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Theresa May’s Brexit Speech: Soaring Ambition On A Foundation Of Sand

A grandiose speech with little serious thinking to back it up

Well, if anything lures me back to blogging then it may as well be Theresa May’s speech outlining the government’s long-awaited plan for Brexit.

I must admit that I am rather conflicted. This blog is on the record as holding Theresa May in rather low esteem in terms of her commitment to small government, individual liberty and conservatism in general, but it cannot be denied – least of all by someone like me who routinely criticises political speeches for being dull and uninspiring – that from a purely rhetorical perspective, May’s speech was satisfying both in terms of emotion and ambition.

Here was a speech almost in the American political tradition – reaching back through history to affirm the roots of British exceptionalism, the challenge now before us and the promise that an even greater Britain can be ours if only we strive for it:

It’s why we will put the preservation of our precious Union at the heart of everything we do. Because it is only by coming together as one great union of nations and people that we can make the most of the opportunities ahead. The result of the referendum was not a decision to turn inward and retreat from the world.

Because Britain’s history and culture is profoundly internationalist.

We are a European country – and proud of our shared European heritage – but we are also a country that has always looked beyond Europe to the wider world. That is why we are one of the most racially diverse countries in Europe, one of the most multicultural members of the European Union, and why – whether we are talking about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, America, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, countries in Africa or those that are closer to home in Europe – so many of us have close friends and relatives from across the world.

Instinctively, we want to travel to, study in, trade with countries not just in Europe but beyond the borders of our continent. Even now as we prepare to leave the EU, we are planning for the next biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 2018 – a reminder of our unique and proud global relationships.

And it is important to recognise this fact. June the 23rd was not the moment Britain chose to step back from the world. It was the moment we chose to build a truly Global Britain.

The peroration was particularly good, as May eschewed the temptation to bribe the electorate with glib promises of riches today and instead asked us to consider the longer term good, as well as our place in the history books:

So that is what we will do.

Not merely forming a new partnership with Europe, but building a stronger, fairer, more Global Britain too.

And let that be the legacy of our time. The prize towards which we work. The destination at which we arrive once the negotiation is done.

And let us do it not for ourselves, but for those who follow. For the country’s children and grandchildren too.

So that when future generations look back at this time, they will judge us not only by the decision that we made, but by what we made of that decision.

They will see that we shaped them a brighter future.

They will know that we built them a better Britain.

When nearly every other major set piece speech in British politics is little more than a dismal effort to placate a restive and self-entitled electorate by promising the people Free Things Without Effort or Consequences (ask not what you can do for your country but what your country can do for you), here was a speech that set its sights a little higher and actually aspired to statecraft.

May’s criticism of the European Union and justification of the UK’s decision to secede from the EU was very good, particularly coming from someone who herself supported the Remain side and kept her head firmly beneath the parapet during the referendum campaign:

Our political traditions are different. Unlike other European countries, we have no written constitution, but the principle of Parliamentary Sovereignty is the basis of our unwritten constitutional settlement. We have only a recent history of devolved governance – though it has rapidly embedded itself – and we have little history of coalition government.

The public expect to be able to hold their governments to account very directly, and as a result supranational institutions as strong as those created by the European Union sit very uneasily in relation to our political history and way of life.

And, while I know Britain might at times have been seen as an awkward member state, the European Union has struggled to deal with the diversity of its member countries and their interests. It bends towards uniformity, not flexibility.

Without straying into undiplomatic language, May firmly placed responsibility for Brexit at the foot of a Brussels supranational government which is inflexibly committed to endless political integration by stealth, with member state individuality subordinate to European harmonisation.

The prime minister was also at pains to point out that dissatisfaction with the EU is by no means a uniquely British phenomenon, and that significant numbers of people in other member states hold many of the same legitimate grievances:

Now I do not believe that these things apply uniquely to Britain. Britain is not the only member state where there is a strong attachment to accountable and democratic government, such a strong internationalist mindset, or a belief that diversity within Europe should be celebrated. And so I believe there is a lesson in Brexit not just for Britain but, if it wants to succeed, for the EU itself.

Because our continent’s great strength has always been its diversity. And there are 2 ways of dealing with different interests. You can respond by trying to hold things together by force, tightening a vice-like grip that ends up crushing into tiny pieces the very things you want to protect. Or you can respect difference, cherish it even, and reform the EU so that it deals better with the wonderful diversity of its member states.

Of course this blog, unconstrained by any need for diplomatic restraint, would have gone further. Theresa May was at pains to state that a strong and united European Union is in Britain’s interest, which sounds magnanimous and sensible until you actually recognise the punch which is being pulled.

If the EU is an antidemocratic straightjacket imposing unwanted political integration on national populations who are ambivalent at best, why do we wish that the organisation prospers for decades to come? Do we not think our European friends and allies as deserving of democracy and the right to self-determination that we demand for ourselves? But this is nitpicking – the Brexit negotiations would hardly be served if May openly salivated at the prospect of the breakup of the European Union.

In her outreach to other European leaders, assuring them of Britain’s continuing goodwill, one almost hears an echo (okay, a very, very distant and diminished echo) of Lincoln’s first inaugural (“The Government will not assail you. You can have no conflict without being yourselves the aggressors…”) as May asserts that the UK government will negotiate in good faith so long as the EU reciprocates:

So to our friends across Europe, let me say this.

Our vote to leave the European Union was no rejection of the values we share. The decision to leave the EU represents no desire to become more distant to you, our friends and neighbours. It was no attempt to do harm to the EU itself or to any of its remaining member states. We do not want to turn the clock back to the days when Europe was less peaceful, less secure and less able to trade freely. It was a vote to restore, as we see it, our parliamentary democracy, national self-determination, and to become even more global and internationalist in action and in spirit.

We will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends. We want to buy your goods and services, sell you ours, trade with you as freely as possible, and work with one another to make sure we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through continued friendship.

You will still be welcome in this country as we hope our citizens will be welcome in yours. At a time when together we face a serious threat from our enemies, Britain’s unique intelligence capabilities will continue to help to keep people in Europe safe from terrorism. And at a time when there is growing concern about European security, Britain’s servicemen and women, based in European countries including Estonia, Poland and Romania, will continue to do their duty.

We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe.

All of this is good. So why am I not celebrating?

Because then the prime minister proceeded to outline her government’s plans and priorities for the upcoming Brexit negotiation. And at that point it became clear that we are not dealing with Abraham Lincoln but rather with James Buchanan.

In other words, the real problem with Theresa May’s speech came when she pivoted from the background context to the government’s 12-point plan (or exercise in wishful thinking).

Pete North says it best:

In just a few short passages May has driven a horse and cart through all good sense.

For starters May has misunderstood the exam question. The process of leaving the EU is to negotiate a framework for leaving and a framework for continued cooperation. Instead she has taken it as the process of securing a trade deal – which doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the depth and complexity of the task. Because of this Theresa May will ensure we pay the maximum price possible.

By any estimation there is no possibility of securing a comprehensive agreement in two years and if we reach any kind of impasse then all of the leverage falls to member states as we beg for an extension.

Worse still, May has fallen for the mantra that no deal is better than a bad deal and is prepared to walk away from the table. This would result in the WTO option and would be the single most egregious act of economic self harm ever recorded. As much as that is to be avoided there is now every chance that it will happen by accident as our time expires.

May has drunk deeply from the Brexiteer kool aid and Britain is about to find itself substantially poorer with fewer opportunities for trade. This will be the Tory Iraq. Blundering with half a clue and no plan and no real understanding of the landscape, resting the fate of the adventure on some overly optimistic patriotic nostrums that fold at first exposure to reality.

While the EU Referendum blog patiently explains why Theresa May’s declaration of intent is such a tall order:

Mrs May has set her face against a rational, measured Brexit and is embarking on a wild gamble, the outcome of which she has no way of predicting.

Such is her idea of pursuing “a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union”, an undertaking which others have tried in the recent past – the most recent being Canada, which has spent eight years now in trying to bring an agreement to fruition, and we’re still waiting. The possibility, therefore, of the UK negotiating a deal (and getting it ratified) inside two years is, to say the very least, remote.

Nevertheless, there are those who think otherwise. They argue that, because the UK is already in the EU and achieved full regulatory convergence, transition from one type of agreement to another should be relatively straightforward and swift.

That, however, is completely to understate the complexity of modern trade agreements. In addition to regulatory convergence, there must be a dynamic arrangement that will ensure the automatic uptake of new regulation, and also the changes mandated by ECJ judgements. There must also be internal market surveillance measures, agreed conformity assessment measures, customs agreements, dispute settlement procedures, agreements on competition policy, procurement and intellectual property rights, as well as systems to deal with rules of origin.

These and much else, will require an institutional structure to facilitate communication and ongoing development, a form of arbitration panel or court, and a consultation body, which allows input into, and formal communication with the EU’s regulatory and institutional system.

And concludes:

This is my way of saying that to achieve a “bold and ambitious” free trade agreement with the EU inside two years is not just difficult. It is impossible. It cannot be done. And it doesn’t matter how many times it is discussed amongst the chattering classes, it still can’t be done.

It has been over eighteen months since this blog woke up to the fact that lazy Brexiteer tropes about quick-n-easy free trade agreements being the golden solution to every problem simply do not cut it in the face of such an unimaginably complex undertaking as extricating the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Since that time, it has become clear to me and many others that forty years of political integration cannot be unpicked within the two-year timeframe granted through Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and that any attempt to negotiate a bespoke solution within this timeframe would see us hit the deadline without a deal in sight, leaving us at the mercy of the EU27 as we scramble for an extension or risk going over the cliff and resorting to WTO rules.

But what has been clear to this blog (since I first read of the Flexcit plan for a phased and managed Brexit with an eye to developing the new global single market which must eventually replace the parochial EU) and to a growing number of Brexiteers remains completely opaque and mysterious to Her Majesty’s Government:

So as a priority, we will pursue a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the European Union.

This agreement should allow for the freest possible trade in goods and services between Britain and the EU’s member states. It should give British companies the maximum freedom to trade with and operate within European markets – and let European businesses do the same in Britain.

But I want to be clear. What I am proposing cannot mean membership of the single market.

European leaders have said many times that membership means accepting the ‘4 freedoms’ of goods, capital, services and people. And being out of the EU but a member of the single market would mean complying with the EU’s rules and regulations that implement those freedoms, without having a vote on what those rules and regulations are. It would mean accepting a role for the European Court of Justice that would see it still having direct legal authority in our country.

It would to all intents and purposes mean not leaving the EU at all.

And that is why both sides in the referendum campaign made it clear that a vote to leave the EU would be a vote to leave the single market.

So we do not seek membership of the single market. Instead we seek the greatest possible access to it through a new, comprehensive, bold and ambitious free trade agreement.

That agreement may take in elements of current single market arrangements in certain areas – on the export of cars and lorries for example, or the freedom to provide financial services across national borders – as it makes no sense to start again from scratch when Britain and the remaining Member States have adhered to the same rules for so many years.

But I respect the position taken by European leaders who have been clear about their position, just as I am clear about mine. So an important part of the new strategic partnership we seek with the EU will be the pursuit of the greatest possible access to the single market, on a fully reciprocal basis, through a comprehensive free trade agreement.

Okay, great. And you plan to accomplish this in just two years, at a time when we are rebuilding our national trade negotiation competency from scratch? And what about the numerous other aspects of our co-operation with Brussels that do not directly relate to the single market? What process is there to be for evaluating and renegotiating these?

Ministers clearly still view Brexit through the narrow lens of wanting to sever all of the ties that bind us to Brussels and hope that a “quick and dirty” free trade agreement will somehow be a good substitute for patiently considering and unpicking each individual strand of co-operation between London, Brussels and the EU27.

And unless Theresa May has another, top secret Brexit ministry devoted to unglamorous issues like mutual recognition of regulatory standards (rather than burbling inanities about tariffs) then we are in for a very rude awakening at some point within the next two years.

Look: I like the ambition and confident tone of Theresa May’s speech. I like some of the swagger and self-confidence. And if May had been speaking about any subject other than Brexit in this manner I would be on my feet, giving a standing ovation. But unfortunately the prime minister has chosen to be smug and blasé about the one topic where airy self-assurance alone cannot win the day.

The prime minister accurately summed up many of the problems with the European Union, and did a good job in reminding people what an indispensable country Britain really is to the future economic, cultural and geopolitical prospects of Europe. That’s great. But it doesn’t begin to explain how Britain is going to negotiate an entirely bespoke new relationship with the European Union within two years when far less extensive deals focusing purely on trade routinely take over a decade to complete.

Ambition is good, but it must be tempered with reality. When John F Kennedy dedicated America to landing a man on the moon and safely returning him to Earth before the end of the 1960s, the specific technologies and facilities needed to achieve the historic feat may not all have existed, but the competencies to invent and build them certainly did. Not so with Britain and the goal of a two-year bespoke Brexit deal.

Unpicking forty years of political integration within two years would be an unimaginably tall order at the best of times, even if the organisation into which we are subsumed had not gradually drained us of the critical competencies required to complete the task. Theresa May promising a clean Brexit given our current national capabilities and negotiating climate is like President Theodore Roosevelt promising a moon shot in 1903, when the Wright brothers rather than Wernher von Braun represented the pinnacle of aviation technology.

So mixed feelings. How nice to finally hear a political speech that is so outward-looking and ambitious in content, positive in rhetoric. How sad that this particular one is likely to end in disappointment and recrimination.

 

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After Brexit, A Swift US-UK Free Trade Agreement Will Be Economically And Diplomatically Beneficial

The National Review might not be down on all the fine details of Brexit*, and quite possibly put too much faith in the elimination of tariffs as a means of spurring trade, given the modern shift toward non-tariff barriers, but their forthright and optimistic call for a swift US-UK trade agreement is most welcome nonetheless.

(*In which they are hardly alone, joined by most of the UK media and many elected British politicians, who unlike the National Review have no excuse for their ignorance)

Stephen Meyer writes:

First, a free-trade agreement between the U.S. and U.K. would foster trade and growth in both countries without subjecting either to the onerous external regulation and loss of democratic control that Britain has experienced in the European Union. Until now, the exclusive nature of the EU prevented Britain from establishing a free-trade pact with America, its most lucrative trading partner, to the detriment of tariff-paying businesses in both countries.

Nevertheless, under treaties governing EU membership, the U.K. cannot make free trade deals with non-EU partners. It must apply the growth-suppressing common EU external tariff, an average of 4.5 percent, to all imports. Once Britain legally extricates itself from the EU, that can change — and should. An agreement between the world’s largest and fifth-largest economies will create a huge free trade zone, benefiting businesses and spurring growth on both sides of the Atlantic.

Second, an agreement that focuses on eliminating tariffs, but not creating supranational oversight bodies, will protect both countries from the loss of sovereignty that British voters rejected with Brexit and that Mr. Trump has criticized. Such a simplified deal would require U.S. companies operating in (or exporting to) the U.K. to accept U.K. law, and U.K. companies operating in the U.S. to do the same. Since U.K. and U.S. law is so similar and both countries have so many lawyers versed in the commercial law of the other, international oversight would prove largely unnecessary. In a bilateral treaty, significant disputes or grievances can simply trigger provisions to renegotiate terms — or to accept arbitration in limited cases before mutually agreed tribunals.

This, of course, serves to underscore the importance of freeing ourselves from the customs union as part of any interim and permanent Brexit deal. To do otherwise would truly be an act of self-harm, constraining Britain’s ability to negotiate freely with other countries just so that bitter Remainers can cling slightly closer to the vestiges of their European dream, with no commensurate benefit whatsoever.

But as Meyer notes, a US-UK trade deal would matter symbolically and diplomatically just as much as economically:

A free trade offer will also help repair the U.S.-U.K. special relationship after eight years of intentional neglect and decades of slow erosion as the result of Britain’s gradual absorption into the EU. Strengthening the alliance with Britain will promote U.S. national security because it will free the U.K. to act decisively as a bilateral partner when the strategic interests of our two countries align — as they often have.

The Obama years have witnessed a dramatic weakening in the strategic position of the United States and the West, as well as a diminution of U.S. military power. In addition to rebuilding military capacity, as Trump has promised, the United States now badly needs genuine allies with shared interests who have demonstrated the will and capability to stand alongside America in times of international crisis. More than any other ally, Great Britain has consistently demonstrated that proclivity and capability: Apart from France, only the U.K. among U.S. allies maintains an independent nuclear deterrent and the capacity to project significant naval power. Among NATO allies, only the U.K. keeps its treaty commitment to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Whatever else one may think of Donald Trump – and this blog is not a fan – it is at least heartening to hear some vaguely warm sentiments being spoken about Britain again from soon-to-be White House aides.

This blog has generally admired Barack Obama’s temperament (if not his policies), but his thinly-disguised disdain for Britain and the transatlantic alliance will not be missed. President Obama can be as chummy as he likes with Chancellor Merkel, but when the going gets tough, it is the UK with our nuclear deterrent, blue water navy, deployable armed forces and positive disposition toward America upon which the United States will immediately rely. America’s natural closest allies have not always felt the warmth they might have reasonably expected from the Obama White House. Hopefully this will soon change.

Meyer concludes:

Offering the right kind of trade deal to the British — as they negotiate the return of their own national sovereignty — will decisively advance that goal.

A pragmatic assessment of the mutual shared interests of two great powers and firm allies. Now, doesn’t that sound an awful lot better than Barack Obama’s rigid and unimaginative defence of the failing European supranational project, and his haughty insistence that Britain would go to the “back of the queue” in America’s estimation?

 

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Donald Trump Is Rick Santorum 2.0 – Less Social Conservatism, But Economic Populism On Steroids

Former Republican presidential primary candidate Rick Santorum, siren of the white working classes back in 2012, ran a campaign which laid the groundwork for Donald Trump’s insurgency in 2016, and ultimately prophesied his victory

For several months now I have been waiting for somebody to make the connection between Rick Santorum‘s strong running in the 2012 Republican primaries and the playbook which took Donald Trump all the way to the White House.

Way back during the 2012 campaign, I noted that Santorum was singing a siren song to the “white working classes” of rust belt America, responding to their very real and valid concerns with reassuring but unrealistic promises that the tide of globalisation could (and should) be turned back, thus sparing them the need to adapt to the new America.

Back then I labelled Rick Santorum the “Pied Piper of Pennsylvania“, a reference to the way in which the former Pennsylvania senator accumulated a large, trusting and often sympathetic audience of followers, but whom he would ultimately lead off the edge of an economic cliff:

Barring certain specific exceptions, the manufacturing jobs that America has lost will simply never return.

And perhaps among all of the things that Rick Santorum says that rile me up, this one makes me the most angry. He is peddling a Pleasantville-style, black and white, 1950s vision of a country where once again it is possible to live a comfortable middle class lifestyle with a decent sized family home and a couple of cars, paid for by the wages earned from assembling televisions, or refrigerators, or cars. And Republican primary voters, many of whom are in the squeezed middle class and have been let down by successive administrations, are listening to Santorum’s claims and gaining hope, and voting for him, even though he cannot in actual fact turn the clock back fifty years, even if he does actually want to.

Whether he wins or loses the Republican primary and the general election, the persistence of this argument – and the belief that a few tweaks to the tax code and the drilling of a few more oil wells will spur a resurgence in unskilled and semiskilled manufacturing – simply dooms another generation of people to a life of stagnating or falling living standards.

People trust Santorum because, unlike the other main Republican candidates, he is so genuine. Why would he advocate policies that would hurt them, when he was one of them? And yet the policies that he proposes would either do little to bring back more unskilled or semiskilled manufacturing jobs, or would make the US population even less qualified to perform those jobs which already exist. And all the time that people hold out hope that a Rick Santorum or another politician like him can work this magic, it is time that they are not spending going back into training, or into college or university, and reskilling themselves for the jobs of tomorrow’s economy.

Rick Santorum says all of the things that the Republican Party’s blue collar base want to hear, but in many ways he is just a modern day Pied Piper, promising them a brighter future while marching them off a cliff.

Globalisation cannot be rolled back, nor should it be. The challenge – which falls hardest upon Republicans and small government, small-c conservatives like myself, who generally do not foresee an active role for central government in the lives of citizens – is to find a way of reaping the fruits of globalisation while bringing these disrupted communities with us instead of callously leaving them behind.

And we should be honest: conservatives are at a disadvantage here. Leftists have the luxury of simply waving their hands and promising new government programmes for the mass retraining of millions of people in new, higher value-added jobs and careers. But no matter how costly or inefficient those schemes may prove, those on the right have an even harder job persuading voters, and no one party or politician on either side of the Atlantic has yet arrived at a fully convincing solution.

The inability to satisfactorily answer these questions and convince enough people of his ability to deliver the fruits of globalisation with none of the adverse consequences -together with the establishment reluctantly falling firmly behind Mitt Romney – ultimately saw Rick Santorum fall by the wayside back in 2012. But four years later, Donald Trump came charging along with almost the exact same message, and stormed all the way to the White House. And during this extraordinary journey, none of his supporters seemed to realise or care that Trump has been every bit as unable as Rick Santorum was to answer the question of “how?”, beyond his usual barnstorming bluster and well-worn pledge to Make America Great Again.

Now Bill Powell from Newsweek magazine has also picked up on the similarity between the two men, with a new piece entitled “How Rick Santorum helped Donald Trump win the White House” in which he argues that to a large extent, Donald Trump merely honed and executed a playbook originally written by Santorum.

Powell writes:

In the spring of 2015, [Trump] was talking to a few family members and confidantes about running for president. And he wanted to get in touch with a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum, who had served two terms before losing big in 2006. In 2012, he was the runner-up to Mitt Romney in the Republican presidential primaries. Ensconced since then in a Washington, D.C., law firm, Santorum had written a book that attracted little attention: Blue Collar Conservatives, Recommitting to an America That Works. But Trump had read the book, very carefully, in fact, and was intrigued. He called Santorum and asked if he would come to Trump Tower for a visit. Santorum was a bit surprised by the invitation but said yes.

Santorum didn’t know what to expect. He had never met Trump and, like millions of Americans, knew of him only from his long-running NBC reality show, The Apprentice. Trump got right to the point. He had loved Santorum’s book and believed it could unlock the White House for a GOP candidate who ran a campaign based on reaching the working-class voters throughout the industrial Midwest that, Trump said, Democrats take for granted.

Santorum agreed, of course—he was thinking of making another run at the White House, using that playbook. (He did, but got bum-rushed early in the primaries.) Trump then surprised Santorum even more by questioning him on details of his book and economic policy in general. What could be done with trade policy to help the working class? Was there any way to turn around the massive bilateral trade imbalance with Beijing? Could the White House be used as a bully pulpit to pressure American companies to stop sending manufacturing offshore? On and on they went, and Santorum left the meeting wondering what might happen if you mixed the power of celebrity with a blue-collar tent revival.

We now know the answer. Trump’s improbable run to the presidency—which was nearly derailed on several occasions by his lack of discipline—was guided by a conviction that he could, as political consultant and longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone said last year, “rewrite the [electoral] map” by smashing the “great blue wall” of Midwestern Democratic states. And smash it he did.

Something happened (or continued to happen) between 2012 and 2016 which made more people receptive to the Santorum message of economic populism and protectionism, and the failure of the Obama administration to change the economic trajectory of those people already  suffering the fallout from globalisation (or nervously waiting for it to impact their industry and their jobs) clearly played a large part.

But even then, Trump’s victory could probably have been prevented had prominent Democrats like Hillary Clinton and President Obama not been so blasé about the economic challenge facing millions of Americans while they were campaigning. Hillary Clinton in particular took every opportunity to criticise Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, neglecting to consider that from many people’s perspective, America is only as great as their own present circumstances. But while sanctimoniously lecturing Donald Trump and his supporters that “America is already great” may have been factually true, it also felt a lot like the establishment dismissing the legitimate concerns of suffering people.

Sure, America is pretty darn awesome if you are one of the Wall Street bankers to whom Hillary Clinton loved to give speeches, one of the celebrities attending her fundraisers or just a prosperous coastal professional whose job and career is not about to be eradicated through automation or outsourcing. But if you do not fall into one of these categories, America can feel a lot more precarious than great. And having the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee continually insisting that everything is wonderful and that anyone with concerns or complaints is somehow “deplorable” was about the most stupid and politically tone-deaf way for a candidate to behave.

And of course we all know the outcome:

The Trump high-command members knew then they had an opening. The crowds Trump was drawing were enormous, and even before [FBI director James] Comey’s announcement [about the reopening of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server], their internal polls said the race was tightening, but not enough to make many of them believe he would win. Now, though, they thought they had a shot. Trump remained focused, and the campaign laid on rally after rally—up to five per day in the last days of the race. Trump went back to Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin again and again. He even made a trip to Minnesota, the bluest of blue states, because—stunningly—polling had him drawing close even there. The Santorum strategy was playing out just as Trump had bet it would so many months before.

[..] “Those states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin—were the targets,” [Trump campaign manager Kellyanne] Conway would later say. “[Trump] had a `theory of the race,’ and when it became clear that he had tapped into something very big, he rode it. And that is what good candidates do.”

Bill Powell is right – to a large extent, Donald Trump picked up the mantle from Rick Santorum, amending it by ditching some of the niche social conservatism (an integral part of Santorum’s Catholic traditionalism) and ramping up the economic populism even further.

While Santorum spoke of the pain of those whose manufacturing jobs were disappearing and promised help through the corporate tax code, Donald Trump identified a specific bogeyman in the form of China and other countries who supposedly always get the better of America, and then promised to confront these foreign economic enemies. While Rick Santorum railed against the coastal intellectual elites and dismissed aspiring to go to college as “snobbery”, Donald Trump insulted and belittled those Ivy League experts and elites day after day.

In many ways, watching Donald Trump on the campaign trail was like watching an incredibly vulgar, amoral and less eloquent version of Rick Santorum, with the brightness and volume dial turned up to max. And it worked. The economic message that Santorum road-tested in his 2012 campaign and in “Blue Collar Conservatives” was a beguiling one, as I acknowledged four years ago. But when it was hitched to a television celebrity phenomenon and fuelled by a combustible blend of identity politics backlash and the Democratic Party’s seeming disdain for middle America, it became immensely powerful.

Of course, this leaves President-elect Trump in a far worse place than Rick Santorum. Santorum was able to rack up Republican primary votes and victories against Mitt Romney, but his ultimate defeat saved him from having to make good on his campaign rhetoric and unrealistic promises to insulate middle America from the negative consequences of globalisation. Donald Trump has made it all the way to the White House, and the people who put him there will now expect him to deliver.

Which means that it falls to Donald Trump – of all the unlikely people – to do something that no right-wing politician anywhere in the world has successfully achieved: find a way to reap the benefits of globalisation while mitigating the negative side effects.

My gut feeling: assuming that Trump even tries to address this challenge, it will only be by enacting economically ruinous levels of protectionism or by abandoning any pretence of conservatism and embracing some kind of mass worker retraining program, either in a massive expansion of the federal government or else delivered by the states through federal block grants. And given the dynamics in Congress, it is by no means certain that any such measure would pass.

Make America Great Again – so easy to say, so hard to deliver for millions of struggling Americans.

 

Rick Santorum

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Why Alan Sugar’s Intervention In The EU Referendum Debate Matters

Alan Sugar - Amstrad Emailer

In the year 2000, when the internet was taking off and PCs and laptops were becoming more widely affordable, celebrity businessman Alan Sugar bet the house on his Amstrad Emailer device – an embarrassing, uneconomical and altogether pointless hybrid between a landline telephone and 1990s-era AOL. It didn’t go well. And now, in 2016, Britain’s facetious answer to Steve Jobs has something important to tell us about Brexit

People who host The Apprentice seem determine to shoehorn their way into our political discourse this year. First Donald Trump defeated fifteen human watercolour paintings to become the presumptive Republican Party nominee for US president, and now Trump’s British not-quite-equal, Alan Sugar, has parachuted into the middle of the raging EU referendum debate.

And Sugar certainly has Donald Trump’s ability to execute a 180 degree U-turn while vehemently denying that he has ever changed his position. Only six months ago, Lord Sugar could be found excoriating Brussels and ranting about how much the EU constrained his business. Fast-forward to today, however, and Lord Sugar 2.0 – newly appointed government enterprise tsar – is telling anyone who will listen that Britain leaving the EU is crazy and unimaginable.

From the Daily Mail:

Lord Sugar has urged voters not to be ‘daft’ by backing Brexit as he joined a host of high profile business figures who came out in favour of staying in the EU.

The businessman and Apprentice boss has produced a video making his pitch for Britain to stay in the EU.

He tells viewers they ‘could not be listening to a bigger gambler than me’ but says leaving the EU is a ‘gamble we can’t afford to take’.

Describing himself as an ‘East End chap’ who had built a business empire from scratch, he blasts the ‘daft ideas and duff proposals’ put forward by Brexit campaigners and said it would be a ‘massive mistake’ to quit the EU.

Lord Sugar, who was appointed as the Government’s enterprise tsar last week, says in the video: ‘Having lived in this country for 69 years, a country which I love, I just don’t want to see a massive mistake being made by the younger generation or, indeed, any of the generations who just simply do not understand the ramifications of leaving the European Union.’

Donald Trump would famously take any position, campaign for any cause, support any politician, donate to any political party so long as it won him access to people in power – that’s how a big Hillary Clinton supporter who was once on the liberal side of all the culture wars is now the presumptive GOP nominee. And it seems that Alan Sugar is an opportunistic sell-sword in the same vein.

But in many ways, there could be no more appropriate intervention on behalf of the Remain campaign than that now bestowed by Alan Sugar, the brains behind the Amstrad Emailer, that revolutionary and futuristic communications device. In fact, the comparisons between Sugar’s perennially unpopular “super telephone” and the European Union are quite striking.

Both the European Union and the Amstrad Emailer are anachronistic inventions, hopelessly outdated even before they saw the light of day (the EU as it is currently known came into force with the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, when globalisation was really beginning to take off and the idea of large, homogeneous regional trading blocs was already showing its age).

Like the Amstrad Emailer, the European Union takes something generally agreeable (tariff and barrier-free trade) and packages it in a fearsomely complicated design with a dozen unwanted embellishments such as all the additional trappings of a European state.

Like the Amstrad Emailer, persisting with a fundamentally flawed product in the form of the European Union reveals much about the stubbornness and contempt for democracy (the market, in Sugar’s case) held by the “founding fathers” and today’s leaders of the EU.

Like the Amstrad Emailer, nobody today would ever create the European Union as it currently exists. We only persist with it because forty years of steadily deepening political integration makes leaving a complex process and a daunting one for many – not to mention huge resistance from the establishment who like the status quo, which gives European leaders power with no accountability, and British politicians the trappings and rituals of office without the pesky responsibility.

So yes, we should welcome Lord Sugar’s intervention in the debate because the brains behind the Amstrad Emailer has inadvertently revealed an uncomfortable truth: engaging with today’s globalised, interconnected, multilateral world through the filtered lens of the EU is like trying to broadcast and receive in High Definition using one of Alan Sugar’s duff products.

For example: Norway, outside the European Union but maintaining access to the single market through EEA membership, does not delegate its voice in trade negotiations to a single EU position (itself an awkward compromise between the priorities of 28 squabbling countries).

Pete North gives a telling example of why this matters:

Not only is Norway an independent member of Codex, it even hosts the all-important Fish and Fisheries Products Committee. Thus, it is the lead nation globally in an area of significant economic importance to itself. When it comes to trade in fish and fishery product, Norway is able to guide, if not control, the agenda on standards and other matters. The EU then reacts, turning the Codex standards into Community law, which then applies to EEA countries, including Norway. But it is Norway, not the EU, which calls the shots.

Britain, meanwhile, sometimes even has to endure the indignity of seeing our own vote (on international bodies where we retain a seat) used against us by the European Commission, which controls that vote because the EU claims exclusive competency in matters relating to trade.

This is what remaining in the EU means – forsaking all of the benefits which could come from taking an active, fully-engaged position in all of the global bodies which pass down rules and standards to the European Union, and instead choosing to hide behind the EU’s skirts and accept an endless succession of fudged compromises because we lacked the confidence and skill to play the fuller role in world trade which is available to us.

Like the Amstrad Emailer, the European Union is the basic and highly predictable option, the kind of gift you might buy your grandparents (except nobody ever did) because you think that they would be overwhelmed trying to learn how to use a full PC. And now, while they could be buying things on Amazon, talking to the grandkids on Skype, blogging, editing holiday pictures in Photoshop or even setting up an online business, instead they are doomed to forever make low-quality, grainy video calls to one or other of the remaining six people in the country to own one of Alan Sugar’s devices.

That’s us. That is Britain, for so long as we remain in the European Union. A little old granny whose relatives didn’t think that she would be able to handle the complexity of a decent laptop, pecking out typo-strewn missives to the world on a rickety plastic keyboard and a monochrome screen while the richness and variety of the internet completely passes her by.

Why on earth would we vote Remain when we could vote to Leave the European Union and properly re-engage with the world as the influential, powerful and capable nation that we are? Why, when the brand new MacBook of Brexit sits wrapped with a bow on the table next to us, are we still fearfully clinging to our trusty, familiar Amstrad Emailer?

 

Postscript: This article in The Register provides a hilarious summary of the Emailer’s fortunes as the Next Big Thing in technology:

Since March 2000, he has tried tirelessly, and unsuccessfully, to sell the concept to everyone from journalists to politicians to the City – all have turned the device down.

Termed “the most important mass market electronic product since he kick-started Britain’s personal computer market 15 years ago” by some idiot on the Mail on Sunday, the emailer emerged in a blaze of glory at the same venue as the cheap PCs that made Amstrad a household name 20 years ago.

It cost £79.99 and still does and within a week we concluded it was far too expensive. With even low usage, it would put £150 per month on your quarterly phone bill. The public agreed with our analysis and no one bought the thing.

But the more it has failed to take off, the more fanatical Sir Sugar has got about it. He vehemently denied technical problems in August that year, then when the subsidiary set up to deal with the emailer, Amserve, put up a £2.3 million loss, he took up most of the company’s financial report explaining why the device was so wonderful.

The next set of results in February were even worse. Profit down 82 per cent from £8.2 million to £1.51 million. Again Sir Sugar waxed lyrical about how wonderful the emailer was – sales continued to be “encouraging”. This time Amserve took a £3.9 million loss.

He managed to persuade the then home secretary Jack Straw to back it up. Mr Straw said it was the perfect example of how technology could be used to “improve the flow of information and intelligence in a bid to decrease crime” at a Neighbourhood Watch photo opportunity. It made no difference to sales.

The IT correspondent for The Independent then incurred Sir Sugar’s wrath when he wrote, one year on from the launch, that the emailer had been a failure. Sir Sugar sent an email to all emailer owners, ranting about the piece and providing the journalist’s email address. Unfortunately it backfired because many of the received emails concerned the terrible problems they were having with the device.

As does this classic spoof article in The Daily Mash.

 

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Douglas Carswell Warns Against The Allure Of Protectionism

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Douglas Carswell makes the short and eloquent case against protectionism:

The prosperity we take for granted today couldn’t have happened without free markets and free trade. That doesn’t stop people – even presidential candidates – saying we’d be better off starting trade wars, and only buying goods made at home. But the fact remains: protectionism is the route to poverty.

Globalisation gets a bad press. When manufacturing moves from Britain or the US to China and India, it looks like we’re losing out. But the result is that we get our clothes, shoes, computers, phones, and televisions much more cheaply. And lower prices don’t just make us better off. They also increase demand, and create jobs.

As Adam Smith and David Ricardo realised 200 years ago, prosperity comes from specialisation. If each of us tried to be self-sufficient, we would all be living in prehistoric penury. Instead, we specialise in what we’re best at, and exchange the product of our work for what we need.

The same applies to countries. Today, Britain’s comparative advantage is in services. Other countries are best at heavy industry or agriculture. By specialising in services, we get more and better manufactured goods and agricultural produce than we would if we diverted our resources into making them ourselves.

Protectionism might seem like the solution for people who have lost out to globalisation. But its effect would be regressive – like the poll tax. It would force prices up, and employment down. That would hit the poorest hardest.

Carswell goes on to argue that protectionism does not bring prosperity, but rather leads to inefficient, monolithic corporations like British Leyland, churning out low quality product that nobody really wants – and even then, only at the cost of massive subsidies from the taxpayer.

The case against protectionism cannot be restated enough at a time when globalisation and free trade is under sustained attack on both sides of the Atlantic – by the otherwise polar opposite Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in America, and by the worst elements on both sides of the EU referendum debate in Britain, who believe that we should retreat either into mercantilist isolationism or protectionist euro-parochialism.

There is an important debate here to be had among advocates for smaller government. Clearly the state is presently far too involved in our lives in all manner of ways, but surely one of the things that a smart, lean and effective small government absolutely should do is watch out for its citizens when they are impacted by massive changes to the way that the world trades and communicates.

Labour’s solution has been to park people on welfare and then forget about them, which is remarkably immoral for a group of people who love to endlessly brag about how virtuous and compassionate they are. The intelligent Right should come up with something better. And that means doing something more than simply aping Labour policy by raising the minimum (or “national living”) wage to £9 an hour so that the most tedious of low-paying McJobs keep people just out of working poverty.

The new permanent majority will not be secured by the Cameron / Osborne strategy of enacting Tony Blair’s fourth term of New Labour governance. It will come about by radically rolling back the state in all manner of areas where it should be doing less, while also giving citizens the tools and opportunity to prosper in the new economy.

Less protectionism, less pretending that the old jobs will come roaring back if only we leave the EU, embrace the EU or otherwise throw up barriers to global trade. Less shooting for the middle all round, and more empowerment of British citizens to pursue high value-add, high-wage, twenty-first century careers.

Now put that on a bumper sticker.

 

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