Category Archives: Political

My (printable) thoughts on UK and EC politics

The MOD’s Iraq Problems Show the Weakness of UK Government.


Ex Army MP Johnny Mercer’s inquiry into the operation of the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) will recommend that it be shut down. Right answer, but way too late.

IHAT was set up to establish to investigate allegations of mistreatment of Iraqis by the British Army following the invasion of Iraq.  The MOD, which funds it, claims that it was compelled to set it up as it was independent of the British Army; the concern was that otherwise the UK might find itself as a defendant in the International Criminal Court.  There were concerns that, following the death in British Army custody of Baha Mousa in 2003, the British Army was insufficiently impartial to investigate such matters – although in fact the perpetrator was identified, convicted and imprisoned. Continue reading The MOD’s Iraq Problems Show the Weakness of UK Government.

The Supreme Court ruling changes nothing. It’s time for Theresa May to extract her digit…


To the surprise of few, the Supreme Court has upheld the High Court’s ruling that a Parliamentary vote is required to trigger Brexit.  While many will lambaste the court, the essence of the matter was that leaving the EU does affect the rights of UK citizens (e.g. rights to move, work and reside in the EU) and thus could not be done under Crown Prerogative (essentially a Prime Minister’s whim). I am happy to live in a country where this challenge was possible and where it was upheld.

Continue reading The Supreme Court ruling changes nothing. It’s time for Theresa May to extract her digit…

The Only Rule of War is Don’t Come Second


From my TCW column:

It has been announced that (ex-Sergeant) Alexander Blackman’s conviction for the murder of an Afghan prisoner of war is to be reconsidered. This is a good decision, but there is a wider question that needs addressing.

Continue reading The Only Rule of War is Don’t Come Second

Do We Want to Defend The Realm or Not? The British Army is changing form Paper Tiger to Potemkin Village.


The  Times reports (here) that the British Army is to reduce the number of Challenger 2 tanks that it has by one third, reducing them to just two regiments of 56 tanks each, plus some in reserve and for training.  It proposes to replace the tanks with its newest armoured vehicle, Ajax.  If this is true it is a clear demonstration that the MOD is now utterly incapable of defending the realm and that our armed forces are moving from paper tiger to Potemkin village.

What’s the problem? Simple, not everything with tracks and a turret is a tank, in the same way that not everything with wheels and a windscreen is a car.  Using your Ford Focus as a replacement for the double decker school bus is going to be as successful as using a reconnaissance vehicle (like Ajax) to replace a Challenger 2.

A tank combines firepower, protection and mobility.  The firepower is a gun capable of firing a solid shot with enough energy to penetrate the armour of an enemy tank.  Like most tanks, the Challenger 2 has a 120mm calibre main gun capable of firing an approximately 10kg round at a muzzle velocity of over 1,500 m/s, with a kinetic energy of some 11.3MJ.  The Ajax has a 40mm cannon capable of firing an equivalent round of about 1kg at 1,600m/s, an energy of around 1.2MJ, a whole order of magnitude less than the tank round.  While the details of the ability to penetrate are both complex and classified, it should be obvious to the meanest intelligence that there is no way that the Ajax poses anything like the threat to a tank target that a Challenger 2 does.

Challenger 2 weighs around 75 tons combat weight, much it Dorchester armour capable of withstanding hits from most weapons.  Ajax weighs just 40 tons, the difference being due to lower levels of protection.  (This low protection is understandable; Ajax was designed as a reconnaissance vehicles and such vehicles should not get into fire fights.)

Swapping from Challenger to Ajax is not like for like.  Of course, there are other ways of killing tanks.  Most obviously anti-tank missiles, artillery and from aircraft (specifically the Brimstone missile).  However, there are problems there too.

In Ukraine, the Russian T-90 are equipped with an anti-missile system which shoots them out of the sky.  Moreover, their latest armours protect against the latest anti-tank missile warheads.  The utility of anti-tank missiles (including British ones) is questionable.

In the Ukraine Russian artillery is devastating armour, just as ours did when in the first Gulf War. It manages this by firing a projectile full of sub munitions.  The projectile opens over the target area and the sub-munitions rain down.  There are so many that multiple hits are likely, destroying everything. Unfortunately, Princess Diana’s campaign against landmines led to the Ottawa Treaties, which banned this class of weapon. It has now been deleted from British weaponry.  The Russians did not sign the treaty; nor did China, Korea, Iran, India and others.

That leaves air launched weapons, such as the British Brimstone.  Although it’s a potent weapon the warhead technology is not new, and can be defeated.  Worse, it needs an aircraft to launch it and aircraft are neither cheap nor invulnerable.  Moreover, if aircraft are busy trying to kill tanks, what is shooting down the enemy’s aircraft? (We have no significant surface to air missile capability either!)

Why worry about killing tanks?  Because in the absence of effective counter-weapons (which is another tank) they dominate the battlefield by slaughtering and out manoeuvring infantry.  And almost all countries have them, and in significant numbers. There are around 100,000 tanks in the world at the moment and few of them belong to allies.

The bottom line is that this change of vehicle substantially reduces the British ability to fight any armoured enemy, quite possibly to the point of failure.  If it proceeds the Army will comprise:

  • Two armoured infantry brigades, which are light on tanks.
  • One wheeled infantry brigade, with no tanks (and therefore vulnerable to a tank equipped enemy)
  • One reconnaissance brigade, with little combat power.
  • Some top notch special forces, but their role is not on the battlefield.
  • A score of foot borne infantry battalions (some of which can jump out of aeroplanes) all of which move at walking pace and are hugely vulnerable to every weapon.
  • A very weak logistic tail.

Frankly this force would struggle to achieve anything against any halfway capable opposition; it is an organisation that makes no sense and delivers little combat power.  Either we want to have an ability to wage war on land, in which case we’ll have to spend more, or we don’t, in which case we should disband the army.

It is time that we had a sensible national debate on whether we want to defend the Realm or not.

 

This post was first published on The Conservative Woman and is reproduced here with their kind consent.

Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows


Hitler was, without doubt, an utterly evil man who sought to eliminate the entire Jewish race, plus assorted other minorities.  He was also, unfortunately, charismatic and so an otherwise highly educated nation followed him to their doom.

Fidel was worse.

Continue reading Fidel Was Worse Than Hitler – as anyone but the lefty media knows

NATO Has Become A Paper Tiger – and it is not Trump’s fault


Putin is deploying more missiles into Kaliningrad (the Russian enclave at the southwest corner of the Baltic, bordering Poland).  The media is concerned that some of these are nuclear capable and have the rang (500 miles+) to hit European cities.  The reality is rather different.  Continue reading NATO Has Become A Paper Tiger – and it is not Trump’s fault

The US Electorate Trumps Their Political Establishment


Hail the Don!  Trump is the next president and the political commentariat are in meltdown.  I’m not.

Firstly, don’t be scared.  Such is the inertia of the US government machine that even with Republicans in the White House, Senate and House of Representatives it is very hard for any president to get anything tangible done, (c.f. Obamacare).  And few Republicans are Trump fans. Yes the dollar will wobble a bit – as will T Bond yields, but that is just the speculators adjusting their forecasts and unwinding positions.

Foreign policy might change a bit – President Don might be less willing to expend US lives in remote places – which, given the near disastrous last two US forays might be a good thing.  He may also be reluctant to prop up NATO members who don’t pay their way, which is also a good thing.  If he is a little less keen on confronting Putin that may also be a good thing; generally, wars are far easier to start than to finish.  Being selfish, Trump likes the UK despite the foolish comments of some recent Prime Ministerial failures.  The United States is already by far out largest export partner – with 11% of exports heading there.

How is that a problem for the UK?  Good question.  To the US political establishment, the unthinkable has happened, and outsider has won.  Worse, he won unexpectedly and despite little media support.  This is either because the US electorate is dumb, or the political establishment is out of touch (or both).  Expect a raft of psephologists seeking to demonstrate that Trump was elected by white working class males.  He may have been popular among them and in the rust-belt states, but there are not enough white working class males in the US to elect a president.  More people voted for Trump, and from many more electoral segments.

This squealing by political analysts, (akin to that in the UK post Brexit), is a symptom of the problem that both countries demonstrably face.  Their political thought is out of step with their population, and hasn’t noticed it. This is a surprising outcome in any country – and one that is potentially a source of unrest.  It is astonishing that it occurs in the two self-proclaimed bastions of liberal democracy.

That, not Trump or Brexit, is the problem on both sides of the Atlantic.  The question therefore divides into two; how did this happen and how do we fix it?

The first part of this is going to be a field day for left of centre social economists – inequality caused by free market capitalism.  That these are the same social economists who have been advocating the policies that led to these electoral shocks is a delicious irony and further demonstration of the problem.  I content that this is not about economics (broadly an outcome) but process.  And one (Bill) Clinton slogan – “It’s the economy, stupid.”

I am increasingly of the opinion that in a free market capitalist economy the best economic policy a government can hope for is not to screw it up.  An economically competent government may well lay the grounds for growth, but it is not the government who risks wealth to create the growth (and creating growth requires private capital).  Nor is it the government which suffers the pecuniary loss associated with commercial failure – and growth is risky. It is ridiculous for politicians to claim credit for the work and appetite for risk of a very few of their population.  When a Chancellor says “We have created growth of X% this year” what he should be saying, and actually mean is “I managed not to cock it up for another year.”  The hubris of taking political credit for the efforts of others is at the root of the problems of Westminster and Washington.

This tendency has been exacerbated in the UK by the politicisation of the Civil Service and the scourge of the Special Political Adviser (SPAD).  In the US they have had this problem from the start – many senior administrative appointments are politicised.  Such politicisation a government machine that seeks to curry political favour as well as do its job.  This leads inexorably to pork barrel politics, whether it is turning UK marginal seats into special economic areas or building NASA’s launch facilities in an alligator infested swamp.  And the politicisation is pointless; as three time New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia said “There is no Democratic or Republican way of cleaning the streets.”  So why politicise it?

The SPAD evolution has also led inexorably to the professional politician (who grew up as a SPAD).  How do you get to become a politician? Start as a SPAD.  How do you become a SPAD?  Know someone who is prepared to take you on.  The array of political individuals in the main parties is thus being homogenised and decreasingly aware of the non-political world.  Thus, political thought is succumbing to a group-think.

Of course, the media should be challenging this.  Unfortunately, the path between media commentator and politician is well trodden and, with some noble exceptions, few interviewers or reporters are able or willing to confront the delusions of our legislators. This is a problem of the BBC.  What was started as an impartial organisation to inform, educate and entertain at public expense has (inevitably) become highly politicised with an interest in “big government” to maintain and increase its taxpayer funding.

Murder has been illegal since Moses went hill walking, countless laws have been passed against it and yet it continues.  There is a limit to what legislation can achieve, and yet every year more and more laws are passed – many of which have unintended consequences and some of which are highly divisive in the real world that exists outside the capital.  As the American satirist PJ O’Rourke pointed out at the American bi-centenary, surely there comes a point when a society has enough laws?

Money is a problem too.  SPADs, researchers and the publicity process all cost money which political parties must fund from members or donors.  In the UK we have fairly tight rules on spending but even here there are moves towards the state (that is, taxpayer) funding of political parties.  In the US, with no spending limits, a candidate’s ability to get elected is constrained by their ability to raise funds.  In the UK most people don’t fund politicians – those who do tend to expect something for it, be it a bauble or access.  It exacerbates the shrinking of the political parties’ universe.

So, on both sides of the Atlantic we have had electoral shock after outcomes that the establishment neither wanted nor expected.  In the UK the government has (reluctantly) committed to Brexit but many politicians have not. Instead they persist in thinking and acting as if they better know what is the interest of the country and its population.  It is increasingly obvious that they do not.

What happens next?  The sun came up this morning despite the outcome, as it did on 24th June.  The world will continue much as before in the short term. In the medium term the relationship between political parties, political thought (such as it is), the media and the population must evolve and reconnect with their populations.  How this will happen is less clear, as is the time frame.  But it would be a foolish member of the political elite who considered Brexit and Trump one off aberrations.

Don’t Blame the Judges, it’s the Politicians who are Idiots..


Yesterday the High Court ruled that the government cannot use Crown prerogative to give notice to leave the EU under Article 50.  Unlike most who are commenting on this, I have read the judgement (here).  Although I am no lawyer, the prose is clear and the point simple.

Firstly, Laws can only be made, amended or repealed by Parliament (i.e. both the House of Lords and the House of Commons).  In this context, a law is anything that affects the rights of a UK citizen.  However, the Crown (i.e. the government) can do things that don’t affect the rights of UK citizen without reference to Parliament, including entering into Foreign Treaties and going to war.  Now these actions may well affect the wealth, health and happiness of the UK citizens, but they don’t affect their rights and so don’t require Parliamentary approval.

Although our membership of the EU is by Treaty (currently the Lisbon Treaty) it also grants the UK citizen rights in UK law, courtesy of the European Community Act 1972, as amended.  Triggering Article 50 means that, absent any agreement with the EU to the contrary, the UK would leave in 2 years.  some of the rights granted in ECA 1972 would expire, and that therefore means that Article 50 cannot be triggered Crown privilege.  Hence the ruling.

Now, there are grounds for arguing that the ruling is wrong, or that the case should not have been heard. No doubt the government will make them on appeal. It may or may not win.  However, as we stand we have a population that voted to leave, a government that undertook to enact the result of referendum and a Prime Minister who is now hamstrung.  The situation is exacerbated by the bleating of self-interested politicians opposed to Brexit (and their acolytes in media and elsewhere) who are currently conflating the need for Parliamentary approval to trigger Article 50 with a line by line negotiation of an exit, or at least setting out the exit terms.

The ruling does not of itself require Parliamentary oversight of the exit process.  All it requires is an Act to trigger Article 50, accepting that doing so will cause the loss of certain individual rights (most of them are quite arcane or silly, like losing the right to elect an MEP as the main rights accruing to EU citizens are already incorporated in UK law).  Such an Act would probably get through the House of Commons, but it might stall in the House of Lords – although Mrs May could solve that by creating 200 or more Brexit peers.  She might also be able to invoke the Parliament Act.

However, all of this is going to take time, and that time is causing uncertainty which in turn is doing economic damage to the UK. It is also frustrating the will of most of the people and is showing in stark relief just how unfit our current Parliament is.  While it would be unprecedented for a referendum to be binding the Referendum Act 2016 could have expressly included wording to allow the use of Crown prerogative – as David Cameron clearly stated he intended to.  But perhaps such an obvious provision was left out on purpose. It remains a scandal that the entire government operated on the assumption that the vote would be to remain.  If it is the case that no consideration was given to how to leave (in a technical, legal sense) as part of the preparation of the Referendum Act then the cabinet of the time were fools, and their advisers incompetents.

While I can see the obvious attraction for Mrs May in winning an appeal, there is a significant chance that the government will lose it – certainly its performance thus far in court has been pretty poor. And it if loses it may lose worse.  I think Mrs May’s best course is to introduce a sort Act, defy anyone in the House of Commons to vote against it (as it is now government policy she can and must whip it).  The House of Lords, which you may recall remains in a state of unreformed idiocy, will then face the choice of obstructing the people’s will and that of their government, or gritting their teeth and passing it.

Tomorrow is the 5th of November.  As Parliamentarians and their advisers head off for their recess they should reflect upon the mess that they have created.

There is only one flavour of Brexit


Thanks to UKIP’s pugilists the party conference season has been more interesting than usual. Predictably the Labour party has gone navel gazing while Tim Fallon (who?) and the Liberal Democrats want a rematch on the referendum – oh the irony. Meanwhile some Tories and some commentators seem to have invented the “Hard” and “Soft” flavours of Brexit. Clearly there has been some weed smoking…
The facts are simple. The result was out. The EU bureaucracy does not want us to leave; nor do many of the member states nor a fair chunk of the UK government establishment. Their solution is to kick the can down the road and just keep talking, pretending the vote never happened.

The EU treaties provide for a simple exit, via Article 50. They do not provide for membership of the single market without the acceptance of free movement. While it is perhaps possible that the EU treaties could be amended to allow this, it is unlikely to happen in any fast time frame. As such a treaty change would probably require ratification by all member states it’s a reasonable bet that it would never pass.

So there is no point in discussing it. Which means that there is no “hard” of “soft” option on Brexit. We just do it. there are some minor discussions to be had within agencies such as Europol, but they are all minor and in most of them we hold the whip had – (“You want access to our intelligence? Then show us your own” etc.) With nothing to negotiate and nothing to agree, we could be gone in six months.

Now, while leaving the EU means leaving the single market there is no reason why the UK could not offer EU members the opportunity to export to the UK tariff free. Given that the UK is a major market for the EU the member states would be likely to rather want that. Particularly the Germans. (The top selling car in the UK is the Ford Fiesta. Made in German. Number 2 is the Ford Focus, made in Germany. In fact seven of the top 10 selling cars in the UK are made in Germany).
Of course, the UK is not a charity so we would request reciprocation – any tariff being charged on any UK export to EU would result in the UK charging tariffs on imports from the EU. The genius of this position is that if gives the problem to the EU to sort out with its remaining member states. While some Eurocrats may want to savage the UK it is unlikely that their paymaster, Mrs Merkel, will be able to survive allowing the EU to destroy the German car industry and prevent it from taking advantage of the UK’s open market policies.

And it does not require a treaty. The agreement would exist de facto, not de jure. Those who remember the Cold War should remind themselves that the entire country of East Germany was never recognised in English (and other) Law. Yes, we noticed their wall and fence. Yes, we prepared to deal with their armed forces and no doubt expended treasure upsetting their regime – but we did not recognise it as a country. In the same vein, therefore, we simply do not have to recognise the Single Market, just deal with it on tariff free terms.

We can adopt a similar approach to passporting, enabling our financial service industry to operate in the EU but outside their regulation. We just apply a higher level and offer the reciprocal to them. For example, we allow Deutsche Bank, BNP and the rest to continue operating in the UK under (effectively) EU regulation provided that NatWest and HSBC may operate in EU, as they do today. We can also point out that bank operations are largely dominated by the Basle conventions, which are voluntary and global, rather than the EU directives. London is the largest financial market in the world. Paris and Frankfurt don’t even make the top 10 and last time I checked most EU currencies and financial companies desperately need access to the vast pool of capital and expertise that exists in London. Again, we make the offer to the member states who can then instruct the EU apparatus.

Having thus solved the problem of Brexit and evaded the (alleged) downsides the government can then turn to a more serious problem.

It is appalling that there was no contingency planning in place to cover the possibility of a Brexit vote. This is an abject failure by the Civil Service. My understanding is that the Cabinet Secretary, Jeremy Heywood, was instructed to prevent any such preparations from happening by David Cameron, citing a similar (apparently) instruction issued by Gordon Brown in the run up to the Scottish Independence Referendum. It was felt, I understand, that making such preparations risked them leaking and demonstrating that the out option was viable.

The result of this is that since Brexit we have had no clear leadership, no action and no plan. This has directly impacted upon the value of the pound and indeed allowed the development of the hard / soft fallacy. This has done material damage to the economy and could even constitute maladministration – which is (broadly) the crime of deliberately governing badly. Mrs May has already had to remind the Civil Service and government machine that Brexit is Brexit and it will happen. She should now take them to task for their abject failure to prepare. “My political masters told me to do it” is not a defence if the instruction was clearly against the country’s interest.

The government can use the time thus saved to return to the very real problems confronting the country; the deficit, public sector productivity and the rest. They may well find it easier to find solutions now that Brussels plays no part in our law making.

Brexit is Brexit, out is out. Just do it.