Sunday, 14 January 2018

Why a UK Free Trade Agreement with the EU is Worthless

There is a lot of nonsense 'out there' that assumes that the UK can replicate or nearly replicated the access it has to the European Union wide market once it leaves via a bespoke Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

First of all, the agreement with Canada, for which we could be "plus plus plus" is not all it is set out to be. It is basically an improvement on World Trade Organisation rules. However, this agreement has an important provision in it, that does affect the UK directly. It is called Most Favoured Nation (MFN) which means, in the context of this agreement, that anything better offered to any other nation in a free trade agreement must also be offered to Canada.

So if the British deal was much better, the Canadian deal would have to improve. So what is to stop that?

It is all to do with Regulatory Alignments, that is standards and rules that exist in trading. In other words, the European Union or Canada cannot be sure that the other party has and will maintain Regulatory Alignment in any particular economic sector. Furthermore, the EU is reluctant to enter into Regulatory Alignment agreements outside the EU Single Market, because it means the EU loses regulatory control over its own single market.

When the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, and seeks to 'go it alone' (unlike Norway), it must have a Free Trade Agreement instead. The UK starts with Regulatory Alignment, but it would be free to diverge. So a Free Trade Agreement would have to go into immense detail sector by sector to fix Regulatory Alignments, and would mean binding the UK to EU regulations as the EU would demand its autonomy over the Single Market where all these sectors operate. Otherwise a decision to diverge would mean a decision to lose access on anything other than World Trade Organisation rules or yet another agreement, that would have to be less than in the Single Market.

And in any case, again, to give the UK something on a Free Trade Agreement would be to offer it to Canada on the MFN basis, and yet Canada has divergent and potentially divergent rules.

First of all, then, a FTA is going to be immensely complex. It cannot possibly be negotiated by Autumn 2018, by March 2019 (the date of leaving) or correctly now the end-date, after an eighteen month or so transition period (end of 2020).

That there could be divergences built in immediately increases trading costs; that we move to an FTA means being treated as divergences likely and thus being an outsider.

The UK exports eight times as much in goods to the EU than Canada; the service sector (Finance especially) is hugely greater.

(An alternative, of course, is the highly costly WTO basis of trade. Overnight trade becomes expensive and bureaucratic, with the assumption of diverging anywhere. We cannot base WTO rules on a devalued pound, because a devalued pound is a less-worth currency, and thus imports are expensive. Lowering the value of the pound is not an alternative to increasing productivity and actually lowering prices. We end up becoming a low-wage low productivity and low social welfare with a low quality political economy: some Tories may slaver at this prospect, but it is hardly the reason why so many frustrated at low living standards voted to leave the EU.)

All this leads to a simple conclusion: there is no "jobs first" deal with the EU available that does not place us in the Single Market and Customs Union as regulated by the European Union's European Court of Justice. Sir Keir Starmer ought to tell his boss Jeremy Corbyn why we cannot come out of these two institutions, and develop a House of Commons and House of Lords consensus to stay in - at the very least.

It follows that in order to affect policy across the Single Market and Customs Union, we should stay inside the European Union. We then are part of this confederation through the initiating and regulating Commission, through decisions by the Council of Ministers, and checked by the European Parliament. The EU is the reality on the ground, and politicians should stop fantasising.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2018 Comes: A Personal Melancholy

2017 was a melancholy time, but this has been normal, and 2018 can only be the same, if not worse.

In 2017 I had a disagreement with a minister over another minister visiting with his co-authored book. I was apparently unkind about the book online, although I now think I was too kind. The upshot was my decision to walk away and now I have no dealings with Unitarianism, other than a distant watch over what happens online. Instead of attending a worship service weekly, as I had done, and a social gathering weekly, as I continued to do (and I was the most frequent attender at both), I now only refugee myself to the Quakers once a fortnight, having in any case spent time 'looking around' before my final act of self-removal. Previous to my walk away, I'd already reduced my worship attendance and was tentatively returning - only then by surprise event to call it a day.

The Unitarian regular attendance was about three or five or at most eight persons anyway, and many had effectively gone before me. I discover that my refugee place is a little better in numbers, and indeed my visits around (Anglican, URC, Methodist) showed that they were all down on what they once were.

By any measure, Christianity is dying, dying as an expression of faith in the ordinary course of things, and as evidenced by attendance. Unitarianism isn't obviously Christian in any effective sense, but this has not caused any improvement in its fortunes. Far from it. There is no future either in 'spiritual but not religious' strategies, which are meaningless anyway within structures that are religious and with an institutional memory. The long time played-out transition in religion is now starting to bite, as structures can no longer be supported on such low numbers, and as people no longer commonly think and express themselves in relation to these structures and their beliefs.

The Quakers, I notice, have quite a self-understood identity. The Friends get this through the 'meetings' that they attend at different levels and purposes: indeed I discovered that the worship hour (plus ten minute after-thoughts) is itself a meeting. The meeting is guided, and referred to often, by their Advices and Queries. To be a Quaker is to be something. Whilst I have participated and spoken, I don't think I want to attach myself to that memory. I did with the Unitarians and I am known for that connection, and I have over thirty plus years (gosh) attached myself to that institutional memory. In 2018 I doubt that I will begin to attach myself in any formal manner to the Quaker memory. I do wonder how many people will do up and down the land, because if people don't come anew and don't start to sign up, there won't be any soon. Same with the Unitarians of course, who have lower national numbers than the Friends, but the Friends are harder to join, and more is expected on a personal ethical basis (I think). The Quaker club is a stronger club, perhaps: the Unitarian inculturation takes a long time and creeps up gradually and it remains incredibly loose.

Even in my own mind there is the death of religion. I write about it a lot, but in a novel that has been building up for maybe four years. The religion there is informed and even intellectual, but in the novel it is cynical: used in a kind of Twin Peaks weird seaside town world. I'm not doing a Barchester Towers but investigating secrecy, truth (qualitative and quantitative) and untruth. The central first person narrating character is an intersex female deacon and then priest who ends up going independent, in fact becomes a bishop of (in the end) her own outfit that takes on the weird characteristics that she and her friends were once exposing and destroying. Some lyrics from The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again apply. Think of 'Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss' and also 'We were liberated from the fold, that's all, And the world looks just the same' singing in the background.

The novel is complete but I keep editing it (necessary) and keep adding bits in, so this will go on next year. Indceed, I have just written about a Conference on the Seaside Communities far off in Margate that happens early on, and has allowed some essential happenings - and these events have only just been thought up. How did this happen? Because recently in our shared world there has been research on the economy of the seaside town, and my mind looking at this made connections in my novel and realised something like this could set the scene not just for the location of "Serpensea" but also lay the ground for the narrative. It's about an extra 10,000 words. I like it. The narrative has echoes, with no spies being present, of Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Smiley's People. In 2017 I bought the DVDs of these, having earlier acquired the literature, and I have watched them with the intensity of a student. In my novel people keep their weird ways secret by method, and yet everyone knows something funny is going on somewhere.

No doubt I will keep painting too. In 2016 I hardly painted a thing. Much had happened on the computer. And then in 2017 I suddenly started knocking them out on four quid for three canvases. I went to an art group for a very short time, and stopped because I calculated it was for the better-off retired. I cannot commit to any large-scale spending. I know that there are expenses down the line that have to be afforded first. So instead of doing a limited number of artists' models, I've been painting barmaids. One pub even asked me to do a couple of paintings of barmaids and barmen. The barmaids (but one as yet unvisited) have all received paintings. Funnily enough, as the driver of friends who enjoy pubs, I don't drink, and more than this I have a lower opinion about alcohol now. I've seen in a number of places it start to take casualties of people's lifestyles, and there is a fine line between good boozing and it taking over and loss of control.

The website went paid during the year. There was no option - once Dropbox stopped displaying the results of HTML, and showing only HTML code - but to find a host and one cheap enough. My website will be twenty years old in November 2018. It started with a page, and reached 1800 PDF and HTML pages. Then the galleries were sent to Facebook. From time to time I update the under-construction novel on the website, as I indeed record my other activities.

I use Facebook and have a blog; I don't use Twitter. I go into 2018 still without an active mobile phone. There are more than hints that my old and so-far reliable car could cost a lot at MOT time. Perhaps I need a mobile phone, should it become unreliable. But I much on the computer, still using Windows 7 and still thinking I want a better Operating System.

I was labelled 'disabled' in 2017, and it has good and bad effects. One good one has been the ability to park just about anywhere and at no cost. However, I can't walk a great distance and so I need this. I suddenly started to attend more interviews, but nothing has happened yet. I have one in the first week of the New Year. I manage in all the essential ways, but it's the shocks that will cause the boat to leak.

My friends are in transition too, it seems. The outlook is not good. One folded a long-term business and now sleeps better at night having got a just-above minimum wage job that requires much concentration and is physical. The other is uncertain for the future: transition and potential loss beckons. Nothing is certain.

The sources of romance websites have all shown themselves to be rubbish in my case: a few early responses years ago dried up years ago. Anything on this front would be a real surprise.

Yet you never know what is around the corner. Death comes at the end of it all, or course, but between now and then there might be a few pleasant as well as unpleasant unexpected happenings. I think, where the hell did the last twenty years go? Weeks pass in a flash, and indeed 2017 did not hang about.

Politics is, for me, a worry about the other, and it is why I am so adamant about the error of leaving the Europan Union. It makes not a scrap of difference to me, but I see it as a self-inflicted disaster that will harm generations. I believe in sharing economically and politically, in reducing tribalism, in being liberal and social, and seeing the potential best. For me, the European Union was never the given caricature of a bureaucracy, but a confederacy of similar political cultures tying themselves together for peace and prosperity and a wider vision. I have no influence on anyone, but just hope that words of argument to stay in seep out and that this body politic starts to see sense and stop the retreat. The European Union is a fact on the ground and we should be in there, currency and all. If the silly sods succeed in reducing our outlook, then I will still be here but it will be in a diminished political environment; and as one of the poor, I'll be hit by the consequences, as will many many more currently better off than me. This is the tragedy of what is coming, led by political donkeys.

Melancholy is my ordinary condition, and it is justified.

2018 Comes: Essential British Politics

A New Year approaches, and what shall it bring in politics?

I'm hoping that this year the Conservative Party splits, but the future is likely to be far more complex than this.

Had the 2016 referendum been won by remain, the Tory party would have split there and then, as some would have gone off to campaign beyond the referendum, in a kind of 'no this matter has not been solved' manouvre, to the benefit of UKIP.

Because leave won, the Tory Party stayed together, and it was Labour who split via recriminations over Jeremy Corbyn's lack of enthusiasm for remain. What put Labour back together again, in a sort of way, was Jeremy Corbyn improving the Labour vote to remove the Tory majority. Thus, just as remainers have stayed with the winning leavers in the Tories, so Labour centrists and broad left MPs have stayed with Corbyn.

However, two years down the line, the likelihood would be otherwise. The need to make a decision about leaving the EU will strain the remainers to the limit. What is clear is that the leavers and remainers, even with attempts to compromise, cannot stay together.

The reason is this. That one-time Remainer, Prime Minister Theresa May, identifies that staying in the Single Market and Customs Union is not leaving. Yet this is precisely the compromise that remainers will stomach, and only this, especially now that Ireland and Northern Ireland can only have a border like now if the UK stays in the Single Market and Customs Union via the European Free Trade Area.

So far Labour, in its lack of clarity, has edged more towards accepting the Single Market and Customs Union, but it doesn't (and Corbyn seems to want to practice his socialism outside of these), then Labour will not hold together either. Also the trick of Labour attracting remainers while having a policy also of leaving the European Union will come to an end.

First of all, Tories unused to rebelling have now experienced success. They have drawn blood and also caused the government to swerve in their direction regarding not having a fixed date of leaving set in legislation beyond Article 50. There are now an increasing number of Labour side MPs and peers actively promoting at the least remaining in the Single Market and Customs Union, and indeed saying more loudly about staying in the EU. Some have been silent: I've heard nothing from David Lammy, for example, who was for staying in the EU after the referendum vote.

At the same time, it has been disappointing that the Liberal Democrats have made so little traction on the remaining in the EU argument. I would harden their position up to beyond a referendum, rather to agree with Kenneth Clarke - referenda are lousy devices for deciding complex issues. They need to say, if you vote for us in a General Election, then you vote to stay in the EU. Forget the nonesense of a second referendum: referenda are not sacred cows. It is parliament that is sovereign, and the people through its representatives. They are not our delegates either. A referendum should only ever be used after a government has produced a firm position for change and then asks for confirmation. The Scottish Referendum was an example: the Scottish Government proposed independence and the people said no. The EU was a referendum gamble for a political party that could not make up its mind. On that basis alone it was illegitimate and no one should be troubled by opposing it completely. We now know that the issues were not raised in their compleity that have since emerged in the tortuous process of a government trying to negotiate from its own divided cabinet and party.

The idea that we can be outside the Single Market and Customs Union, and yet have the near equivalent and thus satisfy the Irish border and needs of business and financial services is a pipe dream. These institutions exist to have common standards, and so the arbiter is the European Court of Justice. You don't reinvent the wheel just to satisfy the fantasies of extreme Tory MPs.

While all this goes on, of course, there are needs of citizens going unaddressed. Housing, social services and transport are key needscrying out for attention: the latest is bailing out a private operator of the East Coast Main Line rather than have the nationalisation that once operated successfully there. A bail-out, as well as being ideological for the Tories' friends, is quick and simple. We need attention on these necessary issues but the government 'does not have the bandwidth' to focus on anything but the disaster of leaving the European Union.

If a Centrist Party emerged (and it probably won't: the reality is more likely to be informal), it would have to exclude the likes of Frank Field. He votes with the government on leaving the European Union, as the Centrist group/ party would be pro-European. The Liberal Democrats have got to make a real effort at working with these people, as well as into the media and putting the issues clearly. We do not need another referendum, but it still needs an identifiable change of public opinion feeding into the political system.

The Tory split to come is more than eleven MPs, even though (with the Labour two supporting the Tories) these were enough to inflict a defeat. It will manifest as the government fails to take up the simpler Single Market and Customs Union 'solution' to leaving the EU.

If Labour does not move to this position, it will also be weak, but to move to it would also lose a body of its MPs well beyond the rebellious two. However, the mathematics of the House of Commons (and the fixed term Parliament Act still applies) is that the Single Market and Customs Union 'solution' has a majority across the House.

Theresa May has argued against this, and she probably would fall if this were enacted. She or someone would have to probably get a coalition from across the parties that command this majority on this issue. This is also how a truly 'Brexit Election' could come about, and where the Liberal Democrats must step up to the plate, and where even deals might be done in some cases on this issue.

So politics in 2018 could be very interesting, with fissures and splits and combinations unimagined before 2016. But it will come through extreme strain in the system, with Theresa May run out of options, and even Corbyn out of place, his dreams of a socialist government overrun by this burden around all our necks.

Until, of course, someone says stop this madness, and the UK stays precisely where it is, and as part of the EU keeps all its business secure, and then gets on with tackling social and infrastructure necessities that are being ignored.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Logic Behind the Chaos

It's clear that the negotiations to leave the European Union have reached a critical point, despite the incompetence that seems to be on display every time they take place.

The 'second division' nature of the government is pretty obvious. There is a lack of plan, and a lack of ability to put what they come up with at any one time into place. And yet a logical shape is presenting itself.

A border is a border is a border. It's no good the "swivel-eyed" Brexiteers saying that the British Government does not want one: borders work in both directions, and they only cease to be if there is no major difference going across in both directions.

If the policy intention is to have no border in this sense in the island of Ireland, and of course none in this sense within the United Kingdom, then the logic is the softest of Brexits (ugly word) possible.

The alternative is variation: as was expressed from Scotland, Wales and London, all of whom wanted to be in the Single Market and Customs Union, if Northern Ireland was to have continuing regulatory convergence with the Republic. Despite devolution, this seems to be too great a variation, and why should England be at a disadvantage in this respect?

Now I always knew that the "hard Brexit" rhetoric of Theresa May was either out of character or showed that she has no political principles. It may well be a combination, because no one at the time of her rise to office knew anything about what she stood for, other than being a Tory of course. She clearly has a great deal of flexibility.

In more recent times she has upped the love-in rhetoric with the European Union, and become more pragmatic. At times the Cabinet has gone to open warfare, and more recently has applied a little self-discipline. At times one thought Boris Johnson wanted to be sacked, to campaign again, but it is obhvious that the incompetent Foreign Secretary has stayed - for good or ill.

Now the swivel-eyed brigade have made noises about the 50 billion euros price to leave, but not so much if it gets us out. But now the logic is the broader House of Commons position, and it does mean having to bypass these objectors in her own party, plus about ten Labour MPs.

This is the point about the Democratic Unionist Party objection to Northern Ireland being treated separately. It was never just about their ten MPs. Theresa May probably does not need them. It's about those other Conservatives they can call upon at the same time, by which her strength in the House of Commons on this specific issue dives in terms of any majority (which the DUP gives). The swivel eyed are all dedicated Unionists, all of whom want this sharp and conclusive exit from the European Union, and in all parts of this Union of nations.

The Labour Party has not been much clearer, but leading figures have said recently that the party has never ruled out staying in the Single Market and the Customs Union, and if this does firm up as the party policy, then this is where ostensibly Theresa May can find her vote to leave the European Union but stay in the Single Market and Customs Union.

The Northern Irish Unionists won't like it, but their objection of not being treated separately falls away.

However, would Labour give her this vote?

The Liberal Democrats should not, on the simple argument that if we are going to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, then it is more logical to have a say in their direction, and provide Ministers, Commissioners and Members of the European Parliament. We should "exit from Brexit" as Vince Cable says. Theresa May can say that formally the European Court of Justice would have no superiority over British law, but then we would do whatever it says in these economic spheres, and these spheres are broad and wide. We may as well also provide a judge into this court. As Benny, formerly of Abba, said the other week, "Stay." The Scottish Nationalists may well agree.

Plus Labour will want a General Election, as we all need because the government is consumed with this 'Brexit' and does sod all else of significance as people suffer the continued lack of economic growth and absence of social progress.

The danger is that taking these positions, Theresa May without principles will stay in office and allow us to crash out of the European Union. In one sense the nuclear button works both ways, and in the end we have to ask whether this 'remainer' is wreckless just to remain in office.

And on that basis her own 'remainer' Tories may consider whether enough is enough, and themselves see the issue as more important than simply staying in office in a sterile sense and call it a day. Let's have that General Election.

Now we know the issues better than we did, it could well be that this time the Liberal Democrats get their Europe issue election and say, if you vote for us, we will stay in. And other MPs who would rather stay in should stop being zombies as now and have the courage of their convictions: a General Election trumps a referendum. This is the issue and time to show that staying in is more logical than the soft leaving.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Liberal Religious Controversy

I have been asked by the National Unitarian Fellowship to produce a two thousand word piece on Easter. I wasn't 'tramlined' about this in terms of any selective focus. I decided I would address the whole Christian Passion events and resurrection claims.

I think that from time to time these claims should be tested, so that the position one acquires is built on solid ground. I have already written more than two thousand words, and I have started some editing, but I am waiting for a book that makes a particular argument highlighted in another book I read. I have until February to produce this piece. I won't put it on my website until it is placed on the NUF website and printed out.

The New Testament proclaims the resurrection and the Lordship of Christ. It is indeed a New Convenant based on the Lordship of Christ. Now of course there are many theologies that produce the New Testament, but they are all about the Lordship of Christ. Now I do not believe in the Lordship of Christ and so I am not a Christian. Connected with this is the belief in the Incarnation of Christ. This belief I think is what makes a Christian. I neither believe in the Lordship of Christ or the Incarnation of Christ, but I can converse in the language. To believe in the Lordship of Christ is to have at the least a proclamation theology - minimal, I suggest, to be of the Body of Christ. Rudolf Bultmann had such an ahistorical approach: it all came down to text, and he argued for kerygma or proclaiming. He did, many do, I don't.

My view should fit easily into Unitarian or Quaker attendance. I have recently added a review of a presentation and its book on to my website, the activity of which indirectly was to see me leave my local Hull Unitarian church completely. I was already minimally involved, mainly attending socially each week.

I am not going into detail about this. All I will say is that the activity of the writing was highlighted on Facebook, and that I indicated what I was going to write from first impressions of reading the nine pounds paid-for book. I deliberately left a name link produced by Facebook for one of the co-authors, knowing that she may well contact the other co-author. she did because instead of response and debate, the phone call was made to involve a third party and in such way I was accused of being inaccurate and disrespectful. This I defended, on the spot, and then decided that I had had enough. I was not surprised.

My view about the book having read it and what sources it draws upon is even more dismissive than I was apparently when approaching it. It started with a presentation I made an effort to attend despite minimal involvement.

The review is necessarily lengthy, starting with the presentation as far as it went including what is in the book and continuing with the book only. Basically the book argues for a 'conveyor belt' of cultural relevance according to changing times taking liberal religion and Unitarianism/ Unitarian Universalism from the classifications of Liberal Christian (Orange) to Pluralist (Green), to Integrative (Blue) to not fitting or Para-Mind detachment (Indigo) dominant congregations. The more relevant, the more people would join. The colour scheme is taken from Ken Wilber, and the scheme is his departure from Spiral Dynamics. I thought at the presentation that the scheme was similar to Stages of Faith by James Fowler or by Robert Bellah, but this was wrong. It is pseudo-science, a made up colour scheme based on the notion of the inadequacy of evolution: it is the movement of Spirit from spirit to matter and back again, a driving force by which otherwise evolution would not happen. It misunderstands evolution and how it works. So something that promotes your search and not our belief ends up depending on a belief. There are several errors in the book that would improve by a little more background reading. Basically, the book is a pseudo-science based presentational gloss to a faction fight inside Unitarianism for a more pluralist outlook at least. It is entirely individualist regarding belief.

On wants books promoting pluralism, and then we get something like this. This is a need for a theology of pluralism, not repetition of classifications.

Among other things the book states that Florence Nightingale was Unitarian, when she was not (she wanted to be a Roman Catholic, but settled for being a universalist Anglican), and that the Baha'i Faith is a beyond the pluralist into the integrative approach to religion and one of the fastest growing. It misunderstands the Baha'i Faith by its short lift of information. The language in one part also strongly implies to the unknowing that Karen Armstrong is within Unitarian Universalism. I ended up arguing about these, and then made the main point about the scheme itself. These schemes about faith all favour the Liberal Protestant; they raise issues about what is the fundamental of religion anyway. Is the core of religion popular and therefore more magical and supernatural? Isn't the more philosophical approach to religion something else? But the Wilber scheme is pseudo-science: yes, it is about 'we're better than you' as in 'more advanced', 'more relevant'.

Since then I have tested contentious sentences on the uninvolved and unknowing, and have received an opinion that my initial Facebook posting was not disrespectful.

I make a big effort to play the ball and not the person. The fact that I play the ball hard at times should not be misunderstood. If I don't agree I say so! The book is very very disappointing and cannot be an argument made by a contemporary pluralist who is anchored into our scientific and social scientific world. I dislike and think it misunderstands regarding even liberal Christianity as a private indivdual view with no collective implications.

I am very opposed to the whole 'spiritual not religious approach', and one where diversity apparently happens in nothing but a space once called a Church. Institutions do not work like this, and for evidence I bring forward the tiniest of bodies like the Liberal Catholic Episcopi Vagantes. Numbered in ones and twos up and down the land, they nevertheless 'carry' meaning at a collective level and all that identifies Old and Liberal Catholicism.

Identities do evolve and change, and cannot be fixed. Some try to fix them, and cannot simply by those who disagree, but those who try and empty the space first cannot either. This is why it is important to learn, to some extent, where the institution has been and where it has not been.

Basically, in a creedless setting, and with our present sociology of knowledge (how we 'naturally' think, assume), if someone has a liberal Christian theology then someone else will develop a religious humanist theology. If someone is rationalist in faith, someone will find a way to be romanticist in faith. If there are religions out there that can be more loosely interpreted, then in a creedless faith people will import them.

In other words, Unitarianism is a running argument where each position in a particular setting can generate an opposing argument. It's very Hegelian - a later synthesis produces a new opposite. Take how the Puritan Calvinists produced Arminians, how then the Unitarian revolution of a biblicist, denominational kind - an ethos similar to the Puritan without the Presbyterian - produced a Unitarianism that was Presbyterian without the Puritan, and so was high Protestant, Romanticist, and broad. Both were liberal Christian culturally and liturgically. They merged, the opposite being a religious humanism. The more simple, Puritan kind produced a more broad, Pagan including, multifaith spirituality. Where next?

None if this development is anything to do with any scientific or pseudo-scientific claim about the cultural superiority of pluralist over liberal Christian, integrative over pluralist , or para-mind over integrative congregations. None of these have any better success or failure in pulling in the numbers or losing numbers. It's just that with a memory for ideological positions, others will develop, grow and compete (or contribute). So we expect more diversity despite and even during chronic decline.

Friday, 29 September 2017

One Main Conference to Go...

So far we have had the Liberal Democrat annual conference and the Labour annual conference.

The Liberal Democrat one was a bit muted, from a perhaps puzzled crowd as to the damaged past for the party and unwanted 'Brexit' future, and one where Vince Cable was installed as leader. As he said, he didn't want to lead a mirror-image party from UKIP, but still it is the remain party. Leaving the European Union he counts as one of the three recent disasters: the illegal Iraq war in 2003, the financial crash in 2007 and the vote to leave the EU in 2016. One of the other polcies will be to tackle the wealth disparity, that leads to power and powerlessness.

The Labour Party went into a Momentum led song of praise for Jeremy Corbyn, and a comprehensive set of policies to reset the political agenda.

My view is that there needs to be a leftward swing because so much needs doing, and the power of the State is the means to do it. We are also Keynesians now, because monetary policy does not stimulate the economy. It needs fiscal policy, and best of all spending not tax cuts.

Our unemployment is not equivalent to 1974 ("the lowest since 1974," says the media). This does not compare like with like. We now have so many on schemes that are not counted as unemployed. Many who lose their jobs don't bother to sign on because benefits are denied or so low for so many. People are sanctioned. But most of all, the nature of work is now underemployment and scattered employment for individuals. Many people on life-supporting benefits and who look for work are not counted as unemployed (e.g. Employment and Support Allowance). This is different from people in long term jobs that allowed people to get a mortgage and plan a family back in 1974. So many people now carry personal debt unheard of in 1974. The economy today is cruel.

The leftward swing was evident in Theresa May's statements on gaining power and since. She seemed to want to bring in the approach of nationalist and interventionist Joseph Chamberlain, the Liberal Unionist who turned Tory.

The only problem is that she says a lot and does nothing. She seems paralysed before policy is made, with frequent U-turns. Then, after the Labour Conference, she gives a half-hearted delivery in the defence of free market capitalism. Well, expect nothing from her.

Vince Cable might be a bit far fetched to claim he could be Prime Minister, except of course anything can happen in politics these days. One more (and not unlikely) financial crash and we might call upon his services. I maintain, incidentally, that Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown did rescue the British economy from financial disaster, by instant liquidity. They were Keynesians all right: to have done otherwise would have pricked and collapsed the swollen monetary bubble. The Coalition government was not correct to blame Labour, except of course for actually not being so prudent prior to the crash.

We still have that economy, which is why the employment figures are not inflationary as they were back in 1974, and why this is not like with like. Leaving the EU will be disastrous under these circumstances: it won't take much to shake this precarious situation of employment.

My view of Corbyn's celebratory conference is that it is far too previous in its expectations. Even if they put on more votes from last time, they may only achieve a dead heat. If the 'two party situation' continues, adding on votes actually doesn't result in a victory, because the other side has its piles of votes. Labour does not have a Democratic Unionist Party equivalent to bribe; on domestic policy the Scottish Nationalists will be excluded from many key votes at committee stage, and they will never share what amounts to Corbyn's 'socialism in one country' outside the EU.

Indeed, as it becomes clearer that Corbyn and the backbone of his inner ideological circle wants to be outside the EU, the young people who waved the EU flags at his rallies may well not lend him their votes this time. It only takes some reluctance from them to suddenly pull Labour up short.

What will help Labour is a return to a three party system. On the basis that Tory remainers will vote for Vince Cable's economic competence, the Labour Party may find itself winning more seats without having to pile up its own votes.

So the Tory conference is near. Now, I took the view after the recent General Election that Theresa May had settled into her job until the exiting the EU negotiations were over. I also did not take the view that Boris Johnson's 4000 word essay in the Daily Telegraph was his leadership bid. What he was doing was leaning on her, because the 'transition period' argument was winning, and the next stage from that is to keep the single market and customs union. The problem with transition is that it has to transition out, and, unless it's back to eating your cake and having it, there reappears a cliff edge. Delay allows changing your mind even more.

However, the speech she gave at Florence was another giving to the EU, in terms of negotiations, and underlines just how hapless they all are in doing this. The sense of drift is everywhere. And so the party conference will be one of whispers and rumours and plotting behind the scenes. A dull speech, a holding the fort, could see her shifted soon afterwards.

It does not follow that to change Tory leader means a General Election. There would be a lack of legitimacy. She is already the equivalent of a Gordon Brown after Tony Blair. A dedicated EU leaver as leader may well cause divisions in the Tory party to surface.

Remember: a vote to stay in the EU would have divided the Tory party instantly and left Labour united on the matter. Cameron would have been in trouble. This was May's strategy: support him but ever so quietly, and watch him fall, to replace him with a government that then would have concentrated on social and economic matters (presumably). The vote to leave forced him out, and she was the last one left standing. It was Labour that looked divided. But it was always going to be that as the end-point came for leaving the EU, the Tories would divide. This division could well be brought forward by an enthusiast for leaving going into the Prime Minister seat. Labour meanwhile will find its leaver minority having to make the big decision as the cliff edge comes closer. Corbyn's new found enthusiasm for the possibilities outside the EU are checked by his desire not ever to help out the Tories on anything (including staying in during the campaign).

The structural situation party-wise will be tested by the coming end-date to leave, and how much the end is delayed. If it is little delayed then the prospect of a new centre party increases, but party structures are remarkably resilient. It's just that leaving the EU is such a huge measure that some MPs and Lords will be put to the test. Vince Cable will be having private conversations.

So let's see how it goes. I now think that Theresa May will fall, simply because she lacks basic leadership qualities. She is a referee only, and not a very good one. She lacks the ability to lead anyone anywhere. She remains as much an unknown as she was when she fell into the seat of power. She always wanted power, and showed some skill in finding the moment, but seems to have done nothing with it other than carrying out zombie-like the perceived burden of the moment.

What remain people have to do, meanwhile, is continue to make the argument, as to why we share sovereignty and how it makes us stronger to tackle economic threats and threats to peace, upholds social and economic standards, and gives a sense of sharing across the continent. Democracy is about opinion changing, and finding its representation, and getting MPs to start standing up for what they believe instead of acting like zombies. Yes, after the vote, some remain voters said 'we'd better get on with it', but as we haven't really got on with it, and do not know the end-position, and the consequences of leaving stack up, then they will return (as they are now) and so will some of the leavers change their mind. It is a tough world out there, and at a time of Trump and North Korea (and more - e.g. Bombardier and Boeing) we should not be leaving the European Union.

Friday, 1 September 2017

How Not to Leave The [Imaginary] Art Club

This is a story that is not true. Here goes. I am a member of The Art Club (as it happens, I am not regarding a similar group, but let's assume I am). It costs sixty pounds a year (seventy euros and falling) and then paying the models is effectively another sixty pounds a year and then there is the cost of materials. For this I get to paint among a number of people, and join in ad-hoc events and get to enter exhibitions and via voting make policy decisions.

However, I've never liked the group, not really, due to my imagined background of apparent self-sufficiency, and after a long membership I have decided to leave. However, The Art Club is a fact on the ground, and it arranges models and venues and has these exhibitions each year.

Still interested in being an artist, one option is to crash out. I would have to find my own models and venues and see if I can get into various ad-hoc exhibitions. I am not allowed to arrange these until I cease to be a member. Now they think I am a decent artist and would like me involved, but realise I do want to leave. After all, I've said so for over a year now.

So we have started to negotiate a withdrawal that will hopefully be practical, whilst clearly The Art Club wants to uphold its own future, membership and events, and why one should join it for the benefits of membership.

Meanwhile there is a complication that I have a friend in The Art Club with whom I wish to continue to paint. We joined at the same time. We used to argue a lot, but now we are very friendly, and we must keep this friendship - and yet I am withdrawing and he is not. How can we remain artistic friends, when his art benefits from all that The Art Club does? He is going nowhere because being a member has defined the direction of his art.

Not wishing to crash out, and lose important access to models and venues plus exhibitions, there is an option of associate membership. It costs to have these venues to paint or draw the models, and there are these model contacts, and it costs to join in with arranged exhibitions. But friends who dislike The Art Club say that to join these specifically is pretty much the same as being in the Art Club, and the payment in is just about as much. The Committee still decides what I'll end up doing, and the rules to obey, but I'll no longer vote.

So I ask The Art Club to be "imaginative". Using all the insights and arrangements of The Art Club, I will nevertheless call the same "My Art Club" and ask it to be recognised by The Art Club. Payment might be nothing or perhaps minimal to The Art Club, and yet the benefits seem rather the same. Being the same, but different, I can paint along with my friend.

Understandably, The Art Club says we can't have individual painters picking and choosing like this. You are either in the club or your are not. The Art Club negotiator asks, "Do you want to leave or not? Why do you want to leave and yet things remain the same? We have everything set up here and a Committee to rule on it." Meanwhile one of The Art Club's leading members says my proposals sound: "like someone wanting to join in the near future, not leave."

My proposals are a "fantasy island", they say, because I want to paint their models and use their venues, and yet go out and get my own models and my own venues (unlike The Art Club members). As for exhibitions, I will always join in the exhibition with my painting friend, but not necessarily other exhibitions, although I can, I argue, and yet will add in my own exhibitions - should I find any.

While this flexible in and out is being arranged and set up - my club that is like their club - we will have a transition of flexible withdrawal from their club.

Obviously I am told that this is not on. Anyhow, meantime, I claim that the talks are making progress, The Art Club instead asks for clarity given the known constraints, and I contact the local media to back me up by slurring The Art Club for being "rigid".

Meanwhile I have a different and as yet inactive advisor, who hints that for a transition period I simply stay with The Art Club's venues and models, and indeed its exhibitions. This will be the specific arrangement so I no longer vote for or sit on the Committee. I do this for a transition period - "as long as necessary and as short as possible" - which presumably involves 'crashing out' at some point in the future, being unable to arrange models, venues and exhibitions while having The Art Club arrangements in place.

Increasingly friends ask why, if I want to paint models, have good venues and enter in exhibitions, I don't stay in The Art Club after all.

As the time runs out for talking, The Art Club says it is fed up with such talking when what I want is so indecisive. It won't extend negotiating for negotiating's sake, so either leave and there will be solicitors' letters on costs to pay, or stay, or stay and this time join in fully and properly.