Category Archives: uk

The right weapon

Today’s terrorist attack in London seems to have been in the worst tradition of slaughtering the innocent, but pretty feeble in its token attempt on the more noble target of Parliament.  This won’t become a Grand Tradition like Catesby’s papists’ attack.

But if we accept that the goal was slaughter of the innocent, then today’s perpetrator made a better job of it than most have done, at least since the days of the IRA, with their deep-pocketed US backers and organised paramilitary structure.  His weapon of choice was the obvious one for the purpose, having far more destructive power than many that are subject to heavy security theatre and sometimes utterly ridiculous restrictions.  Even some of those labelled “weapons of mass destruction”.

The car.  The weapon that is available freely to everyone, no questions asked.  The weapon no government dare restrict.  The weapon that kills more than all others, yet where it’s so rare as to be newsworthy for any perpetrator to be meaningfully punished.  Would the 5/11 plotters have gone to such lengths with explosives if they’d had such effective weapons to hand?

With this weapon, the only limit on terrorist attacks is the number of terrorists.  No need for preparation and planning – the kind of thing that might attract the attention of police or spooks – just go ahead.

And next time we get a display of security theatre – like banning laptops on flights – we can point to the massive double-standards.

The tail that wags a very big dog

Our new Prime Minister famously said “brexit is brexit”.  The general media responded straight away with “but what is brexit?”.  OK, they’re onto the troubles with it.  No need for me to say anything more.  Right?

Well, something less than half-right.  They’ve grasped the Humpty Dumpty nature of the word “brexit”.  But they’ve failed miserably to follow through and consider the implications.  Dammit!

So what’s the problem?  Brexit is a coalition of differing views, ranging from on the one hand some who see it as an opportunity for more trade and more immigration (like Tim Martin, who had “vote leave” messages printed on beer mats at Weatherspoons, a chain of about 1000 pubs, predominantly big ones in city locations), right through to outright racists and xenophobes who won’t be satisfied until their streets are purged of anyone speaking foreign.  Plus of course a general protest vote.  No outcome is going to satisfy all the brexit voters.  Indeed, it seems unlikely even to satisfy a majority.

So now a majority – the 52% – have a sense of victory and entitlement to their agenda.  Among them, the outright racists have been making the most noise: within 24 hours of the result they’d screamed “traitor” at Boris (who had been so bold as to hint that brexit didn’t necessarily mean closing the doors to all immigration), and even at Farage.  There were also posts in public fora prophesying blood in the streets if any doors remained open.  How things have changed since Enoch Powell!

That’s an agenda claiming – and believing they have – a 52% electoral mandate, yet not really representing even the whole of the BNP/UKIP.  Give them their isolationism and we can rapidly slip back to poverty, and with less food or energy security than even in the 1970s.  Deny it to them and it seems most unlikely they’ll shut up.

Even the Tory party’s internal troubles, which the referendum was intended to deal with (hence the gerrymandering in favour of Out), seem unlikely to go away.  Mrs May is making a valiant attempt by putting brexit leaders in charge, but some of the backbenchers will surely be back on the warpath as soon as there’s any whiff of compromise in the air.

Thought experiment.  UK general elections give us a choice of several parties and candidates to vote for.  A party that gets 40% of votes cast becomes a clear winner.  If we voted 48% for the status quo (Tories) and 52% for all other parties, that would give the Tories the biggest landslide victory of any party in our history. And that’s how the referendum campaign was conducted: on the “in” side a lacklustre status quo, on the “out” side a coalition of different agendas each with utopian promises they had no expectation of having to deliver.

Well, we voted 52% for the array of promises that were “not the status quo”, and could be handing that 52% not to the mainstream opposition (Labour, or perhaps the SNP – the opposition party with a real mandate in its home turf) but to a loony-fringe party that happens to shout loudest.

And perhaps the worst of it?  Whereas Tim Farron (libdem leader) promised to make it an election issue for positive reasons, Labour hopeful Owen Smith is doing exactly the wrong thing jumping onto that bandwagon with an entirely negative and condescending “you got it wrong” message.  Cameron already alienated enough people to tip the balance, and Smith is consolidating that alienation.  I hope Corbyn firmly beats him.

The Devil always cheats

Once upon a long time ago, my dad told me about selling one’s soul to the devil.  I think it must’ve been in connection with (a childrens version of) the Faust story, but the suggestion was that there were quite a few such instances.

The Devil would always cheat on his side of the bargain.  The archetypal lawyer, he’d find loopholes in a literal interpretation of the text, and catch you out on them.  You of course don’t stand a chance – unless perhaps you’re Goethe’s very metaphysical Faust, or maybe a modern sendup.

Today it seems Boris is caught.  The charismatic, populist toff has all the attributes of a diabolical bargain, and in spades.  Indeed, altogether more so even than Trump, from whose wildly successful campaigning style Boris has clearly taken inspiration.

The master plan was obviously a Boys Own scenario: come to power at the nadir of the the worst crisis since the 1970s (perhaps even the 1940s, at least in his dreams) and turn the country around.  But that needed a scapegoat, to take the impossible (but eminently blameable) decisions that will now lead us to that low point.  Cameron’s resignation today came too early for the master plan: he’s not going to be that scapegoat.  So now it seems Boris has to take over too early and take that blame, or else chicken out at this obvious moment.

Whoops!

Oh, and though it’s not really the same story, I can’t resist a picture:

cltasa2wgaadltu1

Celebrity and Punishment

I have long detested Sir Cliff Richard as a purveyor of inane muzak that gets inflicted on us in public places.  Today I loathe his noise no less, but I also applaud him for biting back at the Witchfinder and the system that’s been persecuting him for the past two years or so and dropped the case just a few days ago.

Who’da thunk that being dragged through a criminal investigation could be as stressful and damaging to the victim as his eventual sentence if convicted (if not more so)?  If Sir Cliff can highlight to the world the bitter hollowness of the whole pretence that an innocent man has nothing to fear from the system, I might almost forgive the noise – at least until it next gets inflicted on me.

Ironic that he should contemplate doing so through the very “justice” system that had been pursuing him.  But I guess when you’re as rich as Sir Cliff you can take your cue from Sir Leicester Dedlock: just sit back and let the sharks play.

Death to Traitors, freedom for Britain

It’s not exactly catchy, is it?  But then, the Breivik-wannabe[1] who murdered an MP and wounded a bystander had already shouted “Britain First”, only to be disowned and his act unreservedly condemned by the fringe political group of that name.  He seems to be politically-motivated yet to have (thankfully) no hint of political support.

I hadn’t heard of the victim Jo Cox before her death.  But I have to confess, I find the tributes to her unexpectedly convincing, and the sister’s speech today was lovely.  My inner cynic has nothing to say.

What a shame that’s the background to someone who appears to be doing a fine job of highlighting some of the absurdities of our judicial system with the full attention of the media.  There’s plenty of scope to disappoint, but to have stood up in court today and given his name as “Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain” is a good start.  Strangely everyone concerned refers to him by a less-unlikely name, which kind-of highlights the absurdity of the court’s question.  After all, a defendant on a charge involving identity theft might easily tell a convincing lie.

Apart from giving us a welcome respite from referendum nonsense, this has raised the question of shielding MPs from the people.  The odious Luciana Berger, from the totalitarian wing of the Labour party, wants to make it an excuse to hide behind red tape and screen out unwanted members if the public.  I hope that level of contempt for her electorate puts her in a minority as small as the assassin’s: I certainly can’t see those who (like Jo Cox) actually care about people going down that kind of route.

I shall also be mildly interested to see how the courts treat this case in comparison to another recent politically-motivated killing.  If the killers of a military target, having gone to some lengths to make it clear that civilian bystanders had nothing to fear, could be given an (exceptional) absolute maximum punishment, there is no scope left to punish proportionally the murder of a civilian and serious wounding of a third party.  Will we see a shameful double standard of any lesser punishment for the greater crime?

[1] Or does he see himself as Gavrilo Princip or Yigal Amir, the assassins whose deeds unleashed war on the world?

DoS attack?

Government system to register to vote in the referendum gets overloaded.  Deadline gets extended.  Cockup or conspiracy?

News reports tell us the best measure of traffic they had was the peak of registrations ahead of last year’s general election, and they built the system to cope with many times more traffic than they’d had then.  Yet traffic surged way beyond even that ‘surplus’ capacity.  So while cockup is entirely plausible, it’s by no means inevitably the cause.

It is widely supposed that late registrations come predominantly from younger people, and that younger people are more likely to vote In.  So bringing the system down ahead of the deadline would favour “out”, while extending the deadline would favour “in”.  Overall my best guess would be they more-or-less balance – at least if the system doesn’t go down again.

Most campaigners on both sides seem to accept it’s just one-of-those-things.  But a few “out” campaigners have been remarkably quick to jump on it.  It’s gerrymandering (Ian Liddell-Grainger).  It could be cause for Judicial Review in the event of a narrow “in” vote (Bernard Jenkin).

Hmmm, cui bono?  Jenkin’s line of reasoning points to a vote-again-until-you-get-it-right scenario.  We have a motive: someone stood to gain from the system failing on the last day.  If the deadline is not extended, a chunk of predominantly-in voters are excluded.  If it is extended, they’re preparing the ground for judicial review: get the courts to decide.  A win-win.

A Denial of Service attack can bring any system on the ‘net down for a while, and is very easy to mount (buy yourself control of a million virus-infected PCs and have them all bombard the target system to overwhelm it).

Cockup or Conspiracy?  I anticipate some more evidence, albeit far from conclusive.  If it goes down again tomorrow, that signals cockup – unless someone could organise a new DoS attack remarkably quickly.  If it survives to the new deadline, it smells more of conspiracy.

Red Tape

Just heard businesspeople debating the EU issue.  Unlike most of the crap we’ve been getting from both sides, this discussion aimed to be somewhat informative.

It was chaired by the BBC’s Evan Davis, with a panel comprising two business leaders from each side, and a guest from the Swiss business community to bring insights from a prosperous European non-EU perspective.

The pro-EU panellists basically said what I’d expect: their businesses benefit hugely from not having to deal with red tape in their everyday dealings with the rest of the EU.  One of them was in manufacturing, and drew the contrast between just shipping something vs having to fill tedious forms for every item exported outside the single market.  Whether and to what extent brexit would affect her business surely depends on politics (of 27 countries), and if you take the Gove vision of out-of-the-single-market, hassle-free exports would look like an early casualty.  The other was in financial services, on which subject the most interesting observation came from the Swiss guest: Swiss companies have to establish EU-based subsidiaries to export their financial services!

The Anti-EU panellists were more interesting: their gripe was with EU red tape.  Between them they provided three examples:

  1. Data Protection rules constrain the first speaker’s business of direct marketing.  Hmmm, Americans in his line of business complain of that too.  Perhaps he imagines brexit will exempt us from rules that bind US companies doing business in Europe (even if lobbyists could persuade a UK government to adopt rules more spam-friendly than our current ones)?
  2. The other speaker is a financier, and one of his investee companies struggled with an inordinately long approval process for a new drug.  Well, he may have a valid point, but how could brexit help him?  Pharma research involves big investment (that’ll be why they needed a financier), and needs to sell into big markets.  So I would imagine their top priorities will be EU and US[2] approvals, regardless of brexit.  If the UK process departs from the EU one, that’s just more red tape and expense.
  3. A health-and-safety rule: executive office chairs have to have five legs/wheels[3] at the base to give them stability (yes, four swivelling legs with wheels really is hazardous).  Hmm, well, they all do have that, everyone in the industry works to that standard.  Is anyone realistically going to try and change it?  We can of course still get a four-legged chair without wheels.

So, that’s the red tape that bothers them.  Is there a developed country anywhere in the world without broadly similar rules?  Oh yes, the US lacks data protection, and one or two states[4] are safe havens for spammers.

A particularly interesting nugget came when the chairman asked the Swiss guest about having to abide by EU standards without legally having a say in them.  He replied that in fact swiss business does effectively have a say.  Like anyone else, they can lobby, and if they present a reasonable case for something, the EU is receptive to it.  One might almost conclude that only the Brits get obsessed with legal niceties over reasonable practicalities.  On the other hand, he also pointed out that domestic politics within any of the EU countries may get in the way of them doing any particular deal you might expect – and that the brexit campaigners are assuring us will happen.

[1] (footnote removed, I thought better of it).

[2] I wonder if the much-feared TTIP might help with that, perhaps with a streamlined or even unified process to get approval both sides of the Atlantic?

[3] I wasn’t quite clear on the details.

[4] Notably Florida, unless I’m out-of-date or misremembering.

People’s Front of Judea

(The title is of course from the gentle send-up of loony fringe politics in the Life of Brian).

Our referendum doesn’t just have two opposing sides, it has a bunch of opposing teams on the “out of Europe” side.  Not to mention opposing views among them of what Britain might look like and what direction it might take outside the EU.

That leaves our electoral commission with a bit of a dilemma.  Some horribly unfit-for-purpose rules say it has to hand various resources – like public money and TV airtime – to each side in the campaign.  In order to do so, it seems to have to designate one of those “out” groups as the official campaign, at the expense of the others.  That’ll leave the losers crying foul.

Here’s a plea to them.  Give it to Farage’s lot.

Farage will be insufferable anyway.  Not that I can really blame him in the circumstances: this is the consummation of his entire political career.  And he’s media-friendly: he’ll get  more airtime than pretty-much anyone else regardless of the electoral commission’s decision.  And he’ll tell bigger and more blatant porkies than the mainstream politicians, with a straight face.

If he doesn’t get the money, he’ll not just be ubiquitous, he’ll have a real grievance.  That might in itself make him as unstoppable as Trump: the more outrageous he gets, the more popular it’ll make him.  Better he have the rope to hang himself than to hang the country.

A Hollow Crown

Our prime minister returns triumphant from Brussels, his enemies vanquished.

Or perhaps, he returns triumphant from annoying his friends, bringing with him ammunition for his enemies.

Or does he play a double game against all of us?  But more on that later.

His brief speech we heard on the radio news this evening actually sounded genuinely interesting in parts.  The story told in the media has been consistently different.  Doubtless both based on an element of truth and spun from there.

The big story the media concentrate on (though what they say may not be entirely accurate) is about curbing benefits to migrants, on the face of it something entirely reasonable.  Or rather, something utterly preposterous: it’s only because our benefits system is monstrously broken that EU rules (accidentally) apply to it in the first place.   Germany, for example doesn’t have our “in work benefits” problem.  But instead of fixing it, he inflicts  gratuitous discrimination on (some) foreign workers, in the hope that one more wrong piled on to the mess might make a right.

It’s supposed to reduce net migration.  That seems unlikely to happen.  Farage & Co are saying so, and the nutters are much more dangerous when they’re also right about an issue.  I expect Cameron will pull a rabbit or two from his hat to wrong-foot them ahead of the referendum, but this fundamental point won’t budge.  Two wrongs make an anti-right.

Which brings me to the conspiracy idea: is Cameron in fact saying one thing but working for the opposite (as The Liar did over hunting)?  He has gerrymandered the electorate, conveniently setting aside a manifesto pledge to extend the vote to Brits long-term abroad (who may naturally have the strongest reasons to vote stay) and will also exclude EU citizens resident and working in the UK (ditto).  He’s promised everything the Europhobes asked for in terms of re-formulating the referendum question and terms of the debate, yet no word on conceding to the (europhile) SNP on the subject of the referendum date not clashing with their election.  In short, he seems in his actions to be working for an exit!

Time will tell.  But on a personal level, should I get out now, ahead of a time when there might be serious barriers to a move?  Ugh.

Oh, and if you pay more child benefit to children in the UK than in their home countries, doesn’t that risk incentivising foreign workers to bring their complete families?  So they burden our schools all the more, and become altogether more likely to remain here long-term or permanently. Unintended consequences, or misleading reporting?

A choice of poisons

How have I failed all this time to post a good rant about the election and its participants?  A plague on all their houses, including the media reporting them and staging silly events.

Well, I have to report, our beloved Prime Minister and his colleagues have accomplished something quite stupendous with their headless chicken act forever aping whatever party is flavour-of-the-month, and their pork-barrelwarehouse blank cheques[1].  They’ve convinced me Miliband is the lesser of two evils!  And that’s despite some of the horrors that surround him (Balls and Harman spring to mind, though they have strong competition from the likes of Pickles, Shapps and Osborne).

Looking to the future, whoever loses will probably have a change of leadership.  Since the worst imaginable outcome is Balls as PM in five years, there’s another reason to consider Miliband now.   Ugh.

As against that, Cameron has one thing going for him.  He’s no leader[2], but his record of holding an uneasy coalition more-or-less together speaks well of his managerial skills.  And his announcement that he won’t serve more than two terms speaks of unusual commonsense.  Blair/Brown, and previously the thoroughly-nasties who undermined Major, might prove mere foreshadowings of how bad things could get within a governing group.

So who can I support?  Well, amongst the parties it’s a clear None of the Above.  They all have some good things to say, but on the overwhelming balance I can only wish a plague on all their houses – including the aspiring minor parties (Green and UKIP) as well as the more established ones.  However, I can look at my local candidates and decide who appears least objectionable.  I’ve done that, and decided my vote is going to a man with a decent background of hard work in a real job, including starting his own company.  But since this is a marginal constituency, and my candidate doesn’t belong to either of the parties with a hope of winning it, he’ll be squeezed and my vote wasted.

[1] Dammit, when the NHS asks for an extra £8billion, that’s supposed to be a bloomin’ negotiating position to start from.  And that’s not even the worst of the wildly reckless pledges: it’s looking increasingly like I’ll reach retirement age with my taxes paying ever more to price me out of housing!  And look at the number of things I didn’t have to mention!
[2] Boris (or Other) might just be.  That remains to be seen.