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Friday, 20 April 2018

Have the global corporates robbed Brexit?

Global firms, wherever headquartered, have more in common with eachother than with the country of their parent letterhead. The members of the European Round Table, and of the CBI, are their own country; they have no allegiances beyond shareholders, no mission except growth and profit and no morality beyond the gutter. They exist in an inextricably intertwined web of mutual ownerships and territorial carve-ups, and are as predatory as gonorrhoea as they infect and consume smaller market competition. They crowd out SMEs and national firms, use wealth to bully and coerce mergers and takeovers and are beyond the control of national governments. Our pensions, savings and investments are dependent upon their profitability. 

Whatever they are, they're not capitalists. 

Conventional theory has it that capitalism arose in England in the 16th century but I long ago found it thriving in the 13th century. Rowland Parker's 'Men of Dunwich', a treasure of my bookshelves for many decades, uses ancient pipe rolls and mediaeval manuscripts in our historic archives as the author turns detective. Why did Ada Ringulf, with a cottage by St Peter's, pay only ¼d rent a year when neighbours paid 1½d?* Parker thinks he knows. Anyway, Dunwich merchants, shipowners with vessels we know as 'cogs', would speculatively take cargoes of wool, barley, cloth  to Europe and the Baltic and return with iron, wine, silk and spices. Profits could be handsome - but the loss of a cog to a hostile port, pirates, minor warlords or official blackmail could ruin a man and his family overnight. So merchants offset their risk by investing in eachother's cogs and cargoes, risking only a fifth or a sixth on each voyage. Parker has the evidence. That's capitalism. And it was happening three hundred years earlier than thought. Capitalism means risk, even if it's managed risk. What the global corporates do is risk free; monopolistic, monopsonistic or oligopolistic, they have a licence to make money with virtually no risk, by virtue of their size and power. 

12th Century seal of Dunwich showing square-rigged cog with furled sail.
Facebook has yesterday, with the flick of a button, taken 1.5 billion users from the jurisdiction of the ECJ and EU data protection law to that of the US, just by shifting a paper HQ from Dublin. The new EU law imposes swinging fines for big US tech companies, so they move paper domicile. 

And so the Telegraph carries two stories today that depress even my usual optimism. The first is Jeremy Warner's belief (£) that the markets - read global corporates - have decided how Brexit is to turn out, and it won't mean change or threat, so the £ has bounced back. The second is that the EU (no doubt with the ERT members' hands up their arses) have decided that the UK cannot escape the Customs Union (£), and must remain subservient to the Brussels empire for ever more. 

The threat to Brexit isn't from weak lunatics and purblind fools in the Lords, or the little pungent dags swinging with the stride of George Soros and his chums. If push comes to shove we can always resurrect the scaffold and lop-off their noggins. The real threat is from these big corporates - and I really don't know what we can do about them. 

These rule us now. Democracy has surely died. 

Some ERT members - full list at https://www.ert.eu/members

    * For our many North American and (astonishingly) Norwegian readers, 'd' is the old abbreviation of penny; a quarter of a penny is a farthing, whilst one pronounces one and a half pennies as 'a penny ha'penny'

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Roads and parks also the victims of child abuse

Over Christmas I supplemented the log fire, case of port and pile of new books with a few old Rumpole DVDs of programmes originally transmitted in the 1980s. Amongst them was an episode that was a savage critique of naive and credulous social workers, who had convinced themselves that some stolen carnival masks were indicative of child satanic abuse. Mortimer clearly based this on the nonsense of a contemporary Salem-type witch hunt in Scotland in which health professionals were trained to inspect school children's anuses for signs of Satanic interference. Thirty years later little has changed.

Social workers may be utterly crap at noticing real threats to children as they are happening - baby P's fractured limbs and bruises, a thousand pubescent girls sexually abused by Pakistani grooming gangs - but they're superbly skilled post-hoc in using those failures to lever-in more money, more staff, greater bureaucracy, new tax funded scrutiny and NGO bodies and so on. It's a pretty good model; every time they screw up and the public gets angry, they commandeer more tax money, all existing staff get a promotion and the pyramid grows another layer. 

Boundaries have been blurred by the merging of health, education and social work functions in local government and it's become increasingly hard to tell the cost of one part of the service from another. And of course it's not just children; council responsibility for elderly care budgets is also straining budgets to crisis point. 

As local elections are a bit more than a fortnight away, many electors are looking at the poor states of their post-winter roads. Roads and parks are the first recourse for councils making cuts; both can be trimmed attritionally year after year and nothing will collapse for a long time. Parks other than London's Royal parks have become sterile biological deserts of turf and trees, the only maintenance being a fortnightly shave with a gang mower in the growing months. Fences, gates, lighting, paths, ornamental planting are allowed to gently degenerate, the councils only intervening when a H&S risk arises. Roads are the same - I can't remember the last time I saw a B road regularly resurfaced. Roads and parks can be cut year after year and the effects will be far less noticeable than closing a library, for example, or shutting a day centre. All the money that used to pay for parks and roads is almost certainly sitting in the council's extensive meeting suites having case conferences. 

It can only go on for so long, of course. Eventually local tax payers, faced with ever-increasing bills and ever-poorer refuse collection, street lighting and sweeping, road maintenance, parks, libraries and leisure facilities, stuff people actually don't mind paying a reasonable wedge for, will demand change. 

But not this year. Yet. 

(London is insulated from much of this by the massive TfL budget being largely ringfenced to, erm, transport and very hard to transfer to social workers, and the high standards of the Royal parks disguise the poor condition of other council parks)  

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Reprieve for Fisheries Protection Vessels - but no crews

The story so far ...

The UK had four lightly armed and armoured Offshore Patrol Vessels highly suitable for Norway to Gibraltar service on Fisheries Protection, Maritime patrol and SAR operations. These are known as Batch Ones. These are due to be 'replaced' by Batch Twos - battle-hardened and with enhanced combat versatility. The MoD were pretending that these were a replacement for the Batch ones but in fact they're destined for Gibraltar, Bahrain, the Falklands and the Caribbean to plug a Frigate-hole in the Fleet. The four Batch Ones were due to be scrapped or sold out of the Service, and indeed one of them, HMS Severn, has already gone. 

However, our esteemed and respected Sea Lords hadn't expected Brexit, and the need for enhanced patrol and protection of the UK's new 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone from 2020.

HMS Tyne



Well, good news - the three remaining Batch Ones, HMS Tyne, HMS Clyde and HMS Mersey are to be retained and 'kept in a state of operational readiness' - i.e. not crewed or stored, but not abandoned and cannibalised. Their Lordships will need a little extra budget to actually crew them.  

It's not just protecting our waters against Dutch and Spanish pirate trawlers stealing our fish. Since the dear old Nimrod ("Ten thousand rivets flying in close formation"*) went our near-coastal ASW capability has been compromised - and with the integrity of our underwater comms cables ever more essential to national security, we need to be extra vigilant. A combination of long-endurance drones and response vessels with RM boarding parties and RIB fast launch and recovery kit for both constabulary duties and escorting foreign warships making passage in and over our waters mean the Batch Ones will have a use for many years yet. 

*Oops - as SW points out, this refers to the Shackleton. Here's a pic of one.