Tuesday 29 August 2017

Brexitwatch: why May will stay

Not so long ago, the main interest of the Tory Party was winning elections. And they were rather good at it, so that of the first 50 years of my life, 39 were lived under Conservative governments. Their next (and closely related) big interest was running the economy efficiently.

In that Tory party, Theresa May, who called a completely unnecessary election and threw away a parliamentary majority, would not have lasted five minutes. But the modern Tory party seems quite uninterested in the economy or winning elections. Indeed, the only Conservative leader who has won one in the last 25 years was dumped barely a year later.

So in this new Tory party, expect to see Theresa May stay on for at least another couple of years. She has a crucial job – scapegoat. The vast majority of Tory MPs (including, I suspect, a number of those shouting loudly for Brexit) know that leaving the EU will be a disaster. So it is vital that May stays in office until Brexit is completed and all doubt about its disastrous consequences dispelled. Then she can be blamed for the disaster and cast aside, so that a new leader can fight the next general election.

But there is another reason why May is likely to stay. At the moment, It would be hard to prevent any Tory leadership election from turning into open war between supporters of moderate and extreme Brexit. But once we have left the EU, the question of how damaging a Brexit we choose will have been resolved, and with a bit of luck there will seem to be no point re-fighting old battles.

Whether any of this will save the Tories is another matter. With Labour finally threatening to show some common sense, Brexit is likely to be seen increasingly as a Conservative project. And the unprecedented incompetence with which it is being executed could do permanent damage to the Tory brand.

Friday 25 August 2017

My new book: 'Secrets of the Centenarians'

This is how the publisher (Reaktion) describes my new book:-  http://www.reaktionbooks.co.uk/display.asp?k=e2017032711315219

Thursday 24 August 2017

The shipwreck that launched the shipping forecast

Dogger, Fisher, German Bight…..the Shipping Forecast is 150 years old today.

Its weather warnings began life as a response to the wreck of the Royal Charter off Anglesey on 26 October 1859, in which 450 people lost their lives. The disaster happened during what is considered the worst storm of the 19th century in the Irish Sea. Altogether, 69 ships were wrecked at a cost of nearly 800 lives.

The iron-hulled steam clipper was bringing emigrants and gold back from the goldfields of Australia to Liverpool. As the ship reached Holyhead, it ran into 100 mile-an-hour winds.

The captain tried to anchor the vessel, but at half past one in the morning, only hours from the end of its long voyage, the Royal Charter was dashed onto rocks and broke in two just 50 yards from land.

As people watched from the shore horrified, an able seaman, Joseph Rogers, leapt into the waves. Three times he was beaten back, but on his fourth try, he was able to tie the vessel to a rock. Twenty-eight local men formed a human chain and managed to rescue 41 of those on board.

For more, see A Disastrous History of Britain.

Monday 21 August 2017

Brexit and borders: a fantasy

One of the reasons our economy is being subjected to death by Brexit is, Theresa May and the Leave fanatics keep telling us, so that we can ‘take control of our borders’.

If we are foolish enough to leave the EU, the only land frontier between the UK and the EU will be the one between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. And how do the Brexiters propose to ‘take control’ of this border? By getting rid of it.

So while the Brexiters will proclaim they have slain the bete noire of Freedom of Movement in March 2019, any EU citizen who wants to enter the UK will simply have to go to the Irish Republic. Then they can take a bus, train, car, bicycle or just walk across the border into Northern Ireland and the UK is their oyster.

I heard some hapless government spokesman on the radio conceding that this was all true but saying it didn’t matter because the EU migrant would be detected by the authorities as soon as they tried to take a job or to rent a flat.

He wasn’t asked why then do we pay out millions and force people to wait in long queues to have their passports checked at Heathrow, other airports, ferry ports etc.

The Brexiters promised we could ‘take control’ of our borders but still have free movement between Northern Ireland and the Republic. (Anything else would probably wreck Northern Ireland's economy and its peace process.) Fourteen months after the referendum they still have no credible plan as to how this is to be achieved. 

And even if they had, there is no guarantee it would be acceptable to the EU.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

Deadly mudslides

At least 400 people have been killed by the mudslide that swept through Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, on Monday morning. Another 600 are still missing, as rescue workers desperately hunt for survivors.

Freetown is an overcrowded city of more than a million, many living in makeshift settlements which are easily washed away in frequent heavy rains and floods. A key objective at the moment is to avoid the disaster being made worse by water-borne diseases such as cholera, typhoid and diarrhoea.

Probably the deadliest mudslide ever was the one that hit Venezuela in the dying days of the last millennium in December 1999. It effortlessly swept away the shanty towns precariously perched on ridges around the capital Caracas.

But smart apartment blocks also found themselves buried under the mud. Most estimates put the number killed at around 30,000, with 140,000 left homeless, and more than 20,000 homes destroyed. For the story, see A Disastrous History of the World.

See also my post of 21 February 2010.

Sunday 13 August 2017

Brexitwatch. Hammond's surrender gives certainty. UK will be driven off a cliff

The last member of Theresa May’s cabinet who could give a passable imitation of having some grip on the reality of Brexit has caved in. Chancellor Philip Hammond, has surrendered to Brexit fanatic and disgraced former defence minister, Liam Fox.

After arguing for a meaningful transition phase after the UK leaves the EU in March 2019 to spare us from the worst effects of Brexit, Hammond has now agreed that instead, we will jump off a cliff, leaving the Single Market and the customs union.

This is precisely what UK businesses feared and had been arguing against, but the modern day Tory party has little interest in jobs, the economy or prosperity. Many will see Hammond’s decision as the ‘certainty’ they have been asking for. Unfortunately for you and me, that ‘certainty’ will be that the UK is no longer a viable country in which to invest.

Fox and Hammond’s joint letter repeats the lie that in the referendum, voters voted to leave the Single Market. They did nothing of the kind, of course, and indeed a whole series of Leave campaigners promised we would stay in the Single Market. It is important that this lie is contradicted every time it is uttered.

This odd couple say we need the transitional arrangement so that goods can still cross borders, and businesses can still trade and recruit the staff they need. The corollary of that, of course, is that once the arrangement ends, these things will no longer be possible. What Liam Fox does not explain is why, if Brexit is as marvellous as he says, is it so important to delay its effects?

Saturday 12 August 2017

Wars, ethnic rivalries and weather

Last year, nearly 102,000 people were killed in armed conflicts across the world according to the Peace Research Institute Oslo. Many of them died in civil wars, and since 1946, two-thirds of civil wars have been fought between rival ethnic groups.

But climate-related problems, like crop failures, also play a role. Research published last year found that between 1980 and 2010, 23% of civil wars coincided with climate-related disasters in countries with deep ethnic divides. And worryingly global warming may make this kind of disaster more common.

Delving back into history, another study discovered that outbreaks of violence against Jews often seemed to be linked with economic shocks. The authors examined more than 1,360 pogroms or expulsions in more than 930 cities between 1100 and 1800, and plotted them against falls in temperature big enough to reduce crop yields.

They found that a fall of just one third of a degree increased the danger of a pogrom or an exclusion by half over the next five years. As we have seen recently, in times of economic difficulty or disappointment, it is very tempting to blame people who are different in some way.

For more on the link between global warming and war, see my posts of 21 September and 25 November, 2009.