dimanche 9 février 2020

The First British Reich

Towards The First British Reich: Doninic Cummings’ Challenges
Creating what is essentially a dictatorship in a country with a long democratic tradition is no small task. Of course, an overt dictatorship would never be accepted, at least in the short to medium term. What is needed is a guarantee of continuous leadership in a single direction, achieved by democratic means. That, of couse, doesn’t count technically as a dictatorship but the difference is small.

So how can that be achieved? The first obvious requirement is a continued mass loyal vote to ensure a majority in Parliament. Manipulation of the public, particularly the «lumpenproletariat», can go a long way to achieving this. Our first past the ost system means that we don’t need that large a majority vote (or necessarily even one at all) to get a good majority of MPs in Parliament. Constituency boundaries can be adjusted if need be. But some democratic obstacles will have to be weakened or removed also. Let’s have a look at those.

Journalistic freedom could be a problem theoretically but hasn’t proved much of one in practice: Weakening it should be sufficient if we keep the main newspaper proprietors sweet. Admittedly, the first attempt at knocking uncooperative journalists didn’t go well but that was just a first attempt. Next time our friendly newspaper prorietors will have to be better briefed to send along only journalists who can be relied upon not to walk out. A threat of the sack would probably do it.

Then there is the Internet. We can’t control it (at the moment) but it can be a very useful tool as well as a bit of a problem and, with friend Trump in charge in the USA, we can feel secure that no impediments will be imposed on the main Internet players to curtail access to the data we want. That can be left alone for the moment.

Broadcast media, radio and TV, could pose problems but their need for a licence is a boon here. We can control who gets licences and, if threats aren’t enough, making an example of one or two should do the trick.
Then there’s Parliament itself. Keeping a big majority will be important of course but the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee will have to be kept under control. That will need a bit of thought. The Office for National Statistics shouldn’t be a problem. We’ve cut their budget and a little more direction on what statistics to collect (and how) should prevent any embarassing numbers coming to light.

There is always the question of human rights but being able to draw up our own Human Rights Act will help a lot, particularly if threats of terrorism can be played up in the popular media when the Bill is made public. It should allow us to cater for any high-profile trouble-makers.

Keeping the lumpenproletariat happy will be a challenge but our friendly popular newspapers xhould be a big help there. We’ve already provided some «sweeties»: increasing the minimum wage and upping the lowest tax threshold were good moves and will be taken as a show of loyalty to the masses and the budgetary effect is minimal. Some other moves, like keeping excise duty on beer and cider constant while increasing that on wines and spirits, can be introduced along the way. The popular newspapers can be relied upon to play on loyalty to Queen and country. The royal family is in a bit of difficulty at the moment but fortunately Harry and Megan have removed themselves from the scene and the Queen can be relied upon as a rallying point. If times get really hard for the masses our English constitution should help.

The beauty of the English constitution is that it is incomplete, unwritten and relies in some important places on gentlemen’s agreements. I don’t think we need to worry about gentlemen getting in the way. We’ve adjusted the relationship between Parliament and the Courts so the latter can’t get in the way either. There’s always been this separation of the police and the military in England but, if things get too bad, we could always call in the military. We could claim a threat of terrorism and northern Ireland would be a precedent for that.

The threat of terrorism has mileage in it but we do need a common enemy for more routine matters as well. The EU should suffice for the next couple of years at least. It’s proved very useful that way already so people will be receptive. We can blame failure to reach agreement on it when we leave the EU without a deal and then any negative consequences afterwards on the same: their refual to negotiate on our terms. When that gives out we could turn to foreigners generally or the mslims again. We’ll think of something.

So far, we’look to be in good shape towards getting our democratic dictatorship. Forward to the first English Reich! (But of couse this couldn’t happen in Britain could it. Didn’t Britain fight a war to stop that?)

For more on this see the link below

lundi 3 février 2020

Chance Or A (Cunning) Plan?

Chance Or A (Cunning) Plan?
The UK is entering into a year-long period of uncertainty in which, probably, planning and chance will both play some rôle. What rôle may each play?

All we can start with is what is already known and Descartes; doubt everything. (Dubito, ergo cogito, ergo sum). Johnson has said he will be going into negotiations with the EU without compromise on what he wants. The EU won’t, cannot, compromise on the fundamentals that bind the EU countries together. What is the most likely outcome? It has to be that the UK leaves the EU without an agreement. This is the more likely in that it appeared to be the preferred arrangement of Johnson before he became PM. So let’s bring in Descartes. Johnson has falked of great opportunities, benefits and friendship to all nations although it appears that no one can give even one concrete example of either of the former. Friendship between nations must be welcomed but is meaningless without context. Descartes can have a field day; everything has to be in doubt.

So, if the UK leaves the EU without a deal will that be chance or might it be a (cunning) plan? It can’t be pure chance because there will have been chances to do a deal. So, if no deal happens, it might be a plan. What then could the plan be?

There seems at the moment an unlikely alliance between a right-wing government and the least educated and most numerous part of the population. This situation is almost without precedent in the last century except in dictatorships and the UK is not a dictatatorship. So js this a matter of pure chance? It does not look like it, given that almost all of the most read popular press, owned by proprietors with clear political objectives, has for several years been been supporting the government in anti-EU sentiment. Get the less-educated and majority readers of the popular press on your side and you have a potential election majority.

So it looks like we have a plan. So, what is the plan? The grand plan, assuming there is one, has to be a matter of conjecture but the means needed to underpin it are clear. The less educated and less well informed majority has to be kept that way and fed something to keep them happy. Any means of enlightenment must be reduced or suppressed and some «sweeties» must be offered.

Is there any evidence for this? Well, the minimum earning wage has been upgraded slightly and os has the lower threshold at which income tax has to be paid. The combined result is that a low-paid worker will be around £200 a year better off. Sweeties? It’s hardly revolutionary.

What about keeping people less informed? Johnson has threatened to take away the licence of the most independent TV news channel, Channel 4, has passed a Parliamentary Act to prevent Parliament scrutinising trade deals, has done similarly to remove the Courts’ right to pronouce on the legality of government actions and, most recently, tried to divide the press by proposing that only pro-government media will be briefed on government plans. The UK is not a dictatorship and hopefully will never become one but these are all classic moves in that direction. This is not to suggest that the Uk is in danger of becoming a dictatrship but these easures ensure that even those seeking good information will have more difficulty finding it and the less well- informed will stay that way. They increase government control of what the populace can know.

Despite supposed uncretainty, I think that at this point chance can largely be discounted. There must be a plan and, whatever it is, the government is positioning itself to deliver it with the minimum of critical scrutiny and a majority of popular suuport, even if it is against the interests of that majotity. And that, I think, is what will most probably happen.

dimanche 26 janvier 2020

Food For Thought

Food For Thought
On Friday I invited friends for a Burns night, a day early but what the hell. I had brought back two haggis from my trip to Scotland last Ocotober and informed my French friends of what goes into a haggis so they arrived with some trepidation. As we sat having a drink before the meal I also handed them the first three verses of Burns’ poem to the haggis, in Scots of course. The result was a great evening. We started with some Scottish smoked salmon, I’d bought a bottle of Laphroaig to go with the haggis and friend Jo had made a banoffee pie and sticky toffee pudding for dessert so it was a real Scottish meal.. It was the first time my French friends had eaten haggis and poured scotch on their food and, somewhat to their surpise, they loved it. We all laughed at their attempts to understand the Burns poem.

On Sunday I went to the annual old Foggie’s free lunch laid on by the village and served by the mayor and members of the vilage council. The meal is for anyone over the age of 65 living in the village and is to thank those people for past or current services rendered to the village. The food, as usual, was excellent. Some foie gras and tapenade amuse-bouches were followed by scallops in a cream sauce, red snapper, chicken in a mushroom sauce, cheese and a chocolate pudding, all washed down with copious wine. It was yet another great meal. Lucky me.

A report in a British newspaper I read on the internet earlier in the week provided some stark perspective. The report was of a disabled man aged 57 who had starved to death after the Department of Work and Pensions had erroneaously stopped his benefit payments.

lundi 13 janvier 2020

Life Goes On

Life Goes On
My festive season here was quiet but enjoyable. I spent Christmas day with friends at their house and had friends here with me on Boxing day, eating drinking and chatting. I did nothing on new year’s eve but went to more friends on new year’s day. I find that staying up past mydnight to welcome in the new ytear has little appeal for me now. The one (relatively) recent year when I really took an interest was in 2000 when TV followed the arrival of the new century throughout the world. The village mayor has an aperitif gathering organised for next Friday at which he will summarise what the village council has been doing during the last year and what it proposes to do in the forthcoming year (and that had better include pruning the trees in front of my house, or else!) and there will be the annual old fogies’ lunch at the end of the week after. That will be it as far as festivities go until Easter.

The weather has been milder than usual and we are having a quite long spell of daytime sunshine and afternoon temperatures in the mid-teens, which has been good for playing boules. This spell was preceded by very heavy rain resulting in the Ouvèze stretching fully across the river bed, some 50 yards, in front of my house and the road in front becomig a shallow stream. There was no flooding locally though. Every year since I have been here we have had one day of snow but not this year sio far. Despite the relatively warm spell plants show little sign of precocius growth. Maybe more will survive the winter though than is usually the case.

In the meantime I have been busy trying to provide the French authorities with all the documents they need for a carte de séjour and French nationality. The latter is now on hold, unless I hear otherwise, until 2021 but I shall need a carte de séjour a lot sooner. It would help if the various offices involved could agree amongst themselves as to exactly what is needed.

One of my fears for Britain post-Brexit is the plight of the underpaid, those on minimum wages or, Heaven help them, no-hours contracts. The latter should clearly be illegal, as they are in the rest of Europe. These fears, for the people, were only reinforced by watching the film I, Daniel Blake.There are apparently around three million people earning the minium wgae who can have no hope of providing for their old age and will therefore be destitute when that time arrives. What then? It looks to me like a future without the empire but with Dickens. Moreover, it is actually bad economically for Britain. Companies experiencing increased demand will simply add low-cost labour. The Scandibavian countries have amply demonstrated that high wages and social charges force companies to seek means of increasing productivity by investing in automation, plant or new techniques. That gives them a medium to long-term competitive advantage. Productivity increases in the UK have remained at zero for the past ten years (OECD figues) and look likely to stay that way. That is a grim outlook for the UK and a lot of its people, apart of course from the already rich.

dimanche 22 décembre 2019

The General Election And The Future

The General Election And The Future
The general election result left me with feelings of sadness, frustration and anger which I have to try to set aside in writing this. I felt sadness at the result, frustration that the right-wing bias in UK media had not been overcome by independent and other sources and anger that the UK is, in my view, mortgaging its future and, most specifically, that of its young people. Those are my feelings. But a new government regime inevtiably poses a number of questions and here are my thoughts on some of them. I shall also attempt a Nostradamus act; it’s close to the time of year for one of those.

Will the UK stay as currently consitituted? The Scottish Parliament wants independence but has been denied a referendum on the subject. How will the Scots react to that? I don’t forsee violence , although that may result, and wonder what passive resistance can achieve. Neither of the political axes in northern Ireland likes Johnson’s current proposal for a solution to the border problem, Stormont now has a Sinn Fein majority and amalgamation withe rest of Ireland (which would solve the border problem) is an option. Johnson can prohibit that but, if he does, the outcome is certain to be violent. English nationalism helped win Johnson the election but other nations have their nationalists too. I wouldn’t like to guess the outcome but there will certainly be tension and conflict there.

Brexit on the 31st of January will present the UK with numerous administrative challenges. The EU has said, several times, that a trade agreement between it and the UK cannot be completed in the 11 months currently prescribed, No 10 disagrees. Will Johnson blame any failure on the EU and go for the no-deal Brexit that he has formerly seemed to want? It seems quite probable.

There will be some 50+ further trade agreements needed to replace those the UK now has through the EU and a further 700+ treaties to be renegotiated. Trade agreements trypically take 3-10 years to be completed and in many cases the UK will necessarily be negotiating not with individual countries but with established trade blocks. Most smaller countries ally themselves with others to provide combined financial mucle in trade negotiations and the UK has chosen not to do this. It outmuscles most individual countries but possibly not most trade blocks. And trade blocks require agreement by all in the block, not just individual countries, which partly partly expalins the time involved. This situation will not be resolved speedily, whatever Johnson claims, and the interim is anybody’s guess. Johnson has trumpeted a trade agreement with the USA but it would have to increase trade between the two countries fivefold to replace the trade we currently do with the EU (and to whose advantage, who has the most financial muscle?)..

Britain has depended for centuries on the effectiveness of its trade, still does, and does 40% of it with the EU. WTO trade rules will be applied if Trump doesn’t succeed in destroying the WTO before then, as he is trying to do. The WTO rules have been much discussed. What has escaped attention is WTO’s rôle as a negotiation arbiter to avoid trade wars so we may well see more of those. In a trade war, the country or trade block with the most financial muscle invariably wins.

Immigration was an issue at the heart of Brexit and the general election result. The UK needs some degree of immigration; that is an undisputed fact. The idea of selecting just those immigrants that are needed is seductive but illusory. It presupposes a queue of desirable immigrants waiting to enter the UK for which there is no evidence. Xenophobia and racism also played some rôle in Brexit and race-related crimes have escalated in the UK since the referendum. Potential immigrants who wish to leave their countries may therefore find The UK a less desirable option (than the EU, for instance) and leave the UK with serious manpower deficiencies. I think we will see these in healthcare and possibly science-related activities but I can’t guess in what other sectors.

The NHS was a major issue in the election and Johnson has said he will make it a priority. That means he will give it his attention but little else I think that private health insurance schemes are sure to play a larger rôle and wonder at the cost and coverage of these. I forsee a health system much closer to that in the USA 5 (where the mean standard of healthcare is much lower; the USA is ranked 20th by the World Health Organisation) than health systems in the EU.

The wealth gap between the richest and poorest in the UK is wide and has been getting wider for years. There is no evidence from Johnson’s political past and stated opiniuons that he considers this a priority, rather the reverse, and its continued existence implies political instability. The UK has experienced zero growth in productivity over the last 10 years (OECD figures) and a large cheap labour force discourages investment in machinery and modern means to boost productivity. The signs are all for a free market economy in which, ironically, nothing is free. That means, among other things, only very basic.public services, which are a means to share wealth. The same is true of the EU development fund, used to ameliorate conditions in deprived areas of Europe, including those in the UK. I cannot see those initiatives being replaced in anything like the same amount. That would run counter to a free trade economy. A free trade economy typically relies on cheap labour and the life expectancy of people is increasing. Cheap labour has no hope of saving enough money to cover the expenses of retirement and old age and I forsee an increased number of destitute old people in the UK, unable through no fault of their own, to provide for their old age. (as there are in the USA).

Finally, I worry about the possibility of independent assessments and the rôle of the media. Johnson has not exactly welcomed open debate and scrutiny up to now (even discounting hiding in a fridge) and No 10’s attack on the BBC TV and radio stations and Channel 4 looks ominous to me. The proposed curtailment of courts’ scrutiny of government actions upsets the long British tradition of the roles for government and the judiciary and would make the government less accountable.. Will, for instance, we be allowed to know the basis for government statistics? Will the detail of trade agreements be published? The predominant right-wing press won’t be interested in any of this but independent journalists and commentators will be and so should every democratically minded citizen. If government accountability lmeans anything it depends crucially on the information made available. I fear that the possibility for independent assessments and critique is being curtailed and and may be more so and that is a serious threat to any democracy.

Johnson, with his majority, has a great deal of power. How will he use it? For the good of the country as a whole, as Corbyn claimed to want to do, or primarily for the already rich and powerful? I’ve made my own guesses on that but you have to make your own.

A final couple of questions. Even such a prominent Brexit camapaigner as Ress-Mogg has estimated that the benefits of Brexit will take at least 20 years, and possibly 50, to become apparent. If British people wake up in five years’ time and find that EU citizens are experiencing a much greater quality of life than those in the UK, what happens then? What measures would be needed to keep UK citizens happy?

vendredi 15 novembre 2019

Government Incentives

Government Incentives
Two ways to govern a country are to do what you think is best for the country or two plunder it to make you and your associates rich. If you choose the latter, à la south America, you obviously need passpaorts or rights of residence from/in other countries. UK national debt since 2007 has risen from 68% of GDP to 85% of GDP, money borrowed by the government while public services such as the police, fire brigade and NHS have all suffered cuts in budget and services have degraded. So who got the money and for what? Look at candidates for the general election in this light and draw your own conclusions.

lundi 11 novembre 2019

Standards Of Information

Standards Of Information
In a previous post I said that I think that the British Standards Institution should create a standard for information integrity to which media might sign up or not, as they wished, with the obvious connotations. I feel that even more strongly now.

Institutions are not just bricks, mortar and committees but can be abstract as, for instance, in the British reputed insistence on fair play in sport. That, at one time, was an accepted British characteristic and, as such, an abstract institution. As an aside, a French IT colleague once said to me that the English breakfast was not really a meal but an instituiion. Something simuilar, in my youth, was true of The Times newspaper; it rigourously separated news reporting from opnion so that you knew which was which in any article you were reading and could make up your mind accordingly. Again we have an abstract institution, in this example on information integrity. And, in times past, the BBC was viewed by millions throughout the world as a medium through which they could learn the truth when they could not rely on their national media. That may still be true of foreign news coverage but…...

It’s a personal view, but I think that all these previously respected abstract institutions have more recently failed to live up to their billing, generally quite demonstrably so. The void that needs to be filled is one of integrity. There are practical difficulties as I know from personal experience in chairing an IT standards committee at BSI in 1996. Standards typically take around 2 years to formulate, for practical not bureaurocratic reasons, but can be fast-tracked in around 9 months (as my own committee did). Any standard implies at least and may specifically state tests that have to be passed to meet the standard and some very simple tests on reasonable attempts to verify facts are possible. Indeed, the assumed professuonal code for journalists implies most of the tests. I think we need such a standard on the integrity of published information as soon as possible. Without it, the population at large is at the mercy of very clever manipulators and the considerable sums needed to employ them. If you disagree, are you happy to be manipulated or what would you suggest ?