Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Case for the Single Market : Rights, Economic Direction of Travel and Commercial Peace.

It strikes me that both pre and post referendum, those of us who really would have preferred to Remain, are actually failing to properly make the case for doing so.

Presuming that we accept the will of the British people and leave the EU, my own position is that we should move to either a transitional arrangement that keeps us in the Single Market, or adopt a permanent position that includes Single Market membership. I think this is possibly where the UK will end up, wilful Brexiteers nonwithstanding. I accept the evidence that says the overwhelming majority of the British public do not want to cut immigration if it costs them personally a single penny, and venture that we cannot read more into "a simple In/Out referendum" and it is revisionist to try.

So, starting from that point here goes.

However, what we need to do is look to the positives of this, not necessarily "Project Fear" or spending the whole argument on the back foot, rebutting whatever nonsense is being produced by the Hard Brexit camp. We need to make a positive case.


The three reasons I will put forward to stay within the Single Market are built around concentric circles - the status of the individual, the status of the UK and the status of the World.

1.  Citizen's rights

Plenty of UK nationals live abroad in the EU - 1.2 million is a good estimate . Their rights have been regarded as a bargaining chip but the right of residence by it's very nature should be inalienable. Removing rights from citizens is a serious business, not to speak of the fact if there is a deadline for removing rights from people, you'll find many unintended effects such as those who are able to, start moving to places where their right will not be removed.

We also have the right of freedom of movement around the EU. My proposition of remaining within the UK is a positive for all UK citizens, meaning they can continue to enjoy their rights of living and working within the EU. This is also a positive for businesses wanting to hire from other countries.

3. Economic direction of travel.

Joining or staying in the Single Market has been our strategy for the last 40 years. There is potentially a case for moving to being a different sort of economy, however it's a borderline impossibility to, as it were, turn the tanker [of the British Economy] around on an Article 50 shaped sixpence.

Our current account deficit is relatively very bad next to other OECD countries.


We import far more goods than we export, tho we do have a surplus in services (i.e. we export more services than we import). It is important that our economy becomes more balanced and I do see this as an important policy objective, but we cannot do it overnight. Therefore, to offer certainty to businesses, we need to have a model with minimum disruption, at the very least in the short term.

It appears the British public agree

It is also imperative given the current account deficit to at least preserve the surplus in services, so we must make sure that people continue to be able to work in the EU where they are needed, with as little friction as possible.

2. Globalisation and it's contents

The fact that took us into the Single Market, known as the Common Market in 1975 was the part of a wider move by the world towards globalisation, and it was important that we did this, so as not to be left behind. The Labour government, and later the Tories (at least the leadership whilst they were in power) did understand this intuitively. Remaining close to our main trading partners is not merely desirable, it's imperative.

The world senses that removing trade barriers and encouraging migration is a good thing, and the more it happens, the less poverty and war there will be. Though contentious, this "less war" theory is advanced enough an idea to have a name and that is Commercial Peace

Morally, to be honest, all global citizens should be thinking about being drawbridge down type of people, as it leads to less poverty, less war and more value being created worldwide. Citizens of the UK and the World, this could indeed us taking part  the Great Global Move Forward, if we are brave enough to do it.

I put it to you that with these three points in favour of remaining in the Single Market, that this is what the UK can and should do.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Not having a Parliamentary vote on Brexit is a mistake....

I think Theresa May's decision not to have a Parliamentary vote on Brexit is a mistake.

Firstly, because it means that it's all on her. Without a mandate from Parliament the "bumpy ride" of Brexit is sure to end up with a blame game occurring. And without even being able to have a whipped operation of her own MPs behind her, that normal human nature in face of blame will be to ask who else, or who is majorly to blame.

Secondly, her Ministers for Brexit have already shown form on blaming anyone or anything than the idea of Brexit or themselves. At the last count, if Brexit fails it will either be because

- Remainers talk down the pound (?!)
- The Chancellor is "grieving" about Brexit (!?!?)
- British business spends too long on the golf course (?)

How much easier would it be just to blame the PM?

Thirdly, change management is mostly about bringing people with you, not telling them there are many, many reasons why you don't even get to express your view. This is the point of consultations, so people feel listened to and so you get feedback on possible elephant traps in your plan. Not doing this means people feel aggrieved and concerned, and start talking to each other.

If Tony Blair hadn't had a Parlimentary vote on the Iraq War, I don't think he would have survived as long as he did as the war descended further into chaos, he did have the fact that most of the Government and Opposition had backed his stance. I think Theresa May not doing this over Brexit is very risky indeed.

Fourthly, it is untrue to say there is not a government in waiting for this Government to fall to. There is, it is headed up by George Osborne (or possibly Boris Johnson) and it would be comprised of all the MPs sacked by Mrs May and currently waiting quietly on the Tory backbenchs.

Don't count your Brexit chickens until they are hatched.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Relationship counselling and leaving the EU

The divorce analogy for Brexit annoys me because it's simplistic and moreover takes people in odd directions about mid-life crisis and tends to assume Britain is a man as well, for some reason I can't quite fathom.

Anyway, the other side of this is how we repair our country in the middle of this crisis. As the pound continues to fall and a Tory conference continues, a conference that was told to produce one Brexit announcement per department to be announced this week. These ever more baffling announcements arrive with their particularly strange angle, leaving the rest of Britain reeling about just what Theresa May is going to do next.

However, picking ourselves up, in amongst the Loud Noises, it would be good for at least some of us to know the other side of divorce, those who manage to stay together with a better relationship because of relationship counselling.

Key to these concepts are understanding without necessarily agreeing: This can be pretty difficult as when you disagree with someone especially if they are telling you something unpalatable about yourself such as "out of touch metropolitan elite". However, relationship counsellors say it's important to at least understand where the other side are coming from.

So I'm going to try and at least praise the good Brexit policies, wherever I can find them. Today I thought lifting the cap on the number of doctors the UK trains, would be an unalloyed good thing, only for Theresa May to hedge the answer to "What happens to the foreign doctors after the UK ones are trained?" and leave us with the impression that the foreign doctors will be deported after 2025.....

Back to positivity tho, the objective is to understand the other side, to prevent your own position becoming too retrenched. The idea is to demonstrate understanding to help the other side understand your position and hopefully work together. Maybe this is possible, though it looks increasingly likely that it is not.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Whatever happened to Social Democracy in the UK?

I'm trying to observe a vow of silence about The Opposition Leader Who Shall Not Be Named (from now on referred to as TOLWSNBN) , as quite frankly I'm bored of talking and writing about him.

Today tho, I wonder if Labour have completely given up on Social Democracy and instead are opting for Socialism, and this is why his acolytes love him so much? I'm not a social democrat, but think it's a valid and sometimes useful political position - socialism, not so much, mostly because of the problem of the "brief period" of state control before the ownership of the means of production is devolved to the actual workers, never seems to come

I spent ages yesterday reading a blog post about why someone loves TOLWSNBN and I'm currently working through Nick Cohen's polemic "What's Left?" about the crisis of the Left.

For me, the cult of TOLWSNBN is actually self-described as being because they haven't seen anyone to represent their views in recent Labour leaders. Now, if one is an avowed socialist and actually believes in seizing control of the means of production, than it does seem to follow that their desire to achieve as many seats as possible in a Parliamentary Democracy would be less than that of a social democrat.

Social democracy to me, means starting from socialist principles (equality for all) moving towards what is more electorally possible, such as cash transfers to poor and disabled people and equality of opportunity.

But I'm concerned that seems to be being eradicated in the Labour Party in search of a pure socialist mindset.

But I suppose I should just reflect on it not being my party, and leave them to it.

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Should it be so difficult to leave the EU?

Someone said to me the other day that an institution so hard to leave as the EU was wrong. I wasn’t so sure, as I thought of several associations that are hard to leave – i.e. hard to leave or not take part in without significant downsides. Trade bodies being one, or adhering to international standards.

We’ve also entrenched EU membership into a lot of our internal agreements, and hence in a way have “done this to ourselves”. 

So, what next? Joseph Stiglitz on Today this morning was remarkably upbeat about the prospects of coming to a “rational” agreement with the EU with a kind of looser arrangement, similar to that Gus O’Donnell was proposing the other day.

I’ve been searching for a while for a note about 5 economists from Europe who suggested there could be a “two-speed” Europe with the UK on the outside track from further political integration – an idea that seems to have been around for as long as I have been alive. I cannot for the life of me find this note, so any advice or links would be helpful?
In short I feel there are three takes from the story so far:

 1. Brexiteers’ Singapore fantasy - plus harnessing the British pathological love of nostalgia (sops such as blue passports or going back to imperial measurements). This involves turning Britain overnight into a low tax, low regulation economy. As much as libertarians will welcome this nirvana, I’m not sure that’s what anyone was voting for bar some people in government……

2. Remainer's Two Speed Europe / Norway. I think this looks desperate right now but practically and pragmatically preserves what Daniel Knowles was on about – making sure there isn’t suddenly a lot of faff involved in trading in Europe.

3. Fundamentally it's our issue at the moment. We don't know what we want, are stuck in decision paralysis and that will start to cost us

P.S.  I have decided to stop worrying about Labour and leave them to it. So what if we don’t have a functioning opposition holding the govt to account through Brexit?

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Corbyn's not for turning, neither are the Hard Brexiteers

People like consistency. I think this helps explains Corbynmania amongst his supporters in the Labour party, and also to an extent Brexit.

I think that because Corbyn refuses to compromise, he engenders support amongst people who dislike compromise. This could also apply to those who want "Hard Brexit" or mean to bounce Theresa May into it.

This is my theory, so much as it is. It's not meant to apply to everyone, but is after trying to think through how I'd end up supporting Corbyn or Hard Brexit, that I thought if I was someone who believed in no compromise, I might have come to that POV.

In pretty much everyone's daily life, they have to compromise. Perhaps a person is slightly overweight and needs to have a salad rather than a burger for lunch? Perhaps a person can't afford to go see Bruce Springsteen because they have to pay the mortgage? Perhaps they'd love to go to Turkey for the family summer holiday but their spouse vetoes it due to fear of terror attacks?

Plus of course, there are all of the roads not taken - the job they didn't take, the course not pursued, the person not asked out on a date. All of these may inform a self-image of "I didn't do that = I can't do that = someone's preventing me from doing that"

Perhaps they don't like this and feel anxious about (as they see it) not getting any autonomy  - and autonomy is a key human need.

Back to politics, I think flexibility (most of the time) is an important skill in politics- as you have three main interested parties in what you do : yourself (which includes family needs), your party and the country. Balancing the needs of the three is a continuing challenge and part of the skill is getting it right.

Jeremy Corbyn doesn't even seem to try the last two. I think this makes him a bad politician.

So, in the face of the daily, grinding compromise, people and causes arise that arise that people can project onto. People like Corbyn who don't seek to find a consensus, appeal to those who think that's all you need to get what you want, be that equality for all or exit from the European Union.

Being inflexible tho, is not a good thing. Getting to a "win/win" situation is much the best outcome if possible. Of course there are some cases, such as the UK being under mortal threat, where you don't really want someone to be seeking a compromise, but mostly, it pays to see the other side and "get you both to yes". It's harder than banging on about what YOU want, of course.

It was suggested to me that Corbyn has compromised on having a free vote over Trident and also on campaigning to Remain in the EU. I think tho, that neither were compromises that he believed in - on Trident he is continuing as if he has changed Labour party policy without taking his party with him, and the free vote was more of a cop-out than a compromise, and on Remaining in the EU, I think the problems with his attitude have been covered elsewhere, but his support was lukewarm at best and totally scuppered by his call for immediate hard Brexit after the vote.

So, perhaps no compromise is a sensible attitude if you want to attract fervent, single-minded support, but is it really a good way forward?

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Imagine there's no countries - how do we get there from here?

There's been some astonishingly good analysis on the Brexit decision in the last couple of days, here are some of my reflections.

I'm struck by the fact, as the IFS outlines, that the government wants to take a lot of time, effort and money to shoot ourselves in the foot on the back of one vote about #Brexit, a non binding one at that. But the most startling thing to me is that the choice that seems to be surfacing, albeit probably impossible, is being part of the single market but not having free movement of people.

As Daniel Knowles points out spectacularly well in The Times, it seems Brexiteers don't understand international trade, only it's discontents. I've noticed this before, namely that even David Cameron and his "global race" don't seem to understand that all economies gain from trade, and that includes people moving across boundaries.

People don't seem to like immigration across the world, and there's probably some political leadership to be done there- as per when Free Trade was advocated in the 18th century by the likes of Adam Smith. Sometimes it feels as if without ideology as we are, more or less; we don't seem able get across ideas in the modern world, but it's in my view that the economic world has far outstripped the political world with globalisation. It is better to have the free movement of people, the question is how we get there from here?

Watching Out and Proud, the Sky documentary with Faisal Islam last night I was struck by how many people genuinely had based their vote on the ahem, misspeaking of the Leave campaign - people referred to the £350m for the NHS (discredited) and apparently the fact oil, gas and food will become cheaper after Brexit.

I'm not sure many people think we are actually a great economy in the world, because they look around their local area and see poverty and lack of investment. The Pareto Principle leads people to invest where money can "do the most good" which seems to inevitably mean loads of investment for the South East of England and less/not much elsewhere. The EU seeked to balance that by investing in our deprived areas, areas that will lose out as a result of Brexit.

It seems there are many reasons for voting out and that they often stem from a mixture of misconceptions ("We'll be better off out as we aren't that well off as a country") prejudice ("immigrants taking our jobs") and ignorance about how free trade works - ignorance that extends to the people charged with Brexit.

I can only hope eventually our very pragmatic PM, Theresa May, comes to appreciate that Brexit could cost us very badly, that is if she doesn't already, and potentially provides the very leadership we spoke of. It's a small hope, as our previous PM, despite being on the surface more outward looking, didn't really get it either.