No announcement yet.

What’s going wrong with Britain?

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • #46
    An Independent Scotland?

    When I first travelled north from my homeland in England into the beautiful countryside of Scotland in 1964 I never really considered that I was in a significantly different country. It was not until I saw painted on a wall "Sassenachs go home" that I understood I had entered a different culture zone (sassenach is a generally disparaging Gaelic language term used to describe the inhabitants south of the border). However, Scotland has mostly lived in harmony with its neighbours over the years until the 1995 Hollywood movie "Braveheart" featuring Mel Gibson.
    Gibson portrays William Wallace, a 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. Wallace was later cut apart whilst alive in a public execution at the behest of the English King and the body parts spread far and wide as a warning to all potential dissidents. Since the release of this film and its popularity to British cinema audiences Scottish nationalism has gained a new impetus.

    In recent years the Scottish Independence Party (SNP) has main great gains on the Scottish political scene. First by annihilating the Conservative Party and then by decimating safe Labour Party seats in working class strongholds. Demands were made on London's Westminster Parliament for devolution of more powers to Scotland After several years on 1 July 1999 many more self ruling powers were transferred from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh. The Scottish Government built a new Parliament building which was opened by HM the Queen in 2004

    SNP has continued to gain more seats in both the Scottish Government and in the Westminster Parliament since then resulting in a referendum on Scottish independence taking place on 18 September 2014.
    2,001,926 (55.3%) voting against independence and 1,617,989 (44.7%) voting in favour. The turnout of 84.6% was the highest recorded for an election or referendum in the United Kingdom for many years.

    However, since the UK referendum on Brexit in which Scots voted to stay in the European Union whilst a narrow majority of other UK citizens voted to leave, controversy once again is apparent. Nicola Sturgeon the current Scotland first Minister is strident in her stance to stay with the EU even though she lacks the constitutional power to go it alone. Her position is now to threaten another Scottish Independence Referendum, although it is unclear that the average Scot wants it. Scotland receives more money from Westminster coffers pro rata per head of the population than does the other UK countries. Furthermore it has a lower production of financial generating output than England relying on North Sea Oil (in decline with lower oil revenues), Scottish whisky and tourism.

    Scotland has faced similar problems to the rest of UK with cutbacks in Government spending impacting on health care, social services and education in particular. However, it is said that the SNP haven't managed their affairs wisely resulting in a greater deterioration of public services in Scotland than elsewhere. Indeed pundits are turning against Nicola Sturgeon saying she should concentrate less on issues such as the EU (she has embarked on expensive journeys to Brussels) and concentrate much more on matters of greater concern to her electorate. The following BBC article relates to such an issue:-

    Health of children in Scotland 'among worst in Europe' - BBC News


    • #47
      Squatters have occupied London mansion belonging to former top manager of Gazprom
      UAWIRE ORG January 29, 2017 5:10:00 PM

      A group of squatters occupied the London mansion of the former top manager of Gazprom, Andrey Goncharenko, which is located in one of the most expensive streets of the British capital ¾ Eaton Square in Belgravia, as reported by The Guardian.

      The group of squatters stated that it is opening a shelter for homeless in an empty 5-story house worth 15 million pounds, that was bought by the Russian oligarch in 2014.

      The squatters, the Autonomous Nation of Anarchist Libertarians (ANAL), stated that they entered the building through an open window on January 23rd and have accommodated there about 25 homeless people so far, many of whom had been spending the night near Victoria Station.

      "It is a crime that there are so many homeless people, and at the same time so many empty buildings. Our goal is to correct this injustice," one of the squatters said.

      The company that represents Goncharenko’s interests asked the court to evict the squatters, and a hearing will take place on January 31st.

      Overall, Goncharenko bought three houses in the U.K., one of which cost him 120 million pounds. The press called it the most expensive house in Britain.

      Goncharenko’s current location is unknown. Also, there is no official information about when he left Gazprom. The Russian media reported his leave in 2015, and also reported that a criminal case has been initiated against him. UAWire - Squatters have occupied London mansion belonging to former top manager of Gazprom

      æ, !

      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


      • #48
        Boris Johnson in new row over 'siphoning off' from foreign aid budget
        Foreign secretary criticised for diverting new £700m ‘empowerment fund’ away from countries in Africa and Middle East
        THE GUARDIAN Jessica Elgot 13 Feb 2017

        Boris Johnson has been criticised for “siphoning off” from the UK’s foreign aid budget to fund diplomacy in former Soviet states and the Middle East via a new £700m “pro-democracy” fund.

        The row came as the foreign secretary embarked on a two-day visit to the Gambia and Ghana, where he will announce that the Gambia is to rejoin the Commonwealth.

        The fund is expected to be used to foster stability and shore up western influence in countries threatened by Russia, such as Ukraine. However, questions have been raised after it was revealed the fund could be spent on “empowerment” projects in the Baltics, countries that are not on the list of those eligible for official development assistance, which are only the poorest and lowest middle income countries.

        The cross-government £700m fund would be available over four years, a Foreign Office spokesperson said. The FCO said in a statement: “The empowerment fund is in the early stages of development. Details of the fund will be announced in parliament in due course.”

        Foreign Office sources said the new empowerment fund would be aimed at promoting democracy in countries across the world.

        The Labour MP Stephen Doughty, who sits on the international development select committee, said he was concerned that aid funds were being diverted. “I absolutely support us bolstering the Baltic states and Ukraine against Russia … but there is a concern here if it involves diverting funds from destabilised countries in Africa and the Middle East and elsewhere, where we’ve also got challenges of poverty and other risks to UK national security,” he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One.

        “My understanding is that [the Baltic States] are not eligible. Only Ukraine is currently because it covers only poorest and lowest middle income countries. I’m not opposed to the government supporting the Baltic states or Ukraine, I think that’s the right thing to do. But it’s about what budget is this coming from?

        “It seems like this is what the Foreign Office or Ministry of Defence should be doing rather than diverting it away from the poorest countries.”

        The SNP’s international development spokesperson, Patrick Grady MP, said the UK government was “stretching the definition of aid” to include trade and diplomacy efforts. “Siphoning off aid funds to bolster the Foreign Office or MoD budget is a betrayal of our promises to help people living in poverty around the world,” he said.

        “The UK government has rightly been applauded for meeting that 0.7% target of national income for aid spending. But it must not undermine that achievement by stretching the definition of aid and putting its own trade and diplomatic interests ahead of helping the poorest and most vulnerable communities around the world.”

        The Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi praised the scheme as the right target for the UK’s aid budget. “If this sort of fund will help push back and allow communities to be stabilised, then I think ... this sort of work is vital,” he told the BBC. “At the end of the day we have to make sure the aid budget is balanced and I think this is a pretty good way of using it, if that is what it is.

        “I saw it first hand If you don’t stabilise those parts of the Ukraine, you end up with people not having an education, not having a livelihood and a pretty miserable situation, which could lead to further escalation of that war.”

        During his visit to the Gambia on Monday, Johnson will give a speech about the strength of the Commonwealth, with the Gambia rejoining after the election of Adama Barrow.

        Former president Yahya Jammeh had said his country would “never be a member of any neocolonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism”. Jammeh, who had been criticised by the FCO for his human rights record, was defeated in elections last year by Barrow.

        Johnson is to visit new medical research facilities in the Gambia and meet employees from the tourism industry, as well as hold discussions in both countries on security cooperation.

        æ, !

        Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


        • #49
          The not-so-United Kingdom - Britain is sliding towards Scoxit
          The decision to leave the EU appears to strengthen the case for Scottish independence. In fact, it weakens it
          THE ECONOMIST Feb 18th 2017

          LITTLE more than half a year after the vote to leave the European Union, there is talk of another referendum in Britain. This time the people who could be offered the chance to “take back control” are the Scots. They voted against independence by a clear margin less than three years ago. But Brexit, which they also opposed, has put the issue back on the table. Scotland’s nationalist government has drafted a bill for another independence vote. Polls suggest that it could have a shot at success.

          No wonder: the nationalists’ argument that Scotland is a different country has never looked more convincing. Regarding Brexit, the defining issue of the times, 62% of Scots voted to Remain but will be dragged out anyway by the English. The dominant parties in Westminster, the Tories and Labour, have a grand total of two of Scotland’s 59 MPs. And many of the arguments made in favour of the union in 2014 have evaporated. Scots were told that staying with Britain was their only way to remain in the EU, since independence would require them to reapply and face opposition from Spain, which wants to discourage its own Catalan separatists. Instead, being part of Britain has proved a one-way ticket out of Europe. The strong British economy that they were urged to remain part of is forecast to slow. And rousing talk about the union—the “precious, precious bond” that Theresa May evoked in her maiden speech as prime minister—rings hollow, given the casualness with which Scottish concerns have been cast aside.

          Yet if Brexit was a political earthquake, Scotland has suffered a less-noticed economic earthquake, too. At the time of the independence referendum, Scotland was growing at a similar rate to the rest of Britain. Since then it has been on a different track. In two of the past five quarters it has failed to grow at all. The main reason is its reliance on fossil fuels and finance, which are doing badly. In 2014 a barrel of Brent crude cost $110, leading the nationalist government to forecast that an independent Scotland would enjoy tax revenues from energy of £8.3bn ($12.5bn) in 2015-16. Oil’s subsequent crash (it is now $55) meant the actual figure was 1% of that forecast. And the black gold is running out: the original Brent rig will be dismantled this summer. Finance, which along with oil and gas has generated exports equivalent to up to a third of Scotland’s GDP in recent years, is also suffering. Since September 2014 Scotland has lost a tenth of its financial jobs. (London gained some.) Last year average pay in the industry fell by 5%.

          For a country of 5m people that depends on two sputtering industries, to go it alone would be a gamble. Yet Scots may conclude that remaining in the Brexit-bound union would be riskier still. They would be wrong. For although Mrs May’s willingness to leave the single market and customs union is likely to be bad for Britain, it also makes independence more complicated. If the EU were prepared to readmit it, Scotland would face a harder border with England. Nationalists say they could import whatever arrangement is made in Ireland, where a similar problem exists. But there may be no such neat solution. And rejoining the EU’s single market at the cost of leaving Britain’s would make no sense: Scotland exports four times as much to the rest of Britain as it does to the EU.

          Scotland the brave

          This uncomfortable truth may be lost in the heat of another independence campaign. The ruling Scottish National Party has a knack for combining power with protest, claiming credit for Scotland’s successes while pinning blame for its failures on Westminster. As economic conditions in Scotland decline, the blame will fall on Brexit and Tory austerity. And whereas independence was once a frightening unknown, it now looks like a chance to turn back the clock to the safe old days of EU membership. When English ministers warn about the risks of secession, their own Brexit lines will be thrown back at them: Scots will be urged to seize control from distant politicians they never elected; those pointing out the costs will be branded members of “project fear”; the trashing by Brexiteers of institutions from the Treasury to the Bank of England will mean that impartial warnings can be dismissed as biased or incompetent.

          Many of those Scots who voted to stay in the union in 2014 did so for clear economic reasons. Britain’s exit from the EU muddies that case. The alarming result is that Brexit has made Scottish independence more harmful—and more likely.

          This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline "Sliding towards Scoxit"

          æ, !

          Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


          • #50
            Strategy after the by-elections - Labour and UKIP both give Tories cause for delight
            With one front closed and an enfeebled opposition, Theresa May can turn to the Lib Dems
            THE ECONOMIST Bagehot's notebook Feb 24th 2017

            IT IS a measure of Labour’s sorry state these days that losing just one of two seats that it has held for decades is treated as grounds for relief in the party. In the by-elections held yesterday, both triggered by the resignation from politics of centrist MPs known to despair of the party’s direction under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour held Stoke Central on a reduced vote share (37%, down from 39%) and lost Copeland to the Conservatives, whose vote share rose eight points to 44%. The Labour leader’s past opposition to nuclear power (the main employer in the Cumbria seat) and his party’s confused stance on Brexit (the seat voted to leave the EU) were both factors in the results.

            Still, the biggest loser of the night was UKIP. Paul Nuttall, the party’s leader, put his credibility on the line by running for Stoke Central, which his party referred to as the “capital of Brexit” to honour its strong support for leaving the EU last year. But his campaign was a reminder that, for all the headlines UKIP generates, it is terrible at the dull and disciplined business of campaigning: Mr Nuttall’s ground operation was poor and his campaign was mired by claims that he had lied on his website. Some in the party must be wondering where it can win, if not in somewhere like Stoke Central.

            Yet to some extent, at least, UKIP is the victim of bigger forces—forces which give Theresa May much to celebrate. Indeed, the prime minister was surely the big winner of the night. Copeland (and its predecessor seat, Whitehaven) had been held by Labour since 1935; moreover this was time first time a sitting government had gained a seat in a by-election since 1982. The Tories also almost beat UKIP to second place in Stoke Central. The prime minister had campaigned in both seats. With Labour’s results bad enough to confirm that they are stuffed under Mr Corbyn but not bad enough to force him out, the night’s outcomes weaken her already weak opponent and keeps him in place. She must be delighted.

            The result confirms a structural shift in British politics since the EU referendum. Under David Cameron the Tories struggled in working-class seats, especially in the Midlands and north, and leaked support on their right-wing flank to UKIP. By giving UKIP voters what they want, Brexit has reunited the right. Mrs May has deliberately helped this process along, tacking right on social issues (making reducing immigration her highest priority in the coming Brexit talks, for example) and left on economic ones (hailing a more interventionist industrial strategy to revive manufacturing). These have swept working-class conservatives back into her party’s fold, pushing it above 40% in most polls and carrying it forward in yesterday’s by-elections (and across the line in Copeland).

            If UKIP is not the nightmare for Mrs May that it was for Mr Cameron, and Labour is in the doldrums, perhaps the rival party that should concern her most is the Liberal Democrats. Tim Farron’s party has been storming ahead in recent by-elections. Though neither are natural Lib Dem seats the party doubled its vote share in Copeland and more than doubled it in Stoke Central (seemingly doing especially well among students; a reminder that Labour too needs to watch out). The Tories won their current majority in 2015 with the borrowed support of Lib Dem voters in London (particularly the affluent south-west) and south-west England. The loan is not permanent: many of the seats voted to Remain in the EU and could switch back to Mr Farron’s party at the next election. Mrs May seems to have vanquished UKIP. For her party, the new electoral battle is on a different front.

            æ, !

            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


            • #51
              The jobs that Brits won't do

              Despite the many doomsayers that have been forecasting the collapse of the UK economy since the announcement was made official that Britain is to leave the European Union, the British economy has remained strong thus far and unemployment has continued to decrease. Indeed, many employers cannot source workers they need to undertake their activities and must look to employing those who are coming from other EU states where unemployment remains an acute problem.

              Romanians are often found doing the jobs that seemingly the indigenous population don't wish to do. Either because it involves dirty, monotonous, unsociable hours working, or the wages just aren't enough to cover a British worker's everyday living costs (especially in London and the south east of England where accommodation costs are exorbitant).

              This Guardian newspaper examines the problems that Romanian migrants face living in Britain in the run up to Brexit on the 29th March 2019.



              • #52
                The acute housing crisis slowly worsens in the UK.

                When I return to Kiev I am always pleased to see the construction cranes breaking the horizon as I look out accross the capital. New apartment blocks are shooting up everywhere. Studio apartments on the outskirts of Kiev start at around $22,000 USD which is basically an unfinished cement box that then requires all interior surfaces rendering plus the purchase of lamp fittings, power sockets, gas boliler/pipes/raditors, kithchen and bath units etc, likely to bring a living area (without bed and other furniture) to a possible $30,000 USD.

                This is such a far cry from my home country, the UK where in many parts of the country (where there is higher employment) availability of accommodation and the price of it is nothing short of a scandal. I acknowledge that the UK is a relatively small island given its population but it seems to me that there is a vested interest by the land owning elite to kerb the rate of new building. this is supported by the the "green" enviromentalists and regretably the more humble home owning communities them selves known as NIMBY's (not in my back yard) who oppose any new building within their home proximity for fear it may impact upon their home's inflated price value.
                The result being for youngsters starting out in life an extremly limited opportunity to buy or rent a home at mostly completely unaffordable prices even though both partners have an income.



                • #53
                  Brexit and ParliamentThe unintended consequences of the plan to stop a no-deal Brexit
                  How attempts to extend Article 50 could yet help Theresa May get her own deal passed
                  THE ECONOMIST Jan 24th 2019

                  AFTER SEEING her Brexit agreement crushed in the Commons by 230 votes, Theresa May was forced on January 21st to report to MPs on what she would do next. Characteristically, she refused to change. After a token effort to consult opposition MPs, she reverted to her previous plan: seek assurances from the European Union about the temporary nature of the Irish backstop, in hopes of winning over Brexit hardliners. With Brussels still rejecting any legally binding end-point to the backstop, such hopes seem forlorn.

                  Most Brexiteers are unfazed. They argue that, if there is no majority for any Brexit deal, Britain will leave without one on March 29th, the deadline fixed under Article 50 of the EU treaty. Yet many MPs and even some ministers are determined to stop such a high-risk outcome. Amendments have been proposed to Mrs Mays Brexit motion that will be put to the vote on January 29th. Some are declaratory only. But two are more serious because they change parliamentary procedureand they seem likely to pass.

                  The first, from Yvette Cooper, a Labour MP, and Nick Boles, a Tory, would suspend the rules giving precedence to government business for one day, February 5th. It would be used to rush through a bill requiring the government, if no Brexit deal were passed by February 26th, to ask the EU to extend the Article 50 deadline. A second amendment from Dominic Grieve, another Tory, would suspend the rules for every sitting Tuesday until March 26th. On those days MPs would instead vote on other Brexit options, ranging from a permanent customs union to a second referendum.

                  Mrs May is against such plans because she wants to keep the no-deal option. But with the Labour opposition suggesting it will back at least the first proposal, it seems likely to win the day. Hardliners are denouncing what they call a constitutional outrage by which Remainers seek to hijack and even stop the Brexit backed by voters in 2016. Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Brexiteer, has even suggested that the government should prorogue (ie, suspend) Parliament to stop the Cooper/Boles bill becoming law.

                  There are several ironies in this. A key argument made by Leavers was that sovereignty must return from Brussels to Westminster. Yet now that MPs are duly asserting themselves, Leavers attack them for subverting the sovereign will of the people.

                  Another irony arises from claims that MPs are not delivering Brexit because they no longer represent their voters. It is true that a large majority of MPs, like the prime minister and most of the cabinet, were Remainers. Yet as a study on Brexit and public opinion published this week by the UK in a Changing Europe academic network shows, voters are as divided as MPs on what sort of Brexit they want. In failing to find a majority for anything, the Commons exactly reflects those divisions. Moreover, the study suggests that, were the 2016 referendum rerun now, Remain would win, albeit narrowly.

                  What will happen if backbenchers succeed in legislating a call for an Article 50 extension? The first point to keep in mind is that other EU governments might not agree. Extension (as opposed to revocation of the original Article 50 letter) requires unanimous approval, and many in Brussels are dubious about giving Britain more time merely to argue over what it wants. Yet the EU is also anxious to avoid a no-deal Brexit, which would damage the continent as well as Britain. So it may well, in the end, prove ready to accept an extension.

                  This could produce another unexpected outcome. Brexit hardliners could find that, thanks to their annoying colleagues, the option of a no-deal Brexit was, in effect, blocked. They would then discover that Mrs May was right to say that one likely alternative to her deal washorrors!no Brexit at all. Already, Mr Rees-Mogg and others are hinting that, if she can only find face-saving tweaks to her deal, they may back it after all. It would be the ultimate irony if MPs who hoped to use legislative tricks to soften Brexit end up creating the best chance Mrs May has of getting her Brexit deal through.

                  æ, !

                  Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                  • #54
                    An absent agenda
                    Missing: the British government
                    Brexit is just one problem for a prime minister without the votes or the ideas to rule
                    THE ECONOMIST Jan 24th 2019

                    THERE ARE few quick wins in politics at the moment, but a plan to crack down on domestic abuse should surely have been one of them. Measures to beef up the countrys laws against abusive partners won cross-party support when Theresa Mays government proposed them in the summer of 2017. A public consultation ended the following May. But then eight more months went by. The government at last published its draft bill this week, a year and a half after it was first mooted.

                    As Brexit has dominated, the rest of the governments agenda has withered. Uncontroversial proposals like the domestic-abuse plan have moved slowly. Bigger reforms, to the National Health Service, for instance, have been delayed. Others seem to have been shelved altogether. A promised green paper on how to care for Britains increasingly numerous oldies, originally due last autumn, is still absent. The forthcoming spending review, which allocates cash to departments, has no date. And much of the legislation that has made it through has been fairly piddling. One law introduced a price cap on energy bills, a policy pinched from Labour. Another imposed stiffer punishments on people who shine lasers at aeroplanes.

                    It is a far cry from the programme that Mrs May laid out on becoming prime minister in 2016, when she promised to deal with the burning injustices of British society. Instead, she has spent most of her time putting out Brexit-related fires. Although the government has introduced 46 bills since 2017about par for an administrationonly 28 have been unrelated to Brexit. Subtracting bills on Northern Ireland (which is without its assembly and thus dependent on Westminster) and those required for the basic functioning of government, only 17 new bits of legislation have been introduced. The government is all but grinding to a halt.

                    One reason is a lack of capacity. The burden of preparing to leave the EU is badly hindering the civil service, points out Emily Andrews of the Institute for Government, a think-tank. Manpower is being shifted to cope. Bureaucrats from the Department for International Development (who are at least used to dealing with unstable banana republics) are being redeployed to other departments to help with Brexit planning. Even before the referendum, the proportion of big government projects in danger of over-running was rising (see chart). As a result, some policies are being deferred. John Manzoni, the chief executive of the civil service, put this situation in fluent bureaucratese on January 22nd, calling it the beginning of a process of prioritisation.


                    Some blame the prime minister for worsening the situation. Other ministers aides complain of a lack of strategy in Downing Street, which they accuse of being unable to explain its priorities. Mrs May has carried on her habit from the Home Office of relying on inquiries and consultations. What once seemed like conscientious lawmaking increasingly looks like a figleaf for indecision. Last year a widely briefed plan to cut university tuition fees resulted instead in yet another review (since delayed).

                    One senior Conservative MP describes Mrs Mays method of government as valiant pugilism. Rapid decision-taking and parliamentary dealmaking are things to which she is particularly ill-suited. Its a fantastic skill, her ability to do nothing, says one of her former cabinet ministers, almost admiringly.

                    Mrs Mays allies say the government is simply constipated. Civil servants were optimistically told to gear up to unleash a host of policies in anticipation of a successful vote for the governments Brexit deal in December. Departments were told to hold on to stuff, says one adviser. They are still holding it. Brexit blocks up the grid, the Downing Street media planner that dictates when policies are announced. A host of reforms are ready to go, once the legislative laxative of passing a Brexit deal has taken effect, argue some aides.

                    They may be waiting a long time. A basic problem lies at the heart of the governments agenda: it does not have the votes. Since 2017 the Tories have lacked a majority in the House of Commons. This makes Brexit, described by civil servants as the governments trickiest peacetime task, even harder. We would not be having the issue with Brexit if we had [an] 80-seat majority, says one government adviser.

                    This has knock-on effects. Ministers are confined to the parliamentary estate, lest they miss a crucial vote, and so spend less time on the day job. Political instability saps ministerial ambition: why bother with tricky negotiations with Downing Street or the Treasury if the current occupants might not even be there in six months time? Even innocuous reforms run the risk of getting bogged down in proxy battles in the Brexit wars.

                    Yet Mrs Mays programme suffers from a more profound flaw. There is a belief [in Downing Street] that there ought to be a bold agenda, says one ministerial aide. I worry that they dont know what it is. After more than two years in power, Mrs May and her team have failed to spell out a plan to fix those burning injustices.

                    The prime ministers allies point out that she has found more money for the NHS, overseen a plan for its overhaul (albeit one drawn up by the NHS itself rather than the government) and enacted some small but successful measures, such as mandatory reporting of the gender pay gap for big companies. But on the big problems facing Britainweak productivity growth, inadequate housing, crumbling social care and a grim long-term fiscal outlook, to name a fewMrs May seems to be out of ideas.

                    Her domestic agenda has undoubtedly been hampered by Brexit, an overworked civil service and miserable parliamentary arithmetic. But the bigger problem is that such an agenda barely exists at all.

                    æ, !

                    Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                    • #55
                      How Britain and its neighbours misunderstand each other
                      Both need to learn fast
                      THE ECONOMIST Jan 24th 2019

                      TO VISIT BRITAIN after years of living on the European mainland, as Charlemagne did last weekend, is to glimpse the country through continental eyes. It is an exotically distinct place. Its cities are dominated by two-or-three storey buildings rather than five-or-six storey ones. Houses are more common than blocks of flats. Forms of convenience culturepre-packed meals, card-tapping electronic payments, technological gizmosare abundant. Institutions like religion, organised labour and even the state itself take a back seat. Public spaces feel shabby by northern European standards, but people are good-humoured about it. The country is strikingly mixed and multi-ethnic. Most notable is its sheer Victorian-ness: the architecture, the urban planning, the transport networks and even the pub names (Coach and Horses, Prince of Wales) speak of a country forged in the 19th century.

                      At its narrowest, the English Channel is 33km (21 miles) wide. Exchange and movement across this gap have shaped countries on both sides for millennia. Yet Britain remains different. To be an island is to be otherat once prone to insularity and to seeing horizons more clearly. To have been a superpower for a time is an experience that takes centuries to process. To have political and legal institutions distinctive from those of ones neighbours is to find their instincts alienand to be poorly understood oneself.

                      Britains otherness was good for Europe, a welcome speck of liberal grit in the unctuous continental oyster. It made Britain and its partners richer and more influential. But an awkward truth persists: the two sides do not understand each other well. It is a reality with which anti-Brexiteers on both Channel coasts must contend.

                      Nothing better illustrates it than the Brexit process. In David Camerons pre-referendum renegotiation of Britains EU membership and Theresa Mays Brexit talks, Britain overestimated the political salience of cross-Channel trade to the rest of the EU and wildly underestimated the importance of internal cohesion. Some die-hards still hope that German carmakers will press Angela Merkel into allowing Britain to cherry-pick the benefits of EU membership. They will remain disappointed.

                      Britons tend to see the EU only at its extremes, in its most pragmatic and most idealistic forms: half trade accelerator and half highfalutin peace project. The truth dwells in the complicated zone between the two. European integration is primarily about ensuring collective European survival, argues Alexander Clarkson of Kings College London. Although few fear a new major European war, the EUs leaders are driven by the quest to preserve a recognisably European way of life (think modern societies and long holidays) in a multipolar world. It was this argument that Helmut Kohl used to win over sceptical Christian Democrats to the euro.

                      Likewise, Westminster parliamentarianism and Britains common-law legal system run on common-sense specificity and abstract principle, not the codified layers between the two that define the mainland. Continental systems rely on binding codes. Politicians can collaborate and do deals, but lawyers refer to first-principles legal scriptures. In London, where rules are mutable, officials wait for Mrs Merkel to signal that she does not really mean it when she says Britain cannot pick and choose the benefits of EU membership. Even Europhiles like Tony Blair insist that the EU would change its freedom-of-movement regime to prevent Britain from leaving. They are wrong. The fear of failed rules is more alive on the history-scarred continent than on a pragmatic island that never knew the jackboot.

                      Britons, who tend not to speak other languages, understand other Europeans more poorly than the other way around. But even the Anglophone elites of the remaining EU member states struggle to grasp certain things about Britain. It has long been assumed in capitals like Berlin that its vote to leave would somehow be forgotten or fudged: The political and economic elite in the EU-27 have vastly underestimated the willingness of the UK public and politicians to vote for Brexit in the first place and now opt for a hard Brexit, observes Nicolai von Ondarza of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

                      This illustrates two continental blind spots. Seen from afar and combined with stereotypes about British deference and stoicism among Europeans who spend too long watching Downton Abbey, Westminsters wood-panelled frippery looks like a guarantor of establishment views. In fact, Britons are capable of and even prone to rebellion and transformationfrom the civil war, to abrupt decolonisation, the Thatcher revolution and punk music. A letter on January 18th from German leaders urging Britons to stay was endearing, but also oddly twee. It gushed about the gentle delights of ale and milky tea while paying little heed to the abrasive, diverse, individualistic character of Britain today. The second misunderstanding is related: continentals have long overlooked the adversarial nature of Britains politics and assumed that its leaders can fudge their way to a compromise on Brexit. According to the Financial Times, officials in Brussels were surprised to find that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the opposition, did not have Mrs Mays mobile number.
                      Je taimemoi non plus

                      What to do? Europes leaders should realise that the stuffy yet practical country they thought they knew can sometimes be the opposite: anarchically capable of romantic self-destruction. London must realise that the continentals mean what they say about preserving the EUs coherence and about standing by a member (Ireland) over a third party (Britain) in debates about borders. And those on both sides seeking a second referendum to end Brexit must accept that even a repentant Britain will be a troublesome participant in future moves towards European integration. Brexit is a disaster that should be reversed; yet if it is, that will not settle Britains relationship with its continent for one second.

                      æ, !

                      Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                      • #56
                        Brexit, dark money and big data
                        EUROZINE Adam Ramsay 21 January 2019

                        An investigation by openDemocracy into the financing of the Brexit campaign in 2016 has raised far-reaching questions about connections between neoliberal elites, the tech industry and the private intelligence sector. Adam Ramsay, one of the journalists involved, summarises a story vital to understanding how Britain has ended up where it is today.

                        After Trumps election, millions of words were typed about how blue collar areas had turned out to vote Republican. Yet Clinton led by 11% among voters who earn less than $50,000.1 Trump secured his victory by winning among those who earn $50-200,000. Much the same can be said for the far right in Italy, whose core support is in the wealthier though now de-industrialising north, rather than in the more impoverished south; or about Brazil, where 97% of the richest areas voted for the fascist Bolsonaro, whilst 98% of the poorest neighbourhoods voted for the Workers Party candidate, Haddad.

                        We see a similar tendency in debate about Brexit. After the vote, journalists went on endless tours of deprived areas to report on how working-class people voted Leave (which many did). However, they somehow forgot to mention that wealthy counties like Wiltshire backed Brexit, while some of the poorest areas of the UK the western parts of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as Liverpool and Leicester voted Remain. Academics who studied the class breakdown of the Brexit vote found the Leave vote to be associated with middle class identification and the more neutral no class identification. But we find no evidence of a link with working class identification.

                        This is nothing new. Ruling classes have always sought to blame bigotry on the working classes. Too often in recent times, the liberal media have been willing to champion this myth, rather than confronting the prejudice in its own ranks.

                        The way we talk about social media is central to narratives that blame the oppressed for their own oppression. Online bigotry, abuse and trolling are often framed as problems of the unwashed masses, who need to be regulated by benign institutions such as global data corporations or the police. In reality, whilst racism, Islamophobia, misogyny, anti-immigrant hysteria and other forms of bigotry feature up and down the social spectrum, their recent mobilization is part of a different story. It has been led and co-ordinated by elite networks, seeking to reshape the world at the dusk of neoliberalism. And they are often in direct collaboration with these supposedly respectable institutions, from Facebook to the Feds.

                        To put it another way: the decade since the financial crisis has accelerated the emergence of a new global oligarch class. With growing wealth has come growing power and a growing ability to shape political debate through the dominant communications technology of the era: TV and the internet. As has long happened with right-wing movements, they have done so in close collaboration with military and security networks. Because the era is neoliberalism, those networks are largely privatised, made up of mercenary firms with names like Palantir, Arcanum, SCL, AggregateIQ and Cambridge Analytica.

                        Brexit, Arron Banks and the missing millions
                        Take, for example, the Brexit referendum in the UK. The Leave movement operated a bit like a solar system, whose two largest planets were surrounded by a collection of moons. First, there was Vote Leave, the official Brexit campaign, fronted by Conservative politicians Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and orbited by numerous other campaigns and front groups. Second was Leave.EU, associated with the further-right UK Independence Party, fronted by iconic blazered bigot Nigel Farage and primarily funded by an insurance man called Arron Banks. (Banks, by my sums, claims to have funnelled about 15m into the group and its various moons.)

                        æ, !

                        Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                        • #57
                          Brexit, dark money and big data Pt 2
                          For the last two years, my colleagues and I at openDemocracy (alongside The Observers Carole Cadwalladr and others) have investigated where on planet Earth Banks got all of this money and what he did with it. The bottom line is that we dont really know. But heres a sample of some of the things we do know.

                          We know that Banks doesnt seem to be nearly as rich as is often claimed. We know that the diamond mines hes bragged about owning in South Africa havent produced any serious wealth.7 That said, we also know that he makes careful use of the UKs extensive network of tax havens and secrecy areas, with footholds in Gibraltar, the Isle of Man and the British Virgin Islands.

                          We know that the Gibraltar-based firm which Banks claims was the source of the Brexit cash was, during the referendum, struggling financially,and was propped up by one of his Isle of Man-based companies,which in turn has an unknown minority shareholder. We know that on the day after the referendum, this Manx company brought onto its board one of Bankss business partners, Alan Kentish.

                          And we know that Kentish, the pro-Brexit chief executive of the STM group, which specialises in offshore wealth preservation, has been arrested in Gibraltar under its proceeds of crime act, and has had brushes with the authorities in Malta, Jersey, and St Kitts and Nevis.

                          We know that the person who introduced the UKIP frontman, Nigel Farage, to the supposed money man, Arron Banks, is the Isle of Man-based Brexit-backing billionaire Jim Mellon, who made millions from mass privatisations after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. And we know that Arron Banks lied about meetings with the Russian embassy, to which it now turns out he was a regular visitor, discussing various business opportunities.

                          Arron Banks, Alan Kentish and Jim Mellon deny any wrongdoing.

                          The UKs Electoral Commission initially looked at Bankss dealings and resolved that there was nothing to see here. But after openDemocracy and Carole Cadwalladr broke more and more of the story, it eventually agreed to investigate thoroughly, eventually fining Leave.EU and referring the case to the police. The Commission has concluded that it has reasonable grounds to suspect that Mr Banks was not the true source of the millions he poured into the Brexit campaign. After Londons Metropolitan Police didnt bother to pick up the relevant files for months, Banks is now at last being investigated by the UKs National Crime Agency.

                          How Bankss millions were spent is, largely, a mystery. Under the referendum rules, Leave.EU could spend only 700,000 in the last ten weeks of the campaign; but spending before that period isnt restricted and doesnt have to be declared. When I compared the declared donations to Bankss various groups and the amounts they said they spent in that limited period, there was a gap of 11m.

                          We dont know how that was spent. However, the most likely destination of the missing millions is online adverts. And we can guess at the kind of message they promoted from the materials that the Leave.EU campaign promoted in what some call meatspace. The poster, depicting a line of Syrian refugees with the words Breaking Point, was launched by Nigel Farage the same day that the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered by a man shouting Britain First! and Traitor!

                          The dark money behind Vote Leave
                          The official Leave campaign has aroused less suspicion about the sources of its cash. However, one of its most significant orbiting moons has been the subject of an ongoing openDemocracy investigation, raising questions about the nature of the campaign more broadly.

                          The week before the referendum, I arrived back in Edinburgh (where I live) to find two Leave campaigners outside the train station. After interviewing them briefly, and then objecting to their complaints about refugees, I spotted something odd. The placards they were holding were funded by the Democratic Unionist Party a Northern Irish Loyalist party (as in, loyal to the British crown). Why was a party in Northern Ireland funding propaganda in Scotland?

                          æ, !

                          Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                          • #58
                            Brexit, dark money and big data Pt 3
                            On my walk home, the answer struck me. Northern Ireland was the only part of the UK where political donations arent public: a provision that the main parties had managed to smuggle into law during the peace process, in theory as a way to protect donors from reprisals. Someone was using this loophole to flood cash into the referendum campaign.

                            Like Bankss money, we still dont know where this cash came from. But here are some things we have managed to find out. We now know that the donation was 435,000 around 20 times what the DUP spent in the general election in June 2017. We forced the DUP to reveal that the money had come via a previously unknown group in Glasgow called the Constitutional Research Council, chaired by the former vice-chair of the Scottish Conservatives, Richard Cook.

                            We discovered that Richard Cook set up a company in 2013 with Nawwaf bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the former head of the Saudi Arabian intelligence service,and with a man called Peter Haestrup, who admitted to us that he was involved in running hundreds of Kalashnikovs to Hindu terrorists in West Bengal in 1995 though he hinted at intelligence service links, telling my colleague Peter Geoghegan that he was on the right side that time.

                            We know that Cook, while claiming to be in the recycling business, was accused by UK regulators of an illegal waste shipment of 250 tonnes of tyre waste that was dumped in India. We know he supplied what appears to be faked documents to the British authorities in relation to the shipment, and that he was a defendant in a court case in California about $1.5m of unpaid bills to an international haulage company. We know that one of Cooks companies, which has gone into liquidation owing UK tax authorities 150,000, appears to have 5m of gold in a bank in Cambodia. We also know, thanks to the BBC picking up on our investigation, that Cook seems to have claimed to have recycled hundreds of tonnes of Ukrainian railway tracks which appear never to have existed, in a business deal with a convicted German criminal. Cook denies all these allegations.

                            Cooks group, the Constitutional Research Council, also provided a route for cash to be funnelled into the key organisation of Brexit-backing Tory MPs, the European Research Group.

                            Cook himself lives in a semi-detached house in suburban Glasgow, which is probably worth less than the value of the donation his group gave the DUP, and appears unlikely to be the source of the cash. He denies any wrongdoing. The UK electoral regulator is supposed to know where the DUP cash comes from, and claims that it does, even if it isnt allowed to tell us. But recent court documents have cast doubt on its confidence: its investigations seem to have amounted to asking Richard Cook where he got the money, and then believing his answers. A country doesnt become the world centre for money laundering by employing inquisitive officials.

                            The fashion student, the army chief and the tech giant
                            MPs from across the political spectrum have written to the Electoral Commission, demanding a full investigation of the controversial DUP cash.The regulator has yet to respond. However, Vote Leave was eventually fined by the regulators over a different affair, where it got round referendum spending limits by giving 675,000 to a small campaign run by a fashion student in his early twenties called Darren Grimes.At the same time as funnelling this cash to Grimess campaign, Vote Leave gave 100,000 to another group, Veterans for Britain, which in many ways represents the core of the part of the establishment which brought Brexit to Britain.

                            Veterans for Britain is more than the hobby of a few ex-squaddies. Its advisory board includes a collection of very senior retired military figures.Most senior of them all is Field-Marshal Lord Guthrie, the former head of British armed forces and chief of defence staff. Like many former soldiers in the contemporary era, Guthrie took up a new career later in life. In 2017, he was appointed advisor to the chairman of Arcanum, which describes itself as a strategic intelligence company that provides services to sovereign governments and multinational corporations. Arcanums staff have also included a former chief of Frances Central Directorate of Interior Intelligence; a (late) former Mossad chief; a former US director of national intelligence; and a former director of the UKs National Crime Agency, who in that role was chairman of the Five Eyes Anglophone intelligence alliance, whose surveillance activities were famously exposed by Edward Snowden. Arcanums chairman himself Ron Wahid has described Brexit as an opportunity for American business.

                            æ, !

                            Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                            • #59
                              Brexit, dark money and big data Pt 4
                              As well as his work for Arcanum, Guthrie declared in his autumn 2014 register of interests in the House of Lords that he had shares in Palantir, a private company owned by Peter Thiel, the PayPal founder, Facebook board member and major Trump donor, who reportedly turned down the job as chair of the presidents intelligence committee. Named after the all-seeing stone in The Lord of the Rings, Palantir was founded with support from the CIA with the aim of being a company that took big data where no one else dared to go. It has been described by The Guardian as the special ops tech giant that wields as much real-world power as Google and, as an investigation by The Intercept has shown, it has worked with the surveillance agencies of the US, UK, Australian and Israeli governments.

                              A few years after Thiel founded Palantir, he wrote a now-notorious essay in which he argued that the extension of the franchise to women has rendered the notion of capitalist democracy into an oxymoron and therefore that his fellow libertarians must focus on developing the technology that will ensure that it is capitalism, rather than democracy, which wins the struggle: The fate of our world may depend on the effort of a single person who builds or propagates the machinery of freedom that makes the world safe for capitalism.

                              There is no evidence that Palantir was involved in the Brexit referendum. However, another mercenary surveillance/propaganda firm sat at the very centre of the Brexit solar system, arguably the star around which both campaigns orbited. And that company was Cambridge Analytica.

                              Digital mercenaries
                              To be precise, Cambridge Analytica was the subsidiary that was used to run the Trump campaign later that year. Its parent is called SCL, and the firm which ran the Brexit campaign was a Canadian company called AggregateIQ. Carole Cadwalladr has shown that there were numerous close connections between AggregateIQ, Cambridge Analytica and SCL.

                              Go to the SCL website and its very clear what it is: the first line of the home page reads, SCL provides data, analytics and strategy to governments and military organisations worldwide. In 2006, the author Hywel Williams described them as the first private company to provide psyops to the military.

                              In other words, Vote Leaves online operation was run by people who learnt their skills as mercenary military propagandists. Its how they spent the biggest chunk of their own money. Almost all of the cash they shuffled into fashion student Darren Grimess campaign went directly to them as well. As did a chunk of the DUP cash.

                              The relationship between Leave.EU and SCL/Cambridge Analytica is more contentious, and has been the subject of ongoing investigations. A Cambridge Analytica staff member spoke at the launch of Leave.EU, but Banks has long denied hiring the company. However, my colleague Peter Geoghegan revealed last year that, before the campaign, Arron Banks was in email contact with Steve Bannon, then Cambridge Analyticas vice-president, and later chief strategist to Donald Trump.

                              We also know, after Facebook finally gave in to significant pressure, what sorts of messages the Leave campaigns were targeting at people online. Two years after the referendum, a UK parliamentary inquiry got its hands on the adverts Vote Leave had promoted online.

                              It transpired that while the supposedly respectable official Leave campaign had focussed on the economy in the traditional media, its targeted Facebook adverts, seen by millions of people across the country, focussed very heavily on immigration and on Islam.

                              During the referendum, the ideas often straight lies promoted in these adverts took hold in the minds of many voters; particularly effective was the fiction that Turkey is on the verge of joining the EU. This social media campaign didnt exist in a vacuum, of course it acted in concert with the oligarch-owned tabloid press.

                              Later that year, Islamophobia would again emerge as a key part of Cambridge Analyticas strategy when it was hired to run Donald Trumps campaign for the White House. As the academic Emma Briant, who interviewed key figures in the company, wrote: Using [Cambridge Analyticas] media strategy, Trumps false racist and Islamophobic comments, resentment and fear were deployed where they would be most effective mobilising swing state audiences, using voters personal data to monitor them, and using psychological profiling to manipulate their emotional responses en masse.

                              New technology, old story
                              The idea that powerful groups would spread racist messages through the dominant media is nothing new. In the UK, weve had tabloid newspapers for decades. In Italy, similar ideas are promoted on TV by the Berlusconi-owned media, and across the western world powerful groups have always used the dominant communications technology of the era to shape political debate.

                              æ, !

                              Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp


                              • #60
                                Brexit, dark money and big data Pt 5
                                Online communications technology is sometimes described as though its some kind of voodoo able to hypnotise audiences into doing anything. This is a mistake. But its also a mistake to discount it entirely: companies pay for advertising because it works.

                                Just like the traditional rightwing press, far-right groups tap into the neuroses of the societies in which they operate. They jump on reactionary backlashes to egalitarian movements, they pump up latent ideas of racism and sexism that exist throughout society. Brexit, Trump, Orbn, Salvini, Bolsonaro and Le Pen all tap into deep social and cultural crises in their countries. But their success comes not from addressing the causes of the deep feelings of alienation produced by late capitalism, but from facilitating displacement mechanisms and from encouraging people to blame anyone but those with real power those who have thrived in the recent crisis.

                                Neoliberalism in general, and the asset-stripping of the former Soviet Union in particular, produced a new generation of oligarchs, expert in hiding money from the prying eyes of state officials. Traditional authoritarianism emerges from alliances between the very wealthy and military and police networks. But neoliberalism has also delivered a largely privatised military, and it is to them that this rising class has turned when it wishes to secure power.

                                Published 21 January 2019
                                Original in English

                                æ, !

                                Hannia - Hania - Mighthelp