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Men and women of substance? They must be joking… November 16, 2018

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It’s funny to see Dominic Raab coming on all statesmanlike and serious. For him the Brexit deal was a step too far… and yet, and yet, it might be worth considering whether he is a figure of any substance at all, whether indeed he is best placed to offer any opinion on these matters.

For as Andrew Rawnsley noted in the Observer at the weekend…

If there were a blindingly superior negotiating strategy, and the secret of it was known to Boris Johnson or to David Davis, you might think they would have shared it with the rest of the cabinet when one held the great office of foreign secretary and the other was in the influential role of Brexit secretary. Those positions are now held by Jeremy Hunt, a self-proclaimed convert to Brexit, and Dominic Raab, a protege of Mr Davis and always a believer. They have done no better than their predecessors at illuminating the path to El Dorado.

Obviously Raab is now an ex-Minister. But Rawnsley doesn’t hold back:

A clue to why they have failed was dropped in the past few days by Mr Raab. He is not a stupid man – the opposite, in fact. But like many of his fellow Brexiters, he can be astonishingly ignorant. He told a tech industry conference that he had only recently grasped how much of Britain’s commerce is dependent on free flows across the Channel between Dover and Calais. Britain is an island? No shit, Sherlock. This follows the admission by Karen Bradley that, prior to becoming Northern Ireland secretary, she “didn’t understand” that the territory had sectarian divisions, the most elementary fact about its politics. This had you wondering how Ms Bradley managed to get into her late 40s, and a chair in the cabinet, without ever watching a news bulletin or reading a book. It was from such boggling political, geographical and economic illiteracy that sprang the fatal fantasies that Brexit would be a piece of cherry-topped cake.

I have to be honest, for me ignorance at that level is synonymous with stupidity. Or perhaps wilful ignorance is.

And Rawnsley makes one further point:

Mrs May could have been 10 times more skilled at negotiating and Britain would very likely be in much the same place as it is now. The younger Johnson characterises it as a choice “between two deeply unattractive outcomes – vassalage and chaos”. At best, Mrs May will present a deal that is humiliatingly worse than the terms we currently enjoy as members of the EU. At worst, Britain will be invited to take the nightmare road that leads over a cliff-edge. This wretched choice will be offered by Mrs May not because she is the most hapless negotiator ever to inhabit Number 10; it is because a happy ending to this story was never available.
The problem with Brexit is not Theresa May. The problem with Brexit is Brexit.

Rafael Behr had this to say:

These resignations confirm a fundamental structural problem with the whole leave prospectus: it was a fantasy, and as such incompatible with the mundane fulfilment of ministerial responsibility. Raab has come to the same conclusion that David Davis and Boris Johnson reached earlier in the year: it is easier to be on the team that accuses the prime minister of failing to deliver majestic herds of unicorns than it is to be stuck with a portfolio that requires expertise in unicorn-breeding.

One last thought…

Iain Duncan Smith, a leading Tory Brexiter and former party party leader, has just told BBC News that the impact of Raab’s resignation will be “devastating”. He says that Raab’s letter suggests that, within government, he has been ignored.

Well where is the surprise? In what other context than Tory and Brexit politics would one take Raab seriously?

The world of work: The permanent CV November 16, 2018

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I’ve yet to experience this, but if it becomes a trend…the writer (Pilata Clark of the FT) notes a friend of theirs received ‘out of office’ emails from co-workers.

To avoid getting him into trouble, I am not going to say exactly what they said but the gist of each was this: thanks for your message, I am away but while I have your attention, why not take a look at this.
Each emailer had then inserted an online link to something they had recently done at work that they clearly thought was rather clever.
My friend was gobsmacked. He had never seen such wanton self-promotion in his office. He could not understand why anyone would expose themselves to the ridicule it was bound to incite.

The writer suggests this is all of a piece with the performative aspects of Instagram and YouTube. Given there’s a small individual control experiment being run in my home – cruising up to 11 years of age now, I’m becoming ever more aware of how much of a focus social media is (to the point I recently was asked to print out K-Pop singers photos for one of their friends who didn’t have a printer).

And this may become a trend…

Not long after my friend’s email arrived, Harvard Business Review sent a “management tip of the day” advising me to do precisely what my friend’s colleagues had done. If I jazzed up my out-of-office messages with links to things like my articles or research, I could “connect in a new way with colleagues, clients, and vendors”.

What particularly disturbs me is that this seems like an on-line equivalent of presenteeism, the continual need to prove one is working or whatever by useless and empty shows of supposed dedication. But this goes further because one becomes a continual self-referential curriculum vitae. And I can’t help but think this is driven mostly by fear – fear of losing the job, of not being noticed and so on.

Though as is now almost standard, the writer notes that the approach is dressed up in the clothes of self-affirmation…

Consider Stefanie Sword-Williams, the 20-something founder of fuckbeinghumble.com, a UK mentoring outfit with a mission to “encourage you to be the best possible brand you can be”. She thinks self-promotion spells success and people should do more of it, especially young women.

As she told a bemused reporter from the Times this year, that means being ready to bugger off pronto from any company that does not value you, and sitting next to a job interviewer, not opposite them, because “you should be interviewing them” to see if they are up to being your boss. As they say in the real world, good luck with that.

Exactly. It’s such a naive reading of the actual power relationships at work. But in a context where unions and so on are on aren’t even regarded as an option one can see how attractive a message it is to those with little or no power.

Reading what they want to into it… November 16, 2018

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Reading those resignation letters from Brexit supporters in the British cabinet is an interesting exercise. What strikes me is how disingenuous their complaints actually are. For example, Junior Brexit Minister Suella Braverman (and by the by, to echo Andrew Rawnsley, it’s a bit rich for someone who was involved in the process and who had every opportunity to shape it to get cold feet at this point) says:

First the propose NI Backstop is not Brexit. It is not what the British people – or my constituents -voted for in 2016. It prevents the unequivocal exit from a customs union with the EU. This robs the UK of the main competitive advantages from Brexit.

Or there’s Anne-Marie Trevalan who wrote:

I believe we must protect the Brexit mandate by trying to secure a deal which understands the spirit of the referendum,…

And on and on… and yet, the actual wording of the question at the referendum was…

The fact that people on both sides of the question took a variety of views in regard to membership or not of same prior to the referendum merely underscores that there is no definitive aspect to that which impinges on the shape of a post-referendum dispensation, in other words – and entirely logically, only the substance of the question asked above, rather than any ‘spirit’ of same is of any great importance.

The fact that there are states outside the EU, Norway springs to mind, Turkey another, that occupy various positions whether members or part members of the SM or the CU, seems to escape those making these complaints.

Of course that’s not the politics of this, and here, as noted yesterday May (amongst others) has a lot to answer for. Small wonder that it appears the road has run out. But then this was a Tory Brexit, it was never going to be shaped in a progressive direction and small wonder when the ultras got a sniff of influence and power they went for it.

Yet the deeper problem, and this is something those resigning simply won’t face up to (any more than those like the ERG) is that, to somewhat amend the old saw re Palestine ‘The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man’. No Brexit deal (or at least a serious one – short of a no-deal) could be achieved absent engaging with the realities of this island and a GFA/BA dispensation. That is something that was simply not addressed prior to the referendum, and even after hardly at all. What Britain does is entirely a business for its citizens. What the UK does is quite a different matter.

Man overboard… to help build a new 32 county movement? November 15, 2018

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It’s not all Brexit, and Sinn Féin’s Peadar Tóibín has resigned from the party, following his refusal to follow the party whip in relation to the amendment, with the following missive:

It is with a heavy heart that I resign from Sinn Féin today. I have been a member of the party for 21 years. In that time I poured all my efforts into achieving Irish Unity & Economic Justice. This clearly is no longer enough. I will now help to build a new 32 County movement.

What is this movement of which he speaks? Any thoughts as to his options?

Undesirable characters… November 15, 2018

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Some intriguing papers released this week in the latest volume of Documents on Irish Foreign Policy 1957-1961 as noted in the IT.
Perhaps most curious is the case of Otto Skorzeny’s bid for permanent residency in this state where one figure looms large:

A note from Conor Cruise O’Brien, then a senior official in the Department of External Affairs, in June 1957 refers to a visa application from Skorzeny, who is described as well known for his military exploits with “special” units of the German army in the second World War including his rescue of Mussolini.
“Skorzeny, who is now stateless, resides in Spain. He is on the UK Home Office Black List as an undesirable character. I think this means no more than that he made their faces red in the matter of Mussolini. We are not aware of any specific war crimes charges against him,” he wrote.

Oh well, that’s alright then.

And:

The secretary of the Department of Justice Peter Berry advised that Skorzeny be given permanent residency. His view was supported by his minister Oscar Traynor. However, minister for external affairs Frank Aiken strongly advised Justice against granting residence. In the end permission was refused.

O’Brien’s lack of concern is intriguing. I’ve read other comments of his during the same period and they’ve struck me as oddly flip. And it’s interesting how he himself perceived his own role, even early on. As Head of Information in the Department of External Affairs he was responsible for many publicity brochures and publications during the late 1940s and early 1950s (including notably the Anti-Partition Campaign materials). Yet in his autobiography he referenced this period of his career in passing mentioning a ‘lavishly-illustrated pamphlet celebrating Ireland’ that he was in charge of.

Signs of Hope – A continuing series November 15, 2018

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Gewerkschaftler suggested this recently:

I suggest this blog should have a regular (weekly) slot where people can post happenings at the personal or political level that gives them hope that we’re perhaps not going to hell in a handbasket as quickly as we thought. Or as the phlegmatic Germans put it “hope dies last”.

Any contributions this week?

Brexit! What could possibly go wrong with that? November 15, 2018

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Could this possibly be the last of the Brexit columns, if a deal is struck? Unlikely. Brexit is a process, not an event, and it’s a process where the process itself is the problem.

The Conservative party is failing business in the pursuit of pushing through a Brexit deal, the head of one of Germany’s largest industrial firms in the UK has said.Terry Sargeant, the chairman and CEO of ThyssenKrupp in the UK, said the party was putting its own survival ahead of industry.As Theresa May struggles to win cabinet and EU support for her Brexit plan, Sargeant warned of a wave of layoffs if there was no deal.“It is a complete shambles. They have failed business. The Tory party aren’t making decisions for business, they are making decisions to prevent an implosion in their own party.”Sargeant said he was speaking out because the next generation of “working men and women” were going to be hit hardest by Brexit, which he said was an act of complete folly.

A no deal Brexit would “unravel” the North’s economy and potentially “leave it in tatters” because of its dependency on established all-island supply chains, the UK’s Freight Transport Association (FTA) has warned.Seamus Leheny, policy manager for the association in Northern Ireland, said the latest cross-Border traffic figures suggest that on average 13,000 goods vehicles cross the border every day, which Mr Leheny said works out at around 541 every hour.He said this is equivalent to “a large freight ferry fully laden every 15 minutes, 24/7, 365 days a year”.Mr Leheny said latest confirmation from the North’s Department for Infrastructure that commercial vehicle operators in Northern Ireland will have “unrestricted access” to the Republic in the event of a no deal Brexit is a “promising step”.

British Airways owner IAG has been seeking Spanish government support to continue its operations in the wake of a disorderly Brexit.According to letters reported in Spanish newspaper El País, Spain’s government and Brussels doubt whether IAG’s status as an EU airline will be maintained under a no-deal scenario. Under EU airline ownership rules, carriers have to be majority owned by EU nationals and there are concerns that once UK shareholders are stripped out after 29 March, IAG might fall below the threshold.

How is this ‘agreement’ going to fly…and those UK polls November 15, 2018

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Reading the media this morning I am completely baffled as to how May thinks she can get this through the House of Commons.
And yet what are the alternatives – a no-deal Brexit? Part of the problem is that she and others opened the space immediately after the referendum for a hard to no-deal Brexit and was never able to claw that back. It was good politics, on a tactical level, lousy on a strategic level – since buying off the harder Brexit proponents was always destined to see a reckoning further down the line. Still hearing nonsense such as that written by Shailesh Vara (who he? Northern Ireland Secretary. Oh) who resigned overnight talking about ‘when we will finally be a sovereign nation’ is telling at this juncture. First of many resignations today? But even that is as nothing given the parliamentary arithmetic.

So, not a bad time either to cast an eye over UK polls, given the current churn of events in that polity. So, what do we see? Well, a very very small Tory lead.

According to UK Polling Report a YouGov post-Budget poll saw the following:

The voting intention figures in the poll are CON 41%(nc), LAB 39%(+3), LDEM 7%(-1), UKIP 5%(+1). The three point increase in Labour support doesn’t necessarily mean anything – it’s within the normal margin of error – but it certainly doesn’t point towards a budget boost for the Tories.

And and IPSOS MORI/Evening Standard poll some days earlier:

Topline voting intentions were CON 39%, LAB 37%, LDEM 10%, UKIP 5%.

Not the worst position for the LP should matters go in a certain direction.

Meanwhile, no election here yet? November 14, 2018

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It strikes me the rolling events of Brexit are sucking any life out of the notion of an election this side of the Irish Sea. Indeed thinking about it it seems to me that the focus on the Presidential election was quite distinct from that on the Budget. It’s not that the latter was unimportant, but somehow this government is in a position where it’s largely expected to keep on going for a while – or perhaps after years of crisis people are stepping back a little. It’s an odd phenomenon because I know individual parties and candidates are keen to get back into the electoral fray (some of them anyhow).

Bodenstown? November 14, 2018

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A piece in History Ireland in the last edition caught my eye.

I should preface this by saying I visited Bodenstown once or twice if I recall correctly, in the 1980s with the WP. Dublin Buses were hired to bring people there and there was a very good turnout. I found the bands and so on interesting but oddly jarring in the context of party activity on the Northside of Dublin – they seemed to belong to a starkly different political culture, whereas the flags did not.

I know people from various groups who’ve been a lot more recently, and some who go regularly.

Anyhow the piece, written by Sylvie Kleinman made a range of criticisms about Bodenstown and the installation and plaques there; ’partisan’, ‘bellicose (and Anti-Treaty) layer of ahistorical misappropriation’ , concluding with the following:

The ‘grave’ is certainly very well maintained, but can we not depoliticise Bodenstown? The current monument is also stark, bleak, outdated, even unintentionally brutalist; would it get planning permission today? By all means discuss and debate, but do not dictate for Tone what his stance may have been in 1922. Should the people of Kildare not be consulted on a suitable but truly national design? Should we not restore the memory of Ton’es family in a dignified garden-cemetery arrangement, and leave the twentieth century behind?

Hmmmm…

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