Hands up then – who’s read Mrs May's Big Brexit Deal? I confess to having skimmed through it last night, and was surprised to be able to do so. Surely, if only 10% of those who voted for Brexit had made a similar effort, the website would have crashed? Outside of some politicians and others professionally engaged in this sad business, I doubt that even 10,000 people will bother to look at it, never mind read it. The government should publish the number of times the document is downloaded, then we’ll see how informed is this desire for a ‘good Brexit.’ Perhaps people are being put off by the oft repeated statement that the document runs to over 500 pages. They should be reassured – half of those pages are one third or half blank, and some deal with issues which few people are interested in – the future of our sovereign military bases in Cyprus for example. Anyway, I can’t see this most historic constitutional document getting onto the national curriculum. I suppose one good reason for not reading it is that its lifespan is likely to be shorter than the time taken to read it.
What does it mean to live in a Brexit parallel universe? One could have no better guide than the Rt. Hon Dr Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, a man who if he were in charge of selling second hand cars would always have an empty forecourt. Probity. Wisdom. Honest Liam’s got it all. He made a speech in the City a couple of days ago, to pep everybody up with the good news about Brexit and how wonderful life will be following the Second Coming, or something like that. It’s all good news. Here’s a snatch:
We retained our position as the number one destination for FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] in Europe and number 3 globally. And according to the UN’s Conference on Trade and Development, [UNCTAD] in the first 6 months of 2018 the UK was second only to China, attracting $65.5 billion of investment compared to China’s $70 billion.
That sounds brilliant indeed – in the whole of the previous year we only managed $15bn. So what’s going on? Is Fox’s $65.5 billion figure real? Looking at UNCTAD’s most recent statistical report (2018) we learn:
Cross-border M&As [Mergers and Acquisitions] in the United Kingdom had been exceptionally large in 2016, at $255 billion (compared with an average of $45 billion over 2011–2015). The four largest deals alone had a combined value of $224 billion (table II.1). In contrast, the largest deals in 2017 were much smaller in value, and a greater share of transactions were changes of ownership between foreign investors (with no net effect on FDI) or divestments (which result in negative FDI). As a result, inflows to the United Kingdom declined by 92 per cent to $15 billion. (https://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/wir2018_en.pdf)
Without those four large M&As UK FDI in 2016 would have only stood at $31bn. But a bit more context is desirable. I found this on the Santander website:
According to the UNCTAD World Investment Report 2018, FDI inflows to the United Kingdom stood at USD 15 billion in FDI in 2017. This represents a year-to-year decrease of more than 90%; however, 2016 figures were unusually high due to three cross-border M&A deals, including the acquisition of the British SABMiller PLC by Anheuser-Busch Inbev (Belgium) for USD 101 billion. Despite the Brexit process, the British economy is resilient: London continues to be the financial capital of Europe, while Great Britain keeps a strong currency, despite its recent depreciation, and is one of the most important European consumer markets. The UK was ranked seventh out of 190 economies in the 2018 Doing Business ranking established by the World Bank.
The largest share of FDI inflow into the UK goes to the financial services industry while nearly half of the UK's investment stock of GBP 1 trillion came from the EU member States. The Brexit process raises concerns among certain investors about higher trade costs with Europe. (emphasis added)
The gist of Dr Liam Panfox’s remarks is to suggest that the UK is benefiting from a sudden rush of post-Brexit referendum overseas confidence – foreigners are rushing to invest here. But it’s poppycock – there is nothing exceptional happening. One can only conclude that some British assets are still worth acquiring – maybe more so with a depreciated pound. As to the claim of our continued primacy at the top of the tables for FDI, this is somewhat fanciful. If one were to measure FDI on a per capita basis, Ireland far exceeds the UK. Astonishingly (or not) Ireland’s FDI in 2015 was $215bn and it was still nearly twice ours in 2017.
And how much FDI represents investment in productive capacity – which in the longer term could lead to greater exports in all the wonderful free trade deals Dr Panfox is going to make? As the Santander quote says, most FDI goes into ‘financial services.’ Not for much longer if Paris and Frankfurt get their hands on those EU member state capital flows (and good luck to them if they do).
Interestingly the UNCTAD report on Trade and Development 2018 carries the sub-title “POWER, PLATFORMS AND THE FREE TRADE DELUSION.” I bet it’s not really on Dr Panfox’s reading list.
The commencement of the trial in New York of Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera – aka ‘El Chapo’ the Mexican drug lord - has sparked in me the thought that the arrangements for his trial could serve as a dry run for the eventual criminal trial of one Donald J. Trumpo – a possible (he claims innocence) ‘capo’ in the Russian mafia, widely thought to be as bent as any leading Brexit campaigner you might care to mention (I think references to nine bob notes are probably a bit passé these days). Closing the Brooklyn Bridge every time El Chapo is transferred from his high security prison on the East River to the court in downtown Manhattan is unprecedented. Hopefully for El Trumpo the route could divert past Trump Tower. Naturally too, there would have to be armed marshals protecting the anonymous jurors – we should hope for nothing less for the trial of a disgraced president who might still command the loyalties of a devoted army of deranged gun-toting acolytes.
Of course, El Trumpo is innocent until proven guilty – that after all is one of his own cardinal principles – but thanks to being alerted by my old friend Gordon Prentice’s blog, I have just read stuff in the New York Times which appeared in October (see here) which indicates where the newly minted Democratic controlled House of Representatives could take things regarding El Trumpo’s tax affairs. Wasn’t it a tax issue which put Al Capone in prison?
If you conclude a tawdry deal with the DUP, why on earth would anyone have any confidence in your ability to conclude a deal on Brexit – where the parameters and subtleties of the negotiations far exceed the intellectual abilities of the retarded political partners you have chosen? Surely this question must have crossed Theresa May’s mind as she battles on to save her sinking ship? The trouble is, that sinking ship is called the United Kingdom, and we’ll all pay the price. Unless a miracle happens (she does go to church every Sunday) May will be toast in the not too distant future – I feel a general election will be forced on her. The question is, what would follow a general election?
The result could be another hung parliament. This time round, the DUP would have the influence (to put it mildly) of shit on a stick. The Tory Brexiteers could I suppose take control of the Tory Party, but there’s a real chance if that happens that some, but not many Tory MPs would peel off – as indeed one or two have already threatened to do. Who would be their leader then? Boris perhaps, compounding their difficulties despite his alleged popular appeal.
Labour wants a general election, but I have no idea what our policy towards Brexit would actually be if Jeremy was in No. 10. (It would be tough on my old eyeballs, the amount of rubbing they would get as he stood on the steps of No.10.) Should Labour form a government – perhaps with LibDem support (ugh!) then we would be a lot closer to having a so called ‘peoples’ vote’ (when is a vote not a peoples’ vote?) – the LibDems would demand it as a condition of their support. If it appeared in Labour’s manifesto it would make it easier for Labour to steer clear of the hook that May has impaled herself on. Hasn’t Harold Wilson written a textbook on all this stuff? Anyway, it is going to be Labour’s call if we crash into another general election in which the Tories would have great difficulty explaining themselves. Labour needs to clarify now what its position is - as if a general election were actually around the corner – rather than rely much more on Tory implosion. This position of course should be framed in terms of the Greater Left Alternative. We’re waiting.
P.S. If there is to be a 'peoples' vote' it needs to provide a result based on a majority vote of the entire electorate, not a simple majority of those who take part. This is too important. Perhaps such a vote, if it is to be treated as mandatory (the last one was only advisory) should legally require compulsory participation. That should settle it.
Today’s Remembrance Sunday was the most significant of recent times, commemorating the centenary of the end of World War One. My uncle Robert Swift was still alive when the Armistice was signed, but died on the 1st January 1919 along with countless others from Spanish flu. He had not been able to return home so his widow, my aunty Lily, received a nicely printed note of thanks from the King along with his two war service medals. He is buried in France. I wonder what he thought of the great imperialist adventure. As a religious man, I presume he thought God was on our side. My father, who fought throughout the Second World War (in Bomber Command – it’s a miracle that he survived scores of missions) couldn’t give a toss about God and all that – he joined up for the adventure, doing so almost immediately the war started. I think he wanted to escape life at home, which was probably quite dreary. His father definitely had a rather Calvinistic streak. I have a letter he sent to my father after he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal after being shot up (he was a rear gunner at the time) during the campaign in Libya. My grandfather, rather than congratulating him, was more concerned that he didn’t let it go to his head and urged him to work harder to make something of himself. No love lost there methinks.
My father underwent what can only be described as an existentially forming experience, his first six years of adulthood were precarious – not that it outwardly ever seemed to show in later years. For most of the decades after the war, he didn’t take any obvious interest in the Remembrance Sunday ceremonies. In his twilight years I think that changed a bit, but his attitude certainly coloured mine. I considered it my duty as a councillor and as an MP to attend the services, but I always found the entirely Christian pieties grating. Not least since most enlisted people saw through the nonsense. Even when I took the oath on joining the RAF – telling them I was an atheist – I was assured that it mattered no more whether I placed my hand on a Bible or a bottle of beer – it was just a routine formality.
I think there is now a greater awareness that the Armistice was merely a punctuation mark in history – albeit a welcome one for those weren’t marched to more needless slaughter. Conflicts have continued, transmuting from one iteration to another according to some immutable law of human aggression – a law laid down in the Bible, among other places. All the pious words are as nothing when compared to the industrious energy poured into conflict. Sad to say, since we have a huge threat multiplier in climate change arriving on our doorstep, new iterations of conflict are here already. A shot may not yet have been fired, but the simple fact that Trump has sent 15,000 troops to guard the U.S./Mexican border against the arrival of the refugee ‘caravan’ is a signifier of what’s to come. Many of those marching north come from farming communities driven from their land by drought.
Remembrance ceremonies may serve humanity better if they contained an imagining of the lives yet to be sacrificed. Sombre-looking, black coated political elites may be forced to search their consciences somewhat more thoroughly if they had to address the possibility of their own culpability, and not just that of their forebears. There are many unknown soldiers yet to be buried.
I was on a little excursion to Copenhagen (see the two latest additions under ‘Perambulations’) when the results of the U.S. midterm elections were coming in, or the referendum on Trump as some pundits called it. The curious electoral systems employed in the polls allowed Trump some mercy, but once again the Democrats voter tally was significantly bigger than the Republicans. In Senate races, the difference was 10 million votes, but whereas 40 million people in California are represented by two senators, in Wyoming it’s less than 600,000. It’s a wonder Democrats have ever had control of the Senate.
The problem for the Democrats now is what to do with their majority in the House of Representatives. Having economic powers, the House could easily disrupt much of Trump’s agenda. But as some commentators suggest, the U.S. economic cycle is near a peak, so if things slump in a year or two Trump could (and will) blame any obstructions on the House. As regards impeachment, which is a lengthy process which ends in the Senate, there seems little point. The Senate won’t agree to impeachment, and given the time it takes it would be best to oust Trump at the presidential election in 2020.
But what have the Democrats got that could succeed in getting rid of the idiot? At least Trump has recognisable policies, and whilst his solutions are simplistic and counter-productive sufficient people know what he stands for to get him elected. I have only heard a little of what Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi has had to say, but for the most senior Democrat in Congress it sounds like it will be business as usual, which is to say they will be responsible and uninspiring. In other words, the Democrats’ gains in the House could be a false dawn. At this point it would be wise to avoid seeing these midterms as a pointer to getting a more civilised character into the White House in two years’ time.
It wasn’t that long ago when the acronym BRIC was all the rage. It stands for the quartet of up-and-coming countries Brazil, Russia, India and China. Not long ago their economies were seen as the new driving force for global growth, and of course thoughts were entertained that this would inevitably lead to their assimilation into a liberal order, which apart from anything else would bolster the belief that with greater wealth – and larger middle classes – there would be no stopping the march of western style democracy. What a difference a decade makes.
All that appears to be happening in these states is the strengthening of elites that make the claim, for populist consumption, that they are battling against corruption - whilst actually overseeing exponential increases in the wealth of the top crust. One is bound to ask, why should we imagine it would be any different? It takes two to tango, and the west has always obliged the corrupt class from wherever it emanates. The only thing that seems to bother us these days is that as these countries accrue more power, it is not necessarily aligned with ours. In fact, we are alarmed that the new powers are more assertive and are no longer willing to kowtow to western values, even as they - in a materialist sense - adopt the very semblance of such values.
It was once said, in seriousness I believe, that no two countries with McDonalds have or ever would go to war. This certainly seemed to sum up the ‘end of history’ standpoint, however superficial. One only has to recall the blessings of God that Protestant priests delivered to the troops on both sides of the western front in the First World War to see the culpability of people whose earnest deceit to others stems from self-deceit. And never mind that the warring ruling class came from the same family.
But BRIC remains a fact, albeit with varying degrees of economic success. These are the places where (here we go) a post-Brexit Britain needs to expand its markets. These are the countries where Liam Fox needs to curry favour. No matter how vile the regime, markets are markets, so let’s get cracking! And just as many believed that British colonialism was a force for civilisation, let’s await the argument that through free trade we’ll bring more benighted people to the table of freedom and bliss (Mr Tony always thought that freedom and bliss followed in the footsteps of trade, it has to be said).
A comeuppance is on the cards.
I gather that the shareholders in Patisserie Valerie are not best pleased with having to stump up for a new share issue to keep the business afloat, and are calling for the chairperson’s resignation. A typical story from the world of finance. The company apparently has a £40 million black hole. The auditors were Grant Thornton. Perhaps they should be answering a few questions, should they find time off from stuffing their cake hole. Isn’t it marvellous how so many professionals get away with having a blind eye?
I have yet to comprehend how – another example – conveyancing solicitors, well known for their minimal fees, could allow their clients to purchase properties on leasehold terms which later make their homes unsaleable. There are serious issues about the routine professional neglect of customers who feel they should be able to trust these ‘professionals.’ Of course, in the property conveyancing market, most of the work will be done by unqualified, or very lightly qualified conveyancing clerks, whose main task will be to tick boxes, probably in most cases without much oversight. But we’re talking about a sector where self-regulation means lower standards all round. Getting rid of local authority building regulations inspectors was another great ‘efficiency.’ But at least we consumers can have the pleasure of answering an online ‘How was your purchase’ survey every so often.
Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, has expressed his desire to recruit British businessmen (and possibly women too) into the roles of top-ranking diplomats. I always knew Hunt was a visionary, I think he may be our next PM when May implodes. Anyway, the top posting must be ambassador to Washington, and immediately names spring to mind. How about ‘Sir’ Richard Branson? I can imagine his first conversation as ambassador with Trump:
Trump: Ambassador Branson. Beautiful.
Branson: Fabulowso, Mr President
Trump: Beautiful. Big.
And so on ad infinitum . . . Richard’s definitely my top pick. But what if he’s not available? Next up has to be ‘Sir’ Philip Green. I think the small talk between Trump and Green would lead to a lasting special relationship, but sadly good taste prevents me from speculating on exactly what language would be used between them. So what about that other shining light of British business, Mike Ashley? he too might enjoy sharing certain conversational skills with Trump, but if it’s true that Ashley liked his ale whilst conducting top level meetings, this might not go down too well with Trump, who like Hitler is a teetotaller. So I’m beginning to struggle a little to find someone with the skills to deal with Trump and all he represents. I know! Why didn’t I think of him first? He’s got time on his hands too. Fred Goodwin – he’s got to be our next man in Washington. Or maybe Tirana.
But why does Hunt think that only business people could fill these diplomatic roles? If it’s negotiating deals we’re after, wouldn’t a top trade unionist be equally as good? Step up Len McCluskey.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this post should be taken to mean that such new appointments will have anything at all to do with whether or not they will be made after large donations have been made to the Conservative and Unionist Party.
I hope others have written in similar terms (a complaint to the BBC):
I write to complain (and expect a response) about the way in which an interview this evening (30th October) allowed a story about the horrific and tragic murders in Pittsburgh to be woven in to the questionable narrative of anti-semitism in the Labour Party. Lord Winston, interviewed on the PM programme was not challenged to justify his remarks - indeed, if anything, Caroline Quinn encouraged these remarks. Could the BBC explain how the Labour Party has contributed to the actions of the murderer in Pittsburgh? Or for that matter any example of anti-semitic violence in the UK? Much of the narrative about Labour has been soundly debunked by those who care to investigate it, but the BBC seems to have cloth ears when it comes to the need to ensure a proper balance - which means more than simply getting a statement from the Labour Party press office. The BBC is failing in its duty to maintain a proper balance. I want answers to the points above I have made please.
No doubt another response will come, making the assumption that listeners to the BBC's news output are simply too thick to appreciate their divinity.