaire", i.e. the eu rules Britain and the rest impose on them as a condition for internal market access. In 2014 switzerland tried to assert sovereignty, with a referendum that decided to limit eu migration. So far the eu has not agreed, so it's not happened and either switzerland will cave in, or else it will lose open access to the eu market. The uk franchise doesn't help, with european residents of 20 years unable to vote, whilst commonwealth ones of 2 can. Probably the greatest irony is that there's no doubt the union has been going strongly the uk's way for quite some years now, as set out well in the introduction to an excellent article by my old sparring partner jean-claude piris showing just how dreadfully difficult it is going to be to untangle uk membership. Taking a long-term historical sweep, there are 3 main emerging global trade and currency blocs in the world: america, europe and china. Whilst diminished not fatal to be outside one, britain will always have greater control, influence and prosperity by being central and so representing both all its rather good at (free trade, economic liberalism, multilateralist foreign policy, assured diplomacy, a global horizon...) and its own selfish interests in corridors of power increasingly restricted to those key blocs. Yet, here we are, unable to control our emotional intelligence in this age of rage and set to deliver cameron and the establishment a bloody nose, to spite our face. I'm off now to start work on my new article about the details of the uk's withdrawal treaty and the swathes of new english law we'll rapidly need to put in place to fill the vacuum of the eu law we'll be liberated from...

18 february 2016, it was; were you ?

Travelling back from major family event in london last weekend, I paused at whsmith, reflecting on the non-momentous news that in a few weeks one of its more interesting titles, the independent, will no longer grace its shelves. Like bbc3, the rather newer tv station that went off air yesterday, the indy has gone "online only". Surely, say the critics, the latest but not the last to stop having forests felled so we can leave them on train seats after a brief peruse. Actually, time was when I would read the paper practically from cover the cover, back of course when time was less of a premium; I was a student for a long time. The independent was my first broadsheet as a sixth-form politics student, which coincided with its eye-catching "it is, are you ?" launch, fabulous photos and nonchalant ignoring of craven royal events. I must admit though that by the time I returned from my year-off and established my real rag reading revelry, I had already grudgingly graduated to the guardian, where I have remained. I need to stop and think when I stopped reading the actual paper; it was when we left london for frankfurt in 2001, where although I took my economist with me, I started reading the garudnian online and become a financial times devotee. Anyway, sat here on the edge of my seat waiting for any of them to report on the all-important outcome of the european summit - not...

3 february 2016, super mario

No, not that one - but the next president of the united states, or at least republican nominee. Strange as it may seem to crown the fifth-placed senator the victor (coming in with 23% behind Clinton, sanders, trump & cruz in the iowa caucuses), the republican battle has so far all been about who will emerge as the challenger candidate (trump or cruz) and who as the establishment's, with the latter heavy favourite to win. That's what marco rubio won last night. Though tea-party propelled (see 24 october 2011, no deleveraging at home), he sports the backstory shield of an hispanic obama; though no liberal, he works quite hard to remain in the arena of reasonableness. Though I am hilary all the way (see 2 february 2013, hilaryous), he is a worthy opponent, and in this anti-establishment era, with hilary forced to play the safe hands establishment card to see off her own sanders insurgent, he might just win. Meanwhile, a wonderful piece on today's today (2:10 in) that shows the good a president can do, this one the 91-year old jimmy carter, still at it.

30 january 2016, windows zen - not

I have always regarded computers, like cars, as just a way of getting from a to b, or more ambitiously, to z. I neither know nor care what goes on under the bonnet; I call my mechanic, or son. However, so frequent have our help moments become, forced as we are to load ever cleverer applications on to the old dear, that we have finally faced up to the need to change our antique dell desktop, #disposableworld. After due deliberation, and despite loving my i-phone, we ignored the siren voices both of going apple (how much did you say again) and of converting to a laptop (you're so old-fashioned dad) and went like-for-like, of course with upgraded speed, memory and gizmos (there being no basic black ford on the market). I hate it. I don't think I've ever written a computer review before, but there's a first time for everything, so here goes. Windows 10 is absolutely rubbish, user-unfriendly and full of unnecessary stuff that forces you to do things you don't want, like store contacts on the cloud. Focus of my ire is its email programme, an emotional media for me as, though different, it is what remains of my earlier-life penchant for writing letters. It is unintuitive and generally abysmal to the point of non-function. No stars. My signing-on bonus was a week trapped in despondency and the loss of the precious few hours I carve out each week in front of my screen in my study that keep me going. At least I've worked out how to change the hated but ubiquitous email "signature". Mine might as well read "typed on an olivetti lettera 33", my inner luddite having seemingly taken control momentarily. In cyberspace, no-one can hear you scream...

12 january 2016, when nothing goes right, go left

It wasn't supposed to be this way. When the financial "excesses of untrammeled capitalism" crisis almost brought the house down in 2008, europe's left seemed the obvious inheritors. Yet, since then it is the centre-right that has reinforced its credo and made the most credible job of picking up the pieces. Though in power in france, the left is the most unpopular (and erratic) government ever; in germany its counterpart is a weak supporting act. In country after country - spain being the latest - the left has lost. The "greek effect", where a far-left splinter gains momentum (as seen in spain and now internally with the death of britain's labour party) only makes it worse. Yet these leftists are shackled to another era, with rebaked old recipes of marxist colllectivism. More modern, radical leftist thinkers, like unger ("why the left should abandon equality") and graeber ("most of the creative energy for radical politics is now coming from anarchism") have no hinterland or are pilloried for being neoliberals (guilty as charged). I am not the first to observe that the world's largest taxi company (uber) owns no cars, its largest accommodation provider (airb&b) no property, its largest store (alibaba) no stock and its largest media company (facebook) no content. Those behind these incredible societal-size innovations are capitalists red in tooth and claw, and unimaginably wealthy. Backers of the "shared economy" (see 5 june 2014, more of driving less) and that "collaborative commons" which technology is set to unleash never quite seem to have hopes realised. In fact the acceleration and fattening of profits from physical goods to virtual intellectual property is just an even racier capitalism than before, though the corporations earning are different ones. Leftism is not about stopping that but ensuring the level playing fields of entry and maintenance to this new arcadia.

1 january 2016, the year of leaving

When the question has been put to more pro-european populations in easier times, the french, dutch and irish amongst them, the answer has been "no". So why does anyone expect something different from the far more half-hearted brits ? Don't look at the "outs" split and disorderly campaign, look at the message, clear and bright. That's why the uk is set to leave, the biggest backwards step for the eu since its foundation in 1957. Rages against the establishment, driven by those on the wrong end of globalisation, inequalities and empowerment, continue to sweep across the western world, the snp destroying labour in scotland, the national front coming first in french elections and donald trump raging to contendership for the american presidency. Underpinned by a generation drip-fed predjudice against the eu "other" doing down "our" country, the risk of such a surge carrying the outs to victory in britain's binary referendum is high. Their clarion call is simple and alluring: good riddance to the lot of them ! Europe costs the country a fortune (a billion pounds a day !), burdens industry with costly regulation (especially on the golden goose of the city of london !), dampens our democracy (brussels makes all our laws !) and, worst of all, forces us to leave our front door open to shady migrants that take jobs, force down wages and suck up school and hospital places. With millions more arriving every day and the euro economy constantly collapsing, why should great britain be weighed down by all that ? Better to cut loose and nimbly sail the world alone again; good fences make good neighbours. Its a fabulous populist bandwagon to jump on, towards which luminaries in all parties (yes that's you boris) may be tempted. With most conservatives against, there is an especial risk that the new labour leadership, anyway lukewarm, makes a tactical decision to see cameron lose and so throw the government into total turmoil from which could be seen the possibility of a new order. The election of a conservative majority government means that mass anti-establishment anger has yet to find a lighting rod in the uk. The referendum looks a very strong candidate.

16 december 2015, what goes down, must come up

So, finally, after almost a decade, us interest rates have risen, ending a period unprecedented in the history of monetary policy since such a thing began with the creation of the bank of england in 1694. Though rates remain on the floor in london and frankfurt, the inevitable upward march (yes, even eventually in euroland) has begun. So what ? Inflation, on both sides of the atlantic, remains extremely low (the "usual" trigger for rate rises) and the jobs market, even in the us, is far from robust, much less so in europe and in both cases (as shown by stagnant wages) flattered by the growth of low-grade and flexible positions. There is a strong argument that this extraordinary period of zero rates and money-printing (see 21 october 2010, "dread the launching of the bad ship qe2") was a necessary evil, but these last years were not a new paradigm but a period that despite its comfort blanket effect has negative consequences which ultimately need unwinding. The lack of any "taper tantrum" shows global markets agree; indeed the rise was anticipated and welcome. There were always limits to how long dropping bucketfuls of money from the sky could be sustained, although the rise will not be without consequence, not least of a dollar bubble, of higher costs for those borrowing globally in dollars and especially for the battered emerging markets, china most of all. Nonetheless, to quote the very uneconomic henry kissinger, whatever must happen ultimately should happen immediately. Off we go...

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