Bye, Zac

The Tories played dirty and they still lost.

We’ve had two by-elections since the brexit vote (I’m excluding Jo Cox’s constituency’s by-election as the other parties rightly decided not to run candidates), and both have shown massive swings away from Tory incumbents towards the Lib Dems.

This is significant because the Tory vote share in 2015 was not notably higher than it was in 2010; it just happened to be concentrated in formerly Lib/Con marginals. A swing back to the Lib Dems is seriously bad news for the Tories, especially if they’re also planning to engage in extremely high risk politics that has the potential to destroy them if it all goes wrong, like, I don’t know, brexit.

There is still a lot of mileage in opposing brexit. Except the Greens, who are not really significant in terms of vote share, the Lib Dems are the only pro-remain party. Those of us who think brexit is the single most important political issue and support remain have only one option – the Lib Dems. Leavers get to choose between the Tories, Labour and Ukip. In FPTP that means the LDs sweep up a lot of seats, because theirs is the only vote not being split. Divide and conquer.

Plus, we are beginning to see cracks forming in the Tory party’s unity as both Boris and David Davis(!) are making suggestions towards a softer brexit, which has offended the hardliners like IDS. It’s a long way from over.

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I’m quite curious to see the results of today’s by-election in Richmond.

Tory MP Zac Goldsmith resigned to protest Heathrow’s third runway and ran as an independent. The Tories decided, very unusually, to not to field a candidate. Because Zac is not really independent and is in fact a Tory. They even campaigned for him.

Ukip also decided not to field a candidate because the Tories might as well be Ukip at this point.

The Greens decided to rally behind the Lib Dem candidate.

Labour, despite having absolutely no chance, did run a candidate and will split the anti-Tory vote slightly as a result, lending credence to the hypothesis that Jeremy Corbyn is also a Tory.

Richmond as a whole is a ‘remain’ area and Zac is a prominent leaver.

Given these very unusual set of circumstances, a surprise Lib Dem win is very much within the realms of possibility. Counting in their favour are brexit and Zac’s disastrous Mayoral campaign.

It’s funny politics across the board here, with the exception of the Lib Dems and Labour. I do think that the Tory, Ukip and Green policy of tactical abstinence is unacceptable for national parties (if the voting system is broken – and it is! – they should be fixing it), but I also think that given the circumstances as they were, Labour should have followed their leads.

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Recently we have had a lot of brexiters being very eager to point out that the total collapse of the UK economy has not yet happened and things are looking good because certain companies are creating jobs in the UK.

Andrew Neil (the BBC presenter) is a fairly uncloseted Ukipper and has been very active on Twitter, earning him a lot of attention and admiration from people you might describe as the alt-right in the UK (although you might also just regard them as the “I’m not racist, I watch Japanese cartoons” brigade). He recently posted news that Jaguar Land Rover are “aiming” to create 10,000 jobs in Brexit Britain and included an unnecessary jab at the Financial Times, who are one of a small minority of British media outlets who aren’t drinking the Brexit kool aid, and, along with the BBC and The Times are actually providing some decent analysis on the subject.

What he doesn’t think is important enough to mention is that those 10,000 jobs are contingent on the taxpayer stumping up half a billion pounds, working out to about £45,000 per job. This is neither the slightest bit sustainable, nor is it a victory for market confidence (and definitely not for the taxpayer, either). The likes of the FT are correct to be sceptical.

Next we have the news that Amazon plans to create 1,600 new warehouse jobs in the Midlands. When we have talk of the UK becoming a high skill, high pay, high quality economy then Amazon warehouse jobs aren’t really what we’re looking for. Not only is Amazon an infamously exploitative employer, it is a monopolistic American giant which funnels money out of the country via tax fiddles, which put home-grown British firms at an unfair disadvantage when trying to compete with it.

Then we have Google and Facebook announcing a few hundred jobs each. They might be better employers than Amazon, but they are also monopolistic American tax fiddlers who unfairly out-compete British companies and who both limit the quality of the products in the market just by being a dominant presence.

If you think that being increasingly dependent upon the taxpayer or beholden to corporate America is a good thing then, yes indeed, Brexit has all the signs of a roaring success.

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Salary growth, or lack thereof

There’s been some bad and unsurprising news about Britain’s total lack of wage growth in the last 10 years. It’s worth mentioning here that Britain’s wage growth in this time frame has been worse than every single other EU country except Greece. Countries like Spain with double digit unemployment have fared better than us. That’s astonishing.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense that immigration suppresses wages on a broad scale. It might do in isolated cases, like the infamous Sports Direct villages (which are the reason that I never buy any running gear from Sports Direct), but in general the number of jobs will scale with the number of economically active people in the economy. The idea that immigration causes wage suppression can be restated as countries with small populations have higher wages, which is obviously incorrect.

If salaries have stagnated as badly as the figures suggest then the following must be true:

1. There is too much competition in the labour market suppressing wages, and/or
2. The jobs people are working are not producing much economic output and do not justify higher wages

Both of these are probably true to some extent.

The first because for competition to exist in a labour market the average person must have a credible alternative to his job, otherwise s/he necessarily accepts the salary offered to her/him regardless of what it is. The Tories have spent the last six years ensuring this to be the case, by stripping away benefits to get more people into work without focusing the same amount of effort on increasing demand in the economy, which would create jobs. This increases competition for jobs while simultaneously decreasing the freedom of a jobseeker.

The second is likely true because the UK’s productivity, i.e. wealth created per hour worked, is dire. We are well below most European countries which means we have to work more hours to produce the same amount of money as them. It is important to stress that productivity has little to do with how lazy or hard working a worker is. Time is a finite resource and more productive employees use it to do things that give them a greater monetary return. Women in remote African villages who walk miles to fill heavy jugs of water are some of the hardest workers in the world, but they are not productive – they spend an entire day’s effort on things that take mere seconds in developed countries. The analogy here is that British workers are forced to expend their time doing things that workers in other countries don’t have to do.

What causes this is probably a culture of bad management prevalent in the UK which denies people the equipment and conditions they need to do their jobs effectively through reluctance to invest and simple incompetence. Possible examples of this in a modern world are inadequate computer/network hardware reducing a worker’s efficiency and pointless meetings occupying their time.

The failure to address either of these problems is a staple of Conservative economic policy in the last six years. The Autumn statement gave no indication that any of this is going to change quickly. If people think brexit will bring about improvements on this front, they are likely to be disappointed.

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With the government today admitting that brexit is going to be an extremely expensive undertaking, it is worth putting the current public deficit figures into some context.

Pre 2008, we were running a deficit of around £20bn/year.
Since 2008, we have been running a deficit which rocketed to over £100bn/year but has been gradually reduced to around £60bn/year, which you’ll note is much higher than £20bn/year.

So when Philip Hammond says he’s going to increase borrowing, we’re not starting from a low level. We’re starting from a level 3x higher than what Labour used to run under non-crisis circumstances.

And bear in mind that this isn’t simply borrowing to invest, this is borrowing to plug the financial black hole of brexit. We could have done this without brexit and got a far better return on our money.

Or, in other terms, being in the EU costs us around £180m/week net. Leaving the EU costs us £469m/week.

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Weekly roundup

Leaked memo: The government doesn’t know what it’s doing and it doesn’t have a plan
Government: Actually we do know what we are doing and we do have a plan. Please don’t ask us for detail.

Boris: We are going to leave the customs union, and I will announce this important piece of information in an interview with a Czech newspaper, as is tradition.

Jeremy Corbyn: Are we going to leave the customs union?
Theresa May: It’s more of a quantum thing. We are going to get the best deal.
Corbyn: Will it be a titanic success?
May: Yes, I mean, er, no.
Corbyn: You don’t seem to know what you’re doing
May: Well, neither do you.

Judges: Parliament definitely should vote on A50.
May: WHAT!
Labour: Brexit will be terrible. But don’t worry, Tess, we’ll vote for it.
May: I’m appealing this!
Tory Ukip wing: Labour promised to vote with us. Just call the vote, it’ll be quicker

I grew up in the era of Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell playing the media like a fiddle. This total disarray and outwardly advertised incompetence is hard to get my head around. I still feel like I woke up in a parallel universe on the 24th June.

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The problem I have with Trump and brexit can be expressed most simply like this: the cheerleaders celebrate both events as destruction. Destruction of “the establishment”, or “the liberal elite” or other such phrases that supposedly condemn the people they disagree with but simultaneously fail to exclude the set of people they idolise. However, if this really represents a positive change, destruction is the precise literal opposite of what they should be focusing on.

It speaks for itself that four and a half months on, brexit has not only failed to take on any constructive form, it has also failed to give even the slightest hint of what such a form might be.

It’s similar to Corbyn too. Labour members voted for Corbyn out of frustration with the status quo, but what they ended up with was a special brand of incompetence that made their position far worse than had they stuck with a safer but uninspiring option, because at this point, Corbyn is indistinguishable from a Tory plant.

The centre ground isn’t offering solutions so people are being drawn towards extremes, even though the solutions offered by the extremes don’t pass basic sanity checks.

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