by Martin Odoni

Following up on that offensive image of Ed Miliband in a cartoon in the Evening Standard the other week, I thought people might be interested to know that I submitted a formal complaint to the ‘newspaper’. I am going to share both the complaint and the response I have received, as I think it demonstrates a point I have been making for some time. I wish to make clear that I am not necessarily saying that the reply is not fair enough. But I am saying there is some characteristic right-wing hypocrisy on display.

Here is my original complaint; –

M Odoni

Apr 14, 13:41 BST

A cartoon by Christian Adams that appeared in the Evening Standard on 7th April, portraying Ed Miliband, was clearly anti-Semitic. It portrayed Miliband as having a hooked nose, bushy eyebrows and prominent teeth, in line with traditional stereotype Jewish imagery. I have attached images of the cartoon in question. I also note with disgust the enthusiasm with which the Chief Editor of the ‘newspaper’ has promoted the cartoon online.

Please take action against both the artist and the Chief Editor that you feel appropriate for such racial aggravation; please note that your response to this request will be very revealing as to the Evening Standard‘s attitude to racist imagery.

I also attached images of the cartoon. Here it is if you need to refresh your memory; –

Miliband hooked nose cartoon promoted by Gidiot

If you really believe that the Brick Lane Mural was anti-Semitic, how can this be anything else?

Here is the reply I received from the Evening Standard; –

Madeline (Evening Standard)

Apr 15, 16:16 BST

To whom it may concern, [WRITER’S NOTE: Nice personal touch there, when I put my name in the original e-mail….]

Thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback on our daily cartoon.
 
While I am sorry that you have felt cause to complain, the Evening Standard denies that the cartoon bears the meaning you have alleged. 

Kind regards,

Madeline Palacz
Editorial Compliance Manager

Now, in most climates, I would in fact be totally okay with this. But the problem is that in the climate of anti-Semitism hysteria over the last five years, what I see is the right wing giving itself room-for-nuance that it will not give to anyone else.

As I have pointed out more than once, an image will never ‘be’ anti-Semitism. Nor an object. Nor even an action. Anti-Semitism is the attitude that might be behind said image, object or action. And the Evening Standard are making precisely that point here. As I say, I am okay with that in itself. If Christian Adams insists that he genuinely did not mean to play-to-racial-stereotype with this image, I am prepared to give him the benefit-of-the-doubt, at least until he does it again. The reason why is because it is possible for people to behave in a way that resembles the behaviour of anti-Semites without having any particular hostile intent towards Jews behind it.

(This is the reason why I think Keir Starmer’s whole notion of “anti-Semitism training” seminars is completely nonsensical. They might police the actions, but they will never police what the people attending the seminars are thinking, and many of them will not need policing in the first place.)

But that is the point – intent. Attitude. And that is precisely what has been missing in the endless hysteria about supposed ‘anti-Semitism-in-the-Labour-Party’. Anything that can be presented as bearing a resemblance to the behaviour of anti-Semites is just assumed must be, ipso facto, the deeds of anti-Semites. And there are inevitable points of resemblance between anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, or even between anti-Semitism and simple disagreement with Israeli policy.

So many people on the left – including not only my own Jewish self but also Mike Sivier of Vox Political and Tony Greenstein (among others) – have been tarred with the anti-Semitism brush for reasons of resemblance in what we have written, far more than for reasons of intent behind it.

My question therefore is this. If the left are not allowed to have the real intentions behind what they say and do taken into consideration when the ‘Jew-hater klaxon’ is sounded – not even Jewish members of the left – why should a right wing newspaper like the Evening Standard, which has shown no shortage of self-righteousness on the topic itself, get to protest, “No no no, we didn’t mean it that way!!! We were just being mean about Ed Miliband’s general appearance”?

And on further reflection, would that really make it a whole lot better?

by Martin Odoni

(Having a busy day, am I not?)

Recalling the ridiculous, and obviously-orchestrated media ker-fuffle from two years ago about a mural that had long-since been painted over, because it was a (very tenuous) pretext to condemn Jeremy Corbyn; –

Why is no one on the Board of Jewish Deputies, or the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism, or anyone in the mainstream media, blowing their tops about this cartoon that has been published in the Evening Standard?

Miliband hook-nosed Jew cartoon

The Brick Lane Mural is anti-Semitic, but this hook-nosed portrayal of Ed Miliband is not?

If anyone wants to try the old “Not-necessarily-endorsed-by-the-newspaper” excuse, let me assure you, George ‘Gidiot’ Osborne has been promoting the image with almost drooling enthusiasm; –

Miliband hooked nose cartoon promoted by Gidiot

If you really believe that the Brick Lane Mural was anti-Semitic, how can this be anything else?

Now, the pretext for claiming that the mural was anti-Semitic was because it portrayed someone with a large, somewhat hooked nose, and that is supposedly an anti-Semitic trope. As I pointed out in response, it is a trope used against many races, and even against many professions, therefore making it a good deal less likely than people were assuming. But if centrist ‘anti-racism-posers’ like James O’Brien wish to stand their holier-than-thou ground on that, then let us accept that as the (pun unintentional) standard.

So. This is Ed Miliband in profile; –

Miliband in profile

There’s a very mild prominent bridge to Ed’s nose, but certainly no hook.

And this is a nice big zoom-in on how Christian (oh dear! Unfortunate name in this context!) Adams has portrayed him; –

Cartoon zoom-in

I have no idea whether Ed is offended. But I know I am

Come on, BoD, come on, David Collier, come on, Jonathan Hoffman, and all you other self-righteous Zionist squealers cheaply using Jewish identity as a cover story for Israeli political gain. We know that the Evening Standard is a Tory newspaper, and therefore an ally of yours. But if you ever want to retain the slightest remnant of credibility, you need to protest this more loudly than any deed by anyone you have attacked in the Labour Party over the last five years.

Because unlike almost all of the deeds you have attacked, this is absolutely explicit. It is an outrageous racial caricature, by the very standards you have insisted on imposing. You cannot apply them selectively.

Ball is in your court, BoD et al. If you ignore this, it will come back to haunt you.

by Martin Odoni

So, did Jeremy Corbyn really say it? Did he call Theresa May, “Stupid woman” at Prime Minister’s Questions today?

Well, judging by slow motion replays of the moment of Corbyn’s irritated muttering, the answer appears to be No. It looks fairly clear to me that the word Corbyn uses begins with the letter P, and probably the first letter of the second syllable too, suggesting that, as his spokespeople claim, he was saying, “people”. He was referring to the childish hooting and catcalling from the Tory backbenchers.

But it amazes me the barefaced effrontery of so many anti-leftists that this is causing such a furore. Say Corbyn did call May a stupid woman; so what? This was PMQs, for Pete’s sake! It was the House of Commons! Of all the childish abuse, personal insults and schoolchild moments-of-mockery that happen in that most juvenile of debating forums day-in-day-out, Stupid woman is the one that everyone is getting their underwear in knots over? Seriously? All right, so the utter pig’s breakfast May has made of Brexit kind of indicates that she is indeed a stupid woman, but whether it is a fair description or otherwise, is this really causing so much fury?

Well of course not. No one really cares, it is of course being used as a distraction from the shambles of Brexit and the serious threat to the Prime Minister’s position, even from her own party. And given the Tories were saying only on Monday night that they would not indulge a Vote of No Confidence debate in the Prime Minister, apparently due to regarding it as some kind of a waste of time, it is pathetic how much time they are instead happy to waste on this. Apparently a man muttering under his breath is a more urgent issue than the Prime Minister carrying the whole country over a Brexit cliff. What a country we live in.

But let us for a moment indulge the theatrical whining from the Conservatives. This means they are getting self-righteous about ‘misogyny’.

The Conservatives?

The Conservatives, only a little over a week ago restored the whip to two MPs who had been suspended for acts of sexual depravity against women, and were still under investigation. One of them is an alleged rapist.

Tory MPs restored to Parliament while under investigation for sexual depravity

Charlie Elphicke and Andrew Griffiths have not been cleared yet of serious sexual misconduct.

The Tories are also the party who gave us one-time (and one-dimensional) Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, who has merrily talked about having Theresa May “chopped up in bags in my freezer”.

And then of course, there is the small matter of Boris Johnson, with his charming history of patronising female colleagues while he was Mayor of London.

(EDIT TO ADD: And then there is this little gem from ‘Spreadsheet-Phil’ Hammond to Andrea Jenkyns. And this hot little number from David Mundell to Yvette Cooper. Or this delightfully not-very-female-friendly policy from no less a figure than the Prime Minister herself.)

This is the party lecturing the Labour leader on misogyny? For real?

Among Corbyn’s treacherous troops, I expect Jess Phillips to jump on the Tory bandwagon for about the one hundred-thousand-million-billionth time. (Why on Earth is she even in the Labour Party?) Given her own tendency to joke about “knifing” Jeremy Corbyn, even symbolically – doubly tasteless in light of the assassination of Jo Cox – it would probably be advisable that she kept her foul gob shut instead. But when did she ever listen to sensible advice?

All of this outrage though, from the right. And the further right they are, the more outraged their reaction. The half of the spectrum that always bemoans ‘political-correctness-gone-mad’ is once again blowing its top about being ‘offended’. They never seem to notice the irony.

In other words, the Tory sneers at political correctness, as ever, translate as, “It’s only wrong to be offensive when you’re offending us.”

So careful now, Jez, and careful, everyone else. We have no wish to hurt the Tories’ feelings while they send homeless people to their deaths, do we?

Stupid woman - everyone loses their minds

The Joker making more sense than anyone in the real world, as usual.

by Martin Odoni

I have argued for something like five years now that the Office for Budget Responsibility is not fit for its (stated) purpose and should be abolished. Since it was established under George ‘Gidiot’ Osborne in 2010, it has failed to gets its projections anywhere near right pretty much every time, always over-estimating how well the British economy will do. This is partly because, in practice, it largely just echoes the Friedmanite assumptions of the International Monetary Fund.

Of course, we should not make the mistake of assuming that the OBR’s stated purpose of being is the real one. It is never like that in Westminster, especially not when the Conservatives are in power. At the start of the Tory coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Osborne’s purpose in founding the office was really just public relations. The Tories were desperate to give the profoundly dishonest impression that the ‘Credit Crunch’ financial crisis of 2007-9 was a result of ‘profligate public spending’, and not of the sort of reckless banking sector activities that successive neoliberal Governments across the western world had spent decades encouraging. This deceitful narrative gave the Tories an excuse to attack the public sector instead of the financial sector, all in the name of ‘responsible public spending’ (a concept that is short of real meaning when looked at closely). How better to give such an impression that than by establishing an entire new Government office named in tribute to ‘penny-wise thrift’?

But the OBR is no longer any good for that image-shaping approach either, because after seven years of getting pretty much every major projection for the public finances wildly wrong, always erring on the side of mindless optimism, its every announcement now serves only to make the Treasury look increasingly incompetent.

Today’s Winter Budget statement delivered by Phillip ‘Spreadsheet-Phil’ Hammond – the Chancellor who is to charisma what Osborne was to intellectual decency – included yet more dismal forecasts from the OBR, as it once again revised its previous projections downwards. Growth is expected to be lower over the next few years than had previously been predicted, the National Debt is going to climb for longer than predicted, productivity is going to remain low for longer than previously predicted… oh, please stop me if you have heard these lyrics many-a-time before.

So the books are not becoming noticeably balanced, nor is the Government looking noticeably competent. The OBR is clearly not achieving its stated aim, or its real aim.

But then. neither aim would be justified; the job of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is not, never has been, and never will be, to balance the budget. In most respects, it just cannot be done, not for more than a very brief while anyway. As I have stated many times before, should the Government get the public finances into surplus, it will probably lead to a national economic crash, or at least a serious slowdown.

No, the Chancellor’s job is not to balance the budget, it is to balance the economy as a whole – to find sustainable ways to keep industry and cash-circulation going, and to make sure that all industrial sectors are operating healthily and not just the service sector.

With the OBR making the supposed assumption that ‘balancing the budget’ should be the aim instead of balancing the economy, its officials make projections based on the twin notions that a public sector surplus will be good for the economy, and that the best way of achieving a surplus is to cut public budgets ruthlessly. Neither is true. A public sector surplus will simply mean a private sector deficit, one whose effects are far harder to control, and will most likely include a very painful recession. And as cutting budgets indiscriminately reduces industry and increases unemployment, lowering activity in the economy, tax yields will inevitably decline soon afterwards, meaning the public deficit does not reduce nearly as far as the OBR projects. (When a budget is cut, the people carrying out the work that budget was paying for have less work to do, and some or all of them will inevitably be laid off, and so stop receiving a wage. When they are not receiving a wage, they pay no income tax, they buy less and so pay less Value Added Tax as well,; in short, tax receipts go down.)

This is why the 2010 aim of wiping out the deficit by the spring of 2015 never came to pass, and the target has been repeatedly pushed back; the endless rounds of austerity measures and spending cuts have reduced outlays, but then have soon led to tax receipts becoming smaller and smaller as well. This has meant the net gap between receipts and outlays stubbornly refuses to close up completely, irrespective of whether it would be good news if it did. The projected deadline for the public sector being in surplus has now been pushed back to 2025 – that is fully ten years after the original target set by Osborne in 2010 – and I have no doubt it will be pushed back still further within another eighteen months, especially with the damage of a completely-unplanned Brexit getting uncomfortably close to the horizon.

Austerity carrot on a stick

Like the donkey chasing a carrot dangling from a stick tied to its back, the more a Government cuts spending to reduce the deficit, the further the point of equilibrium moves away from its reach. Whether fiscal conservatives like it or not, they simply have to face facts; austerity is based on a deluded aim, it is not working, it is unable to work, and it is certainly not going to work after Brexit.

No one at the OBR ever seems to grasp this, and for that reason, more than ever, it is not fit-for-purpose, either economically or politically, and should be disbanded.

by Martin Odoni

I do understand that Chancellors of the Exchequer feel the need to exude calm confidence. However the inevitable slump of the pound in the aftermath of the Brexit vote  has brought a response from the present incumbent at 11 Downing Street so relaxed you could almost pour him into his suit.

George ‘Gideon’ Osborne, for whom I have of course always had the deepest respect, except when I am asleep (oh yes – or when I am awake), said this morning, with no apparent trace of irony, that the UK is “in a position of strength”. While admitting the painfully obvious point that adjustments would need to be made to the British economy, post-withdrawal from the European Union, he then said, quite maddeningly, that it could wait until after David Cameron has been succeeded as Prime Minister. Osborne could hardly have sounded more like a British Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf as the allied tanks were rolling into Baghdad, if he had declared, “The infidels are committing suicide by the hundreds on the gates of the Treasury!”

Now, according to the 1922 Committee, the next leader may not be in place until as late as 2nd September, which means that Osborne is willing to do nothing at all for two months.

After another day of bad news on the stock exchange – including another very serious reduction to the UK’s credit rating – this seems comatose, not cool-headed. Now in fairness, he is not explicitly ruling out doing anything at all between now and then, merely not arranging the Austerity-heavy emergency budget that he was threatening people with, in his characteristically diplomatic fashion, before the referendum.

But even so, he also has had an air about him of doing nothing, not least given his prolonged absence from public post-referendum view until this morning. There is no doubt that the problems need some corrective action. I am not suggesting anything dramatic, nor am I suggesting that measures Osborne might use are guaranteed to put a stop to the slide in the value of sterling. Further, there is just a chance, though not a great one, that the problems are simply a rather prolonged blip and the markets will soon right themselves once the shock of the vote has worn off.

But it would be an awful lot better if we had a Chancellor who is not just going to count on that hope, instead of being proactive. So here are a couple of small boosters to the pound that Osborne could try, just to apply a bit of a ‘drag factor’ to its plummeting value.

  • First, Osborne could ask the Bank of England for a small cut in interest rates. This would make loans for sterling cheaper, and therefore more attractive to potential borrowers. With rates currently at just 0.5%, there is not much room for further reductions, but even a very small cut could help. If enough loans are taken out in response, demand for the pound will have gone up, and may just stabilise its value somewhat.
  • Secondly, Osborne could ask the Bank of England to do a sort of ‘negative-QE’ to siphon some electronic capital out of the system. This would make pounds scarcer, at least in electronic form, and there will therefore be less to go around. Therefore, theoretically, demand for pounds would be increased.
  • Thirdly, Osborne could order the Treasury to buy up some capital from the markets at a high bidding rate, which pushes the price up, while again reducing the amount of pounds in the system.
  • Fourthly, Osborne could go in the opposite direction to the first choice and ask the Bank of England to raise interest rates, in the hope that higher dividends on savings will encourage people to stop selling pounds.

(In terms of practical application, options two and three are very similar.)

I do not expect Osborne to try any of these, because none of them really involve giving money to bankers or taking money from poor people.

by Martin Odoni

In some ways, after weeks of witnessing constant deceit and visceral hatred from almost all sides, I am so plagued by referendum-fatigue that I am past caring, but I have to ask a question to the ‘Brexiteers’; –

Do you people have an inkling of what you have set in motion?

Doubtless many of those who have voted to leave the European Union will stand there, chests puffed out with pride, and say, “‘Course we do! We’ve taken back our liberty. We’ve brought our country back, given it its independence, we’ve started the resurrection of Britain!”

No, you have not. You have set in motion all sorts of other effects, but that one? No. Indeed, it could be argued that you have done the opposite.

To make myself clear, while I did vote for Remain, and did some campaign work for it near the end, I was not that strongly committed to it, and only made my decision in the last few weeks before the polls opened. I am a fan of the idea of European unity, but I am not a fan of the EU, which is, when push comes to shove, something of an ‘Austerity Club’. Just see its brutal bullying of Greece over the last couple of years to see the very ugly side of the European Union, and why its single currency is increasingly looking like a scam to crowbar Europe into sweeping away all semblance of a public sector. They are genuine reasons to want to distance ourselves.

So I was always open to the idea of withdrawing from the EU. However, it is an absolutely huge step – bigger perhaps than most Leave voters realise – with monumental knock-on implications. So if I was to be swayed, I needed to be presented with a clear, workable and coherent framework by the Leave campaigns, outlining what Britain would do next once it had withdrawn.

Instead, all I could find was an ugly, distasteful mixture of irresponsible, scarcely-relevant rhetoric about immigration, and obviously untrue claims about the expense of being in the Union. I had concluded, by the start of June, that there really was no coherent plan for a post-EU future – and there still is none* – and so the Leave campaign must have been entirely focused around the very questionable view that leaving the Union is an end in itself. “Anything replacing this has to be better.”

(I imagine people in the Weimar Republic were thinking that of their own country around 1930…)

In fairness, I was disgusted by the most vocal elements of both the Leave and Remain campaigns. Although Leave was more frequently deceitful, in one sense the dishonesty of the Remain campaign was even more inexcusable, as they really had no reason for it. The knock-on effects of the withdrawal ahead will be enormous, very, very complicated, and deeply destabilising. Had they simply laid out those details more fully and more often, instead of resorting to the usual preferred David Cameron/George Osborne tactic of threats and hyperbolic scaremongering, I honestly think Remain would have won handsomely.

Those knock-on effects are substantial, and some of them will be the opposite of what Leave campaigners imagine.

Most particularly, that very large core who keep telling us they are not racists i.e. the ones who want to slow down, or put a stop to, immigration, have scored a spectacular own goal. They fear the refugees in the camps around Calais are terrorists trying to get into the UK, and think that the EU’s ‘open borders’ under Schengen will let them sneak in.

What these people do not realise, of course, is that the UK is not even part of the Schengen Area; see the map here (Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland, incidentally, which are not members of the EU, are Schengen countries). Furthermore, Britain, under the 2003 Treaty of Le Touquet, has the right to take part in policing the Channel Tunnel at Calais. The withdrawal from the EU actually jeopardises that treaty, and sure enough, there are already demands in France that it now be re-negotiated. Of course, a re-negotiation is not necessarily the death of that, but it will be an intricate, time-consuming extra process, at the end of which the UK will not have recognisably better control than it had previously. So was it worth it?

Control of immigration is in fact far easier within the EU, where the processes are co-ordinated with far more integration between different police forces across the continent. Step outside of that network, and the police forces on the continent will feel no obligation to carry on sharing the burden our own police have to bear. So again, was it worth it?

“Well at least we can reduce the number of EU migrants coming into the country to steal our jobs!” declare the strictly non-racists who keep using identical rhetoric to all past racist groups. But is it even true? Well not exactly, no. Pro-Leave MEP Daniel Hannan, (about whom there will be more later) has admitted that he expects Britain’s future relationship with the EU to be something akin to that of Norway. Norway is a Schengen country (see above), which means it has open borders, and is more or less compelled to follow EU rules when trading with EU countries. It just has no say over what shape those rules will take. We do have influence over that at present, and that is what we will be surrendering when we leave. So once again, was it worth it?

Even if immigration really did become easier to control outside the EU, that does not necessarily mean good news. The ancient mantra about foreigners ‘coming over here stealing our jobs’ is not only unfair, it is simply untrue. An influx of people make for a larger economy, and that is especially good news in a service economy like the one with which we are presently encumbered. More people in the country means more customers who need services. That in turn means more work for the service sector, which means more jobs are likely to become available. It is with high emigration that people’s jobs are most likely to be taken away. You might just as well grumble about babies ‘being born and stealing our jobs’.

I shall not ask again whether it was worth it.

But as I say, the knock-on effects of Brexit will not include better control of immigration anyway. While members of the Leave campaigns – official and otherwise – try to insist that no promises have been made on reducing immigration, it is very clear that many of their supporters believed it was, and since the vote have been emboldened in their aggressive behaviour towards foreigners and people of colour. (Many anti-immigration activists even seem to imagine that they have voted for repatriation of migrants, which is the form a lot of the growing tensions are taking.)

What the knock-on effects do include is instability. Serious instability, both inside the country and beyond these shores. At home, that anti-immigration unrest is one of the forms this instability takes, and there is already a danger of it turning violent

Add to this the very quick backtracking by Leave campaigners, official or otherwise, on implied promises, almost from the moment that the Leave lead was confirmed to be unassailable. This will also lead to unrest at home. Now the Leave campaigners can argue, and have argued, that such promises were not made word-for-word, but they did their best to give the impression that they were, and certainly made very little attempt to disabuse people of the notion. The aforementioned Daniel Hannan was a lot louder about immigration not going down after he had the result he wanted, than he had been before.  Particular condemnation of course for Nigel Farage of UKIP, who also waited until the win was in the bag before disassociating himself from the official Leave campaign’s talk of reassigning £350 million per week in EU funding to the National Health Service. It was a false claim anyway, due to the UK rebate and the knock-on trade stimulus provided by being in the Single Market – the £350 million is simply the ‘priming of the pump’ which will only pump something back to us if we put that opening investment in* – but for Farage to retain any credibility or honour, he should have spoken out loudly and publicly against this fraudulence weeks ago. (On the flipside, the official campaign should equally have spoken out against the false implications of UKIP’s constant talk of Brexit leading to immigration reductions. To their credit, they did speak out against the  racism of UKIP’s poster campaign, but not against the deceit of it. And the ever vile Iain Duncan-Smith, who is already trying to pretend that no pledge to transfer EU funds to the NHS was ever made, is claiming black is white yet again. Why did he never take a chance to clarify what the bus was saying while he was standing in front of it?

An explicit pledge of £350m to the NHS? No. But it's clearly what they wanted people to believe.

IDS denies what this slogan was clearly meant to make people believe.

A verbatim promise? No. But it is plainly very, very misleading, and deliberately so, so it might just as well be a flat-out lie.)

Instability within Government has been substantial, with David Cameron announcing his resignation as Prime Minister (and with usual cynical cowardice, passing on the heavy responsibility of activating Article 50 to his successor), and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn facing an (admittedly opportunistic and fabricated) uprising by his own Shadow Cabinet.

As for effects outside the UK, just look at what this is going to do to Ireland; and heaven knows, it is long past time that the British stopped doing wrong by Ireland. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 was one of the finest and most remarkable achievements in the history of European diplomacy, as it finally brought about what, throughout the previous quarter of a century, had seemed impossible. It brought an end, more or less, to ‘The Troubles’. And ‘Brexit’ has endangered it. This is because the Republic of Ireland is still going to be in the EU, but Northern Ireland is not. The border between them, which has been little more than a formality for a generation, will have to be enforced again, especially to prevent it from becoming a ‘back door’ route into Britain for immigrants who have entered the Irish Republic. Tensions will be increased, especially for Catholics in the north who will be cut off once more from the south, but also along the border in general; it was always easily breached during The Troubles, even while it was patrolled by the British Army, and will have to be policed very strictly post-Brexit, which is sure to cause some unease among locals on both sides. The Good Friday Agreement included a specific protocol that the people of Ulster would always be able to be citizens of the UK or the Republic, or even both, at their own discretion; but Brexit would mean they are both members of the EU and not members of the EU, therefore subject to the EU’s laws and yet not subject to them, simultaneously. The fact that the people of England and Wales (I will not say ‘mainland British’ as that is unfair on the pro-Remain majority in Scotland) do not appear to have thought about this difficulty implies almost a colonial lack of consideration.

Add to that the reality that the majority in Northern Ireland, perhaps with the above issues in mind, have voted against leaving the EU, and the possibility is raised that it may have to leave the UK. Potentially it could be absorbed into the Republic, or to stand alone as an independent province, but either way, the question is destabilising, especially as it risks stirring up old arguments that the Good Friday Agreement seemed to have settled. While it would be an exaggeration to say that Northern Ireland has been a picture of harmony over the last 18 years, after decades of blood and grief, peace has at least been the dominant condition. Now the agreement that brought it about may have to be re-negotiated.

Scotland, too, voted against leaving. One of the arguments that arguably swung the 2014 referendum on Scottish Independence was that staying in the UK would allow Scotland to remain in the EU without having to adopt the euro as its currency. But the result of Thursday’s referendum has proven that notion completely false, handing the Scottish National Party the ideal pretext for reviving the argument and holding a second Independence referendum. With the current price of oil so low, an independent Scotland’s current ability to function as a trading nation is in a measure of doubt, but the prize may still be seen as worth the price.

The United Kingdom itself is, in short, now in danger of breaking up, and whether you believe that is a good thing or a bad thing – speaking for myself I am quite okay with it – it will certainly not be the resurrection of Britain; it will be its undoubted termination.

Meanwhile, the UK is not the only union that Brexit has imperilled. It has also given huge ammunition to extreme Right groups across Europe, fighting to extract their countries from the European Union. Marine Le Pen of the French National Front, within hours of the referendum result coming through in the UK, was calling for a ‘Frexit’ referendum, while Dutch extremist Geert Wilders was pushing for a ‘Nexit.’. It seems quite certain that at least a few more withdrawals will follow, and with each passing withdrawal, another withdrawal becomes more likely.

Britain’s decision has potentially destabilised Europe. What do I care what they do in Europe once we’re out of it? you ask. Simple, history is what should make you care; if there is one lesson the last three thousand years of European history has taught us, it is that the last eventuality anyone on Earth can afford is a dis-unified, destabilised Europe. People tend to die in horribly large numbers when we have a Europe like that. The British may not want to be a part of that, but if they could hardly stay out of it in the 1940’s, they certainly have no way of avoiding it in the face of the military technology of today.

Further afield, old treaties that were settled with the EU are now going to need re-negotiating by the British, and again, some of them are going to re-open old wounds. Territorial issues overseas with other European countries in particular will now become harder to reconcile without the shared governance of the EU. For instance, if the UK leaves the union, Gibraltar leaves too, even though it voted very decisively to remain in the EU. This immediately scuppers fair access to ‘the Rock’ for Spain. So naturally Spain is now demanding a complete new settlement, including shared sovereignty with Britain, for Gibraltar.

Due to Britain’s imperial past, there are many such issues that will now have to be re-addressed. Long, slow, wearisome, complicated, and individualised. Possibly expensive too. And once again, destabilising.

Add to this the economic instability Brexit has caused. £200 billion was wiped off the stock market’s value in a few hours, during the deepest and most rapid run-on-the-pound in history as sterling becomes less internationally useful, and hence less desirable, and knock-on slowdowns across the rest of the continent and elsewhere. The country’s credit rating has been downgraded. The British have in fact dropped a lit match into a pool of oil.

All of this, and to make a move that has no follow-up plan in place, only the withdrawal move itself. Now call me presumptuous when I say this, but I am very doubtful indeed that the great majority of people who voted Leave really thought of any of this beforehand. I am perfectly prepared to admit that some of them never occurred to me, but I still thought of enough of them, and asked what the alternative future we were being offered would be – and realised that nobody knew – to say no.

I am not, I want to stress, one of the people arguing for the referendum to be re-run. I accept the verdict, no matter how profoundly I disagree with it, and it would be anti-democratic just to overturn the vote. Also, as I mentioned at the start, I have referendum-fatigue after seeing this whole ghastly process shine a light on Britain at its ugliest. Between the ugly post-victory triumphalism and anti-immigrant aggression of Leave voters, the anti-democratic elitism to emerge from people rejecting the result, and the truly evil murder of Jo Cox (without a shot being fired, Farage? An insult has yet to be invented that is strong enough for you), this whole exercise has shown us as a country at our intolerant and intolerable worst. Even growing up among all the unrest of the 1980’s, I have never known my country to be quite as divisive or hate-filled as it has been over the last few months. It has made me nauseous, unhappy, sometimes frightened, frequently horrified, and I have numerous friends who feel the same as I do. Frankly, the atmosphere has been so fraught that I honestly do not know if the British are capable of another referendum campaign on this subject without descending into civil war. On a more personal note, I also do not know if my own health could cope with it. I concede there is a genuine legal basis for re-running the referendum, as all the retracted pledges from the Leave Campaign can be seen as a violation of contract – under, irony of ironies, EU laws. But no, for better or worse, the decision is made, and as the host of a favourite TV programme of mine used to say, “Once embarked, the only way is onward; there is no turning back.”

What I am saying though, is that the country is going to learn a painful lesson in the most painful way it can; that lesson is to stop misusing certain democratic processes to express opinions on subjects that they are not there to discuss. Many Leave campaigners clearly thought this was anti-immigration matter, and it is now starting to become clear to them that it was not. But it should have been clear beforehand, simply because the question asked was whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union, not whether it should throw out foreigners. Some voted Leave while wanting to Remain, because they carelessly assumed Remain would win, and they were just desperate to demand ‘change’. But as there was no way a vote to decide whether to stay in the EU could offer an articulate description of that change, the only form the change could make is withdrawal from the EU. (And no, the votes will not be interpreted as a call for a change of policy at home, only as a demand to leave the EU.)

In 2011, there was a referendum on electoral reform. People plainly voted No in huge numbers to punish Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats for helping the Conservative Party put up tuition fees. But the referendum question was not asking about whether tuition fee increases were a good idea, it was asking about whether there should be a change to the electoral system. Tuition fees in the five years that followed have not gone down as a result of the electoral system staying the same, and an opportunity to make the electoral system (slightly) more representative was spurned for the sake of useless revenge.

I do appreciate that our MPs all-too-often ignore what the public are saying, and I do share the frustration of how difficult it can be to make our wishes articulate and known to those in power, especially when they just do not want to hear it. But misusing a referendum is not the answer to that, and what the country has set in motion in doing so is a machine that will be quite impossible to control. There had to be a clear and workable alternative future available for such a path to be chosen, and there was none. And do the people who did this imagine they got their message across?

So I ask one last time, was it really worth it?

_____

*If you do not believe this, consider the way various Brexit leaders are suddenly insisting that there is ‘no rush‘ to get the wheels turning on withdrawal, while EU officials are saying, “If you’re really going, let’s get on with it.” If the £350 million really were just being wasted when it could be reassigned to the NHS – and if they really cared about the NHS in the way they want us to believe – they would surely want to get started straight away so they could stop making the payments at the earliest opportunity.

 

Furthermore, it is all the evidence we need of my earlier point, that the Brexit leaders really do not have – have never had – any coherent or workable framework for what the country will do in the event of a Leave vote. They are now playing for time while they try and make up a policy platform as they go along, while hoping they do not look like they are making it up as they go along.

by Martin Odoni

I should know better than to watch BBC Question Time. I have largely stopped watching it, especially over the last two years, as I have become fed up of its thinly-veiled bias – its tendency to give incredibly disproportionate exposure to members of the UK Independence Party in particular – and its considerable dumbing-down since the late-1990’s. Habitually inviting pop-culture celebrities, where once it might have included scientists or public workers, often lends the programme an air of triviality.

But today I decided to give last night’s episode a viewing on iPlayer , and yes, it was a mistake, as I was soon listening to one of the most obtuse audience-members Question Time has ever had.

He said, as follows; –

Economics is really simple. I’ve got ten pounds in my pocket. If I go out and buy three pints of beer in Cambridge, I’m probably borrowing money. If I carry on doing that, then I’m gonna run out of money, and I’m gonna go bust. It’s not difficult, guys.

So to sum up, his very basic argument was that spending cuts, greater than any done so far since the start of the period we call ‘Austerity’, are necessary, because if spending costs more than the amount of money the Government has, that would mean borrowing is necessary, and the more we borrow, the longer it will take us to pay off the National Debt.

Wow. Shrewd calculation.

(There is a clip of him that has been shared on YouTube.)

So yet again, Joe Public thinks the words ‘economics’ and ‘budgeting’ are freely interchangeable. I was mentally screaming at my PC screen as he spoke, something I do a lot when watching Question Time, which is one of the reasons I tend to avoid it these days. But this was particularly maddening, as it reminded me that way too many people still think that they can use their private incomes as an analogy for a national economy.

The guy in the audience did not help himself in that he chose to make the comparison while arguing with Yanis Varoufakis, one of the better-informed economists in all of modern Europe, and sure enough Varoufakis slapped him down with relaxed ease. But we should still make no bones about this; the guy in the audience is completely illiterate economically. Not just slightly, completely. And so is anyone who agrees with him. For not only does a national economy work differently from a household budget, it in fact works the opposite way in several critical respects, as any activity put in has feedback effects that do not happen to the money people spend when they ‘go out for a few drinks’.

Let us compare; –

A household budget is linear; the household receives money at the beginning of the line, what we call the ‘income’, saves it for a while, then spends it at the end of the line, what we call ‘outgoings’. Before and after this line, the money is not part of the household budget.

An economy is a circle. The Government issues money via the Central Bank to pay for services, the money goes round and round the population, and then eventually it arrives back at the Government in the form of tax, whereupon more money is issued to pay for more services, and round it goes again, ad infinitum. The money does not leave the economy at any point in this circle (except when used for foreign trade, but even then it will probably soon be back).

The amount of tax a Government receives is directly proportional to the amount of activity there is in the economy. In which case, provided it is targeted sensibly, more spending will mean more activity in the economy and more money coming back in than was paid out.

This is little different from profit margins for a private company; a factory is useless for making money, unless money is invested to begin with on machinery, staff, raw materials and the like, and continued payments are needed for more raw materials, maintenance, ongoing wages and so forth. Without that investment, all you have is an empty building. A national economy without an outlay is also an empty building.

So when our esteemed audience-member with his checked shirt says, “It’s not difficult, guys!” he is wrong. Cutting spending in your private life is likely to result in you having more money, certainly. But for the nation’s Exchequer, cutting public spending usually means also reducing the income heading the other way, so it may not result in having more money. In fact, it can be a very delicate calculation, sometimes even dependent on luck, establishing what to target spending on, how much to spend in order to get the right feedback, and predicting precisely how much the feedback will be.

What is this calculation? Well, the term whose meaning we can be sure the guy in the checked shirt is unaware of is ‘fiscal multiplier’, which is roughly the public sector equivalent of a ‘profit margin’ in the private sector. A fiscal multiplier is the calculation of how much Gross Domestic Product activity is ‘fed back’ from an investment by the state. A multiplier of 0.5 means that the GDP activity generated is only fifty per cent of the amount invested. A multiplier of 1.0 means that the GDP activity generated is equal to the amount invested. A multiplier of 1.5 means that the GDP activity generated is fifty per cent greater than the amount invested. A multiplier of 3.0 means that the GDP activity generated is three times the amount invested. And so on.

Now, the International Monetary Fund revealed in 2012 that the average fiscal multiplier during the years of the Labour Government was 1.3, meaning a ‘profit’ of thirty per cent on average. And our current Chancellor of the Exchequer, the ever-beloved George Osborne, has spent the last five years hacking away at the services that generated these margins. The result has meant a net loss of wealth for the country. The growth in GDP that began two years ago only became possible after he slowed down the pace of cuts. (Even then, he was still lucky that the banks decided to start lending again.)

In fairness to Mr Checked-Shirted-Expert-On-Cambridge-Beer-Prices, he was not the only one in the audience who seems just to assume that spending cuts automatically mean less of a deficit. A few minutes earlier, a guy with glasses and what appeared to be a black eye was arguing that Austerity should carry on, and perhaps be spread to pensions. Pensions are funds that the retired have spent their lives paying into under a strict guarantee of regular payments in their old age, and therefore there are no moral or legal grounds for cutting them. But also, our bespectacled audience-member seems not to have considered what would happen to the economy if millions of pensioners suddenly lost money and had to reduce their spending accordingly. That would be an awful lot of businesses suddenly selling less to them, getting less revenue from them, and therefore forwarding less Value Added Tax to the Government. And lower tax-receipts for the Government by definition mean the deficit is going up, offsetting much or all of the downward pressure the initial cuts have applied.

See how it works?

Indeed, the latest figures released this week show that the deficit is going up again, even though spending is not. The reason for the increase is quite explicitly because tax receipts are going down, which was always going to happen sooner or later with Osborne’s occasional cutting frenzies. When you reduce spending that has a healthy fiscal multiplier, you make it more difficult to close the deficit. (That is, if you truly believe that closing the deficit down completely is a necessary thing to do, but I have discussed the drawbacks of that idea abundantly elsewhere. As has Professor Simon Wren-Lewis, who has a greater mind on this subject than mine will ever be).

The fact that fiscal feedbacks still need to be explained is depressing. Until a far wider expanse of the population grasps how economic cycles and state-spending really work, audience-panel shows like Question Time, at least when discussing economic issues, are never going to be worth the bother of watching.