Brenda from Bristol with Crumble from Compton

Brenda from Bristol has a few words to say on behalf of all of us

Tonight, fifty or more Labour Members of Parliament will be staring into the bottom of their glasses contemplating P45's thudding onto their door mats in fifty one days time with love and best wishes from the Great British Public, (although it is regrettable to see that someone of Alan Johnson's calibre is standing down). Many of them will see it as a merciful release from the hell that is public life under their inept comedy act of a leader, Jeremy Corbyn. With all leave cancelled for political journalists the rest of us will be subjected to a daily battering from the media, led by that ghastly Kuensberg woman on the BBC. Thankfully, British elections are relatively short and sharp affairs and with the better weather, I am sure we'll muddle through as usual.

Theresa May has made what is probably the right decision in the best interests of the country, standing as she does at an extraordinary confluence of political events. If she gets the result she is aiming for it will strengthen our negotiating stance with Europe and indeed, will probably be welcomed by most of Europe who are if anything more keen to get the ball rolling to end the uncertainty for themselves inside the union. For her personally, she has launched a thundering broadside at her critics which is a bit cruel given the disarray her opponents are in but politically, is very astute.

Enquiring minds might though, be wondering if there are any other reasons which might explain why she has pulled the trigger now?

Of course there are.

I have been thinking for some time that Tony Blair is up to something. It was always unlikely that his ego would allow him to stand idly by and allow the Corbyn faction to completely purge the Labour Party and its machinery of all Blairites and everything they stand for. I also think whatever his plans are, they probably involve the repatriation of the exiled David Milliband from New York. That being the case it makes sense for Theresa May to announce an election before New Labour, or Old New Labour or whatever they'll call themselves have chance to launch and gain party and electoral traction. Clearly, inevitable electoral evisceration on the 8th June will trigger a Labour split or reverse takeover by the moderates but that, in whatever form, if successful still leaves them staring down the barrel of a new five year Tory term rather than the three that was left on the clock until this morning.

Second, my personal view of stock markets is that there is a high probability of a significant market event in the August - November time frame. I expect weakness in April to continue but rather than the 'sell in May and go away and don't come back 'till St Ledger Day,' mantra, I think we'll have a pretty strong summer rally. That will be the concluding move in what is a very mature bull market. The fall out from this market event will be significant, marking as it will not just the conclusion of the rally from the 2009 low but the end of much longer market cycles. I'll cover this in more detail another time but suffice to say, better to be Prime Minister with four years still on the clock, rather than eighteen months, when a bad thing happens economically.

Third, the summer Mediterranean Migration season has kicked off with large inflatables carrying hundreds of migrants leaving Turkey and Libya every day. This season is predicted to be a big one. If Turkey continues down the route it has chosen then a breakdown in relations with the EU could see the collapse of the agreement between the EU and Turkey to manage the flow of migrants. Pictures on our television news will not harm the Conservative campaign and will no doubt influence the imminent French elections and those in Germany later this year.

I'll be keeping a keen eye open for entertainment from Jezza and LibDem fall guy Tim Fallon who would look over-promoted running a minor branch of McDonalds. In fact, if he had four pens in his top pocket and a bunch of keys hanging off his belt he would be that man. The best fun though will be found watching the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson. That woman is a feisty ball of fire and would make a great soldier...... except once she was.

Sturgeon Loses The Plot

Scotland has delivered a strong, unequivocal vote to remain. The vote here makes clear that the people of Scotland see their future as part of the European Union.’ Nicola Sturgeon - Scotland's First Minister; June 24, 2016

So spoke the Scottish First Minister the day after the referendum last June. Anyone puzzled as to why she yesterday announced her party’s intention to pursue IndyRef 2 should be under no illusion about what the Nats are about. They are hard coded to pursue independence at any moment of opportunity and to do so all the time. Logic, good sense and good governance come way behind their short, medium and long term pursuit of that single aim. In this context, soft or hard Brexit are simply an irrelevance. If it wasn’t this torch they would find something else. The ‘once in a generation,’ mantra during the last referendum was insincere. It was simply a tool to push undecided’s over the line.

Without question, many Scots are firmly in the independence camp and probably always will be. For some it is a rational conclusion that they have come to having weighed up their optionality. For many, it remains an emotional response in tune with how they see their position in relation to the rest of the UK and the rest of the world. Unfortunately few, especially those leading the SNP, can present an economically coherent case for independence which would underpin the political case. The SNP’s manifesto for independence in 2014 estimated oil revenues at £7.9bn. Following the fall in the oil price that number is some 90% or more lower. An independent Scotland simply could not absorb such a financial shock. The Scottish governments own figures show that they spend £127 for every £100 raised in tax, a ratio that is difficult to find anywhere else in the developed world. For every £100 pounds spent per person in England, £120 is spent in Scotland. The SNP will attempt to talk through, over or round the fact that Scotland’s deficit at 9.5% of GDP is the worst in the developed world. That number alone would keep the door to Europe firmly slammed shut even if resistance from some European countries such as Spain did not already exist. Had Scotland gained independence the country would now be staring down the barrel of slashing and burning state spending by 15% or raising taxes by 19% or a combination of the two. The quantum of those rises would be to raise the basic rate from 20% to 39% or VAT to 40%. Alternatively, an 82% cut in health spending would get them there. It is difficult to think of any country that has embarked on such a vicious austerity programme in peacetime. Regardless of oil revenues being high or low, it is a fact that Scotland has run a deficit every single year since devolution in 1999 and the deficit has deteriorated over recent years, and is now running even higher than during the aftermath of the 2008 Crash. Even in 2011-12, when the North Sea oil price peaked at $125 per barrel, Scotland's deficit was 5.7% of GDP.

So why go now? Bearing in mind that to Nat’s any opportunity is a good opportunity, the SNP are not actually in the commanding position they enjoyed three years ago. They have been in government now for 9 years and it is slowly dawning on Scottish voters that the SNP is not perhaps as capable at running a country as they are election campaigns. Despite the constant lecturing and grievance chasing it is apparent that while there is an open debate and willingness to explore new ways to improve public services efficiently in England, and which are meeting with some success especially in education for poorer children, few such improvements are evident in Scotland. Partly because the SNP are wary of upsetting some of their core constituencies, such as teachers, their solutions always veer toward more centralisation, more money, more government. The Scottish electorate are alert to this and the popularity of Sturgeon is consequently on the wane with the Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, somewhat implausibly ahead of Sturgeon in the approval ratings.

Sturgeon’s move is simply irresponsible. She is putting her party’s historic political aims above the best interests of Scotland. The timing is theatrical. To demand a referendum as Brexit is being finalised will create an unnecessary distraction both to the UK and to Europe. I can guarantee the last thing the EU will want or need, if it still exists then in its current form which I very much doubt, is a small country with a banana republic sized deficit clinging to its coattails. The UK government will though acquiesce and offer a referendum but probably after Bexit, that is, after 2019. The SNP will stamp their feet and have sequential hissy fits about not being taken seriously or ‘insults to Scotland,’ but the only people who will take them seriously will be themselves. A growing number of Scots are fed up with their holier-than-thou ranting and simply want things done that matter to them and done properly. The English meanwhile are less and less animated about independence and that is more evident the further north in England you travel. As the English demographic has changed so have traditional ties to Unionism. Millennials for example, for the most part, see self-determination as an entirely fair and reasonable aspiration; ‘if you want it, have it.’ It would suit the SNP to have a much more robust response from the English but I think they will be disappointed. In fact, the quieter and more mature arguments that are presented the more likely they are to enrage them all the more which is kind of satisfying.

So, what should Sturgeon have done?

Seen through an SNP lens, I see Brexit quite simply as a lost opportunity to quietly build a firm economic platform for succession on a ten year timeline. Instead, all Mrs Sturgeon has succeeded in doing with her ill thought out announcement is to put a cap on Scottish property prices, to disincentivise long term inward investment and put a question mark over firms and central government looking at expansion in Scotland. In her stilettos, I would have done the following,

  • Seen Mrs May and offered quiet cooperation in return for,
    •  No change to the Barnett formula
    •  More shipbuilding orders
    • No further defence reductions in Scotland
    •  Inward investment incentives from Westminster for areas of special need
    •  HMG help and assistance overseas in capturing inward investment
    • (insert other items from economic shopping list as desired)
  •  Stepped down from the soapbox marked ‘grievance,’ and focused on internal matters pertinent to Scots; employment, housing, education, NHS Scotland etc. Adopt a stance of industrious humility and work tirelessly to organically improve the Scottish economy
  • · Stop obsessing about the single market (which, after all, was a creation of Mrs Thatcher through her former trade Secretary Frank Cockfield!). Scotland is in a single market. It is called the UK. Stop being emotional and start being pragmatic. Is it really sensible to leave the UK and then have your economic relationship with your biggest trading partner, (64%) negotiated by Brussels
  • Immediately sterling was devalued thrown open the doors to the country to visitors from across the world and aggressively pursued the tourist dollar / Euro / Yen. Pursue them with a generous international marketing budget and do so on a three year view
  • Dial back the incredibly short sighted pious remarks made about the US President and make friends. Usually, US Presidents go straight to Ireland and effect a sort of Plastic Paddy persona, playing to the gallery on their own East Coast and Chicago. A US President with a Scottish mother, who actually likes Scotland a lot, doesn’t come along very often. A successful visit to Scotland by Trump could unleash a tsunami of tourists from the Southern States and at least a reasonable shot at business investment.
  • Raid every educational establishment in the UK and US, business and the media for the best Scots, (or other), minds available and begin to establish the intellectual and economic case for inward investment and beyond that, independence. It simply does not exist at the moment.
  • Monitor Brexit and quietly learn from negotiating mistakes and inevitable errors of judgement.
  • Be humble and learn from success stories such as education in East London instead of dismissing everything south of the border as irrelevant.

In summary, Mrs Sturgeon and the SNP should cease and desist generally from the hectoring Calvanistic tone adopted in every interview or speech. Scots may be proud and they may be romantic but most are also gritty realists who can see through the flannel, (the SNP’s own independence newspaper’s circulation is down 30% in 12 months). They can also see that the SNP are not making any friends. Friends that economically at least, Scotland very badly needs. The big danger for Scotland is that the rest of the UK simply gets worn down by the SNP’s incessant moaning and just gives in. That would be tragic for Scotland and tragic for the UK. Having a next door neighbour throwing itself into economic Armageddon would not be good for any of us. Referendums are unpredictable but I’ll be hoping for 3/3 and will be relying on old fashioned Scots common sense when I place my bet today. Growth in Scotland has been put on ice with a breathtaking display of selfishness and arrogance which potentially sets Scotland on a road with a destination signposted ‘Catastrophe.’  It need not be so.

"Exit light, Enter night, Take my hand, We're off to Never-Never land?"

I can't believe we really deserve this..

Here we are then. The appointed day after far too long and assanine a campaign which has lacked vision and truthfulness. The electorate have been treated like children with each party competing to scare us away from one party or the other. That they have all failed miserably to articulate a pathway that meets the hopes, dreams and aspirations of citizens is actually as tragic as it is an acute moral and political failure.

A missed opportunity doesn't come close to describing the paucity of original thought which is badly needed to meet the demands and accelerating evolution of the domestic and geopolitical world which is pressing in on us. Not to mention economic fragility, demographic pressures and a continuing technology revolution which will see 50% of white collar jobs replaced by a commuter chip or robot within 20 years. Westminster and all it encompasses; politicians, advisors, spin misters, lobbyists, the media - either they are all deeply cynical in a contemptible and mendacious way or they are simply self obsessed stupid people. We have in fact, after all that campaigning, very little hard evidence on which to make a decision and the consequences may be grave. 

another contrived and stage managed talk

Here then, are my top gripes from the last six weeks,

  • "I've talked to lots of ordinary people up and down the country." How many times have we heard that, (insert name of major party leader here). No you haven't. You've purposely been kept in a bubble away from normal people because you don't know how to communicate with them and your minders want to avoid any blowback from any disgruntled individual you might meet. 
  • Ed Milliband telling us the NHS will suddenly disappear under any other government. This rings all the bells. Untruthful, scaremongering and cowardly. The whole population can see the NHS is unsustainable in its current form for all the reasons that are evident to every family in the land. Free cradle to grave health care without restraint for every citizen employing every single facet of pharmaceutical and medical engineering advance is simply a black hole that will swallow the entire economy. Thats been known for decades. Its obvious that none will have the stones to face up to the problem right up until we reach the point of crisis. That means people will suffer and die before we begin to come up with creative solutions to meet the challenge.
  • Odd how minor matters such as Defence, Britain's role in the world in respect of foreign policy and our relationship with organisations like NATO and the Commonwealth have all but been swept under the carpet. Sure, we sent HMS Bulwark to the Med under the "Something Must Be Done," flag but I haven't seen for example, any earnest debate about the vast migration from Sub Saharan and North Africa which faces Europe and which too, has been forecast for decades.
  • Surgin' Sturgeon, that irritating women whose head wobbles like a Thunderbird puppet has done a spectacular job for someone who isn't even standing in the election. The media have of course fed the monster rather than doing their job in unpicking and unravelling the absurd demands, promises and fantasies promulgated by the SNP which for some bizarre reason are accepted as factual by all except those who quietly brood in the stillness of their own homes, worrying about the nasty and intolerant place their country is becoming. 
  • The BBC found, probably by accident, some mitigation in the Leeds debate but overall their coverage has been anything but fair and balanced. The journalists simply can't help themselves and their in built institutional left wing bias always finds a way of seeping through. As I mentioned in a previous post, Andrew Neil is probably the hero of the campaign and one of the few who has called the political class to account. He's been a joy to watch.
  • A glaring characteristic of the campaign has been the vast array of political figures who have been kept in their box throughout. Obviously, the spinmeisters decided early on that anyone with the least bit controversial views should be hidden away. They were, which has made the whole thing very dull indeed. How many times have you seen Ed Balls for example, Michael Gove or Eric Pickles?
  • Talking of Mr Pickles, just think Eric, if I may call you that, how easy a runaway election this would have been for your party if only you'd kept your promise to get the bloody wheelie bins emptied every week. This is the United Kingdom yet rubbish collection is more irregular than it was fifty years ago and more in keeping with that seen in a Peruvian shanty town than a modern advanced economy. Yes, just hand over two grand a year in council tax and drive your refuse to the recycling place yourself because we can't be bothered. Perhaps they kept Eric off the box in case someone nailed him on that, I certainly would.
  • Perish the thought but this incidentally, is not an election that anyone should perhaps actually want to win. The incumbent is most likely to remembered in history for a thousand years as the man who presided over the break-up of the United Kingdom. He will definately face a recession and probable economic crisis, that is simply as unavoidable as it is cyclical. A cursory glance at the numbers tells us that and no, the next one won't be a surprise, "none saw it coming." Plenty of people are writing and warning now. I find it beyond reason that all the parties happily expound their views on how to spend more money but not not how to create wealth. Beyond our shores, after years of ill thought out meddling by the West in the Middle East, it is now on fire. We can't ignore it indefinitely although our political elite are doing a pretty good job of it.
  • The amount of spending plans resting on taxing houses within the Circle Line is just madness; don't they realise houses can simply fall in value? Perhaps they might like to acquaint themselves with the deflation monster which is being exported from China and which is pulsing throughout western economies creating fiscal havoc.
  • If the major parties care as much as they tell us they do about the United Kingdom, why has no one discussed or debated the potential for a short term government of national unity to see off the SNP?
  • Who on earth thought it was fair or reasonable to give that deluded looney Trotskyist from the Green Party a national platform while ignoring the DUP from Northern Ireland? It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.
  • Russell Brand, seriously?
  • The smell of corruption surrounding postal votes which remains unaddressed. 

Well, we are where we are and goodness knows where that leads us to this time next week. There will be surprises and moments of incredulity aplenty tonight. Myself, I'll be at the Guards Museum for dinner following a talk on the battle of Waterloo, the battle that really cemented this nation as one, banished the Napoleonic threat for ever and provided the security on which the Empire was built. I shall enjoy that a good deal more than I have this election.