WHAT ABOUT THE 350 BIG ONES?
A LUXURY THE U.K. CAN’T AFFORD?
NOVEMBER 4, 2018.
The United Kingdom, once the global superpower, most resembles a nation of stagnation at the end of 2018. Economically as well as politically speaking, ever since the 2016 Referendum result and given the present impasse in Brexit negotiations which dominates domestic news, Great Britain today (forget about the British Empire) is going nowhere fast. Brexit negotiations keep failing downwards. And now the possibility of a no-win, ‘crash-out’ breakaway from the EU is imminent. Such an outcome most likely will put the UK through another decade, at least, of the longstanding ‘Austerity’ programme which have strained the UK’s public services past breaking-point, in many areas. Austerity’s predictable drawbacks (for instance, higher crime; decreased policing) have contributed to talk of “a breakdown in society” - a classic sign of civil dissatisfaction which is quite palpable today alongside widening popular dissent…leading the country towards possible civil unrest, in the worst-case scenario.
The UK can not, of course, afford to leave the EU - not really. Not quite so spontaneously. Certainly not without the (pre- and post-exit) planning necessary to pull off a geopolitical game-changer like the UK’s voluntary departure from the unprecedentedly successful, albeit frequently criticised, continental order which reigns across Europe and has done so since the end of the Second World War. Both World Wars started in Europe, after all. The 20th Century was divided into two halves: Wartime coloured the first fifty years, and Peacetime the second. We can not forget this positive impact forged by the creation and expansion of the EU. Apparently we have forgotten we were once “the poor man of Europe”? In regard to the nation’s economic depression of the 1970s, we forget how we all but begged to be permitted to enter the European Union and common market - even if we, perhaps wisely, rejected its single currency; a move which arguably gave us the best of both worlds? Entry into the EU was a move from which we benefited so profoundly that, by the year 2000, the UK’s self-image had reached delirious levels of confidence (‘Cool Britannia’...?) The rise in wealth created during the interim - the golden period of our membership in the Union - was a gain by margins so large, it can be argued that a sense of false security overtook our national consciousness, leading to demonstrations of hubris and unjustified grandiosity. The City of London - the financial city within the city; and Canary Wharf, with its powerhouse financial-service firms - is additionally to thank for the recent boom times in the UK economy.
The UK’s advantage lay, above all, within the financial sphere; and the success rests, equally, on the geographical location of the United Kingdom - a fortunate position which has been described as “the crossroads between East and West” or as “the world’s meeting-place”. Still we behaved and we continue to behave, increasingly, like a nation resentful of its continental partners in the EU zone: an economic bloc whose total, annual GDP exceeds America’s (the EU has a 25% share of global GDP versus the USA with ~22%). The EU represents the largest single market on the planet. Our dismay (tabloid news and jingoism aside) at being involved in this hugely beneficial trading bloc - whose efficiencies (not to mention lavish subsidies and, God forbid, synergies advantages on a historical scale never before seen in history - is hard to understand for half the country (the 48% who voted to remain in Europe). It is a scale which provided once unheard-of economic efficiencies to all its member nations, Greece included; and especially to the richer ones - i.e. France, Germany and the UK. Yet, far from being grateful for, or at least content with, the situation, the British reaction was cynical. A creeping ‘rot’ began to grow - a rhetorical rot, too - which suits the nation’s dank climate but which otherwise offers the more progressive British people little truth about the macro-political situation or about the reality of our EU membership, with regard to the domestic benefits, versus the disadvantages, we would enjoy in remaining a part of it. An outcome which is harder to imagine with every passing day: we’ve created our own monster and now there’s no way of reversing the process gracefully (or reversing it at all).
Ever since Tony (‘Tone’) Blair’s exodus from office, what with the return of the Tories and the strong sense of deja vu accompanying their (compromised; but still - their) election victory, the UK has now officially returned to its most natural state: one of mild disappointment, dispassionate concern and delayed action. Disaster looms in the form of Brexit and passions run high, with sustained talk of a possible second referendum following a 700,000-strong march on parliament to protest the first vote; yet the feeling is no way near passionate enough to convince anyone aged forty or below to DO something about the problem of the political scene in this country. A scene which (with the rising visibility of Jacob Rees-Mogg and his well-timed imitation of a Victorian gentleman resembles a lookalike for Abraham Lincoln running for president of the USA) recalls the Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day, the king of rainy-day films, in which the character Murray plays is trapped in the same day which repeats itself over and over, day after day after day, in an endless, tedious continuum from which he can not escape. A reality he can not alter: a situation many of us are familiar with, hence the film’s enduring appeal. In the real world of Great Britain, we have a country where political leaders seem only to be the worst characters and least-talented minds of their generation. What happened? Since when were leaders losers?
Time and again; with the exception of maybe Churchill (sometimes) and Harold Macmillan - the last good leaders in living memory? Arthur Scargill had some presence, admittedly; Margret Thatcher executed well, even if her stratagem is still remarkably widely disliked years later, and equally adored in places. Time moves slowly in the UK: we’re ten to twenty years behind the United States. Either way, it’s an asymmetrical obsession the British public hold with regard to the Iron Lady, given that her reign finished thirty years ago. Not unlike the way a child adores his female nanny - and let’s not forget Rees-Mogg’s touching loyalty to his own nanny, now bringing up his children: how many aspiring leaders still have nannies? - treating the nanny with a mix of subverted rebellion, immature sexuality and an authority fetishism; combination Rees-Mogg perpetuates openly. Thatcher did something for the female (#MeToo) insurgency, it’s true: she changed a stereotype; she stopped an outmoded cliche’ by walking the walk, not only talking the talk. Like her or not, she was a leader. Something of which we are in short supply at the moment, short of any good (or bad) surprises - which we may yet see in the coming year.
It’s tragicomic. The referendum result was a shock to many or most people; but it was nothing besides the subsequent Brexit-negotiation fiascoes - including an astounding failure of leadership demonstrated by the bizarrely absent logic of the P.M at the time, with his decision to give the people of the United Kingdom the final word on their national destiny in- or outside the European Project. Thanks to the resigned P.M., the people most ill-equipped to reach a globally strategic decision were handed the responsibility of making it anyway. ‘Ill-equipped’: because they voted on force-fed misinformation concerning a fabricated central issue (which had nothing to do with Europe anyway, although it succeeded brilliantly in reaching the propagandists’ goal: to withdraw and so hasten the final epilogue in the centuries-long theatrical production dramatizing the death of the British Empire. The ‘twist in the tale’ being the geopolitical suicide of the United Kingdom - or the thin majority’s decision to replace something with...nothing. The consequence of which pride-filled retrenchment is nothing less than a renunciation of EU membership and therefore a loss of (possibly) its greatest material leverage upon the world stage. Not to mention its economic fortunes.
Tactically speaking, the Brexit campaign was a brilliant exercise in low-cost, high-margin mood manipulation at the collective level. A win made possible by the exploitation of popular ignorance and/or political indifference in most British citizens who, it seems, voted ‘on their feet’ and never once deliberated upon the facts and financial figures, nor did they stress-test the various scenarios of either outcome in real terms. I don’t blame them: who wants to pore over fiscal spreadsheets when the pubs are open and the weather is good? Not most people, that’s who… Which is the reason we employ and elect leaders in the first place: in order to make difficult decisions, involving concealed or largely inaccessible (or downright nonexistent) data. We hire them and vote them into office on the basis, or rather the assumption, that their Oxbridge-PPE degrees endowed them with a sufficiently rounded but pragmatic schooling in international affairs and macroeconomics, so that they can make well-informed decisions - or try to. At least, investigate the matter as well as measure and compare the countless head- and tailwinds which accompany major changes of political direction, for better or worse… So as to choose, on our behalf, the better of two options. The LEAVE campaign was a simple and emotionally-charged act of persuasion; a highly effective manoeuvre because of the lightness and brevity of its one-line proposition (“EU STEALS £350M FROM YOUR NHS”). It must be said, the Brexit brigade lacked no sense of humour here...even if their patronising concealment of the harsher or more complicated realities from the voting public is tantamount to thinking FOR the uneducated masses. And simply securing their consent as quickly and effectively as possible; to hell with the details.
The citizens voted, and it’s probable the Brexit supporters, or many of them, were permitted knowledge of none of the relevant data. Strangely, for such a big debate, the LEAVE supporters were never briefed - not before the event, nor after it. They’re still waiting for a briefing that goes beyond next or last week’s tabloid news stories. Remainers are still waiting for some inkling of David Cameron’s decision not to get his hands dirty and, instead, to delegate the entire project to his people. Who lacked the privileged information he enjoyed in the offices of 10 Downing Street - and, consequently, were forced to cast their vote, either way, based on a great lack of information and counsel. On the Cameron side of the debate, no effort at all was made to educate or inform the REMAIN supporters as to WHY it behoves the UK to stay in the EU. Not to go it alone - or not until the country has firmly secured at least one or two new and promising alliances to fill the vacuum left by the EU partners’ diminished UK trade (at the very least). Not until the national interest persuades members of both parties to overlook their domestic differences? One financially advantageous, strategically novel announcement - to the effect that the UK is indeed strong enough, economically speaking, to ride out a Brexit and recover its former prominence with no help guaranteed from powerful side-players - is about all the reassurance we have, two years after the vote. The Commonwealth countries, for instance, are mooted as potential future allies. It’s somewhere between a joke and a long shot to count on the Commonwealth nations; if they still exist at all in the sense of post-colonial nations who act in concert with regard to the UK? Soon we must compete against the EU for world business - can we be so sure that these former colonies will assist us with the same outdated patriotism which drove us to reject one of the best strategic alliances of our history? We have grown accustomed to, and gotten rather rich too - thanks to - our proximity to, open borders and trade channels with Europe: the world’s only multinational, non-corporate super-superpower. And now we want to throw it away?
Instead of the essential data and any germane political theories with which to benchmark the consequences of the choice between leaving and remaining, in both scenarios, it was purely a sentiment that we, the people, acted upon whilst making our minds up. Nobody asserts the idea that it was time to - it was a necessity, in fact, that we - make this decision at all. Not then; and probably never…? People have more pressing things to worry about like their families or work and incomes; to overburden the populace with an uncalled for and purely decorative referendum - or so it was intended. I guess it backfired? Yet the real motivation was so minor it’s hard to believe. The motivation being…the following.
By settling the irksome EU Question once and for all, or for a generation or two at least, a great deal of time, money and energy could be saved and deployed in areas more local and much more urgent, in terms of the UK population and their diverse needs; including the maintenance of the world-famous welfare state, of which Britain can justifiably stand proud. As it turns out, even the welfare state is threatened to an unknowable degree by the extra economic stress coming down the line for all UK citizens in the next decades...owing to, and only to, the referendum’s outcome and the victory of the LEAVE brigade. (Many of whom will be dead and buried by the time the worst counter-effects of abandoning the proven advantages of the ‘network effect’, amongst other efficiencies, whose surpluses and savings power the EU nations’ economies - thanks to steadily-growing and outwardly-expanding exigencies of many kinds, from thriving trade to hegemonic global status (and just as the USA retreats from its former foreign-policy trademarks; thereby leaving an authority gap to be filled) to coherent environmental and humanitarian regulation to the streamlining of logistics in an ultra-competitive business world, soon to be usurped then overseen by China, above all other nations; this a certainty, really, as much as - or because - it’s a matter of necessity and survival for the 21st-Century Chinese. They, unlike the UK, have already deliberated upon their place in the world of the future; they’ve also promptly executed on the conclusions and planning of their leaders - not to mention, laid down a global blueprint for their national future on a world-class level. And, even more impressively, their master-plan or blueprint, known as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative, doesn’t just sound good as a promise or a product of utopian thinking, nor of excessive ambition… No: it makes great sense, it is a indeed unified and unifying master-plan - one based on an infrastructure model which makes great sense in theory and is also proven to work well, technically speaking, owing to the historical precedent that was the Silk Road, connecting the Western lands like ours with the Orient. It was, and will no doubt return to being, a grand success. First, in its ingenuity and foresight regarding the need to guarantee the unhindered movement of goods and human resources INTO China, so as to feed, serve and protect the gigantic Chinese populace of the future; no small feat in itself. Second, as in the case of the much-travelled Silk Road of legend, the ‘Belt’ constitutes an interrupted, direct connection and single means of freight transfer OUT OF China, too - in order to optimise its export trade and much besides. Third, one utility the Belt promises will benefit humanity, primarily, and not only China but across half the world, as a matter of fact; spanning and connecting two previously separated hemispheres. A grandly ambitious and technically fearsome project, the Belt Initiative is not solely ‘great’ in the self-serving sense - of, say, a grandiose national monument - but rather ‘great’ in the true, all-encompassing sense of the term.
In other words, China has built and financed and overseen (as it will continue to do) the historic creation of the planet’s first-ever super-highway - on the physical, not digital, plane. It is indeed an infrastructure of great benefit to mankind in its offer of expediting and simplifying the process of the eternal movements of products and people, commerce and culture - to name a few. And, best of all, like any highway it works along a two-way traffic system. It runs east-west, and west-east; being bi-directional, it assists not only China but also its partners in the logistics of global trade. ...And in this way it benefits everyone by offering a utility intended to pull the world closer together by reducing travel times and augmenting transfer speeds in the physical realm. Really, it’s a stroke of genius, in the context just mentioned and in the intuition that China, most of all, will enjoy many advantages beyond our imagination, even, no less than the rest of the world will benefit from their usage of the One Belt super-highway. It’s great in the way it is both self-serving and altruistic - and, going further, in the comprehension of the paradox whereby what is good for the world must equally be good if not great, for China too. This conceit relies upon only one assumption, and it’s a noble one as much as it is a prerequisite of the entire master-plan as well being a networked system without which a country with a population as large and rapidly growing as China’s may struggle to survive; or to survive, let alone thrive, with total independence. The genius lies in the understanding, from the start, that for China to thrive in the future world economy, in order to avoid failure owing to the massive growth in the national birth rate (which itself triggered the miraculous rebound of the Chinese economy), the only solution is to design and own and operate the entire machinery and overall network by which China feeds itself but also, crucially, by which China can feed the world; or, in a negative scenario, whereby China keeps control of this machinery - without which it would be a daunting task to manage the national destiny in the face of global competition, given how big the country is in spatial terms and how massive it is and will further become in population terms. The key to success AND the guarantee against its becoming a victim, not the ultimate beneficiary, of its great size...is nothing less than the ambition, not to rule the world but to be the world’s primary operator and services-provider. Only this strategy gives China the immunity its vast scale requires.
Referendum - a political device as compelling to a democracy as, say, a divine intervention, only with the added benefit of transcending party politics whilst obtaining the result desired by the one party’s leadership, notwithstanding. (The Tories.) It’s true, in theory the referendum ploy had some brilliance to it; no doubt it would have been hailed as an act of brilliance and egalitarianism had it worked as planned and as expected. the Tory PM and PM’s of the future could (assuming they’d win the debate, and stay inside the Union) devote more of their time to were sold by media owners or other thought leaders was one of hyperbolic distrust toward our unified European partners - a distrust along with a merely anecdotal, i.e. an unproven, feeling of rebellion towards the EU. The global financial crisis of 2008, precipitating the Austerity programme of the ruling Conservative Party, poured fuel onto the small flames of a British isolationism returned from the graveyard of the 70’s. The 2008 crisis and aftermath, having originated in the USA, not Europe, before spreading across the world via non-transparent financial instruments (the infamous ‘financial weapon of mass destruction’, to quote Warren Buffet) - causing many to lose their jobs, if not their entire net wealth and personal savings… British investors included. The trickle-down effect - from the investing class to the man on the street - was mistakenly attributed, perhaps, to in addition to a few authentic, localised problems with the EU system as regards Great Britain’s specific benefits therefrom - this on top of a contagious, so-called ‘patriotism’ coming from the financially un-educated and/or financially disenfranchised classes; a patriotism which grew into jingoism, driven by cultural differences as much as by ignorance An equal precursor to the feeling that Britain was a rich nation (despite then having no Sovereign Wealth Fund whatsoever, whereas Norway’s Fund has now exceeded $1 TRILLION in value; nowadays a sovereign fund exists but is so negligible when compared to nations in Scandinavia, the Middle East and East Asia, its very existence is kept mostly under wraps - probably out of embarrassment. Especially since we were always an oil producing nation, if Scotland is considered part of the UK, as it has been but may not be for much longer; thanks again to Brexit.) We enjoyed Wars which, we have forgotten in the new millennium, provoked the idealistic goal of a United Europe specifically to keep the peace in mainland Europe which has indeed reigned ever since 1945. The European economy is the beneficiary of the peaceful union of 27 nations, and even Eastern Europe and the Balkans especially are enjoying the fruits of their labours at hitherto unseen levels… Making the EU - not the USA - the world’s number-one economic superpower. Recent crime rates have grown by >40% since the referendum. To make matters worse, polls show that in 2018 the number of UK citizens opposing Brexit has expanded to well over the referendum figures. 48% voted against it, anywhere from 10-25% (maximum) of the pro-Brexit voters have now changed their minds and rue the decision they made at the polling booths - in part because many were misled by the Brexiteers’ campaign. A campaign fought and won by means of the lowest, possibly not even legal, tactics and the intentionally misleading exploitation of sensationalist emotional levers. One lever above all prevailed - the supposed shrinkage of the NHS budget, as exaggerated and downright falsified by irresponsible Brexit leaders like Farage and Johnson. A second referendum will - all the odds and signals indicate - result in a win AGAINST Brexit by a larger margin than the previous loss (+/- 4%, with 52% of the national vote in favour of leaving Europe, first-time around). Presumably, we’re too proud still to avail ourselves of the better option - preferring to sink into proud obscurity than to engage with our neighbours strategically? Preferring to risk the unknown than to work with the known? It’s a big bet.
Whatever the outcome, it’s too late to go back now, anyhow. This is the true failure of leadership. The hope is, it won’t require two more world wars to convince us of the wisdom of working with one’s neighbours instead of competing with them: in order to enjoy the enhanced network effects of the 21st Century.