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A new equilibrium in the North July 27, 2016

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Michael McDowell in his SBP column at the weekend makes some good, some not so good, points as regards the prospect for post-Brexit reunification of this island. I think he’s right that a lot of the rhetoric, as noted previously, is based on very little. To interpret the result in the North as indicating a shift towards independence is to misunderstand the dynamic on the ground.

That said, that said, straws in the wind such as these point to – in a way – a more interesting potential opening up, a sort of partnership between North and South to protect joint interests in a way that hasn’t been evident in the past and which might, just might, rework relationships in fascinating ways.

McDowell takes Adams to task for raising the issue of a border poll, but I think that is somewhat unreasonable. Even if the prospect of such a poll is close to zero at the moment at least by making the case he was able to put the North’s interests (and those of the island) front and centre in discussions where only the SNP initially appeared to have any handle on what was going on. The subsequent meeting of minds between Wales, Scotland, NI and to an extent Dublin last week may well have been assisted by that.

McDowell, is, in fairness, clear about his preference for reunification. And he argues that ‘confessional equality’ between Nationalists and Unionists may emerge, and ‘welcome as such a new equilibrium would be, int terms of creating a climate for equal partnership among the people in NI and ending the dynamic of religious majoritarianism there, it does not foretell a sudden see-saw movement towards unification in the short medium or long term’. I think he’s right to be cautious.

If Brexit demonstrates anything it is that in Scotland, Ireland, North and South, and to a degree Wales there’s a strong sentiment that seeks continuity rather than rupture. But working that continuity may well, simply because England is detaching itself from others whether explicitly or implicitly, lead to some very interesting places.

The Fourth Revolution… July 27, 2016

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A while back I picked up John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge’s book the Fourth Revolution in the library. Micklewait and Wooldridge wrote a pretty good book on the US right entitled the Right Nation: Why America is Different in the 2000s, and so they should have, being both an Editor-in-Chief of the The Economist and a Management Editor respectively. Sad to say, though, the Fourth Revolution isn’t anywhere near as good or as interesting and readable as that other book.

In part this is because, as with many such things, there’s a sense of pre-determined conclusions forcing the text along the way to align with them. In part it is because their central thesis that three revolutions in relation to government – the arrival of the nation-state, the development of the liberal statement and then the welfare state, seem questionable as means of categorising enormously complex processes of state development. Their idea that somehow the state is in massive crisis also seems open to question. They trace this supposed crisis to entitlement culture, generational pressures, distorted democracy and a raft of other issues, not least insufficient choice.

Sounds familiar? It should, as does their proscription for a fourth revolution which seems, well, well worn at this point. Efficiency, smaller government, a constraining of democracy, and so on is all in the mix. None of that is terribly novel.

And although they warn against – say – the Chinese approach, and to a lesser extent that of Singapore, i.e. authoritarian polities, it’s difficult not to get the feeling reading the book that there’s a certain admiration for certain aspects of the way those states conduct themselves. Indeed there’s a real sense that that constraining of democracy, as mentioned above, is central to what they proscribe.

For much of the book the problem is that statements that are very open to interpretation are simply taken as read. Hence the state is in decline, hence only significant injections of private ‘expertise’ will save it, hence it is irreformable from within. There are a number of modish nods – they support Obamacare for example and make great play of the idea that they’re not anti-state. But… but… the sort of state they seem to prefer would be remarkably limited.

There’s considerable angst expressed over entitlements – child benefit and suchlike, and as it happens there’s an element of truth in some of those criticisms. Yet their answer is means testing and they demonstrate no curiosity or interest at all in the one proven mechanism for clawing back monies in respect of such entitlements, that being the income tax net.

One review online makes a point in it that is very very important, that there’s a desperate staleness and over-famliiarity at the heart of the ideas in the book. This is, after all, the same message that we’ve heard since the late 1970s, in essence a somewhat modified Thatcherite/Reagan approach. It is curious in the extreme that a supposed fourth revolution is meant to appear on foot of that. Their rationale is that the Thatcher approach was only half-implemented, but one has to wonder how accurate that is.

But the attempt to dress this up in new clothes fails. I think there’s a lesson there. The current period has seen, as never before in the last three or so decades, efforts, of varying effectiveness, to provide counter-narratives in political form to the prevailing orthodoxy. Certainly there appears to be some appetite for change. How much? Well, that’s a different question again, isn’t it?

What you want to say – 27th July 2016 July 27, 2016

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As always, following on Dr. X’s suggestion, it’s all yours, “announcements, general discussion, whatever you choose”, feel free.

EU expansion July 26, 2016

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Tom McGurk writes in the SBP that Turkish accession to the EU must be a ‘generation away’ following the coup. What is odd about this is that that was pretty much the consensus well before the coup. Indeed it would be difficult to see any real prospects of Turkey joining the EU before the late 2020s at the earliest. The negotiations process is so slow, and entails so many issues that one would have to wonder if the words ‘if ever’ should be added.

As to further expansion elsewhere. Difficult to believe that Brexit hasn’t dealt that a very short sharp shock.

The future of work… July 26, 2016

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Good Planet Money podcast here on UPS and aspects of technology introduced to their delivery drivers. Let’s just say that it is – as one individual said, almost big brother-like, in terms of surveillance and the demands made. Delivery times are assessed down to the second, the way in which vehicles are driven likewise, even the positioning of pens in pockets, all are assessed and stream-lined.

It’s disturbing how pervasive and invasive this technology is. How it shapes workers so very specifically and constrains them. And how far from being a liberation it becomes a straight-jacket.

And yet, as the podcast noted, these are workers who have certain specific advantages. They are – first and foremost – in a union, all work practices are introduced or extended by agreement. Secondly the nature of their work means they cannot be outsourced abroad. Thirdly, as of yet, drones and suchlike cannot replace them.

Of course technology functions in different ways at different times. It doesn’t have to be this way, but the duality of their situation is thought-provoking.

‘Ambiguous’ July 26, 2016

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…is a good way of putting it as regards the latest from the British government on the border. But where is the surprise given that this is a Tory government or that their concern for the negative outcomes of a harder border or issues surrounding the dispensation on this island will almost certainly be of a low priority?

News as entertainment… July 26, 2016

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I’m not gone on Freakonomics, noted that before. But this intrigued me, a piece on “Why We Really Follow the News?”. Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death had an interesting analysis that it was essentially those in the middle and parts of the working class who tended to follow news and buy newspapers back in the day, rather than those who were too constrained financially or otherwise or those who were in elites who were comfortable that they were in control. I paraphrase, but there’s a certain degree of truth. What’s fascinating is that so many of those interviewed tend to believe that news consumption does keep well informed while simultaneously having a significant entertainment value. But this didn’t mean that following politics was directly equivalent to following a sport. Even if politics was entertaining it had other important components – self-interest and so on. Some argued it was down to externalities… arguing that it benefits the individual and the world by knowing the consequence of votes, as against following sports. This isn’t to say it’s wrong to follow sports (or music or whatever) simply that they are different.

There was some intriguing stuff about why people vote – a lot of it about not voting for one as distinct from positively voting for another. And I guess many of us on the left who will never have cast a preference for a party that has gone into government, that would be my experience anyhow, that wouldn’t be an unfamiliar experience. It’s almost like damage limitation.

THE CORK VOLUNTEER’S PIPE BAND, ATTENDING THE 1954 WOLFE TONE ANNUAL BODENSTOWN COMMEMORATION. July 25, 2016

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At Irish Republican Marxist History Project some great photographs of:

… Pat Murphy (Marsh) and Eddie Collins (Blackrock) members of the Cork Volunteer’s Pipe Band, attending the 1954 Wolfe Tone Annual Commemoration in Bodenstown, Co, Kildare. In addition Murphy and Collins were comrades of Cork Socialist Republican’s Jim Lane and Brendan O’Neill.

An analysis from a ‘remain’ position… July 25, 2016

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…deeply cynical, but perhaps not incorrect, where William Keegan writes in the Observer, in relation to the hypocrisies and contradictions that are evident in the Tory approach to the issue.

We seem to be in the absurd position where those of our leaders such as Theresa May, who were in the Remain camp, are saying “Brexit means Brexit” while the Brexit lot are trying to say, “Well, Brexit does not really mean Brexit. After all, we still want all the advantages of the club we have rejected.” And, of course, the shamelessly meretricious Nigel Farage continues to go to the European parliament to collect his dirty EU money.

And this, in particular, I think is spot on:

…what does Brexit mean?

Apparently, it means keeping all the hard-won advantages of the single market – largely a British initiative in the mid-1980s – while fooling those people whose prime concern was immigration that “something will be done”.

Seeing the Tories squirm as they try to square that circle will be entertaining. But for workers both in the UK, this island and further abroad, perhaps not quite so much.

Another report on abysmal business practices in the UK July 24, 2016

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…in the offing, as noted in the Observer business today.

…on Monday, with the publication of the investigation into the collapse of BHS, which the BIS committee has conducted jointly with Frank Field’s work and pensions gang.

It is hard to envisage this making great reading for Sir Philip Green, the former owner of BHS, or Dominic Chappell, the “Walter Mitty” who Green decided was a suitable buyer of a business safeguarding 11,000 jobs and a £571m pension deficit. Westminster gossips suggest the BHS report will be even punchier than Sports Direct.

Oh dear.

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