UK General Election 2017: Brexit

No10It’s being said on every channel and media network that we’ll now get a “softer” Brexit. Theresa May took a gamble, to increase her majority and failed. That means the people have told her they don’t want her type of “extreme Tory Brexit” as described by Nicola Sturgeon and the like.

The problem is, the numbers don’t appear to support that.

As I write this, there’s a delay on the vote count for Kensington and Chelsea. But either way it’s going to be either a Labour or Conservative seat. That means it’s another MP elected by a party that explicitly campaigned on a promise to deliver Brexit. You could argue that the Tories wanted a “harder” (cleaner?) Brexit, and the Labour Party, sort of, well, I guess they didn’t really spell it out did they? Which was clever, with hindsight, making them all things to all people. Either way, it’s another MP in the Brexit column.

If you add up the number of MPs elected from parties who are essentially still pro-remain (and by that I use the generous version of remain to mean those who accept Brexit will happen, but want it to be so light as to be insignificant), and assuming that the one independent/other elected who I’ll just assume is a remainer because I don’t know, you end up with 60. That number might be filled with some who personally really support Brexit, but I’m just going on the basis of party line rather than what happens to be in each individual’s heart.

Now add up the parties who were overtly pro-leave. That’s Labour, Conservative and the DUP. 590 MPs. Again, some of those individual MPs were opposed to leave, and vocally so. But they are a minority in every case, and their parties were clear.

So ten times as many MPs were elected on a party platform to support Brexit than not.

We may very well get a less clean Brexit as a result of this election. In fact, that’s likely. And I’m not suggesting that this is either right or wrong. It’s just interesting to see what the numbers – so far – appear to be telling us.

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Trump Didn’t Win. Clinton Lost

US FlagTrump “isn’t my president”, as so many people say these days. And that’s right. Trump isn’t my president. He’s no one’s president. But neither was Obama. Or Clinton. Or either of the two Bush’s. No one who has presided in the oval office since my birth has been “my president.” Not just because I’m not an American citizen. It’s because that’s not how it works.

The president is the head of the executive branch of the US federal government. He or she isn’t the king of the country. They don’t ‘lead’ the people. The people are free. The president is a clerk, a civil servant. That’s all.

If there’s anything good that might come out of Trump’s presidency, it’s that people will once again find a more constitutional attitude to how American government works. Those on the right who turned a blind eye to presidential overreach under Bush II, and those on the left who stuck their fingers in their ears and shouted “la la la, not listening” when Obama was in office can now unite. They helped create the situation we find ourselves in. But now, it might not just be the libertarians calling the president’s overreach to account. Libertarians have been lonely for some time. Maybe now that will change?

Like most, I utterly failed to call this presidential race. Early on, I dismissed Trump as a ‘cartoon character’, thinking he’d never get anywhere. How wrong I was. How much did I overlook the mood of one of the world’s greatest people, in one of the world’s greatest countries? A great deal.

In the way that the world didn’t suddenly get better because Obama became president, and that Hillary Clinton wouldn’t have made the world magically better by being president, Trump won’t suddenly make the world horrifically worse. Will be violate the constitution? Yes. More than the others before him? More than HRC would have done? I’m not sure. But probably not.

I can’t help see the irony in the aftermath of the Trump victory. We were told – and I believed – that if Trump, say, won the popular vote but lost the electoral college, his supporters would take the the streets. They would riot. Police cars would be set on fire. There would be hatred. People calling the result ‘invalid’.

Look what happened when the opposite took place. I won’t say any more than that.

Delving into the stats, one thing is clear. Democratic supporters disliked Hillary Clinton more that Republicans disliked Trump. It was close either way, but she was the one that put most people off. Not because she was a woman. Around a million of them who would have voted for the Democrat went for Jill Stein this time around. About the same for Gary Johnson, who broke all Libertarian Party records with over three million votes, and breaking through the 5% barrier in several states. He wasn’t the spoiler though, a’la Ralph Nader in 2000. For every traditional Democrat vote he took, he got two Republican votes. And a large bulk of his were independents who wouldn’t have voted for either candidate any way.

Here’s the best illustration of how disliked Clinton was: of the 700+ counties that voted for Obama both times, over 200 of them voted for Trump. That’s what he needed, but it wasn’t a great result for him. Typically, to win he’d need to have gotten around 350 of those counties. But what helped him: Of the 2,000+ counties that didn’t vote for Obama either time, just three of them voted for Clinton. Three.

So if you’re not a fan of Trump, and you’re unhappy about what has happened this time around, maybe it’s worth thinking of it this way: Trump didn’t win. Clinton lost.

And be of good cheer. The world will carry on turning and getting better, whichever constitutionally-overstepping person sits in the oval office.

Our Future in Europe

EU FlagSo it begins. And continues. And continues. And on. And on. Over a hundred days of debates and rows have already started, with many more to come in the coming weeks and months. I would imagine that already, a lot of the public are already sick to death of the EU debate. But it’s easily one of the most important votes we have ever had, and time should be taken to think about what the implications are for all of us moving forward.

The BBC’s show Question Time has shown already the public demanding two contradictory things: they wish the fear-mongering (on both sides) would end, so they could just get “the facts”. But on the other hand, the “facts” are too dry and boring, and they want to be talked to in plain English.

I personally think you can only chose one of those things. You either want the facts – as best as they can be presented – or you want to be told opinions on general terms.

But either way, (and I’m putting this here for my reference as much as anything), here’s how things look as I see it right now:

  1. 3 million UK jobs depend on our trade with the EU. But that’s trade with the EU that those jobs depend on, not membership. There’s probably tens of thousands of jobs in the UK that depend on our trade with Hong Kong. No one is suggesting we form a union with them. Besides which, the other 27 member-states have some 6.5 million jobs between them that depend on trade with the U.K.  Will they put that at risk? Which leads me to…

  2. For every £3 worth of goods and services we trade to the EU, we buy £5 worth of goods and services from the other 27 member-states. If talk of a trade deficit is too “wonkish” for you, how about thinking about it like this: we’re basically the customer. Will the EU want a tariff-free trade deal with one of its biggest customers upon us leaving the current arrangement? Will it help Angela Merkel politically if she makes it harder for BMW and Mercedes to sell cars to us? Will Francois Hollande look good to the French people of he ignited a trade war stopping French cheese and wine making its way to British supermarkets?

  3. We aren’t voting on whether or not we leave Europe. Come June 24th, the tectonic plates won’t suddenly shift and push the UK out into the mid Atlantic somewhere. We’re voting on whether or not to leave the political union known as the EU. Including places like the Channel Islands, there’s 47 countries that can be described in some way as being in “Europe”. Two of them (Russia and Belarus) have no free trade agreement with the EU, choosing instead to form a pan-Asian trade block. The other 45, are part of the free trade area in some form or another (EFTA, the EEA, or members of the EU). There’s three layers to the European cake: 45 countries, of which 28 are members of the EU, or which 19 are members of the Eurozone. So 17 countries/states are in the outer layer (free trade and not part of the political union), 9 are in the middle layer (free trade AND political union) and the remaining 19 are in the inner-layer (free trade, political union and a single currency). The choice is not so much “leave” or “remain”, as it is “move to the outer layer” or “stay in the middle layer”. By and large, the inner layer does worse per capita than the middle layer, and the middle layer does generally worse per capita than the outer layer. Whether in the outer layer you think we’d also be strong enough like, say, Switzerland (as we have the 5th largest economy- set to take over Germany as the 4th in 2030 and Japan as the 3rd in 2045, with currently the 4th largest army, a head figure at NATO, the UN, WTO, whose language is the most widely spoken in the world, whose trading maritime and philosophical links exported around the world are one of the fundamental reasons for the decline in world poverty), is up to you.

  4. There is no vote on offer for the status quo.  Voting leave will mean we walk away from the union we’ve been part of since the early 1970s. But voting remain will be a vote to be part of a changing EU, which contains both David Cameron’s new reforms, but also changes that confirm the middle layer can’t impede the changes of the inner layer, which means that one way or another change is coming. The question is, what change do you want?

As I see it, those are the facts as they stand, stated as simply as possible. There’s benefits and costs to either decision. The real question we each have to consider, is which solution provides the best future for us?

Hillary Hiding Behind Trump

Hillary ClintonDonald Trump the Republican cartoon character Presidential Candidate is sucking all the air out of the current election race.

I can appreciate how frustrating that is for the other hopefuls. But one person who is probably quite grateful – for now – is Hillary Clinton.

Arguably the worst thing about Donald Trump’s presidential circus act is that he’s successfully stopped political commentators and journalists spending any serious time looking at what Hillary Clinton would be like as a president. This is especially odd, given that the polls make her the most likely to take the top job, compared to anyone else currently in the running.

Many people will vote for Clinton simply to be a part of history. I totally get that. A woman president has been far-too long coming. But isn’t it a little patronising, and even maybe sexist, to vote for someone just because she’s a woman? That doesn’t feel like it’s striking a blow for feminism, as much as striking a blow against it, to me.

I’d like a female president. But I’d like one who really deserves to be there, who’s been put through the ringer, and really tested.

So far Clinton appears to have side-stepped this process. She’s been allowed to get away with quite a bit as a result. We’re talking about a person who has still – to the best of my knowledge – refused to acknowledge that she used a ghostwriter to write those weekly newspaper columns and bestsellers of hers. She’s yet to explain her lying about being shot at in Bosnia, or discussing ways to beat Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic primaries, using Bobby Kennedy’s assassination as a similar scenario to the fight she was having (serious, what was that about?)

There’s lots of other little lies too. Not just the ghostwriting, but how broke she was upon leaving the White House with her husband (nope), how her daughter was jogging near the World Trade Centre on September 11, 2001 (she wasn’t), how she was named after Sir Edmund Hillary, the heroic conqueror of Mount Everest (she wasn’t. Sir Edmund made the climb in 1953. Hillary Clinton was born in 1947).

But that’s just small stuff right? The tittle-tattle that tabloid journalists care about. Okay, I get that. The odd forgetful moment or little white lie I understand. We’ve all done it. Okay, so maybe not to this level, but we’ve all done it. Let’s look instead at her policy record:

As a Senator of New York, she was a loud, and unashamedly vocal supporter of TARP, the disastrous and economically-illiterate Troubled Asset Relief Program. And let’s not dwell too much on the equally damaging ethanol subsidies, auto bailouts, etc. It’s also interesting how we’ve all forgotten about her proudly declaring herself as the “representative of Wall Street” during her time as Senator. A declaration now oddly ignored by the Occupy crowd.

What trade agreements does she support and which is she against this week? With the flip-flopping, it’s hard to a) keep track, and b) understand what economic principles – if any – she really believes in.

Many wise heads warn that we’re looking at the possibility of another economic dip at some point soon. Will her proposed federal “infrastructure bank” (at a cost of $250 billion) really help us out in a time when we’re trying to live within our means? Hasn’t the weapons-grade failure of bailouts and shovel-ready projects got back to her yet?

She basically sided with Bush Jr and Cheney when it came to Iraq. In fact, she was arguably more hawkish than either of them when it came to linking Saddam to Al Qaeda. Her position on the failure was simply to flip-flop (again) and say that Bush didn’t pursue diplomatic avenues enough. Okay, but she specifically voted against the amendment that would have forced Bush to explore more diplomatic avenues before the invasion began. But, she seems to have been given a free pass on having her cake and eating it too.

I won’t dwell on Benghazi or the potentially federal-grade offences she may have committed with sensitive government emails, those are areas that’ve been well covered at least. Except to say that she still seems to have had a free pass on them. But let’s talk Libya. Anyone who has been concerned with Bush and Obama’s hyper-interventionism can’t help be a little concerned by her actions there, least of all referencing Moammar Gaddafi being disposed as “We came, we saw, he died”, (while laughing).

ISIS are reportedly using the areas she intervened as Secretary of State. It still hasn’t stopped her describing that unstable mess as an effective use of American “smart power”.

Clinton is a full-blown supporter of George W. Bush’s Patriot Act, and continues to wrongly describe Edward Snowden as a man who could have “gotten all the protections of a whistleblower”. That’s flat-out wrong. The rules – that Clinton fully supports – makes it currently impossible for someone in Snowden’s position to be a whistleblower. The “proper channels” she says he should have used are explicitly denied to employees in national security positions like Snowden.

In the social sphere, she’s against legalising marijuana for recreational purposes (but the states appear to be moving ahead anyway), she’s flip-flopped (there’s that phrase again) on gay marriage, only finally supporting it when it was clear most Americans now do. Also in a similar vein, only when the polls showed that people were turned off en-mass at Trump’s harsh treatment of illegal immigrants, did she change her position. But she still doesn’t fully support free speech, supported by the 1st Amendment, advocating a change to the US Constitution to limit what she worryingly describes as “unaccountable” political speech, and pushing for more governmental “backdoors” to our private data.

This is just a short list of things we haven’t talked about when it comes to Hillary. It might turn out that by the time of this year’s election, she really is the best of a bad bunch. But if that is the case, I can’t help feel that’s a depressing choice.

I’d love there to be a female US president. But I’d especially love there to be a good one.

Send in the Clowns

GOP 2015 DebateCan the Hillary machine be defeated? It’s the question a rag-tag bunch of GOP wannabe leaders are hoping to bring an answer to.

My predictions on the result of the UK General Election was so far off the mark, that it’d be pretty shameless to predict the next US presidential election. But you know, me and my big mouth…

Hillary Clinton already seems to be walking the walk as the next nominee for the Democrats, and barring any magical moment, it’s probably pretty safe to assume that she’ll be given the official seal of approval without too much fuss.

I’d love to see a female President, though I want one on merit rather that because someone finally got there and people voted for one to “make history”, which is why I’m not exactly on Team Hillary. She sounds like a pretty authoritarian hyper-interventionist to this libertarian, but looking at the rogues gallery of Republicans (again, mostly great white males), there’s not much inspiring stuff going on their either.

Donald Trump – the cartoon candidate – is currently taking all the headlines on the Republican side, with occasional references to Jeb Bush, brother of George, son of George Snr. The GOP don’t stand a chance.

Or do they? Before the Trump machine starting it’s cacophony, Rand Paul was right up there, in the public spotlight.

Rand Paul – though maybe not as “pure” a libertarian as the supporters of his father Ron would like – is the nearest thing to a libertarian running at present. We don’t know if Gary Johnson will take the libertarian party candidacy this time around.

He’s leaning further to the traditional right than I believe his natural instincts and morals would usually take him. But he’s running for the Republican nomination just now, so I ease off any serious criticism, given his fairly commendable behaviour overall in the Senate, including his remarkable filibuster attempts.

As it stands, I think only Rand Paul could stop the Hillary Machine marching into the White House. While a sequel to the Clinton years wouldn’t be so bad (balanced books, etc.) I’m not sure if we’d see that from President Clinton II.

If the Republicans were to stand with Rand, then he wins their nomination, moves to the centre, and campaigns on a broadly socially tolerant but fiscally competent platform, it would make the whole election exciting.

Republicans would (mostly) fall in line behind him. But for Democrats, it would open up a bigger moral conundrum: do they “make history” and vote for the first woman president, or do they take this very real opportunity to vote for a properly socially liberal (in the classical sense) contender in Rand Paul?

Man, I’d love to see that. But given the recent history of Republicans voting for safer, boring, more, well, I guess, ‘conservative’ candidates, I doubt it’s a political match-up we’re going to see. And that’s a shame for all of us.

UK 2015 Election: Proof I Don’t Know What I’m Talking About

In the blog-post I wrote right before this one, a few days before the UK general election, I decided to predict the outcome, and guess which of the major parties would form a government, and how long it would last.

I’m currently resting up (or at least, I’m supposed to be) after a 24-hour marathon stint on the Heart and Capital radio stations, breaking all the overnight stories of the election. As the ballot-booths are flat-packed away for now, and the black-and-white “Polling Station” signs are taken down off the walls of community centres and school halls across the country, I think it’s only fair that I look at what I wrote a few days ago, and see how it tallies with the reality.

And it’s pretty clear. I couldn’t have been more wrong about the outcome if I tried. I didn’t even entertain the idea that there might be a majority government, given the consistent message from the polls that suggested otherwise.

So I’m W. H. Wrongy McWrongstein, of Wrongsville, Carolina. Population: Wrong.

Proof, if any proof were really needed, that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But how did all the polls get it all so wrong? We had months of the polls, from a host of different pollsters, day in and day out, all showing that no party would have enough MPs to form a majority. But when the big day came, we had one clear winner.

David Cameron and the Conservative Party wiped the floor with virtually everyone (except in Scotland, of course. There, the pollsters were spot on about the Scottish Nationalist Party and their dominance). UKIP were decimated. The Greens; right back where they started. The Liberal Democrats exiled to obscurity. And Plaid who?

And as I write, David Cameron is live-tweeting announcements about his new cabinet, fully Liberal Democrat-free following his 331 seats in parliament.

An outright Conservative majority. How did we get here?

The only explanation I can think of (and given how wrong I was in my election prediction – did I mention that? Way, way wrong – my explanation may not carry much weight), is that we’ve seen a repeat of the 1992 election.

Then, a beleaguered Tory government – Lead by John Major – was sleepwalking into a comprehensive defeat.

Their opponents – Labour – were all but guaranteed to form the next government. Labour’s leader Neil Kinnock even went as far as to host a victory rally before polling day.

Then the election day came. And the Tories won. Comprehensively.

I believe that yesterday – as in 1992 – the public maybe didn’t quite form an opinion of how to vote until they got into the polling booth. Major’s government were as far removed from ‘cool’ as you could get. Voting for them was almost an embarrassment to some. Why would you tell a pollster that’s what you were going to do? Even if it was what you were going to do?

But even if it was only in the back of their mind, there was a genuine concern about where the country was headed under a Kinnock government. Back to the old days of economic illiteracy and ‘managed decline’. The people blinked, and Major stayed in Number 10. A few years on, and our deficits turned to very impressive surpluses.

The unique way in which the global market crash in 2008 hurt Britain was – for a big part – down to our unaffordable public spending. We had the deficit of a basket-case economy. But we just kept on spending, kept on trying to live off that ‘hair of the dog’ each morning.

Though it wasn’t totally popular to some, modest steps were taken by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition from 2010 to introduce austerity. It’s a dirty word these days, but all it really means is “living within your means”. Income has to be equal to, or lower than expenditure. That’s not evil free market dogma, or cruel Tory “ideological” cuts. It’s called maths. If you get £5 a week pocket money, and spend £6 a week on stuff, you’ll have to borrow £1. If you do that every week for ten weeks, you’ll owe £10. One day, that has to be paid back. See: maths?

Now I’m not a big fan of the coalition for a variety of reasons. The debt that’s been piled on over the past five years is inexcusable, and they’re no way near classically liberal enough for my tastes. But, the Tories wanted to eliminate the deficit in five years. They were in coalition, so couldn’t be as radical as they’d like to be. Let’s say, they could only be half as radical. So by 2015, they’ve cut the deficit in half.

It’s a fairly clear demonstration that, generally speaking, they were right. The (now unemployed after losing his seat) Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls went on every TV and radio show in the country describing the austerity (living in your means, i.e. maths) measures as being “to far and too fast” for the first two years of coalition. Turns out, if do want to criticise the coalition’s austerity measures, it’d be better to say they didn’t go far enough and weren’t implemented quickly enough.

The coalition decided to lean in the direction of maths/austerity. Labour leader Ed Milliband – who resigned this afternoon – said for every public sector job cut, a private sector job would also go, creating greater levels of unemployment.

The coalition cut half a million public sector jobs. Two million private sector jobs (more than in the 13 years of Labour) emerged. Most of them better paying, contracted jobs.

So one group called it right, one group called it wrong. It was actually so simple we missed it. And in the back of many people’s minds, they understood. Even if it took them until they had the HB pencil in their hands in the ballot booth to really see it.

But don’t listen to me. I’m W. H. Wrongy McWrongstein, of Wrongsville, Carolina, remember?

UK 2015 General Election: Predicting the Unpredictable

Ballot boxAs I write these words, we’re just days away from the UK General election, which has been billed as the most unpredictable for a generation or more.

That might be true, but is it totally unpredictable?

While the exact outcome is going to be pretty difficult, we can certainly get a sense of what is more or less likely to occur.

I’ll be broadcasting on-air overnight that night for Global: Europe’s largest commercial radio group. I have teams across the south region region waiting for the ballot papers to be counted, and the results to come in. It’ll be a long night for all of us in the broadcast media, but an exciting one, not least because the exact outcome is so uncertain.

But the opinion polls – which have remained pretty consistent throughout – do give us at least some sense of what we might see come the early hours of Friday 8th May.

Firstly, a quick disclaimer about the figures. Polls, let’s not forget, predicted a trouncing for John Major’s government back in 1992, almost right up to election day, only for him to re-enter Downing Street with an increased majority.

But the polls are the best we’ve got, and with the figures in them being so fixed for so long, there’s a good chance that they are painting at least a reasonable picture of the outcome.

If you extrapolate the percentage-based polls into actual seats won for each party (a risky business), we can see a lead of ten or so seats for the Conservatives over Labour, around half of the Liberal Democrats losing their seats, a less than impressive result for UKIP, and domination in Scotland by the SNP.

What kind of a parliament does that create, and how do we create a government out of it? I feeling that our system is quite outdated. In my book from a couple of years ago, “TREASON: And Other Good Ideas“, I suggested a system where the people directly elect the head of the executive branch. That way, if you ever get a fragmented parliament (the legislative branch), you at least know that the Prime Minister is in his or her position with a reasonable degree of legitimacy.

However, we live in a different world to the one I suggested then, so for now, we have to deal with the system as it stands. And as it stands, things might get ugly.

Simply put, neither the Conservatives or Labour will win enough seats for an outright majority. That’s something we can be at least fairly certain of.

For the Tories, it looks very unlikely there will be enough Lib Dems to form a coalition with, and even factoring UKIP and the DUP from Northern Island, there may not be enough for a “grand coalition.”

It’s looking equally as grim – if not more so – for the Labour Party. They could form a coalition with the SNP, as they’d have enough seats between them to form a government.

But this would be almost impossible after Labour’s leader Ed Miliband ruled out a coalition. If he went back on his word now, he’d possibly push Labour out of No. 10 for a decade or more. Plus, most people in the UK would see this as an illegitimate government (even if it wasn’t technically), as only people in Scotland could vote for the SNP, who could hold Labour to ransom for anything they wanted.

There’s a slim chance that Labour could form a coalition with other left-leaning parties other than the SNP (like Plaid Cymru in Wales and the Green Party if they do better), but again, there’s a good chance Labour will have fewer MPs than the Tories, and so any government not formed mostly of Conservatives could be seen as not “right” by many people: “How can a party have the most MPs but not be in government?” The answer, is “well, it’s our quirky system”, but that won’t be satisfactory to many.

So I’ll put my neck on the line and do something fairly daft: I’ll predict the outcome for the least predictable UK general election in a long time:

I think that we’ll end up with a minority Conservative government. It’ll be a short-lived entity, which will build bridges and alliances in some areas, but fail to pass many of its bills as they wind their way through the parliamentary system, but possibly just about getting Labour to sign off on its Queens Speech, for the sake of stability if nothing else. Then, as soon as this October, or maybe into next year, we may go to the polls again. It might end up being a poisoned chalice for the Tories who end up stuck between a rock and a hard place, while becoming so unpopular that they lose the subsiquent election convincingly.

I’ll report on events as they happen on the Heart and Capital networks, and LBC. It’ll be interesting to see just how wrong I am.

We’ll find out soon.