Brexit is the political equivalent of Alzheimer’s

Government departments are now locked down in safe mode.

It’s like when your computer has a wobble and restarts with a white letters on a blue background, limited but basic and safe to use until you fix the bug. Departments no longer expect to put forward new legislation or policy suggestions, knowing that anything they ‘put up’ risks coming back mangled or toxic.

As with Alzheimer’s disease, the body continues to function and look like the person you once knew, but the simplest of interactions soon reminds you sadly of what was but is no more. So these days with collective government, sadly.

Like Suez, it will be taught in universities for the next 50 years.

Brexit? Norway for now, People’s vote in 10 years

How do we reconcile the political parties, the nations of the UK, and the integrity of the EU27?

I have written previously on the merits of associate membership of the EU, the Norway option, as reconciling the divided overall result of the 2016 referendum.

So, how do we take the sting out of the tail of a People’s Vote which might very well be just a little less borderline than two years ago?

One option is to go Norway for now, and a 3-way referendum in 10 to 20 years time agreed now with the EU27, allowing for re-entry, continued associate membership, or a bespoke leave.

Not the least of the attractions of this approach is that it allows the hardline older politicians to quietly and gracefully retire to their memoirs. Please!

Will AI solve capitalism, or, can we have our science back please

Health care in the USA costs twice as much per capita than in any other western country, with worse outcomes. Every other country has socialised health care, except the USA. The fix for the USA? Well, according to a recent online article in Wired on Alphabet aka Google’s investments in tech, the industry will find the solution in big data, captured real time, with AI and machine learning. Really.

How did science get in such a mess? Tech is now our go-to magic solution for health inequalities, for climate change, for ending disease. Our very own black box. And this isn’t new. The UK Labour Prime Minister in the 1960s, Harold Wilson, gained popularity by saying in a major speech that he would “harness the white heat of technology” for a better life for everyone.

But science requires proof, not just hope. And on the proof side, tech hasn’t delivered all the goods it promised. But don’t worry, tech says, we are only one more upgrade away from the answer … 5G, 6G, 7G … we will crack it very soon. Just sign here please.

Tech has a positive role, from artificial limbs to MRI scans. But all things in moderation. It isn’t magic, and it isn’t a reason to stop looking for non-tech solutions as well. As with eating more non-processed food, if we want a better future we need to critically challenge the magical thinking, and apply scientific thinking to tech.

Planning now for post-Trump

Trumpocracy, by David Frum
HarperCollins 2018, 9780062796738 (USA edition)

For lefties like me this is an odd but worthwhile read. David Frum is a dyed in the wool Republican, he wrote speeches for President George W. Bush. Yet the first part of his book is as sharp and critical an analysis of all Trump’s errors as anything the Left has written.

Frum then looks at what he thinks the Republican Party needs to do to repair the damage and hold on to power.

The chapter headings are pretty clear, such as: Enablers, Appeasers, Resentments, and Rigged System, as well as Hope at the end.

At the start of this book I was expecting the approach would be along the lines of – Trump has torn up the gentlemen’s agreement of two-party politics, when he’s gone the gentlemen can return to doing their business as usual, or in Latin the status quo ante as the gents would probably say.

But not so much, actually.

Frum is not a fan of Bernie Sanders, but he does agree that both main parties were serving an elite agenda rather than a popular one. Tax cuts for the rich, insecure low-pay work, reduced healthcare coverage, corporate greed. Trump appealed to a popular base, in complex ways that the book explores. This is worth close study: it isn’t just the stereotypes of rust belt unemployed men, of red neck hill farmers with gun in hand, nor of young lonely white males in basements with video games but no job or education. Though I think Frum gets a bit muddled here, as these are his most developed examples.

Gender is a key factor, as is race. “Male resistance to Hillary Clinton animated not only the Trump campaign … On average, white male Democrats backed Sanders by 26.4 points more than white women did.” (p197) Clinton scored badly with white women without a college degree. (p 212) And the proxies for Trump’s racism throughout have been immigration, Muslims and crime.

And enabling all this, “The affluent and the secure persisted with old ways and old names in the face of the disillusionment and even the radicalization of the poorer two-thirds of society. They invited a crisis. The only surprise was … how surprised they were when the invited crisis arrived.” (p13) and how it works is that “Trump operates not by strategy, but by instinct. His great skill is to sniff out his opponents’ vulnerabilities”. (p xi)

For Frum (and myself) the core of understanding Trump’s appeal is in a quote from an essay by Dale Beran who concluded with, “Trump is the loser who has won.” (p199)

So, bearing in mind his audience is the Republican Party, Frum sets out a post-Trump agenda of “a conservatism that is culturally modern, economically inclusive, and environmentally responsible, that upholds markets at home and US leadership internationally.” (p 207)

These are in priority order, and I paraphrase:
– making affordable healthcare work for everyone
– limiting immigration
– no more tax cuts for the rich
– honesty shown in government.

He adds two more items in another chapter, “issues neglected by more conventional politicians: the ravages of drug addiction … [and] the cultural and economic decline of the industrial working class.” (p 220)


How would a Left agenda be different, I wonder?

I read this book as a Brit while visiting Canada. More specifically in Calgary, a city known for the Stampede, its annual cowboy rodeo, a vast open area of “prairie and farming culture” due north of Montana. Red neck country? No, partly because it is Canada not the USA, so public health care and gun control. But still the prairie and the mountains are culturally core and deeply held here.

Yet it is also a city with an annual four-day outdoor folk music festival – which we greatly enjoyed – with music from Aboriginal peoples, from First Nation groups including hip hop, from Black protest musicians from Fergusson Alabama, alongside blues, country, folk and rock all referencing each other. With one MC who is a Nicaraguan lesbian comedian.

So lets put the stereotypes of despair to one side.

I guess the Left would have common cause with much of the above agenda for post-Trump Republicans, except on immigration. The long-overdue question is, I suggest, what is modern internationalism?

– Is it open borders, as in a device used by the globalisation agenda of rich elites to drive down wages and job security?

– Is it xenophobic racism and nationalism (and frankly violence) against people of colour?

– Is there a possible method to have unapologetic migration without low pay? And even if it is possible, will “indigenous” local communities accept incomers who are different?

As with the EU freedom of movement discussions (and silences) in the UK at the moment, I wonder if the post-Trump agenda around the world will pivot left or right on immigration.

I feel there ought to be an answer here, possibly with open borders alongside strong pay and conditions safeguards, with residency civil rights and obligations, and with a graded response to entitlements depending on the years of residency. For the UK, the parallel issue is uneven job prospects between London and regions further away which fuels racism and xenophobia, similarly for Washington DC and many poorer States in USA.

Mass shootings, USA and Canada

I am travelling in Canada and sitting in Toronto Pearson airport at gate B19 waiting with a crowd for my connecting flight on 24 July. On a big screen, silent with subtitles, the TV news is showing poignant tributes with flowers and chalk messages near the scene following a mass shooting in the city’s Greektown district where two people died and thirteen others have been injured.

A couple, both maybe in their thirties, are sitting near to me. He says to her, “You know, in the States for two dead we wouldn’t call that a mass shooting. Wouldn’t even make the evening news, most likely.”

I don’t think they meant it badly. But it troubles me in two ways. To say such a thing in public and so matter-of-fact when people around are maybe hurting. And that for the States it is true.

I am ‘one of those’

So, there I was, running a workshop this week as you do, getting folk to sign in and showing them how the strange coffee-making arrangements work…

  • Punter: so, how are you funded?
  • Me: well, half is from the UK regional funds and half from the EU. 
  • Punter: oh, what will you do after Brexit then?
  • Me: personally, I don’t think it will happen the way they say. Said so two years ago. 
  • Punter: ah, you are one of those.
  • Me: yep, ‘fraid so.

My consolation, as is often the case, is in Leonard Cohen –

“I told you, I told you, I to-old you, I was one of those.”

On the colour wheel the opposite of green is magenta

When we talk about green economics, we are already at a disadvantage. Because the opposition has the upper ground and can just talk about economics. It is as if the opposition already own the main idea and anything green is a minority or sub-set of their main, wider topic.

Politicians and PR people call this device framing. They try to control the language to their advantage. An example is always saying the words illegal and immigration together so that legal and welcomed and beneficial immigration becomes lost in the debate. Slogans help here.

So, my suggestion is we green folk need to do some positive framing of our own.

On the colour wheel, the opposite of green is magenta.

In which case, it is green economics versus
– the polluting magenta economics of growth at any cost,
– of unsustainable magenta exploitation of a finite planet,
– of magenta growing inequalities, and
– of magenta levels of air instead of surface travel.

And, hopefully, one day soon green economics just becomes economics.