Notes for May (not Her, 2017)

We live in weird times. How explain any of the following? The economic and fiscal policies of Conservative governments since 2010 have been rampant failures, increasing national indebtedness to levels not seen during preceding Labour administrations, failing spectacularly to hit self-proclaimed deficit reduction targets, imposing self-defeating austerity programmes of cuts to social services that hit the poorest hardest, increase child and adult poverty, and wreck the quality of life of many communities, without achieving any of their proclaimed economic goals; failing also to address the mounting problem of Britain’s balance of payments deficit and destructively low levels of productivity – yet according to the polls, the Conservatives’ reputation for competent economic management stands higher in the polls than for many years and is way ahead of Labour’s. The Blair-Brown governments delivered an unequalled decade of high growth, low interest rates, low unemployment, decreasing inequality and dramatic reductions in child and adult poverty; they were in no way responsible for the near-collapse of the international banking system from 2008 and indeed Gordon Brown played a, if not the, leading role in the successful international rescue effort. Yet unremitting falsehoods in the right-wing gutter press and Tory propaganda have created a series of false facts according to which Labour can’t be trusted with the economy while the leadership of Mrs May, who acquired the keys to No. 10 Downing Street by default and without benefit of election of any kind, is almost universally regarded as safe and dependable, even though she and her Chancellor, Philip Hammond, are committed to continuing the discredited austerity programme of their predecessors, testing it almost literally to destruction.   

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Much the same can be said of the lamentable rush to Brexit. The Conservative party and its leaders since 2010 bear sole responsibility for holding the disastrous EU referendum in June 2016, in the misplaced confidence that their incompetent campaign for Remain would easily triumph; for deliberately misinterpreting its result as binding on the government and parliament (which it was not); for abandoning their commitment to Remaining in the EU, almost overnight, and throwing their government into violent reverse, opting not just for immediate Brexit without further ado and without any possibility of further public consultation, but inexplicably choosing the hardest and most obviously damaging form of Brexit even before the negotiations had begun.  It was Mrs May who threw away one of her few bargaining chips by choosing an unnecessarily early date for triggering Article 50, long before her government was ready to embark on the most difficult negotiation of all our lifetimes.  Yet unless the polls are spectacularly wrong, she is about to receive a massive vote of confidence in her coming management of the Brexit negotiation, without having revealed anything of substance about her true intentions.  In all these tragic blunders she and her predecessor, David Cameron, have blatantly put the perceived needs of Conservative party management before the national interest. Yet instead of paying the ultimate political price for this catalogue of failures, Mrs May is apparently about to reap an immense electoral reward on 8 June.   Weird hardly describes it.

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Jeremy Corbyn’s pathetically weak, divisive and wayward leadership of the Labour party, and the party leadership’s almost total failure to expose and challenge any one of the government’s failures and blunders in economic and Brexit management, have obviously made matters worse, although it’s doubtful if resolute and consistent opposition by Labour to austerity and Brexit of any kind would have deflected the government and its inflexible leaders from their perverse course.  The collapse of Labour support across the UK clearly owes something to the manifest unelectability of Mr Corbyn and the party’s extraordinary failure to get rid of him, but there are deeper structural causes also at work, and replacing Corbyn would have had no effect on them.  Meanwhile Corbyn continues to play fast and loose with such central questions as whether, as prime minister, he would in the last resort press the nuclear button (he is on record as answering “No”, in that monosyllable reversing his party’s commitment to nuclear deterrence, and refuses to retract it); or whether, if elected, he would seek to abandon Brexit, or only attempt to soften it;  or whether he understands that international military action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria is the only way to defeat it, as formally recognised by the UN;  or whether the parliamentary Labour party can be an effective force in parliament as long as its leader lacks the support of a large majority of its members.  It’s bad enough that Mrs May has embarked on a Gadarene rush to disaster over Brexit: the absence of a vigorous and explicit opposition to her follies makes them far worse.  How on earth did we get ourselves into such a mess?  And I haven’t even mentioned the disaster called Trump!

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Ephems’s guide to royal etiquette, No. 83:

We know that ladies curtsy and gentlemen bow

But few know when to do it, or even how:

Well, do it when Presented at Court, or knighted, or

When passing The Queen in the corridor.

 *  *  *  *  *  *

 Writing this in the fifth week (out of 26) of chemotherapy following a massive operation for cancer, I confirm that my experience so far resembles the stereotype:  bad days alternate with slightly less bad, the Battle of the Bowels seems unwinnable, the desire to lie down and sleep is often irresistible, and perhaps the worst of all, the threat of anorexia and starvation through an extreme aversion to almost any kind of food or drink is ever-present – no doubt retribution for the over-weight, over-eating, greedy decades in the so recent past.  There are few redeeming features to such a régime, but the principal one is the volume of affection and support that the news of the affliction has prompted, not only from close friends and family, but also from friends of long ago with whom contact has been rare in recent years, from email contacts whom in many cases I have never met, and indeed also from readers of and contributors to Ephems.  To all you kind and generous people, a word of real appreciation and gratitude.  It’s amazing how much such support contributes to one’s will to carry on.  I’m everlastingly grateful – however long everlasting turns out to be!

13 May 2017


10 Responses

  1. Jef Proudfoot says:

    Couldn’t agree more. There are only two reasons to vote tory:-

    You are a millionaire.
     You are an idiot.

    If neither applies but on voting day you get the urge, then lock yourself in the bathroom and punch yourself in the face repeatedly until the urge fades.

  2. robin fairlie says:

    My take on the present situation has nothing to do with weirdness, but rather with utter predictability. The English (sic) and Welsh electorate (or such proportion of it as chose to vote in the referendum) decided, by s small majority, in favour of leaving the EU. Thereupon, with scarcely a pause for breath, the English and Welsh Conservative MPs, with scarcely a whimper from the English and Welsh supposed Opposition, decided to accept the “Will of the (English and Welsh) People” without the slightest regard to the wishes and/or interest of the Scots and Irish who had voted by large majorities to Remain within the EU. For a Scot (or an Irishman) this can only be the culmination of 800 years of Anglo-Saxon arrogance and determination to pay no attention to the views of anyone – Scots, Irish, French, German, and other assorted foreigners, including those English (and Welsh) persons who have unaccountably gone native overseas. (Not to mention the minority of English (and Welsh) voters who didn’t actually lose their marbles last June.) The tragedy of it is that most English (and Welsh) Tories are quite unaware of how their self-regarding, impervious, monocular behaviour appears to the rest of us, who would really rather not be around when the proverbial hits the fan in two or three, or five, years’ time.

  3. Peter Martin says:

    <em>  “The Blair-Brown governments delivered an unequalled decade of high growth, low interest rates, low unemployment …… they were in no way responsible for the near-collapse of the international banking system from 2008 and indeed Gordon Brown played a…..leading role in the successful international rescue effort.” </em>

    Yes it’s true. It all worked well for a time. Interest Rates had been initially very high under the previous Tory government. They reached 17% at one point if I remember correctly. What was initially known as monetarism had morphed into what should have been called interest-rate-ism as politicians realised that the money supply in a modern economy couldn’t be controlled in the way they first thought. After initially getting it all wrong under Nigel Lawson by lowering rates too quickly and leading to a boom of the late 80’s which was followed by the bust of the early 90’s, the Major government started to take a more measured approach. This policy was continued under New Labour under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

    Out went the old idea that the economy could be stimulated by Government’s fiscal policies and in came the idea that all that was needed was to adjust interest rates, either upwards or downwards, as necessary.

    Gordon Brown was so taken with the initial success of the policy that he famously, and foolishly, declared he had put an end to boom and bust. However nearly everyone was blind to the increase in levels of personal and private debt which was ever increasing in the economy. When an economy like the USA or the UK continually imports more than it exports, someone has to do the borrowing to support that deficit. If not the Government then it has to be the private sector.

    The same thing was happening in the USA in much more deregulated and uncontrolled way. As you imply the Americans were primarily responsible for the GFC but to say that Blair and Brown were in “no way responsible” isn’t correct.

    And , yes, Gordon Brown did lead the rescue effort by temporarily ditching interest-rate-ism and going back to good old fashioned Keynesianism. There was the cash-for-clunkers scheme and more importantly a reduction in VAT to 15%.

    We’re still locked into the notion of interest-rate-ism though. But we’ve just about reached the end of the line on that. Rates were lowered to 0.25% last year and they really can’t go any lower.

    Which is probably a good thing. Lower interest rates simply move the burden of borrowing from central Government to the private and local Government sectors. It’s not a policy that can work for ever. Arithmetic does catch up in the end.

    And we now have huge levels of personal and private debt in the economy which is slowing it down. Vince Cable and others know that the GFC hasn’t really gone away and we could have GFC part 2 any time soon. He seems happy to blame it all on Brexit. I’m sure he knows that we’d still have been in big trouble even if we’d voted to stay in. Whether Brexit will make it worse remains to be seen.

  4. Peter Martin says:

    “How on earth did we get ourselves into such a mess?  And I haven’t even mentioned the disaster called Trump!”

    Two Key Words:

    1) Neoliberalism. As practicised by Brown, Blair, Cameron, Osborne, Bush and many others.

    2) Ordoliberalism. As  practiced by Merkel, Shauble, and nearly all German politicians even those of the SPD like Martin Schulz. Imposed on the rest of the EU by various treaties and the so-called Stability and Growth Pact.

  5. Bob Knowles says:

    It’s hard to know where to start, but I don’t think the effects of the “unremitting falsehoods of the gutter press” on members of the overall politically unswitched-on population can be over-estimated. We know newspaper circulations have fallen out of sight over recent decades, but when I hear ordinary working or not-working people from my part of the West Riding declare resignedly on Question Time and similar programmes that they’ve “always voted Labour up to now, but not any more” without giving meaningful reasons ( except for the familiar rote-learned sneer at Jeremy Corbyn), there’s a good chance that a catchphrase from The Sun and its ilk was responsible.  Any historical indictment of Thatcher for wrecking their industries and communities, or sharp words for Blair & Co for doing little about it are now political pre-history and not to be expected.

    On which note, Brian, Gordon Brown’s PPI/PPP did neither us nor labour’s legacy much good, did they? And all because he didn’t like red on his balance sheets! How many projects have bitten the dust under the weight of the impossible interest rates he set up. What a strange sort of socialist he was…

    But it’s the lamentable rush to Brexit you refer to which will, I’m sure, turn out to be the catastrophe to cap all our troubles, unless we can subvert it somewhere along the way and stop the deluded Leavers throwing away all that we’ve gained economically culturally and socially in the last 50 or so years.

    It’s not surprising that little has been written or heard about Referendum Briefing Paper 07212 of June 3rd 2015, given the haste with which it was ignored by the coat-turning Theresa May when she saw her big chance as a Leaver, carried to a dubious victory by the slimmest of margins in the EU referendum.

    Prof AC Grayling is the most widely published expert I have come across on this forgotten/ignored document circulated by the House of Commons library to all MPs on June 6th 2015, a year before the 2016 referendum. To quote from Grayling’s retrospective lament at the way things turned out, in his ‘The Academic Blog’ of October 14th 2016, he points out in great detail what RBP 07212 was and what its purpose was – i.e. “to inform MPs that a referendum was to be held before the end of 2017 on the UK’s continued membership of the EU. Also that there was no requirement for the UK government to implement the results of the referendum, nor to set a time limit for the UK to leave the EU. And crucially, that the  referendum was to be pre-legislative, consultative, non-binding .”

    Grayling goes on to say that there wasn’t any mention in RBP 07212 of what majority would be necessary for the referendum to be seen as binding – which rather makes the point that it was never meant to be seen as a decision-maker. He deplores the way in which we were bombarded with propaganda to the effect that the  52-48% majority for Brexit  represented  “the will of the people”- and goes on to say much more, including about the omission of the large constituency of probable Remainers such as 16 year-olds, foreign nationals living in the UK, and others. (NB. RBP 07212 is lengthy and complicated; I recommend Grayling’s three-page summary of it in ‘The Academic Blog’ of Oct 14th 2016.)

    Yet turncoat Remainer May lost no time in translating this marginal “will of the people” into a reputedly one-page Leavers’ charter for parliament to approve – to which the unfathomable Corbyn obligingly responded with a three-line ‘aye’ whip of his MPs….  Not a good start for the Labour Party to an election which should never have been!

    I’ve written enough – but just a note on the ravages of our electoral system and its associated financial oversight already perpetrated by the new cyber bullies on  the block – because they meddled with and undoubtedly influenced our EU referendum. US-based Cambridge Analytica and its supremo Robert Mercer apparently played havoc with our Brexit voting by accessing our social media profiles and transmissions isolating our ‘persuadability’. No need to knock on doors and wear  out shoe leather – and minimal hotel bills! The trouble is that this new cyber force is virtually unstoppable and extremely right wing – Mercer lines up with Farage and Banks. And Trump. And who would bet that Messrs Davis, Fox & Co would turn down a free dirty trick if offered one? – not, of course, telling the vicar’s daughter about it. (Carole Cadwalladr’s excellent expose of The Great British Brexit Robbery in the Observer and The New European is almost compulsory reading now. )

    Brian I’m delighted as I know we all are to hear that you’re starting to face food again, however unwillingly. The spirited normality and level of your blog – accurate, critical, moderately outraged… – belies the awfulness of what you have gone through. Do you think spending two years inside tanks might have developed your resilience in the face of attack?

  6. Brian says:

    Bob, many thanks for this helpful comment. Just two points on it.

    First, I don’t think criticisms of specific aspects of Gordon Brown’s Chancellorship and premiership, such as the effects of PFIs, should be allowed to overshadow his extraordinary overall success in giving Britain an uninterrupted decade of prosperity and progress — even if it was achieved at the cost of greatly increased private debt. One of the reasons for Labour’s damaging failure to combat mendacious Tory slanderous misrepresentation of New Labour’s many major success stories is that so much unnecessary sniping at New Labour constantly comes from within the Labour party itself. Gordon Brown is (not was, BTW) an excellent economist, and a committed socialist, with a record as manager of the economy of which it’s difficult to find an equal. Labour people need to leave it to the Tories and the running-dogs of the yellow press to damage his reputation by harping on the few inevitable failures.

    Secondly, there’s really no need to resort to quotations from House of Commons briefing papers or the works of Professor Grayling in order to establish the undisputed status of the EU referendum as ‘advisory’ and not binding on government or parliament. That is clear from the wording of the Act of parliament setting up the referendum. It’s confirmed beyond doubt by a reading of the debates on the Bill that became the referendum Act. Members proposed an amendment to the Bill by which any majority for Leaving the EU would require a special majority (such as two-thirds of the votes cast) in order to take effect — a normal requirement for a binding referendum on a major constitutional change. This was rejected on the grounds that it was inconsistent with the referendum’s status as only advisory. You don’t set a special majority requirement for an opinion poll, which is what the referendum was. The problem was partly the result of Cameron’s reckless promise to “accept” the result of the referendum and to act on it. (I seem to remember that Ed Miliband made a similar ill-judged promise on behalf of the Labour party, but it’s immaterial since Labour was never in a position either to implement or to reject the result of the referendum, although it might provide a feeble excuse for Corbyn’s inexplicable and tragic decision to lead Labour into the lobbies in support of a totally unnecessary and certainly catastrophic Brexit.)

    Cameron thought that by promising “acceptance” of the result of the referendum whichever way it went, he would deter voters from voting Leave in order to give the government a kick in the pants without believing for a moment that a government and opposition parties, all committed to Remain, would take a tiny majority for Leave as a binding mandate to take the UK out of Europe without further ado. Yet another gross and fatal misjudgment on the part of our Tory and other leaders.

    (The country’s fate was sealed by the Leavers’ cynical abuse of the word “respect”, as in “We must respect the referendum result, as not to do so would be an undemocratic betrayal of the will of the British people”, as if “respect” and “comply with” were synonymous. Indeed, the word “respect” in this context is and always has been virtually meaningless.)

  7. Rob Storey says:

    I cannot agree with your enthusiastic support of the Blair-Brown years. Yes, there were successes but it was the wealthy (especially) and many middle-income families who gained most from Brown’s management of the economy but as ever at the expense of the millions more.  Corbyn is perhaps more radical than Blair was but both represent just a shadow of the post-war Labour Government.  The centre-left is now a soft Tory target so that anything other than a serious re-balancing towards Labour’s historic and natural constituency is irrelevant in the longer term.  We all know that Corbyn’s time’s up but his successor would be unwise to push would-be Corbyn-ism completely aside. And continuing on with the structural changes needed you write “there are deeper structural causes also at work, and replacing Corbyn would have had no effect on them” but you don’t expand?

    Good to have you back with Ephems. We’ve missed you.

  8. sentinel says:

    Has there been a “collapse of Labour support” since Corbyn? Consider the share of the vote: 29.0% at 2010 GE; 30.4% at 2015 GE (after five years of austerity); and, in the past week, polling 28-32%.

  9. Peter Martin says:

    If we look at the long term yields for gilts we can see that the UK government can borrow money at interest rates of 0.1%, 0.49%, 1.07%, and 1.7% on 2, 5,10, and 30 year terms respectively. These seem pretty reasonable rates to me. And incidentally they are also four very good reasons for any publicly owned body to stay away from so-called PFI agreements. They are a complete rip-off! I believe that ‘economic genius’ Gordon Brown might have had something to do with their implementation!

    If you were a foreign investor who was concerned that Brexit meant ‘ruin’ or even significant ‘harm’ to our country, would you be prepared to lend at such low rates?

  10. ObiterJ says:

    Dear Brian, As ever, you have summed up exactly the mess that British politics is now in.  Thank you.  I was saddened to read the last part of your post.  May I wish you all the very best with the treatment and hope for a good recovery.