Archive for the 'Guest slot' Category


“National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy” – a review

Sunday, October 6th, 2019


The book is an overview of “National Populism”, the umbrella term the authors use to describe a political stance of increasing electoral salience in Europe and North America, familiar to us as an explanation for Brexit and Trump. The authors are Roger Eatwell of Bath University and Matthew Goodwin of the University and Kent: both are experts in academic study of the right and all its flavours. The book is a summary of their academic studies, expanded into a medium-size book written in clear, if slightly plodding text readable by the everyman. This is its strength and its weakness, which I will describe later.


The book sets out its thesis: the National Populism stance is real, electorally salient, on the rise and isn’t going away any time soon. The book chapters itself into Myths, Promises, and the 4 D’s (Distrust, Destruction, Deprivation, De-alignment), and concludes with a view of the future.

It’s convincing (with some notable exceptions). It lists explanations proffered by non-populists – it’s temporary, it’s a reaction to 2008, it’s just angry racist white men, it’s close, just one more heave and it’ll go – and points out that actually, no: it’s been around for quite some time, it’s not racist per se, it’s diverse, prodemocratic and will be around for a while because the reasons are deep rooted.

It encapsulates these reasons with the clever catchphrase of the “4 D’s” for Distrust, Destruction, Deprivation and De-alignment: Distrust for the realisation that the rulers no longer reflect the ruled, Destruction for the feeling that a familiar way-of-life is under threat, (relative) Deprivation for uneven distribution of the fruits of capitalism, and De-alignment for the disconnect between the parties and the people, and then points out that these are longstanding issues. It then concludes with “Towards Post-Populism”, outlining predicted future development and the parties that will survive.


There’s nothing really wrong here: the argument makes sense, it proceeds from A to B to C to D, it can be used for predictions, the prose is readable and the only fault of the diagrams is the monochrome. It’s written by two people but it has a singular authorial voice, which I assume was assisted by their copy editor at Pelican, Linden Lawson. So it’s quite good and an important addition to the shelves. But there are bits and bobs that had me biting my lip and the cumulative effect drove me scatty.

Eatwell and Goodwin are academics writing a popular book and have to adjust to the different length and audience, and it shows. An academic paper is short and you have to justify every word. But this is a book (approx 350pages) and you have to fill the word-count somehow and…problem is, not everything they fill it with is good.

They sometimes use telepathy (inferring motives to actors without providing justification), they use current terms to describe historical positions (“The first parties to develop in the nineteenth century…supported economically liberal and socially conservative values” Well in 21st century terms yesss, but there were other things) and their world-view intrudes.

Mostly it’s just irritating. As we move from a European to an American mindset, we lose the concept of multiple parties and subdivisions, with its French Radicals, Polish National Conservatives, British Atlanticists and all the shades of gray, and replace it with a more reduced instruction set of “Liberals” and “Conservatives”. So in the text they have to flit between definitions of the word “liberal” – the “soppy lefty” sense, the “Orange Book Liberals” sense, the “liberal democracy” sense, and you find yourself having to reread bits to identify what they meant. It breaks the flow.

But sometimes the wheels come off. In one case they devote some time to demonstrating that National Populism isn’t Fascist. OK, that’s fair: as I have said on here repeatedly, it definitely isn’t – there’s no militarisation of society, no recusal of democracy, and it’s notably lacking in the Nazi tendency to antisemitism. So what’s the problem?

The problem is their choice of characteristics: they define fascism as one list (holistic nation, new men, authoritarian), define populist as another list (popular will, ordinary people, anti-elite), and point out that they are different. Fine….but. The differences aren’t as obvious or conclusive as they think – both a “holistic nation” and “popular will” describe a national gestalt, and both the Fascist “New Man” concept and the National Populist “plain man” concept reify human individuals into archetypal groups.

So I ended up less convinced than before, even though I knew going in that National Populists aren’t Fascists. The argument was important to make, but their failure to properly stick the landing bugged me.

And lastly and more humorously, the book has a tic that I’ve observed before with Matthew Goodwin and it gets me every single time. I’ve characterised him as a good analyst but a bad advocate, and his urge to advocate instead of simply describe sometimes intrudes.

In this case it manifests as superfluous intensifiers: issues are never just “issues” they’re “legitimate issues”, “concerns” are “legitimate concerns”, and they stand out like poles in the snow. You’re reading the text perfectly happy then he jumps out from behind a tree, yells “LEGITIMATE” in your ear, and jumps back: the Catchphrase From Hell. It throws you off…


So, where are we? I thought their description of present and recent events was convincing and I value their conclusions about the longevity and robustness of the stance. The events of 2019 uphold their 2018 prediction of a “populist-lite” party gaining votes, as Boris mutates the Conservatives to fit that niche and hence defeat the new Brexit Party.

So the book is genuinely valuable. But the padding, their view of the past, a restricted palette, Goodwin’s tic – LEGITIMATE!! – and the compromises required for a popular book do take the edge off. I don’t want to overegg the pudding and the standards for a popular book are different for an academic paper or a briefing paper. But the problems are self-inflicted and this book would be a lot better if it was shorter.


“National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy” is by Roger Eatwell and Matthew Goodwin. The reviewed version is ISBN 9780241312001 and is published by Pelican Books 2018, in print and available new at £9.99 or free from your local library. Support your local library. Legitimately… 🙂


Endgame. The death of the referendum mandate draws near

Tuesday, October 1st, 2019

Leavers have an apparently compelling pair of arguments. Certainly, those arguments completely satisfy them. First, they argue that everyone agreed that the referendum result would be implemented. Secondly, they argue that the wording on the ballot paper was clear, and that all that is required is for Britain to leave the EU. So, what’s the hold-up?

It would be churlish to take issue with these arguments. So let me be that churl. For those two arguments are mutually contradictory. The first depends on an assumption that one has to look beyond the legal form. The second depends on an assumption that only the legal form matters. Now Brexiters from the Prime Minister down have been keen to have their cake and eat it, but this is a bit much. Some consistency is required.

There are two options. Either you take the view that only the legal form matters, in which case you have to accept that the referendum was advisory only. Or you take the view that you have to look in each case what was substantively being determined. You can’t pick and mix.

As a matter of practicality, it seems pretty clear to me that you have to look at the substance. So you can’t really argue that the referendum result was advisory only: everyone was expecting that whatever was decided was to be implemented.

So what was decided? The wording of the ballot paper is clearly very important to determining this. It is, however, fanciful to divorce that entirely from the campaign that led to it. Vote Leave set out a detailed prospectus of what the public could expect from Brexit, a prospectus that formed the basis of speech after speech. It denounced suggestions that Britain might not reach a deal and might experience disruption as Project Fear. Its position was summed up, as described in the tweet above, as “we hold all the cards”. Britain would be able to prepare, it would not rush and its access to the free trade area would obviously be unimpaired. 

These were not off-the-cuff remarks. Vote Leave’s papers took the same approach. It stated: “There is a free trade zone stretching all the way from Iceland to the Russian border.  We will still be part of it after we vote Leave.”  In the same document, it stated: “Taking back control is a careful change, not a sudden step – we will negotiate the terms of a new deal before we start any legal process to leave.” It gave a timetable: “It will be possible to negotiate a new settlement with the EU by the next general election in May 2020. Indeed, Vote Leave went as far as saying: “The best way to get a better deal for Britain and Europe is to vote to leave. This will force the politicians to renegotiate a new friendly deal.

By any measure, things have not turned out as Michael Gove or Vote Leave foretold. As October starts, no deal is in sight and the government is adamant that Britain should leave the EU by 31 October, deal or no deal, do or die. Note, we have not reached the target date of May 2020 mentioned in Vote Leave’s own literature. It is very hard to reconcile the assertion that taking back control would be a careful change, that the best way of getting a better deal was to vote to leave or that Britain would still be part of the free trade zone with no deal Brexit. This version of Leave does not remotely match the prospectus.

(You will note that Michael Gove has been in government since June 2017 and has at no point murmured any dissent from the path that the government has set on Brexit. So he can’t have been too unhappy with the approach the government took implementing the Leave project he presided over. Indeed, not even the most zealous Leavers started agitating about the course of negotiations until the summer of 2018. So the cry you occasionally hear now that it was about the execution of the negotiations is hard to give much credence.)

When a company floats on the Stock Exchange, the directors of the company to be floated are rightly subject to stringent requirements. They must issue a prospectus. The prospectus must contain the information necessary for investors to make an informed assessment of the assets and liabilities, financial position, profits and losses and prospects of the company, as well as the rights attaching to the securities being offered. This information must be presented in a way that is comprehensible and easy to analyse. If they fail to give an accurate picture, they can be subject to swingeing penalties.

If the same approach were taken to politicians, the Vote Leave crew would be bricking themselves. Optimistic claim after optimistic claim has turned out to be unsubstantiated. If the same failure in the verification process had taken place in a float, the directors would have been facing huge financial liability and potentially even a spell in chokey. I’m not at all clear why politicians are given greater leeway. The harm they can potentially do is even greater.

That’s all well and good but what is the remedy so far as we, the investors in the country’s future, are concerned? In law, when damage has been done by an untrue statement, the court does not attempt to compensate on the basis that the untrue statement was true. Rather, the aim of the court is to put the victim back in the position that he or she would have been in had they been given the correct information.

What would the nation’s decision have been in June 2016 if it had been given an honest prospectus by Vote Leave? You will find few takers for the idea that the country would have voted for a no-deal Brexit in June 2016. So the idea that the referendum substantially decided that the country was accepting the prospect of a no-deal Brexit can be dismissed.

What this means is that if a deal cannot be reached, the referendum’s mandate expires. That does not by itself give a mandate to revoke the Article 50 notice but it does mean that before Britain leaves on a no-deal basis, a fresh mandate is required from the public. There are two ways this can be achieved: through a general election or through a referendum. Take your pick, Leavers, because one of these is required as a matter of democracy.

Alastair Meeks


Chronicle of a bet foretold Part 2

Sunday, September 22nd, 2019

It is 11am on September 21st 2019 as I write this. Earlier in the year I wrote an article about fixed-odds betting used to insure against political risk. I finished by saying I would investigate other modes, specifically currency conversion. This is that investigation.


The investigation took the form of recollections of previous betting combined with consideration of new modes. Time constraints meant that some modes could only be briefly examined so conclusions from this article should be taken as illustrative and advisory, not conclusive. If the reader notes any errors, please point them out.

The modes covered in the article are spread betting, fixed-odds betting and betting exchanges, bureaux de change, currency conversion and other modes such as tailored foreign exchange and political insurance. I consider them as follows:


Historically, British gambling regulation has been class based, with subdivisions such as horserace betting (literally the sport of kings!), telephone betting (used by the middle classes) and high-street gambling (working-class) attracting different regulation at different times. One of the odd tributaries of this phenomenon is the regulation of spread betting, which is governed by the Financial Conduct Authority (formerly the FSA), not the Gambling Commission. Spread betting accounts have a ferocious reputation: the majority of customers lose money, some lots. Consequently regulation has grown tighter.

In UK spread betting, you bet on the movement, not the level: one buys at level X, sells at level Y and the more the change, the greater the profit/loss. (US spread betting may be different and we do not cover it). This allows great profit to be made with little money, but the requirement to keep a float to maintain a positive balance and the possibility of great loss if the movement is in the wrong direction makes this high-risk/high-reward.

Opening an account requires bank details and proof of ID, and you are warned that losses may be large. I closed my account some years ago and changing regulation means that further checks and limits may now pertain. Political betting is availably from IG Index and Sporting Index. Sporting Index is familiarly known as “SPIN” and has a habit of suspending trading during uncertain times.


These are regulated in GB by the Gambling Commission, but difficulties in prosecutions and the anomalous position of Northern Ireland (not all legislation applies to NI and the suspension of Stormont and the different polity morals means that regulation has not yet caught up) means that some bookmakers insist they are regulated by overseas bodies such as the Malta Gaming Commission. That argument is best settled by lawyers.

In GB fixed-odds betting (we occasionally use the American term “sportsbook”, which I quite like), the bookmaker acts as the layer (betting against the future event) and offers odds. The punter is the backer (bets on the future event) and deposits money with the bookmaker until the event is resolved. In betting exchanges the bookmaker acts as matchmaker, with one punter acting as backer and another as layer. Unmatched money is returned to the punters on resolution.

It is medium-risk/medium-reward, with the possible profit and loss being fixed at the point the bet is made. It is freely available and can be done in-person via a high-street bookmaker or remotely via an online or telephone account. In-person betting ordinarily does not require an account or ID, but remote betting has bureaucracy. Political betting is available in-person or remotely via Ladbrokes/Coral and William Hill, or Betfair Exchange. Other bookmakers are available.


The above methods allow political betting on events directly, but one may be more concerned with the effects of the event and require proxy betting. Since my concern is on currency effects, currency was the obvious proxy. Betting on currency movements may be done via spread betting or (rarely) sportsbook/exchange betting, but currency conversion is also viable. Currency conversion may be done in-person via a “bureau de change” (a high-street kiosk that physically changes currency in one denomination into another) or online via dedicated foreign-exchange firms or foreign-currency accounts offered by some high-street banks.

Bureax-de-change are usually used for holiday money and may offer buyback facilities: buying and selling at the same exchange rate for a limited period. They require no registration and are zero-risk, but will have a poor exchange rate and carrying large amounts of cash is difficult and raises eyebrows. An online foreign-currency account only requires an existing bank account and is low-risk/low-reward, as adverse positions can be traded out of rapidly. But to cover a sufficient risk requires moving a lot of money, which brings its own problems. Bureaux-de-change can be found via yell, a foreign-exchange firm is Travelex. For foreign-currency accounts, please see the high-street banks.


There exist tailored foreign exchange services (for example Tramonex, which went but last year) and political insurance via Lloyds (there are syndicates, such as AmTrust? Validus? Apols if these are wrong) but are aimed at corporate entities/very-high-net-worth individuals and are outside my weight-class: for example, Tramonex required 500,000GBP traded per annum, which is way outside my reach. I did not investigate these. Tramonex no longer exists (see here) and I did not research others. For Lloyds Political Risk insurance, please see here and other sources.


In the previous article I outlined my use of a fixed-odds bet to insure against adverse currency changes in the event of no-deal. I practice betting transparency, so I outline here my use in Q2-3 2019: numbers are given magnitudally to preserve some anonymity. Previous experience of spread-betting some years ago had been scary and counterproductive: lacking any knowledge of movement I could not make a profit and I closed my account in short order after a total three-figure loss. Some years ago I changed four-figures into USD, which was fun but walking around with a thick wad in your back pocket is obviously stupid, so I converted back at zero loss.

So since 2016 I have opened USD and EUR accounts and in Q2-3 2019 I started moving money en-masse, currently totalling low-five-figures in various USD and EUR accounts (gulp!). This is personally traumatic: moving large sums of money inspires fear, and lack of any real knowledge about currency movements inspires uncertainty. I deal with this by moving smaller sums at smaller intervals, which normalises the behaviour and reduces the trauma of a Large Event.

Today is September 21st 2019. The rates are 1GBP=1.13EUR and 1GBP=1.24USD. At those rates I have a low-three-figure profit in EUR but a mid-three-figure loss in GBP (converting back incurs an additional conversion cost!).

In the event of Deal, I guess EUR will pass 1.2 and USD will pass 1.3 within 48 hours of the announcement and my losses in GBP will be low-four-figures, at which point I will trade out with alacrity before they settle at over 1.3 and over 1.35 within the month.

In the event of No-Deal, I guess EUR will pass 1 and USD 1.15 within 48 hours before settling at 0.95 and 1.05 within the month: at that point I will remain in as my gains in GBP will be low-four-figures. I will let you know what happens.


Viewcode is a statistician who works in the private sector


Changing the Prime Minister might be the only way

Monday, September 9th, 2019

One thing the existing House of Commons can agree on (it can’t on anything else) is that it doesn’t want No Deal. It’s now voted several times to this effect and, in fact, it’s as determined to prevent No Deal as the Government is to deliver Brexit by 31st October at all costs. It has been trying to do everything it can to stop it: delaying a General Election, challenging the proroguing of Parliament, and, now, passing the Hillary Benn Bill into law.

Equally, the present Government is equally clear it will test this law to the extremes – everything short of breaking the law. There have even been suggestions of invoking the Civil Contingencies Act over the weekend. It might also yet find allies within the EU on scuppering yet another delay, including President Macron. The House of Commons therefore has no reason to trust the present administration that it will honour their wishes.

However, two things remain true: this current Government doesn’t have a majority (or anything close) for its policy and, whilst Parliament will be prorogued on Thursday, it will come back on 14th October. The Queen will then make her speech and – usually – there will be six days of debate assigned to each policy area within it followed by a vote in the Commons on whether to accept it. The European Council meeting takes place right in the middle of this: on 17th and 18th October.

If by this date there is no deal agreed or no extension secured to Brexit (either by obfuscation by the Government or through European Council exasperation or a mixture of both) then the House of Commons is staring into the abyss. They will be out of options, except one: to strip control from the Executive, and form an alternative administration. That administration will be left with two choices: to either pass whatever is on the table from the EU, at that stage, or to revoke A50.

Whether this occurs through some procedural chicanery facilitated by the Speaker during the Queen’s Speech debates (which I don’t rule out) or shortly after will be interesting to see but matters will come to a head during the week commencing Monday 21st October, which will be Parliament’s last chance and a matter of days away from the Article 50 termination date.

There has been lots of focus recently on the FTPA and that a Vote of No Confidence leads to an early general election after fourteen days if no alternative government is formed that the House of Commons subsequently resolves it has confidence in. However, it can happen much faster than that. In this scenario, I expect it would happen inside 24 hours.

It’s my view that the House of Commons would baulk at an outright Revoke, and will be painfully aware of the consequences of doing so, but would want the next ‘least bad’ option. Something that can kicks and mitigates the impact. Parliament would want to ensure the European Parliament had several days to ratify at their end (indeed it’s currently not planning to sit from 28th to 31st October) and, if needs be, prepare any additional emergency legislation in the UK to convert it into law.

There would also be many MPs who’d either baulk at voting for Jeremy Corbyn as PM (why take the risk of his disorganisation and equivocation at this late stage?) or by having “voted for Brexit” on their records, so the majority required to pass the Withdrawal Agreement in my view would drop. I’d expect abstentions from the Liberals Democrats and SNP at the very least. But we’d need someone who could both do the job and carry 280 to 290 MPs in the Commons with.

I think a Conservative (or ex-Conservative) would be an obvious choice. The opposition would love to split the party further, make it own Brexit (at an Executive level) and it’s clear that with the personal animosity many possess toward Boris Johnson, this may influence their choices too. There are also several Conservatives currently on the backbenches who might be sufficiently altruistic to sacrifice themselves in the national interest where they sense the game might be up anyway.

Ken Clarke is flavour of the month but my view is that Jeremy Hunt represents a good choice. If he could command a temporary Government of National Unity to pass the WA there’d be no better way to mitigate Brexit, spite Boris and damage the Conservatives all in one. Hunt would take it in my view because he’ll be very nervous about his Surrey South West seat post No Deal and would relish being the saviour – few people give up the chance to become Prime Minister and lead.

He is currently available at 66/1 with Ladbrokes and William Hill, where I might have him down more at 15/1 or even 12/1. I’m on.

Casino Royale

Casino Royale is a long standing PBer and tweets as CasinoRoyalePB


Getting the MPs we deserve?

Friday, April 12th, 2019

A guest slot from Harris Tweed

In a rare moment of PB agreement in a recent thread, Casino_Royale and Nick Palmer, himself a former MP, discussed the shallow gene pool which provides too many of our MPs, and the party and parliamentary processes which aim – not always successfully – to keep them in check. Strong whipping, party patronage and a lack of local competition in their seats mean too many members can enjoy a trouble- and blame-free life on the backbenches with an agreeably-subsidised lunch. As Nick also pointed out, this stifles free thinking and bores some of the cream before it has the chance to rise to the top. (Before I go any further, I apologise for the generalisations in this piece, and agree wholeheartedly that most MPs are doing what they believe to be best, and a number way in excess of zero succeeding).

The three factors I mentioned in breaking down this order of things are probably not the only ones, but they’ve each played their own role. Brexit and Corbyn are effectively the same issue – factors which have split parties to a greater depth than whipping can fix. Both stem from public/membership votes which weren’t tied to the provision of a Commons majority to deliver a programme. Labour members elected a leader clearly unacceptable to a majority of the MPs, and the great British public decided Leave was A Thing without providing the parliamentary clout to see it through. This has left the whipping system broken, and may yet split one or both of the main parties.

I mention social media, because it’s a relatively new influence on MPs. Too often it’s negative and reactive (“people on Facebook are for/against X, therefore so must I be”), and leaves MPs scared of the baying mob. They ignore the fact that the people moved to post about X are very much the fired-up front row, and never a representative sample of their constituents. Nor are they posting from a position of legislating in the round. But it has also democratised the process, and allowed actual experts to illustrate when MPs are talking out of their hats, using the valuable but unfashionable currency of researched facts.

And it’s the lack of that currency among MPs which worries me most. In the “trouble-free/agreeably subsidised lunch/working parliamentary majority” era, they could get away with being ill-informed sheep. Now that each one has become what Nick Palmer called a ‘quasi minister’, chuntering at an op-ed in the Mail and jeering at PMQs really won’t cut it. But we’re the ones who send them there, and the baying mob has more votes than the academic expert on trade in lemons. Too many times, MPs grasp onto a passing opinion piece in the papers as evidence for what they should think or do, without considering that its author was up against a deadline and will be measured on retweets rather than accurate facts-per-paragraph. Get your head in the Commons library and read some actual facts on which to base your opinions!

But even among PB members, how many of us do enough due diligence on the people we send to Westminster? How many of us consider the calibre and quality of the individual rather than which colour rosette they wear and whether they support Policy Y from Party Leader Z? And among the electorate at large, where local newspaper readership has been decimated and local radio stations no longer need to be local, how many voters even know or care who their MP is?

The ‘current situation’ may have left many holding heads in hands, exasperated at MPs’ collective failures. And that may increase the disconnect between Westminster and the voters. But perhaps we can also hope that it’ll lead to at least a few more of us checking who we’re sending there in the first place.

Harris Tweed

(Harris Tweed has been a PB poster for five years and a reader for over a decade. He works in the media, parts of which he fully agrees also find themselves in need of “adultier adults”!)


EU and Whose Army?

Friday, December 7th, 2018

There is no subject that will more rapidly inflame the jowls of a Euroskeptic than that of the EU Army. It is often employed as the trump card that will instantly and irrevocably end all discussion of further European integration.

The basis of this antipathy has never been fully established but seems to be founded, in the first instance on misguided fealty to NATO and, in the second, to the exceptionalist view that no other European nation than the British can field an effective fighting force. However, the fact remains that, for a significant proportion of the British population, the notion of EU owned and operated armed forces causes revulsion and symptoms of physical distress.

So in light of the UK’s troubled relationship with the EU it is worth examining the EU’s currently military disposition, its future intentions and how that might affect the UK.

Army of One

The notion of an autonomous EU defence policy was created in the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the Maastricht Treaty. At that time the EU had a civil war with occasional outbreaks of genocide erupting on its southern flank in the form of the Yugoslav civil war. It was felt that the existing security framework of the ECP was ineffectual and not suited to the febrile times in which Europe now found itself.

The original notion of the CFSP was that EU and NATO forces would be ‘separable but not separate’. NATO would remain responsible for the territorial defence of Europe while the EU would eventually take the lead on peacekeeping and police actions with member state forces being assigned to each entity as necessary.

This situation obtained until the Lisbon Treaty which created the position of the High Representative and the External Action Service. There was no longer going to be a common security policy there was going to be an EU security policy – an important difference. Since then we have had the establishment and rapid growth of the EU Military Service. This organisation is headquartered in Brussels and is currently running six separate operations outside Europe. It is intended that the EUMS will be capable of brigade level executive action by 2020.

Thus the idea that the armed forces of the EU have been developed in secret and only now sprung on the the British people is entirely false. The strategic goals and the direction of travel have been readily apparent since Maastricht.

To its critics the development of the EUMS and the associated structures is a sign of the EU wishing to mantle itself with the trappings of the nation state. This may even be true to a minor extent but it is a happy byproduct rather than the main motivating factor. There are two driving forces behind EU military integration: the strategic and the economic.

Call of Duty

There has always been an influential strand of thought in Europe that may be crudely termed ‘Gaullist’. This philosophy holds that NATO constrains European strategic autonomy and that, instead, there should be a strong and independent Europe de la défense. This school of thought has flowered again since the end of the cold war. For post of the post-war period the US and Europe shared a common strategic goal of opposing the Soviet Union. This allowed Europe to benefit from the presence of significant US forces in Europe.

The strategic interests of the US and Europe no longer align in the same way. The US is now looking anxiously west, across the Pacific, for its rival while Europe looks east where a tattered yet belligerent and unstable double headed eagle hones its talons.

The US is no longer as heavily vested in the defence of Europe as it once was and that effort is rapidly sliding down the scale of American priorities. In a decisive break from the separable but not separate policy the EU is going to have to take responsibility for its own territorial integrity.

The situation has been described with typical erudition by the French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Dans ce travail, nous devrons suivre un fil d’Ariane : celui de l’autonomie stratégique de l’Europe et des Européens. Car il nous revient, au sein de l’Union européenne, d’assurer la sécurité de notre continent et de nos concitoyens.

In this effort we must follow the thread of Ariadne: that of strategic autonomy for Europe and Europeans. Because it is up to us, in the European Union, to ensure the security of our continent and our fellow citizens.

Money for Nothing

The second and equally important compelling factor for European defence integration is financial. Modern weapon systems are fantastically complex and expensive. They require large numbers of technically adept personnel to maintain and operated. With a few exceptions no European nations have the capacity to design and field these systems outside multinational cooperative structures. The result is that no single country can provide a full spectrum of defence capabilities. Each must therefore bring something to the EU military alliance that can strengthen the whole.

Combined EU defence spending is second only to the USA but the fragmentation of that investment across 27/28 (delete as applicable) countries means that resultant military force produced is not of a similar scale.

We Happy Few

Notwithstanding its neurotic gyrations over Brexit the UK shares, perhaps to an even greater degree than some of its continental neighbours, these two issues of strategic autonomy and effective defense spending. An EU military alliance, if effectively funded and operated, is a far better defender of British strategic interests that NATO which utterly dominated, to a degree that is not readily apparent to most, by US interests.

The EUMS is not geographically limited in the way that NATO is by Article 6. This was a provision inserted by the US as it had no appetite for defending the colonial possessions of the UK and France. For a salutary example of how NATO membership does not always serve British interests remember that the Falklands War would never have happened if Article 6 did not exist.

The defence challenges and strategic goals of the UK have more in common with Denmark than Hawaii. Membership of a European defence structure recognises this in a way that NATO membership never can.

There is not going to be an ‘EU Army’ in the sense of a unitary force structure and forces with no chain of command back to national governments any time soon or perhaps ever. There is, however, going to be increasing and accelerating integration of defence efforts through EU institutions.

The UK is going to be involved in the EU defence structure after Brexit because its strategic situation compels it to be so with shared imperatives and goals. It’s is just going to have a much reduced voice when it comes to shaping those structures.

Dura Ace

Dura Ace is a regular and ex-RN officer who was censured for stealing a tuk-tuk while on active duty.


A Nation once again?  Part 2 – Culture and politics

Sunday, October 21st, 2018

In the second of three articles Alanbrooke looks at Irish affairs

In the previous article I looked at economics which is quite a hurdle. This article looks at the longer term issue of the impact of putting two sets of people  together. In Ulster the past always lies ahead of us,  so somewhere along the line somebody needs to be squaring circles. The North, trapped in its history and with a victim mentality, somehow needs to fit in to a fast modernising, liberal state which increasingly wants to leave the past behind.

A culture shock is unavoidable – in both directions

The North and South of Ireland are different in approach . Ulster culture is more like lowland scots irrespective of which religion. Ulster people are brusque, to the point and obstinate (with apologies to readers in Ayrshire). 

A northerner can make asking for a cup of tea sound like a threat without realising it. Unsurprisingly the Nordies often grate with their neighbours much like say the Scots with the English and that’s before we get to the historical baggage.

For unionists it’s the ongoing suspicion of nationalist intent. In the Irish Republic the protestant population has crashed by 60% and dwindled from 10% of the population at independence to 4 % now. A civil war and De Valera’s ardently catholic and Gaelic policies didn’t help improve the unionist view. The RoI’s record on its minority doesn’t look great from up North and as they say just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.

For nationalists there lurks a recurrent niggle that the Republic abandoned them, that the South did live up to the ideals of 1916. Likewise there is a recognition that some aspects of the UK are superior to RoI, the NHS being top of  the list and that would be unlikely to survive in its current format.

For both communities there lurks the prospect of perceived second class citizenship. Once the dust has died down how does the North come to terms with no longer running (or not) its own affairs? How will  Belfast fare against the all-pervading presence of Dublin a city which has a bigger impact on its hinterland than London does to the UK or Paris to France? And then of course there are the day to day issues of parades, flags, the annually scheduled riots the whole headbanging  nonsense.

The Republic is not going to be too worried about Northern sensitivities, they’re too busy making money. There is already a degree of healthy scepticism about the North and that may just get bigger. Southerners look at the North and can’t understand why they don’t want to get richer. 

If you want some fun type “protestant work ethic” in to an Irish blog, you’ll think you’re in a Surrey golf club. The British government’s overindulgence of NI petulance will disappear and I don’t think any community in the North is ready for this, nor the Irish for the political pushback.

Politics will change  drastically

The politics of a New Ireland would be fundamentally different from the old.  For a start off the electorate has just grown by 40% and they are an awkward lot. The Irish STV system encourages communities to vote as blocks for maximum representation. So it’s fairly likely the unionists will all end up voting for a single party which would have about 15% of the seats.

The injection of Northern votes will also propel  Sinn Fein past Fianna Fail, at which point the old civil war party divisions look even more irrelevant. What is the point to two conservative pro-business parties when the opposition are now left wing populists?

How the electoral arithmetic will work out is hard to say, but it’s likely that at some point in the future either Sinn Fein could be the government or the successors to the DUP could hold the balance of power. At this point the North will take its pound of flesh.

Politically the Republic will be in for a shock to the system.  How this will play out is anyone’s guess.  In an ideal world all would get on together and start making themselves better off. But they should be doing that today and they’re not.  Suffice to note the British population in Ulster who are about 2% of the UK have been a perennial thorn in the side to the British government.

The Republic will be taking on a 40% thorn and this will change the nature of the state materially. Unity will put together two peoples who have big holes in their common history and in some cases have diametrically opposed views. The Republic inevitably will become a bit more like the North with all its consequences.

I often say the NI conflict is the Scots versus the Irish but they’ve both agreed to blame the English. Maybe in the distant future a British PM and a Taoiseach will be sitting in a bar somewhere consoling each other on how hard it is to handle their Scots.


Alanbrooke is a longstanding poster on PB as well as a Northern Irishman.


The Dangers of Polite Demagogues

Monday, September 3rd, 2018

The cartoonist known as Pont is perhaps best remembered (if at all) for his Punch series on the English character. The cartoons depict a certain type of pre-war English upper middle class life (dressing for dinner, hunting, country weekends, clubland, patient, stoic enjoyment of outdoor pursuits, bewilderment at Abroad and the need to Keep up Standards, often to the point of absurdity) laced with endearing eccentricity. It is a life which has largely disappeared, save for those (often foreigners) wealthy enough to indulge in some of its nicer aspects. Yet some of his gently humorous observations still resonate: Absence of Decision is the ideal gift for Mrs May when she finally retires. A Tendency to Be Hearty quietly pokes fun at the Farages of this world. The Importance of Not Being Alien speaks for itself.

Two of his cartoons – Political Apathy and the Importance of Not Being Intellectual capture a very English mistrust of Big Ideas and and the excitable politicians promoting them. Big Philosophical Ideas are for Foreigners. Odd really since Locke, Paine, Burke, Mill and Adam Smith have a pretty good claim to have come up with the ideas which have shaped an important strand of Western political thought. Still, Utopian politics have never had much purchase in English politics, at least since the Civil War. If anyone felt the need to start reshaping societies radically, there was America available or, later, the Empire. No Napoleons for us, thank you very much!

Some of that scepticism has been felt about politicians who were charismatic, fluent, outsiders in some respect and, possibly, unreliable or dangerous. Non-U, to coin a term. But at various times, oh so necessary. Disraeli, rescuing the Tories from the electoral wilderness. Later, Lloyd George. Or Churchill. The latter two reached their zenith in wartime, when ordinary rules no longer apply.

But Mosley (arguably as talented and charismatic) was not trusted, the English instinctively viewing him as a Roderick Spode rather than a new Messiah. Angry, foam-flecked shouting is associated with dangerous, possibly religious based, idees fixe (Ian Paisley and his Whore of Babylon) or encouraging violence (Scargill ruining the miners’ case by talking about overthrowing the government). Even when radical change was wanted, it was a conventional, polite, taciturn, traditional leader (Attlee) who was trusted to deliver it.

Radicalism does not necessitate ranting and rallies (though it does need thoughtful preparation) and, if a bit of passion is needed, well, Welsh politicians are always available. (Scots politicians touch us in other ways.) There was something admirable in a determination not to reward demagoguery.

A stereotype no doubt and probably no longer true, if it ever was. There was demagoguery aplenty two years ago and last year. Still, it is true that manners, how people behave, speak and look has always played a part in how politicians are assessed. This tendency seems more marked nowadays with the perpetual search for the charismatic, authentic (policies an optional extra) politician who will make people feel good and inspire them while not frightening the horses or, at least, not too many of them.

Viewed in this light, Corbyn captures the zeitgeist almost perfectly. Mild-mannered, patient, with the air of a kindly, determined uncle with gentle eccentric hobbies (allotments, manhole covers) only becoming exasperated at being unfairly pressed, as anyone would, really (or so his supporters say) and yet, on stage, able to generate adoring loyalty and admiration.

Little wonder at the frustration of those who see a petulant evasiveness, questionable judgment, malicious indifference to those outside his circle and passive-aggressive response to criticism or challenge behind it. Not hard to be calm, after all, if others to do the ranting for you; even easier to claim it has nothing to do with you, should someone be so rude as to complain.

Meanwhile, the Tories, lumbered with a dutiful leader doggedly pursuing an ill-thought through policy which its main proponents can now barely explain, let alone implement competently, pathetically latch onto the latest saviour politician for the post-May deluge (Johnson, Rees-Mogg, Javid, Hunt, Raab) each time one manages to walk and talk in public without falling over.

Let’s take Rees-Mogg who, with his suits, 8-year old’s haircut, devotion to Nanny and courtly fluent politeness, could have walked straight out of a Pont cartoon. He talks beautifully, has lovely manners charming even his most determined opponents and has the requisite amount of eccentricity.

Or Johnson with his messy hair, ill-fitting clothes, classical aphorisms, rather-too-pleased-with-itself wit and carefully crafted bumbling persona. That either of them should be viewed as serious contenders for the highest office suggests a failure to listen to what they say, to see that they mostly talk nonsense, sometimes dangerous, ill thought-out and harmful nonsense. It is a measure of how out of ideas and talent the Tories seem to be that amateurish eccentricity, incompetence in office and Boys Own enthusiasm are even thought of as serious contenders.

Against them, Corbyn, catering for the 1960’s nostalgia market, can almost look like the grown up. Almost.  Some of his criticisms are well-founded; some of his policies sensible in aim, if not execution. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.

Easy to see the dangers in excitable ranting. Less so when dangerous ideas or plain nonsense are spoken quietly. Mildness is not the same as moderation. Bad ideas do not become better because they are presented fluently. Fervour is not a substitute for thought. If the English have been good at not falling for obvious demagogues, they seem now all too willing to fall for polite ones.