May snatches defeat from jaws of victory.

After Brexit and Trump, you wouldn’t have bet on another volcanic political eruption. But hey presto, after a wave of her snap election wand, saint Theresa has magically transformed a conservative majority into a hung parliament. She even made Jeremy Corbyn look good, and she’s clinging on to power by hooking up with the DUP, a party once led by the Rev.Ian Paisley (say no more).

How did she manage to snatch such a crushing reversal from the jaws of what should have been a slam-dunk victory? First she told us that the election was to strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. This is delusional nonsense. The EU is determined to kick UK butt and understandably so. It can’t allow UK plc to be better off outside than inside the EU and, in spite of the obligatory diplomatic warm words, will do it’s best to give us a damn good thrashing. This won’t change whether Theresa has a majority of 15 or 50, or none.

Second, she said No Deal is better than a Bad Deal, an astonishing statement from the perspective of anyone trying to run a business in Pound Land. No Deal is the worst possible deal, involving maximum uncertainty and disruption to our links with a free trade area hosting around 400 million people, even after Brexit. Any Deal is better than No Deal. To top off this display of bone-headed stupidity and arrogance, she told EU negotiators she could be a “bloody difficult woman”. Ouch. I bet that really endeared her to the Brussels bureaucrats. Will they be taking her bins out? I don’t think so.

Beyond this, her personal relationship with the electorate leaves much to be desired. She has the distinctly unappealing habit of not answering difficult questions whist appearing totally unapologetic. Most politicians avoid answering tough questions, but at least they might squirm a bit or look embarrassed. Not so the Iron Lady. After the social care funding fiasco, she brazenly maintained that ditching the manifesto proposal did not represent a change in “principle”. Oh dear.

And how in touch is she with Joe or Jane Public? Out of all the educational initiatives she could have championed, her desire to expand the role of grammar schools is oddly anachronistic. This is the 21st century, not the 20th.

What’s the point in going on? What’s done is done, and cannot be undone. Just think – we wouldn’t be in this mess if that Vote hadn’t happened. UK plc is now a rudderless ship in a heaving sea, drifting out of control towards the Brexit rocks.  We need a strong and stable government to steer us clear. Hang on, haven’t we just had one?

Brexit; red, white or blue?

How was it for you? Red, white and blue, or just blue? The trigger on Article 50 has been pulled and Brexit Is formally confirmed. After more than forty years of relative peace, stability and prosperity, the UK is heading out of the EU, destination unknown. Theresa May wants “access” to the Single Market and immigration controls. Dream on. She also wants to make the UK a “global” player. I thought it already was, and it’s one of the world’s largest economies not because it’s leaving the EU, but because it’s been in it.

We now face two years of wrangling, rumours, counter rumours, bad blood and frustration, during which time the Three Brexiteers will be jet-hopping and toadying up to the likes of Trump and Qatar for trade deals. Expect an erosion of things like workers’ rights and environmental protection as EU legislation is repatriated and sliced and diced by the Conservative Party following the Repeal Bill. They’ll be able to do this because Jeremy Corbyn, the man who could and should have campaigned to keep us in the EU, handed them Brexit not just on a plate but a whole dinner service.

And what of Theresa’s domestic policy? How will she propel Poundland forward in its global ambitions? Easy: expand the number of grammar schools. Grammar schools? I went to one, which shows you how old they are. Thankfully, most of the UK abandoned this form of educational apartheid, but some people can’t help harking back to the past (which probably explains a big chunk of the Brexit vote)..

If you live in Scotland, the situation is even more difficult. Most voters wanted to stay in the EU, and many who voted no to Independence in round one on the assumption that the UK would do just that have difficult questions to answer. Will there ever be a round two? If so, will voting yes get Scotland back in the EU?  Which is most important – membership of the UK, or the EU, or neither?

Och weel, at least we don’t have Donald for PM.

No news is bad news

There’s an old saying that no news is good news. But Trump and his “fine-tooned machine” have turned that on its head. At a recent press conference he railed against the mainstream media, calling it ”dishonest”. Apparently it has a nasty habit of reporting the facts, or fake news as Donald would have it. Remember folks, there are alternative facts.

As a result, the Don has decided to cut out fake news altogether by barring certain media from his press briefings, including our beloved Beeb. The “news” will now consist of whatever he deems suitable for public consumption. Any historical parallels here?

In the space of a few weeks the President has castigated the judiciary (so-called judges), trashed the integrity of journalists (dishonest), and alienated the security services (too many leaks). At this rate he’ll run out of people to insult and blame. Interestingly, no-one has leaked his tax returns yet.

Has there ever been anyone quite like Donald? He’s taking us back to the Dark Ages, a world of suspicion, division and ignorance. No news isn’t good news, it’s very bad news for democracy. So sad.

Just what you always wanted: a GM apple that doesn’t turn brown

Are you a fussy eater? Do you like your food to look as well as taste good? If so, US synthetic biology corp Intrexon has just the product for you: a genetically modified apple (the Arctic Apple) that doesn’t turn brown when you cut into it. And it’s great for supermarkets: slice up an apple, stick it in plastic wrapping, and customers who can’t be arsed to cut their own won’t know whether it’s been sitting on the shelves for a day or a week. Bye bye sell by.

What’s not to like? Actually, quite a few things. First, unless you know when the apple was picked (unlikely) you wont’ know how fresh it is. You could be forking out for something that looks good but tastes bad. Second, genetic “modification” involves inserting alien genes into the host organism, genes that would never occur naturally within it. So eating and growing a GM apple could carry health and environmental risks, risks which GM companies aren’t keen to spend money on researching. Third, the GM apple is produced using an experimental, unregulated technique called RNA interference, a kind of GM on steroids. Add to this the fact that non-organic apples have some of the highest levels of toxic pesticide residues of any fruit, and that old adage about “an apple a day keeps the doctor away” looks a bit outdated. But won’t consumers refuse to buy the product when they know about it? No because GM products in the US aren’t labelled..

Finally, if the sight of a bit of brown on your apple keeps you awake at night, there’s a simple, cheap remedy to hand. Smooth a bit of lemon juice on it. Job done. No need for millions of dollars of research funding to produce more consumer crap. Intrexon, by the way, also owns the IPR for GM salmon and GM mosquitoes.

Why should we in the UK be especially worried about all this? Because when Brexit bites and the UK goes cap in hand to Donald for a trade deal, the UK will come under huge pressure to accept these and other junk products. How do you like chicken washed in chlorine, and your meat injected with growth hormones? Still, you can always finish your meal with a nice Arctic Apple. Yummy, yummy.

How to make two weeks seem like two years

He’s been in power for a couple of weeks, but it seems like two years. Tweets, controversy, executive orders, walls, alternative facts, travel bans, more tweets, more controversy, travel bans banned, man-child Donald careers from billionaire and reality TV star to billionaire and surreality politics. Doesn’t he ever sleep? How long can he keep this up? Will he avoid a heart attack before his UK state visit?

Talking of which, Saint Theresa has made a bit of a blooper. Cringingly desperate for a special relationship and a trade deal she invited the Donald this side of the pond for dinner at the Palace. Imagine the Queen’s face when she found out. What should one talk about over the coffee and liqueurs – waterboarding? Doh! Who says the Royal Family have it easy? Most Presidents wait a couple of years for the royal handshake, Donald cracks it in two weeks, then the you-know-what hits an industrial size fan.

Back in Poundland, Brits have more cause for despair. The White Paper on Brexit hit the shelves, a document gossamer thin on detail but pumped full of pomp and bluster about a “truly global Britain”. Apparently, we’re going to do great trade deals with everyone and in double quick time because we’re the world’s fifth largest economy. Mais attendez: the US is much bigger than us, and the EU is even bigger. Sacre bleu! But don’t worry mes amis, we can slash corporation tax and become a global leader in ”competitiveness”. Just don’t expect to get any social services you poor people and wimpy libs.

And what about climate change? No problem. Buy more sandbags and stuff ‘em round your front door. Here’s where the UK can cut a great deal with the Saudis. I suggest Boris of Arabia as our special desert envoy. Hot air suits him.

 

No need to apologise, Andy

Andy Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England, has been dragged Stasi-style to grovel in front of the cameras and apologise for the Bank’s Brexit vote forecasts. Governor Mark Carney warned that the economy might tank and that the Old Lady would be ready with the appropriate monetary medicine if it did. Note that he didn’t say UK plc would tank, merely that there was a possibility. Imagine if he’d said and done nothing, and the economy had gone down the skids. Cue for mass panic and a one-way ticket back to Canada.

I don’t recall weatherman Michael Fish being hauled out of the Met Office to appear on TV and utter a piteous mea culpa for his famous failure to forecast stormy weather, nor Tory right wingers frothing at the mouth about weather forecasters. Fortunately, the UK public takes the sensible view that weather forecasts are sometimes wrong, but often right, and that it should pay attention to such forecasts.

Instead, economists are taking the rap for talking down Brexit, instead of jumping for joy at the prospect of an economic train crash. Michael Gove has taken another pop at “experts”, especially economists, as if all you need is common sense, innit mate? If he’s ever in hospital for a hip replacement, could I suggest he employs the services of his plumber rather than a fully qualified surgeon? There’d be lots of cutting equipment to hand, and it would be so much cheaper.

But you could be forgiven for asking why, amidst the doom and gloom of many commentators, UK plc hasn’t yet tanked. The answer is simple. Consumers carry on spending because the Government’s Brexit news blackout has lulled them into a false sense of security. Given the total lack of information about the state of negotiations, you could be forgiven for thinking that everything is hunky dory and carry on BAU, It’s only when people like Sir Ivan Rogers, the UK’s former top diplomat at the EU, pops his head above the parapet and says what a shambles Brexit really is that you get a sense of the pain to come. Needless to say, Brexit Stasi enforcer Iain Duncan-Smith trashed him as “not to be trusted”. Be careful what you say. Big Brexit is watching you.

Professor Sir David Hendry, esteemed econometrician (economics with numbers) told a conference I attended years ago that when weathermen got their forecast wrong the government gave them extra wonga to buy a bigger computer. When economic forecasters got it wrong, their budgets were cut. I understand why Andy Haldane felt pressured to apologise, but in truth he had no need to. Even experts get it wrong, but often they’re right. The big test of economists’ predictions won’t be in the months after the Brexit vote, but in the years following Brexit.

Farewell 2016

Whatever the ups and downs of your personal life in 2016, politically the year will always be remembered for two protest votes: Brexit and Trump.

The UK is drifting out of the EU with all the direction of a rudderless ship. No-one has a scoobie about what deal we’ll end up with, least of all the Three Brexiteers, who appear on TV with beaming, shiny faces to reassure us that everything is okay, and a desire not to answer any awkward questions. Liam Fox, interviewed by Andrew Marr, was asked about some EU figures – “I don’t recognise them” said Fox breezily, and proceeded to waffle his way out of the studio. David Davis does the same, but at least he’s “having fun” talking to the Brussels bureaucrats. And Boris, our Foreign Secretary, is, well, Boris.

We haven’t even triggered Article 50 yet, and then it will be a couple of years before we actually leave the EU. John Redwood, another bright star in the Leave firmament, treated us to the following insight into the EU-UK trade negotiations: “they need us more than we need them”. What planet is he living on? For those interested in a serious study of the longer term effects of Brexit, take a look at the Treasury Report (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hm-treasury-analysis-the-long-term-economic-impact-of-eu-membership-and-the-alternatives), which was rubbished by Bojo and “we’ve had enough of experts” Gove but still remains a far more credible analysis than anything offered by the Leavers.

If Brexit is a disaster, Trump is a catastrophe, but at least the US people have an opportunity to vote him out come the next presidential election. But Brexit means Brexit, and Brexit will be for life. Och weel, I’d like to be more positive, but have a happy New Year anyway.

Bye Bye Beautiful Planet

President-elect Trump has nominated Scott Pruitt to head the US Environmental Protection Agency. Time to batten down the hatches and head for the hills. Pruitt is a Big Oil man, a climate denier, whose past record suggests he will tear down long and hard fought for environmental protections. Not so much the EPA, more the EDA – the environmental destruction agency. Someone likened it to putting an arsonist in charge of the Fire Service.

Most, if not all, Trump’s nominations bolster corporate not people power. So much for all that baloney about being anti-establishment. He’s draining the swamp to create an even bigger one. Just when we needed the world’s most powerful nation to have a leader who can understand the global Big Picture we get a billionaire businessman and reality TV star who thinks global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese. If Trump pulls the US out of the Paris climate change deal then, short of an all-out nuclear war, it will probably rank as the single most destructive event to hit our planed since the Ice Age. Emperor Nero fiddled while Rome burnt, President Trump will twitter while our land and oceans inexorably warm.. Bye bye beautiful planet.

Brexit bombshell: UK wants to have cake and eat it

After months of behind-the-scenes deliberation by the Three Brexiteers, we now know what  the UK’s strategy will be in the tough negotiations following the triggering of Article 50. The combined efforts of Johnson, Davis and Fox have produced a stunning idea conveyed to us via notes captured by the telephoto lens of an eagle-eyed pap. Basically, the UK wants to have its cake and eat it. Pow! Pure genius.

Following Theresa May’s gnomic utterance - Brexit means Brexit (really?) - it’s now crystal clear what our swashbuckling threesome will be doing in 2017. They’ll be laying down the law to those dastardly Johnny-foreigners, kicking ass and TAKING BACK CONTROL. More pure genius. David Davis has already got the show on the road, describing his first official meeting with the Brussels bureaucrats as “a lot of fun”. Great guy. Did he bring cake?

Dave can also play softball if required. He’s offered to pay into the EU coffers  to get access to the single market if that’s the best deal on the table. But hang on a minute. I thought the idea of leaving EUland was to TAKE BACK CONTROL over UK wonga. And Boris has let it be known that he’s OK with immigration. Hang on another minute. I thought another idea of pulling the EU plug was to TAKE BACK CONTROL over UK borders.

The more I think about Brexit, the more confused.com I get.  Never mind. Only several more years of confusion, dislocation, obfuscation and frustration to go.

Back to the Past

First Brexit, now Mr Trump. It’s been a very bad year for bleeding heart libs like me. What’s happening? We’ve see-sawed from integration and globalisation to nationalism and protectionism.  The Donald has called it “Brexit plus plus plus”. There are parallels, but there’s one big difference. When Trump supporters wise up to the false promises he’s made they can vote him out. When the UK exits the EU, we’re out forever. No room for Regrexit here.

But The Donald is already backpedalling on one of his pledges. Apparently, some parts of Obamacare are okay and won’t be repealed on Day One. What next in this heap of policy lite horse manure? We’re gonna build a big wall and make the US pay for it? Anything’s possible in this fantastical world.

Unfortunately for people and planet, the one pledge Trump will probably go through with is unravelling the US from the Paris Agreement on climate change. It’s taken years to stitch this deal together, and with the US and China on board we might just escape the worst effects of global warming. But Trump believes global warming is a lie hatched by the Chinese to make US fossil fuels uncompetitive.

Mr Trump is an obnoxious bully who has, incredibly, blagged his way into the White House. Years of tentative progress in fostering international cooperation and avoiding World War III will be consigned to the dustbin of history. We’re going backwards. We need to stop it.

 

 

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