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|Friday, November 11th, 2016|
|Things fall apart.
I came across a quote a while ago. It was "Meanwhile the poison was still working its way to the heart of the banks”.
Sounds contemporary, doesn’t it? The sort of thing that might have been written about the failure of the Dutch bank Dexia a few years ago, or the Italian banking system right now. But it isn’t. It was actually written about the failure of the Ayr Bank in 1771, two years after the spectacular collapse of a credit bubble in East India Company stock.
Or here’s another good quote: “I lost everything in the market thanks to you and your rotten friends. You think you can crush the little man, destroy me and my family with your illegal operation.”
Once again it sounds fairly fresh – the sort of thing someone might have said to an executive of Lehman’s a few years ago perhaps - but once again it’s a lot older. It’s actually a message sent to the great speculator Jesse Livermore during the crash of 1929, when he shorted the market at the top and made a hundred million dollars.
So if you think the quotes sound fresh and recent, it’s with very good reason. It’s because all this has happened before, and will happen again. And what’s more you can’t stop it.
I’m fascinated by economic bubbles. They’re actually comparatively regular events. Bubbles emerge in equities or bonds or commodities or tulip bulbs or wherever people – particularly people with little or no market experience or knowledge – think there’s easy money to be made. They pile in, driving the price higher. Then as the price keeps going up with no sign of stopping, euphoria takes over. People start saying things like ‘new paradigm’ and ‘end of boom and bust’. They start borrowing to invest more and more. Then, as the price starts to falter and fall, panic ensues. People who have borrowed too much rush for the door to avoid getting wiped out. Many, trapped in a market with an overpriced commodity with no buyers, are
A good example of this is the Dotcom/ Tech bubble of the late 1990s. A new technology excited people and they rush to get in, often borrowing to do so. As the market topped and turned, people who had bought at the top panicked and started to sell to minimise their losses. This in turn pushed the price lower, precipitating more selling. And so on. When it all had gone sour it’s estimated that something like US$1.75 trillion was lost. Not stolen or transferred, but just gone. Many people (including me, I’m not too proud to admit) lost a packet.
But it’s not really bubbles I want to talk about. They’re a part of where I’m going here, and they’re exciting and a lot of money is gambled and lost or won but they aren’t catastrophic. It’s the really bad ones which lead to debt and banking crises that I’m interested in. They're much rarer, but they are when the foundations of the economic system itself shake and there’s the danger that not only investors could be wiped out, but banking depositors – ordinary savers – might be wiped out too.
For starters, it’s important to remember that not every bubble leads to a banking crisis. Far from it. For example the stock market bubble of 1907 almost led to a run on the banks, but the day was saved by JP Morgan himself announcing that he was prepared to extend a credit line of ten million dollars to stabilise them. Panic subsided, people relaxed, and the world went on. By way of comparison, in the crash of 1929 the US government put US$25 million in and it didn’t help much at all. The scale was just that much bigger than your average, ordinary everyday bubble. (And looking at that $1.75trn lost when the dotcom balloon went up, it’s estimated that the losses in 2008 were at least ten times bigger. It really did shake the pillars. That’s why it is taking so long to climb back out of the hole).
So unlike your run of the mill market bubble, speculative credit bubbles leading to debt and banking crises are rare events happening perhaps every 30-60 years. Whilst they have happened throughout history, I propose to look at the most recent and to focus on the UK (with a bit of the US for detail, as you can’t really ignore them in matters financial) which would be the crises of 1769, 1848, 1873, 1929 and 1972 and their aftereffects. Because banking crises appear to have consistent and really, really interesting aftereffects. Aftereffects that we are living though the modern version of now, post 2008. And these aftereffects result in the political consensus shifting and realigning.
In other words, things fall apart.
What’s really interesting is that politically speaking things don’t change or fall apart immediately. It takes time, and the period of time seems linked to the usual business cycle.
The ‘business cycle’ is a phrase that gets used a lot, but basically means the period of time between peaks and troughs of growth and slowdown. For sake of argument the business cycle perhaps averages 7-8 years, but can be as short as four or five and as long as ten or twelve (in some cases even longer – the country which has gone longest without a recession is Australia, which is now 25 years and counting into a period of sustained growth thanks to their massive natural resources). If it were an exact science this would all be easy and we’d all be a lot richer than we are.
If the crisis marks the beginning of a substantial and sustained period of economic slowdown, then the political eruption happens not at the time, but at the time of the *next* trough at the end of the next business cycle.
The period after the crisis is marked by political anger, a growth in populist movements, and, above all, a search for someone to blame. Because yes, a lot of people rushed out during the golden years and borrowed money or invested their savings in to the bubble. A defining characteristic of a bubble is that euphoric feeling that you can’t lose. Just borrow and pay back your debt with your guaranteed profits because prices can only go up, up, up. And when that goes wrong, people – many of whom were new market entrants with no experience or idea of what to expect who’d been sold on the idea of easy profits – look for someone to blame.
At the same time people who didn’t get involved in the bubble but instead carefully saved and scrimped but also benefitted from the halo effect also had the horrid sensation of watching their savings be at risk, and the value of their house and stocks and shares and pensions tumble and they want to know who is to blame as well.
Now, greedy bankers or whoever are easy targets, but ultimately the finger of blame will alight upon the established political consensus. The cosy bubble divorced from the people they represent. You know the rhetoric. We’ve heard a heck of a lot of it lately.
Meanwhile, economically, the period post crash is marked by one of two reactions. Either a retrenchment, with a fall in taxation revenues and thus spending by the government, which is never popular, or a loosening of monetary policy to try and boost growth – or possibly a combination of both to a greater or lesser extent. Frankly, neither of these outcomes are great but in the wake of a crisis there are no perfect solutions. After a full business cycle of post-crash policy measures the anger and resentment of the people comes to a head with the next slowdown. We’ve gone through so much pain caused by [insert blame group here], is the cry. The government has done nothing to help [insert victim group here] and they aren’t listening to the people. Something must change. And it does. In this febrile atmosphere, demogogues and populist movements prosper as the established political consensus tries to save itself in the face of popular anger and blame.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the American Declaration of Independence was signed seven years after the crash of 1769. In the wake of the crash, the British government tried to bolster its economic position, in part, by increasing tax revenues from the colonies.
It’s often forgotten that the Boston tea party was occasioned by a reduction in tax. Taxation on tea was so high into the Americas that smuggling was rife and revenues from tax were nigh-on nothing. So the government dropped the taxation to a point where suddenly smuggling was uncompetitive against the risks of capture and this, coupled with a legitimised government monopoly on the trade granted to the East India company, was intended to generate revenues for the crown, and it did. It worked too well, in fact. Boston tea merchants were horrified by the loss of their profits from dealing in contraband. Populism in the colonies, unhappy at suddenly being treated as a tax farm, leaped in the wake of losses sustained from the fallout of 1769 (and a lot of colonists were shareholders in the East India Company who price had tanked, causing the crisis).
The arguments for nationalist movements are always the same. The government is distant and unresponsive. We want democracy. We’d be voting for the leaders we choose. Why should we give them our taxes when we could spend them on ourselves. It’s all about sovereignty. Once again, we’ve heard them a lot recently.
So, in 1776, one business cycle after the crash, boom.
Meanwhile in Britain protectionism was also rife. The crash of 1769 ushered in an political era of economic protectionism for British vested interests exemplified by the corn laws. A period which lasted until the next crisis, that of 1846 with the collapse of the railway bubble.
You probably can guess how that went. People piled into the exciting new technology of railways which would revolutionise their lives until, with a rise in interest rates in 1846, the bubble popped. Money flowed out and over-leveraged people panicked and started to sell at any price. Many were wiped out. This led to the banking crisis of 1847 and then to the great rally of the chartists – the occupy movement of their day, in 1848.
Prior to the crash the chartists had been a fringe movement of slightly wonkish obsessives, a bit like UKIP pre-2008. After it, they were huge, presenting a great charter with a million signatures on it (like Occupy, they had a touching faith in the efficacy of petitions) to parliament making the usual demands like more money and democracy. Ostensibly the movement failed, but in after the election of 1852 the ruling coalition of agrarian high Tories who had dominated British politics and maintained a protectionist consensus for decades collapsed, making way for the ascendancy of a new consensus – that of liberal, free trading Whigs, whose place in the sun lasted until (you guessed it) the next crisis. That of 1873-4.
The effects of the crisis of the early 1870s were particularly severe in Britain, leading to what is called the ‘long depression’ that lasted the better part of a decade. This period saw the established Liberal coalition tear itself apart and the emergence of new, socialist movements that would coalesce into the Labour party. The consensus, which lasted until the crisis that followed the 1929 crash, was one of Mercantilism best exemplified by the policy of ‘Imperial preference’.
The effects of the 1929 crash are probably the best documented of all, largely due to the second world war, but it’s worth noticing that populist movements also emerged in the UK and the US and they’ve been largely forgotten about in all the excitement that Hitler started. However, it’s well worth remembering that the 2000s is by no means the first time the UK has seen mass movements marching under banners saying “Stop the war” and demanding a referendum:
The consensus that emerged from this period – actually known in Britain as the Postwar Consensus - was one of planned economics and state ownership and it remained until, you guessed it, one business cycle after the secondary banking crisis of 1972, when Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan disrupted the old consensus and established a new one of market liberalism and trade. For a period in the 1970s it looked, post crisis, like the populist and protectionist movement of the unions would survive (“Who governs Britain?” as the slogan of the 1974 election ran), but Thatcherism emerged in direct response to that and completely blew it out of the water. You just can’t predict how these things are going to go, just that they’re going to happen.
And now here we are a cycle after the crash of 2008, and it’s all being disrupted. Again.
There’s a lot to unpack from this. Definitely more than I’ve got room for here, but firstly I draw a conclusion, which is this:The perceived benefits (real or otherwise) of an established political consensus accrue to a smaller and smaller group until that creates a demos large enough to disrupt it – and the catalyst for that is a debt crisis, which crystallises disaffection.
A good example of this is the shift which occurred in 1979; the benefits of the postwar consensus accrued ever more to the unionised, nationalised industries until, in the wake of the crisis of 1972, the demos of the rest of the population disrupted it and created a new one.
In my opinion the reset of 1852 is the one which most closely matches the one we’re going through now, as not only were the Chartists totally the Occupy movement of the mid-19th century (and suffered the same fate, more or less), both major political parties tore themselves a new one and reformed. It’s most obviously going on with the Labour party, which was formed of an internal coalition of three factions – the working class, the radicals and the middle-class socialists. The problem Labour has is that the working class have been leaving for a while now which leaves only two major factions and so, without a tie-break to form a majority, they’re fighting to the death. Parties have gone into spasm and never truly recovered after a crisis (look at the poor, plucky little Liberals), and I think it perfectly possible that this might be it for Labour. However, if you’re hoping or fearing that might leave a permanent Conservative majority don’t fret too much. Firstly, the system abhors that sort of political vacuum and something else will appear to challenge them, and secondly they’ve got their own fight going on.
Unlike Labour the Conservatives have four factions in their internal coalition rather than three, which might explain their far greater historical stability. These are the Paternalists, the Corporatists, the Free Marketeers and the Agrarian ‘hang ‘em and flog ‘em’ High Tories. Thatcherism was an unusual alliance of Free Marketeers and High Tories and there was an attempt, post-Brexit, to reform that alliance which seems thus far to have come to nothing. The Cameron coalition was one of Paternalism and Corporatism which thus far seems to be holding, but what will emerge eventually will depend on what deals May needs to cut over time as she’s had to bring some senior representatives of the other factions in to cement her position.
Secondly is that it appears there are no good outcomes from a debt crisis for the established consensus. If you follow monetary loosening, then that hurts savings and pensions and loses you support. If you don’t follow monetary loosening then you get higher unemployment, which loses you support. It genuinely is a no-win situation.
This means that the early 90s liberal idea of ‘the end of history’ was a nonsense. The world does not and cannot work like that. Similarly the Marxist idea of historical inevitability is also nonsense for the same reason.
In the wake of a banking crisis, the printing and monetising option seems to work out better than the not printing and letting it grind itself out option. We can say this because we’ve two good examples; in 1873-4 the US started printing money to relieve itself of the pressure and recovered far more strongly than Britain which didn’t (and which suffered the long depression), and post 1929 Britain dropped the gold standard like a hot potato and recovered far better than the US, which remained wedded to sound money and for years more had the great depression.
For clarity, I’m not saying that monetary loosening is a great option, but it is the least worst. People seem to think there’s some sort of ideal answer, but we live in an imperfect world and anyone telling you their solution would work without downsides is either fibbing or has been kicked firmly in the head by a cart horse.
One of my favourite historical resonances is the 1940 US election. That is the second election after the crash, FDR’s oft-forgotten opponent in that election was Wendell Wilkie, a “brash outspoken businessman who pursued a populist message, and who had flirted with every side of the political spectrum in his past.”
Is it just me, or does that sound at all familiar?
So what can we learn from this? I think the following:
1) The established political consensus is the political centre ground, and nobody really challenges it during its period of ascendancy. For example, the period of market liberalism established in the reset after the ’72 crisis was never seriously challenged by anyone seeking government, in the same way that the period of state economic control and planning established in the wake of the ’29 crisis was not meaningfully challenged until it failed in the wake of the crisis of 1972. Governments tinker around the edges and pull it one way or another, but the centre holds.
2) The period following a banking crisis is marked by populist mass movements who disrupt the existing political coalitions and consensus and new ones emerge which remain largely stable until the next event.
3) These mass movements are often nationalist and protectionist as the overriding emotion in the wake of one crisis is there’ll be another one along in a minute. The language of these movements is always the same. Always. Spend our own money on ourselves, distant, unresponsive executive, ignoring democracy, they’re all corrupt, blah-de-blah-de-blah. If you’ve heard it in 1776 and 1854 and 1873 and 1929 and 1972 you’ve heard it a thousand times. The outcome is, however, unpredictable.
4) The consensus in existence before the last six events always changed during the cycle after it. This is important as it gives us clues where we’re going; in other words, it’s quite likely that the people who are hoping for a period of market liberalism and free trade post Brexit are likely to be disappointed as that’s what we’ve just had.
There’s also been a major international war at this point in the cycle two of the last five times this has happened so a little caution is warranted I’d say. Avoid tearing down institutions if you can, that sort of thing.
So what will the next consensus be? Frankly, I think it’s impossible to tell, but I think that a couple of trends are indicative.
Firstly, the younger generation are much more comfortable with state surveillance and restrictions on free speech than mine was at the same age. The is possibly a side-effect of growing up with your life constantly on view on the internet, and also not understanding why people are allowed to be so rude about your mate Fatima who you sit next to in Chemistry classes at school and is all right.
Secondly, despite a lot of fine-sounding rhetoric from some parts of the leave EU campaign about global liberal trade, both the Leadsomite right and the Corbynite left are much happier with various forms of import substitution and mercantilism and I expect this to have some influence.*
A couple of weeks ago I was chatting to someone who rather primly told me that they ‘want to live in a world where we don’t have banking crises’.
Well, I thought, that’s super, but it doesn’t really address the issue of what you do when you actually have one. Because the thing about economic crises is that it doesn’t matter what model you use, you’ll always have them because people are people. Having a strictly controlled economy just results in your crashes being worse; North Korea and Cuba and Venezuela effectively exist in a state of permanent crisis, which must totally suck for the people who live there whilst their leadership gaze helplessly at the economic rubble and wonder why introducing more rules and sending the riot police in when shopkeepers try to set their own prices based on supply and demand isn’t fixing anything.
If I have an axiom, it’s that all systems fail - and that includes the ones I like so I’d better get used to it. It includes the ones you like too, just in case you’re wondering, so I’d advise you to get used to it too. Because if you’re a fan of this consensus it’s failing, and if you’re a fan of the emerging one, well, that’s gonna fail too so make the most of it. Because in a few decades people will be telling you that you lost so get over it whilst you gnash your teeth in impotent rage wondering why all the evil and stupid people are voting against the thing you love.
Something for you to look forward to, there.
If all systems fail, the wisest course of action is to implement systems with plenty of redundancy so if one part fails then the failure doesn’t take everything with it.
Of course that’s great advice, but it cannot and will not be followed because one of the defining features of a bubble is one of euphoria; a belief that this time it’s different and it can’t fail. And when you think it can’t fail, well then. There it goes. **
Because things fall apart.
But, on a lighter note, then they get put back together again. Just differently.
*I’m not saying that import substitution and mercantilism definitely will not make a first world country richer than the liberal trade we’ve just had a period of, but I am saying I don’t know of any times in history when it has actually done so.
**There’s a great quote in The Big Short which is
“How do you know it’s a bubble?”
“Because nobody can see it.”
One of the things that happens after a crisis is everyone suddenly becomes mad keen to spot the next one coming along, and so they end up seeing a lot of bubbles that just plain aren’t there. For example, the ‘London property bubble’ one reads so much about. It’s a chimera, an illusion. There’s no euphoria in the market, price discovery mechanisms are working like they’re supposed to, and there’s nobody on your friends list or in the press boasting about how they’ve just borrowed to make their fortune in the market. Instead they’re all tearing their clothes, rubbing ashes on their faces, and generally telling you how we’re all doomed.
There’s actually a really good way to spot a bubble emerging. That friend of yours. You know the one. The one who insists there’s a bubble RIGHT NOW and it’s going to go wrong? Them**. When they tell you they’ve just borrowed pots of money to get into the market and advise you to do the same. THEN you start to sell.
***If you don’t have a friend like that, then frankly it’s probably you I’m looking at and wondering when you’re going to start borrowing.
|Wednesday, June 1st, 2016|
|That EU Referendum in Full
Hey LJ. Been a while.
It’s odd. You write about economics and politics for fifteen years and all of a sudden people start asking you about it.
In the last few weeks I’ve had – I think – five people say something to me to the effect of “David, nobody in the EU referendum, in or out, seems to be arguing on the facts. It’s all just mudslinging and tales of terror if you don’t do as they tell you. I’d like to vote on the facts, but I don’t’ know what they are. Can you help?”
I’m not kidding. People are coming to me
of all people for advice on how they should vote on a matter which will affect their life. That’s either a huge compliment to me or a slamming indictment of the quality of political debate. Actually, it’s probably both.
Now the referendum is certainly a tricky topic to talk about. The debate on social media at least has been at times fraught and personal. If you want to leave, the only explanation is that you’re a racist and a xenophobe. If you want to stay, you’re stupid at best and a traitor at worst. Whichever way you’re thinking of voting, someone not only thinks you’re stupid but they actively hate you for it. This is hardly an atmosphere of civilised debate.
So why aren’t people debating on the facts? That’s easy. There are sod all facts about what will happen if we stay or leave, and those that there are are debatable, capable of being interpreted in different ways, and if acknowledged can sometimes be used to support the opposition as much as your own case.
Take, for example, the different economic predictions. The predictions made by Remain are based on the assumption that all the benefits of membership would be lost (and they do exist), but also that after leaving no benefit whatsoever would accrue. In fact, they assume that the UK government would make no policy changes whatsoever in the event of Brexit. Clearly this is not what would happen.
On the other hand Leave discounts any and all benefits of membership and paints a happy world of sun-filled uplands after the fact. Clearly this wouldn’t happen either.
Thus neither official position is correct. You see the problem.
In truth, the picture is messy and complex and the facts and reasonable assumptions and predictions support both camps to a greater or lesser extent. This means neither can give any ground as it’s all so unclear any concession is immediately seized upon and played to the full extent by the opposition.
So what we’re seeing is that self-selected groups think you should agree with them and any disagreement is met by vitriol rather than debate, because debate with few facts and no concessions is pretty hard. The internet is a lousy place to have debates like this, as 140 characters isn’t enough to put forward arguments; however, it is just enough to score points and move on.
To begin, it’s worth considering why this is happening now
. You’ll have seen it in the news – populist, nationalist, protectionist and anti-establishment politics are on the rise everywhere. Le Pen, Trump, AFD, Pegida, Syriza, Golden Dawn, Corbyn, Farage, Beppe Grillo, whatever the groups in Scandinavia are calling themselves, Putin. There are more I’m sure. To my mind these are all expressions of the same thing. Or things, because I think there are two of them.
Firstly, we’re in what I would call post-crash politics. This is something I’ve been looking at a lot recently and had planned one of those huge old posts that I used to make on it. You see 2008 wasn’t a unique event. Over the last 300 years or so there have been seven or eight similar speculative credit bubble collapses, and a similar pattern ensues afterwards. To summarise, the point of greatest political instability does not follow immediately after the collapse. It happens 7-10 years afterwards. In other words, right about now.
I might be wrong in this analysis, btw, it’s something I’m working on. But give me the benefit of the doubt. I believe this is the point where the pustule of political unhappiness in the wake of the crash comes to a head and bursts for good or ill.
The second reason is something that was first outlined seventy years ago; if you have a combination of open migration, generous welfare and a minimum wage you will inevitably see a rise in nationalism. Quite simply quality of life in one place will always be lower than the welfare and minimum wage in another and you will get migration from the one to the other. This migration will cause resentment and fear amongst the current population proportionate to numbers and integration, and the reaction to this will be protectionism and nationalism as political forces.
In the interests of clarity here, I’m not saying that migrants come to take benefits. I’m saying generous welfare makes low-paid work economically unbeneficial to recipients in a way it is not to migrants from places where standards of living are lower.
Look at those factors in combination and you see an outcome of fear, concern, blame, economic protectionism and nationalism.
You may not agree with my assessment, but I think you have to admit that the effects have happened as described – and whilst I’m trying to be non-partisan here, I will take a moment to say See? I told you
To my thinking David Cameron has always been a lucky general – lucky in his opposition, lucky in his circumstances, lucky in his results, and when he called the referendum a few years ago I think he made two incorrect assumptions. Firstly I think that Angela Merkel promised him a better deal when she stayed at Chequers for Christmas which emboldened him and she wasn’t able to deliver when it came to it, and second that he kicked the can far enough down the road in the hope that something would come up – Le Pen would win something in France or the Euro would go down in flames or somesuch – to make the whole point moot.
Neither of those happened and suddenly shit, as they say, has got real for Mr. Cameron.
So, what are the facts of the debate, and how true are they?
I’ll start with big ones and then work down from there.
Fact: If the UK leaves the EU it will be a catastrophe for all concerned.
It is being quite loudly shouted by all concerned that if the UK leaves the EU, it could well lead to war, financial meltdown, a rain of frogs and dogs and cats living together. Everyone will be consumed in a catastrophe.
So the EU says it would be catastrophic, but it wouldn’t be such a big catastrophe that it is willing to consider changing the rules to avoid it. In other words, the EU considers the risk load of changing the rules to be greater than the risk of a member leaving.
Fact: Up to three million jobs would be lost.
Status: Hyperbole with some truth.
If you add up everyone in the UK involved in trade with the EU in some capacity it comes to about 3m people, and this assumes that all trade with the continent immediately ceases and everyone is sacked.
So that’s not going to happen.
The question is, therefore, how badly trade would be affected by Brexit and the answer to that is: nobody knows. Nobody knows what sort of deal would be the outcome; if you want out then it will be sunshine and flowers. If you want in, then it will be doom. The honest answer is somewhere in the middle, and probably the lower end because people wanting to make a profit tends to trump most other considerations given half a chance, and the with the state of the Eurozone economy these days it’s not like they don’t need it.
Being realistic: if the UK leaves the EU there will be some sort of slowdown or recession. How severe is debatable. Now, as you’ll know from this post
I wrote a couple of years ago I think we’re due that anyway (in fact, I suspect we’re having it right now). See below for more on this.
So, yes, there will be job losses. The number will probably be a function of the final trade tariff the UK gets with the EU (see below), offset by any deals done elsewhere plus recovery. What will that number be? Nobody at all knows. Considerably fewer than 3m, but definitely greater than none.
Fact: If the UK leaves the pound will drop and inflation will rise.
Status: Nobody knows.
Everyone says it: The Treasury, the BoE, the IMF, Deutsch Bank, Goldman Sachs and more all say this will happen. So will it?
Well, the first thing you have to remember is that a weaker pound and higher inflation is BOE and Treasury policy, so it’s a bit rich to present exactly what they want as a dire threat should we leave.
However, I have a rule about economics and it rarely lets me down. When someone makes a prediction ask yourself what they will lose, personally, if they’re wrong. If the UK leaves and the pound doesn’t drop will Osborne, or Lagarde, or Carney, or whoever lose their job? Their pension? No? Fuck them then.
Now I did think it would be a clever thing to take out a whopping short against the pound should a Leave vote come in, so what I did was go and ask the Forex traders I know. People who make their actual living, with their own money, trading currency fluctuations. And the answer I got was this: “If you told me what the outcome of the vote was going to be right now, I still couldn’t tell you what the market would do.”
Because nobody does know. Leaving might be seen as the UK withdrawing from engagement and the pound might tank. Alternatively it might be seen as the death blow to the EU and we’ll see capital flight to the safety of London and the pound rises. It might not move much at all. Then again, something else entirely might happen.
Seriously, nobody knows, and anyone who says they do is selling you something.
I was going to leave this point here, but thought I’d throw this last observation in. When everyone - absolutely everyone
- tells you what a market is going to do, you’re usually best running for the hills. Under the circumstances my personal prediction is that if we vote leave the Pound would rise specifically to take out the stops of all the people who thought it would be a great idea to sell on the back of these predictions.
Fact: If the UK leaves there will be a recession.
If there’s one thing markets hate it’s uncertainty, and a leave vote would create uncertainty.
However, the ‘year long recession’ prediction put out by the treasury is fanciful. That is as long as the recession post 2008, which was caused by the collapse of the biggest credit bubble in recorded human history and someone leaving a political union is not even close to an event of that magnitude.
If you read the document on the effects of Brexit put out by the treasury the ‘year long recession’ claim is based on the assumption that the UK government would not make any policy changes to adapt to circumstances, which seems unlikely.
However there would be a period of currency volatility (see above) and market uncertainty. How big would it be? I dunno. Nobody does. Not as big as George Osborne wants you to think, and not as small as leave would have you believe. I’ll go out on a limb and say 3-6 months, but that’s just gut feel. A great deal would depend upon the policy changes made by the UK post-vote.
Fact: The UK fees to the EU would buy a new hospital every week.
Status: Lets just look at that shall we?
UK payments to the EU are about £350m every week, which is indeed about enough to buy a new hospital. Thing is, the UK gets about half of that back in various rebates, schemes and payments, less a certain amount of inevitable bureaucratic inefficiency.
Now, the leave campaign has adapted to that by saying that it’s still enough to build a new hospital every two weeks, which is true, but it neatly sidesteps the fact that we wouldn’t be able to afford to put anything important in these hospitals like doctors, nurses or patients.
By way of comparison a permanent seat on the UN Security Council with a veto costs the UK about 20-25% of this sum, so you’ve got something to work with.
The question really being asked here is whether if the UK left the EU profits from trade and investment would fall by more than £160m a week. i.e. if leaving would be net profitable given any deals we might do elsewhere. I’ve not seen either side really address this specific point, which suggests neither really wants to – and that suggests both fear the other might have something and don’t want to draw attention to it as it’s all a bit difficult.
Fact: The EU is the world’s largest market
Status: Well, there’s a thing
Saying the EU is the world’s largest market is true. However, it is only
the world’s largest market because the UK is a member. If the UK were to leave then NAFTA would be the world’s largest market. So by merit of membership, the UK makes the EU the largest market in the world and I don’t think anyone is claiming that the UK would lose access to its own internal market were it to leave. Using this as an argument to remain or leave is disingenuous – and I think meaningless.
As an additional point, the only continent which has shown less economic growth than Europe post-2008 has been Antarctica. The rest of the world has grown more quickly and more strongly than Europe. This is largely due to the inherent internal flaw of the Euro, a problem which there is no prospect of being solved.
Saying that the UK should be a member of the world’s largest market is actually an argument for joining NAFTA rather than being a member of the EU, and neither remain or leave seem to be arguing for that.
Incidentally, way back in 1999 I suggested to Francis Maude that we should join NAFTA, BTW. Funny how things work out, innit?
Fact: The EU is not democratic
Status: You pays your money, you takes your choice.
There are seven core governmental bodies in the EU which are: The EU Commission
: This is a body made up of representatives appointed by national governments. It is not elected, and members are supposed to be independent of national interests. This body is the primary reason people describe the institution as undemocratic and the Commission, whilst appointed by governments, is independent of responsibility to voters or the wishes of any electorate. It is from this body that legislative proposals are passed to…The European Parliament
: This is a directly elected body whose proportions are based upon the populations of member states. It shares responsibility for passing laws and budgets with…The Council of Ministers
: A council composed of one member from each member state. These are appointees from the national governments, and can include elected members of the national government although sometimes figures like ambassadors and senior diplomats are appointed. The European Council
: This is the grouping of the elected heads of the member states. It meets four times a year to decide the direction of the whole. The European Court of Justice
: Nowhere sane elects judges. The European Central Bank
: Nominally independent, although nobody much believes that. In reality, without UK membership of the Euro the ECB is primarily a second central bank to Germany. The Court of Auditors
: The body which makes sure the funds of the Union have been correctly spent. I know, I know. I kill myself.
It is composed of one appointee from each member state.
Decide for yourself the democratic legitimacy of this.
Fact: If the UK leaves the EU house prices will fall.
I’ve seen this one bandied about so just to tackle it, even the most negative predictions say that the rate of house price increase would slow but not fall. So if you’re thinking leave to help get your foot on the property ladder, forget it.
Fact: TTIP will result in the NHS being privatised.
Status: False. Very false. So false as to be wilfully deceitful.
The Europe/US trade deal known as TTIP has been criticised for writing in provisions which in effect would result in the NHS being privatised. This is not true. I don’t think going into why is within the remit of this post, but being charitable here anyone claiming the NHS will be privatised as a result of TTIP is misinterpreting what it says.
Fact: The EU protects your rights.
Status: False, with a dissenting opinion below.
What protects your rights is living in a functioning first-world democracy with a growing economy and the rule of law. Anyone who thinks that the Blair government wouldn’t have introduced maternity and minimum wage without the EU forcing them to do it is off their chump, if I may make so bold. Canada doesn’t need to be in the EU, nor do Japan, Australia or New Zealand.
It’s the system that matters, not the institution.
To illustrate that I’ll pull out some examples that I’ve been specifically asked about:
• Maternity leave: EU law requires 14 weeks minimum. UK law is 52 weeks.
• Maternity pay: There is no minimum maternity pay enshrined in EU law.
• Minimum wage: The EU does not legislate a minimum wage.
• Holiday: The EU requires a minimum 4 weeks holiday. The UK requires 5.6 weeks of holiday.
And so on.
After a while of this I went and asked my friendly local trades union rep and he told me that he wasn’t aware of any area (except working hours directive, which the UK has opted out of anyway) where UK employment was not already more generous to employees than EU employment legislation.
He did say that if we voted leave he feared that we’d become less generous than the EU and I said I’d mention that too in the interest of balance - although I don't know why he drew than conclusion.
The thing is, EU employment legislation must take into account the requirements of developing economies as well as developed, richer ones like us. The UK can afford to be more generous than the average, and consistently is because people vote for it.
One area where the EU may have done more than the UK could do on its own is in the area of Antitrust, such as dealing with Microsoft bundling IE with Windows.
Fact: The UK lacks influence in the EU and is constantly outvoted.
Status: Take your pick
Take a look at the chart below which shows how often, as a percentage, the UK is outvoted in the EU. There’s a few things you can take from it.
The first thing you should notice is that the second most outvoted country in the EU is Germany and everyone is convinced they run the thing. It’s entirely contradictory to say that the second least influential country in the organisation also runs it so there’s clearly more going on than voting records indicate.
however, it is absolutely true the UK is outvoted disproportionately more than any other member, but is in the majority 87% of the time. This is a meaningless statistic without knowing what the Uk was outvoted on
, as a lot of minor stuff will get waved through on the nod.
As an observation I was asked to make by someone I spoke to during the writing of this, the UK has become less likely to be outvoted as the EU has expanded. The former Soviet vassal states like Poland are much more enthusiastic about economic growth and less protectionist than the central core powers of the Union, and Britain has more allies these days.
Fact: If the UK leaves wages will rise.
Status: True, for some.
This is supply and demand and it really affects the bottom, unskilled labour end of the job market. Where the increase in supply of labour exceeds growth in demand for it, wages inevitably fall.
In some sectors, primarily skilled labour, supply isn’t
increasing faster than demand. However, let’s say as a rule of thumb for the bottom 20% of the labour market supply is rising faster than demand. Although wages bottom out at the minimum wage (yeah, I know, exceptions, but I’m generalising here), the net effect here is to depress wage growth at the bottom end.
What I’m saying here is that increased competition at the bottom end of the market results in more people being paid the minimum legal wage than something higher as would/ will be the case with less competition.
This is actually part of the source of one of the criticisms of the UK’s economic recovery post-crash – the failure of wages to recover as strongly. The economy has recovered but the increase in supply of labour has at least kept pace with the rate of recovery (understandable when most of the rest of continent hasn’t really recovered very well) meaning that wage growth has been depressed.
Even the official Remain figures acknowledge – accidentally – that people will be better off, as their predictions for wage growth post-Brexit are actually higher than they’ve been in the real world in the last five years.
Fact: Migrants pay more in tax than they take in benefits.
Status: True and probably true.
Migrants pay more into the exchequer in tax than they take out in benefits is absolutely true. I don’t think anyone is arguing this point.
In researching this question I was asked another: Yes, okay, so they pay more than they take in benefits, but do migrants contribute net more than they cost in additional infrastructure costs due to higher population?
This is a really good question, and it’s something that Migration Watch makes a lot of noise over. What’s more it’s something that Remain are being very quiet on – I asked my usual sources and they not only were silent but they didn’t even respond to the question, which I took to be a bad sign.
However, after a lot more digging I found an answer – and the answer is that actually, yes, they most likely cover that too. I’m not 100% on this one (it’s only one study). But yeah, it looks like the migrant population don’t just pay more tax than they take in benefits, but they pay more than enough to cover their use of other public utilities as well.
Considering the noise that’s made on this point I was mildly surprised by this one, and think Remain have missed a trick by not tackling it head on.
Fact: If the UK leaves then the price of imports will rise
Status: That’s up to us, with caveats.
If we introduce import tariffs then of course they will. If we don’t, they won’t. This is entirely up to the UK.
This is subject to the uncertainty over what would happen to the £ which I address above.
Fact: If the UK leaves the EU will send back all our Expats.
Take a quick look at the state of the Spanish and Portuguese economies and tell me why you think they’d deport hundreds of thousands of well-funded expats. Then we’ll talk.
The chance of this happening is zero.
Fact: If we leave the EU we will deport foreign expats living here
The leave campaign have made it very clear that not only will current residents be more than welcome to stay, but one of their leading lights (Boris) has gone on to reiterate his proposed amnesty for illegal migrants as well.
The only people saying we would throw anyone out are a bunch of vocal fruitloops who aren’t going to get anywhere near the levers of legislation unless we’re stupid enough to implement Proportional Representation.
Fact of the matter is that in the 21st century skills are currency, and there’s a skills shortage in pretty much every industry. The UK is a big buyer of skills and that wouldn’t stop. It’s more a question of whether other people would stop selling.
Fact: The UK is just leaving the political Union, but would remain in the European Economic Area/ EFTA.
Status: Okay, that one is complex.
There is nothing in the EU treaties which compels a member leaving the political union to leave the trade area.
However, in counterpoint, there is nothing compelling the Trade area to let us stay either, so a lot depends on post Brexit relations and realpolitik. On the one hand you have the quite real desire of German manufacturing to sell us loads of cars (for example). On the other hand, as I note elsewhere, a wounded beast can do unpredictable things. My take is that a deal would be done, as a deal is always done. Others disagree with me.
Leave are hedging their bets here by suggesting that a newer, shinier deal would be done, but that’s because they cannot say we would definitely be staying in the Free Trade Area that already exists because they could easily be called on that in the same way the Scots were called on their claims about a continued about a currency union during their referendum. These things require willing from both parties.
Fact: If the Uk leaves the EU we would have to pay their full 20% import tariff
Status: Probably false.
I’ve seen it said that UK would have to pay a full 20% tariff on trade with the community. Would it? Well, the EU flat import tariff is indeed 20%, but to the best of my knowledge only one country in the world - that bit of the Ukraine occupied by Russia – actually pays it in full. Everywhere else some sort of deal has been done to a greater or lesser extent. Hence me saying a deal is always done.
I suppose it’s possible that the EU would implement sanctions against itself (that’s what a sanction is – making it harder for you to buy other people’s stuff), as the UK leaving may drive them spare.
Ultimately, the only people who know for certain what they would do are the ones who absolutely will not be drawn on the question.
Fact: If the UK leaves the EU it will promptly negotiate trade deals with everyone else.
Status: Somewhere in the middle
The fact is some will, some won’t. The country has considerable economic heft and that’s attractive. However, leaving the EU will annoy some people enough to slow or delay deals being done. On the one hand, we won’t be isolated and it will probably happen and sooner rather than later in some cases (although the US will be difficult. It always is). On the other hand, it won’t be as easy as the out camp like to make out.
Fact: If the UK left we’d have no influence over the regulations
Status: God’s truth, I have no idea why this is even a thing.
I’ve done business with Americans and Indians and I’ve no influence whatsoever over their trade regulations. What I did was ‘tailor my products to market’, which is what you do if you want to sell people stuff no matter whether you get influence or not. I’m guessing this is a line used by people who do either have huge market heft and are worried that their privileged market position might be threatened, in which case I’ve got no sympathy, or it’s used by people who’ve never actually sold anything to anyone and think it’s important when it’s not.
Seriously, this is a huge non-issue for me. I think it's something that sounds frightening but has minimal real-world effects.
Fact: The UK should remain in a reformed EU
Status: That’s not on the voting paper.
Your options are the status quo or leave. As noted in the first point above, the EU has made it clear they consider reform more dangerous than departure. If they’re prepared to risk catastrophe rather than change minor points of benefit legislation, you can be sure that voting to stay in and then asking for some changes will go nowhere.
Fact: If you want to leave the EU you are a stupid racist.
Status: Fuck off.
Fact: If you vote to stay you’re a stupid traitor.
Status: I said Fuck Off.
Fact: A vote to leave will result in a second vote a bit down the line.
Status: Actually yes. Yes it probably will.
Everyone says it won’t happen, but it will.
So, to summarise:
The EU says the UK leaving would be a catastrophe but is not willing to change anything at all to prevent it happening.
Nobody knows what the pound will do.
There will be a recession.
Wages at the bottom end of the Labour market will probably rise.
The gain from leaving may be offset long term from the profits of increased free trade but then again they may not.
Neither side are addressing any of this stuff particularly honestly because answering questions “fucked if I know” doesn’t win votes.
During the writing of this post, one of the people I spoke to asked me a question: “Do you think the UK could be successful outside the EU?”
It’s a question which was asked a lot during the Scottish referendum as well (Do you think Scotland could be successful if it left the union?), usually by nationalists, and it annoys me now as it did then because it’s not a real question. It’s rhetorical. If you say yes we could be successful, then you should support leave. If you say no, then you think we’re too wee and frit to make a go of it and therefore some kind of traitor. It’s a question designed to push you into a corner rather than elicit a meaningful debate.
The best answer is that I think the UK already is
a successful country. The question you should be asking is ‘Do you think the UK will be more or less successful outside the EU, and over what sort of timescale?’” and the answer you should give to that depends on your vision of the future.
At their best, both camps are forward thinking and internationalist, and differ in a view of the future and how best to position the country for it.
The Remain position is one in which the 21st century is one of emergent, integrated regional trade and power blocs and being central to such a project is a vital part of positioning the country for the next century.
On the other hand Leave views the future as one of greater decentralisation, where flexibility and an ability to respond rapidly to a digitally connected world where opportunities are global, not regional is paramount - and being tied into an inward-looking and relatively declining force is a hindrance and not an advantage.
Me? I think we’re going somewhere else. But then I always do, and that’s a post for another day.
|Friday, January 15th, 2016|
|History does not repeat, but it does rhyme
1968-9: Faced with a slowing economy, the government loosens monetary policy. 2001-2: Faced with a slowing economy, the government loosens monetary policy
1968 - 1973: as credit eases, people put cheap money into hard assets, like houses. 2002 - 2007: as credit eases, people put cheap money into hard assets, like houses
1973: London and Counties Securities collapses, triggering secondary banking crisis. 2008-9: AIG and Lehman Brothers collapse, triggering primary banking crisis.
1973-79: Rise of extremist politics; nationalism and hard left and hard right. 2009 - 2015: Rise of extremist politics; nationalism and hard left and hard right.
1974: Oil price reaches historic high of $40. "Oil shock" ensues. 2009: Oil price reaches historic high of $147.
1974: UK Minority government elected, collapses. 2010: UK Minority government elected, forms coalition.
1979: Conservatives win majority. 2015: Conservatives win majority
1980: Michael Foot appointed leader of Labour Party. 2015: Jeremy Corbyn appointed leader of the Labour party.
|Sunday, January 3rd, 2016|
I set out with great intentions of reading a book a week in 2015 and was cracking along with it well until I had some bad news in September and haven't read much since, sadly.
Unknown author - the Kagero Nikkei
dean Koontz - The Good Guy
Bill Bryson - Down Under
Stephen Baxter - proxima
Eduard Dekker - max Havelaar, or Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.
Marx & Engels - The Communist Manifesto
Terry pratchett - hogfather
David Baldacci - Hell's Corner
Neil Gaiman - the ocean at the end of the lane
Jeanette Winterson - the daylight gate
Ralph Summers - Thunderfire
Chris Kuzneski - the Einstein pursuit
Mark Kermode - the good, the bad and the Multiplex
Unknown author - the Saga of Gunnlaug serpent-tongue
Pu Songling - wailing ghosts
Oliver Postgate - seeing things
Johan Hebel - how a ghastly story was brought to light by a common or garden butchers dog.
Kenneth graham - The wind in the willows.
Erich Cline - 1177bc - The Year Civilisation collapsed.
Ill met by moonlight - w. Stanley moss
Ann Leckie - ancillary justice
Cavalier - Lucy Worsley
Bill Bryson - notes from a big country
Harry Harrison - Technicolour Time machine
Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall
Terry Pratchett - The Last Continent
George MacDonald Fraser - Flashman and the Great Game
Terry Pratchett - Jingo
Boris Akunin - The death of Achilles
Bill Bryson - the life and times of the thunderbolt kid.
Stefan Spjut - Stallo
Phil Houston, Michael Floyd & Susan Carnicero - Get the Truth
Reza Negarestani - Cyclonopedia
Dylan Trigg - The Thing
TJ Bass - The Godwhale
John lindqvist - let the right one in.
Terry Pratchett - Sourcery
Terry Pratchett - Wyrd Sisters
Terry Pratchett - Reaper Man
Rowland White - Vulcan 607
Brian Stableford - Halcyon Drift
Joshua Chaplinsky - Kanye West, Reanimator.
Barry Cunliffe - The birth of Eurasia
|Tuesday, December 8th, 2015|
|In which David gets to grips with Feminism and radical protest.
A few months ago, the opening of a Jack the Ripper museum on Cable Street in the East End of London hit the news for all the wrong reasons. If they'd just called it a Jack the Ripper Museum and made it something ghoulish like the London Dungeon there probably wouldn't have been any more notice taken than the opening of any other shameless tourist trap. However, in this instance the owners of the new museum had submitted a planning application for change of use which read: "The museum will recognise and celebrate the women of the East End who have shaped history, telling the story of how they have been instrumental in changing society. It will analyse the social, political and domestic experience from the Victorian period to the present day."
which, it must be said if your intention is to open a museum about Jack the Ripper is misleading to say the least, and also in Public Relations terms either an incredibly shrewd move or a catastrophe depending on just how much press you want to get and what you want it to say.
Anyway, I'd been vaguely aware of the furore thanks to social media and so, as I'm a great believer in a philosophy of 'go and find out for yourself', I decided to go and find out for myself what it was like. After I'd decided to go I learned that Middle-Class displacement activity group Class War would be holding a protest at the museum when I was planning to go:
So naturally I decided to go anyway. Only more so.
Saturday afternoon dawned bright and early as I sauntered down Cable Street to the museum where the protest was in full swing with upwards of a dozen protesters and maybe half a dozen bored looking policemen. The protest seemed to involve standing round doing nothing but apparently the plan was to symbolically murder the owner of the museum in effigy, complete with huge amounts of fake blood and screams, which I was unfortunate enough to miss.
Because I'm me I got chatting with the protesters, who didn't manage to dissuade me from my objective of going in but I did learn they really like swearing quite a lot. As a last attempt to persuade me of the rightness of their cause one asked me why
I wanted to go in.
"Well, I was going to write about it", I explained.
"Ooooh", she replied, putting on the very snootiest accent she could muster, because writing is clearly bourgeois. "Ai was goieng to wreyte abouewt et".
Even this sally didn't dent my iron will. I was not to be put off by even the most skillful of debate. Sadly, I was to be put off by one of the bored-looking policemen telling me the owner had locked the door as he feared violence so I wandered round the corner to Wilton's Music Hall and had a pint instead.
I figured it wouldn't take more than an hour for the champions of class struggle and the people to get bored and fuck off home, and I was right. Heading back to the Museum after a pint I found the protesters gone, several pigs worth of fake blood on the pavement, and a solitary policemen looking even more cheesed off than before hanging round outside. The high and mighty appeared unsmitten in spite of the efforts of Class War.
"It's open again now, mate", he said.
Anyway, the Jack the Ripper Museum.
The first thing that you need to know about the Jack the Ripper museum is that it costs £12 to get in, which is the same as it costs to get into Winchester Cathedral and see the Magna Carta, so you have to expect something pretty good for that sort of money.
The second thing you need to know about the Jack the Ripper Museum is that you're not going to see something pretty good for that sort of money.
I have a deep and abiding love for shameless tourist traps. I once drove most of a day to get to Land's End simply for the pleasure of paying massively over the odds for a bag of cheap fudge and going round the 'Land's End Experience' which I can honestly say was anything but and loved every second of it. So the Jack the Ripper Museum was everything I'd hoped for and more.
Situated in a converted six-storey house, the museum has five - count 'em, five - rooms. Once you've paid your twelve nicker and got the leaflet, it's up the stairs to Room 1 which contains a waxwork replica of this famous woodcut:
And that's it. There's a trolley with some sacks of potatoes on it as scene dressing on it, and as you walk in a recording of a pub door opening and a voice going "Gor blimey strike a light guv'nor John squire up the apples chim-chim-cheroo there's a lady been done in I bet by Jack the Ripper" or words to that effect plays, and then repeats every minute or so for as long a you're in there. There's a replica of the famous Charles Booth Map of poverty
on the wall with the Ripper's victim locations marked on it and that's your lot. I was delighted.
Truth be told there's only so much you can do with a waxwork of a policeman, a sack of potatoes and a map of murder victims but I stretched it out as long as I could before heading upstairs to the second floor, where the leaflet promised me a replica of Jack the Ripper's living room. I was quite keen to see Jack the Ripper's living room as I reckoned there must have been quite a lot of serious research gone into designing it - not least finding out who Jack the Ripper was for starters. What I actually got was a replica of a late Victorian living room and the question posed: "Can you find clues to Jack the Ripper's identity? Was he an Aristocrat or a doctor?" like those are the only options.
This was a harder question than it at first appeared. On one wall hung a top hat and opera cape and on the other a bowler hat and a raincoat, presumably to represent the entire range of possibilties. Beyond that there was a shelf of books, some of which I own, which leaves open the possibility that I'm
Jack the Ripper, some furnishings, which were inconclusive, and a tray of surgeons' tools all stained with blood, from which I concluded that Jack the Ripper was a a complete moron to leave them sitting round in the living room for the servants to find when he got home to watch Strictly.
The only real clues I found were a gramophone, which impressed me deeply as the gramophone wasn't invented until 1895 and Jack the Ripper was out killing in 1888, and a fez on the table. Putting these clues together led me to the conclusion that Jack the Ripper wasn't an aristocrat or
a doctor - he was Tommy Cooper with a Time Machine, which I'll bet £5 isn't a theory anyone has come up with before.
Armed with my theory it was onwards up the stairs to the next floor, which was a replica of a 19th century police detective's office. Now I've never been in a police detective's office modern or otherwise so I can't speak to the accuracy, but I felt this the best exhibit of the lot. The display was high quality and actually well thought out, with a waxwork of a detective puzzling over some of the many berserk letters the police received from Ripper wannabes (including the famous "Dear Boss" letter, and one or two displays which actually appeared to be genuine) and a lot of information about the crimes presented on the walls as if of a policeman trying to find a pattern.
In fact, as I wandered around the room, scanning the letters ("i wil draw my blade across her belly...i will kill and kill agane...teh women wil not kno what hav hit them, ect &c) something profound did strike me. These letters were the 19th century equivalent of twitter.
Presented with human suffering and despair and almost certain anonymity coupled with immediate gratification, many people - possibly hundreds - took the opportunity to voice their their hate. Not only did they distract from the real investigation, but they gave an insight into a side of human psyche which is normally hidden or private but when given reign it can burst forth. This mob was not constrained by 140 characters, but it was composed of the same people separated only by time. I was mildly surprised that the displays in the museum had actually succeeded in making me think. This wasn't what I had expected at all. With a more sombre mien I headed upstairs to the next room, a replica of a Victorian prostitutes bedroom.
Thankfully here the general tasteless crapness of the enterprise reasserted itself in full glory. If you want to see a decent replica of a Victorian pauper's bedroom I recommend the excellent Dennis Sever's House
which is, quite frankly, everything the Jack the Ripper Museum aspires to be and just plain isn't. In contrast the Jack the Ripper Museum contains the only Victorian prostitutes' bedroom that has ever existed with furniture dating from the 1930s and one of those crap porcelain Spaniels like they sell at car boot sales on the mantelpiece. It was a relief to get back to composing entertaining LJ posts rather than thinking, if I'm being honest.
This room also contained the only - I mean only - reference to the "It will analyse the social, political and domestic experience from the Victorian period"
mentioned in the planning application. On one wall there's a display which says something like "Could more have been done to alleviate the desperate poverty these women found themselves in and so prevent their tragic end? What do you think?" And that is it. That is it
. Quite seriously, that's the only time given in the museum to what their application suggested the museum would actually be about. One might think the application was, in hindsight, a tad misleading. You might go so far as to call it an outright fabrication.
Anyway, after speculating on whether Tommy Cooper had stopped off in the 1930's for furnishings to help Mary Kelly do the place up a bit it was down to the basement to the last room, a replica of the mortuary where the Ripper's victims were taken. By 'replica' I mean 'This is what a very small mortuary in a basement might have looked like". I think there was something up with the drains under the floor as well, truth be told.
And that was it. It was back up the stairs to the shop, where I was tempted by "Keep Calm I'm Jack the Ripper" t-shirt or a membership to the International Society of Ripperologists
Back when I was at school, at the age of about 9, I started the David Fan Club. It got a few members largely because I didn't tell anyone what they were joining until after they'd signed but that's by-the-by. When you joined you got a badge, a membership card and a regular newsletter updating you on David activities.
Well, that's pretty much what you get if you join the International Society of Ripperologists. There's a chatroom where you can hang out with the sort of people who like to sit on the internet and talk about century-old murders if that's your bag as well, but for some reason I wasn't tempted.
I wandered out with mixed feelings about the whole affair. On the one hand I love shameless and tawdry tourist traps, and the guy behind the counter was clearly upset and shaken by the protest and he seemed a lot nicer and gentler than the protesters so my sympathies were with him. Clearly the vitriol his plan had generated for him wasn't what he'd expected.
But on the other hand, the whole day had been an experience in hate and human negativity. The wish to shock and distress in the "Dear Boss" letters a hundred and thirty years ago is the same wish as in the twitter mob or, frankly, in the class war protesters stabbing an effigy to death complete with screams and gallons of fake blood.
The Ripper Museum is
tasteless, but no worse than the London Dungeon or many other such attractions. It's also an easy target because it's just one fairly short and nervous guy behind a counter who'd tried it on to get planning permission.
I don't mind the rip-off aspect of the whole thing. In fact, I expected it to be crap. It's part of the reason I went, because I love tat with all my heart. Would I recommend it? No, of course not. I'd recommend you went to Dennis Severs House mentioned above, which is tremendous.
However, when I left home that morning the last thing I expected was to actually come out of the museum feeling sorry for the guy who ran it, but I did. He was a nice enough guy who clearly had had a nasty shock but wanted us to enjoy his museum and get what we could for the £12 he extracted from us. Did I like his tactics? No, not really, but murdering him in effigy in front of him complete with blood and screams put me firmly in his corner.
The other thing I certainly didn't expect was for the museum to make me particularly think, but the circumstances of when I visited resulted in me doing just that - just not in the way the protesters wanted. The combination of the loathing in the letters from people pretending to be the ripper, and the fake blood and palpable vitriol on the pavement outside meant I wandered home feeling sad and dispirited by how easy some people find it to hate; especially when they've got an easy target who they don't reckon will hit back.
|Monday, November 30th, 2015|
|The Grand Jeremy Corbyn Defenestration Sweepstake
Ladies and Gentlemen, roll up to enter the grand Jeremy Corbyn Defenestration Sweepstake! How long can Jeremy stay leader of the Labour party? How long before his own party fall upon him like a pack of wolves, or just say "Sod this for a game of soldiers", and leave?
The rules are simple:
1) Buy-in is £10
2) The Winner will be the person who most closely picks the date when either
i) Jeremy Corbyn ceases to be leader of the Labour party for any reason (forcibly removed, steps down, pushed out of a window by Tom Watson, etc)
ii) A schism within the party, where schism is defined as 10 or more incumbent MPs either quitting the party (important update: not simply shadow cabinet resignations) or otherwise resigning the whip.
3) (UPDATE 2) "Election" to be defined as UK general election unless otherwise specified.
4) Winner to be paid by all entrants via paypal, or similar method if they prefer, within 10 days of a result being announced.
Runners and riders are:
= 30 days after the next electionvampyrefate
- Entry TBA
Orange Peel - 25/5/17
Izzy - 31/3/16
Dave T - The day after the next election.
Any more for any more?
|Thursday, October 22nd, 2015|
|Charles Dickens Haiku
Pip thinks he'll be rich
Meets unsuitable girlfriend
Has to get a job. A Christmas Carol
Has his Christmas ruined by
Ghosts who drive him madNicholas Nickelby
At Dotheboys Hall
Progressive teaching techniques
Fail to raise standardsDavid Copperfield
Know how economics works
Shame noone listens
|Monday, September 14th, 2015|
I had a conversation yesterday about Jeremy Corbyn's proposal for a "People's QE". Why is it, they asked me, that when the Bank of England does QE the government says it's the right thing to do, but when Jeremy Corbyn suggests it it's wrong and dangerous.
It's a good question, and the simple answer is that BoE QE and Corbyn QE are different things. They use the same words, possibly to muddy the water and sell the idea to the public, but they are actually very different things indeed and it's well to be aware of that.
Now if you'd like I can do another, much longer, post explaining what the difference is, but I decided to stick this up as a warning. You see, I got to wondering if anything similar to Corbyn's People's QE had been tried in recent global history and after a bit of digging about I found yes, it had. Not in any of the usual suspects like Zimbabwe, but in Ghana which began a programme functionally identical to Jeremy Corbyn's proposal in early 2013. And it's instructive to consider what happened next:
So, yeah. That's why it's a bad thing.
Hope that helps.
|Tuesday, August 18th, 2015|
For the last six months or so, I've been involved in a social experiment. Well, actually, that's a lie. I've been involved in writing joke news pieces for popular* satirical site Newsthump
, and when I say "Social experiment", I really mean "trolling lefties for money", which is rather what I expect it to be like when I die and go to heaven.
However, in the course of this writing it has morphed into something of a social experiment based around the replies and comments my pieces get. Admittedly it's a small sample group - people who reply and comment on satirical news stories - but it's been interesting nevertheless.
Newsthump is, you see, run by a bunch of pinkoes and for two reasons I don't really fit their usual content; firstly, I'm their only right of centre contributor, which is an interesting experience, and secondly I run a rule of 'go for the joke'. If I think of a good joke about people who I actually rather like I'll run it anyway because there's cold hard cash in it for me and you know what us right-wingers are like. This appears to be an unusual mindset in the writing of cheap internet jokes, as most view it as a medium for being rude about their particular bete noirs rather than just having a laugh and maximimising revenues.
As a result of this I've got to make jokes about most of the political parties and groupings of the UK, and as I've got access to the backoffice and can see who is linking and tweeting and commenting on my work I can also see seen how their supporters respond to being mocked. You get a lot of angry abuse or worthy corrections about how your joke is just *wrong*, and it's actually quite interesting as there are definite, identifiable trends in the sort of comments you get from different political groupings.
Labour and Conservative supporters - especially Conservative - don't appear all that fussed about jokes being made about them. This makes sense, I suppose. When you've been the big dog in the park for several lifetimes you're just going to develop a thick skin to this sort of thing. Labour supporters seem to take it worse than the Conservatives, but they are in a downswing and probably feel a bit more sensitive and I can't help but feel that if I'd been making the same jokes about Conservatives in, say, 2001 the boot would have been on the other foot.
The political supporters who are best at taking a joke are - drum roll - the Liberal Democrats. Yes, they may be a defeated band of also-rans who have just been defenestrated in a ruthless way by the electorate and may well never recover from it, but I've got to admit they can laugh ruefully when mocked about it, take it on the chin, and make jokes at their own expense in their own turn. I have never, not once, had an angry or abusive comment or a chippy correction from a Liberal Democrat when I've made jokes about them. Well done, LibDems. All eight of you.
In second place in the 'taking a joke' stakes are the Greens. In the main they're also perfectly capable of taking a gleeful ribbing at their expense with a rueful grin before getting on with their day. They aren't as good at it as the Libdems, that's for sure, though. Whilst the majority are good-natured souls, I have had a small amount of either angry, ranty abuse or, perhaps more entertainingly, finger-wagging corrections.
You remember back when you were at school there was a pasty kid in the second year who simply couldn't help but raise an admonishing finger to the 500lb gorilla in the special needs class when he got something wrong and say "Actually, I think you'll find..."?
Well, yeah, Greens, you've got some of them.
Least good at taking a joke are - by a considerable margin - UKIP and SNP supporters. And I mean they really, really can't take a joke. What's ever more depressing is how many of them seem to think political affiliation has a genetic component as they'll call you racist for mocking their party, its policies or actions. I suppose it's unsurprising - nationalism is born of fear, and as we all know, fear leads to anger and anger leads to hate. Yoda said so.
However, as well as ignoring, rueful acknowledgement, pedantic "Actually.."-style correction or angry rudeness, there's another reaction, which is the one I find the most interesting: Reinterpreting the intent of the article so it is supportive of your position.
Unless you are outright and directly rude - which I tend not to be, as that's not as funny - some people will move heaven and earth to reinterpret the piece as supportive of their cause, and this tendency is most noticable in SNP and, lately, Jeremy Corbyn supporters.
Take this, for example: Jeremy Corbyn pledges to nationalise satirical websites
Now, it's a mystery to me how anyone can take that piece and, in their head, read it as meaning that Jeremy Corbyn is a tremendous fellow who has got a bang up idea about nationalising the railways. But somehow people managed it. And not a small number of them either. It's actually one of my most popular pieces in a while (so, as I get paid on page views, thanks Jeremy Corbyn supporters!).
I suppose it's an insight into the human tendency to so want something to be true that you see evidence of it wherever you look, and will find it even if it's not there. Because I actually wrote it, and I'm very confident it's not.
*Certainly more popular than the Evening Harold, which appears to really wind them up for some reason.
|Monday, July 13th, 2015|
|[Economics] Ideologically motivated.
Every year or so I do a long post about economics, outlining where I think we are and where we're going. However, I've not got much to say about the subject at the moment, as my position hasn't changed much since the post I did last year - we're in the rocky foothills of the biggest sustained period of economic growth in human history, there will be occasional recessions because there are always recessions, and those of you sitting in you Ozark compound counting your gold and guns dreaming of how the next big crash will prove you right have a pretty long wait ahead of you.
Instead of running through that again, this morning I got to thinking about a political phrase which I'm finding really annoying at the moment. It's 'ideologically motivated'. It's the latest in a succession of meaningless phrases - like 'fair' with which people use in an attempt to demonstrate why their motivations are pure and lovely and so forth whilst those of their opponents are just evil. Because that's what motivates people who disagree with you, you see.
I got to thinking about it after reading this article
. Now, I don't know much - at all - about Australian politics, so the content really meant little enough to me. What jumped out, though, was that it's written by someone claiming to be an economist who accuses his opponents of being - yup, you guessed - 'ideologically motivated'.
It's a miserable phrase. What it basically says is "My opponents aren't thinking about economics or maths or anything like that. They're motivated only by what they believe. I, on the other hand, have only the wondrous mathematical world of perfection in mind, and so am above their base mortal considerations", and that's the point when my knuckles start itching and I get to wanting to punch them in the face.
The thing is, economics isn't the study of money like most people think it is. Or only in the broadest sense. What economics is the study of is the allocation of limited resources, how that allocation influence human behaviour, and the consequences of that behaviour. And it's perfectly possible to believe, for legitimate reasons, that some outcomes are more desirable than others.
As a friend of mine once put it "There's no such thing as left or right wing economics. That's like saying there's left or right wing gravity. There's just economics'.
To illustrate what I mean using gravity;
"If elected, my government would invest heavily in parachutes."
"Ha! If elected, my government would allocate funds to crash helmets!"
"Your ideologically motivated obsession with crash helmets just proves you want poor people to fall to their deaths!"
"Rubbish. Your neoliberal obsession with parachutes demonstrates you hate poor people and want them to be hit on the head with apples!"
And so on.
So when I see people claiming to be talking about economics whilst using terms like fairness, or ideologically motivated, or whatever, it tells me one important thing. They say they're talking about economics, but they're actually talking about politics. And what your politics are is how desirable you feel certain outcomes to be and whether you personally feel that desirability outweighs the consequences of allocating resources to those actions. It's not humanly possible to avoid an ideology, and so to criticise others for doing something you can't avoid yourself is like one of those American Preacher getting angry about people having sex getting caught in a motel room with Branddie and Krystal.
Take, for example, rent controls. There's not many things economist broadly agree on, but rent controls driving down the quality and availability of housing stock is one of them. However, if you think reducing landlord revenues is a desirable thing then the commensurate consequences to renters might be acceptable to you.
What 'ideologically motivated', as a phrase, isn't, is a worthwhile thing to say in economic debate. What it is
is a badge proclaiming an erroneous intellectual and moral superiority, and should you hear someone use it, chances are you'll save yourself a lot of time by ignoring what they say.
|Tuesday, July 7th, 2015|
|[Politics] Where is Britain going?
In 1925, Leon Trotsky wrote a pamphlet titled “Where is Britain going”. As a historical document it’s an interesting read, considering how much of it came true. Obviously, he thought the dire predictions he made would be a bad thing if they came true and the whole thing was a bit of a warning to the revolutionary forces which would soon sweep the old order of Britain out and replace it with a glorious people’s commissariat not to lose their way, but that aside he made some pretty good calls, all things considered.
In it he identified the origins of the British Labour movement as being threefold: the desire of the working man to better his lot through work and education, the British tradition of dissent, be it religious or social, and the Fabian movement. He went on to warn against the Fabians. What would happen, he said, was that the bourgeoisie would seize control of the workers movement as its leadership and so, when the revolution happened, the workers would find that the same old plump and comfy middle class types were still in charge just like they always had been and the worker’s position would be no better.
I was looking at the front bench of the contemporary Labour party and thinking about this the other day. Can’t think why.
Still, if he was able to make predictions like that it’s no wonder Leon had to be got out of the way.
I’ve been idly thinking about the outcome of the election lately, and, post-conversations with annwfyn
about the Labour party and the British left in general and the question: Where do they go from here?
You see, the more I think of it, the bigger the Labour party’s problem gets. It stems from the fundamental intellectual underpinning of the party, and subsequent history.
If there’s one thing the 20th century was about, it was about market against command economics. The thing is, market economics won hands down. Command economics was tested to destruction. It just doesn’t work. And the problem the British left, and the Labour movement has is that its intellectual foundation is one of command economics. Blair realised this, which is why he repealed Clause 4, but there’s a lot of people out there on the British left – and I do mean a lot – who still think a state-run economy is a fab idea. And it’s there that lies their problem. It’s an idea which has no realistic prospect of winning an election.
In continental Europe, which has lots more experience of Britain of command economics going horribly wrong for all concerned, the left have built themselves a respectable position within a market framework. Left-wing British people often say this country should be more like the Scandinavian Social Democracies but often don’t appear to know how they work, because the Scandinavians are by and large way more enthusiastic liberal marketeers than we are. What’s the minimum wage in Norway, or Sweden, or Denmark or Iceland? There isn’t one. What’s the inheritance tax rate in Sweden? There isn’t one. Indeed, Denmark is widely regarded in economic circles as having the most liberal market economy in the world.
The Scandinavians have realised that all the social stuff they want to pay for is really, really expensive and the best way to make the money is through liberal markets. Meanwhile in the UK the left fixes upon interventionist rent caps and energy caps and nationalising this or that…and lose. And are going to keep right on losing.
The thing is, whilst he Labour party squabble about just how much the inheritance tax rate should be the problem for them is bigger than that. In fact, I think it’s so big they can’t even see it. Whilst many of their members cling to command economic ideas, the Conservatives are busily colonising as much of the Social Democratic central ground which Blair captured and Labour have retreated from as they can under the economic circumstances. When you’ve got Boris Johnson airily calling for the living wage, you know that the ground the Labour party – and the left generally – wants to claim is at least in part in the hands of the governing power. And that’s where the problem for them lies.
For the Labour party, and the left in general, Blair was right. Bet you never thought you’d hear me say that, did you? The ‘Third way’ was a crack at Scandinavian Social Democracy, and he discredited it amongst his core support by killing 100,000 Iraqis and driving the economy into a tree. Having retreated from this ground the Conservatives are taking it, which gives them a commanding electoral position.
Because if the left want to win any elections any time soon, they’re going to have to abandon command economics. Again. And the problem they face is that Britain already has two established market economics parties – the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. They’ve had fifty or a hundred years to define the market economics ground as their own – hence New Labour being described by their more bananas former supporters as ‘Red Tories’ when they try to compete. In order to be competitive, Labour are going to have to take the economics fight to people who are not only already entrenched, but who are making inroads onto their old ground whilst they fight it out amongst themselves.
In truth, it’s hard to see where Labour, and the left still wedded to command economics, go from here. Their intellectual selling point has been disproven by events and others have got their ground. Other people have got market economics and trade sewn up as their USP’s, but those are the things you need to underpin and pay for social policies, and the voters have made their intentions clear. I keep saying that the things which win elections under normal circumstances are leadership and economics. One isn’t enough and right now they’ve got neither.
It’s quite likely that the left will retreat in upon itself. Trade and market economics are, by necessity, internationalist, so we’re seeing a rise in nationalism in traditional Labour areas. This isn’t surprising. Nationalism is another expression of command economics; a belief in the power of a monopolistic state to make everything better - thus we see UKIP and the SNP eating Labour’s lunch. (As an experiment, try pointing out to SNP supporters the similarity of theirs and UKIPs economic policies, or suggesting to pretty much anyone in the left-leaning LibDem or Labour party that UKIP are economically a left-wing party these days. You’ll be impressed by the vitriol your observation gets). Where else? The Greens?
I remember first reading Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis back in the early 1990s and ever since then I’ve had a lot of respect for the guy. One thing he’s said which I agree with a lot is that the great tragedy of the environmental movement is that it’s been almost entirely co-opted by the hard left. The reason is that this is a tragedy is that it alienates the very people whose support they really need in order to achieve their objectives by espousing centrally-planned command economic solutions. Lovelock has said that if the environmental movement is to achieve its goals it needs to involve the markets and their adherents. He’s right as well, but I can’t help but feel the Green party is so locked into a feedback loop of its own intellectual baggage (and that of the disaffected former Labour supporters) than it will never do so.
So command economics people retreat into echo chambers whose very insularity guarantees their failure. Meanwhile the remaining Labour movement finds itself in a position where it must take intellectual ground which it abandoned and now contains entrenched opposition in order to become actually electable.
Quite seriously, I’m at a loss where the British left goes from here. The SNP have peaked; the Conservatives in Scotland will start to eat away at them. The market economic Social Democratic ground has been taken from the Labour movement. Only petty nationalism remains. And that’s a minority interest. Where do future victories come from? The reinvention will be painful and time-consuming.
|Sunday, July 5th, 2015|
|Wednesday, May 13th, 2015|
|[Politics] Oh, yeah, and just one other thing.
There's a saying on the internet that "information wants to be free". It suggests that information - especially confidential information - is like a caged animal or a dammed stream and wants nothing more than to find a way out of it's confines to it's natural free state on the internet. It's usually used to justify confidential information being leaked resulting in a breach of national security and a few deaths.
There's a similar saying in the financial markets which is "the market always knows before you do". What this means is that you will never be first with any piece of news which might be price-sensitive to the markets. By the time you've seen it on the news it's already been digested, bought or sold, and you'll always be playing catch up.
In other words, for all the ways it gets dressed up, information gets leaked. For all that the latest takeover bid is classified, somewhere along the line someone will have seen a chance to make a few bob and taken a position along the way. There's a notorious example of this from about 2013 when the US markets reacted to an announcement from the Federal reserve faster than the speed of light
. In other words, there was a leak but someone worked very hard to make it look like there hadn't been.
Anyway, on polling day last Thursday I got to thinking. Seven years ago now I ran this piece on political betting
and how it was a better predictor of election outcomes than polling because there was actual money on the line and people are more honest when it comes to their own hard cash then when they can conveniently lie to a pollster. However, there's another market truism, and it says that when everyone is doing something then it becomes worthless - and it struck me as the voting went on and the opinion polls and betting odds remained resolutely uncertain that everyone was looking at the odds now because everyone knows to look at the odds, so as a predictive tool it's not much use.
So I sat and watched the FTSE as the afternoon progressed as I was sure the markets would prove a reliable bellweather of which way things were going to go, and, sure enough, as things went on about mid-afternoon I PM'ed raggedyman
and said "The money reckons the coalition has got it*" as the FTSE had risen resolutely for several hours.
But here's where it gets interesting. You see, a day or two after the election, I was reading an article about how exit polling works and one of the things it said was that whilst exit polls are not released before the stations close in order to prevent a rush one way or another, the pollsters will start getting their first real indication of which way the wind is blowing at about 11am, three hours after the booths open.
Or, in other words, there would be people who had a good idea of who was winning by late morning, and information like that is useful information. Markets dislike uncertainty and sell it, but a likely Conservative victory would cause the markets to rally as soon as they knew. In fact, it might result in a stock market which looks uncannily like this:
So there you have it. The market knew before you did, as the evidence suggests exit poll data made its way to the city long before it was released to the general public, or you.
And if the money knew, then you can bet senior Conservative, Labour and LibDem figures did too. Did anyone notice if Ed Miliband began to look increasingly unhappy as they day went on?
*Yes, I know. I'm not perfect, okay? At least I've honestly reported what I said.
|Tuesday, May 12th, 2015|
|[Politics] Up the election.
Well, it's over and I think most people were surprised by the result, even me.
It was obvious that Miliband was never going to be PM, although many thought he would be, but I didn't see the scale of his wipeout coming and nor the rise of the SNP or the collapse of the Libdems. I actually thought the Libdems would do better and UKIP worse than they did. It's easy to be wise in hindsight and say I should have seen that all coming but I didn't. I'll learn from it next time.
There was a point where even I wavered in my conviction on the outcome. That day when the Conservatives unveiled their monumentally stupid Right to Buy Other People's Property pledge, I sincerely thought that was so bananas it might be an election-losing policy. However the next day Ed Miliband did something even more Ed Miliband-ish than usual, like trying to eat a blancmange on the Revolution at Blackpool Pleasure Beach or something, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The clincher was when I noticed a couple of days before the election that on all the tightly run polls, 25% of the electorate were saying "Don't know". As a word to the wise, 48 hours before an election "Don't knows" aren't going to translate into a thumping win for the challenger. They go to the Better The Devil You Know.
Anyway, my friends list has been full of people reacting with horror at the result and generally calling everyone who didn't vote the same way as them selfish and evil and so forth, and it's that which has rather inspired me back to the ol' lengthy LJ posts of yesteryear.
I've always said that - all else being equal - what wins votes is Leadership and the Economy. The SNP did well in their referendum because they had the leadership, but lost it because they lost the economic argument. In the election, Labour had neither and so couldn't win.
Yes, I'm sure that Ed Miliband is a lovely man who cares deeply and thinks really deep thoughts and all that, but he's also a complete spanner. You know he is. Don't deny it. When Labour were bigging up his caring credentials, the entire nation were imagining him tipping soup over Barack Obama whilst trying to glad hand him, or falling off his chair whilst trying to threaten Vladimir Putin. And they were thinking "No".
Economically, Labour are completely compromised and in absolute denial about it. I talk about that below, but first I'm going to raise the reaction of how people are greedy, evil, stupid and generally dupes to have voted they way they did.
It's attractive and comforting to assume people don't agree with you because they're stupid. I know, because I've done it. Pop back and read my political posts from ten years ago and I was doing it all the time, but I stopped because it's incorrect. If you're someone who thinks that others are stupid, or evil, or duped, or whatever, not to have voted the same way as you, I'm going to ask you to take a leap of faith:
Other people are just as nice, honest, clever, well-informed, and selfless as you. They just disagree with you. And until you accept that, you will never understand why you lost.
If that's not something you can or will consider, here's a link to Russell Brand
and Owen Jones
. You'll be happier there, being told just how gosh-darned better and nicer and cleverer you are than other people.
Anyway. I'm not going to go on at length about why you lost. Instead, I'm going to look at what you can do to improve your chances in future. In many ways that's the same thing, I suppose, but still. You see, I rather like the executive to be held to account by a strong opposition. I thought the Blair majority was a bad thing for that reason, and I'd rather like a meaningful opposition against this government too. So here's my thoughts for you, the Labour party, and the left in general. Take them as you will.
1) Who are you for?
In 1926, Leon Trotsky observed that the Labour movement had emerged from the desire of the working man to better his lot through work and education. I’ve a serious question for you. Why would anyone who fits that description vote for you now?
I fit that description. I run a small business, and want nothing more than to be left alone to get on with it and stand or fall on my own merits. What are you offering me, or people like me? Nothing that I can see. If you did what the Labour party was created to do, I’d be first in the queue to vote for you, and I’m not. For that matter why would a one-man band plumber or someone who works in a call centre and is a bit worried about their job because they lost their last one in 2009 vote for you?
So if you’re not for me, who are you for? If you ask me who the Conservatives are for, they’re pretty clear – people with jobs. You might say that they’re lying, but they’re pretty clear about it. Or the SNP? They’re for Scottish people. I can sum up who they’re for in one quick, easy sentence. You? The best I can do is that you’re for the most vulnerable in society and against the rich. And I’ve got two pieces of bad news for you on that.
Firstly, not many people actually like to be told they’re the most vulnerable in society. People have dreams and aspirations even when they’re in the gutter and they like to have them recognised, which leads me on to the second bit of bad news. Most people would quite like to be rich. Most people have pub chats about what they’d do if they won the Euromillions.
They aren’t stupid. They know it’s a dream that’ll never happen, but people have to have dreams because without them life is meaningless. So when you say you’re for the most vulnerable in society and you’ll hammer the rich to help them, what they’re hearing is this: “You, Yes, you. That fellow in the shell suit. Yes, you
. You need us because you’re a loser who will never achieve your dreams, and even if you do we’ll come round and take them off you again.”
And then you act surprised they don’t vote for you. Where are their dreams? Their aspirations? Their hopes in your message?
I had a conversation with a Labour activist before the last election where he ruefully acknowledged that they were perceived as “the party of immigrants and benefits cheats”. An exaggeration for effect, yeah, but by aggressively banging on about ‘the most vulnerable’, you’re not only missing out on the rest of us, you’re also alienating a lot of the people who don’t like to be reminded that their lives haven’t worked out as they’d like.
You need to know who you are for so you can...
2) Get your message straight.
You need a single, core vision that you can sum up in one sentence. The Conservatives had “We won’t bollock up the economy like the last guys did”. The SNP had “Scotland!!”, the Libdems had “We’re not any of the other parties” (With the benefit of hindsight that may have been contributory to their poor performance, but I didn’t twig at the time).
So, another question for you: Summarise for me, in a single, snappy sentence, the core message of the Labour campaign - because once again I can’t. The best I can do is “Vulnerable people…fairness…nationalise railways…Tories…Eton...greedy rich…mansion tax…NHS (more on that below)”, which isn’t a slogan you can really put on a banner that people will march behind whilst like it or not "You won't lose your job" is.
I've seen a lot of people saying the Conservatives ran a negative campaign, but so did you. It was all reasons why the world is bad and how you need Labour to protect you. That's not an aspirational message. Where is the "desire of the working man to better his lot through work and education" in that? Owen Jones says that a politics of hope might rise from the ashes of defeat, but for that to happen you need a message
of hope. Not "You have no hope so you need us to protect you", which is what you spent the election saying.
Once you’ve got your core message you can hang corroloraries onto it but without one, you’re stuffed. So once again, what is your core belief or selling point? Make it something people can understand instantly what it is, as well. If you come back with something like “Social Justice”* or “Fairness”, you’ve already lost because they don’t mean
anything. They’re badges of membership to a club of approved opinions. They’re catch all phrases for a self-selecting internet echo chamber that the people you need to vote for you don’t belong to and never will.
Those are the two major issues you had, but I’ll run through some secondary ones.
1) Take responsibility for your mistakes.
There’s a line which is quite popular amongst people who get their Memes from Another Angry Voice. It’s “The Tories have borrowed more than every Labour government ever put together! Where’s their claim of economic credibility now?”
The problem is it leaves out the largest economic crash in recorded human history which happened just before borrowing took off, and I know that if you mention it you get a long explanation of why that wasn’t the fault of the Labour government - it was instead Americans and bankers and absolutely everyone else who hadn't been in government making the regulatory framework for ten years.
Now, if I were to tell you that the de-industrialisation of Britain during the 1980s was as a result of an international shift towards a globalised economy, you wouldn’t buy it. Why not? Because Thatcher and Tories, that’s why not. So get used to it. Every time you say the crash was due to unrestrained banking and not you, nobody is listening. Why not? Because Brown and Lefties, that’s why not.
From a voter’s perspective, when you mention the crash and get told that it was the fault of everyone but the actual government, it just looks like a naughty child standing next to a broken Ming vase claiming a big boy did it and ran away. You broke it, you bought it.
You might even be right – I’m not looking to have that argument here – but the important thing is it doesn’t matter
. You’re stuck with it, and you really need to accept that and get on with overcoming it. Trust me. I've been on the other side of this argument for twenty years and I know.
It took Labour 15-20 years to be given another chance on economic credibility after the three day week and the winter of discontent. It’s taken the Conservatives 30 years to get the debate beyond Thatcher, and you really need to recognise you’ve got another uphill battle in terms of economic credibility to go. With luck you’ll have regained a reputation for economic competence by 2035 – which, incidentally, will be just in time for the next crash, ironically enough.
The same goes for the Iraq war. If you bring that up the standard defense is “Oh, do you think the Tories would have done anything different?”
Well, if you stop and think about it, what you’re saying is “For all the difference it made you might as well have voted Conservative”. Which is what people just did, in their absolute millions. You need to think of a better defense. Or even better, swallow it and get on with getting over it.
2) The Tories will destroy the NHS/ Welfare state.
Look, you’ve said the Tories have been going to destroy the NHS or the Welfare state at very election since 1953 and it’s still there. There’s this bloody great building with “Hospital” written on it which I can see from my back garden. We spend roughly 60% of all government expenditure on the NHS and the Welfare state and that's not shifted much as a proportion since the last election even as the deficit has fallen.
So you’ll forgive us if we don’t believe you. If the evil Tories were going to destroy the NHS they’ve had plenty of chances and it’s still there.
You see, we’re not stupid. We know there’s a rather important debate needs to be had about the NHS and how it’s funded and where the money is going to come from, especially around areas like the demographics of an aging population and social care. But if you open it up with a tirade about the Tories destroying it, you can safely assume we’ve tuned out. Really. We aren’t listening, because it’s patently untrue. You’re the boy who cried wolf. Give it up. We don’t believe you. There have been seven days to save the NHS for sixty years. If you are fighting an election on the NHS, you can safely assume you're going to lose.
3) Stop listening to the shouty ones.
Yes, Owen Jones and Laurie Penny are very articulate, vocal and passionate young supporters of the cause. And you should never let them go on Question Time again. When you read their work, you should nod, take notes if you need to and then completely ignore them. If anything, do the exact opposite of what they suggest. Whilst you’re thinking “They’re articulately elucidating the cause!” everyone else is thinking “Stop lecturing me you annoying little tit.”
Think about it like this. You'll never see David Cameron observe that he thinks Katie Hopkins has made a good point for a very good reason, and assume that many see Jones and Penny in the same light when they're on form.
That goes triple for Russell Brand. He is not your friend.
The same goes for the people who graffittied Whitehall the other day. Stop equivocating about them. No more of the “Well you have to understand their anger…” stuff. When people scrawl “Fuck Tory Scum” on a war memorial and you aren’t outraged by it, what everyone else is thinking is “Yeah, I don’t much like the Conservatives, but you lot are complete wankers”. David Cameron kept that letter saying "Sorry, there's no money left" in his shirt pocket during the election so he could pull it out and show it to people in the street and at rallies and on the stump. Likewise, that photo of the Women of WW2 memorial is worth 100,000 Conservative votes at the next election, and, like a fairy dying every time you say you don’t believe in them, every time you say “It’s awful but…” you add another Tory voter to that tally.
Labour cut Militant loose back in the 80s with very good reason. You probably should do they same again.
4) Make your peace with market economics.
State ownership of the means of production is dead. It doesn’t work and the vast majority of people know it just because they’ve got eyes and they can see what countries where stuff is owned by the government are like compared to the ones where it’s not.
Don’t find yourself drifting into thinking “But the railways…”. Stop it. It’s over. Yeah, opinion polls say the public support the renationalisation of rail, but if you haven’t learned your lesson about opinion polls by now then I can’t help.
If you do want to nationalise anything, don’t mention it and then just do it once you’ve got elected and see if the voters approve the next go round. They won’t, but if you’re lucky they might have forgotten.
Look at the Scandinavian Social Democracies you would like us to emulate. They're more enthusiastic free-marketeers than we are. It's been said that Denmark has the most open and liberal economy in the world. They recognise that the social stuff they like costs a lot of money and they set about making it in the most efficient manner possible before spending it again. That's a perfectly legitimate position and it clearly works for them. What isn't a good starting point is saying that you'll do economic stuff that will make less
money and you'll still spend more. People aren't buying that, so you may as well change it.
5) Don’t put Chukka Umunna in charge of your party.
Well, you can, because you’re going to lose in 2020 anyway, but if you want to win in 2025 put someone else in. A plant in a pot, David Blunkett’s dog. ANYONE.
6) Stop blaming other people for your defeats.
Murdoch, greedy people, stupid people. Whoever. This point is basic Sun Tzu. The cause of your defeat lies within yourself, and until you understand that, victory shall ever elude you, grasshopper.
*Like, half of my friends list describe themselves as social justice warriors, and I still don’t have a clue what one of those is. And I’m in an unusual demographic in that I hang out with you lot. The people you need to reach don’t hang about with people like you, and if I don’t know what the heck you’re banging on about half the time I stone-cold guarantee neither will they. All that social justice stuff might make you feel good, but nobody is going to vote for it because it’s just a couple of random words stuck together which mean whatever the person talking wants them to mean, and as far as I can make out that's usually "other people should do as I tell them".
So talk like a human being, would you?
|Sunday, May 3rd, 2015|
|Graven in stone
Ed Miliband has announced that he will carve his five election pledges into an 8'x6' block and have it placed in the Downing Street Garden if he becomes Prime Minister.
I barely need to edit.
I met a traveller from Number Ten
Who said: "A vast and graven lump of stone
Stands in the garden. Near it, on the grass,
Half sunk, a shattered promise lies, whose failed,
And lifeless words, and sneer of Fabian scorn,
Tell that its sculptor read the manifesto well
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The policies which lost them and the deeds which failed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Milibandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
|Tuesday, April 7th, 2015|
|Thursday, March 12th, 2015|
|Friday, March 6th, 2015|
|Note to self
The tube of Savlon by the sink is not toothpaste.
|Thursday, February 26th, 2015|
|Monday, February 16th, 2015|
Back when World of Warcraft was new - about 2004-5 - I spent an afternoon playing it on someone else's account to find out what all the fuss was about. I ran about waving a sword, killing goblins and nicking their stuff, and running errands for random bystanders. After a few hours of this I came to the conclusion that WoW was specifically designed to be addictive and I wasn't going anywhere near it again.
The human brain is an exquisitely well-designed reward-seeking machine, and as psychology as a discipline improves we're getting ever-better as ticking those reward boxes in the name of entertainment. Take Pringles, for example. There's a specific set of proportions of sugar, fat and salt in a food which if present makes the brain light up like a christmas tree in a scanner, and Pringles have that combination to perfection. "Holy Crap!", your subconscious says when you eat one. "These things are effin' boss! More!"
And that's why before you know it the entire tube is gone.
WoW, I reckoned, was designed the same way. If you play it in a goal-directed way, you got a little tick or a pat every twenty minutes or so. You go and find the ring of Zognar for the villagers, get some treasure and get a message saying "Well done, Kragnor the mighty! You have saved the village!" and the brain, reward-seeking little machine that it is, goes ping! and gives you some success chemicals which make you happy. Just that little kick, every twenty minutes, but it's enough to get people spending hours, days, even years of their lives pursuing just one more step before logging off and doing something else.
Like I say - knowing myself like I do I went nowhere near it ever again.
It's also this reason I've always reckoned the internet isn't a particularly psychologically healthy place to be - it's a mechanism whereby you can receive instant rewards for pretty much any behaviour you choose. Feeling down? Get hugs. Feeling funny? Get likes. Want to troll? There's bound to be someone who will rise to the bait. And the thing is psychological study after study demonstrates that getting rewards for little or no effort isn't really all that good for you. Despite that, however, it's still great fun.
I've written a few things over the years on here which have gone viral. Possibly the best known is the "British terror alert levels" chain email which still goes round every so often, which I've seen attributed to John Cleese and which I had to have an argument with Snopes.com before they gave me credit
for it. It's an odd expereince, seeing others passing on your own work, often without credit, but I've got to admit it is nice. Addictive, possibly.
Anyway, I have in the past written a few pieces for the satirical news site Newsthump
. North Korea Internet blackout blamed on TalkTalk account
and England world cop pitch treated by the same people who did Rooney's hair
, for example. It was an occasional thing. I'd think of a halfway decent joke, submit it to them and they'd run it if they liked it. A few hundred or a thousand or two people would like it, I'd get that little reward kick, and then I'd get on with my day. That was until a few weeks ago when I submitted Warning that scrapping Page 3 could leave footballers unable to find girlfriends
. They accepted it, posted it, and I thought little enough more of it. Briefly. As what followed was one of the strangest afternoons I've had in a while. Like I say; I'd had stuff go round the internet, but I've never seen it happen in real time.
Within an hour, thousands of people had liked and shared the piece. At one point I was clicking refresh and finding I was getting an average of one 'like' every 2-3 seconds. Then Myleene Klass and Lauren Laverne stuck it out on twitter and it really went a bit nuts. I sat and watched as it racked up over 50,000 likes and shares over the course of a day and the reward centre in my brain went Awoogah Awoogah. It was an insight into the power of mass communication in a social media age and the attention and reaction was, clearly, addictive. I say clearly because I've submitted more to them since then - considerably more in than in the past, trying to catch the buzz again. I've had a few successes - my piece Russia's credit rating is just fine, says last surviving Standard & poor's analyst
didn't set the world on fire in terms of reach, but it made it into the political and economic sphere and was retweeted by Toomas Ilves, the President of Estonia*.
I've written a lot for them over the last few weeks. By my calculations I've been responsible for more than 50% of their site traffic in the last month, which is good as I get paid by traffic, but on the other hand I'm clearly chasing the dragon of internet approval.
The only question is, it's harmless so should I stop? Writing jokes is fun and I'd be doing it anyway. And what should I write instead?
*I can only assume relations between Estonia and Russia are at a bit of a low ebb at the moment.