Friday 28 June 2019

If only he had had some influence...

One of the problems with ‘New Labour’ was that they seemed to believe that the answer to everything was more legislation.  It didn’t always achieve very much, but it looked like decisive action was being taken.  The reason that it’s a problem is that passing legislation doesn’t necessarily change very much, and many of the ‘new’ crimes created by Labour could easily have been prosecuted under existing laws; what was missing on occasions wasn’t so much the necessary legislation as the resources.  Still, it made for good headlines at the time, which was all they really wanted.
I wondered yesterday whether the outsider in the Tory Donkey Derby isn’t in serious danger of falling into the same trap with his promise to pass new legislation to abolish illiteracy.  I’m not sure what such legislation would do or why it’s required.  I assume that he’s not planning to criminalise illiteracy (although with the Tories, one can never be entirely sure), so what would any such law say?  If the problem is poor teaching or lack of resources, there are already means of addressing those issues, and severe learning difficulties won’t go away because the law says so.  Just because one of the few things that governments can do (although the current one has struggled even with that) is pass new laws doesn’t mean that new laws are the right answer.
The aim – that every citizen should be able to read and write – is noble enough, and it is a disgrace that a country like the UK lags behind many much poorer countries in ensuring that the aim is achieved.  I wonder who might be to blame for that situation.  Isn’t it a pity that someone like Hunt who can see the problem hasn’t been a member of a government which could have taken action to fix it if it had wanted to over the past seven years?  Oh, wait a minute…

Thursday 27 June 2019

Not bizarre enough yet

Some Tory MPs, including failed leadership candidate Dominic Raab, have been arguing in recent days that it will be “the EU’s fault” if the UK walks away without a deal at the end of October.  It sounds a bit like the playground argument that ‘some big boys made me do it, Miss’, a level of argument wholly appropriate to the farce of the Tory Donkey Derby. 
But in principle, he does have a point – if someone is refusing to accept a reasonable argument, then they are at least partly responsible for what happens as a consequence.  My problem, though, is understanding exactly which bit of ‘we demand that you bend the rules of the single market to suit us, give us rights not enjoyed by member states to negotiate separate deals, and open up an uncontrolled back door into the single market in Ireland’ he considers to be reasonable.
Meanwhile the man who made the bizarre claim that he makes and paints model buses out of old wine crates (in what looks like an attempt to find out just how gullible his target electorate – the Tory membership - is) has displayed his mathematical ‘prowess’ by stating that setting a firm and immovable target for leaving, whether there is a deal or not, somehow makes the odds of leaving without a deal a million to one against.  This is tantamount to claiming that the odds of an EU27 which has consistently said that the withdrawal deal cannot be negotiated agreeing to cave in and make changes after all are 999,999 to 1 on. 
One possible explanation is that he’s actually realised just what a task he has in front of him and is now trying to lose; it would be a better explanation of some of his recent statements than that he’s making a serious attempt to win.  It might also suggest that he’s not quite as irrational as he appears.  The problem with this approach, however, is that he is seriously underestimating the gullibility of that target electorate.  He’ll have to come up with something much more bizarre than he’s managed to date if he really wants to lose.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Only part way there

The Deputy Economy Minister has come in for a great deal of criticism by opposition parties for saying that the Welsh Government has only ‘pretended’ to know what it was doing on the economy, whilst also pointing out that its actions have actually made little difference.  I thought that it was, actually, refreshingly honest; my criticism would be aimed less at the fact that he’s come clean about the situation now than at the fact that he really doesn’t seem to be proposing much by way of an alternative.  Whilst Labour only pretend to know what they are doing, other parties (such as the Conservatives, here) only pretend that they have an alternative – and two of the opposition parties (Plaid and the Lib Dems) have been in coalition with Labour during the period concerned without making any noticeable difference.
Now I understand, of course, why governments want to take the credit for economic success when things are going well; and the problem isn’t unique to Wales - we see exactly the same phenomenon at UK level.  All governments claim to be succeeding when things are going well and try to blame factors outside their control when things are going badly.  And all oppositions claim that it’s the government’s fault when things are going badly and the result of outside factors when things are going well.  Economic well-being is so central to the interests of the population at large that parties want to be able to offer to improve it at election time.
But what if the truth is that the government really doesn’t have that much influence on the success or otherwise of the economy?  I don’t just mean, in the context of the Welsh Government specifically, that it doesn’t have the full range of economic powers available at UK level; I mean, more generally, what if government policy is actually only a minor influence on what happens in a global capitalist economy?  Politics might make it difficult for parties to admit that such might be the case, but an unwillingness to admit it isn’t the same as it not being true.  And if it is true, as I believe it to be, then the point which Lee Waters was making has much wider implications.  I don’t think that’s the conclusion he has reached, sadly; his talk about ‘trying a different approach’ suggests that, like the other parties in teh Assembly, he sees it as a simple question of looking for an alternative policy within what are in reality self-imposed constraints.
‘The economy’ is a human construct; it does not exist independently of human action.  The questions we need to be asking are about who controls the levers of that economy and in whose interests it operates.  There’s nothing natural or inevitable about the fact that real control lies with multi-national capitalists and not with governments, nor in the fact that it operates in the interests of a minority rather than the majority.  Collectively, even if unwittingly and unthinkingly, humanity has outsourced the control and management of wealth and economic success to a minority who control and manage it in their own interests and who have created an ideology around that which leads to a belief that it is a natural and unchallengeable state of affairs.  I don’t get the impression that either the Economy Minister or his detractors have even begun to get their heads around the scale of that challenge.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Taking 'brave' decisions

I’m struggling to understand the process of ‘logic’ by which the Tories have selected their disgraced former MP for Brecon and Radnor to be the candidate in the upcoming by-election.  It’s clear that he still doesn’t understand why forging documents which purport to have been issued by someone else can be wrong, and it looks as though local Tories are prepared to overlook the crime as well.  I think they’re wrong on that, but I suppose there’s something to be said for loyalty to their man.
But it’s the politics of it that I don’t get.  With an electorate of some 52,000, and a likely by-election turnout of only around 60% based on other by-elections, there will be around 30-35,000 votes cast.  10,000 of those have already declared they want him out – and given that they had to make the effort to go and sign the recall petition, it’s probable that these are electors who will actually vote in the by-election.  So they know that one third of those voting are against him from the outset.  Nigel Farage plc have already announced that they will be standing and are likely to take a significant proportion of pro-Brexit Tory voters, and they are also facing the Lib Dems who are – largely because of Brexit – on a roll and have held the seat before. 
For a party to choose a candidate who’s been ejected from the seat due to dishonesty looks suicidal to me.  Perhaps they simply couldn’t find anyone else ‘brave’ enough (in the Yes, Minister sense of the word) to attempt it in the circumstances.

Monday 24 June 2019

Invisible borders

Some of the fantasists in the Conservative Party have, it seems, come up with a wizard wheeze to avoid a hard border across Ireland which, according to them, could be up and running within three years if work started now.  Given that work is not starting now, and that all government projects over-run, it might be available in about five to ten years’ time, I suppose.  The problem is that it does not, in fact, avoid the need for a hard border at all, it merely avoids the need for infrastructure on the border itself, by moving the effective border to farms and factories wherever they may be found.  Like all the so-called ‘alternative arrangements’, it confuses the issue of there being a border with that border being visible at a specific geographic location, as though it is the location of the border – rather than the obstacles it raises – which is the problem.
It gets worse.  Whilst the ‘plan’ does indeed propose a means of keeping the whole of Ireland in a single regime for many purposes, it does so by taking the Republic half-way out of the EU’s regulatory regime and putting it under the UK’s regime instead.  So, in the specific and oft-quoted case that the UK agrees to accept chlorinated chicken from the US, the ‘solution’ to preventing it going across an open border into EU territory in Ireland is that Ireland asks for and is granted an exemption from the EU’s rules on chlorinated chicken, and agrees to accept the same product itself.  In essence, it seeks to mitigate a border problem between the UK and the Republic by imposing a border of some sort between the Republic and the rest of the EU, because otherwise there is nothing to prevent Ireland becoming a back-door to the EU for non-compliant products.
The blithe, casual and arrogant assumption that this will ever be acceptable to either the EU or the Republic shows the extent to which the Anglo-British not-nationalists-at-all still don’t really understand the concept that Ireland is a sovereign state and not subject to the whims of its larger neighbour.  I’m not sure that they’ll ever get it.

Friday 21 June 2019

Is Johnson racism accusion justified?

Earlier this week, there was a hoo-hah about the way in which the SNP’s Westminster leader called out Boris Johnson in the House of Commons for being dishonest and a racist.  Given Johnson’s history of lies and distortions, the ‘dishonest’ part is hard to argue with, but is he a racist?  By all accounts, his team when he was Mayor of London was very diverse, which suggests a degree of openness to other cultures and races which would be unusual for an out-and-out racist.  The accusation of racism was based on the words he has used in the past usually in his newspaper columns.  Those words certainly sound racist, but if there’s one thing we know for certain about Johnson it is that he doesn’t always (and perhaps even much less often than that) believe what he says and writes and that he is rarely consistent.  That is, after all, part of the basis on which the accusation of dishonesty is a fair one.
He certainly suffers from that casual sense of superiority which marks out people of his background and class, who ‘know’ they are better than others.  But it isn’t just brown people, black people, the Scots, the Irish and the Welsh to which they feel superior, it is also the vast majority of those of their own race and nationality.  Johnson has never put it quite as bluntly as his mate Jacob, but I suspect that he basically agrees with Rees-Mogg’s suggestion that those of us educated in the state system – the overwhelming majority of the population – have the intellect of potted plants.  Such a belief in his own superiority might make a person unpleasant, and completely unsuitable for high office, but it doesn’t make him a racist.
I’m not convinced that Johnson is a racist as such; I think it’s far, far worse than that.  I believe that he is, rather, someone who is prepared to inflame and channel other people’s racism for his own ends, whether those be related to his ‘work’ as a columnist or his political ambitions.  I can’t believe that he doesn’t know or understand the appeal which his words might have for his target audience, and it’s not even a question of not caring about that – it’s the effect which he actively desires.  Not being a racist isn’t at all the same as not using other people’s racism to support his own ambitions.  Those who defend him by pointing to the diversity of his staff as Mayor are missing the point: what he thinks and does are irrelevant; what matters is what he wants a particular audience to think that he probably thinks.  Perhaps, just this once, words speak louder than actions.  In accusing him of racism, Ian Blackford is being far too soft on him.

Thursday 20 June 2019

Counting the numbers

If the Conservative Party used the electoral system which they think is perfectly fit for purpose for the rest of us mere mortals, the two contenders going forward into the ballot of members would have been decided on the first round of voting.  Boris Johnson, with 114 for and only 199 against would have taken the first slot, and Jeremy Hunt with 43 votes in favour and a mere 270 against would have been declared ‘elected’ onto the ballot paper for the membership.  The reports would have said that Johnson had a ‘majority’ of 71 and Hunt a ‘majority’ of 6.  That is the standard way of electing MPs and councillors in the UK and pretending that those elected enjoy the support of the ‘majority’.
The Tories, however, have decided that that is not good enough for them.  Not only should their second choice be counted, but their third, fourth, and fifth choices should also be allowed to influence the outcome.  However, rather than count all those choices using STV in a single vote, they prefer to make the whole process more complex and drawn out than it needs to be by holding an exhaustive series of First Past The Post ballots.  It’s a bit like accepting the principle of proportional representation but pretending not to. 
It also has the side effect (and whether that’s desirable or not depends on whether you want a straightforward democracy or one which allows Machiavellian manoeuvring) under which a devious and dishonest electorate (which is what makes the system a perfect fit for Tory MPs) can game the process.  It has been suggested, for instance, that the sudden drop of 10 votes in Rory Stewart’s total between the second and third votes was due to a “few weak souls” (don’t you just love the terms of endearment that Tory MP’s use to describe each other?) having succumbed to the ‘charms’ (aka bullying) of one of Johnson’s lieutenants and voted for Stewart in round 2 in order to eliminate Raab.  And similar tactics are rumoured to be at play in an attempt by the leading donkey to arrange for the donkey he’d most like to be up against in the final run-off to be on the ballot alongside him.  Apparently, this is all part of what makes the UK’s democracy the envy of the world; if it doesn’t always seem that way, it’s just that the rest of the world don’t understand how envious they really are, deep down.  That is clearly their problem, not ours.  Those silly foreigners, eh?

Wednesday 19 June 2019

Rights which can't be exercised aren't rights at all

Whilst he hasn’t exactly been converted to the cause of independence, statements made this week by former First Minister Carwyn Jones are certainly a step forward in terms of the debate which we need to have.  And there is much in what he says with which I can readily agree.
Firstly, there’s nothing wrong or unpatriotic about believing that Wales might actually be better off economically not being independent.  It’s a conclusion with which I profoundly disagree and it ignores the non-economic arguments about accepting responsibility for managing our own destiny, but there’s nothing anti-Welsh or unpatriotic about it.  But the mere recognition that the choice exists and that there is scope for debate about whether or not we should choose it is a significant change, and a welcome one.
And secondly, I agree with him about the difficulties (post-Brexit) associated with the idea that an independent Wales could negotiate its own deal with the EU, whether it chose membership or not.  He is absolutely right, in my view, when he says that "There's very little point in having, shall we say, market access to the single market and finding we can't export to England."  Whether we like it or not, the facts of history and geography mean that the economy in Wales has developed in a way which makes it something of an appendage of England, and breaking that economic union would be a bigger shock for Wales than breaking the union between the UK and the EU. 
Within the EU, ‘independence’ (defined as that status enjoyed by all member states) within a single market where the trading arrangements with our largest markets remain unchanged is a comparatively easy state to achieve.  Yes, of course, there’s a lot of negotiation required in terms of splitting the UK’s representation in various bodies, agreeing budgetary contributions etc.  But it’s a conceptually simple process which can be achieved without major economic shock, precisely because it would not create a separate economic jurisdiction.
To achieve the same level of ‘independence’ in post-Brexit UK is also conceptually quite simple, as long as the trading arrangements with our largest markets remain unchanged.  In effect, however, that requires continued regulatory alignment with England for the foreseeable future; the ability to escape that alignment (if it were ever agreed to be a desirable objective) would depend on a long term refocussing of the Welsh economy which would be ‘challenging’ to say the least.  For an ‘independent’ Wales, in such a scenario, negotiating its own trade deals with the EU or anyone else raises all the same issues over border controls between England and Wales as leaving the EU does in respect of Ireland, and that is, surely, all that the former First Minister is saying.
There are some independentistas who see the second scenario as being better than the first, because it represents a greater degree of ‘independence’.  And it’s true that the second scenario, unlike the first, would give Wales the right to negotiate its own trading arrangements with the rest of the world.  But a ‘right’ which exists de jure but which it is impossible to exercise de facto isn’t much of a right at all; the reality is that our trading arrangements would be largely determined by the whim of our neighbour who would be under no obligation at all even to consult us, whereas within the EU we would have an equal seat at the table.
The biggest problem with ‘independence’ isn’t about its achievability or practicality; it’s about defining what it means.  In an interconnected world, it cannot mean what it used to mean two centuries ago, not even for a medium-sized state like the UK (something which the Brexiteers are still struggling to comprehend).  The level of ‘independence’ enjoyed by Eire, Malta and Latvia, coupled with a seat at the table, is enough for them, and should be enough for Wales too.  And in practical – if not strictly constitutional terms – it looks a lot more like ‘independence’ than being tightly tied to England in any imaginable post-Brexit scenario.

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Flavours of fantasy

In their increasingly desperate attempts to get into the final two in the Tory Donkey Derby, the candidates are saying stranger and stranger things.  Michael Gove wins yesterday’s top placing for an ‘interesting’ take on the way his party’s internal democracy should work.  Trying to find an argument against letting Rory Stewart through to the final round, he said that it would be “a mistake to put forward two candidates into the final round who will polarise our party”.   With five candidates who subscribe to the fantasy that we just have to shout a bit louder at Johnny Foreigner to get him to bow down before us and only one who has a vague grasp on at least one element of reality, he is effectively arguing that the latter should be excluded on the basis that giving Tory members a choice between reality and fantasy would ‘polarise’ them.  Limiting their choices to different flavours of fantasy is, apparently, a much better way of conducting the race, and avoids the membership having to make a real choice between alternatives.  It’s a cunning plan, of sorts, but I think he’s worrying unnecessarily.  All the polls suggest that the chances of an average Tory party member voting for reality when fantasy is on the ballot paper are close to zero.  

Monday 17 June 2019

Can they be certain that he's lying?

Whilst Boris Johnson has committed himself to removing the UK from the EU on 31st October ‘with or without a deal’, not all of those backing him seem to agree entirely with that position.  Amongst his backers there appear to be at least a few who have previously said that they think no deal would be a disaster.  There are several possible reasons why such people might support Johnson.  They could, of course, simply have changed their minds, although it’s perhaps more likely that they have decided that their future careers depend on being on the winning side and are more important than the consequences (for other people) of Brexit.  I suspect that others, though, have simply concluded that Johnson is lying, and will not proceed with a no deal.  As a general rule, assuming that Johnson is lying is a safe position to take, but there is always an outside chance that this occasion is the exception that proves the rule – perhaps he really is as stupid as he would need to be if he weren’t lying.  After all, he’s well known for his failure to engage with the detail of anything.  In his case, given a choice between depending on his mendacity or his stupidity, I’d find it a tough call.
Insofar as one can read anything firm into his interminable waffle, his ‘solution’ to the Irish backstop problem seems to be to take it out of the Withdrawal Agreement and discuss it as part of the negotiations for a longer-term trade deal.  The EU, to say nothing of Ireland, have ruled this out categorically and repeatedly, but he still seems to think that a deal is possible.  I think there’s at least an outside possibility that he might, for once, be right on that.  If, for instance, the UK were to give a firm and binding commitment to maintain alignment with all EU rules and procedures until such time as new trading arrangements can be agreed which obviate the need for any backstop, then it seems to me to be quite possible that agreement could be reached.  Whilst many would argue that that is exactly what the backstop is (and they’d be right, of course), Johnson could quite happily call it something else (maybe even give it a good Latin name – I’m sure that his pal Jacob could help him in that endeavour) and we could all pretend that it’s something completely different.  EU history suggests that as long as they get what they need to protect the single market, they won’t have any serious problem with agreeing an alternative nomenclature.  The biggest problem that I see with such a linguistically flexible approach to implementing the backstop is not that it is impossible in itself but that it depends on the EU27 being willing to accept anything said by Johnson as a ‘firm and binding commitment’.  Given his record, I wouldn’t – why would they?

Friday 14 June 2019

Leadership hopefuls

Some of the runners and riders in the Tory Donkey Derby managed some interesting quotes following yesterday’s elimination of the three lowest-placed candidates. 
Rory Stewart, who scraped into seventh place with 19 votes, was pleased with that number, because prior to the voting he only had six declared supporters.  Hold on a moment there – to get onto the ballot at all, he needed a proposer, a seconder and six supporters; if we assume that he voted for himself (although in a rational world there would surely have been at least one of the candidates who pondered the wisdom of doing that), he should have expected a minimum of nine.  Mathematics therefore suggests that he was expecting at least three of those who signed his nomination papers to then vote against him.  It’s a strange world.  And with supporters like David Gauke claiming that Stewart’s seventh place with 19 makes him the main challenger to Boris Johnson on 114, it may yet get stranger.
Matt Hancock (who may or may not still be a candidate by now) said that it was "terrific to have more votes from colleagues than I could have hoped for" after receiving a total of 20.  Bearing in mind that he needed a minimum of 17 under the rules to survive the first round, how many did he actually hope to get?  Perhaps deep down, he was really hoping to get less than 17 and thus be eliminated.  That would, of course, make him the most rational of all the candidates - and therefore the most deserving of removal from the list.  Rationality is the last thing that his party is looking for at present.

Thursday 13 June 2019

Setting tough targets

I wouldn’t normally tend to endorse any of the candidates for the leadership of the Tory party – they all seem pretty dire to me.  I was, though, struck by something that ‘the Saj’ said yesterday in his pitch.  He argued that he was different, an outsider, just like Ruth Davidson was as leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and that under his leadership, his party would seek to emulate her success.
In the last General Election (under Davidson’s leadership), the Tories in Scotland won 22% of the seats with 29% of the vote; in the European elections, they won 17% of the seats with 12% of the vote, and in the last elections to the Scottish parliament, they won 24% of the seats with 22% of the vote.  It strikes me that many of us could fairly happily live with a Conservative Party led by a man for whom such results are defined as 'success' and whose ambition is limited to replicating those results across the UK.

Wednesday 12 June 2019

The universe might not be big enough

Infinity is a difficult concept to explain, but the old saying that given an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of keyboards and an infinite length of time, one of them would end up typing out the complete works of Shakespeare, correctly spelled and in the correct order, is as good an attempt as any.  If the number of possibilities is endless, then all possibilities must occur at least once (although a pedantic mathematician might well argue that in such a scenario, the Shakespeare possibility, like all the others, would itself occur an infinite number of times).  Put in simpler terms, it means that to get a specific outcome from a random process requires a very large number of iterations.
Given that requirement for very large numbers, it is surely no surprise that of the 10 candidates in the Tory leadership contest, none of them has managed to display an anywhere decent hold on reality.  Indeed, 10 being almost infinitesimal when compared with infinity, it’s close to a mathematical certainty that none would be able to do so.  It could be argued that we need to make a few adjustments to the arithmetic, however, to take account of the fact that, contrary to appearances, the leadership election process isn’t entirely random.  The 10 possibilities have been self-selected from a larger pool of around 300 Tory MPs (I think 313 at the time of writing, but who knows by this time next week?).  Mathematically, that’s still a lot closer to infinitesimal than infinite, though, so it doesn’t really change the calculations much.  And there’s no real evidence that the Conservative Party’s selection processes, let alone the electoral system in the UK, positively select for those with a grasp on reality.  Indeed, looking at polls on the views of the party membership, the opposite seems more likely to be true.
The multiverse theory postulates that there are a large number of parallel universes, so it has to be possible that there might just be one universe, somewhere out there, where at least one of the candidates for the leadership understands the world in which (s)he is living.  It doesn’t postulate that the number is infinite, however, so we’re still only dealing with probabilities.  But given that the number isn’t infinite, we can probably safely conclude that there is unlikely to be a universe anywhere in which Boris Johnson is regarded as an honest and realistic politician.  It was Douglas Adams who said that “Space is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is.”  It still might not be big enough to avoid a Boris premiership, though.

Tuesday 11 June 2019

What a strange coincidence - or maybe not

It seems to be a well-established practice that all spending pledges made by the Labour Party must be accompanied by a detailed analysis of where the money will come from, whilst Conservative politicians are allowed to make wild promises as and when they wish, depending presumably on an assumption that the magic money tree only works for Tories.  The media, by and large, play along with this, and the Labour Party make themselves vulnerable by dutifully falling in with the requirement rather than arguing that government finances simply don’t work that way. 
The front leader in the Tory leadership race has duly obliged by promising to reduce taxes for higher earners.  Some of his opponents have criticised him for this pledge, but I wonder if that’s mostly because of regret that they didn’t think of it first.  It’s been made clear that the main beneficiaries of his proposal would be rich pensioners.  By a curious (and I’m sure entirely unrelated) coincidence, the final choice of leader will be made by members of the Conservative Party, a group in which rich pensioners are extraordinarily over-represented.  To be blunt, what did people expect of someone whose only interest is himself?  Trying to win a context in that particular electorate by promising to increasing the living wage shows a remarkable lack of awareness about the concerns of the target audience.  For what may, perhaps, be the first time in his life, Johnson is being brutally honest – he’s identified those who can make the difference to his chances and is deliberately setting out to buy their votes.  What the rest of his opponents – let alone the public at large – think of that is irrelevant to him.

Monday 10 June 2019

Electoral arithmetic

Last week, the leader of Nigel Farage plc demanded that his ‘party’ be given a role in future negotiations over Brexit, whilst also demanding that the UK leave the EU without conducting any such further negotiations.  His basis for issuing this demand was that his ‘party’ won 40% of the seats in a parliament which has no responsibility for the issue in question after receiving 32% of the vote.  In his mind, this is an overwhelming democratic mandate which should oblige the government to accede, because his ‘party’ stood on a clear platform stating that it should be allowed a seat at the non-existent table where no negotiations would take place, and 32% of the electorate supported that demand.  It slightly overlooks the fact that, whether the other 68% voted for parties supporting different varieties of Brexit or not, they unquestionably did not vote for the only party arguing for that policy.
This is, of course, the same man who argues that in a referendum where 52% voted for Brexit and 48% against, the 48% can be ignored because they lost.  52% beats 48%, but at the same time 32% apparently trumps 68%.  The requirements of democracy (or even majoritarianism which is what we have) only apply to other people. 
There is, though, one part of his little missive with which I half agree, and that’s the bit where he claims that his ‘party’ has the “most recent and winning democratic mandate on Brexit”.  I say ‘half agree’ because 32% of those voting isn’t much of a winning mandate for anything; but in principle, he’s right about the result being the ‘most recent’ indication of feelings about Brexit.  And, perhaps unwittingly, he’s conceded a great deal there, because it’s an admission that a mandate won in one vote only applies up until another mandate is won in another vote, and that the ‘mandate’ can change over time.  I’m not sure that a letter hand-delivered to number 10, which he probably only ever thought of as a stunt giving him another excuse to play the betrayal card, was intended to be quite so revealing about the nature of democracy.

Sunday 9 June 2019

One rule for us...

As various Tory leadership candidates line up to confess to the usage of controlled and illegal substances in their youth, they are asking us to judge them not on the ‘mistakes’ they made many years ago, but on their record since.  At first sight, this is an entirely reasonable request; I can see no reason why what people did when they were very much younger should be allowed to hold them back for the rest of their lives.  There is more than a slight whiff of hypocrisy here though.
All of them, as far as I’m aware, support the current law and government policy on drugs, under which those who at any point possess or use class A substances – at least three of the current leadership contenders – can be charged, prosecuted, and sentenced to up to 7 years imprisonment.  None of them seems to be proposing any changes to that law.  And for those who get caught using such drugs (often people who are already disadvantaged in other ways) the criminalisation process can and does have a severe effect on their prospects for the future.
It seems to me that those Tories asking us to forgive and forget their ‘youthful mistakes’ are actually asking us to treat them differently from ‘common or garden’ drug users because a) they never got caught, and b) they come from a particular social demographic.  I’d have a lot more respect for their position if their own experience had helped them to see how and why some people get caught up in drug usage and gave them something of an insight into the problems with over-simplistic criminalisation.  Instead, all they seem to have learned is that people from the ‘right’ background who don’t get caught committing a criminal act can and should expect preferential treatment.

Wednesday 5 June 2019

Groundhog Day

In July 2009, the M4 relief road scheme “was pronounced dead”, according to the Western Mail.  The scheme was, according to the then Transport Minister, too expensive, partly as a result of the extra cost of protecting the population of twaite shad.  It turns out, though, that it wasn’t dead but merely sleeping, waiting for another minister, ten years later, to pronounce its death for a second time, because it’s too expensive and would cause too much environmental damage.
The problem with the ‘too expensive’ line in 2009, and again this week, is that costs and benefits can change.  Twice now, ministers – of two different parties – have overplayed the cost argument in order to avoid coming down firmly against the scheme on grounds of policy, especially environmental policy, which in both cases has been seen essentially as a secondary consideration.  As a result, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the reports of its death have, once again, been exaggerated.

Tuesday 4 June 2019

Is dishonesty really the same as sophistication?

There is a long and utterly dishonourable tradition in rural Welsh politics where so called ‘Independent’ candidates for local authorities get elected unopposed by any of the formal political parties.  One of the reasons for this is that some of them adopt the practice of telling all of the parties “I’m with you really, but I’m more likely to get elected as an independent”, and have even been known to give small donations to multiple parties as a token of their ‘good faith’.  I even recall one who told us that he’d be standing as a Plaid candidate next time round so we didn’t need to oppose him, but he didn’t want to announce it until after nominations closed so that none of the other parties could oppose him.  It’s probably needless to say that after nominations closed and it was too late to find another candidate, it emerged that he was standing as an ‘independent’, yet again.
It’s a practice which was brought to mind by the ‘news’ from the Conservative Party leadership contest that Boris Johnson has developed an almost unassailable lead amongst MPs with 80 now allegedly supporting him.  The Conservative Party likes to regard its MPs as being “the most sophisticated electorate in the world”, but this is actually a euphemism for “the biggest bunch of liars”.  Given that the eventual vote is held by secret ballot, it is perfectly possible – and apparently entirely normal – for MPs to pledge their vote privately to more than one candidate, in the hope that if they are believed to have been on the winning side, they may gain some preferment when ‘their’ candidate has been elected.
What that means, in practice, is that Johnson and his team haven’t a clue how many are actually going to vote for him, and nor do any of the other candidates.  The ‘news’ that he is far in the lead is no more than propaganda parading as fact in a dark and devious attempt to give the impression that his ascent is unstoppable.  There are two things that I don’t understand, though.  The first is why any news media – all of which know what a bunch of liars they’re dealing with – should choose to present this as ‘news’.  The second is why any of those resorting to such propaganda – who are even more aware than the media of the level of dishonesty amongst their colleagues – would think it stands any chance of working.

Monday 3 June 2019

Tails, dogs, and androids

It’s probably my fault for having watched too many episodes of Dr Who over the years, but every time I see a picture of the Saj, I wonder how we got to a position where we have a Sontaran as Home Secretary.  I’m not the first to ponder the question.  It isn’t just his appearance; as I recall the Sontarans, they also had a rather loose grip on logic – I can well imagine one of them supporting rules on immigration which would have barred his own father from entry and therefore prevented himself from getting into his current position.
In the increasingly bizarre contest to replace the Maybot with a downgraded new improved model, he is seen, apparently, as one of the front runners in a race which is attracting new entrants daily.  He isn’t the only one, however, for whom possession of operational logic circuits is seen as an unnecessary extra.  The Leadsom seems to believe that what is generally referred to as a ‘no-deal’ Brexit is actually a type of Brexit based on “making an offer to the EU for things that were already agreed in the withdrawal agreement” – which sounds like the current withdrawal deal minus the bits she doesn’t like.  Meanwhile, the Johnson (along with several models which appear to be cheaper copies), is arguing that threatening to breach treaty obligations unilaterally will somehow encourage other countries to trust the UK.  In any rational universe, the support of the Trump would be the kiss of death rather than providing a boost, although to be fair, in such a universe the Trump wouldn’t be in a position where its views mattered.
There is one thing, though, that the Saj might just have got right – the tail is indeed wagging the dog.  It’s just that he’s identified the wrong tail by pointing at Ireland.  The real tail in this case is the Conservative and Unionist Party, an organisation which is apparently dedicated to making itself as obsolete and irrelevant as its current leader.  The dog, sadly, is the rest of us, the intended victims of whichever defective model manages to impose its dominance on the rest of the tail.  Where is the Doctor when we need to create a time loop in which to deposit all the non-functioning androids?