All Over Bar The Shouting?

Article 50 can be unilaterally revoked by parliament. Ironic that a European court can make the British Parliament sovereign again.

Here’s what I think will happen. May’s deal has about as much chance of passing as Elvis’s last dump. Five days of debate will not change the fact that over 100 Tory MPs, who’ve mostly thought about nothing other than leaving the EU for 30 years, have said they will vote against this “vassalage”. The DUP will likewise vote against, citing the ‘border in the Irish sea’ backstop. Labour, barring a few rebels,  will vote against. Labour will then seize the opportunity to call for a vote of confidence, which Theresa May will win, mainly because no-one wants her Job. There may or may not be an interim step of looking at the “Norway/Iceland” EEA solution, but this too will fall on the question of the Irish Border. May will then offer a second referendum. She is getting some early campaigning around the country now, rather than wasting time in Parliament. The Question: Her Deal or Remain. Brexiters will cry foul, and consider boycotting the poll to make the poll illegitimate. The videos of Both Nigel Farage and Jacob Reece-Mogg calling for a 2nd referendum will circulate. The poll will go ahead. Without Russian money, and enervated by 2 years of thinking they’d won, selling a deal they’d already rejected once will be tough. Brexiters’ only argument is “see it through” and shouting “Britain” or “Democracy” at people very loudly.

On the other side, Brexit created a strong, energetic and highly motivated pro EU movement in the UK, something that was utterly absent last time. This time, the remain camp will have more-or-less anyone with any talent in the UK, who will this time be prepared to put their heads above the parapet. Leave will, at best, have Geoffrey Boycott, Ginger Spice, and a daytime TV estate agent standing alongside Nigel Farage. The rest of UKIP will be goose-stepping around Kent with Tommy Robinson, shouting RAUS! at immigrants, which isn’t a good look.

Remain will win at a canter. (And I said that last time, I know). And if it doesn’t, then ‘the deal’ or better yet, the EEA will be fine, because the Brexiters get nothing out of it. ‘The deal’ is Brexit in Name Only (BRINO). Nothing will change. We will rejoin the club after a decent interval, as no influence over laws we’ll have to accept will be intolerable. The Brexiters have already lost.

Brexiters failed to persuade anyone who didn’t already hate the EU, that leaving presented worthwhile opportunities to be grasped. They failed to articulate a vision of what leaving the EU would achieve, and their promises of “control” to be “taken back” were absolutely rubbished by reality. Every single Brexiter, when tasked with delivering their project, about which they that had dreamed for 30 years, ended up resigning in a huff. The German car industry did not ride to the rescue. The Australians, Canadians and New Zealanders, friendly and decent that they are, were not falling over themselves to do a “trade deal” with their former colonial power, seeing greater opportunities to be close to the EU’s much bigger market. Indeed some of these took issue with our schedule of tariffs and commitments on the UK regaining its seat at the WTO!

Brexiters failed to understand Britain’s place in the world was not intrinsic to itself; our power and influence lay in being at the centre of Western, liberal, democratic and free countries, and occupying leadership positions in the UN Security Council, the G7, NATO, 5-eyes and the EU. We are the glue that binds the USA and the 5-eyes to Europe, and the hinge on which the Western Alliance turns. There is no value to the expensive “independence” snake oil that the leave campaign was selling.

We weren’t “alone” in 1940, there’s no need to be alone now.

International trade deals, of which the EU is a deep, comprehensive and unusually democratic example, always involves a “surrender of sovereignty”, but I prefer to think of it as a pooled sovereignty in return for British influence. Brexiters failed to understand the reality of trade: that geography matters and the UK needs a close relationship with the EU. Brexiters failed to see that the UK accepting the EU’s rules was inevitable, their weight sees to that, and yet denied the UK had any influence at all while we in the EU, ignoring the opt-outs, and the policies driven through by the UK. The single market, for example is a creation of Margaret Thatcher. One brief look at the US rule book (the other option on the table should we leave, Chlorinated chicken etc…), and the Brexiters quietly shut up about that particular “opportunity” soon after the election of Trump. We can write “our own rules”? No. We can’t, not if we want to trade successfully. The UK is not really big enough.

The Brexiters saw the EU as an Empire. It isn’t. It’s something different. Where NATO won the cold war, it was the EU which won the peace, successfully integrating the former soviet satellites into a liberal, western looking, democratic and peaceful free trade block.  They are not going back.  The EU doesn’t “need us more than we need them”. The EU, rather than fighting to keep a wayward province in line, shrugged and said “here are your options, pick one, and good luck”, and trusted in their rules and respect for other countries’ sovereignty. That will be noted by formerly subject peoples, both in the EU, and to the east.

The British parliament remained sovereign throughout our membership of the European Union; We can leave, any time Parliament decides. It’s just none of the options for leaving are any good, and all of them costly, exactly as predicted by the Remain campaign. We are surrendering influence over rules that will affect us. There are no benefits to leaving, no opportunities. There’s not even extra sovereignty out there.

Ultimately the Brexiters misunderstood the country, the European Union, and the world.

Brexiters failed to understand “democracy” too. Winning the vote was the start, not the end of the process, but few if any Brexiters had given a moment’s thought to what happens on the 24th June 2016. Referendums are blunt tools. A decision can either be irreversible or democratic; it cannot be both. Democracy is a process, and not an event. A referendum is most emphatically not an enabling law for twats. Ultimately, even if individuals haven’t, the electorate has indeed changed its mind since 2016. Two cohorts of younger, pro-EU voters coming in, and a couple of years of older leave voters dying will see to that. In failing to compromise at all with the EU, or remain Britain, Brexiters may well have sealed their movement’s fate. By failing to offer the reasonable options, Norway, Iceland, on which they had campaigned, preferring to go for the hardest, most headbanging Brexit they could conceive, they have betrayed their infantile dream of leaving the EU.

Once, this was the world’s most dangerous border

The Iron Curtain is now a cycle path. Tell me the world hasn’t got better thanks to the EU. What can the Brexiters credibly promise this time?

Brexit: What Next?

With at least 100 Tory rebels, the DUP, the SNP, collected others and most of Labour planning to reject ‘The Deal‘, it’s hard to see it getting through parliament on the 10th December.

What happens then?

Anyone who might know is keeping their options open. Bim Afolami, My local MP, held a town hall meeting last night to explain why he’s voting for it. Basically, he’s in favour of discharging the instruction of the people from the referendum, reinforced by manifesto commitments voted for in the last General Election by 87% of the vote, with as little damage to the UK and its economy as possible. This is a reasonable line to take, and I was impressed with his delivery. “The options are” he said “the deal, or no deal”. Put like that it’s hard to argue. If the deal passes, I will be satisfied Brexit can be delivered at acceptable cost. However, he’s wrong about the options. “No deal” is opposed by most of the Tory party, an overwhelming majority of the Labour party and most of the other opposition groups, it’s not realistically on the table, unless Parliament agrees nothing else, and behaves recklessly. Remaining in the EU, on the other hand, is back on the table, though few have admitted it publicly yet.

Brexiters make much of the need to strike “Free trade deals”, but these are worthless next to the single market. Why? The EU/EEA single market is the largest economy on earth, and it’s also the nearest to us, and we share our only land borders with it. To imagine that a deal, even with all of the USA, China, India, Australia and New Zealand could match the benefits of the single market is just delusional, as the Treasury and Bank of England made clear. Equally clear is the extent to which Brexiters deny that there are any costs at all to leaving. Any discussion at all of the myriad downsides is dismissed as “project fear”. The level of analysis, from the parliamentary European Research Group, to the local pub bore is the same: Brexiters have persuaded themselves, despite every expert on international trade, and more or less everyone who can spell in the UK telling them otherwise, there are no costs and vast opportunities on leaving the EU. Their only reasoning boils down hate of the EU, appeals to patriotism, confirmation-seeking and total dismissal of the entire subject of economics. No? Patrick Minford, the only “economist for brexit” assumes, for example, distance doesn’t matter in trade. One side of the debate is simply not amenable to reason.

Brexiters petty spite and cruelty is obvious to anyone who looks. Half a dozen people in the meeting spoke up about real, practical costs of Brexit – EU citizens who lose reciprocal rights, farmers who lose vital markets, businesses who will face higher costs throughout their supply chains, students who have lost opportunities for life-enriching travel and study. Lives are being disrupted and attenuated, and the old man sitting next to me simply shrugged. He actually laughed at the disabled woman and the Asian man who mentioned the climate of increased hate crime. The hurt they are causing is the point. By hurting those whom the brexiters blame for their deep personal inadequacy, immigrants, foreigners, people who paid attention in school, they feel better about themselves. That is where brexit is coming from. It’s a mood, not a policy.

‘No deal’ is overwhelmingly supported by people whose pensions will not be affected by the decision, but will be paid for by people whose incomes will be, for life.

So what is likely to happen when the deal is rejected by parliament? Afolami said he was working with Nick Boles on the EFTA/EEA plan as the next option, and I suspect that is what the Government will try to offer next. This will require an extension of Article 50 to draft an agreement. The problem is, I can’t see many problems solved by EEA/EFTA that isn’t solved by “the deal”, and I suspect it will fail for exactly the same reasons he laid out in his opening remarks about May’s deal: it’s neither fart nor shit, satisfying neither the atavistic hate of the people who wish to leave, nor the fears of most of the people who wish to remain in the EU. Indeed thanks to the Irish border, the EEA option would include the Customs union, leaving the UK closer to the EU than Norway. The only thing we’d have done is removed ourselves from the decision-making body, to literally no benefit to anyone except the French. And we’d still have Brexiters whining about being in the EEA, for life. Nevertheless, this option, rubbish though it is, is the Brexit that is most acceptable to me.

Predictably, the People’s vote people were there in force. And like lefties at every public meeting, at any point in history, their sanctimony and verbosity didn’t help their case. Nevertheless, this is, of the likely scenarios, my preferred outcome, as there is some hope of reversing the initial referendum result. (But what question do you ask… and what if ‘leave’ wins again?) But what I really want is parliament, the overwhelming majority of whose members back remaining in the EU, to observe there is no way to leave the EU that doesn’t catastrophically wreck hundreds of thousands of lives and careers, and no way to minimise the disruption in a way that satisfies the inchoate loathing of the EU. You can vote yourself a unicorn that shits gumdrops, it doesn’t mean the Government can deliver.

Nigel Farage trying to get a refund on the Norwegian Blue Option

The referendum was advisory, the country is bitterly divided whether or not we leave or remain. Worse, it appears likely the leave campaign conspired with a hostile foreign power, breaking British electoral law by pumping dank memes and dark money, using stolen data, to win their wafer-thin mandate, and they did so with a grotesque smirk on its face. So why is the “mandate” taken so seriously? So let’s be divided, nothing but the relentless march of time can change that, but be a bit richer and remain in the EU. Eventually the mood will pass. And I expect, if the outcome is ‘no brexit’ the vast majority of Brexiters will sink into a sullen silence rather than kick off. Many I suspect will breathe a sigh of relief, in private, that they no longer have to own this feeble shit-show. They may protest, but they will be shouted down, derided, ignored and ridiculed, much like the Tory party was after 1997, and deservedly so. The Tory party will split, of course, as it should have done when “the Bastards”, Lilley, Portillo, Redwood and Howard, crippled John Major’s administration, and undermined every leader since. However, purged of the Brexiters, the Tory party will find itself electable again much quicker without the baggage of failure (does anyone seriously expect Brexit to stink of anything else?). Fear of blood on the streets, openly expressed by Brexiters, yet dismissed when raised by remainers,  is no reason to do as the quitlings demand. What did Thatcher do when confronted by people who believed political power lay at the point of production, or in the barrel of an armalite? We have defeated nativist hate and threats of violence before in the 1930s and 1980s. Brexiters are utterly unappeasable, and want nothing that can be delivered at reasonable cost. So meet them head on.

As Afolami pointed out, Parliament is sovereign, we live in a representative democracy, an MP is a representative charged with doing what is best for the country, not a delegate charged with delivering on constituents’ moods. It’s leadership the people need. Simply reject Brexit. It’s a stupid policy, utterly without upside, and vast potential costs. Parliament, and the people who kill this insanity, will be thanked, in time.

With Apologies to the Late, Great Hunter S. Thompson

Strange memories on this nervous night in England. Two years later? Three? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. England in the late twenty-teens was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the city half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the beige Rover 75 across London Bridge at 30 miles an hour, wearing a barbour and a tweed suit. booming through the Blackwall tunnel aimed at the lights of Greenwich, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at roundabout too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for first) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as old and angry as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the river, then up the west end or down the A1 to Hertfordshire or Down in Kent. . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Young and Free. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our patriotism would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than three years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Hampstead and look South, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

How To Lose Weight. It’s Simple, But it’s Not Easy.

Apparently there’s an obesity epidemic, and it’s because naughty restaurants and “the food industry” are trying to overfeed us as part of a conspiracy to, um… something. And I think everyone knows, deep down, that this is theory is nonsense. Beating up the “food industry” is easier than something that might work, and won’t cost anyone any votes, and may even generate extra “sin taxes” on fat and sugary foods, which is why it’s so politically attractive. But it’s mainly a “something must be done, this is something, so let’s do it” policy.

Obesity, defined as a Body mass index (BMI) of over 30. For my part, I tried the NHS’s Body Mass Index calculator, Male, 41, 6’3″ and 16 st 7lbs which gives me a BMI of 28.7 or overweight, borderline obese. Which is odd, because I still fit into trousers I bought when I was a 21 year old soldier, and right now, I train 5 nights a week. BMI is clearly a deeply flawed measure, from when people existed on severely calorie constrained diets during a major war. Waist to height ratio is probably better.

Nevertheless, BMI statistics inform public policy. Epidemic? About a third of kids are “overweight” or obese, but it’s not rising much, and in any case, being overweight (as opposed to obese) isn’t all that unhealthy. Obesity? It’s not an epidemic.

So what’s causing us to get a bit fatter? Some of it is better nutrition. We’re not just fatter, we’re also more muscular. So, is it about portion size? Possibly, but people don’t eat out often enough for Restaurant portion sizes to be a cause of obesity. People who eat out more are slimmer than those who don’t, because obesity is negatively correlated with income, and overall calorific intake is falling in developed countries. Most people have responded to a sedentary lifestyle by eating less, despite having access to more-or-less limitless calories.

So why do some people eat the right amount of food without thinking about it, and some don’t? Education about how much food kids need will help more than regulating restaurant portion sizes. There is a cultural stigma about wasting food – telling kids to “eat everything on their plate” in a world where food isn’t scarce doesn’t help, and this cultural tick is more common in working-class communities where the folk-memory of scarcity is closer. Kids so raised are more likely to become obese.

There is some evidence that refined foods, white bread for example, is more ‘obesegenic’ than wholemeal. This is because white bread is easier to digest, meaning the starch is broken down quicker into sugars in the gut, leading to a spike in blood sugar, leading to a burst of insulin, then the feelings of hunger caused by the subsequent shortage of sugar in the blood. Less refined foods take longer to break down, meaning you feel fuller for longer. Different sugars are also differently Obesegenic. “Sugar”, whether from cane or beet, is sucrose, a molecule composed of two monosacharides: a glucose and a fructose molecule. This gets split into its component parts. Glucose goes into the blood, where it’s immediately available for metabolism, but Fructose heads to the liver, where it combines with fatty acids to form triglycerides, the main component of body fat. This is why the ‘high fructose corn syrup’ that pollutes so much American food is thought to be especially bad for you. A can of Coca Cola in the USA which is sweetened with Fructose might be more obesegenic than Coca Cola in Europe, which is sweetened with sucrose. The European recipe is closer to Coca Cola’s original 1886 formula (everything except the cocaine, alas…), but doesn’t benefit from the US subsidies to Corn farmers. It’s generally considered to taste better as sucrose is slightly less sweet than Fructose. None of this Fructophobia is settled science. Fructose is the ‘Fruit sugar’ and in small quantities is almost certainly harmless, and there seems to be no one factor driving the west’s expanding waistlines. But it seems reasonable guidance to eat less refined sugar and starch, and keep away from Fructose where possible, except in fruit.

Will “sugar taxes” have any effect on obesity? No, of course not. People can always find a few pence extra for a can of pop if they want one. The Government needs taxes, and this pigouvian tax is probably harmless enough. It might keep the puritans at bay for a bit (unlikely…) But it’s no solution to obesity.

NOT the reason some people are chubby

Is it exercise? We are more sedentary these days. School sports fields have been sold off and kids are forced to sit still for hours a day, and aren’t allowed to play outside as much. This has been improving of late. The “daily mile” looks to me to be an excellent, cheap and simple initiative which gets kids outside every day, and builds a habit of exercise. Which means it will probably be unpopular with the same people who hate cycle lanes, and be binned. People used to have manual jobs, and obesity has been correlated with an increase in office work. Even the invention of the TV remote control means you get up off the sofa to change the channel less often. Less movement, even to change the TV means fewer calories burned going about a daily life. Things like “active transport” cycling and walking work, work. Countries where a large number of people cycle regularly for transport are less obese than countries like the UK where people protest against cycle lanes. Cycling is excellent for keeping the weight off. (It also solves congestion, halt the removal of local services, and keeps the high street busy, raises house-prices, and makes people happier and yet, in the UK, is routinely opposed with quite surprising viciousness, despite cycle lanes also being the state expenditure with the highest return on investment).

But up to three quarters of your daily calorific expenditure is your basal metabolic rate, which the body can adjust when food is scarce. This means if you restrict your intake, or increase your expenditure (ie when you’re dieting and pumping the stairmaster) your body often responds by slowing your basal metabolic rate. Worse, under these conditions, the body often preferentially metabolises muscle to cover the calorific deficit. So burning more and eating less, it’s possible you feel miserable, get weaker and don’t really lose much fat. Worse, your body still craves high calorie food, so when you do fall off the wagon, you fall really hard, and your body stores all that excess midnight ice-cream in the form of fat. A slim person’s body will not process the fat in the same way, at least not at first. This is why some people can eat all they like, and not get fat. Such people crave high calorie food less, and their body doesn’t put their occasional binges straight onto their arses. What you eat matters less than how much; and how much you eat is not very well mediated by will power.

Fat is not therefore a moral issue.

Most people find a weight, and their body sticks to it. Being a bit pudgier as you get older, especially if you remain active, isn’t a problem. Indeed being slightly overweight is healthier than being slightly underweight. But obesity is a fundamental breakdown in the regulation of the body’s energy and storage system. You get stuck at a sub optimal equilibrium, and it’s very, very hard to get out, because anything you do to get your body to shrink its stores is resisted, hard, by some pretty ancient pathways that are not yet well understood.

So, what to do?

No-one really knows, and it’s probably different for everyone. There are almost  no levers the Government can pull beyond declare war and introduce rationing and military training for everyone, for a decade: that could lead to a major fall in obesity, but I regard a pile of corpses as a significant downside of this policy.

It’s clear that drastic calorie reduction works. It’s simple thermodynamics. But to restrict calories sufficiently is also beyond the willpower of most humans. A diet that means you’re hungry all the time simply isn’t going to work for most people. It’s possible to exercise regularly and lose weight. I’ve seen soldiers going through basic training loose a lot of weight, but they’re being told to ‘hurry up’ loudly and often, by very scary people, for 16 hours a day. Few people have the time or the inclination to exercise sufficiently to achieve this sort of weight loss. As you get older, your risk of injury rises, especially if you’ve not worked out for a while and suddenly stopping an exercise program may lead to weight gain. If you’re losing weight due to exercise, it’s not the extra calories burned during exercise that are doing the heavy lifting. Young men joining the army probably stop drinking so much too. So it’s clear that lifestyle changes make a difference. But it’s a higher basal metabolic rate that’s really doing the work.

So, how do we hack into this system?

The rise in obesity came not just with changes to diet or access to more calories. People’s diets have improved since the 1940s and we’re eating fewer calories than we did back in the 1970s. It is also correlated with a reduction in the amount and quality of sleep. Total hours slept per night has fallen steadily since the 19th century, there are more disturbances, and more screens pumping out blue light, which especially interferes with sleep. And when you’re sleep deprived, as most of us are, most of the time, your body produces less Leptin and more Ghrelin.

These hormones control your feelings of hunger and satiation respectively. It’s complicated. Obese people often have more Leptin in their system than normal weight people, which is not what you’d expect, but they’re resistant to its satiating effects. So it’s clear, obesity is caused by a breakdown in the body’s homeostatic mechanism regulating fat storage, and equally clear it’s not fully understood yet.

There are more feedback loops, with which the rolly-poly must wrestle: obesity aggravates obstructive sleep apnea, snoring that wakes you up, further disrupting your sleep, and preventing you achieving the deepest levels of sleep. A vicious circle: when you’re sleep deprived, you want to eat more and do less. Your body is stressed and conditions itself to lay down fat. Your basal metabolic rate falls. If these conditions last, then your body lays down a lot of fat, and conditions itself to stay that way. And it resists attempts to break into this cycle.

Then there’s the research into the gut microbiome. If we still haven’t got to grips with the body’s homeostatic mechanism regulating fat storage, we’ve little hope of understanding this system with involves millions of species of Bacteria, and the prevalence in the gut appears to depend on which things like whether you were born naturally or surgically, whether you were fed by breast or formula. Quite a lot of digestion happens because of your Gut bacteria. So eating probiotic yoghurt, or shoving someone else’s poo up your fundiment (a medical procedure known as a ‘fecal matter transplant’) appears to have an effect, but this can go both ways. We don’t even know whether gut disbiota is a cause, or an effect of obesity.

This is why it’s so hard to lose weight. Diet alone won’t do it. Exercise alone won’t do it. Sleep alone won’t do it. Gut microbiota alone won’t do it. But if you sleep well every night, and exercise every day, you might find yourself eating less and doing more, without thinking about it. And it appears that your gut microbiome may change as a result of your efforts. To do this successfully probably involves less alcohol consumption, a substance which also disrupts sleep, doesn’t exactly make you want to hit the gym, interferes with the bacteria in your gut, and interferes with the mechanisms that make you feel full. A rigorous and abstemious regime, kept up for months, you may find yourself losing weight as your body changes the equilibrium it’s seeking to maintain. You can’t lose weight if you’re drinking alcohol, smoking, binge watching netflix and staggering bleary eyed to the office every morning, and cracking open the wine every evening.

This is the problem. Obesity is incredibly complicated, and the sugar tax, portion-size restrictions and so forth will have no measurable effect, and who knows what the bansturbators will want to tax next. An obese individual just needs to sleep longer, cycle to work, not stare at a screen before bed, cut out caffeine late in the day, cut down the booze, do more, harder exercise near-daily and not fall off the wagon too often, and they need to keep this regime up for so for months and months and months. I think everyone knows, deep down, what to do. Ultimately the only way to do it is to change lifestyles completely. Losing weight isn’t rocket science, it just requires an iron discipline few of us have. After all, one of things you’ll end up cutting out, is socialising with all your friends, who’re probably still in the pub.

Losing weight – People’s girth isn’t a proper matter for Government because only an individual can decide their priorities. What Government can do (and is doing, to be fair) is fund research into what might actually work something we don’t yet know, and then telling people about it. In the meantime, cut down the booze, get a good night’s sleep, and when you’re rested, think about the diet and exercise.

Internal Party Democracy is Undemocratic.

The Labour left have had a peculiar mental tic since at least the days of Tony Benn (Man of the people and 2nd Viscount Stansgate, 1925-2014). They do not see Members of Parliament as representatives, who use their own judgement when legislating. They see the MP as a delegate of a party, to be selected or deselected according to the whims of the local party and beholden to vote according to their instructions. The problem is that the electorate, people who mostly pay little attention to politics, only get a say once every four years or so, and they aren’t keeping an eye on the local party’s committees. And the hard left LOVE committees. They’re worse than golfers. Other bits of the Labour party mostly can’t be bothered to attend, and so the hard left are able to pack committees, and then attempt to deselect MPs who disagree with them. This is justified by “democratic votes” of party members, which are far easier to gerrymander than an election. This means, in safe seats, the Party committees become more important than the electorate in deciding who’s in Parliament. (Proportional representation is little better – who controls where people are on the Party Lists…?)

A painting of an evil old man.

Neil Kinnock’s triumph was seeing off this threat, then called ‘Militant’. Tony Blair was alive to this, and resisted change to Labour’s rules, as was Brown. But Ed Miliband, soft and useless that he was, was either a Bennite himself, or was naive when he changed the leadership voting rules, removing time rules for new members, and allowing people to join and immediately vote for £2. All these things sound nice and kind and “democratic”, widening the mandate, and letting anyone vote. And no doubt, Miliband was swayed by siren voices from the hard left mouthing just this sort of guff. What harm could ‘more democracy’ do? However, ordinary people didn’t get excited about Andy Burnham or Liz Kendall. The hard left and not a few ‘Tories for Corbyn’, on the other hand, flooded into the Labour party at the first opportunity to vote for whichever obstinate madman of the ‘Campaign group‘ whose turn it was to stand. Corbyn, whose turn it was to “widen the debate” this time, won the election on the backs of this wave of new members, and almost immediately the calls for deselection of “red Tories” (ie anyone who wasn’t on the extreme left) began.

The Tories are not immune, UKIP is haemorrhaging members, some of whom are joining the Tory party with similar aims Labour’s hard left – to pack the party and select their leader, Mogg or Johnson, to deliver the “real brexit” they crave. The difference is the Tory right and UKIP have obsessed about EU, not the internal mechanisms of the Tory party, and frankly, they’re mostly a bit dim and lazy. Also, the Tories rules preclude an equivalent outcome, for now. Labour’s extremists have been thinking about “the Bennite project” for longer than the Tory nutters have been thinking about Europe. The hard left knows exactly what it is doing. The Brexiters don’t.

By packing committees in local labour parties, they aim to control their MPs. The party, not the MP’s consience, then becomes the sole arbiter, and the only route to power is through the party’s structures. Independent-minded MPs are not wanted. The party becomes the key to everything. Once, having thoroughly infected the party, they wait. Eventually the wheels of democracy turn, and the Tories lose power. The left will then have 5 years to do what they want, with pliant MPs doing their bidding. Democracy, the voices of people who didn’t vote for the party in power, or dissenting voices within it, are silenced.

There is a model for this. Comrade Stalin wasn’t Premier of the Soviet Union, Lenin’s old job, until 1941. He was General Secretary of the Communist party. He understood that if you controlled the party machine, you controlled the state. Thus when Lenin died in 1924, he was replaced by Alexi Rykov (me neither), but it was Stalin who held all the power. Obviously this is a simplification of an enormously long and complicated process. And equally obviously, the British constitution retains a multi-party democracy, so there’s a limit to how much damage a party thus packed can do, because if they do enough damage, the other lot will get in. But with both main parties engaged in a battle for their souls with nutty extremists within, there is a risk. Imagine if Blair or Thatcher with their landslides, had seen fit to attempt control of their parties in this way.

This is how democracy ends. With the spurious legitimacy conferred by a Potemkin election of Party members.

“We Survived Without the EU” and other fallacious arguments for Brexit

The British Government apparently withdrew the planning for a withdrawal from the EU without a deal from public scrutiny, because it contained plans to cope with disruptions to food supply chains. This was “turning people against brexit”. Now obviously, faced with the prospect of ration books and food distributed by the Army, with mexiflotes covered in requisitioned generators floating in the Irish sea to keep Belfast’s power on, no sane government will go down that route.

Your Brexit ration book will be blue.

The problem is Brexiters think this is just a scare story. “We got our food before the EU, so why won’t we now?”. The fact is, “we” haven’t been able to feed ourselves since the 1700’s, and have been reliant upon trade for our food. Obtaining food requires supply chains, and the UK’s are global. We get New Zealand lamb, Chilean wine, African strawberries (the EU isn’t stopping this, quite the opposite), and of course, lots of stuff from the EU, who our largest and nearest partner in trade, and with whom the UK shares its only land border.

In the EU, food can cross borders easily, because everyone trusts everyone else to obey the same quality and welfare standards, (which countries are free to exceed, as the UK does). If you tear up the arrangement by which Irish beef or Danish pork is sold in UK supermarkets, you will do two things. You will impose barriers to that food getting to supermarkets, and you will impose barriers to your own exports.

Now, it’s inevitable that trade, being a bottom up process, will find a way around eventually. The EU will sell less food to the UK, and vice versa. No problem, you might say: the price of Irish beef in the EU will fall as demand has fallen, and the price of beef in the UK will rise as supply has fallen. That is to say both parties will be poorer for the UK leaving the EU, because leaving the EU puts barriers in the way of trade and less trade means lower prices for producers AND higher prices for consumers. Even the UK Farmers aren’t better off for the higher prices: their import costs will have risen too, especially if the pound falls any further. That is an example of how trade makes everyone richer, by observing less trade makes people poorer. By putting barriers up, you simply cause a dislocation to a trade route, and risk short term problems as people struggle to overcome extra bureaucracy at the border. In food, this could get very ugly, very quickly as we could run out of staples as they rot in lorry parks in Calais and Kent. There’s probably 24-48 hours of food in supply-chains, and a few days in people’s freezers. After a week, it’s riots.

Multiply this across an entire G7 economy, an economy which lacks the capacity to do the border bureaucracy, because for 20 years, no-one’s needed forms to cross borders, and add in modern ‘just in time’ logistics, means even a small increase in bureaucracy could lead to shortages of key staples, components and spares, leading to shortages and price rises.

The EU is just part of a process of facilitating global trade by removing barriers. In doing so, its rules have become de-facto global standards. And we’re thinking of leaving a position in the club that sets these rules. If you suddenly reimpose those barriers, you create shortages and make everyone poorer again, by undoing decades of good work to remove barriers to trade at borders. It does not follow that this demonstrates being in the EU is a risk, as interdependence is human. We are obligate eusocial animals, like ants, an individual human would die pretty quickly, if left in a wilderness.

So yes, “we did OK before the EU” in the same way “we did OK” before the invention of Agriculture. It’s just we were much poorer back then, and smashing the things, however imperfect that took us from there to here is just stupid.

Brexit is based on a mood, not a policy. From this emptiness flows the chaos.

If you’re not following it closely, it’s easy to ask, as an American correspondent did recently, “why doesn’t the United Kingdom just leave the European Union, and get on with it?”. Well, it’s more complicated than that. The referendum vote mandated the government to get out of the EU. I don’t think the people who voted for it voted for a complete disruption of the European trading system and in doing so, make themselves much poorer. “But that’s just project fear, isn’t it?” Well, yes and no. At the time of writing, 25 months after the vote, and 16 months after the UK invoked article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, to set a 2-year withdrawal clock ticking, the British Government has finally worked out its opening negotiating position to put to the EU. The “Chequers agreement” as it is known wasn’t “the deal”, it was a deal between members of the UK government on their opening negotiating position, and which almost everyone thinks unworkable, not least the two senior Brexiters who resigned from the Government over it. Why has getting to this stage taken so long? Let’s face it, Brexit is not a policy, it’s a fantasy. It’s a mood, not something we need to do, it’s an attitude. Most people who voted for it, did so because they believed slogans deliberately constructed to allow people to project their own fantasies and frustrations onto the project to leave the European Union. From these slogans, no actual policies fall. From this emptiness, flows the chaos that is currently engulfing British politics.

 

“Take back control”? by whom, of what? Still not clear.

“Freedom”? For whom, to do what? Still not clear.

“Sovereignty”? Over what? This is meaningless when it’s at the expense of influence over trade rules we’ll end up obeying anyway.   The Jurisdiction of the European court of Justice mainly covers competition law, state aid to companies, agriculture and trade marks which is hardly something a bloke in a pub would normally care about. It is not supreme in the way the UK’s supreme court is. It is confused in the public mind with the European court of Human Rights, which isn’t an EU institution, but is what prevents the UK being beastly to terrorists, much to the chagrin of the British tabloids. We are not leaving the Council of Europe, and so the UK will remain bound by the European court of Human Rights. All the UK has done, by leaving the EU is storm out of the room in which the decisions are being made.

“Democracy”? It’s hard to see how being a member of a club of democracies, which itself is overseen by a parliament is anti-democratic. It’s true, I won’t miss voting in the European parliament elections, because I’ve always seen it as a risible little potempkin talking shop, but the idea “democracy” was improved by voting Leave, is risible. Just as no parliament can bind its successors, no electorate can either. If you think holding a second referendum on the deal “an attempt to overturn democracy”, then you don’t understand democracy, which isn’t “one man, one vote, once.” Indeed the referendum has poisoned British democracy by introducing a set of mutually exclusive demands, that cannot be met at reasonable cost for which millions will think they have voted.

“Our own trade deals”? Again, it’s hard to see any benefit of leaving the most comprehensive trade deal on earth, with the earth’s largest market, which is also the nearest to the UK, plus deals with dozens of other countries farther afield, in order to secure a trade deal with Australia. At best this is wishful thinking, but most of it is just Imperial nostalgia. The choice the UK faces between”Europe and the Deep Blue Sea” is, with respect to Churchill, a false dichotomy. Far from being “shackled to a corpse”, the EU facilitated trade with China and the Pacific rim and made the UK an attractive place to do business, a Gateway to Europe for the world. Imagining the EU is in some way “holding us back” because mature, stable economies are growing slower than vast, poor ones, is another category error.

Immigration? The largest body of immigrants to the UK come from the Indian subcontinent, none of whose countries is a member of the EU. There is no “deal” with the EU that would stop an EU citizen coming to the UK, and let’s face it, it’s not the Polish plumbers who bother the anti-immigrant crowd, is it?

All of this, I have been arguing for years. Because the arguments for Brexit are based in moods, not facts, they raise as many questions as they answer, and such is the dislocation the referendum has caused in UK politics, The Netherlands has more comprehensive planning for a no-deal Brexit than does the UK. I suspect in practice, this means leaving the EU without a deal is mostly off the table. However Brexiters are trying to cut the Gordian knot, by going full-on for the hardest, most catastrophic break they can engineer. This explains the ‘red lines’ Theresa May offered the brexiters straight after the referendum when she took over from David Cameron. Out of the Single Market, out of the Customs Union, no Jurisdiction of the EU courts, no free movement, no payments to the EU budget, no border in the Irish sea. These red lines effectively make doing a deal with the EU, which regards the four freedoms of the single market indivisible, impossible. They are also mutually exclusive. You see, Brexit is a fantasy, and in chasing it, Brexiters have insisted on wrecking clauses in legislation designed to tie the Governments hands to positions the EU will find unacceptable.

This ‘No-Deal’ plan at least settles it, Brexiters argue. We must leave, and we can deal with the consequences when they arrive. However leaving the EU is a policy which should require decades of carefully unpicking the legal and constitutional ties built up over half a century. Brexit, however has already caused a sharp slowdown in investment. A no-deal scenario would see the UK wave goodbye to much of its automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical and high tech industries. The social and economic consequences could be severe. It isn’t hyperbole to suggest a hard, no-deal brexit will lead to shortages of food and medicines as a result of severe disruption to modern ‘just in time’ supply chains: Great Britain hasn’t been able to feed its population since the 17th century, and is dependent upon trade to feed the nation, every day. Hence the recent headlines about stockpiling food and medicines, and hence the public mood, perhaps, barely perceptibly, beginning to change.

So the Government has to do a deal of some sort.

It is the Irish border which remains the biggest obstacle to a deal. Brexit cuts across a number of previous agreements the UK made with the Republic of Ireland, an EU state that many brexiters are surprised hasn’t been thrown under the bus by the EU yet. The problem is that if the UK leaves the Customs union, in order to forge its own deals elsewhere, then it must check goods on its borders. However, part of the settlement to ‘The Troubles’, decades of violence not quite reaching the level of a civil war over the status of the province as Irish or British, was that there should be no obvious border infrastructure between the two bits of Ireland. The all citizens of the island of Ireland can choose more or less at will, which passport they use. The border barely exists on the ground. It can be crossed, and the only sign that you’ve moved from one sovereign country to another is that Ireland displays speed limits in kilometers per hour, not miles. That would change if the UK leaves the Customs union, as border posts or fences would be needed on the 208 crossing places on the border to check goods and people. Farmers would need to maintain two flocks of sheep, and other nonsenses as a result of the border being reimposed. There are solutions that would avoid a hard border in Ireland. You could leave Northern Ireland in the Customs union,  but that would require a ‘border in the Irish sea’ effectively splitting the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Many Brexiters don’t care, they’re effectively English nationalists, and aren’t bothered by the question of Scottish independence either. If I’m losing American readers with the intricacies of the United Kingdom’s constitutional settlement, I apologise, but the EU was until 2016 part of the glue that held the four nations of the UK together. Brexit threatens not just Northern Ireland’s status, but that of Scotland too. That is a question for another post, but Theresa May’s government is dependent upon the Democratic Unionist party for her majority in parliament. The DUP is a kind of Orange Ulster Tea Party which is, to put it lightly, not in favour of a United Ireland. A ‘Border in the Irish sea’ between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would be an anathema to most of the Conservative Party, as well as the DUP. There are other solutions being suggested from complex tariff collection arrangements, to turning a blind eye, but they’re all nonsense too.

You can’t just rip up a constitutional settlement,break up a great country and risk restarting a war to satisfy a grumpy national mood.

Ultimately, the problem stems from the paucity of research. There was no workable plan, despite the Tory Brexiters having obsessed over the EU for 30 years. They never considered what happens the day after the Referendum, as most of the Tory brexiters are frankly a bit dim. The obvious solution, as most Brexiters who thought at all about it in any detail agree, is “the Norway option” or similar. This means rejoining the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which is supposed to be a halfway house to joining the EU, but in which Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Lichtenstein have resided for decades. This solves all the short term problems of Brexit, but leaves the UK a rule-taker without much influence. It doesn’t offer any of the “upsides” (which are mainly fantasy, but that’s by-the-by…) of leaving the EU, and simply removes the UK’s voice in the councils of European Union. The UK, unable to influence the laws it will have to obey, will probably suffer in the long run. So too will the EU, freed from the UK’s generally sane brake on the European Union’s wilder flights of integrationist fancy. Brexiters hate the Norway option describing it as vassalage, as do Remainers to whom it’s a distant second best to full membership. It cannot therefore be a sustainable solution, but for the fact Norway which faces exactly the same arguments, seems quite happy there.

Brexiters will cry “Betrayal”, but I can’t help thinking the EFTA or something very close to it will suddenly become a serious organisation rather than a mere EU antechamber, once the UK, the fifth  largest economy on earth, joins it. It is towards this option Theresa May is moving the Brexiters, away from ‘no deal’, slice by slice, abandoned red line by abandoned red line, as the clock ticks away. How far can the Tory party be walked down this road? Far enough and quick enough for a deal to satisfy the Irish Border question? The ‘Norway option’ means Brexit will continue to be the defining question of British politics for a decade and solves nothing from the point of view of politicians, even as the public whose lives will not be disrupted, will be fine with it. I’ve been clear, this is an outcome I’ve been drawn to all along (from 2015) but now isn’t the time.

The final option is to delay (perhaps permanently somehow) the whole Brexit process, but this would probably cause the collapse of the Government, leading to elections and/or a second referendum. The EU has indicated that were the UK to seek such a constitutional solution, an extension to Article 50 would be granted. I’ve tried to sum this up in a paragraph or two, but the complexity of this outcome would render any attempt gobbledegook. This is full-on constitutional crisis territory, and it’s getting more likely by the day. How could this happen? Well, all it takes is for 326 members of parliament to say so, and the overwhelming majority of the 650 MPs know remaining in the EU to be the best outcome for the country. However, most feel for now they must discharge the instructions of the people and leave the EU somehow. I do not know what these people will do if and when public opinion changes, and anyone who claims to is lying.

So what’s going to happen?

I put the chances of a catastrophic ‘no deal’ at 10%. There are only 60 or so MPs in the so-called European research group (they didn’t actually do any research…) who favour this insane outcome. But it could happen by accident, as the law as it currently stands, if nothing else is agreed, leads to no-deal by the natural action of Law. Theresa May’s deal, whatever it eventually is, will probably be a dispiriting fudge, BINO (Brexit in Name Only). However a deal of just this miserable sort remains the most likely outcome, probably around 55%. Which leaves the liklihood of a collapse of the Government, an extension to article 50, and a second referendum, an outcome now firmly in the overton window, at about 35%. All of this is a long winded way to say “I don’t know what’s going to happen”. But I have several ideas as to what might, and the most likely scenario is that Theresa May secures a deal very similar to Norway’s with some fig-leaf measures and linguistic fudges. I just can’t see the point, to be honest. I still don’t understand how this is supposed to improve anyone’s life. Which is why we shouldn’t do it at all. That 1/3rd chance of remain is rising as the idiocy of leaving the EU becomes apparent.

Cleverly isn’t clever. “No Deal” isn’t an Option.

Braintree’s local Conservative association appears in the dictionary of nominative determinism under “counterexample”. Their last MP was Brooks “underpants” Newmark, and their current one is James Cleverly. Maybe they thought they could live up to their Brainy name by choosing a candidate with ‘Clever’ in his…

Alas….

Brexit negotiations aren’t like buying a house, where the status quo is ‘everyone stays in their current house and keeps looking for another house’, it’s more like divorce where the ‘no deal scenario’ is arriving home to find your key not working, your clothes in a pile in the yard; your former partner getting the kids, the house and the record collection. And you’re paying maintenance. And none of your joint friends will speak to you again, so you have to go have dinner with that guy from the pub who for some reason isn’t allowed near the school.

But they seem to believe this ‘no-deal’ sophistry, the brexiters. It’s fallacious on so many levels. And it says more about the Brexiters than about Brexit.

WTO rules aren’t a default trading arrangement. They’re what exists between countries who trade only infrequently. There are some 759 treaties governing trade that will need to be rewritten. “Easy” say the Brexiters “Just carry on as before”. Would were it that simple: most of these involve the European Court of Justice as arbiter…. I assume that will be ok?

“Well never mind” say the Brexiters, “we’ll just declare unilateral free trade”. Apart from being a childish fantasy like most simplistic utopian wibble, it isn’t remotely going to happen. The mood of Brexit, far from being in an open and buccaneering spirit, is rather sour and protectionist; more Mary Whitehouse than Sir Francis Drake. Do you think popular pressure will be to raise or lower tariffs on foreign goods? The free trade for brexit argument is what happens when you look for evidence as a drunk looks for a lamp-post. More for support than illumination.

The welfare benefits of the unilateral free trade option exist in theory, but not in fact. Much like Patrick Minford‘s credibility.

Ultimately, Cleverly’s tweet is evidence of the Brexiters’ habit of policy-based evidence-making. There is no trade advantage to “our own trade deals” except that it’s something we’ll have to do when we’ve left the EU. When you spend your life really believing the EU is a plot to subvert the UK and blame Brussels for the British weather, then the ends justify the means. “Our own trade deals” sounds like sense to people in the pub who don’t know very much, much like “take back control”. Of what? Because the most likely scenario is we’ve lost influence over rules we’ll have to abide by anyway. What about “Freedom”? For whom, to do what? Because I can think of dozens of real freedoms I’m losing. Of course even Immigration was press-ganged into service of Brexit – the immigrants the bigots really care about don’t come from the EU, do they?

One wonders who or what Brexiters will blame when they no longer have the Brussels boogeyman. “Remoaners” probably. It’s all rather pathetic. Brexit: Still a catastrophe. Still waiting for any positives at all to come from it.

The Boomers’ Love of the Motor Car has Enslaved Us All. Autonomous Vehicles could free us.

The Automobile, as with all innovation is first conceived as a replacement for an existing technology. The Horseless Carriage. And at first, it did: the Motor car was the transport of the kind of people who had carriages and staff to drive them.

Then aristocratic youngsters got their hands on their parents’ cars and started to drive themselves. The Car became the aspirational badge of success.

By the 1960s anyone with a middle-class job could have a car. And by the 1980s cars were in the price range of more-or-less everyone.

The Baby-boomers dug up the 1930s cycleways as they built an environment around the motor car. Town centres were demolished, and rebuilt with inner ring-roads during the 60s and 70s. The bicycle was despised as a poor-man’s transport, or the toy of eccentrics, and so not really considered as an option. Nor were pedestrians, who were relegated to dank subterranean holes of rain-soaked concrete filled with ranting, smack-addled derelicts, begging for small change in puddles of cheap lager piss. Walking to the town centre from residential districts became unpleasant. Cycling was effectively banned. Real people who had to do things, drove cars.

Unfortunately, driving into a town or city centre was little better, however many urban expressways were built. Too many people wanted to take too many cars into too little space. So businesses moved out of the centre, to the urban edge, next to vast, windswept car-parks. The result is urban sprawl as suburbs without amenities forced people to travel beyond human distances. As car ownership expanded, the buses disappeared through lack of use, and kids lost their freedom. Town centres decayed through lack of use. Cycling became a terrifying ordeal of close-passes by tons of angry metal and walking to anything simply took too long.

The Boomers mostly do not go anywhere except by car, and cannot conceive of it being any other way, despite the fact they may have visited Copenhagen or Amsterdam. There are sufficient cars even there for these cities to not cause the Boomers cognitive dissonance.

The result of the world the boomers built is a world which will be utterly miserable for them as they decay into senescence. The boomers’ kids live a long way from them. As do their friends. There is no local shop. Once their eyesight goes and their kids take their car keys away, they will be marooned, day after day as the clock ticks away on their lives, trapped in their homes by the very world they built.

LOL @ the Boomers.

The Netherlands was going the same way in the 1970s, but thanks to a spate of children being killed by motor cars, they decided to change course and design all urban spaces around people, not cars. The result is residential neighbourhoods still have shops even coffin-dodgers can walk to, and thanks to a lifetime of practice, cloggy pensioners can do this:

It’s hard to imagine a british octogenarian mixing it with the lorries on a bicycle on the way to see his grandkids. Thankfully for the Netherlanders’ baby-boomers, unlike the UK’s, built a world that isn’t oppressively hostile to the elderly, something they are enjoying today.

The absurd british fear of the cyclist is something of a stockholm syndrome. Because it is fear. Deep-seated fear of someone who rejects all their society’s assumptions. Fear that their car, and their precious parking space will become worthless. Fear of the freedom, of the lack of regulation, and resentment of someone who is free* of the frustrations of traffic.

Hence the belief that cyclists are scofflaws, who pose a danger to pedestrians. Cyclists do pose a danger to pedestrians. But it is dwarfed by that involving cars. There were no deaths caused by cyclists in the UK between the collision between Kim Briggs and Charlie Alliston, and his conviction and imprisonment for wanton and furious cycling. Of course, had Kim Briggs stepped back into the path of a car doing 12-18 mph, and died, it wouldn’t have made local news, and there wouldn’t have been an arrest, let alone a conviction. There were dozens of incidents where a car killed a person in those 18 months, and the drivers mostly went unpunished; these are near-daily events. Cyclist hurting pedestrians happen in the UK at a perfect frequency: scarce enough to be remarkable, but frequent enough for recall. Availability heuristics reinforce a belief that cyclists are inherently reckless and dangerous.

This is why all the demands of the motoring lobby are to impose all the same frustrations endured by motorists, entirely unnecessarily, onto cyclists. Licensing, testing, taxing and compulsory insurance. Compulsory high visibility clothing, helmets and demands to follow the same, unnecessary and counterproductive rules.

These frustrations do not occur to citizens of Northern Europe, where cycling is natural, comfortable and universal. It’s not the weather: the Netherlands is every bit as dank, windy and wet as the UK. It’s not hills: Germany and Scandinavia are not any less hilly than the UK. It’s that the pedestrian, bicycle and motorcar are considered as different, but equal in the design of roads and urban spaces. Road engineers design out the conflicts and frustrations to both cyclists and motorists by keeping the two parties apart where possible. The netherlands isn’t anti-car, but it is pro-cyclist. I’ve driven in Sweden. It’s far, far more pleasant than doing so in the UK. Why? Because anyone who wants to cycle their journey, can. As a result, there’s less congestion, and parking is easy. Cycling and driving in Northern Europe is, of course vastly more pleasant than it is in the UK. It isn’t a zero-sum game.

Thankfully, there’s a solution: driverless cars, as you can tell by the name, are conceived as a replacement for the car, except you can read a book while being driven by a robot chauffeur, exactly analogous to the attitude of the early car owners to their horseless carriages. But they will not be a pari-passu replacement. People won’t have their driverless car sitting outside their houses, the passenger footwell full of empty twix wrappers, because autonomous vehicles will, at least initially, be very expensive. Instead of spending 95% of their time stationary, they will be collectively owned. Smartphone technology will allow people to summon a taxi appropriate to any journey from a pool of vehicles. Uber treats its drivers so dismissively because they are openly planning for the day they can dismiss all their drivers. Because people hiring such a vehicle will pay the full, rather than the marginal cost, at the time of the journey, of each journey, the incentive to not call the taxi, and walk or cycle will be greater. Because the cost of such a journey will be lower because you’re not paying a driver, there may be more such journeys. Fewer incompetent drivers will reduce both the subjective and objective risk of cycling. Time becomes less important, as people can work or read or relax, so commutes may become longer. How these competing pressures resolve themselves will be fascinating to watch.

Autonomous technology could therefore result in the car becoming the servant of humanity, rather than its master. Transport should be about facilitating people coming together, allowing people to move at the human scale, where possible, not privileging one form of transport over all the others, as now. The driverless car could allow the bicycle, the car and the pedestrian to get on, as multiple clubs in a golf-bag full of ways to get about, as they do rather well in the Netherlands, rather than competing angrily as they do here.

In the meantime, let’s just build some cycle roads and safe urban infrastructure for people on foot, and on bicycles. Everyone will benefit. Especially the boomers whose mistakes have caused us all so much misery.

*Almost all cyclists in the UK also own a car. It’s just we choose to not use it sometimes.

Montgomery Brewster’s ‘None of the Above’ would walk this election.

It’s actually quite liberating to follow politics without a team to shout for. I remain a Conservative by inclination. I like free markets, economic liberalism and so forth even if the Conservative manifesto doesn’t seem to all that much, Tories, if not their leadership, are mainly for these things. I am also a social liberal, I remain committed to an open and tolerant society. However the Liberal Democrats risk becoming the Church of England does Politics, being stuffed with the kind of dry, shabby inadequate who can’t quite get over his (self) loathing of homosexuality. I dislike May. I think she’s a narrow-minded provincial bigot who’s been promoted way, way above her level of competence. She is however the best of the two candidates for Prime Minister.

Let’s not pretend Corbyn was doing other than palling around with the IRA in the 1980s because the glamour of “anti-imperialist” terrorists excited him. He has always supported whoever was fighting the UK at the time, and doesn’t deserve to be an MP, let alone to reverse those letters. Labour’s clown-car economics is only marginally less risible than the Tories offer, this time round. The difference is Labour actually believe their silliness, and they’re led by a traitor.
If you live in Scotland, this election is about independence. If you live in NI, then this election is about the tribal headcount. If you live elsewhere this election is whether you want an incompetent nanny-state provincial Tory or an antediluvian Socialist to deliver Brexit. It’s a shabby, and dispiriting affair. If you can’t work out how to vote, you can always vote for Montgomery Brewster. None of the above is appealing. But if you feel you MUST vote, then I have prepared a handy flow-chart to help you.
If you despise politicians, you get despicable politicians.
This shabby parade of also-rans from which we have to choose on today (without any actual choice on the main, nay only, issue of the day) is the logic of calling decent, capable people like Blair, Cameron and Major “war criminals” and “Traitors”, for decades. It pollutes the language for when you actually get some of these things on the offer.
No worthwhile people will put up with the scrutiny and abuse heaped daily on politicians. So you get the kind of bore for whom the scrutiny isn’t an issue. They’ve never done anything interesting in the their lives. At least David Cameron dropped some E and went to a rave or two as a youth. What does Theresa May, who spent her twenties complaining about the promotion of lesbianism in schools, know of fun? As for Corbyn, he looks like the kind of man for whom a perfect saturday night is treatise on Marx (so long as it contains nothing he doesn’t already know and agree with) with some lovely mineral water. He is the Labour man Orwell warned you about.
I’ll be voting Tory. Why? My local headbanging Leadsomite hard-brexiter has stood down after his colossal act of vandalism, to be replaced by a man with whom I seem to agree.
My expectations are of a  Tory majority around 75, on a low turnout, and they will have half a dozen seats in Scotland.  The Liberal Democrats will take Vauxhall and Twickenham, losing in Sheffield Hallam (the “were you up for…?” moment as Clegg loses his seat), but holding Orkney and Shetland against the SNP, remaining about where they are now overall. Or that’s where my betting is at the moment.
What do I want to see happen? I’d like to see May remain PM but in a hung parliament, reliant on Northern Irish politicians for her majority because let’s face it, she deserves nothing better.
A rubbish show all round but at least I can enjoy it, whoever loses.