Blair

Since Tony Blair wandered into the Brexit arena yesterday morning I’ve had non-stop posts in various feeds popping up telling me how awful he is.

The Blair years may be tainted by Iraq, but on the other hand, we also took a huge step forward in terms of making issues like homophobia and racism socially unacceptable. We benefited from sustained strong economic growth, sustained wage growth and sustained low unemployment, while we simultaneously had a strong welfare safety net. Oh, and he brought in the minimum wage. People have this weird image of Blair being a terrible warmonger that everyone hated, whereas the reality is that he won three elections because he stands out from John Major, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and, will, I suspect, Theresa May, in that he’s remembered with actual achievements next to his name alongside all the negatives. Plus, in a purely pragmatic sense, Blair wasn’t the driving force behind Iraq – George Bush was – and it would have happened regardless.

But that’s all irrelevant, because when people attack Blair’s stance on brexit for his record in Iraq, it’s quite clear they’re playing the man and not the ball. And the reason they’re doing this is because either they don’t recognise it as being an obvious fallacy which renders their entire text meaningless, or because they know they can’t effectively attack the substance of what he’s saying.

I welcome Blair taking a more active role in modern politics, because the presence of a man who knows what he’s doing might shake up some of the endemic incompetence prevalent in the current crop of politicians. It is ironic that the loudest voice in denouncing Blair yesterday was Iain Duncan Smith. IDS was leader of the Tory party against Blair for a short period of time (and, ironically, one of the first MPs to call for an invasion of Iraq), until his own party no-confidenced him before he managed to get to an election. Blair saw off four Tory leaders, and IDS was objectively the biggest failure. And yet, succinctly demonstrating that the government has a talent void, IDS is the one who gets wheeled out to criticise him.

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Stoke

This should probably be required watching for people confused as to how brexit came about, the most important of whom are the ivory tower dwelling brexiteers in parliament.

For the likes of David Davis, brexit was an ideological vote on restoring virtually meaningless amounts of parliamentary sovereignty. For people in Stoke, it was a much more general vote of no confidence against the government. “The EU” seems to register a long way down on their list of concerns, behind more specific and pressing grievances with their local economy not providing stable and sufficiently paid jobs.

Will Davis’s vision of brexit address their problems? Not a chance. Their best case scenario is that nothing gets worse as a result of leaving the EU. And yet almost weekly we have to endure Davis, Fox or some other highly priviledged elite brexiteer brushing away opposition as being against “the will of the people”.

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Risk

Here are what I see as the big risks of brexit, in no particular order:

1. Lower immigration leads to an increasingly top-heavy population in that we have fewer young workers to support old non-workers. Young people’s pay has been declining for the last decade, which presents an additional squeeze, while rents are extremely high. We are increasingly expecting young people to subsidise growing amounts of necessary state spending, while ignoring the fact that younger people are making less money and have higher expenses. This is clearly unsustainable and reducing immigration unnecessarily hastens the problem, thereby giving us less time and opportunity to fix it.

2. Foreign investment stagnates. As the UK leaves the single market it will become less important for international corporations. Those with bases here will probably maintain those bases, but treat them as legacy operations while growing new EU bases. The EU bases will become more obvious targets for investment and the UK less, leading to a stagnation effect where the UK continues for a while on inertia which eventually tapers off.

3. Whilst the economy has performed reasonably well up until this point, it’s been based on an increasing reliance upon consumer borrowing since the referendum. I’m not going to argue that borrowing is an inherently bad thing (although in the case of consumers I might), but it shows a widespread lack of judgement that consumer borrowing should increase when known economic turbulence is ahead. Those debts are significantly less safe than they would be in a non-brexit world and should the economy slow down, it will hit the average person harder the more debt they have. And we all know how it looks when large amounts of debt suddenly become revealed as unsafe.

4. UK public spending is already in a state of high deficit. We’ve weathered this fine so far because we’re a strong and stable economy with sustained growth, and therefore we are a good and safe candidate to lend to. Brexit is likely to reduce our prospects and therefore our credit rating, making borrowing more expensive, leading to us having to enact austerity while we try to rebalance our economy.

BONUS UPDATE: 5. Not that I have any evidence for this, but it seems to me that well educated natives are increasingly not entering relationships and having children. We offset this a bit by immigration in that immigrants tend not to have succumbed to this to the same extent, and they see the value of aiming for achievement in their general life. The risk I see is that in 30 years we will have a generation of teenagers who are overwhelmingly from parents who are from poor backgrounds and don’t aim for anything better, i.e. they set up their children to fail.

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£350m

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You may have missed it, but yesterday evening, MPs voted against an amendment to the brexit bill to increase NHS funding by £350 million per week, which was brought about by Labour’s Chuka Umunna.

Among those voting against were Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, whom you might remember from The Bus, alongside Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who was under no pressure from her party to oppose the amendment. A special mention also goes to Kate Hoey of Labour, who you might remember cavorting around on the Thames with Nigel Farage.

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In reality, a lot of us knew that the £350 million figure was a lie. It didn’t take a lot of analysis to figure out that the NHS is likely to become less well funded in a post-brexit UK because of three reasons:

1. As a less attractive and less open country for immigrants, we’ll see the NHS face increased problems hiring staff
2. As a less profitable country, we’ll have less tax revenue to play with than we otherwise would, in an absolute sense.
3. In a relative sense, with reduced immigration, our demographics will be such that we have fewer workers per pensioner than we do now, i.e. less tax revenue per pensioner.

Despite this, Dominic Cummings, director of Vote Leave, has previously said that the £350 million to the NHS pledge was probably what swung the vote to leave.

Again we see that for all the very valid problems of the EU, the bigger problems are much closer to home.

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Another eventful weekend

The weekly disaster that unfolded this weekend was that my mum broke her arm yesterday.

She tripped and fell and landed on her shoulder and ended up breaking her humerus bone near the shoulder. My mum is 58 but still reasonably active – a few hours previously she’d done a 10k run. She does a lot of yoga too so she ought to have decent bone density. It seems like she suffered incredibly bad luck to impact the ground in the exact way she did.

Overall the experience was pretty awful; my dad was going to drive her to A+E but she started feeling very faint when she tried to get up and walk to the car so he ended up calling an ambulance instead. It took an hour before a pair of ‘community first responders’ turned up. These are actually volunteers and are quite limited in what they can do. In total it was 3 hours between making the 999 call and her being taken away in an ambulance.

We’re not really sure what kind of recovery time we are looking at; it could be 12 months for full strength, but basic function in 8-12 weeks we hope? But for the next week or two she’ll be fairly immobile.

This is just the last in a series of health incidents. Last weekend my dad had to go to A+E in an ambulance after he passed out. It turns out it was probably just the result of some non-serious back pain getting the better of him, but we could have done without it.

The worst thing is that my grandmother is in hospital 100 miles away. My mum has been going up there once or twice a week and staying a few days for the past four weeks. My grandmother is 89 and her prognosis is pretty bad, although the timescales are uncertain. If she takes a turn for the worse while my mum is immobile it’ll be very difficult for mum to deal with. When she went in originally it was touch and go for a while, but after having a pacemaker fitted she improved a lot. She has since been up and down; basically the pacemaker hasn’t been able to fully compensate and she is suffering heart failure. I am a bit concerned that the shock of learning that mum has broken her arm and might not be able to visit for weeks will just cause her to give up. In many ways it would have been better for everyone involved, herself included, had she gone the first night. It feels bad to say that even though it’s absolutely true.

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The greatest show on earth

Climate change denialism seems to be in vogue at the moment so I wanted to write a bit about that.

What people often don’t understand with climate change is that it’s not just about sea levels rising gradually over the next 100 years. The more important point is that the environment is an incredibly complex system balanced in a sort of stable but highly precarious equilibrium upon which relatively minor changes can have unpredictable and large effects.

Example 1: Suppose you have an insect which feeds on trees over the summer then dies out in the cold of the winter. With climate change, the temperatures become a couple of degrees milder during the winter and some insects manage to survive the winters. After a few generations, by the miracle of natural selection, you have an insect population which can survive throughout the year. The insect has no effective predators, a comfortable climate and more food than it can dream of, so it reproduces at an exponential rate. The trees evolved to handle a stable population of the insect, and because they can’t adapt nearly as quickly, vast areas of trees become infected and will eventually die out. This is happening on a large scale to North America’s trees, including but not limited to the conifer forests in Yellowstone park.

Example 2: Then you have entirely counter-intuitive environmental damage due to human interaction: Suppose you have a plant which tends to be very small but needs a large amount of sunlight. It grows in areas also inhabited by larger and denser trees and shrubs, which obscure the sunlight, but that’s fine because natural fires sweep the area every few years, destroying taller plants and keeping the floor open to direct sunlight. But then humans come along and decide that fires are bad, so they extinguish the fires and prevent them from spreading. Now, the dense shrubs grow unabated, obscuring light from the smaller plants on the floor, which struggle and eventually die. This is what’s happening to the Venus Fly Trap, one of nature’s most unique plants.

What a human would perceive as a small change to environment can rapidly destabilise large ecosystems, which, like it or not, we exist within.

Climate change has occurred all throughout the earth’s history. However, it has occurred at a very slow pace, and this gives natural selection a chance to evolve plants and animals that can survive their changed environment. Climate change is now rapid enough that most living creatures simply have too long a reproduction cycle to stand a chance of adapting.

Check out this xkcd for a striking representation of just how fast things are changing. Scroll down and follow the dotted line.

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Growth

Exciting economic growth figures: 2% growth in 2016, 0.6% in the last quarter.

In social media there is a lot of pro-Brexit sentiment over these figures. In other words:

“Our economy is working pretty well, let’s completely change it” – brexiters

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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