Sunday, 29 November 2020

Mis-selling Brexit

The British Parliament has finally had the chance to scrutinise the new UK-Japan trade deal that has been trumpeted for so long by Brexidiot Truss. Unsurprisingly, two committees found that the difference between the new deal and the terms available to the UK under the EU-Japan deal are not as extensive as the Secretary of State for International Trade had claimed. An opposition MP found that the government's own figures show the UK will be worse off than under EU terms.

The House of Commons International Trade Committee, did find some extra items on digital services and data (precedent-setting for future agreements) and financial services (including a ban on the need to store financial data in the host country).

The House of Lords International Agreements Sub-Committee pointed out that "exaggerating the gains ... courts unjustified scepticism about what is a respectable ... agreement". 

UK-Japan deal also depends on a trade agreement between the UK and the EU because, for example, "to secure existing trilateral trade flows between the EU, UK and Japan, the UK and EU would need to extend cumulation to Japan through their own trade agreement". 

The Committees want more effective scrutiny of future free trade agreements that are not based on existing EU arrangements, which are likely to be more controversial. 

Meanwhile, Emily Thornberry revealed the results of Opposition efforts to get to the bottom of the economic value of the UK-Japan deal relative to the UK's terms under the EU- Japan deal:


Saturday, 7 November 2020

Lipstick On A Pig: The Decade

The ten years since the first book rose from this bog blog have certainly demonstrated that bailing out the banks fails to change their behaviour and  'people power' is on the rise. Yet 'success' remains elusive, as does any clear sign of a winner in the war between 'intelligent practice' and 'uninformed, stupid practice'. 52% of Brits voted to leave the world's largest trade bloc, and nearly as many Americans just voted for a toxic Donald Trump as voted against him. Maybe we humans just love putting lipstick on pigs?

The successful 'facilitators' of 2011 have indeed become the 'institutions' of 2020, as the US Congress seeks to break their respective monopolies. And political parties have indeed proved to be more concerned with solving their own problems than those of their voters or society.

Individual narratives have begun to subvert the top-down institutional narrative - reality TV and the social media have catapulted lone footballers and 16 year old environmental activists to stardom, while enabling grifters to earn fortunes as social media 'influencers' and even to assume the highest office in their land.

Innovation has continued apace, and it's nice to see that the UK 'crowdfunding' market of 2020 has grown to a record £6.26bn, while the rest of the European has doubled in the same period to over €6.6bn. And this innovation did not 'kill' any other form of finance, as some feared (or hoped). The new and the old co-exist. Even cheques have not died out, while cryptocurrencies have boomed.

And our defences against disaster indeed weakened to the point where we were not ready for myriad floods, fires, global warming or the latest pandemic and its accompanying economic depression.

Financial regulation has flexed belatedly to address crowdfunding and more recently cryptoassets, but continues to lag too far behind ever more rapid developments and to protect regulated institutions at customers' expense.

On balance, greed and stupidity are still winning. Scepticism is applied just as often to hard facts as it is to political delusions or financial scams. Snake-oil vendors have done a roaring trade.

The working title of the next book evolved from "The Personal State" to "You: the war for control of your data and the money that flows from it." The abuse of personal data and artificial intelligence (not to mention encrypted messaging and distributed ledger technology) felt like the source of more bubble-and-crash. But that project stalled in 2015 due to workload and for some reason I lost all appetite for it in 2016... Most posts since then have examined developments in the Brexit farce, the bulk of which inspire nothing more than sarcastic dismissal on Twitter rather than anything approaching thoughtful examination. 


It turns out that the direct action of 'people power' merely results in culture wars - including those of the armed variety. We humans just love putting lipstick on pigs...

Thursday, 8 October 2020

A European View of Brexit: Three Sources of Opportunities

Ironically, I was asked to give a European view of Brexit for an online conference this morning. I say, ironically, because it was in my role as an Irish lawyer for an Irish law firm, yet speaking from London as someone who's also qualified as an English solicitor and who left Sydney in 1994 as a 29 year old barrister. I guess that makes me one of Theresa May’s ‘citizens of nowhere’. At any rate, here's a summary of my view - which I tried to couch in terms of opportunities from a European standpoint.

How to view Brexit

I see Brexit as a set of international sanctions self-imposed by voters for emotional reasons - whether perceived 'lack of sovereignty', feeling 'left behind by globalisation', xenophobia or nostalgia. The hard facts never mattered. Trading rights to fish in UK waters to EU countries may have 'sent a shudder' through the House of Commons from a symbolic, nationalistic standpoint but fishing is the UK's smallest industry, employing 24,000 people and exporting 80% of its catch to the EU to help feed 400m people, as opposed to the UK's 65m.

And the hard reality is that the UK helped build the EU trade bloc, including advocating its expansion to 28 members; and contributing significantly to many of its rules, like EU financial services regulation and, ironically, anti-money laundering regulation. So I have little sympathy with the idea that Britain could legitimately expect the EU suddenly to change how it does deals with third countries just because Britain used to be a member state.


Brexit may be a mess of the UK's own making, but every mess provides an opportunity for someone to clean up.

Looking for opportunities in this context is a bit like the final scene in "The Life of Brian". A lot of terrible things happen in that scene, including mass-suicide out of 'solidarity' with the poor unfortunates being crucified. But it's important to remember that the scene ends with everyone singing “Always look on the bright side of life”.  

To continue the idea that Brexit is a set of self-imposed sanctions, the opportunities really boil down to 'sanction-busting' – finding workarounds for the many problems Brexit creates. Aside from the potential for speculators and other 'disaster capitalists' to make money, there are three sources for these opportunities:

Any form of Brexit means ‘no deal’ for services

The end of Brexit transition period in December means the end of free movement of services from the UK into the EU (and the free movement of the labour needed to deliver them), as well as the end of mutual recognition of professional qualifications, licences and various types of certificates (e.g. veterinary, eIDAS identity certificates and so on).

That's a significant problem because services account for 80% of the UK economy, 80% of UK jobs and a third of UK exports, 40% of which go to EEA countries. 

This means UK firms need to set up EEA hubs, which will bring know-how, jobs and tax revenues to their new home countries. Ireland has a great opportunity here, being the only principally English speaking, common law country left in the EEA with a visa-free Common Travel Area for British and Irish workers. That's why I got my own practising certificate in Ireland and added a consultancy with an Irish law firm, since my UK practising certificate and legal qualifications won't be recognised in the EU after Brexit transition ends.

The perceived mishandling of Covid19 by the UK government compared to others (not to mention a trend toward xenophobic policy measures and right wing culture) might also feed into people’s sense of where is best to live, as could a trend toward remote-working as opposed to treating cities like London as essential hubs.

Britain is a consultant/client state:

Successive British governments have been relaxed about the sale of British businesses to foreign buyers, to the point where there aren’t really many major British-owned businesses anymore, and there seem likely be even fewer in future. 

In fact, Britain has evolved not only into an 80% service economy but also a consultant state - a sort of UK Consulting PLC. It majors in financial services, international dispute resolution, artificial intelligence, computing, construction, engineering and lots of other services (not to mention tax avoidance and money laundering) without actually owning the factories, output, buildings or in many cases even the land on which they're built. 

At the same time the British government apparently sees the job of serving its own citizens as something to be outsourced to private service providers. So the government operates like a procurement platform, paying service providers vast sums of tax money to deliver public services in remarkably autonomous fashion, while extracting taxes from the service providers' public sector income (as a kind of referral commission), as well as the taxes on the revenue from UK Consulting PLC. 

Needless to say, there are all sorts of opportunities for EU/UK service providers to import and export services using local UK/EU entities and locally qualified personnel, subject to dual qualifications and nationality/visas for those who need to move between.

Friction at the borders

There will be problems and delays at the UK borders, regardless of any deal or no deal. So Ireland, for example, is busy figuring out how to get its goods in and out by increased ferry services to and from the EU, and is planning how to open up markets beyond the UK

On both sides of the borders, customers who import from the EU into the UK or vice versa want to avoid 'customs risk'. That means the exporting suppliers must have a local entity/office in the EU/UK that takes on the responsibility and the liability for ensuring goods are delivered to importers. 

In each case, both European and British businesses can assist each other in embracing these challenges as opportunities, even if the ultimate result is a transfer of British business activity to the EU and a British economy that is smaller and produces less than if Britain had remained a member of the trade bloc.

You see, I told you there'd be opportunities!


Sunday, 27 September 2020

One Chart The Brexidiots Never Show Leave Voters

These are not asylum seekers or refugees. This is Tory-approved immigration

Source: Office of National Statistics

Friday, 4 September 2020

Brexit Threat to Consumer Protection For EU Purchases

After years of Brexit delay, suddenly every day brings news of another important detail missed. This one hits consumers just as directly as delays to goods at the border, and depends on the British government understanding the problem and agreeing a solution within the next 119 days...

Currently, if you have a problem with something you bought in EU country, Iceland or Norway you can get free advice from the UK European Consumer Centre. They'll explain your rights as a consumer, help you settle the dispute or put you in touch with someone else who can help.

In May 2020, for example, the centre saw a surge in consumer queries over Ryanair's mass cancellation of flights, and it received 7,067 queries during the COVID-19 lockdown from 23 March to mid-August. Hundreds of thousands of UK residents have been helped during the past 13 years.

The centre is the only service of its type available to UK consumers. It employs 11 specialist staff based at the Chartered Trading Standards Institute in Basildon, Essex, and is jointly funded by the UK and EU as part of a wider ECC network in the countries it covers.

Andy Allen, Service Director at the UK ECC, says that if an agreement is not reached "...this is not a tap that can be turned back on again at a moment's notice – these are specialist jobs. The UK ECC could face closure, the 11 staff could lose their livelihoods and thousands of UK consumers would have no-one to help them in their disputes with traders in the EU."

Let's hope negotiators can find a way to maintain this critical service...

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

COVID19 Reveals A Naked British Government

Cartoon by Peter Brookes
You only learn when things go wrong, as my first boss used to say, and COVID19 is giving the British a masterclass. The pandemic has revealed not only that their government failed them in very practical ways through incompetence, but that it has also unwittingly abandoned many of its core capabilities. A government with an 80 seat majority in Parliament is actually powerless. The British Prime Minister has no clothes.

This is not about small or big government, centralised planning versus devolved powers or libertarianism versus socialism. All models of government must deliver at the basic level that a pandemic requires. Yet since 2015, three Tory governments have failed to ensure that Britain maintained stockpiles of necessary equipment and adequate hospital capacity or was capable of delivering food and necessary equipment to where it's needed. It's not as if the "Opposition" were any more capable of stepping into the breach. Military planners had to be called upon to co-ordinate the response, and their troops to deliver it while ministers remained unable to communicate about the impact and response in a way that built trust in the government's ability to handle this crisis - or the next...  Brexit transition will end without a deal in December, amid far lower investment than in other 'G7' nations; foodbanks abound while crops rot in the fields, and both unemployment and borrowing are beginning to rocket.

Who's managing Britain's state of readiness?

Maintaining a state of readiness for a pandemic or epidemic is obviously critical to fighting it. But that's a process that has to be managed. Stockpiles of food and equipment pass their use-by dates and must be replaced and replenished. Contracts for services and personnel must be renewed to support logistics and distribution. Households need their own stockpiles and workers must be ready to work from home or remotely at short notice. Emergency cash subsidies have to reach bank accounts promptly.

Repeated assurances by the British government that the UK health and social care system was "well-equipped" and "well-prepared" for a pandemic were clearly wrong, just as they have been concerning preparations for Brexit and for recent floodsChannel 4 News uncovered evidence of systemic failure to monitor and maintain stockpiles of PPE and respirators. Almost 80% of respirators in the national pandemic stockpile were out of date when coronavirus hit the UK, and 45% of PPE boxes held out of date equipment. There were no protective gowns, despite recommendations to buy them last year.  Emergency funding has been slow to arrive, and largely involves loans through banks for which government guarantees had to be extended to 100% as they are unlikely to be repaid, suggesting little planning for such an event.

But who, if not the government, manages the process of remaining ready for a pandemic, even if the actual work is outsourced to the private sector?

Responsiblity for the pandemic stockpile and distribution process may have been delegated to Public Health England and a public sector management company, Supply Chain Coordination Limited, but accountability lies with the British government, just as the banks have insisted on its financial backing over the distribution of funding.

Managing the Response

The British government actually wound down its dedicated pandemic response management capabilities over the past four years. In its defence, it might say that it had merely 'streamlined' its ability to deal with all types of catastrophe, and that reflects a trend:
"Without that overbearing [nuclear] threat, much of the planning and preparedness that was set up by 20th Century governments has either fallen away or been subsumed into other crisis management plans. Schemes for how to deal with severe flooding, terrorist attacks or other events that may displace large numbers of people have likely drawn on the old Cold War planning..." How Prepared Are We For A Nuclear War? BBC Future 22. 07.2017
Terrorist attacks have luckily been very localised, enabling prompt containment. Yet, time and again the British government has responded poorly to larger scale floods. Similarly, the supply and distribution of intensive care machines, PPE and testing/tracing capability are large scale challenges this government has failed to meet, even declining involvement in international procurement exercises and offers from local producers, only to later 'beg' for ventilators and protective equipment. Panorama revealed hidden mistakes in actually delivering PPE to health and social care workers, not to mention delays in testing.

As a result, what should be reliable delivery forecasts have become merely arbitrary, aspirational 'challenges' with no certainty as to whether they can be met, let alone sustained.

Increasingly, Johnson's government has fallen back on the British Army's command and control structure to directly manage situations that the government itself should be managing. He has had to rely on the British Army to deliver PPE and testing logistics (as well as construction of makeshift hospitals to cope with anticipated demand for intensive care beds). This reliance, together with the vast number of excess deaths, illuminates the gaps between assurances and reality.

It cannot be acceptable for any government to have lost effective oversight of the process for delivering essential items in a crisis.

Trusted Communications?

There is a huge amount of literature on the importance of trustworthy leadership in a crisis. After all, it is only human to look for guidance on what's happening, what to do and what to expect amidst a major disaster. Without it, humans simply do as they please, with disastrous effects - as the 1918 influenza pandemic showed, even in small rural communities.

Trust is a function of credibilty, which itself is built on honesty and transparency.

Boris Johnson has never been on even terms with the truth and he and his various substitutes at the daily British government press briefings have continually demonstrated a lack of honesty and transparency over every element of COVID19 preparedness and response.

This has provoked both anger at the false assurances, and many media investigations into the true position, including those mentioned earlier. Yet Johnson's government continues its boycott of certain media outlets and ministers have even resorted to muting journalists who ask probing questions during the controlled coronavirus media briefings.

Johnson's latest target for tests was dismissed out of hand, and his confused messaging over whether lockdown measures might be eased produced directly conflicting headlines from two national newspapers in the same stable within a day of each other. There have been U-turns over so-called "plans" to re-open schools as well as car-sharing and likely the belated insistence that those arriving in the UK must self-isolate for 14 days. A major financial stimulus package has been deferred to the autumn. The abominal failure to discipline, let alone sack, Johnson's political adviser over his lockdown adventures is now the stuff of legend.

In these circumstances it is no surprise that Johnson and his health minister score low on trust over COVID19, and the majority of people tend to rely on others for the facts:
Fewer than two in five (36%) said they trusted what the prime minister, Boris Johnson, said on the subject, while just 37% trusted the information given by the health secretary, Matt Hancock.
However, 59% said they placed their faith in the chief medical adviser to the UK government, Chris Whitty, and 55% said they would trust the director general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
It remains to be seen how generalised this lack of trust might become, but Johnson's own approval rating has plummeted.

This is encouraging. Any society must consider both the systemic errors and their concealment to be unacceptable if it wishes to protect itself against disaster as well as it can. Whether Starmer is any more likely to get a grip on the situation remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Johnson's Brexidiot government must put some clothes on, even if only to spare us the sight of them...

Sunday, 7 June 2020

Little England Learns Its Place In The World

As the deadline looms for any extension to Britain's transition to lonely outcast in 2021, it is only fitting that Boris "Brexidiot" Johnson should seal that fate by following through on his promise to renege on the UK's Withdrawal Agreement which he only just won an election by promising to sign. No doubt Johnson is fully aware that the Little English have long been infamous in Europe for such acts of duplicity, which was the hallmark of his own stint there as an unreliable journalist. Indeed, the Lyin' King has shown the same duplicity in the course of trade talks with the US. He really is Little England personified.

Duplicitous England has never really been accepted as part of Europe, other than by accident of equally duplicitous geography: a mere 34 kilometres has prevented the frequency of invasions suffered by contintental nations, as has its meagre size and supply of natural resources. After the ignominy of losing the parts of France from which the Normans had successfully invaded, Little England has only thrived as part of a pirate state, from Queen Elizabeth to Queen Elizabeth, enriched only by what it could steal or leech from others by boat and financial alchemy. Even the decision to join the EEC was motivated by greed and envy, rather than any great desire to lead:
Britain joined what was then the European Economic Community in 1973 as the sick man of Europe. By the late 1960s, France, West Germany and Italy — the three founder members closest in size to the UK — produced more per person than it did and the gap grew larger every year. Between 1958, when the EEC was set up, and Britain’s entry in 1973, gross domestic product per head rose 95 per cent in these three countries compared with only 50 per cent in Britain.
After becoming an EEC member, Britain slowly began to catch up. Gross domestic product per person has grown faster than Italy, Germany and France in the more than 40 years since. By 2013, Britain became more prosperous than the average of the three other large European economies for the first time since 1965.
But that status, too, slipped from Little England's grasp, even before the impact of Johnson's appalling mismanagement of the response to the COVID19 pandemic. Since the chart below was compiled, estimates are that Britain will be saddled with more debt than after World War II (which it only finally repaid on 31 December 2006), its citizens no longer able to live, work and trade freely in the world's largest trade bloc amid soaring unemployment.

Source: Institute for Fiscal Studies

There have been endless warnings of Little England's impending, impoverished isolation. Like the Brexit warnings dismissed as "Project Fear", all have gone unheeded, and an Empire on which the sun never set has dwindled to a fractious gang of dependent 'Home Nations' squabbling over their share of the shrinking public purse. 

It's taken ten years for the "Tory faithful" to make the nostalgic fantasy-lined coffin in which their Little England will be lowered to its final resting place.

The end of Brexit transition is the lid.

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

If Cummings Goes, The Lies Expose


It's because Boris Johnson and his merry band of CovidBrexidiots do not share your reality. They live in a tiny model bus that Johnson made out of lies (see clip below). To be allowed to stay in Johnson's bus, the CovidBrexidiots must keep lying. This strengthens the bus, which would otherwise be crushed by Reality, exposing all the lies. 

Dominic Cummings supplies the lies, and targets them at selected believers through a network of social media accounts. Without Cummings the CovidBrexidiots would have no lies, their little model bus would be crushed and all the lies would come out.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Just As Blair Never Escaped Iraq, Johnson Will Never Escape Brexit Or COVID19

There's a lot of speculation about whether Boris Johnson can steady his government's COVID19 plague ship in time to weather the Brexit storm. It seems unlikely, but who knows? What is certain is that the stigma of both disasters will stick to Johnson forever, in the same way the second Gulf War dogs Tony Bliar Blair to this day...

In 1997, Blair found a way to unite Britain by promising a lot: Change, an end to Thatcherism, a new personal empowerment, an "end to boom-and-bust"... you name it. The hype inspired hope on a grand scale, and for his first term it seemed to hold. He was re-elected easily in 2001. Successful peace-keeping efforts in the late 90's led to early wins in Afghanistan after 9/11.

Then Blair succumbed to a Messiah Complex and hope turned to disillusionment. In 2003, he sealed his ultimate fate by ignoring Britain's largest ever mass demonstration and 139 of his own MPs in favour of 10 Downing Street's own "intelligence" to commit Britain to the invasion of Iraq. Oh, sure, Blair also systematically ignored the House of Commons and dedicated himself to dealing with the public directly through media manipulation and spin. He tolerated the Mandelson scandals and the dysfunctional relationship with Gordon Brown, allowing gross over-spending in boom times that ultimately left Britain grimly exposed to the financial crisis. But Blair still won the 2005 election, and enjoyed 2 more years as PM before resigning in favour of the hapless Brown. Yet the invasion of Iraq still hung round his neck:
"In his [May 2007 resignation speech]... Mr Blair dealt directly with Iraq, many people's perception as his ultimate legacy, saying: "The blowback since ... has been fierce, unrelenting and costly."
And even after the intervening financial crisis and the fact that RBS remains publicly owned to this day, Blair's destiny is to be remembered for his role in the invasion of Iraq - as borne out by the reactions that greeted the Chilcot Report in 2016, his interventions during the Brexit debate and the scorn within the Labour Party for his advice in more recent times.

“It is not in the stars to hold our destiny but in ourselves.” 
William Shakespeare

In similar fashion to Blair's Iraq adventure, Boris Johnson sealed his own fate when he threw his political weight behind the infamously dishonest Leave campaign in 2016 (cunningly preferring his own article in favour of leaving to his own article in favour of remaining).

This exemplified the stunning degree of misjudgement for which Johnson has long been renowned

The referendum itself had been mired in controversy even before Cameron promised it as a bribe to right wing Tories to garner their support for his own re-election campaign in 2015. That intensified when he unexpectedly won a Tory majority and was forced by his own party to hold the EU vote. A statesman would have left the matter to the populace and balanced their 'advice' with rational expertise, leaving Britain's unique and beneficial international trade terms in tact. Yet, bizarrely, Cameron committed to implementing the result of the advisory referendum, then lashed himself to the mast, albeit by leading the campaign for the only sustainable outcome. He lost no time in resigning as soon as it was over, and Theresa May's dreadful, already forgotten premiership demonstrated why. The lunatics had taken over the asylum. 

Chief among the lunatics was Johnson, who lurked in the wings throughout the May debacle because his shamelessly opportunistic, narcissistic decision to lead the Leave vote had shackled him to Brexit for the rest of his life. He'd made sure that securing Brexit was his only chance of being Prime Minister, and it remained Brexit or bust for him - no matter that it's Brexit and bust for Britain. Johnson simply didn't - and doesn't - care. It's all about him and his Brexit. He's taken Blair's lack of respect for Parliament to literally unconstitutional lengths. He's ignored bigger demonstrations than those against the Iraq war. He prefers outright lies to mere spin or media manipulation. He ignores detail and prefers waxing lyrical with obtuse references to ancient myths, always myths....

Being remembered for the myth of Brexit is Johnson's destiny.

Then along came COVID19...

Brexit reality has been slow to dawn, mainly because it involves simply not doing stuff.  We've seen the steady departure of EU citizens, headquarters of EU organisations, manufacturing capacity and jobs - all signs of air leaking out of the economy. Meanwhile, essential investment has withered, compared to investment in the other "G7" nations, and successive Tory governments have under-invested in the capability of the British state to actually do the tedious things that Brexit demands, like setting up customs checks and checkpoints, creating the new import/export forms, issuing guidance to businesses and so on. Yet none of that chaos will really hit until the Brexit transition period expires - currently still on schedule for 31 December 2020...

Instead, it's fallen to the COVID19 pandemic to reveal how badly the Brexidiot Tories have under-invested in the British state more generally, and how poorly equipped Johnson and his cronies are to manage Britain's return to phyiscal and economic health. No sooner had the ink dried on the Withdrawal Agreement and Johnson's weird victory speech had echoed through the Old Naval College at Greenwhich than the virus began relentlessly punching him and his Brexidiot crew in the face, remorselessly exposing their lies, misinformation and gaslighting on their state of preparation and ability to respond.  BoJo's Brexit Britain was revealed to be unprepared, ill-equipped, slow to respond, unable to organise delivery of the right protective equipment to staff who need it, unable to arrange testing on the necessary scale and is now second to the United States in the number of COVID19 deaths.

Throughout this lastest crisis, Johnson himself has largely disappeared. Yet amidst his 2 week personal holiday in February and 4 weeks off with COVID19 in April, Johnson's Brexit crew insisted they were working toward the end of transition on 31 December 2020, leaving the EU's chief negotiator to reveal on April 24th that, in fact, the UK "has failed to engage substantially" in the Brexit trade talks at all.

There's no escaping that Brexit destiny, even while he's chiselling "COVID19" onto his tombstone.

Not that Johnson even really cares.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Are We Clear On COVID 19, Boris?

It's difficult to believe that Boris Johnson's first press conference on the COVID 19 pandemic occurred only two weeks ago, on 16 March 2020. Scandalous, in fact, given the need for the government to inspire trust and confidence in its handling of a situation that was already 10 weeks old, so that we all follow public health instructions. Worse, however, is that these briefings are largely used as Johnson's opportunity to lie and misinform. Even Alistair Campbell, the original Spinmeister, finally snapped and provided 20 top-tips for properly keeping the nation informed - advice that's been reported so widely and with such approval that nobody can be in any doubt that Johnson is determined not to be honest at all...

A key feature of this daily 'dog and pony show' is for Johnson, or another Brexidiot minister standing-in, to be flanked by two human shields: either another Brexidiot minister or a senior civil servant to his right; and a senior civil servant to his left. 

When in the middle himself, Johnson largely plays the role of panel chairman, ostentatiously ticking some list of journalists or media outlets, scribbling a note and assigning each question to one of his shields. Though occasionally he fails to resist the temptation to answer with his own waffle or muddle the issue that he's handing off. 

The questions are invited in twos and threes. This also helps shift attention to the 'business' of who will answer each question, rather than the meaning and importance of each question itself. Amidst the confusion it's impracticable for anyone to point out that a question wasn't answered clearly, or at all. 

Questions on the politics get smothered in nonsense or ignored in the usual way, but inevitably it oozes out that a lie has been told or a horrendous error of judgement was made and covered up.

Technical questions - on 'models', the 'science' or health - go to the civil servants, often with a muddle of words from Johnson which the poor unfortunate technocrat has to clear up before getting a chance to answer the actual question.

I pity the civil servants. Understandably, they were not chosen for their jobs based on either their ability to handle a national press conference accompanied by a mendacious narcissist, or to speak in sentences and language that a national audience with a reading age of 11 could understand. So putting them on display like this is Johnson's idea of a practical joke. It would be amusing if this were a televsion show, as one day it might be (Yes Minister with a daily press conference). But now, not so much. 

My personal favourite is the current Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, and I leave you with perhaps the longest single sentence to date, at nearly two full minutes, on how long the current 'suppression measures' might be in place. This is the sort of question that should've been averted by providing the information succintly in the first place, but the poor DCMO is left to deal with it. Bless her, she deserves a medal for fronting BoJo's despicable regime in a time of great crisis. In the meantime, a nation waits patiently for genuinely informative briefings from the British government...

Friday, 27 March 2020

Stocks May Plunge As Well As Fall. But In The Long Run...?

Here's an insight into why investing in the stock market is worthwhile in the long term, and you need to be a professional to pick the highs and lows in any given time frame (with thanks to Google Finance and COVID 19):

1 day chart:

5 day chart:

1 year chart:

5 year chart:

30+ year chart:

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Get Ready For... 18 Months Of On/Off Supression Measures

Source: Imperial College Covid-19 Response Team
This is the Imperial College COVID 19 report that forced the British government to switch from its reliance on 'mitigation' measures and potential "herd immunity" to 'suppression' measures favoured by most other countries on Earth to avoid their healthcare systems being crushed by sheer numbers of victims being admitted to hospital and/or intensive care units (ICU). 

The report was probably adopted by the Tories merely because it carried the word "Imperial" but, hey, at least it had the desired outcome.

The report explains that suppression measures (isolation for those sick or vulnerable; social distancing; a ban on mass gatherings; and closure of schools/universities) will need to last 18 months, but could be switched on and off during that time to prevent the second and third 'waves' that we saw from the 1918-19 influenza pandemic.

Only the major social distancing and school closures would be 'triggered' with the other suppression measures remaining in place.

The two major suppression measures could be switched “off” when only 50 people in a week are admitted to ICU with COVID 19, then switched on again if 100 people in a week are admitted to ICU; “off” again when only 50 people in a week are admitted to ICU; and so on...

It is estimated that social distancing and school closures would apply in 12 of the 18 months (see above chart).

The report considers it is reasonable to assume that after 18 months we should have a vaccine that has been given to enough people for the suppression measures to be switched off completely.

What this will mean in economic and social terms is anyone's guess, but Brexit seems unlikely to be achievable until it's over, since government, businesses and citizens will not be in a position to understand Brexit impact, let alone deal with it. 

Monday, 16 March 2020

The Lyin' King Must Go

Not content with misleading Britain into economic hell, Boris Johnson has now succeeded in misleading great swathes of the British public to their ultimate doom. Yesterday, after spending weeks claiming that the UK is "well prepared" to deal with the COVID 19 strain of coronavirus, his government finally admitted that the UK is, you guessed it... not well prepared. In fact, it desperately needs extra ventilators and staff to care for the critically ill among the 7.9 million who may need to be hospitalised. So desperately are ventilators required, that the government will pay "any price" for them, and even wants manufacturers of diggers and other heavy equipment to have a go at making ventilators instead. So much for Brexit Britain's export hopes. That's enough lies now. Any basis for trusting this lot has disappeared - and trust is absolutely critical if the public is to follow government advice. It really is time for Johnson and his Brexiteers to take a well earned rest from government.

Aside from the catalogue of lies before Christmas, consider the following timeline on coronavirus:

In 2016, the NHS ran a pandemic drill called "Exercise Cygnus" after which the Chief Medical Officer warned that the UK faced "inadequate ventilation". Here's the NHS England influenza pandemic response plan for 2017, which does not mention of ventilator/ventilation but refers to 'stockpiles' of peronal protective equipment and other 'measures'.

At the end of December and on 6 and 9 January 2020, warnings were issued of a 'flu-like outbreak' in China by Canadian and US monitoring systems and the World Health Organisation.

On Thursday 23 January 2020, the British Health Secretary, Matt "Mattymatics" Hancock insisted the NHS was "well prepared" for any outbreak of coronavirus in the UK, and told Parliament that the UK was "well equipped" to deal with any cases.

On 26 January 2020, Labour's shadow health secretary warned the government that "The NHS is currently under immense strain this winter with staff already working flat out and hospitals overcrowded."

On 31 January 2020, the lying continued:
Authorities have said the NHS is ‘extremely well-prepared’ for cases of the Wuhan novel coronavirus.
Chief Medical Officer for England Professor Chris Whitty said: ‘We have been preparing for UK cases of novel coronavirus and we have robust infection control measures in place to respond immediately.
On the same day, a British official attended EU health security meeting to discuss buying ventilators and protective equipment [updated 1.04.20].

On 3 February 2020, Hancock said again, "Our world-class NHS is well prepared and we are doing everything we can to protect the public."

That same day, Johnson gave a speech at Greenwich promoting Brexit.
And in that context, we are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage, then at that moment humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange, some country ready to take off its Clark Kent spectacles and leap into the phone booth and emerge with its cloak flowing as the supercharged champion, of the right of the populations of the earth to buy and sell freely among each other.

On 4 February 2020, Britain was again represented at an EU health security meeting where procuring kit was discussed [updated 1.04.20].

On 11 and 12 February 2020, the World Health Organisation hosted a summit of 400 international to coordinate a global response to COVID 19, at which the Director General said:
As of 6am Geneva time this morning, there were 42,708 confirmed cases reported in China, and tragically we have now surpassed 1000 deaths - 1017 people in China have lost their lives to this virus. Most of the cases and most of the deaths are in Hubei province, Wuhan.
Outside China, there are 393 cases in 24 countries, and 1 death.
Johnson was then missing for 12 days in February, returning on 26 February, when Hancock told Parliament:
“We are taking all necessary measures to minimise the risk to the public... we are still in the phase of the plan which is contain – where we aim to contain the virus, both abroad and here at home, to prevent it becoming a pandemic whilst of course ensuring plans are in place should that happen.”
On 29 February 2020, NHS doctors were warning that the government has "no idea" on coronavirus.

On 2 March 2020, Britain was again represented at an EU health security meeting where procuring kit was discussed [updated 1.04.20]

On 3 March 2020, a survey of 1,618 NHS doctors found that 99% "were not in agreement with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s assurances that the health service could cope with a major coronavirus outbreak in the UK".

On 6 March 2020, Johnson said, "We are ensuring the country is prepared for the current outbreak, guided by the science at every stage."

On 12 March 2020, the WHO announced that COVID 19 could formally be described as a "pandemic", with 20,000 confirmed cases and almost 1000 deaths in Europe. The WHO's director for the region said:
More and more countries are now experiencing clusters of cases or community transmission. We expect that in the days and weeks ahead, the number of cases and the number of deaths will continue to rise rapidly, and we must escalate our response in such a way as to take pre-emptive action wherever possible. Such actions may help to delay the pandemic, giving health-care systems time to prepare and assimilate the impact.
On 12 March 2020, Johnson began to change tune, saying, "unfortunately, more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."

On 13 March 2020, Britain was again represented at an EU health security meeting where procuring kit was discussed [updated 1.04.20].

On 15 March 2020 - over seven weeks after assuring the public that the NHS is "well prepared" - Hancock "admitted to the UK being unprepared for the toll this pandemic will take. Particularly he spoke of a shortage of ventilators and the trained staff needed to operate them."

On 16 March 2020, Johnson also began begging for ventilators, with the reality being:
"Ventilators are vital as medical experts estimate that between 10% and 20% of those who succumb to the virus will need critical care. Many of those will need help breathing.
Although firms stand ready and able to produce more ventilators, a lack of clarity on design specifications and component sourcing mean that production remains many weeks away."

Updated: 21.04.20

But, on 26 March 2020, Johnson announced that the UK would not participate in the EU procurement bid because he had decided Brexit Britain should get its own ventilators... presumably unaware of Hancock's commitment to participate on 19 March. Within hours he tried to claim instead that the UK had not received the 'email' in time to participate (despite a British official attending four EU health security meetings where procurement was being planned).

Ironically, Johnson himself began showing symptoms of having caught COVID19 on 27 March, and found himself in hospital on 5 April 2020 and intensive care on the 6th. He left hospital on 12 April to rest at Chartwell House for 2 weeks...

Meanwhile, on 21 April 2020, Sir Simon McDonald, chief civil servant in the Foreign Office confirms to a Foreign Affairs Select Committee that the UK not participating in the EU procurement exercise was "a political decision". "Ministers were briefed on what was available, what was on offer by the mission in Brussels and the decision is known." Yet the same day, Hancock tells the daily press briefing that he decided the UK was in the EU procurement scheme and it remains in, but the scheme has not yet delivered...

All this from someone who keeps promising to "do whatever it takes".

How many more such phrases must be rendered meaningless by this snake oil salesman?

Time to run these con men out of office.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Compassion Separates Rational Liberals From Populist Libertarians

For those driven to despair by the rise of Brexit Johnson (or Trump or any of the other right wing demagogues), "How to Beat a Populist" promises some relief. We know that the populist, libertarian message is emotional, nationalistic, angry, false and divisive. We know that rational argument seems a waste of time and we shouldn't allow ourselves to "get dragged down to their level", but with the populists dominating the political scene it's hard to know what else to actually do.

Enter Larry Diamond, from Stanford University, jangling a bunch of keys that might just unlock a more rational future.  Here's a flavour of what to Do:
  • Pursue an inclusive strategy - connect with the doubters among the populist support base
  • Appeal to their interests and positive values
  • Stick to liberal principles and behaviour
  • Show humility, empathy - even love - understand why they answered the siren song of illiberal populism, and what positive, unifying messages or policies would address those anxieties
  • Focus on positive, practical, evidence/issues-based policies that expose/exploit the populist's failings and vulnerabilities
  • Offer a liberal, democratic vision for unifying pride in the country (patriotism, not nationalism)
  • Offer hope and excitement for an optimistic vision of a better future 
  • Find lively and creative ways to communicate a message of hope, inspiration, and concrete policy alternatives with passion and conviction
Here's a flavour of what to avoid:

  • writing off anyone who voted for the populist as or "deplorable” 
  • questioning the morals or motives of populist sympathizers
  • tit-for-tat 'slugfests'
  • the muck of ridicule, invective or verbal abuse.  
  • ideological or 'radical' policy proposals 
  • looking backwards
  • being boring
  • falsehood. 
Overall, the message I'm getting is to be compassionate. At the end of the day, everyone is let down by a populist leader. Some were duped into believing, some knowingly believed and others never  believed and even vigorously opposed, but it's kind of irrelevant to the future - the "Now What?"  We are all victims, and we must club together to dig our way out of the populist hole.

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Beyond The Brink: The Brinkmanship Is Over For #BrexitBoris And His Merry Band Of Brexidiots

Source: Byline Times
Boris Johnson has always known that leaving the EU is not in the UK's interests. Now he must live with it - and each of us must take our own path out of this mess.

Like spoilt kids, Johnson and his Brexidiot cronies want Little England to have the benefits of EU membership without the obligations. 

Their only weapon has been brinkmanship - threats of a referendum, threats of invoking Article 50, threats of leaving without a withdrawal agreement, and now threats of trading with no free trade deal. 

But the EU27 have called Britain's bluff every single time, and now Britain is beyond the brink. 

All that is left is endless whingeing about how tedious it is to be a 'third country' and the negotiation of 600 international trade agreements

There is no half-way house. 

This is crippling for services, in particular. The City can push for 'equivalence' instead of passporting for financial services, but knows that equivalence can end quickly (ask the Swiss). Everyone else is stuck with a mish mash of different rules, including inconsistent recognition of qualifications and some weird visa restrictions for business travellers. Why else would the EU have simplified it all with just 'four freedoms of movement' for goods, services, capital and labour? What else would tempt others to join the trade club?

So people and businesses must simply adapt to the UK's new status.  If you want to export anything to the EEA, then relocate the relevant operations to an EU27 member state, get qualified there (as I did in 2018) - whatever it takes.

The time for trusting the UK government to look after your interests is over.

You're on your own.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Well, At Least We'll Learn A Lot From These Lunatics

"You only learn when things to wrong," my first legal boss used to remind me, and he wasn't wrong. Four years at the bar, sifting through the debris of old deals, taught me a lot about negotiating new ones. Observing the slow decline of Reuters in the mid-90s was another tutorial, as was enduring the tech boom and bust, working through a bunch of old loans that GE had bought a decade later and then launching Zopa into the teeth of the credit boom and ensuing financial crisis. Advising on the odd regulatory hiccup since then has reinforced the concept, which also helps with morale, of course. And with so much 'going wrong' on such a grand scale right now, maintaining morale is more important than ever. So what do we stand to learn? Well, I reckon the top 3 lessons of 2020 will be: the importance of facts, that the worst is yet to come and we need to figure out how to preserve government know how for when it can be used again...

You Can't Fight The Facts: The Truth Will Out...

The current crop of populist leaders have all seized power by targeting nationalistic lies at the gullible. The marriage of patriotism and intelligence has ended in divorce. Whether it's #ScottyFromMarketing downunder, Trump, Modi, Maduro, Bolsinaro, Erdogan, Orban or our very own #BrexitBoris, they've all avoided letting the truth get in the way of an emotive story. 

It's not unusual for politicians to lie, misinform and gaslight their voters. What is unusual is the sheer scale of the latest political mendacity. 

Yet, the bigger the lie, the harder it is to control or suppress the truth, and one by one these fascistic fantasists are finding themselves facing hot blasts of unadulterated fact. Eventually their lies will be exposed for all to see, and any majority support will melt away.

But don't hold your breath...

Nationalist Economies Will Get Much Worse Before They Get Better...

The 'quid pro quo' (to borrow a well-worn phrase from 2019) for this love affair with lies is that nationalist governments are not focused on their societies' genuine problems, let alone solving the root causes of those problems. Nationalism involves denying the real problems and blaming others for imaginary ones. This creates new problems while the country's infrastructure and governing processes decay. This has been a constant feature of the Trump regime, in particular (as Michael Lewis has observed), but is perhaps best encapsulated by Brexit. 

Reversing the decay will require an electorate to fall out of love with the lies and support reform. That would give politicians permission to identify and define the actual problems, prioritise the most pressing ones, burrow into the data to identify the root causes and the improvements that would provide the most bang for the buck, and put in place the warning systems to alert us to future failings. The changes would need to be communicated carefully, in the face of inevitable resistance by the rump of nationalist disciples. But that process would take a looooong time, since anyone who understands the issues today will have lost interest, retired or found a new role by the time things get bad enough for anyone to want to fix them, let alone muster widespread support for doing so.  

Compare that process with Dum Cummings latest blog post (ironically entitled 'Two hands are a lot' since he couldn't find his arse with both of them). His undoubted success as a right wing, nationalist, populist political strategist will be dwarfed by his failure as a government strategist. But the Johnson government will have to be seen to fail before anyone else will get a mandate to undertake the huge job of reversing the decline.

This raises the problem of how to avoid losing government know how in the meantime... 

Preserving Government Knowledge

How to manage the transition from one manager to another (succession-planning) is a major issue for everyone, especially large organisations and government departments. Michael Lewis has revealed that it was not something that ever concerned Donald Trump, and there is plenty of evidence from British civil servants that it was not a high priority for Cameron or May, and it is certainly lost on Boris Johnson. Many senior civil servants have left government, often simply to retire. Their knowledge and experience will have been lost without adequate transition arrangements. Meanwhile, the ministerial leadership, policies and/or performance of departments like the Home Office, Health, Work and Pensions, Prisons and Transport seem on the slide from bad to worse.

Similarly, areas of policy and funding that the UK agreed to centralise within the EU, and the framework on which Britain trades with the EU and other countries under EU free trade deals will be lost. Britain doesn't have any civil servants duplicating tasks that were performed at EU level (like funding the EU's least economically developed regions, 6 of which are in the UK); and the EU trade deals cannot be replicated outside the EU (and certainly not within the 11 months May and Johnson negotiated).

In the microcosm of a large government department poorly overseen by ignorant ministers and deserted by seasoned officials, or a region dependent on development knowledge and funding, this represents a massive dislocation. To put this in context, Venezuela's institutions collapsed in under 20 years, and the Soviet Union fell apart in 6 years. Hell, it only took 40 years for Britain's entire economy to collapse after the Romans left

The history of the British civil service is littered with experiments on how best to equip the nation's institutions with the right knowledge, expertise and experience. It does not make encouraging reading, but if Britain's economic history is anything to go by, it seems likely to take at least 10 years to turn things around, if there's the will to begin the process and work at it...


If we only learn when things go wrong, we're going to learn an awful lot!  

Thursday, 2 January 2020

How To Enjoy Boris Johnson's Amazing* Brexit ShitShow™ - Season 5

Boris Biosuit - flameproof for winters in Oz or Brazil
Peering through the smoke billowing out of Scotty Morrison's Amazing* Coalfired CookOutI can dimly make out the shape and outline of someone or something that should make 2020 a truly fabulous year for the little Englander. But what about the rest of you? Here are my top tips, in no particular order...

Lock the doors and only deal with private couriers

The downside to travelling from all over Britain to participate in million-people marches is that Duminic Cummings knows what you look like and where you live. Moving around outside your house is ill-advised. Dim Martin controls the high streets through his network of pubs, and soon your postman will be replaced by a robot distributing IEDs manufactured by Britain First.

Robot delivering an IED made by Britain First
So make the most of house arrest by adopting industrial security measures and, say, redecorating the bedroom like your favourite hotel suite. Get sand and a plastic coconut palm for the living room. Have family members choose a different name, accent and style of beachwear each week to simulate your desired foreign resort experience.

And remember, use only private couriers to receive deliveries that have been specifically ordered by you personally, dig a deep trench just outside the front door and never accept a delivery for the nice neighbour(s). Those times are over.

Hedge Rising Food Costs by Speculating On All Black Tickets

Kiwi sheep are agents of the NZRU
The ride is over for farmers, particularly those who breed sheep. Once the British sheep have all been burnt or buried, agricultural subsidies will only go to landlords developing caravan parks for Tory voters. This will also be great news for Kiwi shepherds, who will dominate the British lamb market. All New Zealand sheep are secret agents of the New Zealand Rugby Union, so you can easily hedge your exposure to rising food costs by pre-purchasing tickets to All Black matches and flogging them on secondary ticketing sites or agreeing profit-share deals with local touts.

Commit to, Say, Building a Zip-line From Dover To France

Last mile of Dover to Paris Zip Line
As I've explained before, the key to success, wealth and happiness in this neo-post-truth world lies not in a hard day's work for a fair day's pay. No. In 2020, you will only be able to finance your house-bound fantasies by leveraging the 'bandwagon' and 'snowball' effects. To do this you must concoct a hugely ambitious, unique, deceptively simple, vaguely plausible scheme that is not actually achievable or demonstrable but is nevertheless the kind of thing in which your victims investors can have faith.  Boris Johnson himself has succeeded with commitments to an airport in the middle of the Thames, a 'garden bridge' in London, Brexit (of course) and, most recently, a bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland - or vice versa, depending on your point of view - whereas the best part about a zip-line from the UK to France is that it's one-way.

* causing great surprise or wonder; astonishing.
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