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Saturday 29 December 2018

Power Inquiry re-visited

One of the most seminal documents in the formation of my political outlook - which I guess one could describe as democratic libertarian conservative - was the Power Inquiry, from the earliest years of this century, cross-party and chaired by Helena Kennedy QC. The launch of the report in 2004 at the QE conference centre in Westminster was my first encounter in the flesh with a young politician with whom I was impressed - David Cameron. Alas, his commitment to all the good things he espoused back then soon disappeared, and he's since departed into history as one of Britain's most dilettante PMs. 

One has to remember we were in those days pre-Facebook and Twitter, and blogs were just emerging. People weren't used to exercising democratic opinion and even power online. Politicians regarded the Internet as just another 'push' medium, for their use and benefit in broadcasting their messages. They certainly weren't used to people answering back, responding as equals on platforms to which they had equal access, with no cost barriers to keep the young, the poor or the regional away. Cameron, like May, was one of the old school; it was his job to speak, and our duty to listen. He would transmit wisdom, we would receive it. The poor dears have had a dreadful shock in the intervening fourteen years and their world has been turned quite upside down. But how well has the Power Inquiry itself endured?

It's available online for anyone interested, and in the days leading up to the Meaningful Vote I'll try to look at the recommendations, starting with 'Rebalancing Power'. The report found:-
- The Executive has become more powerful at the expense of MPs in the House of Commons. In particular, the Prime Minister’s Office and whoever the PM decides to gather around him or her, has become the most powerful political institution in British politics.

- Central government departments have also become more powerful at the expense of local government over the last two to three decades.
- Appointed authorities – quangos – have gained extra powers, particularly at the expense of local councillors. 

- Supranational bodies and processes of international negotiation such as the European Union have gained extra powers and influence at the expense of nationally and locally elected representatives.
Well, the first two are as true as they were. The third is much worse than it was then; now called NDPBs rather than Quangos, there is a gradual melding between a growing number of these semi-detached Agencies and government funded fake charities, none of which are under direct democratic control and all of which are exercising even more anti-democratic power. As for the fourth, well, we are dealing with the EU. Just the UN and the rest of them to go. 

One final comment. Back in the days when I burnt the midnight oil taking a part-time Masters, we enjoyed a lecture given by a respected economist. He took a question from one of my colleagues that contained the word 'power'. 'Power' he responded 'is not an economic concept. We leave that sort of thing to the sociologists'. It was a neat put-down, and understandable given the efforts of economists to convince us that they are scientists, or at least more scientific than sociologists. But untrue. Understanding power is the point of understanding economic behaviour.

Friday 28 December 2018

EU VAT grab - It's all about Ireland

The Telegraph leads with a story today on the EU's proposed reduction from next year of the EU-wide maximum VAT threshold from £85,000 (€95,000) to £76,700 (€85,000). The UK uses the maximum, and has the highest VAT registration threshold in Europe (good for small service businesses). The paper is correct in identifying two effects; first, that under the Robbins Treaty, all firms in the UK will have to comply for the next two years, and second that under the backstop arrangements, the requirement could be permanent in Northern Ireland. Not only would thousands of UK businesses now trading just under the VAT threshold be caught in an onerous EU net, but the change would cause irrevocable harm to Northern Ireland.

Imagine a situation under May's treaty if, in two years, without a trade agreement having been concluded, the UK decided to abolish VAT. Although we would be free to do so in England, Scotland and Wales, all shops, supermarkets, pubs, trains and aircraft and all other businesses selling in Northern Ireland would still have to charge VAT. 

The paper doesn't mention VAT competition between the UK and Ireland. Most VAT thresholds in Europe are substantially lower (Belgium €25k, Germany €17.5k, Lux €30k, NL - nil) but two nations closest to Britain have had to carry split high thresholds - Ireland with €75k for goods and €37.5k for services, and France with €82.8k for goods and €33.2k for services. 

Without a UK veto, the EU can progressively decrease the threshold in Northern Ireland down to about half its current level, allowing the Irish government to increase its tax-take. May's agreement would prevent Northern Irish businesses from taking advantage of any reductions in VAT rate or increase in thresholds in mainland Britain after Brexit. 

Just another trap set by the EU and willingly incorporated by May's muppets in Team Robbins. 

However, it would all go to buggery if we left without a deal in March. We could then abolish VAT if we wished across the whole of Britain - including Northern Ireland. The DUP would have to be literally insane to move even a millimetre in placating May's government on the Robbins treaty.

Thursday 27 December 2018

Britain - Not a Bumblebee but a Hornet

Without a deal, without a Norway / Canada / EFTA / EEA framework, without subjecting the nation to the hand of trans-European bureaucracy, we are told, our nation is a Bumblebee. The world's top scientists have proven that it is quite impossible for a Bumblebee to fly; the body is too large, the wing area too small. Like the Bumblebee, we are told, the UK will be earthbound, crawling about like a beetle, unless we imprison ourselves in some version of benign State framework. 

But now right at the end of the year, other news is reaching us. The pharma industry has already sorted itself for a no-deal exit, as has the financial sector. Airlines check - now there's time to do the paperwork. Ports OK, with mothballed ports ready to re-open and existing ports upgrading capacity. Bit of a problem with cars, but hey, that's a German worry. 

Even on an individual basis, folk across Europe are sorting themselves out. Well, except for the more hysterical, who tend to be Remainers, and can't think of anything else to do but post increasingly deranged nonsense on Twitter. I've swapped my UK driving licence for an Austrian one; painless. Twelve minutes in a local office without a queue and with a real human on the counter. New one arrived two days later. So I can drive in both the UK and EU for free and without bother and without an additional document or cost. 

The other untruth we are being told is that unless the UK leaves with a formal divorce treaty, the regard in which our nation is held will plummet globally. Our rep will be dust. Britain's good name will be ruined. Total bollocks.

Just as long as we show that we've made adequate preparations to leave on 29th March and go straight to WTO terms, that the Cassandra Remainer media have little red meat to whine about, and that we make a decent fist of a complex and adverse situation, the success with which we leave may actually increase the regard in which we're held. I suspect the news now emerging is that the real Britain is now far better prepared than is the government. And not only prepared to fly like a Bumblebee, but to seek novel and rewarding opportunities across the oceans, to transform the world's fifth largest economy from a satrap State enchained to a sluggard dullard of a failed Federation into an international Hornet. 

No. The only cohort who fear leaving without a deal are the establishment; the political and mandarin elites. Their failure to secure a deal will show the world that neither are any longer fit for purpose. It will be a failure of the Central State, the failure of a grasping power-hoarding Whitehall, the failure of Big Government that sets the statutory calorie value of every fast-food hamburger and legislates to control the size of BBQ sauce portions. It will, with a shove, precipitate the sort of Localism that we desperately need, and force the root and branch reform of our failed senior civil service.

Monday 24 December 2018

It's been a long year

It's been a long year.

As my old governor used to say, we are where we are. With Gina Miller to thank for the Commons 'meaningful vote' in January, it's now panning out that there are three not improbable options. Either the Commons accepts the Robbins Treaty as is, or the EU scrap the 175 pages that deal with the backstop and the Commons accepts a modified treaty, or they reject the whole thing and we leave on 29th March. All other options - a new referendum, withdrawing Article 50 - are less probable, though still of course possible. Apropos the post below, let's hope that the time that most MPs will spend away from the febrile atmosphere of Westminster and back home in 'Leave' Britain will help them flush the baleful elitist poison from their systems. 

And now for a day or two I'm going to forget Brexit. The gallon of Zwetschke Gin I made with Tanqueray back at the end of August is now being served to visitors with great effect; it's really no different to Sloe Gin, but a novelty to the locals, for whom Gin based tipples are something unknown. 

So once again my most heartfelt good wishes for Christmas and the New Year to you all. Eat, drink and for those of you so inclined, skin-up. Have a good one, all.