Category Archives: Politics

Bluff, double bluff and counter bluff. The real truth behind the Brexit story.

A very bad exit from Europe, with a hard Irish border and many job losses, would probably cost the Tories the next election. However,  if they could cast the EU as a villains and if they were believed, their chances of re-gaining power would be much improved. The danger for the remainers, would be the accusation that they were thwarting “The will of the people”.

And what a magnificent slogan that is. Right up there with “torches of freedom“, “Go to work on an egg“, “Arbeit Macht frei”, “A Reich to last 1000 years,” and “superfast broadband”; phrases to warm the heart of Dr Goebbels and strike fear into the hearts of competent psychologists.  The fact that many thousands of people did actually have an egg for breakfast (until the British food and agriculture minister publicly announce that all eggs contain salmonella) and that many more really did believe that the Hitler’s Reich would last 1000 years, just illustrates the power that slogans have. Let’s face it, we are all pretty dumb when it comes to a catchy slogan. But just how dumb the British people really are remains to be seen.

One of the strangest facts about the Brexit vote was that the people most benefiting from the EU, that is to say the not so well-paid workers and consumers in general, who need state protection against unbridled capitalism, voted for  it. It now seems that in general they treated the vote as a typical protest against the government, a traditional action for a midterm election. “What-ever it is, I’m against it.” What has subsequently become clear is that they did not actually believe that the vote would go against the EU and were told so by most political pundits in the media. Whatever the reasons, here we are with barely a year before Britain exits EU membership and still no real idea what it means. So if the European Union can protect the rights of workers and consumers in general against the machinations of big business who, you might ask, could be against it?

Clearly like most things in life, there are degrees of “against” and it’s worth considering just what those degrees are since the EU is many things. One might suppose that a significant proportion of the “against” would be against the idea of a super-state and fear that that is the direction the EU is headed. They would prefer the EU to be a glorified customer union. Of course, history tells us that what starts as a customer union soon becomes a state. The 26 independent “nations” of Germany in 1834 had, following the establishment of the “zollverein”,  by 1871 become an Empire. Nevertheless, apart from the very very right wing, most, and certainly the business community which is a major source of finance for the Tories, want a customs union of some sort.

Given this, just who are those advocating a hard exit from the European Union. By “hard” of course we mean an exit without a beneficial trading relationship with European Union. Who could possibly want such an outcome? I think I may know the answer. Generally, they are called the hard right of the Tory party. A common thread among this group seems to be education in the private sector, the stronghold of privilege and class distinction within the UK. As has been quoted elsewhere, “Private education in the UK is so good that even the stupid and lazy can succeed”.  And what could be more stupid than Boris Johnson, the poster boy of Brexit, who actually asked rhetorically “can you see the United States joining such a union as the EU?” without realising that in fact the United States is a union of states just like the EU, The United States of Europe (EU), the United States of America. One has to ask if the many thousands of pounds spent on Boris’ education was not wasted but clearly it was not since it seems to have fitted him perfectly for life as a Tory member of Parliament. Similarly with Donald Trump, whose expensive private education in America enabled him to become the President yet seemed unable to overcome the deeply disturbing traumas of his parenting, traumas which he carries with him into his ethical philosophy. A perfect example of the opening lines of Philip Larkin’s poem, “This be the Verse”

But let’s return to the main point. Who are the people who want the UK to leave the European Union. Names seem to be scarce in the popular press and numbers seem to vary between 40 and 60. As far as I can see there are clear economic benefits gained from membership of the EU the alternative entails serious financial risk. To take such a risk there must be a considerable upside. But the upside is hard to find. The notion of “taking back control of one’s destiny” (another key phrase of the Breixteers) is spurious since most pf the population have no control at all apart from the ability to vote in elections which they are able to do within the EU. Destiny is mostly in the hands of the banks and major companies. On an individual level the rules and regulations forced upon Britain are beneficial and not only through the stimulation of trade, itself a path to prosperity. In particular the rules concerning compensation for passengers of airlines, the fact that medical treatment is available throughout the Union, the fact that my mobile phone works seamlessly everywhere and that hormone laden beef from the USA is banned, are just a few of the benefits. Does anybody really believe that a Tory lead, independent British government is on the side of the workers?

For me I think it’s clear that when companies are bigger than states then a bigger state is necessary to ensure, if not justice, then at least a slightly more even playing field. So what are the upsides which Brexit will bring? Here, again, we have to turn to history. I fear the hard right have developed a pseudo fascist mentality in which the nation will be motivated only through suffering. “The worse the better” may have been a key phrase from the Russian revolution in which the pain of poverty finally brings about radical change, but it was a significant factor in the rise of Hitler and German fascism, the direct result of the collapse of the Weimar Republic and the depredation of the resulting economic chaos.

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Letter to a German politician

Dear Jens Spahn,
First let me apologies for writing to you in English. I fully understand your concerns regarding the use of English. In my defence I can only say that, as a 71 year old resident of Vienna I find that every time I attempt to speak German I am responded to in English. Even when I asked “Haben Sie Kohlsprossen” the response from the Gemüsehändler was, in English ” I think it is too early in the season”.

The problem, which, as a well educated German mother tongue speaker you have, is that you just don’t recognise the complexity of your native language. You also fail to realise that English is fundamentally a German dialect, as is Dutch and other derivatives including local forms where, in spoken form, all nouns take the masculine.

Languages are not prisons, they are a method of communication and the easier that is, the better for everybody. People adopt words which they find useful, hence the appearance of “Zeitgeist” and “Schadenfreude” in English. These German words are better than the English equivalent, shorter and more precise and so the language adapts and incorporates them.

I could write more and in fact have done so within my blog but may I close with this. It is not the strong which survive, but the most adaptable. That goes for languages just as with species.
ps. Why is so much of the worlds economy in the hands of the USA? One market, 350million people, one language. That is a great place to start a business.

Farewell Lloyds Bank.

I am the stupid type of person who maintains loyalty in the face of indifference. For over 30 years I have banked with Lloyds and, in that time, have seen over £13,000,000 go through my various accounts. The measure of my stupidity can be judged by various incidents which have occurred. The first was the manager who did a deal with a liquidator to close a company of which I was a shareholder. We wanted to close the company. We owed £750,000 and had assets of 800,000. After the liquidator mismanaged the affair, there was just over £100,000 left to settle with the creditors. Surprisingly, the fee the liquidator awarded himself was just over £100,000 and so there was no money for the creditors. And still I persisted.

When I offered Lloyds £500,000 in assets against loan of £200,000 for a building project the computer said no. In mitigation I would say that it was 2009 and they probably didn’t have any money to lend,  and so I stayed.

Move on to 2017 and a call to them to enquire about an account for a small company I own. After 20 minutes waiting on phone I gave up. I tried again. This time the call was answered after 12 minutes but I needed to be transferred twice so it took almost 30 minutes before I was finally connected to the right person, who then told me that, because I was on a speaker phone, they couldn’t speak to me.

On the recommendation of my accountant I called a different bank, a comparative newcomer to the UK. The call was answered in just over 1 minute. I was immediately given the details of my closest branch with name and phone number. I called him, immediately was answered, and arranged an appointment. This is looking good and I will report further when I meet him next week.

And did I mention NatWest? My little company banked with them handling a £ and a € account. What they didn’t tell me was that when I wanted to make a payment from the € account, I had to write a letter to them, put it in the post and wait for them to act on it. Just like it was in the 1970’s!

Doomed to failure? Maybe not.

The vaguely liberal, vaguely centralist consensus under which we, in Europe, have lived for the past 70 years looks like coming to an end. The rise of so called “popularism” which is perhaps better termed, the rise of the ignorant, will see to it.

Increasingly I blame the internet – and I’m only half joking. The gift of anonymity has freed the population from any of the social restraints which once operated. Now, anything can be said anonymously which gives us look into the darkness which is, for many, the human soul. Just read any of the discussion comments on newspaper articles to see the venom and bile which seems to be the motivator. As liberal, socially conscious people, we are at a distinct disadvantage. We limit our actions through consideration and thought. The others have no such constraints. So obsessed with the “rightness” of their cause they would take any action, make any statement to further it. The Nazis didn’t burn down the Reichstag for fun, they did it as a means to an end, the end justified the means. For the charismatic confidence tricksters, the puppet masters of the new reality, the aim is power and in pursuit of that, any thing goes, and anything can be said. Their foot soldiers are the voters seeking simple solutions in a very complex world. The thoughtful and rational stand a good chance of being defeated.

On the bright side, it looks like Trump is willing to stand up to China. Their claim to the South China Sea is reminiscent of, again, Hitler. “our territorial ambitions extend no further than the Sudetenland”. And we all know where that ended.
And on the bright side again, I have, of late, been suffering from extreme tiredness. I had considered that it might be a sort of lassitude as precursor to death but last night I had a revelation. I think the problem is the statins I have been taking to reduce my blood fat levels. Checking the internet (yes, it is good for something) I find that, indeed, tiredness is a possible side effect. I feel better already! And so I say now, to borrow the famous lines of Winston Churchill,  “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”.

The truth is out there.

A moral dilemma

If you thought that Brexit was over think again. For one company, owned by a friend of mine, the consequences are very real. Employing 21 people, the collapse in the value of £Sterling has seen a dramatic increase in costs. The business must contract to survive. Now of course this collapse of Sterling was well forecasted by experts but, as the pro Brexiters said “what do experts know”. One of those Brexiters is employed in the Company and so it seems to me that he should be the first to lose his job.

This is a very real case though size and gender have been changed to obscure the actual company. In any event I doubt that person in question will understand such a complex issue as this, Brexiters like it simple. So, should he go or should he stay? You decide.

Holocaust, Superiority, Charisma and Political correctness.

Around Vienna one often finds brass plaques set in the pavement recording the names and dates of birth of citizens who ones lived there but we sent to extermination camps to die. In fact one such plaque is set before the building next door but one to where we live. There, incised into the metal is the name of one such victim, Ella Klein, initially sent to the Lodz Ghetto before final murder. Since my daughter’s name is Ella, my immediate reaction was to tell her about it and show her. On reflection I rejected the idea. At 10 years of age the enormity of the topic which the revelation was bound to open was, I considered, too much to contemplate. Closely following this, whilst clearing a book shelf, she picked up a book of photos of the seconella kleind world war and opened it on a picture of a 14 year Russian girl hanged by the invaders for insubordination. “How can this be?” she asked. I have no ready answer. Years before my daughter was born I asked a friend who had two young children how one could possibly explain the holocaust to them. He had no answer then and I have none now.
Yet the potential for such inhuman crimes is still present. Charism and the ability to enthuse an audience and set them on a destructive path can still be seen in many politicians. Finding an “enemy” from which to defend the nation is an all to common ploy on the path to power. And that of course is the purpose. To gain power is an end in itself and maintaining it at any cost, a price many seem willing to pay.
It is unfortunate to say the least that many see the Nazi cause of racial purity as a purely German matter. The problem of course is that many none Germans joined them and willingly participated in the crimes carried out. Britain and the USA were spared this and can proudly point to their record of fighting the good fight agains evil. Yet it s abundantly clear that given the right circumstances, almost anybody can fall prey to the poison of “superiority”. After all, there are many Israelis who espouse the racial superiority of God’s chosen people.
So called political correctness is the current attempt to put an end to such ideas.
We of the older generation often sneer at this seeing it as a rather pathetic attempt to stifle free speech and expression, viewing the classification of some crimes as worthy of extra punishment because they were motivated by hate as just semantics. We were brought up in a different time, when discrimination against any outside the group, whether Black, Irish or Paki was casually perpetrated and frequently the butt of jokes alongside mothers-in-law, women drivers, cripples and the mentally challenged. And looking at the news from the USA, the notion that “all men are created equal”, a founding tenet of the USA Declaration of Independence has, 240 years later still not quite gained traction.

Bretix and the missing £10 billlion

Recently a group of major businesses in the UK engaged a top law firm in London to ensure that Brexit is not triggered without a debate and vote in Parliament. The reason for this is quite simple, Brexit and the Tory Members of Parliament were generally against the referendum to exit the EU. Just in case you quote business organisations which were pro Brexit, I think you will find that these were mostly small businesses with no real interest in cross border trade. And if you quote Sir James Dyson, maker of the eponymous vacuum cleaner as a pro Brexiter, that is easily explained. He makes his vacuum cleaners in Malaysia and his income is global. A devalued pound, which it has now become, makes him richer!

So big business is lined up against Brexit and will use the law (maybe, since nobody knows what the law on this matter actually is – hard to believe but true) to resist it. But then along comes the UK finance minister (or Chancellor of the Exchequer as he is termed in the UK) with a promise to cut business tax from 20% to 15%. Brilliant. That will make business think twice. Maybe Brixit wasn’t such a bad idea.

The cost of this tax change is about £10 billion but no mention as to how the shortfall will be made up. Clearly, like Brexit, the idea comes first, the detail comes much later.