Is Populism Really a Problem?

We’re supposed to think it is.

Just look at the havoc populism has wrought on our once stable, orderly and deeply contented Western societies. The seismic shock of Brexit, the Trumpocalypse, the rise of Front National and Germany’s current coalition woes are just a few examples of populism’s pernicious and harmful effects.

At every turn we see populism on the rise, more often than not defined as an entirely negative cultural and political force. We can be certain in our analysis because our moral, intellectual and social betters inside the commentariat bubble have declared it to be so. You know the people I’m talking about; those highly educated, highly paid and infallible analysts who told us Britain would sink into the ocean the day after a Brexit vote. The ones who were certain Donald Trump had a less than 2% chance of becoming president. The ones who wrote off Jeremy Corbyn as a joke.

Whilst it’s abundantly clear that the populist appeal of Corbyn’s Labour Party is very different from that of Germany’s AFD, the measureable rise of both groups is clear, present and tangible evidence that the populists are firmly in the ascendancy and the establishment doesn’t really know what to do. This lack of political, cultural and economic imagination shouldn’t really be a huge surprise when we consider how the Oxford English Dictionary defines populism as “a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.”

In other words, ordinary voters from across the political spectrum are united by an underlying belief that their societies have been usurped by a self-serving, narrow clique of political, media and business interests who actually despise the very people upon whom they rely for either money or votes…and often both at the same time. Whether the prescribed cure is civic nationalism or Soviet style socialism, the diagnosis of a self-serving and sneering elite is pretty much uniform across the Western world at this point.

Millions of elite media words have been expended in the examination of populism’s rise, offering both explanation and solution to this dangerous and unpredictable social force. Naturally most of them are completely wrong because they’re looking out from within the very same media bubble which has fuelled populism’s rebirth and inexorable rise. From their vantage point, they cannot see the simplest and neatest explanation for this mystifying and troubling trend.

The populists are right.

For more than three decades now, the ruling political, financial and media class has controlled Western societies very successfully through their complete domination of the Overton window. For those who don’t know, the Overton window is the range of views that any society considers to be within acceptable political discourse. Any idea outside the Overton window is considered extreme or fringe, and therefore not worthy of serious discussion.

Here in the UK, the most obvious example of Overton control has been a pathological reluctance to seriously question the benefits of continued EU membership. For decades, that subject was summarily declared off-limits by all mainstream political parties, and ruthlessly suppressed by their media enablers.

The result? Growing frustration, anger, and eventually Brexit.

Naturally this political, social, and cultural strategy of Overton control is dependent upon the policies inside the acceptable space being largely successful. However the Iraq war, terrorism, the banking crisis, growing inequality and borderless nations have exposed a con trick by a cynical cartel rather than ushering in the comfortable, centrist utopia we were implicitly promised. As the number and magnitude of problems has grown, the establishment’s response has been to shrink the Overton window still further, allowing fewer and fewer possible remedies to be discussed within polite society. This has naturally and inevitably led to an unsustainable tension between an increasingly embattled elite and an increasingly alienated population.

Something had to snap, and those once unthinkable ideas like enforcing immigration law and famous people paying the same tax as everyone else have poured into the public consciousness and gained significant mass appeal. After all, that’s all we ever really wanted in the first place. If only they’d asked us.

So, is populism really a problem? No…it’s the only civilised solution.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Nothing will satisfy the Eurocrats now

With Theresa May’s heavily trailed Europe speech rapidly approaching, the commentariat have gone into a kind of speculative overdrive as they feverishly try to second guess the shape and form of any revised Brexit offer the Prime Minister might make. Tales of a two year transition period and a £35 billion Brexit bill have been bandied about for the last week, and will no doubt become even more speculative as the big day draws closer.

People shouldn’t get their hopes up. As I explained in my earlier article, it seems unlikely that any deal offered by Britain will be sufficient to satisfy the EU negotiators, regardless of what each member state might privately think.

If, and it’s a big if, the figure of £35 billion is even reasonably accurate, it cannot simply be forked over without expecting something in return. Such an offer will surely be conditional on the UK exiting both the Single Market and the Customs Union in March 2019. This would allow the UK to negotiate trade on its own while retaining tariff free access to the Single Market for a short period. It will also deliver on Britain’s commitment to the current EU budget period which ends in 2020. This all seems quite reasonable, generous even, but Michel Barnier et al have thus far proved completely unwilling to accept any offer which is not an exact continuation of the current status quo.

Britain is often accused of wanting to have its Brexit cake and eat it, yet it’s the European Union which has steadfastly sought to retain every advantage it currently enjoys and give nothing in return.

For reasons that have never been fully explained, the EU seems to believe it can easily extract tens of billions of pounds from a leaving member state in return for a vague promise of future trade talks, with no certain outcome. Nobody in their right mind would accept that kind of dodgy get rich scheme pitch, and the Prime Minister must know the political and financial folly of such a lopsided arrangement.

Instead of engaging in constructive discussions, Brussels has embarked on a counterproductive campaign of deliberate discourtesy every time the UK has offered a solution to any Brexit problem. This cannot be an accident, just look at their responses so far…

Theresa May is “living in another galaxy” when it comes to the colossal, nebulous and ever-changing “divorce bill.”

Proposed customs and border arrangements are “a fantasy.”

An offer regarding citizens’ rights is a “damp squib.”

The Irish border proposals are “magical thinking.”

Conclusion: the EU has no interest in reaching any kind of pragmatic, mutually beneficial accommodation with the first nation ever to cut ties with this increasingly authoritarian bloc. They can’t risk setting a dangerous political precedent as they know for sure that other nations will follow. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the no-deal Brexit scenario was probably decided within hours of the referendum result.

This will be the background behind the Prime Minister’s speech on Friday. She may be gracious and accommodating, or combative and confrontational. In fact it doesn’t really matter which approach she adopts because the response has already been decided. It’ll probably take under an hour for the inevitable hoots of laughter and derision to pour forth from the Brussels bureaucrats and their metropolitan media enablers.

We’re wasting our time.

Image courtesy of Michal Zacharzewski at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

True Colours

Unless things change dramatically, it’s looking increasingly like Britain will leave the European Union without any kind of meaningful trade deal or reciprocal arrangements on citizens’ rights.

This will be a great disappointment to the vast majority of both leave and remain voters, but the latest round of talks in Brussels has demonstrated that both sides are approaching the negotiations from fundamentally different perspectives. Interestingly, these two divergent viewpoints neatly serve to illustrate the fundamental reason behind Britain’s restive relationship with the European Union, and its true motivation for walking away.

Whilst frustrating and very concerning for everyone involved, the increasingly fraught Brexit process has finally killed any pretence that the European Project is about anything other than ever increasing political power. Don’t take my word for it, but look instead at the primary motivations of the opposing parties.

While the British approach is essentially pragmatic, focusing on trade, cooperation and partnership, the EU is concerned primarily with maximising political influence over the UK after March 2019. This is why the talks will most likely fail as neither side is capable of relinquishing what it sees as its own inalienable rights. The idea of EU institutions continuing to control UK law is anathema to the British, while the EU simply cannot imagine any kind of relationship with the UK which doesn’t involve direct political influence. Oddly enough, they’re easily able to imagine such a relationship with Canada and Japan, but the UK will be treated very differently. The reason for this glaring double standard is because the UK is now a clear and present threat to the European Project.

The increasingly acrimonious wrangling over EU citizens is an excellent example of these two incompatible viewpoints. Leaving aside any quibble over details, the UK has made a meaningful and substantive opening offer on citizens’ rights. Tentative discussion of a possible transition period for EU citizens living in or moving to the UK shows some level of flexibility, and a willingness to compromise on important issues.

In stark contrast, the EU has been exposed as utterly unwilling to accept the reality that it will no longer wield direct legal influence over UK affairs once Britain has withdrawn from the bloc. This is why their negotiators continue to indulge the fantasy of the European Court of Justice continuing its jurisdiction over EU citizens residing in the UK after March 2019.

One does not need a Master’s degree in treaty law to realise that such an idea is patently absurd and completely unworkable. An old friend of mine is married to a lady from East Germany (and an hour spent talking with someone who grew up behind the Iron Curtain is an education in itself). Is the EU seriously suggesting that my friend would have to appeal to one Supreme Court for his justice, while his wife would have to appeal to a different one for hers? What about their young child, where would he have to go when he grows up? Could he choose whichever he fancies? What happens if one Supreme Court rules against him, can he just run to the other like a child playing his parents?

No sovereign nation, of any stripe, can be expected to allow a foreign court to rule on issues of law within its own borders. The fact that drinking alcohol is legal in the UK does not save British citizens from arrest in Saudi Arabia. How could it?

The EU negotiators must know this because they are extensively educated, yet still they persist, in the full knowledge that such intransigence will probably scupper the whole negotiation process.

With each round of talks, my suspicion grows that the no-deal scenario has already been decided by Brussels. The EU knows the UK is leaving and there’s nothing it can do to stop that from happening. The only course of action left is to catch Britain’s fingers in the door as it walks out in a last ditch effort to discourage others from following.

It gives me no pleasure to say it, but there will probably be no meaningful Brexit deal. It’s going to get a lot nastier from here on in, and we can expect undisguised EU hostility to continue for many years after we’ve gone. We’d best get used to it now and adjust accordingly.

Ballooning Bill

It’s taken a while, but finally the truth is out there. After all the false pretence, official leaks and political theatre, we now know exactly what the European Union’s priorities are as far as any Brexit negotiation is concerned.

It’s all about the money…it’s always been about the money.

It has to be about the money, because the truth that dare not speak its name in polite politics is that the European Union is in fact one colossal wealth redistribution engine. Not so much a welfare state as welfare for states, and Brexit represents a de facto tax strike.

It’s still not clear exactly how much of the average UK worker’s wage packet Brussels believes it’s entitled to, but we know it’ll more than enough to keep Juncker and the rest of his unelected inner circle in comfort and cognac for the rest of their days. The fact that the EU has been obsessing about the Brexit bill being settled in advance of any trade negotiations shows just how vital the UK’s contributions are in propping up the increasingly rickety superstructure of this increasingly embattled superstate.

Only this morning the press is reporting that Poland and France have weighed in with an extra demand for still greater contributions to support the hated Common Agricultural Policy. Quelle surprise!

At first glance it would appear that the European Union is single minded in its ambition to shaft us one last time before we finally slam the door on this unhappy marriage, but that unity is just a little too polished a little too well rehearsed to be entirely authentic. Since when did all the member states agree anything in 4 months, let alone 4 minutes?

The truth is that the Brussels bureaucrats are facing an existential crisis, and they know it. One member state has already decided to quit the bloc, and the remaining twenty-seven will inevitably turn on each other and Brussels as recipients become contributors and the age of acquiescence bought with confiscated cash finally comes to an abrupt and painful end.

George Osborne was right during the referendum campaign when he said that Brexit would cause a profound economic shock…but it won’t just be for us.

This looming and inescapable crisis explains why Brussels is so insistent on treating the UK as a supplicant state rather than the union’s second largest economy.

We should get used to this kind of abuse and grandstanding, because it’ll drone on for years before we go and long after we’ve left. Once the European Union collapses under the weight of its own hubris, naturally it’s the Brexiting British who will be blamed. The next Greek debt crisis, blame Brexit. The rise of nationalism, Brexit. Conflict on the Korean peninsula, Brussels will doubtless find a way to blame Brexit for that too. Just look across the ocean to where an increasingly unhinged Hillary Clinton has blamed everything from misogyny to voter stupidity, and even some Machiavellian Russian plot to disguise her own colossal, epoch defining ineptitude and corruption. So will it be with Brexit.

The European Union may appear to be an immovable object, but the nations upon which it has imposed itself are far less interested in penalising one reluctant member state than they are with providing jobs, trade and prosperity for their own voting and taxpaying citizenry. Sooner or later, they will find themselves in direct conflict with Brussels as economic pragmatism collides with the inflexible zeal of the EU’s ideologues.

There is much talk among the pundit classes of a possible future breakup of the EU, but I would say that Brussels’ growing obsession with scoring one last shot of UK cash suggests that process is already underway. Last orders have been called and the tab’s being tallied.

The party’s over.