How Misery Loves Company

The UK is an extraordinary country in so many ways but none more so than the desire to see disaster around the corner from any deviation from the current ‘orthodoxy’ whatever that may be at the time. Currently leaving the EU has all the Metropolitan classes in great disarray as they contemplate the end of what they see as a cosy status quo that suited them so well even though the demise of such a world has been written on the wall in large letters for some considerable time.

The title of this piece refers to all the ardent “Remainers” that have recently resurfaced because of the Summer Holidays to sing their dirge of woe, one more time over Brexit.

We Are Not Revolutionary…

Britain in political terms, is not a revolutionary country, it has since the 17th Century after a brief flirtation with Cromwell and the Protectorate, very sensibly opted for organised evolution in public life. However the British are no bunch of staid Burghers, ‘evolution’ has often been prodded and enabled by strong underlying social pressure for change aided by random acts that have set those changes in motion, the EU Referendum result was one of these.

Although hard to swallow when something that seems so important to you is swept away, in Britain we should all trust the underlying and collective common sense of the electorate, most often and in unexpected ways they are right and unchecked, political leaders are often wrong.

In tactical terms, Theresa May was right to call the recent general election when she did but what cost her the existing majority though not in the end Downing Street was most likely the “landslide” projections bandied about in the media. If Blair and Labour had such projections prior to the election in 1997, although they would probably have still won, it would not have been by so many seats, the UK electorate doesn’t give total power to anybody deliberately.

Establishment Frailty

Despite the media and those who consider themselves so wise and knowledgeable that they feel empowered to divide all things into “good” or “bad” with no hint of the shades of grey in between, in the real world, very few things are so conveniently black or white. A prime example of this goes back to Blair’s election victory in 1997, why did they win and how does this mesh with our current political situation ?

In simple terms you could say that the Blair victory goes back to the decision of the Thatcher Government to join the ERM in 1990 at too high an exchange rate to the DM – DM 2.95 to the £ which led to the Major Government having to exit the ERM on 16th September 1992 with significant losses for the British purse as a consequence. For those not familiar with the ERM it was the forerunner of the Euro, the Exchange Rate Mechanism whereby EU countries agreed to keep their currency exchange rates within a parity value to each other. In fact it didn’t work very well even back then and had several revisions prior to the creation of the Euro which based on previous ERM experiences, should never have happened another example of hope overcoming all reason.

However I would propose that the real issue goes back further and was rooted in people having the wrong mindset even if that was understandable. The period of the “British Empire” was actually quite short lived and confined largely to the Victorian era, before that Britain like many other European countries had a string of overseas colonies which were primarily for trading purposes but the 19th Century was all about European Empires all of which were effectively destroyed or hugely diminished by the events of WWI.

The politicians of post WWII Britain were all born and brought up against the background of the British Empire prior to WWI, the generation that followed in the 1960s had experienced the diminution of that ‘Empire’ through the events of WWII and the break up of it as former colonies gained their independence. The shared desire of the Establishment was to be ‘part of something bigger’ be it NATO, the UN or the Common Market. The drive to join the Common Market and be part of a shared destiny became unstoppable and therefore even for someone as British as Thatcher, signing on for the folly that was the ERM, ‘inevitable’.

The result was that when John Major had to quit the ERM, the Tory Party lost its reputation for being “sound with the economy” and it was this and despite the economic recovery well under way prior to 1997 that handed Blair both a substantial majority and a rapidly improving economy. But as with all good stories there is a twist in the tale which links us to today’s events.

Prior to gaining power, there had been a tussle for leadership of the Labour Party the contenders being Blair and Brown which was settled by Blair getting “first go” on the understanding that he would at a future moment in time, step aside so “Gordon could have a go”. One supposes that both sides saw something different in this arrangement as far as time spans are concerned so it wasn’t too long before open warfare broke out the medium to long term result being a much weakened Labour Party with a lack of front bench talent.

However there was another important consequence which was to deliver a long term benefit for the UK and without which leaving the EU might be impossible. Tony Blair would have joined the Euro at the drop of a hat which may well have led Gordon Brown and Ed Balls to have devised the “5 Tests” or conditions that must be met before Britain could join the Euro and a cynic might say, they put a perfect lock on Britain never being able to do so. Whether done out of spite or based upon reasonable criteria matters not a jot today, what does matter is that they prevented us throwing away our own currency and therefore our freedom of choice.

Our Future

I do not hold to the idea of the UK becoming a sort of Singapore to Europe as Singapore is to South East Asia but I do see a return to Britain’s global maritime trading tradition that preceded the Victorian Empire period and created real wealth which our current economy clearly isn’t. It is also necessary in my view to accept that in leaving the EU we are not doing a simple transition from being inside a trade bloc to being outside of one, it is far more significant than that, we are also clearing the decks for what is about to come.

As I have written before, whilst 1.4 billion were shipped in 2016, the days of such high volume mass consumer goods like the smartphone, may well be drawing to a close as total market saturation sets in. However the whole smartphone thing illustrates perfectly the future direction of travel because whilst some will fuss over the actual hardware, their success has been wholly down to being the means to access content be it Facebook, Twitter, music or the web generally. In fact whilst in the UK some will fuss over the features of one phone model over another, nobody or I suspect very few, actually buy the phone outright, they buy an access package that includes the price of the hardware.

It is a market driven by access to content the means of that connection could be pretty much anything phone, tablet, PC etc but it illustrates where the future is going as far as jobs and profits are concerned, fewer jobs and more profits based on greater investment by those companies with the financial muscle. This will not just be a UK post Brexit thing it will apply right across the globe and impact all countries and their economies, the consequences will be huge in social terms and how businesses are organised, run and the amount of regular employment they offer, we might be looking at a ‘gig’ economy even for the highest skilled workers.

The main point about all these changes is that society will have to adapt even to the extent of changing the meaning of “work”. How things are taxed, welfare payments made, education, training health care and every other aspect of daily life are provided will inevitably change and change is always disruptive. Change always needs to be managed and especially within its local context so an independent UK will be better placed in this task than countries that are tied into the rules and regulations of the EU that were based upon a ‘past’ set of circumstances which have obviously changed far quicker than any updates to those ‘rules’ can be managed.

The key point being that these changes will sweep the global economy and pretty much all at the same time, the consequence will be wholesale unemployment or underemployment and the danger of local civil unrest turning into armed conflicts between states, an all too real possibility when looked at in a historical perspective. If all wars are ultimately about resources, how easy given the current actions of the Chinese with regard to artificial island building in the South China Sea, that a dispute over fishing rights could escalate into major conflict ? The global community really does need to keep talking to each other during such times or the consequences could prove catastrophic.

Against This Background

My basic view now is that regardless of which way people voted in the referendum, we just need to get on with it and I suspect many feel the same but not all. We are now into the “Silly” or Holiday Season when we have a lull in the daily politics until September so into this relative silence we have the ghosts of yesteryear like Blair, Major and Hesletine opining that Brexit could be stopped. With such a ‘clarion call’ the likes of The Economist will once more wind up the barrel organ to bash out the anti Brexit dirge that is their meat and drink though why, they have largely forgotten. The following is an example to which I posted a comment below:

https://www.economist.com/blogs/buttonwood/2017/07/1970s-show

No. 1 “Whenever writers in The Economist and the latte supping classes aren’t bemoaning the whole idea of Brexit they switch to Cassandra on the Walls of Troy mode. This is pathetic and very ‘Dad’s Army’, all gloom and doom.

That there will be a degree of economic decline based upon the current business model which the Economist etc see “how it should be”, is inevitable but this has less to do with Brexit and more to do with the tremendous economic changes that will engulf the whole global economy. We have a repetition of 2007/8 when there was too much money chasing too few investment opportunities with the result that ‘faux’ ones like sub prime were created. The difference today is a woeful lack of new products and services for consumers to buy, who the heck needs an iPhone 8 over an iPhone 6 ? Too scared of failing, manufacturers are just like Hollywood with endless remakes or, Die Hard 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and so on. Consumers are awash with loads of redundant “stuff” and the digital revolution has only just started.

We in the UK cannot avoid the coming changes which will see household brands well known today disappear without trace over the next decade. The days of Germany and China generating huge trade surpluses based on an export economy, will also pass and there will be huge social changes right across the globe with the main danger being war. In the UK we could do with reducing both our deficit and our imports but the real benefit of Brexit will be the possibility of building social cohesion domestically, an impossible task for an EU with member states pulling in many different directions.

The EU’s biggest mistake was not to ‘accommodate’ David Cameron over free movement, the second big mistake they are making is trying to “punish the UK for Leaving” instead of using the Brexit process to generate the reforms needed for all the member states so that the EU can prosper. Germany should have left the Euro 9 years ago to set up a new D Mark zone which by now might have solved the eurozone crisis by devaluation. It is important to understand that the UK is not the ‘sick man of Europe’ but the Euro is and nobody is even attempting to resolve that one. We Brits love to bemoan our failures but we are not the only clods in this game, the EU is being run by idiots and eventually their citizens will rebel against them and it won’t be pretty.”

I got one reply saying that they thought the divisions in our society are now too wide to heal

No. 2 “Whilst I can understand your fears I would urge you to have faith in your fellow citizens. We live in a society where the emphasis has been on “tribal politics” both Right and Left wing politicians haven’t helped here by appealing to clearly identified groups by age, class, race, religion and so on. Additionally and very well illustrated in the aftermath of Grenfell, far too many politicians talk very loosely and wildly in public purely to serve their own interests and not those of the public. It is a destructive approach that all must abandon but this may well happen because I suspect that events on the ground will force this as the economic circumstances change across society. So fear not, yes there there will be some conflict until people like Corbyn and Trump finally realise that any national leader must rule for all and not just the people who voted for them.”

Someone of European origin then commented how getting rid of the UK would allow lots of wonderful things to happen that we had previously blocked

No. 3 It is interesting to see your approach which I obviously disagree with but that is the way democracy is. I note all the wonders, Euro resolved, EU Army etc that you claim that the EU will now be able to deliver without the “dragging anchor” of having the UK as part of the EU, frankly doubt it but wish you well in trying. All the frustrations you express with the UK as a member of the EU should lead you to be delighted with us going, best result for both parties the final and best “Opt Out” for all. However always remember the following, it is in the UK’s interests that Europe is prosperous and at peace, it is in Europe’s interests that the UK remains a prosperous and open market for EU trade all the rest is irrelevant.

Then another European decided that he couldn’t take me seriously, the electorate was stupid and Cameron was given a reasonable deal.

No. 4 Of course you “can’t take me seriously” because I’m not saying the things you like to hear. As to “punishing” the UK I would agree with you to a point, they are mainly fixated by loosing 10 bn Euros a year contribution to the EU Budget and are therefore desperately scrambling around to find any way to fill that hole. As for the UK’s “irresponsible behaviour” ? Amazing, the people exercise their vote and your reaction, much like Brussels is that Cameron was irresponsible to give them the opportunity to vote on membership of the EU ?

Brexit really isn’t the issue, the rock on which the back of the EU will be broken is the Euro the creation of which without full commitment to what a common currency means was a folly beyond all belief. The EU could learn from the British with regard to Sterling which is more than just a currency, it is also the conduit by which central government funding is distributed right across the UK on a per capita basis so that no part of the UK is “left behind”. This trick can only be pulled off by a centralised government that is responsible for monetary policy, all borrowing, mutual debt and distribution plus aided by there being a single dynamo, economically and politically, large enough to carry it all within the UK and that is England.

The EU has always been run on “bugger my neighbour” principles and even mighty Germany isn’t strong enough to carry the rest of the eurozone. Also and in that country where rich Bavaria protests vigorously about transferring funds to poorer German states, the chances of Germany accepting mutual debt in the eurozone are non existent.

As to any “reasonable argument”, Cameron wasn’t offered even a fig leaf to cover his private parts by Brussels because of their complacency and laziness, this required Realpolitik not stupidity. Based upon the 2015 election where UKIP managed less than 4 million votes nationally, there was no way that “Leave” should have won, at the most, triple the vote to 12 million and they would still lose. The British aren’t given to extreme nationalism so why the heck over 17 million people voted to leave on a high poll is something you should ponder, they must have felt insulted.”

Finally the funniest one of all who claimed that I must get out more because I spent too much time posting which was quite amusing as he seemed to post against every other person regardless.

No. 5 “You seem to spend a lot on time on this board” and so must you to even notice but perhaps your problem is that I tend to fight my corner.

As for your wealth of experience, this leads to fear and a willingness to surrender at the first sign of problems ?

Regardless of which way people voted in the EU Referendum, the important thing to grasp is that the result changed everything not just in the UK but also right across the EU and there is no going back. Either there is a successful negotiation or, the EU itself offers a major change of direction that applies to all member states and opens up the opportunity for the British Government to offer a second referendum. Most of the people I speak to and regardless of the way they voted just want people to get on with it.”

This fellow who claimed to be so busy posted yet again but I just laughed at him and I had done with it all anyway, its all the same old nonsense and what so many of these people fail to grasp is that this train left the station a very long time ago now and is unlikely be stopped.

Conclusion

Even if another EU referendum was held that reversed the original UK decision, it would be irrelevant, the EU is already falling apart because of the Euro and unchecked migration from North Africa. If the EU had wiser heads in 2015 following the huge influx of migrants from the Middle East, they should have stopped congratulating themselves on their ‘humanity’ in accepting them and instead listened to David Cameron but they didn’t. David Cameron should have walked away from those talks and delayed the proposed EU referendum until after the 2017 German elections and had another try at renegotiating but he didn’t so we all are where we are today.

Whatever happens next “history” will judge in due course but as so often the case, once things start moving in a given direction, momentum builds up and the process becomes impossible to reverse. When it comes to be written, will Brexit even command more than a footnote as a “consequence” rather than a primary and important event in its own right ? My view is that this is just a part of a far greater jigsaw puzzle, a ‘global game’ that needs and will, be resolved.

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