Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Verdict

I'm probably supposed to be doing some climate science, but that's not been top priority recently (might be different if someone was paying me to do it). Actually there is some slow progress and there will probably be something to report eventually. But it's all gone a bit boring in advance of the next CMIP experiments and IPCC report.

So, this is more politics. After the arbitration, the verdict. Not mine, but the country's. Don't shoot me, I'm just the messenger. I greatly enjoyed Thursday night, starting with the exit poll that no-one really believed until the results came in more or less confirming it. The local constituency went as expected, though at least the Green candidate saved his deposit with one of the best results they obtained around the country. The adjacent LibDem fared little better. The surprises were elsewhere.

To be fair, May did warn us that if she didn't get a majority we'd face a coalition of chaos propped up with terrorist sympathisers. The only point she forgot to mention was that she'd be leading it. It seems pretty much an ideal situation, a humiliated and ineffectual Tory govt limping on for a few months until the inevitable failure of the brexit process finally puts them out of their misery. Their eagerness to jump into bed with stone age bigots really does tell us (anyone who was still wondering) what sort of people they are, and is especially poignant after having been dealt such a spanking by an increased progressive vote from the 18-24 age group. That's one way to not learn a lesson.

Most people on the mainland are pretty uninterested in NI politics, myself included, but when they start to realise quite how unpleasant the DUP are, there may be significant opposition to any alliance. It's not just a matter of being effectively the political wing of the UDA and UVF. They are also reactionary creationist homophobic climate change deniers. In fact they are so toxic that the Scottish Tories have already threatened to break away if the DUP are allowed to influence Govt policy. And if they are not, then what exactly is the nature of their alliance? It will hardly reduce tensions in NI either, where the power-sharing structures are currently struggling to survive due to an ongoing scandal that the DUP are up to their necks in. If the UK govt so blatantly allies itself to one side and re-imposes direct rule there's likely to be unrest to put it mildly. May is of course completely tone deaf to any and all concerns, as her “carry on regardless” approach shows, though she won't be able to escape from reality indefinitely. We've already seen that she can't even reshuffle her ministers.

I'm not sure that a Labour govt would have been preferable really, since then they'd have had to carry the can for brexit and the Tories would then have been able to argue that they would have made more of a success of things. Of course they cannot, the unspoken truth which has poisoned the whole political process over the last couple of years is that brexit cannot possibly succeed. It is the Kobayashi Maru of modern politics: a test that has no positive outcome, the only way to win is not to play:

“The objective of the test is not for the cadet to outfight or outplan the opponent but rather to force the cadet into a no-win situation and simply observe how he or she reacts.”

The Leave campaign was allowed to get away with saying different (and contradictory) things to different people but as soon as anyone tries to put together a coherent strategy, it is obvious that there's no good outcome. The DUP has a particularly brilliant strategy of simultaneously demanding both no special deal for NI and no hard border with the Republic. Easy to say in a manifesto, not so easy to work out what it actually means in concrete terms. So far, no-one has exactly covered themselves in glory over brexit plans - perhaps the LibDems and Greens are the closest to having a rational response - but we must remember it was the Tories, and those who voted for brexit, who created this situation. They broke it, they own it.

The desperate scramble to put together this Maydup Coalition in time for the brexit negotiations is the icing on the cake: the timing of the election is entirely the responsibility of the Tories who forced through the invocation of Article 50 immediately before calling it. They can't even replace May, there's no way they can afford the time for a leadership election now and any new leader would face the inevitable (and accurate) criticism that they had no mandate for their views. With their election campaign having been so focussed on May as the “strong and stable” leader, they seem to be stuck with her for the time being at least. Though it's obvious enough that the plots are well underway, it is only a matter of choosing the first available moment to plunge the knife.

In another installation of “what has the EU done for us” (and returning briefly to science again), they are pushing hard for all research outputs to be open access by 2020. Hooray, we (supposedly) won't be EU members by then so can hide our research behind paywalls. 

Monday, June 05, 2017


My reader is probably waiting with bated breath for my views on the forthcoming election. In the blue corner, Teresa “strong and stable” May (or should that be “u-turn when you want to”). In the red, Jeremy “don't mention the brother” Corbyn. In the ignored corner, Nutter and Failing and a few others.

Of course, it's all about brexit, so there hasn't been any sort of meaningful debate about this. Both tories and labour are rushing headlong for the most catastrophic outcome they can possibly engineer, and there isn't a fag-paper of difference between them on anything substantive. Corbyn promises better employment protection and May less red tape but these are not really issues of how and why we leave the EU, rather what we do afterwards. The Labour vision may be marginally more attractive but that's basically a question of what colour deck-chairs you prefer on the “Titanic Success”.

It's important to realise, there is no such thing as  a “good brexit”. The only reasonable brexit would be something functionally indistinguishable from the status quo, which both sides have ruled out. The choice is between a bad brexit, a worse brexit and a catastrophic brexit, with all the smart money on the latter. All competent experts have repeatedly pointed out the huge problems that brexit will bring, including but not limited to our European flights (there's no agreement for anything post 2019 and timetables will have to be designed well in advance of that), the operation of our nuclear industry (including such details as medical isotopes), the huge customs problem at Dover/Calais for which the infrastructure does not exist and simply cannot be built in time, the Northern Irish border which will likely spark off unification violence, the harm to our financial industry, the fact that we aren't even normal WTO members in our own right and negotiating that will take agreement from the other 162, the 759 separate agreements with 168 countries that need to be renegotiated in the remaining 661 days etc. The whole thing is idiotic nonsense and the failure of most of our politicians to say as much in plain terms is a gross dereliction of their duty.

In my opinion, the most likely outcome by some way remains a year or so of increasingly acrimonious negotiations or rather arguments, followed by a collapse of the process and long period of recrimination. This national humiliation will come at great cost of course, not just economically but also politically, culturally and socially, as we are already starting to see. Lots of people are starting to bleat about the entirely predictable consequences. I'm intensely relaxed about the poor farmers, since just about every field round here had a “Vote Leave” placard this time last year. They of all people should realise that they will reap what they have sown!

And all for what? Even though it was all about “taking back control”, no-one is prepared to make any promises about immigration anyway. For while the EU was always the convenient excuse for the large-scale immigration that govts of all stripes have encouraged over recent years, it was never actually anything more than that. They could have reduced immigration substantially had they wanted to, but they saw the obvious economic benefits of it and rather than arguing honestly in favour, passed the buck on to the EU. That is no longer possible, so we get vague ambitions which are quite clearly meant as nothing more than a dog-whistle to UKIP voters who are presumably thought to be too stupid to realise that there isn't a plan to actually do anything.

I've been enjoying the way the Tory campaign has been falling apart. “Strong and stable” has been laughed out of existence, it doesn't seem such a clever idea now to base the campaign on May's personality when it is obviously so brittle and unpleasant. Amusingly, the local election leaflet which eventually plopped through the letter box just a couple of days ago features May more centrally than the candidate himself, which should lose him some votes but I'm sure won't affect the result. As for the central conceit of May being the only person capable of negotiating brexit, if anyone seriously thinks she'll actually be PM on the day we leave the EU, I feel a wager coming on.

The only mainstream party with anything approaching a sane policy on brexit is the LibDems, so I'll be supporting them. Or rather, I would be, but they have agreed a local pact with the Greens in a neighbouring constituency (Harrogate and Knaresborough) that they won't stand here and the greens won't stand there. Think they've got the better of that bargain as H&K is at least a possible LibDem seat though not one of their top targets. So I'll be voting Green instead, the candidate seems to have made a very good impression locally (though we missed the local hustings, being in Hamburg at the time). The Greens have a very similar policy to the LibDems anyway and it wouldn't matter who stood here, the local “pig in a blue rosette” is guaranteed to be re-elected even though he was a staunch remainer this time last year.