Friday, 22 February 2019

The May-Barnier deal is not much better than crashing-out

but the government will not admit it.

Last Wednesday, the leader of the Scottish Nationalists in the Commons asked "the Prime Minister if she will make a statement on the economic impact of her Government’s proposed deal for the UK exiting the EU.". The session was enabled by the Speaker as an Urgent Question, but perhaps "overdue question" would have been a better description.

It was almost inevitable that Mrs May would delegate this embarrassing matter to a subordinate, not the Chancellor, but a junior minister at the Treasury. Mel Stride responded with a comparison of the May-Barnier deal with "no deal", a comparison we have heard virtually daily from Mrs May herself, but not the answer to the question Mr Blackford put. The Speaker gently rebuked Mr Blackford for turning what should have been a follow-up question into an oration, but the SNP leader's verbosity was understandable in that he put on record the basis for his concerns:

The specific question I asked was about the economic analysis that the Government have done on their deal. It is quite clear from the Minister’s answer that the Government have done no analysis on this deal. [...] Economists are clear: the Prime Minister’s deal is set to hit GDP, the public finances and living standards. Analysis published by the London School of Economics estimates that

“the Brexit deal could reduce UK GDP per capita by between 1.9% and 5.5% in ten years’ time, compared to remaining in the EU.”

The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has warned that “if the government’s proposed Brexit deal is implemented, then GDP in the longer term will be around 4 per cent lower than it would have been had the UK stayed in the EU.”

Bank of England analysis states the UK Government’s deal will raise unemployment by 4% and inflation by 2%.

The Government cannot claim that their November document covers their deal. Let us look at the facts. Page 17 of the Treasury analysis looks at the modelled average free trade agreement and states:

“As such, it does not seek to define or model a bespoke agreement.”

But the Prime Minister tells us she has a bespoke deal. The Treasury analysis continues:

“This scenario is not indicative of government policy, as it would not meet UK objectives including avoiding a hard border” in Northern Ireland.

There we have it in black and white: the Treasury analysis conducted last year does not account for the Prime Minister’s deal. So, I say to the Government, where is the analysis? MPs continue to be expected to vote on the proposed deal without the Government explaining the economic consequences. That is the height of irresponsibility.

 The rest of the session was disappointing as the minister stonewalled effectively and few honourable members made sufficiently forensic enquiries. 

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Fears for South Africa

Yesterday's South African budget statement has done little to assuage the fears of international investors. The nation has run out of the credit she gained from achieving racial equality under Nelson Mandela and the mini-boost achieved by the replacement of Jacob Zuma by the more market-orientated Cyril Ramaphosa. Much of the trouble has been caused by corruption, an all too common symptom of a previously disadvantaged group taking over the reins of power. Typical of the pattern of politicians dipping into public funds without investing for the future has been the state electricity supplier, Eskom, with the resulting power outages shown on BBC television this week.

The South African concludes: "Given that the government are determined to stand by Eskom – without meeting a full bailout package – Mboweni and his team aren’t likely to convince Moody’s that things will only get better." It will be some time before the South African economy will regain its top spot on the continent recently lost to Nigeria.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Shamima Begum

The Liberal Democrats have issued a suitably liberal statement about Da'esh's poster girl from east London. I agree that if she chooses to return to the UK, then she should face trial. However, just because she has become a media darling (both the Times and the BBC making much of interviews with her), there is no reason to spend taxpayer's money on bringing her back. She should be treated no differently from the hundreds of other British supporters of "the caliphate". I do wonder about the child, too. He may be as innocent as any new-born now, but what will be the effect of being brought up in his formative years by a mother who is seemingly unrepentant about her years as a terrorist groupie?

However, the institutionally xenophobic Home Office's response is way over the top. In precipitately cancelling her UK citizenship, Home Secretary Javid has at one blow broken international and British law and upset the Bangladesh administration in his blithe assumption that Shamima had dual citizenship. The BBC reports that the first the relevant Bangladeshi minister knew that his nation was expected to take her in was from broadcast media. His understandable response was that she was UK's responsibility alone and that his government had no intention of accepting her.

Home Secretary Javid must be hoping that the Netherlands, homeland of the baby's father, will be prepared to take the child and its mother in. Otherwise, his Department will face another costly and almost certainly losing court battle.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

The cold war starts here

There were occasional infelicities of language, the pile-up of dead bodies with no apparent consequence was barely credible and the appearance of the House of Lords chamber (the temporary home for the Commons in 1945) has come into question, but Channel 4's Traitors captured in its first episode the mixed emotions in England of the end of the war in Europe. There was the spirit of optimism for the future on the part of those welcoming a reforming Labour government, the sense of betrayal on the part of Conservatives at the rejection of Winston Churchill at the ballot-box and the American suspicion of the new order in Britain. All that and rationing, too.

To those who queried whether celebrating Labour party activists would really sing The Red Flag in public, it should be pointed out that the anthem was regularly sung at the close of Labour conferences with no embarrassment (and probably with little thought to its violent implications) from the time of the party's foundation until the Red Rose revolution. (With the eclipse of New Labour, the anthem has regained its prominence.)  In parliament, the speech by the newly-elected middle-class socialist looking forward to a revolution in public services and to better housing for all rang true. Screenwriter Bash Doran no doubt mined actual Labour addresses put on record at the time. The series is clearly intended for distribution in the US and it will do no harm for our cousins to understand the desire for a better life, after a devastating war, which drove the Labour vote. That mood will surely not be lost on those young Americans who nearly got Bernie Sanders onto the Democrat ballot in 2016. As a former general secretary of the party, Morgan Phillips, once said in an epigram taken up by Harold Wilson, "The British Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marxism".

The welfare revolution of 1945-50 also owed something to liberals with a large and small L. Liberal William Beveridge wrote the blueprint  in a report commissioned by the wartime coalition government under Winston Churchill. Churchill was a former Liberal who gave a liberal-minded Conservative education minister, R.A. Butler, a free hand in reforming secondary education. It is probable therefore that Liberals as well as Conservatives keenly felt the loss of Churchill, especially as the Liberal party election strategy carefully avoided attacking him personally. The US of course saw only the rejection of a great war leader.

In 1946 (a year after the period in which Traitors opens) Churchill, a life-long anti-Communist, was to give his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri. It was to fall on fertile ground. Churchill who had worked with leading Labour figures in coalition was able to distinguish between the democratic socialists of the UK and the "Marxist-Leninist" (i.e. Stalinist) state socialists in the USSR, but such fine distinctions would have been lost on Americans exemplified in Traitors by the OSS operative Rowe (a compelling performance by Michael Stuhlbarg). I was hardly old enough to appreciate such things in those days, but I do recall the scornful newspaper report (probably in the Express) that a congressman had been alarmed by Mr Attlee opening a Labour conference with the greeting: "Comrades!". With the release of government papers later, we were to learn that the Americans felt that we were an unreliable ally and therefore refused to continue the war-time cooperation over the development of nuclear weapons.

In her introduction to the series in Radio Times, Bash Doran quotes executive producer Eleanor Moran as thinking that "there was a decent show to be set in the British civil service after the Second World War. It was an incredible time in our history and it had mostly been overlooked." As someone who joined the civil service in 1960 when there were still colleagues in the office who had been there pre-war, I agree.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Frightening developments on the sub-continent

India has taken extreme reprisals against Pakistan for the part the Islamic republic is alleged to have played in recent violence in Jummu & Kashmir. As if to compensate, the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has today promised a $20bn investment to shore up Pakistan's economy. There is a grave danger that these two Commonwealth nations could become embroiled in a Hindu-Muslim conflict, which has implications for these communities in the UK. There are also economic implications if India goes to war. One hopes that the UK government - and possibly the Palace - will work behind the scenes to reduce the tension.

He spoke truth to power

There will be more complete obituaries of the great back-bencher Paul Flynn, so I will add just two sidelights. He was a long-standing fighter for the liberalisation of our illogical drug laws, along with Liberal Democrat Chris Davies.

He was also one of the earliest MPs to write his own blog, and an amusing and insightful one it was, too. Originally called "lions led by donkeys" if I recall correctly  (or possibly "dragons led by poodles", the title of one of his books), it was later revamped with a regrettably more conventional title. I see he was still contributing to it in July of last year, though he was becoming increasingly frail. The first entry of the re-launch sums up his wit and his attitude to politics.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Second only to Bernie Madoff

On 17th February 2009, US federal agents raided the banking offices of the Stanford International Bank. "Sir" Allen Stanford  (the title was conferred on him by Antigua) was charged with operating a massive Ponzi scheme, second only in its extent to that of Bernie Madoff, and convicted three years later.

Stanford had sponsored a number of cricket events in the West Indies. So far as I can discover, none of the prize money was awarded, or returned if it had been awarded.