Political Upheaval

The above chart is from Electoral Calculus, a reputable polling and forecasting firm in the UK. When I see my friends in Parliament these days, I largely confine myself to buying them drinks and telling jokes. Nothing much is happening in the policy areas I know something about, so I instead focus on providing some transitory relief of their suffering and uncertainty.

The Brexit ship of fools

A try at an update on the evolving Brexit chaos.

Eight days to B-day on March 29! For amoral political junkies, it’s sheer heaven. The last fortnight at Westminster has been the most exciting since May 1940, if not quite as important. You could only keep up by 24/7 liveblogging. I can’t manage it, so consider this a Brexit open thread.

Last time I looked (ten minutes ago) the state of play is this:

Continue reading “The Brexit ship of fools”

Condorcet’s Brexit trainwreck

Brexit as a Condorcet paradox.

Let’s stand a little back from the Brexit trainwreck – the kind you get when Dr. Evil hacks the signalling at Clapham Junction  in rush hour. I have no choice, since as an expatriate I, and a million like me, get no vote.




The options are:
A – Exit with no deal
B – the May deal
C – A softer Brexit (“BINO”) on Norway or Jersey lines; undefined, but probably with staying in most of the EU single market, few restrictions on movement from EU countries, and no say in the rulemaking
D – Remain.

The estimable Simon Wren-Lewis estimates the current factional breakdown of the House of Commons (n=630) over Brexit:

Brexiters – No Deal                                               100
May loyalists – No freedom of movement       200
People’s Vote [second referendum]                  150
Corbyn loyalists                                                       30
Soft Brexit                                                               150

This leads to the following first-choice vote predictions:
     A: 100 for, 530 against
     B: 200 for, 430 against (actual vote was 202 to 432)
     C: <180 for, >450 against
     D: <150 for, >480 against

There is a large majority against anything at all. A neater real-life example of the Condorcet paradox you couldn’t get. Continue reading “Condorcet’s Brexit trainwreck”

The Brexit zombie apocalypse

A hard Brexit would be as bad as they say.

As every Brit knows, on March 29 2019, 109 days from now, the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. (Unless the remaining 27 member countries stop the clock, a well-used Brussels device). What happens if there is No Deal and the UK crashes out with no agreement in place with Brussels on anything? Inconvenience? A reduction in trade until new and better deals are made with say the USA?

Kent Council Council is responsible for the area leading to Dover docks and the Channel Tunnel. They are Tories but have studied the consequences.

A no-deal Brexit could cause major disruption across Kent, with gridlock on the roads around Dover, rubbish not being collected, children unable to take exams and rubbish piling up on streets [….] The registration service for weddings could also be affected and bodies could pile up in morgues because of traffic gridlock, Kent county council warned in an update on no-deal contingency planning.

So it’s more or less the zombie apocalypse, without weddings too. Their nightmare is that as the trucks (queuing for new customs checks at the ports) pile up on the two access highways, the M2 via Canterbury and the M20 via Maidstone, enterprising truck drivers will take to the side roads until these are jammed solid too. I suppose the council could buy electric bikes, so the plucky morgue staff can infiltrate past the stranded German trucks, in the 1940 spirit of Dad’s Army. That doesn’t help the garbage trucks, the hearses, or the wedding limousines though. Apocalypse it is.

What the council is trying to do with these horror stories is to get Whitehall to do some serious contingency planning for a truck rationing scheme that would cut in well before the vehicles reach Kent. What has Whitehall been doing these last two years? The excuse for general drift has been “we are too busy with Brexit”.

Why should the crash-out be so bad? Continue reading “The Brexit zombie apocalypse”

Royal bus wedding

Buses at the royal wedding, and the e-bus revolution.

This is SFIK the first royal wedding to feature buses. Oprah Winfrey, Serena Williams and the noisy cast of Suits took up the option of the bus transport to the Harry-Meghan extravaganza provided by Kensington Palace. (Buses are surely an important cultural and political reference to black Americans.) They must have saved quite a bit on taxis, as prices were no doubt gouged on the day.

Meanwhile, the Thames Valley plod* impounded a bus used by an NGO to offer shelter to homeless people in Windsor. Can’t let sordid reality spoil the careful constructed image of multicultural bliss. I can’t find a photo of the guest buses, so the homeless one gets the RBC nod.

A-list celebrities are exquisitely sensitive to subtle shifts  in style and taste. Is the humble proletarian bus making a social comeback?

If it does, it will probably be on the back of electrification. Electric buses are much quieter and smoother than diesel ones, as well as non-polluting. The market is growing fast, led by China’s 100,000 a year (ca. 20% market share). Shenzhen, part of the Pearl River megalopolis and home to leading manufacturer BYD, already has a 16,000- strong all-electric fleet, a small part of which is pictured here.

Cities and other bus operators outside China are beginning to place serious orders, after several years of messing about with small trials. London; Nottingham; Oslo; Hamburg; Los Angeles; Schiphol and LAX airports. That’s a very incomplete list, the bandwagon is rolling. San Francisco, promising an all-electric fleet by 2035 with first orders only in 2020, comes across as a greenwashing shilly-shallier.

The dramatic shift is driven by a combination of greenery and costs. Many city halls are now aware of the devastating health costs from urban air pollution, much of it from diesel vehicles, much of that from buses. On the cost side, thanks to sharp falls in the cost of batteries, electric buses are now competitive with diesels and CNG (natural gas) on a total-cost-of ownership basis (TCO). BNEF (link to pdf):

As battery prices continue to decline, e-buses will have a lower total cost of ownership than
comparable diesel or CNG buses for all of the options discussed here, even at lower annual
distances covered. Using the same battery price projections as in the upfront cost analysis, we estimate that the TCO for the most expensive e-bus configurations – the 350kWh e-bus coupled with slow charging at the depot and the 110kWh e-bus coupled with wireless charging – will reach TCO competitiveness with a diesel bus as soon as this year (2018).

Buses are just now as important as cars in the overall battery market (BNEF, page 21, Figure 10).

So for Hizzoner or Herroner at City Hall, and the rival politicians seeking to supplant them, buying electric buses is a free move. It gains green cred with voters, for real not phony reasons, and it doesn’t cost anything using sensible accounting. And the riders and drivers get more comfort and less vibration and noise.

*     *     *     *

*Plod: Br.E. informal: a police officer; by extension (“the plod”), the police force. Probably from the character PC Plod in the successful Noddy children’s book series by Enid Blyton, 1950s.


Television Was Not Always a Vast Wasteland

I just stumbled across this 1990 debate between John O’Sullivan, William F. Buckley, and Christopher Hitchens (so much sharper before his alcoholic decline), and am agog that anything this erudite and civilized every graced American airwaves.

Supererogation? Autarkist? Frowzy? If your SAT Verbal was less than 700 you may need a dictionary, and it wouldn’t hurt to have a good reference book on European political history at hand either. Very much worth the effort, if only for nostalgia.

Recommended reading on Brexit and the Future of the EU

Two reading recommendations for understanding Britain’s decision to leave the EU and what the future of the EU looks like sans Britain.

On the former topic, I am bit late to it as the revised and updated edition of Tim Shipman’s All Out War came out last year, but it’s an astounding feat of political journalism. He clearly had Bob Woodward-level access to all the key players in the Leave and Remain camps and he weaves together their experiences and observations brilliantly in an exhaustive (600+ pages) but never boring book. I may have found it slightly more intriguing than the average reader because I know personally some of the politicians concerned, but anyone interested in politics should find All Out War compulsively readable. Shipman captures the strategies and tactics of each side as well as the human side of the key political players. He also highlights the freakish little things (e.g., a slightly mis-typed address in an email) on which hotly contested, nail-biting political campaigns can turn. And to his credit, it’s very hard to divine what side Shipman was on personally because he works so hard to give both sides their due. For what little it may be worth coming from a D-List blogger at Washington Post, my hat is off to Shipman as a truly remarkable journalist.

On the latter topic, I recommend a new essay by Hans Kundnani, who has forgotten more about European politics than most people will ever know (definitely including me). His point of departure is the European Commission’s recent proposals for greater financial integration within the Eurozone:

…there are two quite different ways of thinking about the Commission’s proposals. For Macron, they were part of a vision for a “Europe qui protege” in which there would be greater “solidarity” between citizens and member states. In the context of this vision, the new European Monetary Fund would be a kind of embryonic treasury for the eurozone. But many in Germany, including Wolfgang Schäuble, seem to support the same idea for entirely different reasons. They see it as a way to increase control over EU member states’ budgets and more strictly enforce the eurozone’s fiscal rules and thus increase European “competitiveness”. If that vision were to prevail, “more Europe” would mean “more Germany” – as many of the steps that have been taken in the last seven years since the euro crisis began have.

You can read Hans’ full analysis here.

My own view is that without Britain, the EU might as well rename itself “Germany and its regional branch offices”. Some French analysts would object to my characterization, having long seen their country as Germany’s peer or even master in the EU (“France riding a German horse”). But I find that perspective rather arrogant and delusional. The golden rule of politics is that he who has the gold makes the rules. Germany’s unemployment rate is 3.5%, France is excited to have recently gotten unemployment down to 8.9% for the first time in 9 years (And French unemployment hasn’t been down to the level of Germany or Britain since dinosaurs walked the earth). France also has huge and growing deficits whereas Germany is flush. The horse in short can throw the would-be rider and trample him (as well as the even smaller and poorer other Eurozone members) under its mighty hooves any time it pleases.

From British Prime Minister to Political Oblivion

I was watching a 2008 BBC documentary about the role of Leader of the Opposition, which focused on how different politicians had performed in the role through history, going back to Churchill’s time between his shock 1945 defeat and his return to power in 1951. And then something dawned on me: I couldn’t remember the last time someone had lost the role of UK Prime Minister and stayed on as Leader of the Opposition. It took me almost 10 minutes of thinking followed by paging through a history book to figure it out.

Can you name who it was? (Answer after the jump)
Continue reading “From British Prime Minister to Political Oblivion”

History’s Sloppy Summations

UK Labour grandee Denis Healey was once asked to name the best speech he had heard in his four decades in Parliament. He cited a 1959 oration defending the humanity of the Mau Mau prisoners who were murdered by British soldiers in the Hola Massacre. Who gave this passionate anti-Imperialist speech condemning abuse of the people living under British colonial rule in Kenya? (Take a guess, answer after the jump)

Continue reading “History’s Sloppy Summations”

Does the Red Hand win at Brexit?

May’s conflicting promises on Northern Ireland make Brexit pointless.

A Red Hand, Ulster style

A simple way to look at the Brexit quagmire is through the simple tribal politics of Northern Ireland. Tony Blair’s one lasting political achievement was the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement.  As a result of this, the militarised border with the Republic was dismantled, and police and army checkpoints disappeared. Both Northern Ireland and the Republic have been parts of the EU single market, so customs weren’t necessary. The border is currently as open as that between France and Spain. Both factions in Northern Ireland are very happy with this.

Brexit puts the open border in question. The positions of the players, apart from the benighted UK government (latest take here), are quite simple.

The government of the Irish Republic insists that Brexit must leave the border open. This position does not depend on the personalities or party affiliation of the government – any conceivable government would say the same. Under the Lisbon Treaty, it doesn’t have a veto in the Article 50 withdrawal procedure, but it obviously keeps an influential voice in Brussels. It would have a full veto on an ambitious post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and the UK, needing ratification by member states.

The ruling party in Northern Ireland is the hardline Protestant/Unionist DUP, created by Ian Paisley. It favours the open border too. More important, it insists that the Brexit should preserve an open border with the rest of the UK. The handful of DUP MPs in Westminster are essential to Teresa May’s thin majority in the Commons, so they can for now get their way.

The EU (meaning here the Council, the Commission, and the Parliament – the front is united) sides with the Republic, a continuing member state, on the border with Northern Ireland. It apparently treats the hypothetical NI/UK border as a domestic UK matter.

In the UK-EU agreement in December 2017 that closed the first round of negotiations, the UK made this commitment:

The United Kingdom also recalls its commitment to the avoidance of a hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls. […] The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. […] In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the allisland economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.

To secure the DUP’s backing for the package, May added this promise:

In the absence of agreed solutions […] the United Kingdom will ensure that no new regulatory barriers develop between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, unless, consistent with the 1998 Agreement, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree that distinct arrangements are appropriate for Northern Ireland. In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market.

The DUP won a bonus point by making this part of a commitment to the EU, not just to Northern Ireland.

Here’s the Red Hand syllogism. Continue reading “Does the Red Hand win at Brexit?”