Friendless Boris pals up with the equally vainglorious Scott Morrison to build some boats and piss off the French

Vainglorious posturing

What an absolutely preposterous story this is! At no point has China articulated any threat to Australia. Why would it? The only country in the region about which the Chinese have territorial ambitions, understandably, is Taiwan. This has nothing to do with Australia.

Wars start when there is a response to aggression. The building of these vainglorious boats is a provocative act and the Chinese may feel, who could blame them, that they will need to respond. So a weapons war will begin and the size and resources of the People’s Republic is such that there will only be one winner.

On the road to fascism excessive militarism is one of the signs. Scott Morrison shares Boris Johnson’s populist, nationalist ideology and love of shallow show. And his “mine’s bigger than yours” delusions. This unnecessary , unaffordable nonsense demeans a fine nation and gives it ideas above its station – and confirms that our tinpot Prime Minister’s futile search for friends in a world that despises him will take him in some very strange directions.

There is almost a nineteenth century mercantilist feel to Brexit Britain – certainly as far as labour is concerned

Desperate stuff from IAIN MARTIN

One of the rules of economics I learned fifty years ago was the relationship between Supply, Demand and Price. It seems that Iain Martin has forgotten what he was also taught in his desperate scramble to find a Brexit Benefit. One of the reasons that Margaret Thatcher was a great supporter of Free Trade was that she knew that if you increase Supply competition will lead to lower prices and better products. This rule applies to all the Factors of Production, including Labour.

The artificial restriction of Labour supply caused by Brexit is having a devastating effect on labour availability and costs. And on quality. Making it easier to become an HGV driver is a quality reduction and irresponsibly unsafe.

The way to ensure that workers have higher disposable incomes is not to close labour availability but to raise the minimum wage and to reduce taxation. And to rethink what “employment” should be. Proper jobs with proper contracts and proper worker representation and collective bargaining.

All economies have unique characteristics where skills, social priorities and restraints are concerned. The larger the labour pool the greater is the employer choice. Immigration widened that choice and furthered growth both new workers from the Commonwealth and Europeans using their Freedom of Movement rights contributed to national wealth.

There is almost a nineteenth century mercantilist feel to Brexit Britain – certainly as far as labour is concerned. Who would have thought that a country that once lead the world on Free Trade would become a closed society, denying itself labour choice ?

To argue that restriction on labour availability is beneficial you have to argue that thirty countries across Europe participating in Freedom of Movement (including some like Switzerland and Norway not in the EU) are wrong. And Little England is right. Ha !

Bin Laden may eventually have been caught but there was no 9/11 closure. And now it’s back to where we were twenty years ago.

There is a very good Leader on 9/11 in the Times today. They are right to call out the NeoCons as being instrumental in the lack of success post 9/11 – their regime change ideology lay at the centre of western failure. The ideology was based on the assumption that American military power was invincible. And on normal battlefields it would be. But like the Vietcong before them the Taliban didn’t do conventional warfare, and they moved to their own timetable not America’s.

Pax Americana achieved by violence has nowhere succeeded post war, or hardly ever. Instead from Korea via Vietnam to Afghanistan there has been humiliating defeat for the United States. And for a time the NeoCons wanted to attack Iran as well!

During WW2 the home front in both the US and the U.K. held firm. The moral rightness of defeating Germany and Japan was clear to all. Subsequent wars have had no such certitude. America was defeated in Vietnam as much by protests back home as by losses on the battlefields. The shock of 9/11 gave public support to America’s military action until, as the flag-draped coffins started coming home, it became clear that victory could not even be defined let alone anticipated. 

Catching Osama bin Laden and defeating Al-Qaeda proved difficult enough. Defeating a regrouped Taliban impossible. But still more troops headed East under confused political direction and poor military generalship. When after a decade the so-called “surge” was tried it just led to more body bags.

The Times calls the western response to 9/11 a “disaster” and they are right. It was understandable that after the horrors of the WTC attack we would all say “Something must be done” expecting that Western forces could do it. Up to a point they did, but after that point they didn’t know what to do. And, as later in Iraq, there was no post war political reconstruction plan. Bin Laden may eventually have been caught but that aside there was no closure. And now it’s back to where we were twenty years ago.

I don’t hear much “Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.” from the veterans associations or the bereaved families. RIP.

The game is nearly up for our overblown and dysfunctional Royal Family

Max Hastings contemplates the future of King Charles in The Times today. (Don’t worry the old girl is hanging on for now). But the key players in the future of the monarchy are not British. Out of respect for HMQ the governments and people of Australia, Canada and New Zealand (and a few other smaller independent states) have stuck with the absurd anachronism of having a non national of their countries as their Head of State. They won’t want Charles and Camilla – and who can blame them? The Commonwealth will surely also crumble away – Elizabeth II has held it together but in reality it has no purpose in the modern world, if it ever did.

Shorn of the remnants of post Imperial power Britain has to decide whether it wants to elect a President or persevere with the serendipity of having a monarch. If we choose King Charles, manifold faults and all, the firm may have to be slimmed down. The Dutch, and others, seem to manage with a constitutional monarch without the panoply of pomp and patronage that characterises ours.

The days of pompous self-congratulatory Britain may be fading away. Indeed Britain itself may be fading away entirely as Little England contemplates a lonely singular future. To be King of England has a certain historical relevance – cry God for Charlie, England and St George. And our benighted land might still make a few bob marketing the castles and the palaces as tourist attractions. But in reality the game is up.

National Insurance – a regressive tax by any other name. A closet Marxist explains

It’s not new but we are conned by it every time. When you do something nobody likes you pretend you are doing something everybody likes. Boo to tax increases. Hooray for increases in social and NHS expenditure. Like Income Tax was once a temporary measure to pay for some war or other. That went well.

“MPs will be asked today to approve the biggest personal tax rise in two decades to pay for a £12 billion-a-year package for the NHS and social care reform.” says The Times today. Whether the writer actually believes this Government propaganda or whether Rupert Murdoch has sent the Editor a message who knows? The truth is that National Insurance goes to the Treasury like every other tax. It will be spent on Trident as much as on Healthcare (etc.) There’s only one pot. And many eager to dip their fingers in it. The tax is regressive – something else that Tories like.

There are two things wrong with the descriptor “National Insurance”

1) It isn’t National

2) It isn’t Insurance

National taxes affect everyone. In theory anyway. Most of us pay Income Tax, VAT, excise duty…. A lot of us don’t pay NI. Me, as a non-working pensioner, for one.

Insurance is when there is a direct link from a premium to a benefit. NI is no longer that, if it ever was. NI is a payroll tax. Not really a stealth tax , though not far away. And certainly not insurance.

When Margaret Thatcher introduced her “Community Charge” we all saw it for what it was – a regressive Poll Tax. Tories don’t like progressive taxation (like income tax) so they try for a tax which can be sold as equally affecting all – VAT for example, and National Insurance. Even the uber Free Market Adam Smith Institute said that the Government is asking “ poorer workers to bail out millionaire property owners”

Natural Justice would lead us in another direction to “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” for example. Tories won’t like that , not least because Karl Marx said it. Seems good to me – perhaps I’m a closet Marxist after all !

Public services need a new pragmatic model which places public accountability and the citizen ahead of ideology

The politics of the past was a battle between those favouring the State and those committed to Private Enterprise. The latter won – most notably as a result of the Thatcher/Major’s privatisation programmes. These changes were made inviolable once Blair/Brown decided not to unravel any of them. In the battle of ideologies free enterprise triumphed.

In selling off the family silver Governments rewarded their class friends. In particular where privately owned and run monopolies were created. Some public services such as water and the railways became private fiefdoms where competition (nominally the driver of free enterprise) was absent. Fat cat profits and salaries for the head honchoes followed.

Analyse the provision of public services and you will find that they are all, in reality, public/private partnerships. Subsidies abound and the State often owns much of the infrastructure. When attempts were made to privatise the rail network with Railtrack it was an unmitigated, incompetently managed disaster. The NHS remains overwhelmingly State owned and run, but the private sector plays an important part throughout – and increasingly so.

In effect we are in a post ideology age. Jeremy Corbyn’s hankering after increased State ownership was antediluvian and the “hands off the NHS” brigades are equally shortsighted. What is needed is a new pragmatic model which places public accountability and the needs of the citizen foremost.

A crucial element now missing almost entirely from the private sector and under threat in the public sector is collective bargaining and union representation. Part of public accountability has to be respect for the employed. A problem is that for decades pre Thatcher Trades Union power became fiercely political with some Unions (notably the National Union of Mineworkers) exercising power way beyond their remit of defending the interests of their members. Though Thatcher’s coining the phrase “The Enemy Within” was offensive and hugely partisan there was an element of truth in it.

Union power is now almost entirely confined to the public sector , and selectively so. The NHS unquestionably needs efficiency improvements if it is to deliver value but the Unions (including the hugely powerful British Medical Association) rarely participate in reform. Meanwhile, as we have seen, some privatised service industries like Water and the Railways put profit and executive pay ahead of customer service.

Working together surely better than binary conflict ?

Our society is so divided that the very idea of cooperation in, say, improving the NHS seems alien. Binary structures are recipes for conflict . Ideology never helps. The moves towards the creation of an integrated railway service were forced on government by private sector failure. To think that the quality of the railway service you receive depends serendipitously on where you live is preposterous, but it’s true. A national network, national standards, a national fare structure (etc. etc.) is common across Europe. In comparison in Britain there is utter confusion.

As we gradually become aware of environmental threats the need for expanded and efficient public transportation becomes all the more important. HS2 will be a start taking customers out of their polluting cars and putting them in far more efficient and greener fast moving railway carriages. Again look at Europe to see the model. Note: We shouldn’t really care who actually owns the services so long as they are publicly accountable and deliver value. A properly constructed National Railway Service (NRS) is as necessary as a similar NHS. And it equally needs to be a public/private partnership.

I realise my “solution” will probably antagonise both sides in the public/private debate though as it seeks to put customers (the general public) ahead of ideology it shouldn’t. Our society shouts a lot, we need more mature debate and search for agreement and cooperation. Too much to expect? Probably.


The greatest abuse of power of all is sometimes to do nothing

If you express the view that we share our planet with the animal world and that they have as much right to it as we do someone will accuse you of sentimentality. But for millennia wise men like Ghandi have sought to challenge the conventional hierarchy that places Mankind at its top.

Animals have always served man. Sometimes the relationship has been mutually beneficial , but often the animal has been a slave not a partner. Or worse. Industrialised livestock farming treats the animals as a commodity in which the cattle or sheep or pigs have no recognised identity.

At the other extreme our pets or “companion animals” do become part of our family, are recognised for their individuality and are looked after as well as the family’s human members.

Geronimo and his owner

The paradox of an arbitrary divide between a pet and a wild animal was seen at its most chilling in the case of Geronimo the alpaca. This delightful animal was clearly a loved companion. Four years ago he twice tested positive for TB. The tests are known to be unstable. TB kills within six months, but four years later he was still a fit, lively animal. And yet the bureaucrats of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) killed him.

To be concerned about the destruction of Geronimo is not to be sentimental it’s to bemoan the inflexibility of a Government Department, it’s ministers and its civil servants. And the cruelty where at its heart lies the assumption that we humans have the right to treat animals pretty much how the hell we like.

Animal welfare is something that, as Ghandi said, is a measure of a nation’s decency. Where the lines are drawn is complex and can be hypocritical. I eat meat though if I visited an abattoir I might decide not to. I abhor horse racing, especially National Hunt, but I understand it’s appeal. Trophy hunting and bullfighting are clearly repellent, but they still go on.

At its simplest it comes down to personal choice. Would you help an injured bird if you could ? Most of us would. Would you try and save a drowning dog or cat. Likewise. Do you have a mental hierarchy of the animal world with your pooch at the top and the annoying snails who eat your petunias at the bottom. Hmmm.

The test is “Does it feel right?”. In the case of Geronimo it doesn’t. The law was clearly an ass in this case. Worse nobody who had the power to stop it did so. The greatest abuse of power of all is sometimes to do nothing.

Angela Merkel is not an ideologue she is a Stateswoman. Practical, thoughtful, honest and decent.

Excellent piece in The Times this morning by Danny Finklestein about Angela Merkel’s departure “ World’s centre-right lacks a unifying figure” . But it is missing the key factor as far as Britons are concerned. Here the “mainstream Right” has been routed by the “populist Right”. A few remnants of traditional One Nation conservatism remain but they are out of power and office and reduced to heckling impotently from the sidelines.

Merkel v Johnson. Pragmatic politics versus shallow populism

Sir Keir Starmer is struggling to rebuild the “mainstream Left” but as in the Conservative Party the heavy feet of populist extremism stand on him. Corbyn may have gone (probably not, actually) but his simplistic ideology lives on , and not just in the shadows. In the Conservatives the simplistic ideologies are firmly entrenched in power.

The Clinton/Blair “Third Way” was a bit misleading. Actually both leaders were pretty firmly of the pragmatic centre. Bush Mark Two, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, found himself after 9/11 being steered by the NeoCons – not a group that the Bushes had ever joined. Dubya’s Dad had been Reagan’s Vice President and was arguably a restraint on Ronnie who was not really a NeoCon anyway.

Tony Blair was as equally prepared to fly the flag as George Bush

Twenty years ago 9/11 gave the NeoConservative movement a shot in the arm in America and, in due course, in Britain. The disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq showed the foolishness of western military intervention which is so very visible today. Driving the military adventures was raw nationalism. Here Tony Blair was no less nationalistic and equally prepared to fly the flag.

If I’d been German I’d have voted for Angela Merkel and I’m a liberal – the SDP was the last political party of which I was a member. Like Lord Finkelstein I was also a Social Democrat – though I can’t imagine taking the step towards the Tories that he did! But the Conservatives of John Major and, to a much lesser extent of David Cameron, were not the rabid Rightists who are in power today.

Angela Merkel is not an ideologue she is a Stateswoman. Practical, thoughtful, honest and decent. And very capable. Her political position eschews ideology – she is an internationalist, a free Marketeer, and a supporter of a mixed economy balancing the public and private sectors in a pragmatic way. Under her leadership, almost for the first time, Germany has atoned for its past – a past which had put Margaret Thatcher off reunification. Without that atonement a reunited Germany would have been difficult to sell.

No British politician would atone for Empire in the way that Angela Merkel has not only for the Nazi era but also for the gross crimes of East Germany, the country in which she grew up as a child. In Britain the mythical “glorious past” has to be rhetorically present in any ambitious politician. Tell the truth about imperial motives and excesses and you’ll find that there are no votes in it.

So in bidding farewell to the excellent Frau Merkel I would less be seeking a “Centre Right” replacement but more someone from Left, Right or Centre who has her internationalist outlook, honesty and pragmatism. The Germans learned the very hard way indeed about the dangers of inflexible, nationalist ideology. It’s a lesson that we in Britain need to learn very quickly as well.

In modern times demand is never created by oil companies but merely satisfied by them

Dilemma over new North Sea projects” reports The Times today. Not for the first time, though, there is an underlying but false assumption that oil consumption is supply rather than demand driven. It isn’t.

Oil/Gas production responds to consumer demand, it does not create it

I spent forty years with Shell and have received a Shell pension for nearly twenty. This may not make me objective, but it does make me informed ! In my early years we had three options for increasing sales. The first was to respond to market growth caused by lifestyle changes. The second was actively to seek to convert users of one form of energy (usually coal) to oil. The third was to gain business from our oil company competitors. Let’s see how this has changed.

Market growth. There is a correlation between economic growth and oil demand. As countries get richer they use more oil. To focus on countries like China makes sense. That demand is not created by the oil companies it is supplied by them.

Conversion. In my youth I worked on initiatives like “Mrs 1970” which created the oil-fired central heating market. Coal burning in a grate gave way to an oil-fired boiler and radiators. Here we were certainly creating demand and new markets. This rarely, if ever, happens today.

Competition. To gain a customer from a competitor has no effect on the size of the market. The demand is not created, just supplied by a different company.

In modern times demand is never created by oil companies but merely supplied by them. If we don’t develop new oil fields it will have zero effect on demand because somebody else will. Oil consumption is entirely demand driven. If you want to reduce consumption focus on the users not the suppliers.

Modern cities like London hugely benefit from their multiculturalism

According to Clare Foges in the Times today “…we are a nation that values its culture.” Note the use of the singular. And we must avoid “monocultural ghettos”. Aside from the value driven use of the word “ghetto” the implication is clear – that people of the same ethnicity, culture, religion, heritage choosing to live together “monoculturally” in the same location is a bad thing. Has the writer ever been to Woking ? Or Hartlepool for that matter.

I’ve lived as an ex-pat in three or four places where my nationality placed me in a minority. As with all the other Brits I generally socialised with people like me. It’s what you do as a “ Gastarbeider”. If a move is more permanent the same applies. Look at the Brits on the Costa del Sol.

Stamford Hill

The “melting pot” is sentimental tosh. We tend to mix with, marry with and live with people like us. Human Nature. This doesn’t mean that we reject pragmatic integration or consider our way of life superior. A city is enriched by variety and the fact that London, for example, has Asian, Jewish, West Indian and many other districts is a plus.

There is no template of “normal” Britishness. The inhabitants of Southall or Stamford Hill are no less British than those of Wimbledon. To suggest that these people “belong” less, as Ms Foges does is pretty offensive. Try telling the Hasidic Jews of North London that they should integrate and not have parallel lives. Good luck with that.