Category Archives: Uncategorized

Could this be ‘Peak Brexit’?

Anything written about Brexit at the moment risks having a shelf life of no more than 20 minutes before the next twist or turn baffles us even more.

But … could the vote of (some) confidence in the Prime Minister by her party’s MPs mark a turning point? Peak Brexit, so to speak.

Because the Brexit extremists have tried and failed in this battle.

And if the first rule of politics is that, you have to be able to count; then the second rule perhaps is – you have to be able to persuade. The raw maths haven’t changed, and the House of Commons is still deadlocked, but maybe the wind is now out of the sails of the Brexit extremists.

So, now we seize the day and it is onwards to a Remain outcome from a People’s Vote.

Not least with the lies told previously about the NHS; and the hiding of the dodgy money slushing around fringe Leave campaigns that funded the social media lies and racism such as about Turkish membership.

Brexit Chaos is a deliberate strategy

There are many comments circulating at the moment to the effect that – this is utter chaos and politicians need to get a grip.

True enough, but what this ignores is, I suspect, the use by some of the pro-Brexit forces of chaos as their main strategy.

For them, the worse it gets, the better it gets.

Which means that relying on a ‘letting them tear themselves apart’ strategy risks running out of time to also stop Brexit itself.

We should keep in touch … but it is complicated

We are familiar with alumni networks from our time in education, but what if they were from places where we had worked – it might be worth trying.

Of course, for those of us with a few years on the clock there can be some jobs which we have been quite relieved to get away from. And maybe with some kindness – because we may never know exactly – there could be just one or two of our former workplaces where they were glad we had found pastures new. Mind you, that wouldn’t apply to you or me of course.

But for places where we, and they, might retain some affection or regard, maybe there is a good way to stay in touch.

Some think not. One successful head teacher who retired was recently asked, would they offer advice to their successor? Oh no, they replied, as soon as you leave the water must close over your head.

Equally, some leavers will unavoidably stay nearby, such as when working in a neighbouring council, or are still ‘on the circuit’, while other leavers do move further away.

And then a few leavers are deliberately asked to stay in touch through a system, maybe as an advisor, mentor, coach, advisory board member or similar. But thinking here about the local government sector, there seem to be some particular work-culture constraints. Plus there really is precious little or no money these days for such HR type initiatives. So the risk is that, in this void, some eager newer teams will take a ‘year zero’ approach to the results from previous years and the advice offered now. Even if only a few teams behave like this the damage is still being done.

In academic circles to acknowledge the legacy of previous colleagues there is the phrase – “if we can see further it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants.”

I will try not to embarrass anyone here … a while ago I was invited to a research meeting at Manchester University with about a dozen very bright PhD researchers and a retired professor who had written all the books on a particular political topic. I’m used to going to meetings of testy academics scoring points, but this was the complete opposite – with such admiration, warmth and respect. I came away at the end of a brilliant team conversation very glad, but also wondering to myself why it seemed to happen so infrequently. (The answer I fear is that I am the common factor!)

Of course, no-one wants to find that they have become the old bore who hangs around too long, playing over and over their greatest hits war stories. But maybe we should look for some tools to help our current teams build positively and affordably on the good legacies around us, and do so while we still can gather the benefits being offered. Some humility on all sides is probably the key.

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.