Monday, 30 May 2016

Faction, blundering, degrading: Napoleon views the referendum campaign

I have been taking refuge from the low-grade arguments of the referendum by reading Andrew Roberts’ book, ‘Napoleon the Great.’ Problem is, once you have the referendum on your mind, it turns up everywhere. 

Try this, Napoleon speaking to a trusted confidant as he positioned himself for the Brumaire coup against the Directory which brought him to power in 1799:

‘The triumph of faction, parties, divisions, is the fault of those in authority only…No people are bad under a good government, just as no troops are bad under good generals…These men [the Directory] are bringing down France to the level of their own blundering. They are degrading her, and she is beginning to repudiate them.’

For the division of the Leave movement into faction, parties and division, blame the personal and financial ambitions of the leaders of the designated Leave campaign, Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings.

Mix that in with their determination to keep the designated Leave campaign ‘pure’ of UKIP, a policy which has done nothing except turn UKIP into a faction doing little except whining ‘that’s not fair.’ 

Add also their antagonism towards Arron Banks (absolutely reciprocated by Banks, who anyway would rather fight with Elliott and Cummings than draw up a Brexit plan), and you have a campaign with no coherent message and no plan at all to assure voters that there is a way Britain can move smoothly out of 40 years of entanglement with the European Project.

On the Remain side, this referendum on how Britain will be governed, by her people and ancient Constitution or by the EU, has degenerated into nothing but a proxy fight for the next Tory leadership.

For the blundering, start with Boris Johnson and Michael Gove and continue right down through Nigel Lawson and every other leader of the designated Leave campaign. 

On the Banks-Farage side, the blundering starts with imagining a campaign can be won on little more than ‘We want our country back’ and ‘Points based immigration system.’

For degrading Britain, start with the Prime Minister and work down through every Cabinet minister willing to lie that David Cameron has delivered a ‘reformed’ EU which gives Britain a ‘special status’— that’s what today’s Cameron five-point guarantee card claims, that Britain has a ‘special status’ in the EU -- and that there is no way to leave the EU without national economic collapse.

Which means under the rubric of degrading Britain, we must also put the national news journalists who have reported that ‘guarantee’ today without noting – so we must assume they still haven’t figured it out – that the ‘special status’ Cameron claims to have won in his negotiations earlier this year has no legal standing at all.

That means the government can offer no such guarantee. The pledge is a fraud.

In the February conclusions of the European Council, which presented the inter-governmental deal agreed with Britain, officially the ‘new settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union,’ does not yet exist, it depends on a future treaty change.

Until then – and there may be no treaty change for years -- it means nothing. Even then, any single member state can veto any new treaty. 

Factions, division, blundering, degrading: there you have it, the leaders of both sides of the referendum.

On day, as France did, Britain will repudiate them all.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Tyrie makes it official: Leave campaign led by knuckleheads

Both official sides in the referendum campaign have been pumping out lies and idiocies, we know that. But now Andrew Tyrie and his House of Commons Treasury Committee have made it official.

In launching his committee’s report yesterday on the costs and benefits of EU membership, Tyrie was scathing in his assessment of the testimony he’d heard from the leaders of both official sides of the campaign: ‘A few grains of truth accompany the mountain of exaggeration and unqualified assertion.’

‘The arms race of ever more lurid claims and counter-claims made by both the leave and remain sides is not just confusing the public. It is impoverishing political debate. Today is the first day of the main campaign. It needs to begin with an amnesty on misleading, and at times bogus, claims. The public are thoroughly fed up with them. The public are right.’

Not half as fed up with them as those of us who’ve been in this debate for years, pushing for the UK to reclaim its independence. On reading through the report and the transcripts of the witnesses, one is not so much angered at the ‘lurid claims’ of the Remain camp. We expected that.

What is concerning is the testimony of the leaders of the official Leave EU group. Reading through the report and the transcripts of testimony, the question keeps arising: How the hell did we end up on the same side of the argument as these knuckleheads?

Even in the basic rules of how to present and persuade, Matthew Elliott and Dominic Cummings failed before the committee. Start with the transcripts of the oral evidence by Elliott.

You will see that his behaviour towards the committee was arrogant and ill-mannered. Which is why I say ‘knucklehead’: the committee was covered by press and broadcasting, and was a terrific platform to deliver newsworthy, crisp messages for reporters.

Instead, Elliott ensured his appearance started with the message that he had to be dragged to the Commons committee by the chairman: ‘I think I should put it in the public domain,’ began Tyrie, ‘that the Committee was forced to summon you under a parliamentary order to get you here.’

Tyrie said this was the first time he had ever felt the need to issue such a thing to get a witness to appear. At which point, Elliott should have given an unconditional apology and got on with answering questions from the committee.

Instead he went on about how his ‘diary’ could not be ‘rescheduled.’ Then he started describing a trip to Switzerland and ‘a host of activities,’ and on into discussion (which goes on for pages and pages of the transcript) of with just whom at Leave EU Elliott had discussed his appearance before the committee.

Finally, the chairman was forced to demand: ‘Do you accept that all of this – the mucking around of parliament that you have gone in for here – was a mistake?’

The only sane answer to that one would have been, ‘Yes, sir.’

Instead Elliott – with a kind of patronising arrogance one usually associates with Le Roi Soleil – replied: ‘I regret it has dragged on longer than I would have hoped.’

It was an appalling performance, especially since the point of the Leave campaign is supposed to be to return power to Parliament. Yet the head of the official Leave campaign treated a Commons committee with contempt.

The contempt, and the arrogance, went on through Elliott’s testimony, in particular in his refusal to back down from the Leave campaign’s famously-flawed claim of £350m a week savings from Brexit.

In the end, ‘the Committee found that Vote Leave's core campaign number – the idea that leaving the EU would give the country a £350m a week fiscal windfall to spend on hospitals and schools – is "highly misleading." The £350m a week, and the suggestion that this money can and should be spent on the NHS, decorates Vote Leave’s "battle bus". The Committee found that Vote Leave’s persistence with this claim is “deeply troubling".’

Elliott’s appearance distilled every mistake the official Leave campaign is making. The campaign concentrates on economic arguments and projections which cannot be defended, while offering no plan for Brexit that would protect British trade and investment – by which I mean the EEA-EFTA option.

The official Leave campaign rejected the idea of any plan – and left themselves wide open to the Cameron-Osborne lurid economic threats -- because they insisted that the SNP had a plan during the independence referendum, and the government tore the plan apart, therefore the smart thing would be to have no plan.

When it was pointed out to Elliott and Cummings that the problem with the SNP plan was that it was a bad plan, easily torn apart, and the solution was instead to have a good plan, they just couldn’t grasp it. Here we see the result: like the management consultancy cliché has it, failure to plan is planning to fail.

The testimony by Dominic Cummings was even worse.

Besides his inability to understand how Britain’s rebate works, he argues with the chairman in a patronising way, starting off one comment about movement of funds from the Treasury with: ‘When you are sitting in your slippers talking to Mrs Tyrie, looking at your bank statements…’

Tyrie snapped back with a reminder that he used to work in the Treasury, and that Cummings’ explanation was just plain wrong.

As so much of what Cummings said was wrong. Richard North over at EU referendum takes it apart in detail.

All I will add is that yet again we have a Leave campaigner given a brilliant national platform on which he could sell a plan on how the British can leave the EU with confidence. Yet again the campaigner failed out of arrogance, intellectual laziness -- and bad manners -- to present any saleable case at all.

In the introduction, we are warned: ‘This Report focuses exclusively on the economic consequences of EU membership and Brexit. For many, the case for staying in or leaving turns on more than economic logic’

Friday, 27 May 2016

Former US treasury secretary on Brussels revenge: EU demands 'Old Testament justice'

The Financial Times has it right this morning: if Britain votes for Brexit, what the British can expect is the most vindictive treatment possible by the EU under the treaties.

So any Leave campaigner who persists in the idea that trade-as-usual would be quickly re-established outside the Single Market because ‘the Germans want to sell us their cars’ (or ‘the French will want to sell us their wine’ or whatever variation of that they repeat yet again) is a Leave campaigner with no knowledge of how Brussels operates.

The EU operates above the concerns of the prosperity of any single member state or its citizens. It operates in its own interests. If that means ‘Old Testament justice’ – see the former US treasury secretary, below, including the determination of EU finance ministers to force the collapse of the Italian government – for any member state which threatens The Project, so be it.

First, here is what the FT says today:

‘French officials are wary of Brexit contagion spreading to other member states and the lift it would provide to anti-EU insurgents like the National Front’s Marine Le Pen. They are determined to send a tough and punitive message to show divorce will be costly for Britain. “Playing down or minimising the consequences would put Europe at risk,” said one senior French official. “The principle of consequences is very important — to protect Europe.”’

‘Another leading European politician central to the Plan B process said: “Making Brexit a success will be the end of the EU. It cannot happen.”’


And if you doubt that the EU would be vicious in its dealings, remember Brussels has form.

I call your attention to what are known in Brussels as the Geithner Tapes. These are raw transcripts of the conversations which Tim Geithner, US treasury secretary during the financial crisis, had with his assistants while preparing his book, 'Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises.'

The transcripts were reported by Peter Spiegel, until recently the Brussels correspondent of the FT, in November 2014.

In the 100 pages of transcripts, Spiegel calls particular attention to Geithner’s recollections of a Group of Seven finance ministers’ meeting in Canada in February 2010, ‘just as panic over Greece’s restating of its accounts was beginning to grip the bond market. In his book, Geithner recalls there were calls for “Old Testament justice” at the meeting. But in the transcripts, he’s a bit more explicit.’

Here is the transcript, as reported by Spiegel (the emphasis is my own):

‘Geithner: I remember coming to the dinner and I’m looking at my Blackberry. It was a fucking disaster in Europe. French bank stocks were down 7 or 8 per cent. That was a big deal. For me it was like, you know, you were having a classic complete carnage because of people [who] were saying: crisis in Greece, who’s exposed to Greece?….’

‘I said at that dinner, that meeting, you know, because the Europeans came into that meeting basically saying: “We’re going to teach the Greeks a lesson. They are really terrible. They lied to us. They suck and they were profligate and took advantage of the whole basic thing and we’re going to crush them,” was their basic attitude, all of them….’

‘But the main thing is I remember saying to these guys: “You can put your foot on the neck of those guys if that’s what you want to do. But you’ve got to make sure that you send a countervailing signal of reassurance to Europe and the world that you’re going to hold the thing together and not let it go. [You’re] going to protect the rest of the place.” I just made very clear to them right then. You hear this blood-curdling moral hazard-y stuff from them, and I said: “Well, that’s fine. If you want to be tough on them, that’s fine, but you have to make sure you counteract that with a bit more credible reassurance that you’re going to not allow the crisis to spread beyond Greece and that’s going to require, you’ve got to make sure you’re putting enough care and effort into building that capacity to make that commitment credible as you are to teaching the Greeks a lesson….”’

 ‘Interviewer: I mean was that, did you have this kind of foreboding like: oh my god, these guys are just going to…?'

‘Geithner: Yeah. I had like a definite, and of course I, as I think I’ve said separately, I completely underweighted the possibility they would flail around for three years. I thought it was just inconceivable to me they would let it get as bad as they ultimately did. But the early premonitions of that were in that initial debate. They were lied to by the Greeks. It was embarrassing to them because the Greeks had ended up like borrowing all this money and they were mad and angry and they were like: “Definitely get out the bats.” They just wanted to take a bat to them. But in taking a bat to them, they were feeding a fare that was in its early stages. There were a lot of dry tinders.’

Spiegel adds:

‘Intriguingly, the transcript includes more than a full page of redacted comments on what emerged as the most explosive eurozone revelation in Geithner’s book: that EU leaders approached President Barack Obama ahead of the November 2011 Group of 20 summit in Cannes, France, with a plan to deny financial aid to Italy unless Silvio Berlusconi, then Italian prime minister, resigned.’

If Britain should vote for Brexit -- alas as unlikely as that now appears, given the ignorant arguments being made by most of the Leave campaign to leave the Single Market, too -- one needs to expect Brussels to 'get out the bats' to punish the UK in any way allowed by the treaties. And no German car manufacturers or French wine producers will stop them.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Referendum campaign: nobody gets out of here alive

This referendum is going to end up like one of those Elizabethan tragedies, with all the leading actors dead in a bloody heap at centre stage. Nobody at the front of either campaign is going to come out of this thing in any way except politically dead.

Boris Johnson has demonstrated too often and too publicly that his buffoonery is a cover for his intellectual laziness.

David Cameron has behaved in such a loathsome, slippery way that even Remain Conservative must be repulsed by him. More, he has shown cowardice in dodging debates. Voters have seen it all and won’t forget any of it. Conservatives MPs will rush to get rid of Cameron as leader, whatever the outcome on June 23.

George Osborne has shown himself dishonest, always the worst sin in a politician who is supposed to be managing the country’s money. He has tainted the Treasury by manoeuvring it to publish a series of politically-skewed scare reports.

Michael Gove has proved intellectually thin in his arguments and has already retreated from the front line of the fight to Leave. That marks him as an unreliable ally – not, in short, the sort of man with whom you’d go into the jungle. Or into any future fight.

Kate Hoey, once Leave’s Labour hope, has disappeared. She won’t be back.

Iain Duncan Smith offers nothing but agonised outrage at the dishonesty of the Remain campaign. Nobody needs an emotional but impotent politician.

Nigel Farage is offering nothing but the same lines he offered during the general election. The lines didn’t work then, they aren’t working now.

Then yesterday Farage was caught on microphone telling supporters to ‘bully’ people into voting for Brexit.  That was a particularly ill-judged use of a word, because it gave the Daily Mail political correspondent a peg to add: ‘Last night it emerged that Mr Farage's Leave.EU group published the personal mobile numbers of officials in the rival Vote Leave campaign in an extraordinary outbreak of infighting between the two Brexit camps.’

‘In an email to a public email list, Leave.EU urged supporters to call Vote Leave individuals - including UKIP MP Douglas Carswell - to demand Mr Farage be included in a televised EU referendum debate.’

This is dangerously similar to reports of bullying by UKIP late last year, when Douglas Carswell, UKIP’s only MP, and a man at war with Nigel Farage, received a threatening telephone call from within the party asking questions about his private life.

As for Labour, there is no sincere Leave nor Remain campaigning going on. The Corbyn leadership seems to think the best policy is to keep their heads down and wait for the Conservatives to slaughter each other. Note to Labour: invisibility does not win votes.

What happens after the fight is over and the body-count of leadership is complete?  I don’t know.

But what I can’t get out of my head is that a little-known Napoleon Bonaparte was promoted to the rank of brigadier general at the age of 26 only because most of the officer class was either in exile or executed by the Terror. 

For the next Conservative leaders, one needs to look to men who are as yet little-known.