Thursday, 19 October 2017

At the EU Summit: Why Not Walk Out, Prime Minister

I am never going to be Prime Minister, I am more or less resigned to this uncomfortable reality, although you never know given who is currently leading the Labour Party and the current poverty of choices in the Conservative Party. I mean even Vince Cable says he thinks he stands a chance.

But if I were PM right now I'm not at all sure I would be bothering going to the latest EU summit meeting in Brussels, a meeting at which European leaders will meet first with Chauncey so that they can hear his brilliant negotiating tactic of giving them everything they want in return for us agreeing to effectively stay in the EU. What a coup de grace that would be for them by the way. Get the British to sneak the bearded wonder into power, have him declare unilateral negotiating disarmament, pay them even more than when we do as full members, continue to allow freedom of movement, give them some more fish and beg them for their forgiveness for ever having the temerity to ask the great unwashed for their opinions. The people's republic of Chauncey is going to be one of those democratic republics that isn't too keen on democracy it would seem.

Labour's position on Brexit is absurd. They have claimed that they would not countenance a no deal. In so doing they might as well hand Brussels the keys to the Treasury and tell them to help themselves. If they will not countenance a no deal then what does that mean? I would really really love to buy a house off these guys. They would end up paying me.

Britain is making such heavy water of these negotiations in part thanks to the game playing stupidities of the remainers and of the endlessly confused Labour Party. Presumably Labour will relish explaining to the British people why we should in fact be paying more to the EU than £20 billion. How do they imagine that will go down?

One of the arguments being put forward by remainers is that those voting to leave were not voting for a no deal. Well first of all people voted for lots of reasons and I for one was entirely relaxed at the prospect of no deal. But in any event it kind of was what everyone who voted leave voted for. It was made explicit that we would be leaving the single market and by extension the customs union, although few people back then really knew what the latter was. But there was always the possibility that the EU would indeed play the kind of games they are playing. And so there was always a chance that we would leave with no deal. This need not be the end game. There is no need for this to be the final word on the issue. There is no need for us not to have separate talks about other matters such as air travel cooperation and to play hardball on things like security cooperation and access to the City of London's huge lending markets. But leaving with no deal on free trade? So what? It's really not the end of the world. I seem to recall saying so last year. Even if we crash out, there's nothing to stop us negotiating once it is all over and when time constraints are no longer an issue. We will be negotiating with the rest of the world of course, but they are welcome to join the queue. We Brits love a good queue.

Think about it. We currently have a free trade agreement with the EU. Yet we voted to leave despite this. So therefore the point of our leaving was over other issues. Would a free trade agreement be better for all concerned? Undoubtedly. But if the EU wants to cut off their noses to spite their faces, if they are willing (once again) to imperil people's jobs for the good of their ideological fundamentalist outlook of ever closer union then so be it.

And this is why Mrs May should no longer put up with their grandstanding. When they all cold shoulder her later today, instead of standing around and looking sad and lonely she should just leave. She should walk out and give a short press conference. Britain is leaving the EU in March 2019 she should say. We have made a good offer. That offer is now time limited. Start talks on trade by November or we will assume that the EU has no intention of engaging in such talks in good faith and so there really is no point in talking anymore. We will then start preparing for no deal. We will have been left little choice. The plus side is though that we get to keep all of that money and the EU will have to either find someone else to pay or will have to rein in their spending. We want our money back they said last week. This at least shows that we have donated our sense of humour to them as well as our cash.

But what of parliament you might well ask. Well what of it? Parliament has already accepted that we are leaving the EU. Deal or no deal does not enter into it. There is the EU Withdrawal Bill but that is just a procedural device to make our leaving bureaucratically easier. We leave at the end of March 2019 and that is the end of it. Even if the Commons were to vote against the government they would be rejecting our lack of a deal but offering no alternative. And we are leaving at the end of March 2019, deal or no deal. The Conservative manifesto in June was a flawed and listless document that got us into this mess, but it did explicitly state that the Government was prepared to countenance no deal rather than a bad deal. Since the EU will not even talk about a deal then that is where we are. No deal is being offered and so we will have to just go ahead and countenance it.

As I say I am unlikely to be PM and I certainly won't become PM by this afternoon. But if I were that would be what I would be preparing myself to say in the teeth of the EU's inevitably hostile reception. If Mrs May were to do that she would likely win rave reviews for her bulldog spirit. It might even get her a deal after all. Either way it is better than our current position.  

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Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Philip Hammond Should Be Sent To Spend More Time With His Spreadsheets

The future of Philip Hammond, our yawn inducing Chancellor of the Exchequer, is hanging in the balance it would seem. This is mostly because he has managed, with an acuity previously only seen on the Labour front bench, to have alienated both sides of his own party in the great Brexit debate. Leavers and remainers both want him gone. It is only Theresa May now who stands between him and the end, an ironic turnaround given his prospects prior to the election.

Like many people I have been irritated by his interventions on Brexit, not least because it was always my understanding prior to the referendum campaign that he was a Euro sceptic. But then his flip flop on this issue was in common with many leading Tories from the current Prime Minister to her predecessor to several in the current Cabinet. In many cases this was simple pragmatism or ambition. Hammond however has displayed the zeal of the convert in his Brexit interventions. It's no wonder he has become so universally loathed. 

But the reason he should be removed from post is not because of his arrogance on Brexit or his irritating lack of any political nous. It is the fact that he has proven to be such a lousy Chancellor. Thus far, admittedly in his short tenure, the most interesting and inspirational thing he has done has been to announce that there will be no more Spring Budgets. In the annals of great reformers, this will hardly have them readying a plinth in Westminster. 

Hammond is a dream for the pen pushing killjoys of the Treasury and HMRC. He has been entirely captured by them and has bought into their worldview. This man who is so pleased with himself has failed to challenge them. Only a year into the job he lacks any kind of radicalism or imagination. He is a dreary manager, dullness and uniformity personified. His NICS debacle of earlier this year was entirely down to the fact he was presented with this reform by his civil servants and simply waved it through unchallenged without thinking through the political consequences or wondering whether hitting the self employed was really a terribly Conservative thing to do. The Treasury had been trying to get a Chancellor to slip this reform through for years to no avail. Hammond handed it to them without a word of protest. Is he even aware that he is allowed to protest? Or to say no? 

What is needed now from our Chancellor is real radical thinking to make a success of Brexit, to get the British economy firing on all cylinders again and to demonstrate to our feckless youth that socialism is not the answer to their problems, or the bringer of peace, prosperity and goodwill to all men. There have been encouraging noises coming from Number 11 that Hammond is considering the idea of offering a lower rate of tax to younger taxpayers. But his inclination to pay for this by hitting older taxpayers demonstrates that he still hasn't learned the lessons of NICS or the general election. Generational fairness is a great election slogan. But actually making it a fiscal reality is a different matter. The electorate always say they are prepared to embrace higher taxes to pay for things deemed desirable. The electorate tells lies. 

No, Hammond will just have to get more creative. And he will just have to accept that we will have to borrow more to pay for the tax cuts we need to demonstrate Conservative ideas and principles. We need reform of stamp duty and to reverse the ruinous Osborne regime. We need a new tax deal for the young. I would like to see people offered a lower rate of tax for the first few years. Maybe even a lower rate of tax or even a tax holiday for the first couple of years after full time education. Could tuition fees be made tax deductible? Could Corporation Tax be cut even further? Could we prepare the ground for a no deal on the EU by offering such a deal to companies? That would concentrate minds as negotiations continue.

Most of all we need a big, eye catching scheme to build hundreds of thousands of new homes during this parliament. This requires some generous tax breaks for developers and, if necessary, massive public spending to build. That is proper investment in things the country needs. It is the sort of borrowing and spending that is desirable and even mandatory in a prosperous, successful and fair society. 

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I'm sure that many are wildly expensive and maybe even impractical. Some may be illegal in European law. But then we are leaving Europe and so this represents an opportunity, always provided you are prepared to embrace this new reality and recognise its potential. For that we may need someone with more imagination than Spreadsheet Phil. 

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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Sex, Lies and Hollywood

It's interesting isn't it the reaction to the various scandals over sex, sexual abuse, powerful men and their proclivities. When Jimmy Savile was exposed as being a nasty, malicious, malevolent, manipulative pervert few defended him and he was rapidly exposed as this country's worst ever paedophile. Yet when allegations were made about Cliff Richard for instance people were considerably less sure and he has subsequently been exonerated and the police have had to pay him damages. Edward Heath was many things, including being an odd and not especially likeable man, but he was not a satan worshipper and paedophile. It's not even certain that he was particularly interested in sex. Other than some fantasists and Wiltshire Police, there seems to have been few who believed the lurid and absurd tales about him.

Few are finding it difficult to believe stories about Harvey Weinstein, although, as Keith Olberman argues in the previous post, his excesses do not seem to be any more outrageous than those of the current  occupant of the Oval Office. Weinstein has not been charged with any offence, but neither is he denying many of them other than those that could see him serving time in prison. He has claimed to be suffering from the made up condition of sex addiction. In reality he is just a very rich, very powerful man who exploited women who had neither but who wanted them. The fact that many of them stayed silent until now is an illustration of his power but also of the double standards and hypocrisy at play in show business. And in politics. He was not suffering from any addiction. There is no such thing. He just is a man too weak and unpleasant to be a better man.

Many of the more aggressive social warrior feminists out there will have heard of this and it will feed into their belief that all men are the same, that all men are rapists and that we would all behave like Weinstein if we could. I beg to differ. There are few single men who would not have as much sex as they could get with consenting adult women. That's certainly true. But many or even most men are perfectly capable of being monogamous, faithful, loving boyfriends and husbands. Few of us are capable of rape or even of harassment. We are appalled by the behaviour of Weinstein and his ilk as anyone else. We do after all have sisters, girlfriends or wives too.

There is a lot of hypocrisy surrounding this story from women who stayed silent about Harvey Weinstein until someone courageously exposed him at last. There are plenty of people, male and female, who knew what he was doing and chose not to expose him. The same was true of Jimmy Savile, or think back to Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the IMF and a notorious out of control rutting animal incapable of controlling himself until he was exposed by a humble New York hotel maid to be the pig that he was and is.

Many are expressing the hope that this will be the beginning of the end of this culture in Hollywood. It is unlikely to be. Men will always like sex, some will always be amoral in how they get it and some women will always be prepared to give them what they want to get ahead. It is when they are coerced into it that it becomes something objectionable and culpable. Certainly the Weinstein story may make men be more cautious in how they operate from now on. But it doesn't alter the fact that the adulterer and misogynist in chief remains in the White House and his boasting of his behaviour didn't seem to do him any harm.

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Monday, 16 October 2017

The Problem With the NHS

There was much consternation and outrage over the weekend, a great deal of it confected of course, when a story emerged that access to our beloved NHS might be rationed. Worse it might be restricted to people who actually need it.

The rather sensible idea has been floated that people, rather than self diagnosing and then just turning up at their local A&E with their imaginary illnesses, ought to first have to speak to someone in order to get some guidance about how suitable this is. Cue all kinds of outrage that this is just an attempt to relieve pressure on overstretched departments ahead of what is expected to be a difficult winter. Well of course it is. But why are our accident and emergency departments so overstretched?

Well there is no one answer to this question of course. But let me offer you my theory.

The NHS is free at the point of use. This is supposed to be and for the most part is a splendid levelling idea meaning that we are all given the same treatment, regardless of our wealth, regardless of how sick or old we are. The problem is one that the architects of the NHS never foresaw. And that is that a free service isn't valued by many of those who use it. Instead of using up this finite resource responsibly, we tend instead to take it for granted and abuse it. We tend to regard it as infinite and then complain when we have demonstrated to us that of course it isn't.

If you have been watching the BBC's excellent series Ambulance over recent weeks you will have seen this demonstrated to you. The ambulance service is often inundated and has to prioritise. For this they are often abused by those calling them, many of whom have no need to call in the first place but demand attention and complain  bitterly when it is denied to them. The ambulance service even has frequent customers, people known to them who call daily or sometimes several times daily because they want a free lift, or because they are feeling a little unwell, or lonely or a bit sad because their girlfriend recently dumped them and they imagine themselves depressed and suicidal. And of course the staff are not allowed to chastise these time wasters, to fine them for using up a precious resource and potentially even denying life saving treatment from someone in real need. That is one consequence of the free at the point of use ideal.

Christopher Ecclestone's maudlin commentary inevitably painted a picture of a service under pressure and of heroic staff battling against the odds. The programme routinely depicted them as inundated and of the ambulances racing from one emergency to the next. The reality is of course rather different and less dramatic. There are periods of calm and of quiet. Ambulances will frequently sit waiting for a call or be allocated non urgent calls such as transporting sick patients between hospitals or to hospital after receiving a non urgent summons by a GP. But when the service is under pressure it is often due to selfish people who don't worry about having to pay and thus afford that service no value.

The same is even more true of A&E departments where people can simply walk in and be treated or at least seen regardless of need. It is an appalling waste of resources and puts enormous pressure on the NHS and its staff. So what precisely is wrong with adopting a new approach ensuring that those resources are better utilised for people who really need them?

As it happens I got to test this theory myself over the weekend. My Mum suddenly became ill and we were worried about her. I called the 111 service who asked some questions. It was decided that she needed a paramedic to come and see her and then, when they had assessed her she was taken to hospital and then admitted. Happily she is now recovering and will hopefully be home again today. But that was an example of how such a service could and should operate. Nobody is suggesting that genuine emergencies should not be treated as such and that is what the 999 service is for. But it is high time that those who abuse it were fined and censured. This is a public service and a precious resource. It needs to be allocated to those who really need it.

This ultimately is a matter of education. I'm sure the vast majority of people do use the service responsibly and think twice about calling or attending. But what of those who don't bother turning up to appointments? What about those who call 999 needlessly? What about those who do attend A&E for no good reason? What about those who demand antibiotics for illnesses that are viral and cannot be treated that way? What about those who use a free service in a manner that they would never do if they were paying for it out of their own pockets? What about those who don't eat healthily, don't exercise, don't take responsibility for their own health but demand high cost medication to save themselves from their own stupidity?

The NHS is struggling for a lot of reasons including its own inefficiency and because it was created in the wrong way with the wrong model. It struggles because of this. But it also struggles because, though we revere it and treat it like a secular religion, we do not really value it sufficiently to use it responsibly. Until we do and until we ask ourselves some tough questions about what should be available in a service struggling with the rising cost of medicine in an ageing population it will always struggle, however much money is poured into it.  

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Sunday, 15 October 2017

The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Numbers: Chapter 28 - God Wants Gifts and Offerings

Being God is full on, time consuming work. It also, clearly, makes him very very hungry. He wants animal sacrifices all the time. He even has a recipe book for how to cook them and what to serve them with. It's just that God likes his meat very well done. To a crisp.

At this point then, before more senseless slaughter and cruelty (don't worry, more of that coming up really soon) we have a short break while God tells us what sacrifices he demands. Essentially he wanted them all the time. His priests were clearly very very hungry. It's funny how people who believe all of this rubbish tend to ignore the need for animal sacrifices and altars isn't it. 

So God laid out his very specific rules for how to cook his food and what bread to serve it with. He wanted offerings every day. Lambs, grains, wine. He wanted the lot. He even gave recipes setting out how he wanted his bread made, what proportion of flour and so on. And this was just for his daily offerings. 

There were other bigger occasions that demanded more elaborate sacrifices and offerings. There were weekly offerings for Sabbath (presumably slaughtering beasts and hauling the dead carcass on to an altar didn't count as work) and there were even monthly offerings for the New Moon. 

And that's before we get to the big annual ceremonies. Once again we are told, for the umpteenth time, about what God wanted for Passover. This was a big deal. Unleavened bread for 7 days - God likes his bread flat - and no work on the first and last day. Oh and lots and lots of meat offerings. 

There was also Shavuot. This was not as big a deal as Passover but still meant a nice day off for the chosen people even if it did mean they had to kill yet another animal and burn it for their greedy and rapacious God. 

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Saturday, 14 October 2017

Friday, 13 October 2017

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Britain Will Get Our Deal If We Stand Firm and Ignore Labour

You know, whisper it but the British negotiations on Brexit, far from being the disorganised shambles depicted by many in the media, may actually be starting to work. Yes the latest word from Brussels is impasse, but the mood has subtly shifted. Theresa May's gambit in her Florence speech may have succeeded in creating divisions in the ranks. But better still they are starting to believe that Britain may actually walk away if their current uncompromising stance continues.

The reason that the EU is starting to worry that they may have gone too far is that they can see that, though the PM is weak and her Cabinet divided, the Conservative Party is broadly Euro sceptic in nature and will not tolerate the antics of the EU negotiating team much longer. We were prepared to go along with the idea of a transitional deal and could see that the offer of continuing our payments during that period was a good compromise. The EU simply banked this and went full Oliver Twist. We could also get on board with guaranteeing EU citizens already in the UK their status, we saw no reason why they should demand special status and ECJ jurisdiction to ensure their rights. That was an outrageous demand and would not and could not be accepted. The demand for more money was always excessive and we have demonstrated beyond doubt that there is no justification for it, moral or otherwise. Yet Theresa May made a generous offer that no EU country should be out of pocket because we are leaving. We however have no obligation to make such an offer. It was done in the hope of compromise. None has been forthcoming from our interlocutors.

Yet we do seem with our approach to have succeeded in sowing division in the EU ranks. Some, like France and Germany (albeit the latter without a functioning government) are standing firm but others are wavering. Even Michel Barnier himself, it is reported, is questioning the wisdom of his current uncompromising remit. Germany and France are demanding that we put in writing the commitment of Britain to pay the offered sum in Theresa May's speech before we move on to trade talks. To which the answer should be nein or non. Not until we see sufficient progress, to choose a phrase at random, on trade talks to mean we are getting our money's worth.

Tory MPs should make it very clear, clearer than they have already, that this is a red line for them. We  will be willing to pay up, for a couple of years dressed up as a transitional deal to save blushes all round, in return for a good and honourable trade deal that benefits everyone. It would essentially be a continuation of what we are already doing. Anything other than that and we walk away and keep our £20 billion a year. Some of that we will simply use and distribute ourselves instead of sending it to Brussels first and have them send it back less their charge for administration. The rest is money we will genuinely be getting back and choosing to spend as we see fit. Some of it might even be spent on the NHS as promised. The EU has no legal basis for demanding this money. Their only chance is to tie it to trade. So therefore the two have to proceed in tandem. Otherwise no deal. Mrs May should walk. If she doesn't then she must be made to walk the plank by Tory MPs.

Oh and to facilitate all of this even more and grease the wheels of that deal the PM should immediately sack Philip Hammond who has got so far above himself that he could sell aerial photographs. We should be preparing for a no deal scenario because it is a realistic prospect. That is what government is for. We have to plan for every eventuality. If the Chancellor will not allow that then he should be despatched. After all the First Lord of the Treasury lives next door. She is the one in real charge of the nation's purse strings and the nation is only 18 months from our glorious exit.

I won't say I am hoping for a no deal. But I am entirely relaxed about it. But I am more confident than ever that we will get our deal. This however is notwithstanding the self serving antics of the Labour Party whose confused and confusing position on Brexit is twistier than a strand of DNA. They claim that they want to stop a no deal on Brexit for the good of the country. In reality they are simply trying once again to have the best of both worlds. We are for Brexit they tell us but would have voted remain. We are for Brexit but want to continue with unlimited immigration. We are for Brexit but won't accept a no deal and will try to derail it. This would be bad enough if we had a government with a massive majority. But given the parliamentary situation it is just handing the advantage to those with whom we are negotiating. Mind you this week Chauncey went to meet the EU negotiating team for no very obvious reason other than his being told it might make him look prime ministerial. In reality, given the opaqueness of his position, it probably led the EU negotiators to thank god that they are talking to someone relatively straightforward like David Davis. At least he understands the difference between the customs union and single market. Chauncey doesn't.

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