Thursday, 15 September 2016

Brexit and Demographics - the most solid case yet for another referendum

The news today was sneaked out; serious negotiations on Brexit will not begin until september 2017 at the very earliest. This means that the earliest possible date that the UK could leave the EU will be September 2019, and that is if negotiations go smoothly, something which looks highly unlikely to say the least; the British side does not even know what it wants yet, or indeed understands the nature of Britain's links with the EU that will need unravelling. 

However, as all this is happening, or as is more likely, not happening, the electorate is changing due to basic demographics. 

Each year about 500,000 people die, most of those of old age. In the referendum over 65s voted 60% - 40% in favour of Leave. So 300,000 Leave voters are dying every year while 200,000 Remain voters are dying. This may seem a bit macabre but that means Leave is losing around 100,000 a year of its majority, just through natural demographic changes. 

This is only half of the story however because around 1,333,000 people a year reach the age of 18 and become eligible to vote. The youngest voters voted 75% - 25% in favour of Remain, which means the net Remain vote is increasing by around 667,000 each year. Add this to the net 100,000 reduction in the number of Leave voters in the over-65 category and the Leave majority is going down, just through demographic factors, by 767,000 a year.

767,000 over three years (actually three and a bit years) is 2,301,000 votes which the Leave camp is losing relative to Remain over the period before the earliest date at which the UK might leave the EU arrives.

The Leave majority on 23rd June was 1,269,501.

That means that, through demographic processes alone, the Leave majority of 1,269,501 turns into a Remain majority of around 1,032,000. Even accounting for different levels of turnout and not everyone turning out to vote this is still likely to result in a Remain majority. And the longer it goes on before the actual leaving date, the greater the Remain majority becomes. after 5 years the Remain Majority is likely to be around 2,000,000.

Of course all this does not include the likelihood of Leave becoming more unpopular (as it has already done in Wales, as the principality has now become majority Remain supporting) due to other factors such as economic effects starting to bite, the government's obvious confusion and the efforts of groups such as Leavewatch monitoring the antics of the Brexiters. Even though the mainstream media has imposed an effective blackout on any news regarding the £350,000,000 a week that the Leave campaign says will not now materialise for the NHS, this message will start to get through to all but the most resistant Leave supporters.

The case against another referendum has never looked weaker.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Vacuous Arguments from a Hoover Salesman

“Sir” James Dyson is a man who got very rich from selling overpriced vacuum cleaners, one of the reasons he got rich was because he could export production from Berkshire to Malaysia, which he did just after showing her Majesty the Queen around his factory near Reading. This enabled him to benefit from low wages and dire conditions of work for those desperate enough to need employment in his Malaysian plant.

Today however he has gone from trying to sell us hoovers to trying to sell us Brexit. Claiming leaving the EU and the single market will enable Britain to negotiate better trade deals with other countries in the world. Almost in the same breath he also claims that exporters don't need trade deals in order to export around the world. In other words you don't need trade deals to export but we need trade deals to export. One would have thought that someone who describes himself as a “scientist” would have been rather better than this at thinking logically.

BTW he has also deliberately omitted eliminating Non-Tariff Barriers to trade which come with trade agreements and which are likely to present far greater problems for exporters.

It is a function of our failing neoliberal economic system that throws up very high differences in wealth, exaggerating the success of some people who like to present themselves as particularly innovative entrepreneurs. One upshot of this is that the media routinely gives these people who are largely wealthy due to luck and the polarising effect of neoliberalism airtime and column inches to preach their “wisdom” as though they represent the messiahs of capitalism.

In this instance however Dyson has exposed himself as no-one special, with no particular insight into anything as his vacuous logic is splashed unquestioningly over our media.


He should stick to selling Hoovers rather than lies about Brexit. We have already been sold too many of those.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Are we witnessing the precursor to a British revolution...?

There has never been a revolution in Britain. I am sure part of this is a result of the huge financial resources amassed by the aristocracy and ruling class from the empire and slavery, riches which have largely remained hidden, undocumented, untaxed and held unaccountably. This has allowed them to exercise greater power over the rest of us, through control of the media, for example, than has occurred in many other European countries. 

To take the French revolution as an example, however, it was largely caused by a combination of widespread poverty and a complete insouciance on the part of the ruling elite; an ignorance of their position, how precarious it was and a consequent inability to head the revolution off at the pass through a pacifying redistribution of wealth or the like; "let them eat cake!". So could the same be about to happen in the UK?

On the face of it, no. Despite six years of a Tory government exercising its neoliberal ideology (or should I say excuses) as a means of redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich in a way that would have made the Sheriff of Nottingham deep olive with envy, conditions for the majority have not deteriorated to the levels seen in France in the 1780s. Food banks abound for a million people, which is shameful in itself but the other 62 million of us do not (yet) need to use them. People, by-and-large have cars, phones, TVs, full refrigerators, clothes, technology, etc.

Yet the insouciance and ignorance of the ruling class which ended the French aristocracy is clearly in evidence over Brexit. A desire to get the UK out of the EU has become a totally irrational fanaticism in many quarters of the Tory party and the consequences, as well as the means, of exiting the EU are little understood, in particular by those who are charged with negotiating it. Additionally the country, and in particular the media, seems in denial about the consequences of a hard Brexit. A staggering 85% of our external trade is either with the EU or comes as a result of trade deals that have been negotiated for us by the EU and will become invalid as soon as we leave. It is possible that not all of that trade will be affected of course, but the Leave Alliance's own reckoning suggests that the element which kills our trade will not be tariffs or quotas (difficult as they are to navigate for exporters) but what are called "Non-Tariff Barriers" (NTBs) to trade. 

NTBs include items such as standardisation of quantities and quality, which is vitally important to international trade, but also the accreditation and affirmation of those standards. Outside the EU our own accreditation systems will no longer be considered valid, and as such each shipment will require inspection at the port of entry at a significant cost in terms of money and time. The Leave Alliance's figures (of a consequent rise in unemployment to 7 or 8 million) cannot be dismissed as "scaremongering" because they come from the Leave campaign, however they can be regarded as underestimates. Their figure of 7-8 million is based on the assumption that only trade with the EU will be affected by NTBs; that trade constitutes around 48% of our exports. Now that we know more about the other trade deals which come as a part of our membership of the EU, extending to around 70 countries, that figure of exports negatively affected by brexit grows to a staggering 85% with the corresponding rise in unemployment likely to exceed 14 million people, close to half the UK workforce.

The reduction in tax receipts for the treasury would be huge, and the government would become liable for social security payments to huge numbers of people, further depleting the amount of money available to spend on other important things like the NHS. The NHS is already creaking under the strain of Tory cuts and when the £350,000,000 a week promised by Leave turns into a cut many times that size, the compound anger will hit critical mass. 

The only problem is likely to be leadership. With Corbyn a closet Leave supporter and considered a joke outside his own group of devotees, and regarded by many as an out-of-touch metropolitan politician like his friend Emily Thornberry, leadership, if it is to be credible, will need to come from somewhere else. One can hope it emerges from the ranks of the impoverished and dispossessed as many capable people would be included in that number. However what is certain is that, without leadership, any revolution could soon become directionless and descend into looting, lawlessness and become easy for the ruling class to deal with. 

What is highly likely however, is that the conditions for insurrection and revolution will soon be created by botched brexit negotiations conducted by individuals who have no idea what they are doing. What is clear however, is that we are going to need better leadership on the left if this is not to descend into chaos, violence and simply result in a human rights crackdown, martial law and institutional oppression.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

An extraordinary warning from Japan

Japanese culture is sophisticated and often considered impenetrable by Europeans. Part of this is because the Japanese speak in a subtle and indirect way, almost always avoiding direct assertions and categorical statements. Sometimes the English do this in a few situations; “Might I join you?”, “Would it be at all possible to join you?” The subtleties of the Japanese language are in a completely different league however; allusion, inference and subtly implicit statements with multilevel meanings abound. Indeed they rarely ever contradict each other even in a discussion or debate. It is like the diametric opposite of the direct and plain-speaking Yorkshire culture. It is the Japanese way, as important a part of their culture as raw fish, sumo and cleanliness. I know, I have been in a relationship with a Japanese citizen for 25 years and spent many extended periods there.

This makes the unequivocal and direct way that the Japanesegovernment has reacted to Britain leaving the EU all the more remarkable. It was direct, to-the-point and unequivocal. Incredibly they did not pull their punches or mince their words; Brexit will be a disaster, an unprecedented catastrophe for the UK, and one, which will have lasting effects and be extremely difficult to recover from. The Japanese have every right to say this; they have substantial investments in the UK, and invested here primarily because the UK is in the EU. These will go unless Britain has a very soft Brexit like the relationship between the EU and Norway; the kind of thing the Leave campaign were advocating before the referendum.

This raises the issue of how many other countries that have invested here will also pull out; Korean, Chinese, Russian, American, German, French, Italian, Indian, Swedish, Canadian, British…? I doubt anyone has given these a great deal of thought, and maybe some do not wish to confront the harsh realities of Brexit. The Remain campaign were predicting 3 million people losing their jobs as a result of Brexit, that now starts to look like a conservative estimate. If, for example, the Nissan plant in the North-East closes not only will those directly employed there lose their jobs but local suppliers, transport companies and other local businesses which cannot survive without the spending power of Nissan workers. The 44-48% of UK trade with the EU will probably be reduced to single figures, people will lose their jobs and their businesses will fold because they can no longer trade with the EU.

Ironically, although the City of London will lose out initially it is highly likely that the semi-legitimate (or indeed completely illegitimate) type of banking will fill much of the gap as Euro trades are moved to Frankfurt or Paris; London will become a sort of Cayman Islands without the middle-man, and the kind of casino banking that damaged the country so much during the financial collapse of 2007 will return, with bells on, to fill the gap. As the economies of those parts of England that voted most strongly for Brexit collapse further, London will gain even greater dominance, the North-South divide will be bigger than ever.

Let’s not beat about the bush on public services either. With very high levels of unemployment, tax receipts will go down and social security payments increase; not just temporarily but for a very long time. The tax revenues that the government gets from those exports to the EU will vanish, and be unreplaced. Public finances will worsen, probably to the tune of at least £100 Billion a year. To put that into context that represents almost the entire NHS budget of £114 Billion. The promised £350 million a week extra for the NHS will probably turn into a cut of more £500 million a week. Other aspects of public services will inevitably be cut, including social security payments, pensions, housing benefit, social care and transport budgets. Those who voted Leave because they wanted more money for the NHS will find that instead they have voted for a, possibly terminal, cut to the NHS.  As what Leave described as “scaremongering” becomes facts, make no mistake, Brexit could genuinely mean the end of the NHS.

All this makes the case against a referendum on the terms of Brexit, opposed by both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, even weaker than it already was. The Leave campaign claimed that Britain outside the EU would be like Norway or Switzerland, however it is looking more like Britain will be something between Albania or Bosnia afterwards. Shortly after the referendum, Ed Miliband talked about how one of his constituents told him that she had voted Leave “for my granddaughter”. This woman and many like her need to know that, in contrast to their wishes the harm their action will cause themselves, their children and grandchildren will be severe and long-lasting.

The Japanese warning should be heeded not merely because Japan is a trading partner and huge investor in British industry and business as well as a country that has been friendly towards us for a long time. We should also heed their words because the Japanese rarely speak so directly and forthrightly. Their extraordinary language makes their dire warnings all the more significant. We should heed them.