One day a lemming will fly

I do wonder how different the world would be today if Bernie Sanders had become President instead of Donald Trump. It would certainly be a lot better for millions of poor American voters who, instead of voting for higher taxes on the wealthy and more wealth distribution, voted for the complete opposite. Strangely though, if given the opportunity again today, most of them would vote the same way as they did in 2016.

Stuff like this gives economists a headache. It’s much easier to base economic models on the idea that people behave in ways that make them better off, as opposed to looking for ways to shoot themselves in the foot.

Although tricky, it’s important for us to accept that people do behave like this and it’s also important to think about what we can do about it. So, since I have you ear, I’ll give it a go.

Deep down, Bernie knew he wouldn’t win. Of course he believed his policies would benefit more voters than the policies of Donald or Hillary but still, he knew he wouldn’t win. The USA is very right-wing country and there are a huge number of well-funded, well-organised lobby groups that exist to keep it that way. In the context of American politics, Bernie’s policies were extreme and he would have known that convincing a sufficient number of voters of such a radical change in direction would likely be impossible.

So was it a waste of time? Absolutely not. Bernie ended up doing extremely well in the circumstances and while he failed to win the nomination, he did achieve something else – he made it a little bit easier for the next Bernie. His achievement was to chip away marginally at the status quo. The next Bernie won’t win either but next time around, the same policies will be a little more mainstream. One Bernie alone won’t bring policies of equality to the United States. You need a lot of them. The first few will fail, perhaps the first many will fail. Eventually one will succeed.

The problem, of course, isn’t in finding people who agree with the policies – they weren’t really that extreme. The problem is finding people who have the guts to be the first ones over the cliff, knowing that their chances of being the first successful Bernie are slim at best.

Anyway, the Brexit mess is still rolling down the hill, like a giant snowball of poop, and a lot of people have been asking me if I am in favour of a People’s Vote. It’s essentially a second referendum in which the voters, this time around, would have the added benefit of knowing the actual alternative they could vote for.

To be honest, I struggle to have enthusiasm for it.

What should be abundantly clear to everyone by this point, is that there is no good alternative to EU membership. The possible outcomes if we leave the EU are a shitty deal that leaves everyone worse off, or no deal at all, which leaves everyone even worse off than that.

Given those options or a People’s Vote, then yes, I’d rather have the vote. Let’s roll the dice again – it can’t be any worse. We would, however, get a few months of Boris, Gove, Rees-Mogg, The Daily Mail, The Sun and the rest of them, in full bullshit propaganda mode. Add into that a fallacy of the human brain – people are very bad at admitting when they were wrong – and we will end up having another uninformed vote.

It’s not inconceivable to think that such a campaign could result in people voting for no deal at all and us ending up worse off than if, after the first vote, we’d just called, “Stick”.

What’s my alternative suggestion? Thank you for asking – it’s very simple but we will need some help from our politicians.

Our politicians have to have the guts to stand up and say something like this:

We have taken on board the result of the referendum. We have spent two years working on it, trying to find out how we could make this work for the country.

The result is, that it doesn’t. Deal or no deal, there is no way to enact departure from the EU without causing significant hurt to the economy and citizens of the country.

We looked at it – for two years, we really did look very hard at it. But it’s a bad idea and we’re not doing it.

One MP doing this alone won’t make a difference – we’re going to need a bunch of them. If they take this position in sufficient numbers then we have an opportunity to avoid an utterly unnecessary catastrophe.

The problem, of course, isn’t in finding people who agree with remaining – the majority of MPs were in favour of that to begin with.

The problem is finding politicians who have the guts to be the first ones over the cliff.

RedEaredRabbit

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Chaos

Come back, David Cameron, all is forgiven!

Ok, ok. Maybe not all is forgiven. For example, it would be hard to forgive austerity, which just pushed the cost of the financial crisis onto the poor, while delaying economic recovery by several years. Yeah, fair enough, it would be hard to forgive that.

Also, it is pretty hard to forgive causing Brexit in order to win a general election…

Ok, screw it. None of it is forgiven but come back anyway, if the alternative is the chaos that is the current government.

Yesterday, the news was that David Davis was heading off to Europe to tell the EU negotiators that if they didn’t give the UK a very beneficial, bespoke trade agreement, we would all be plunged into another 2008-style financial crisis!

(I’m sure he achieved a very small erection when he told us all how tough he was going to be.)

I, however was unimpressed. (Not by his erection, I was indifferent to that. I mean I was unimpressed with his decision to use a financial crisis argument.)

The problem I have with a financial crisis argument, is that he said exactly the opposite during the referendum campaign. Voters were continually reassured by David and his fellow leave campaigners that talk of recession was a simple case of scaremongering by the remain campaign. It was Project Fear and nothing more.

So.. umm.. the fear mongers were right after all? Or is David just making things up as he goes along? Or does he just have no idea what he’s doing?

I’ll leave you to decide, but (SPOILERS) don’t assume those are mutually exclusive.

Throughout the entire process David has publicly displayed how out of his depth he is. In fact, every time he has anything to say about the Brexit negotiations, I can’t feel angry, I just feel embarrassed for him.

It’s like confidently telling the press that you’ll easily beat Garry Kasparov at chess, then sitting down to play and calling the knight a horsey and asking which ones the prawns are.

He has history of course. In July 2016, shortly after the referendum result, David wrote this:

So be under no doubt: we can do deals with our trading partners, and we can do them quickly. I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners. I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them to be concluded within between 12 and 24 months.

So within two years, before the negotiation with the EU is likely to be complete, and  before anything we can negotiate a free trade area massively larger than the EU. Trade deals with the US and China alone will give us a trade area almost twice the size of the EU, and of course we will also be seeking deals with Hong Kong, Canada, Australia, India, Japan, the UAE, Indonesia – and many others.

With eight months of the 24 to go, we have negotiated no new trade deals, we have none in any advanced stage of negotiations and we have none in progress.

Should we be shocked? No. Our situation won’t come as any surprise to anyone who knows anything about international trade agreements. They are horrendously complicated but what’s more striking is that anyone who knows anything about international trade agreements knows that you shouldn’t try to do them as quickly as possible. Yes, we could do a quick deal with the USA – it would simply be a case of agreeing to all of their terms… and then we’d quickly have a (terrible and one-sided) trade deal with the USA!

The only time quick trade deals happen is when one side gets steamrollered by the other and you have to worry about this happening to us, when the government has so much face to save by getting some quick ones in.

Add in to that, the team we are trusting to do it. When you go to the USA and ask for a trade deal, they fill the room with whiz-kid Harvard folk, who’ve spent their lives studying international trade agreements. We send Liam Fox (a former GP with no experience of international trade agreements) and David Davis (still working out which one the prawn is.)

With this team in place, things look pretty stark. The only way we can now realistically avoid disaster in international trade negotiations is if we don’t try to do any.

It’s hard to feel confident that we are in the safest hands for that time that Brexit actually happens, but just as worrying is the fact that it’s already screwing us up in other ways. The entire government, it seems, is focused solely on Brexit and although they don’t seem to realise it, there is still a country to run. The cost of Brexit isn’t simply the crappy trade deals we might have from April 2019. Some of the cost is already here, in the form of the complete lack of government that is happening right now. From the government’s non-response to Grenfell, to the crisis that is happening in our NHS, domestic issues are simply, it seems, not a priority in comparison with Brexit.

Today, in an unprecedented move, 68 senior A&E doctors wrote to the government to tell them that people were dying in hospital corridors because they had no beds and no staff to treat them.

This situation, caused by the government, is simply horrendous and it is far from what we should expect in a rich, developed country, such as the UK. We absolutely have the wealth and ability to properly fund the NHS but because of the government’s idealism, distraction and incompetence, it doesn’t happen.

And then people die in hospital corridors.

If Jeremy Hunt or Theresa May had any semblance of a conscience, they would read that letter and resign immediately.

I’d ask David Davis to do so as well but he is probably still too busy working out which one the prawn is.

We live in bad times.

RedEaredRabbit

Before the devil knows you’re dead

“May you be in heaven a full half-hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

Well, that went better than I thought it would. Never in my lifetime have the cards been stacked so firmly in the incumbent party’s favour and yet somehow the most remarkable reversal happened.

A couple of months ago, everything was going Theresa’s way. The Lib Dems were nowhere and the Labour Party seemed to be more interested in arguing amongst themselves and undermining their leader than they were about actually opposing anything.

In such circumstances, with the opinion polls pointing to the biggest Tory majority since the war, the temptation was too great. Before the election, Theresa’s majority wasn’t huge but it was easily enough to get her through the next three years without a problem. But why accept that when you could smash the opposition out of the park for the next five?

Oops.

The media are referring to it as a failed gamble but a couple of month’s back, when the election was called, it was nothing of the kind. It was, what Americans would call, a slam-dunk. Or at least it should have been, but Theresa failed to take one small point into account – she is diabolically incompetent.

In fact, I would go so far as to say that she is far and away the worst Prime Minister in my lifetime. Dave had awful policies but at least he knew how to make them sound good to a lot of people. Maggie did some truly horrific things, especially to the poor, but at least she had the guts to fight her corner rather than ducking debates.

By announcing a snap election, Theresa had the chance to catch the opposition on the hop but what transpired seemed more like she’d caught herself on the hop. A car crash manifesto of ill-conceived, uncosted, focus-group bullshit policies was released and no one liked it.

In contrast, Labour released the most ambitious and progressive manifesto of our generation. It was as brilliant as it was unexpected and if that weren’t enough,  it was costed too.

While Theresa tried to side-step criticism of her manifesto U-Turns, (Nothing has changed!), Jeremy knew every line of his manifesto and stood firmly behind it. (You like my manifesto? Put it to the testo.*)

While Theresa avoided debates and attended only media events that had been carefully choreographed by her spin team, Jeremy did the complete opposite – he seemed happy to stand behind his policies in front of the media and happy to debate them with the public.

Let’s face it, he was never going to be one of those polished politicians, trained in the dark arts of hand gestures and how to avoid answering questions. He didn’t even take David Cameron’s advice of how to dress like a posh person. What he did do was the only thing he knew – being himself and actually caring about the people whose lives would be affected by his policies. In spite of the daily character assassinations by The Sun and The Daily Mail… it worked.

The parliamentary Labour Party will now surely get behind him and build on the fantastic platform he has made. Things look good.

In contrast, Theresa is now dead man walking. She took her party from stable majority to hung parliament with a completely unnecessary election. She told them she’d win a landslide but ended up costing a lot of them their jobs. Her speech yesterday was the most perfect example of denial. She didn’t even acknowledge that the result was a bit disappointing, let alone the reality that it was catastrophic.

And now we get to watch her running around, courting the anti-gay, anti-abortion DUP, with full knowledge that it will reverse much of the huge effort that has gone into stabilising Northern Ireland. It’s shameful how desperate she is to stay in power.

Today she fired her two closest advisers and as more rats leave the sinking ship, The Sun and The Daily Mail have abandoned her – even some cabinet members are telling her to go.

But don’t worry, Theresa – it’s much worse than you think. Do what you need to do but please realise – the electorate will never take you seriously again. You are done.

Enjoy your half hour – the clock is ticking.

RedEaredRabbit

*Ok, Jeremy didn’t say that. I might have accidentally quoted Sultans of Ping F.C.

 

No more Tories

No more food banks,

No more climate change denial,

No more austerity,

No more tax cuts for the 1%,

No more benefit cuts for the poor,

No more cuts to our NHS,

No more wage stagnation,

No more cuts to state education,

No more cuts to our local services,

No more cuts to our police numbers,

No more taking away free school lunches from the poorest kids,

No more blaming everything on immigrants,

No more treating Scotland like a naughty child,

No more pricing poor people out of a university education,

No more economic stagnation,

No more pretending Brexit is a good thing,

No more “£350m more a week for the NHS” lies painted on buses,

No more hand-holding with Donald Trump,

No more saying “Strong and stable”, while you act weak and imbalanced,

No more pandering to The Daily Mail,

No more pandering to Rupert Murdoch,

No more politics funded by the rich for the rich,

No more fake news,

No more grammar schools,

No more bedroom tax,

No more demonising people on benefits,

No more Boris Johnson,

No more Jeremy Hunt,

No more Philip Hammond,

No more Amber Rudd,

No more Elizabeth Truss,

No more Iain Ducan Smith,

No more Theresa May,

No more Tories.

 

A2_correx

 

RedEaredRabbit

 

 

 

 

How the left was lost

Mrs Rabbit’s question

This morning, Mrs Rabbit asked me how rich someone would need to be in order for them to logically vote Tory. Her thinking was that something didn’t add up. Wouldn’t only a small proportion of people actually be better off with Tory policies?

I wasn’t able to give an immediate answer to this because, firstly, I was about to go onto a conference call with the Swedes and secondly, it’s pretty complicated to determine where the line between better or worse off with the Tories would be drawn. For a start, we need to decide that the alternative is. The alternative might be to vote for Labour, Lib Dems, SNP or someone else. Also there are lots of factors to consider. It isn’t simply about each party’s policy on income tax. There are wealth taxes, consumption taxes, inheritance tax and lots of other things such as how much a party might spend on public services and how much those services benefit people of different levels of wealth.

As an example, we know that since 2010 the Tories have been wilfully underfunding the NHS to such an extent that it is now in a very big mess. This has a big negative impact on those people who can’t afford private health care and a small positive impact on those who can (because of lower taxes). Those who can afford private education for their children are similarly positively affected by the wilful underfunding of our schools and those who can afford to buy any book they want are positively affected by the closures of our libraries.

Whilst benefit cuts have predominantly hurt the poorest in our society, it does seem that you would have to get to a fairly high level of wealth before you were positively impacted by a broken NHS or state education system.

That much seems fairly obvious but strangely, when voters are given the option of voting to increase taxes on the wealthier part of society in exchange for additional funding of their public services, they don’t seem to respond in anything like the numbers one might expect. In a world that’s lurching further and further to the right, Mrs Rabbit has asked a pretty important question. So what exactly is going on?

Rich donors

This is Michael Farmer.

michaelfarmer

Michael Farmer runs a hedge fund, has a personal fortune of £150m and has donated over £6.5m to the Tories.

Why he supports the Tories isn’t too important. If I were to guess, I’d say that Michael is one of the people who isn’t affected by the the underfunding of the NHS or state schools and is more concerned with which party will offer him the lowest taxes and the least amount of regulation on his hedge fund.

Now you might well argue that someone with £150m in the bank could afford to have a slightly more altruistic outlook and you might be right but like it or not, the Tories are going to be better for him personally than any alternative. Simple enough.

However, while we all get to vote for the party of our choosing, very few of us have the luxury of being able to give the party of our choosing £6.5m and therein lies a big problem. A rich person has the opportunity to influence proceedings far more than a non-rich person. Further still, the Tories can’t win with only the votes of the people who they will make better off and they need to convince an awful lot of other people (who they will make worse off) to vote for them too.

Michael’s £6.5m doesn’t get spent convincing other people like Michael Farmer to vote Tory – there aren’t enough of them to matter. That £6.5m goes straight towards the campaign to, (if I may use a metaphor), convince non-Michael Farmers to keep buying big guns, aiming them at their own foot and pulling the trigger. And then when those people say, “Ow, my foot really hurts now!”, telling them that it is due to (metaphor over) immigrants.

The art of fibbing

If you think about politics in a basic left/right context, there isn’t any reason that one side should make stuff up more than the other. The right believes in a smaller public sector, leaving more things to market forces and a smaller redistribution of wealth. The left believes in a larger public sector, leaving fewer things to market forces and a larger redistribution of wealth. There is no reason here that one side should lie about things any more than the other but that’s absolutely not what we see today.

Whether it is Donald Trump saying that Muslims in New Jersey were cheering as the towers collapsed on September 11th, or Boris Johnson putting the £350 million per week figure on the side of his Brexit Battle Bus, the right is far happier to make stuff up now than they have ever been and what’s more worrying is how effective it is.

You want another example? Six months ago, Donald Trump convinced millions of Americans to vote to lose their health insurance. Something is seriously amiss here.

The issues we are asked to vote on are wide-ranging and complex. We are asked to understand economics, healthcare, education, foreign policy, the environment etc, we are asked to form an opinion on how each party’s policies will deliver in each area and then make an informed choice. That’s a remarkably difficult thing to do.

A political party could try to help voters make an informed choice but it is clearly easier and more effective to go with a simplistic, lies-based narrative that appeals to a lot of people who aren’t able to check. For the Tories, Trump and others on the extreme right, it isn’t just easier, it is absolutely necessary for them to get elected. Remember, only a small proportion of the population will benefit from their policies so helping the rest of the electorate to make an informed decision would be an act of extreme self-harm.

The fact that the small proportion who benefits can provide political funding beyond the wildest dreams of those who don’t, perpetuates the problem. The parties who benefit the richest donors get re-elected, the distribution of wealth goes further in the wrong direction and the cycle continues.

I’m not done though. It gets worse.

The media

You’ve got your funding and you’ve got your fibs. To really get your message out there though, you need some friends in the press and, conveniently, owning and marketing a national newspaper is expensive. It’s not surprising that a lot of newspaper owners fall firmly into the small section of society that benefits with the election of a right-wing government. I wrote a blogpost a while back where I looked at the daily circulation of left-wing and right-wing newspapers in the UK: 7m right-wing papers sold every day to 1.5m left-wing papers and the list is dominated by The Sun and The Daily Mail.

These days though, owning the media isn’t enough for the right. These days, chillingly, the right goes after any media outlet who attempts to do anything other than toe the line. Trump wages war on the New York Times and the Tories wage war on the BBC. Neither of those organisations is anything like as partisan as some of the uncriticised publications that support the right-wing cause. The Tories don’t criticise The Daily Mail and Trump doesn’t criticise Breitbart. Lies good, facts… BAD!

Summary

I’m no particular fan of Jeremy Corbyn or Tim Farron and I wasn’t a particular fan of Hilary Clinton either. What I do know is that they are much better than the alternative of what I’m describing here.

Am I paranoid? If you think so, here’s another one: Why is it that climate-change denial is almost exclusively a right-wing thing? After all, there’s no reason for it to be. There’s no reason that preferring lower taxes at the expense of smaller public services should mean that you don’t believe releasing carbon-dioxide into the atmosphere causes the planet to warm up.

This correlation could of course be coincidence but could it possibly be that oil companies fund political parties? Or that rich donors or newspaper owners fear they would be asked to pay more in tax if we were to move to renewable energy? Tough one.

Before I end, let me make something clear. I am not trying to demonise all rich people and I don’t have a problem with a society in which someone can become rich. Those are the things I am often accused of by lazy people when I talk about raising taxes but that’s not what this is about.

We live in a society where we don’t look after the poor or vulnerable properly. We live in a society where we don’t fund healthcare or education properly. We live in a society where there is enough money to tackle all of these things and you know what? There’d still be enough money for us to have some rich people too.

My point is simply that there is no sign of this happening, and the reason for this is pretty simple too:

The problem isn’t that people can become rich. The problem is that the rich get to make the rules.

RedEaredRabbit

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is going to hurt

Do the Tories have shares in IPSOS MORI or maybe whoever it is that prints election pamphlets?  They do seem keen to send a lot of business their way these days. Anyway, another election. So let’s think about what we might be able to vote for.

A politician can be this:

An elected individual who fights for what is good for the people and whose views are immune to those of special interest groups or the press.

A politician can also be this:

An elected individual who fights for the views of special interest groups and the press and whose views are immune to what is good for the people.

If I were assessing Theresa May, I’d be giving her a 0/10 on the first definition and a 10/10 on the second. Both paths can lead to political success but in fairness to Theresa, the second one is much, much easier.

In the first one, you have to properly understand myriad complex issues, explain these to voters in terms that they may understand, form policies based on them and explain how these policies address these issues. You have to continually measure how your policies are doing and adjust them based on the evidence. It’s really hard work.

In the second one, you just need to read The Sun and The Daily Mail every morning and just do what they said, safe in the knowledge that it will be popular with an awful lot of people. Sure it means that Rupert Murdoch and Paul Dacre are effectively running the country but look how popular you are with such little effort!

Theresa is calling an election because she is way ahead in the opinion polls. Let’s not kid ourselves with thinking there might be anything more altruistic than this. She believes that, in current circumstances with no coherent opposition, she can get a huge majority for the next five years. She is probably also more than a bit concerned about what the electorate will think when they start to see the reality of what she will actually get in her negotiations with the EU. Didn’t work out for David, did it? Better to do this now, before reality kicks in.

One of my friends told me yesterday that the result isn’t clear cut because opinion polls have been shown to be wrong a lot recently – 2015 general election, EU referendum, 2016 US election etc.

That’s true but it misses something that looks fairly obvious to me. Those opinion polls were always wrong in the same direction. They underestimated two things:

  • The effectiveness of the right-wing press with biased and fake news
  • In the voting booth a voter is more likely to be evil than when people are watching

Neither of these things gives me confidence that the polls are wrong in a good direction. If anything, they are probably underestimating the Tory lead.

So where are we? Jeremy Corbyn has seven weeks to convince voters of something he has drastically failed to do in the last two years – that The Labour Party is ready for government. And he’ll need to do it with the vast majority of the press against him.

And Theresa? She might be awful when it comes to the good of the people but to give her her dues, she’s great when it comes to opportunistic power grabs. You might not like it but you have to admit, for a politician that cares only about power and cares nothing for the good of the people, it’s a fairly astute move.

So, anyway. Do whatever you can with your vote to stop the inevitable but don’t get your hopes up.

This is going to hurt.

RedEaredRabbit

P.S. I stole the title of the blogpost from Adam Kay’s upcoming book, “This is going to hurt”. It’s probably the best book ever written and you can pre-order it now. He is one of the most fantastic people I know and I am so proud of him for writing it.

The hypocritic oath

I wonder if this is something that modern politicians are having to swear before they take office.

Theresa May tells us that the Scottish people aren’t allowed an independence referendum because the terms of the UK leaving The European Union are not yet known.

Hold on a minute.

The UK just had a referendum on leaving the European Union when the terms of leaving the European Union were unknown. That was ok, right? No, it was more that ok, it was “The will of the people”. Lib Dems are asking for a second referendum, once the terms are known, so that the public can vote based on knowing what the alternative to staying in actually is. Theresa doesn’t seem in favour.

I’m confused. When it suits you, the terms of leaving are important and when it doesn’t they are not?

All this does is reinforce my fear that the Conseravtive Party is now simply the political wing of the Daily Mail. They read whatever is in that paper today and… that’s the policy! Sure, it buys them a lot of votes from people who don’t realise that the Daily Mail is Satan’s own soiled toilet paper, but it isn’t really the way that democracy is supposed to work.

This stuff is scary. This is Trump style politics – and worse still, we have no coherent opposition to call them out on it.

We live in bad times.

RedEaredRabbit