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Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, Our New Prime Minister.

A friend once described Donald Trump as someone you take “seriously, but not literally”. I disagree with my friend about the first clause, with respect to the US President. But I think this is more aposite to our new Prime Minister.

Unlike the President of the United States, there is much to admire about Johnson. He is fertile. He is physically strong, and can run over small Japanese boys with ease.

I suspect such is Johnson’s Charisma, Toki Sekiguchi will be delighted to have been flattened by the Prime Minister. Furthermore, Johnson does have an exceptional intellect, wide raging interests, and he is a fabulous communicator. And he’s utterly unprincipled, which is also good thing. Principled politicians will sacrifice anything and anybody for their principle which is why I think the best thing to do with a politician of principle is to shoot them in the head at the first available opportunity. Whereas Boris just wants to be loved, and he’ll sacrifice his principles to that end.

I much prefer that in a politician.

Johnson has promised to leave the EU by 31st October, deal or no. And he will make a great show of attempting to do so. However he, and everyone who matters already knows that this isn’t really possible. Parliament has expressed its will, and we will not be leaving without a deal. The Government will be forced to comply, one way or another, or there will be one hell of a constitutional reckoning, up to which Johnson is not. As there is no time to negotiate another deal, another extension will be granted by the EU, subject to a small chance of French President Macron playing De Gaulle with his veto; a veto which if issued, will prompt a revocation of Article 50, not a no-deal Brexit.

Amusing, though that the Brexiters are hoping for help from the French President.

The real question is therefore what Johnson does instead of “no deal” on the 31st. My guess is that he will use the extension to beg the EU for some modification to the Withdrawal Agreement, specifically the Backstop concerning the Irish Border. Perhaps its name will be changed to “Wicketkeeper” instead of “Backstop”, and this (along with the different messenger) might be enough to bring the Brexit headbangers on board. Given the 15 or so Labour rebels who want to deliver Brexit, that should be enough to give the Government a majority. The UK will leave the European Union, but almost certainly not on 31st October.

The EU have said they will not re-open the withdrawal agreement. And unlike most of our politicians, EU panjandrums have to agree between 27 states before they speak, and so mean what they say. There will not be any significant renegotiation of the Withdrawal agreement. Furthermore, the “Spartans” of the ERG have decided they will not vote for any deal if it includes anything like the Backstop. And, like the EU, I think it’s reasonable to take Mark François and his chums at their word. Lying is, after all, one of the higher-level cognitive skills. So ‘the deal’ is out. The only deal on the table is the one negotiated by Theresa May, and it will not pass this parliament.

So the next option is to change the parliament. A general election in September/October risks Johnson being the shortest-serving Prime Minister in History. (George Canning died in office in 1827 after 119 days. That’s the 20th November for Mr. Johnson to beat…), but it does at least give the Prime Minister a possibility of a majority and a mandate to have another go at renegotiating the deal, or indeed to crash out without one.

The country is a four-way marginal at the moment, so this is risky. Another election pre brexit will have Nigel Farage hopping up and down about “betrayal”. The chances of a pact between the Brexit party and the Conservatives is slim, and I suspect the Brexit party will contest the election in enough seats to deny the Conservatives a majority. But If he wins, I think Boris will try to renegotiate from scratch, and secure a good deal. This will take 2 years at least.

Another option is a second referendum. Dominic Cummings, impresario of the leave campaign, and Johnson’s special adviser in Downing Street, was an advocate of a two referendum approach. A vote in principle to leave, and a second one on the deal subsequently negotiated. His logic is impeccable, and might persuade the Prime Minister. It is safer than a general election for Boris, whose support for Brexit was tactical, not strategic. He has got what he wanted, the top job. And I think he’d rather like to have the option to return to Brussels and say “sorry about that misunderstanding, chaps; now where were we?” after a vote to remain.

Here’s the thing: I quite like Johnson. I certainly like him more than the tedious, sanctimonious wet blankets whining about his “letterbox comments” and trying to paint a rather cosmopolitan liberal into a bigot because he uses colourful language and metaphor (read the article). Absent Brexit, I think he could be a great Prime Minister.

Johnson styles himself on Winston Churchill. Johnson ratted on David Cameron when he sided with ‘leave’. “Anyone can rat”, said Winston, “but it takes a certain ingenuity to Re-rat”. To survive a defeat for ‘leave’ would require epic chutzpah and political necromancy on Johnson’s part, but if anyone can pull this off, he can.

I think the probabilities look like this:

‘no deal’ on 31st October, 10%.

not leaving the EU on 31st October 90%. After that, all options re-open, but with each passing day, remaining in the EU permanently becomes more likely.

“I Just Want to Feel Like Someone’s On My Side”

I asked some collegues, mainly conservative (small ‘c’) what they wanted. These are wealthy people who’ve been hit hard by the tax-rises of the coalition. They’re thinking of voting UKIP. This is exactly the same rhetoric you get from the benefits recipient, like my Twitter correspondent Kaliya who tweets at @bendygirl and blogs at Benefit Scrounging Scum People, from the top 50%/45% payers to the benefits recipients, are simply fed up of paying the bills for others’ failure.

The who the “others” who’ve “failed” are varies of course. But the fact is we all failed. We all got used to spending money we didn’t have on houses that were too expensive. We all enjoyed benefits we’d not paid for, Government, the people, all thought the living standards we’d got used to in 2008 were real. Bankers bet that house-prices would keep going up, and regulators let ’em, because they believed it too. Egging all this on, were politicians, keen to spend the taxes of the Bankers’ profits, and ride the goodwill an asset price-bubble created. We are now suffering the hangover from the party. Everyone’s realised the party was on a ‘school night’, and they’re scowling on the way to work.

Every class of people is having its living standards squeezed, apart from the super-rich who face no significant constraints even if there are fewer ‘0’s at the end of the pay-cheque. Unfortunately for Cameron, he is super-rich. But other than them, we are “all in this together”. The entire country is tightening its belt and grumbling, looking for someone to blame.

Which brings us to protest votes. Liberal Democrats are generally good at the Council stuff. They run a good ground campaign, follow up complaints well and therefore they’re good at getting a local following. As a result they’re harder to shift than herpes. Their main attraction outside the hyper-local is the ability their voters  enjoyed to say “don’t blame me, I voted Liberal Democrat” at dinner parties. Going into coalition meant these people need to vote for someone else.

Conservatives, as the natural party of Government struggle to win when people are pissed off. The Tories are in Government so when the economy’s flat-lining it’s always going to be a difficult sell. Furthermore, Tories in 2009, the last time these seats were up for grabs, swept the board. It’s nearly mathematically impossible for them to go anywhere but down from then. With that in mind, the kicking the Tories got yesterday was natural, expected and nothing to panic about.

Labour barely did better than when they were in Government, during the biggest crash in history, while they were led by Jonah Gordon Fuckwit Brown McDoom. Ed Miliband is a hopeless liability. If the party was a horse, it would have a black curtain round it now and a vet would be striding towards it with a grim expression and a long-cased object.

Which brings us to UKIP. The fact that the protest votes are going to a party which, when it thinks about grown-up things like deficits seems to be in favour of “further and faster” cuts, and Tax-Cuts now should embolden Tories. The British People are sending a message. “We’re pissed off. But we also know austerity’s necessary” They are sending a message that they’d really rather no Romanians emigrate here. But mainly that they’re pissed off.

The Tories can do one of two things. Panic and Guarantee a loss at the next election. Or knuckle down and still stand a chance of winning if, (and of course it remains a big ‘if’) the economy recovers in time. 8% behind in the polls, when most of the votes lost since the election have gone to a protest party which mainly aggrees with you is not so bad. There’s no message the Conservatives should send that they aren’t already doing.

Apart from Gay Marriage (which is UKIP’s biggest driver of support), there’s nothing the Tories aren’t doing that UKIP want. There’s a referendum promise on the EU, and possibly legislation this parliament. Immigration’s being cut, Benefits are being capped, the public-sector’s being cut, and markets are being introduced in the NHS and Education. This UKIP talk of “abandoning Conservative values” is nonsense. Unless you weight Gay Marriage very, very highly. And that’s the thing. UKIP had a chance to be “libertarian” and they blew it by preferring (rightly, as it turned out) to hoover up angry, bigoted, gay-hating conservatives of whom there’s a surprising number.

It’s Gay Marriage (and it seems Gay Marriage alone) which broke Cameron from Tory England. Every other pro-gay measure from legalising homosexuality to legalising homosexuals serving in the military, to Civil Partnerships has faced red-faced harrumphing from the shires. They just didn’t have a party back then. This will pass, as it always has. The UKIPasm will fade, probably starting from their high-water mark at next-years Euro elections. The red-faced saloon bar bore will start to drift back to the Conservative party, as the prospect of Miliband as prime-minister becomes closer.

UKIP want Conservatism but MORE! and FASTER! (But with FEWER GAYS). It’s Labour who need to panic, not the Conservatives. They’ve lost the country.

Happiness Economics

The idea that General Well Being is something the Government should measure has brought the Devil out of Blogtirement for a cathartic rant against the

“crap that our massively fore-headed twat of a Prime Minister seems so keen on…”

But, I think differently. General well being is important. Happiness economics is not only interesting on a political level, It is interesting on a personal level too. It fascinated me long before I read Freakonomics, which applied statistical methods to situations which had not been so measured before. It started when I was commuting (yes commuting) from Northampton to London daily, a journey of over 2 hours, and I read an article which stated that a short commute was equivalent to someone on £30k doubling their income. Not particularly because a short commute is particularly happiness making, but a long-one eats into free time, reducing leisure and increasing stress. The example was chosen to illustrate that above a certain point, income decouples from happiness. Income is an extremely poor indicator of happiness, and seeking extra income is an extremely poor way of becoming happier. However, I knew I hated sitting on the train, so I considered the extra happiness which resulted in my moving to town. So I made a rule – if it takes more than 20 minutes on a bike to get to work, move house. I think I am happier for it. I am also convinced by studies which appear to show strong positive correlations between happiness and marriage; sport; physical fitness regular social interactions and so on. These are NOT the things that government can influence directly. Each individual chooses to commit to a sports team or wife, but they can encourage, provide facilities and incentives and, above all, get out the way.

And there is a lot the Government could do about happiness in those terms. Over to Dan Hannan, who thinks there’s something in this happiness economics, and suggests some things that the Government can do to improve happiness.

They can create a climate where we are unlikely to be victims of crime. They can prevent us from being invaded, or defeated in war. They can guarantee that property rights are secure, contracts fairly enforced, disputes impartially arbitrated, the law open to all seeking redress. They can ensure that children receive a decent education, whatever their parents’ means. They can do these things without confiscating any more of our assets through taxation than absolutely necessary.

The point is freedom, or more accurately the upper tiers on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: self actualisation. You’re not going to be self-actualised if you’re hunkered down on a sink estate, terrified of the local hoodies. So the Tax-payer pays for a police service. What Government can do is ensure that instead of policing comfy, safe middle-class areas, or harassing motorists (which appears to be the police’s priority), they get in amongst it in the grotty estates, reassuring the law abiding that they’re not alone by patrolling. This is what the public WANT the police to do, but the police would rather stay in their cars (for operational, rather than fried dough confectionery reasons, naturally). Happiness is, in part, the feeling that you are in control of your environment, and directly elected police chiefs will help there. The regular referendums as Hannan suggests in the cantons of Switzerland may help too, but does living in the kind of stultifying social morass such a society often creates, which sees sending someone to tame another’s unruly lawn and sending the latter a bill reasonable? I think not.

There is a lot the Government can do to encourage happiness. Very few of them involve spending money. Very few of them involve removing options from people by banning stuff, or making drink & drugs (for example) more expensive or illegal. I doubt it’s got much to do with an absence of diversity outreach co-ordinators and other local government prod-noses either. The “cuts” are going to make diversity outreach co-ordinators miserable by making them unemployed, but no-one else is going to give a shit.

The fact is, whilst income isn’t correlated with happiness for most people in the UK, it is tightly correlated below about £14,000 per year, this is true world-wide. Leftists make much of the GINI coefficient: that income inequality is what matters. And to a point it does. So why are we taxing someone on £14,000 per year at all? Why are the working poor facing 90% marginal tax rates? The answer there is “leftist redistributive policies”. And the left have therefore set a trap for the poor: What matters is not “What am I earning now?” but “if I work hard, do I have the power to earn more?” If the Government takes 90% of everything extra you earn (and for much of the working poor, it does), the working poor are absolutely not in control of their life, there is no way for them to improve their lot – all extra work brings is less time to spend on worthwhile things like spending time with your children. This is MUCH more powerful in destroying wellbeing than seeing “someone has more than me, waaaaa!” The lack of control caused by being poor which actively creates misery, not the straight envy of the rich, as leftists fondly wish. The state is, in the manner it conducts redistribution, keeping a boot on the face of the working poor as they struggle up towards happiness.

Of course, the working poor are a bit happier happier than the most miserable people in British society: the long-term unemployed, who are also screwed by leftist policies. In many cases priced out of the labour market by high employment taxes, and at the margin, by the minimum wage; it just costs too much to employ someone without skills. Without a job, you can’t get skills. Reducing taxes like NI on jobs would improve matters. Leftists, though make much of the importance of job security in happiness, arguing for ever greater “rights” (in reality, risks and obligations on someone else) for the employed. Job security does indeed create happiness. The far greater misery, though is unemployment, and by every job saved costs jobs not created elsewhere, because of the increased risk (and therefore cost) of employing a new worker, so fewer, more expensive workers are hired. Freer labour markets lead to higher employment, at the cost of reduced job security. There might be 10% unemployment in the USA now during this recession, but there were decades of 10% unemployment in Germany, France and Spain, where the labour market was divided between safe job insiders and people who would NEVER get a job in their lives.

And let’s talk about taxes. If “happiness economics” suggests that raising your income is a poor way to improve happiness, does that not argue for higher taxes? No. Because an average worker might not “spend” the tax cut on stuff, but instead on the need to take overtime. He might, as a result of a tax cut, get home earlier to have a meal with his children, instead of slaving for the Government till 8pm. The Freedom lower taxes brings might be spent on a new car, but it is just as likely to be spent on something worthwhile which isn’t measured.

So, you argue for ever higher taxes to finance education or health services, which raise a poor person’s consumption and reduce inequality. And they do, but they do not increase the self-actualisation element of happiness. They could be: A voucher is something to spend on education, this engages the parent and incentivizes the school to improve. It enables parents to select a school reflecting their beliefs (yes, unfortunately even lunatic ones – an important freedom is the freedom to be a twat. Look at it like this: Every creepy and damaged little homunculus who goes to a creationist school is one which is not competing with your spawn for jobs in bioscience), which is a form of happiness-making power over one’s environment. An LEA-provided, one size fits all school place does provide the consumption element of inequality-reduction, but it doesn’t involve anyone else in the decision making, negating much of the happiness-improvement which could be achieved by such state spending.

Health spending is a subject for another post. It is reasonable that taxes be seen as a form of insurance where the premiums are on ability to pay, rather than need. Most poeple see this as reasonable and are happy to see this funded out of general taxation. But the state-monolithic nature of the NHS is not necessarily the best way to DELIVER healthcare free at the point of delivery. The NHS is not the same as ‘healthcare’. Tax-payer funded, but privately provided services will probably be more efficient. What they will certainly be is more responsive to patient needs. Waiting for delayed and cancelled appointments, long, pointless waits for consultant’s appointments and generally being treated like an embuggerance by the NHS when you turn up to get fixed are features of the NHS’s take-it-or-leave-it structure. The state does not have to DELIVER healthcare, even if it funds it. A more responsive, less dehumanising system would make people feel more valued, and therefore happier with the services, which for most things, except cancer, seem to be pretty good.

So higher taxes could be used to fund heath and education (and funded better), but so much of Government spend is financing an actively misery-making welfare state, and so much is wasted on pointless freedom and self-actualisation-denying Government initiatives that to use “health ‘n education” as an argument for higher taxes is intellectually dishonest. To use redistributive GINI coefficient arguments is lumpen stupidity garnished with envy and spite. Rich people don’t make poor people miserable directly; rather poor people are miserable because they don’t have the choices rich people do. If your solution to that problem is to remove the choices from rich people, you’re a spiteful cunt, or a socialist, which is the same thing. HIGH TAXES MAKE PEOPLE MISERABLE, whether they’re poor or rich. But especially if they’re poor, so stop taxing them! By all means fund health and education properly out of taxation, this seems to be an entirely reasonable use of Taxpayers money, but this does categorically NOT require the Government to take 50% of the national, or any individual’s, pie. That is too much.

The fact is that the best thing Dave can do to make the country happier is tax business less, scrap NI, removing the tax on jobs and raise employment; raise the personal tax allowance to take the working poor out of tax; and make the police subject to local democratic control by means of elected sheriffs who respond to resident’s needs, and local schools responsive to the people (as opposed to local authority bureaucrats) by introducing a voucher system; decentralise (and probably break up) the NHS, cut useless and expensive state spending on diversity outreach co-ordinators, and thereby eventually lower taxes, when Labour’s catastrophic deficit has finally been got rid of. Most of which the Coalition is quietly getting on with. Whilst fanatics on the left are trashing the place & bleating about cuts, and those on the right see betrayal everywhere, the coalition appears to this observer to be imperfectly, hesitantly, introducing some reasonable, liberal polices some of which are actually going to make the country happier. Which when you compare it to the vile panopticon the last lot were creating, is a big improvment.

It would be nice for Dave if he got some credit for it. Which is why he’s measuring happiness.