Faltering Flattening

There are so many aspects of “Levelling Up” which are vulnerable to harsh criticism that it’s surprising that the Conservative Government sticks to this spending project. “Levelling Up” was a project started by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but it has been carried on by successive UK Governments.

The Government’s project is a political project. It’s a slogan. Maybe that should be no surprise.

One explanation for the project’s continuation can be found in Brexit. Whereas the regions of the UK received funds from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) matched by UK Government funds that source of funding was lost upon EU exit.

Redistribution is not new. A drive to improve social and economic conditions is popular, in principle. Creating more opportunities for areas suffering hardship makes sense. That said, this centralised distribution project is flawed in multiple ways.

For a start, any vox pop will show that no one really knows what it means. Some say that “Levelling Up” is when the Government spends in deprived or “left behind” areas.

Even this is doggy territory. There are without doubt areas of deprivation that need assistance. We need to ask, is a beauty contest run by Ministers the best way of lifting those areas out of their disadvantaged condition? Talk of “left behind” areas after decades of the stigmatisation of certain parts of the UK is hardly a positive way of regeneration.

I think the “Levelling Up” agenda has continued in its current form because of the oil tanker effect. That is the propensity of big spending initiatives to roll on regardless because they are difficult to stop. With little time to run to the next General Election (GE) inventing and implementing something new and more effective is just too politically risky.

This second round of funding, worth more than £2 billion, sounds like a lot of money but set in the context of annual UK Government spending of over £1000 billion[1] that doesn’t seem so much. Given that local government spending has been so heavily curtailed in recent years it is reasonable to say that this “Levelling Up” funding is a poor attempt at a replacement.

When central government picks projects to fund on this basis, it’s saying that it knows better than local government. Or is it that it knows how to win votes better than local government?


[1] In 2020/21 the government of the United Kingdom had a total managed expenditure of over 1053.3 billion British, an increase of over a 100 billion pounds when compared with 2018/19. Statista

Poor law making

If you thought the Truss era was an aberration, and that the UK’s Conservative Party had learned a lesson, then please think again. Wheels set in motion by the ideologue Jacob Rees-Mogg MP are still spinning.

The Retained European Union Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill is trundling its way through the UK Parliament. The Government Bill will next be prepared for its 3rd reading in the House of Commons[1]. The Conservative Government has brought forward this Bill to revoke, reform or revise all the remaining law in the UK that was formerly derived from the UK’s membership of the EU. This turns on its head the normal approach to changing UK legislation. Revocation is automatic unless there’s an intervention by a Minister.

UK civil aviation depends on several thousand pages of legislation derived from EU law[2]. Much of this law was created with considerable contributions from the UK. There’s hardly any if any advocates for automatic revocation of current aviation legislation. Even the thought of this action sends a shiver down the spin of aviation professionals. Generations of them have worked to harmonise rules and regulations to ensure that this most international of industries works efficiently.

Unless amended, the Government’s EU Retained Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill[3] could turn out to be an absolute disaster. Even those who have an irrational wish to eliminate any and every past, present, or future link to Europe must come up with a practical alternative and do this in an incredibly short time. Without a consistent, stable, and effective framework civil aviation in the UK will grind to a halt. Again, even those who have an unsound need to change for change’s sake will be hitting a vital industry hard, as it is only just getting back on its feet after the COVID pandemic and now setting out to meet tough environmental standards.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when this poor Bill reaches the House of Lords. Once again, the country will be relying on the upper house to add some common sense to this draft law.  

POST 1: The 3rd reading debate makes it clear that the Government is unsure which laws are covered by the Bill. If the Ministers responsible for this legislation do not themselves know its extent, how can anyone expect civil servants working on this legislation to know the full extent of change? A most strange state of affairs Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill (Third si – Hansard – UK Parliament

POST 2: Retained EU law lays down rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations in the UK Commission Regulation (EU) No 748/2012 of 3 August 2012 laying down implementing rules for the airworthiness and environmental certification of aircraft and related products, parts and appliances, as well as for the certification of design and production organisations (recast) (Text with EEA relevance) (legislation.gov.uk)


[1] https://bills.parliament.uk/bills/3340

[2] https://www.eiag.org.uk/paper/future-retained-eu-law/

[3] https://www.gov.uk/government/news/the-retained-eu-law-revocation-and-reform-bill-2022

Where’s the common sense?

It’s two whole years since the end of the UK’s Brexit transitional period. That’s since the day when the UK fully withdrew from the European Union (EU). Have we seen any, I mean any, Brexit benefits from the day of the Brexit referendum? The sad truth is – No. We are worse-off. Investments haven’t happened, political turmoil persists and bureaucratic barriers have grown.

Certainly, it’s right to say that British politicians have been busy. They have found lots of targets to blame for this continuing underperformance. You name it; Remainers, young people, environmentalists, protesters, strikers, human rights, overseas aid, COVID, flu, global economic downturn, energy prices, war in Europe, Biden’s administration, China, France, Germany, hot weather, cold weather, the list goes on and on and on. The Brexiter’s blame list is an exceptionally long one. Add to this the fact that Boris Johnson comes in for caustic blame. Often strongest from the people who trumpeted his ascendancy to power in 2019.

Although we should not dwell too much on the past, it’s as well to not let what has happened in this last year be swept under the carpet. Remember 2022, after 44 days, Conservative Liz Truss resigned as British Prime Minister (PM). She was the first choice of the members of the political party most entrenched in Brexit thinking. This extraordinary farce made the country look it was run by like a bunch of incompetent fools, of ill-disciplined fanatics, of preposterous comics.

The blatant dishonesty behind Brexit can not be denied. A recent example was the Government statement on having not attained a promised boost from new trade agreements. A ridiculous political line about not signing deals until they are right for the country is a brazen smoke screen to cover-up a significant lack of achievement[1].

We need some serious common sense injected into our politics. The UK is not going away. The EU is not going away. Both share an immense common interest. Both are faced with similar challenges and threats. Both share the same values.

Brexit has added to costs, adding to inflation, labour shortage and under performance. Most people[2] now accept this analysis and want to see serious change[3]. The more both Conservatives and the Labour Party cling on to the mythology of Brexit, the more damage will be done. Keir Starmer has confirmed that the Labour Party will not seek for Britain to re‑join the EU. What a reckless folly from a would be PM.

POST: referendum – latest news, breaking stories and comment – The Independent


[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-63808657

[2] https://www.statista.com/statistics/987347/brexit-opinion-poll/

[3] https://yougov.co.uk/topics/politics/explore/issue/European_Union

Omnishambles

Ten years ago, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) Word of the Year was a word that is as usable as ever. It wasn’t brought to the fore by social media. At that time, social media hadn’t bitten such a big chunk out of our attention time. We even had enough time to sit in front of the box on an evening. That said, the box hasn’t faded into the background entirely. The massive screens displayed in electrical stores remain a standard part of a typical living room.

“The Thick of It[1]” ran for four series and captured the insanity of Government spin-doctoring and fanatical incompetence. Unapologetically self-indulgent Ministers and their aides scuttled around reacting to every small vibration coming from the media. This was masterful fiction but it’s closeness to reality is the story of 2022.

In 2012, the media political arena adopted “Omnishambles” as shorthand for chaotic behaviour on a large scale. Although it started life as a way of describing the Labour Party’s muddles and confusions before 2010, it has a universal applicability. Westminster can be a whirlpool of volte-faces, embarrassments and unfathomable twists and turns. 2022 ends with none of this diminished.

So, what have we to look forward to in 2023? This winter of discontent[2] is mostly likely to escalate. The impact of inflation and energy bills are like an erupting volcano. A few minor earthquakes, then an explosive plum and finally the top gets blown off the mountain.

Brexit and the pandemic have left people feeling exhausted. So, to see their standard of living diminish as this Conservative Government shamelessly wobbles on regardless, then this becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

The Prime Minister may try to mine what popularity there is in the public mind, but this is not the time when a new Margaret Thatcher[3] will step forward. This is where simple analogies with the past quickly unravel. In this case the Conservatives own the problems. There’s no denying their responsibility for the last 12-years.

To restore the hope, that things can improve, a new formula is needed. People are not looking for perfection but a convincing vison, some basic honesty, and robust resolve. 


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Thick_of_It_episodes

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06yc8k4

[3] https://www.businessinsider.com/thatcher-and-the-winter-of-discontent-2013-4?r=US&IR=T

Tramline

The time for change is now. It’s not much more than a year before a UK General Election. Sadly, we are seeing only reactive thinking from the two largest British political parties. Both bounce off each other like a game of ping pong. There’s a conversation going on across the country about the need for change, but the Conservatives and Labour Party are stuck on a tram line.

“It’s the economy, stupid.[1]” I remember reading James Carville’s book about Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. It’s about the great political motivator of how people feel about the amount of money they have in their pockets. Probably shouldn’t put it like that anymore since we tap every purchase with a card and local bank branches are closing. Cash is no longer king.

As an example of the terrible economic damage that Brexit is doing, we need only look at trade figures between the UK and Germany[2]. There’s been a huge fall in trade between the UK and Germany during the first period of the post-Brexit trading relationship. So far, the impact of the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) has been negative.

Knowing the facts, the Conservatives and Labour Party still parrot the nonsense that they know how to make Brexit work. It’s a peculiar dance around an economic corpse. Where both political parties point fingers at each other for ruining the dance.

Except for trade specialists, the British media are being inarticulate about the failings of Brexit. It’s as if there’s a distinct fear of being called out and ostracised. Many of those who should be speaking out are sitting on their hands. Maybe this is the dull precursor to change since we don’t know what the public mood will be in a year’s time.

Brexit does not negate the facts of geographic proximity, globalisation and decades of close economic partnership. Close European links will continue and need to be nurtured. Politicians who have wilfully attempted to destroy the bridges built between the UK and the EU belong to the past.

A Government that continues to endanger more than just back pockets and living standards shouldn’t win another term of office – should they? Will people vote for candidates who plan to improve our dismal economic outlook? Those who will tell the truth about Brexit. Today, neither the Conservatives nor Labour Party are telling the truth.

POST: What can we know about the cost of Brexit so far? | Centre for European Reform (cer.eu)


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/It%27s_the_economy,_stupid

[2] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/56347096

To see

It’s the most difficult of challenges. Trying to see things as they are rather than how you would wish them to be. I came to that conclusion much because of my work on aviation safety management. Collecting data, doing analysis, and trying to distil what’s important and what’s not.

Data speaks. It tells you things about what has happened in the past. That gives a clue to what might happen in the future. Although, estimates and forecasts are derided by some people they are essential in a technocratic society like ours. Results can be inconvenient and embarrassing. Not paying heed to them can compound any difficulties a thousand-fold.

It’s not sane to use complex technology without doing some projections into the future as to its possible implications. I know there’s a contradiction in that we have adopted digital interconnections without a great deal of thought as to what can happen. That proved to be a very bad move in at least one fictional depiction of the future[1]. The possibility that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could move against our general interests is real.

That aside, my general point was on the more unemotional and objective view that can be taken of evidence gathered for a purpose. Taking that and then imposing dogma and prejudice on what has been learnt can be down right dangerous.

I found a backup for this view coming from British philosopher Bertrand Russell. He provided advice when he was interviewed in 1959 by John Freeman for the BBC’s Face to Face programme[2]. The great man came up with this message to future generations a year before I was born. Russell having been born in 1872 had seen so much change in his life he was well placed to conclude as he did.

Good advice “ask yourself only what are the facts” and what they show. He’s not saying we must be automatons. Judgements must still be made in relation to the facts. There will always be an ethical dimension to those judgments. There are most often multiple choices.

Russell foresaw more societal interconnection and interdependency but left us before the world wide web took-off. In social media venues like Facebook and Twitter tolerance and care for the facts are often found to be lacking. This does have a profound impact on political thinking. It gives legitimacy to complete folly. Dare I bring up the subject of Brexit?

My advice – Try to see things as they are rather than how you would wish them to be.


[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0407362/

[2] https://youtu.be/ihaB8AFOhZo

Air Safety List

A long time ago in a far away place. Well, that’s how it seems, and it was more than 17 years ago.

A flight ban was placed on Turkish airline Onur Air back in 2005. At that time, I was in my first full year in Cologne, Germany building up the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). We were well on the road managing the handover of responsibilities from activities of the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAA) to EASA. However, the European legislation that empowered EASA was in a first and most basic version. This was planned to be so because taking on aircraft certification work was a big enough task to start the new Agency.

The JAA had coordinated an aircraft ramp inspection programme and maintained a centralised database for its members. This was where a member state would inspect an aircraft arriving from a third country to ensure that international rules were fully met. The SAFA programme was launched by the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) in 1996. SAFA standing for Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft.

Onur Air failed such inspections, and the Dutch government imposed a flight ban[1]. Similar bans were imposed by Germany, Switzerland, and France. However, if my reflections are correct the airline moved operations to Beligum where there was no ban. As you might imagine this caused concern amongst EU Member States. Where everyone had agreed to cooperate on aviation safety matters there seemed to be a degree of incoherence.

Long before the first EASA Basic Regulation, which by the way, didn’t address this subject, there was Regulation 3922/91[2]. I remember a hastily convened committee composed of representatives of the Member States and chaired by the European Commission (EC). The “3922[3]” committee hadn’t sat for years but then it sprung into action in response to the lack of a consistent approach to airline safety bans across Europe. I was there representing EASA.

So, the EU Air Safety List was born and the associated legislation[4] to support it. Even though the UK has left the EU, and left EASA this safety list remains the basis of the UK’s own Air Safety List[5]. Adding and removing air carriers and States that fail to meet internationally agreed safety standards is work that no one State should do alone.

[For safety’s sake, this should not be one of the parts of adopted EU legislation the UK Parliament wants to sweep away with its planned new Brexit law].

POST: Current list The EU Air Safety List (europa.eu)


[1] https://www.expatica.com/nl/general/dutch-lift-ban-on-onur-air-38258/

[2] Council Regulation (EEC) No 3922/91 of 16 December 1991 on the harmonization of technical requirements and administrative procedures in the field of civil aviation.

[3] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=OJ%3AL%3A1991%3A373%3A0004%3A0008%3AEN%3APDF

[4] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32005R2111&rid=6

[5] https://www.caa.co.uk/commercial-industry/airlines/licensing/requirements-and-guidance/third-country-operator-certificates/

Migration

Should we dismiss Sunak’s and Starmer’s recent statements as political posturing as they look towards the next UK General Election (GE)? There’s an effort to stand on a tight rope or draw nil – nil. Both by softening attitudes towards the European Union (EU) but at the same time throwing the occasional policy red meat to the entrenched Tory and Labour Eurosceptics.

It’s a strange game of chicken? Both major British political parties are fractured by Brexit. Both would wish to see that fracture grow in the other.To date the bigger fracture is in the Tory party. That should not be a surprise given the large number of UKIP and Brexit Party supporters it has integrated into its core. Old fashioned “one nation” Tories must feel lonely indeed. Then again, former Corbyn supporting Labour socialists must feel an equal loneliness.

It’s like, it can be said that all new cars look the same. The migration towards one political formula, that is believed to be mainstream, even if it isn’t, has become irresistible by Sunak and Starmer. It’s a 180-degree change in political strategy, putting the Truss debacle behind them both blue and red now want to occupy the same political space.

There’s no doubt we all want a more prosperous society. It’s how to get there given the perceived political constraints that becomes a great barrier. The power to make changes rests with businesses, industry, and those in political office. This week the CBI’s membership has invited both blue and red to make their pitch[1]. Two days of high-profile speeches are taking place in Birmingham. Both parties are aiming low.

Listening to Jonathan Reynolds, Shadow Secretary of State for Business and Industrial Strategy there’s little to choose between Labour and the Tories. Against freedom of movement. Both pandering to their Eurosceptics. Both peddling policies that look like variations on a theme. Playing as if the stands are empty. As if no one is watching.

Today, indications are that there will be a large anti-Tory vote at the next GE. They deserve to loose. However, if between now and then both blue and red make themselves look the same to the electorate, the winning gap may be smaller than expected.

There’s a crucial role for the Liberal Democrats and the Greens to offer a real choice of real change.


[1] https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/cbi-annual-conference-2022-watch-the-keynote-speeches-live/

Betrayal

One word that sums up this UK Conservative Government is “betrayal”. Certainly, that’s what British farming is thinking as people hear a former Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs rubbish a deal that he sold to the UK Parliament. The post-Brexit free trade deal between UK and Australia, which was much criticised when announced, is now described as a bad deal by the person who sold it. British farmers have been sold down the river.

It does say to the world that you are a complete mug if you believe anything a Conservative Cabinet Minister says. Breaking promises so blatantly has stirred up much disbelief and anger[1]. This case is especially shocking given that there was virtually no parliamentary scrutiny of the trade deal.

So, what’s Brexit advocate George Eustice’s[2] defence for such disgraceful behaviour. It’s to raise the flag of collective responsibility. In other words – I was only following orders.

Spearheading the trade deal, Liz Truss, under the leadership of Boris Johnson, it seems Eustice behaved more like a mouse than an honourable gentleman. If he truly believed that the deal between UK and Australia was a bad deal[3], he should have resigned and said so. To cling on to power these betrayers stand-up in parliament selling a deal that favours farmers in other countries.

Integrity is not just a word. Ministers should not stand-up and sell deals that they believe to be damaging[4]. Not only does it undermine trust in democratic politics but, in this case, it undermines the negotiating position for future trade deals.

Peddling an ill-conceived and appallingly enacted Brexit is immoral. Backing a party-line that is damaging to British interests criminal. Sadly, that’s where we are in 2022. This happened in the face of loud warnings being sounded. Dogma ment that Ministers activly ignored these warnings. Surely, it’s time to turn the tide on this dreadfully damaging behavour. We need a General Election – now.


[1] https://www.fwi.co.uk/news/eu-referendum/george-eustice-faces-farmer-backlash-over-trade-deal-comments

[2] Eustice stood unsuccessfully in the 1999 European Parliament Elections as a candidate for UKIP in the South West of England.

[3] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-63627801

[4] https://www.standard.co.uk/news/politics/george-eustice-australia-brexit-trade-deal-uk-b1039875.html

What next?

When I returned from German, in early 2016, I had no idea there would be a national referendum. Let alone that the referendum on European Union (EU) membership would be lost by a tiny margin and then send the UK into political and economic turmoil for years and years. It was a strange period.

As of me writing these words, the UK has had its fifth Prime Minister (PM) since the Brexit referendum. We’ve had a pandemic, the invasion of the Ukraine and the now an energy and economic crisis, not to mention an on-going climate crisis.

I don’t say it was, but if Brexit was a politically inevitability there couldn’t have been a stupider time to do it in the history of the country. There we were, having all but recovered, remarkably quickly from the banking crisis of 2008 and then we voluntarily threw asunder the UK’s most important trading relationship. There even seemed a time of relative national contentment as London hosted the most spectacular Olympic games in 2012. That was washed away like a flood of foolishness.

As idioms go: “here’s nowt so queer as folk[1]” about sums it up. That could be a political maxim for our times. It may be a particularly English trait. I absent my Scottish, Welsh, and Irish friends from this classification. It goes like this, I’d say, when all’s well it’s a time to do something daft. That feeling should be resisted as much as possible.

The result of 2016’s fantasy is that the relationship between the UK and EU is torn by tension, disputes, and disappointments. Instead of everyone benefiting from the excellent innovations of the Single Market and freedom of movement in Europe, the UK continues to pedal backwards.

There’s coming a moment when change might be possible. I am a great believer in disproportionate relationships. It’s like the statistical curiosity of buses arriving in threes. There are periods of time when things seem to be stuck on a tramline and nothing interesting changes. Then a moment of transition occurs and suddenly new possibility crop-up.

Why do I say this? Well, polls, such as they are, are showing a significant public willingness to reconsider what happened in June 2016[2]. Not only that but because of the “Truss debacle” the advocates of Brexit are on the back-foot. They did trash the economy with little care or concern.

With a UK General Election (GE) looming there’s a strong likelihood that anyone shouting for more Brexit will suffer the same fate as Trump’s red wave (or lack of it) in the United States (US). This will upset hard core Brexiters, but in all fairness, they have had plenty of time to show the benefits of their beloved project. They have shown none. In fact, we continue to go backwards under the yoke of blind Brexit dogma.

The UK and the EU can greatly improve their current relationship if they both choose. We have common problems, common challenges, and common threats. It would be of great benefit to all Europeans if we worked more closely together.

POST: The evidence points to one conclusion Why is the UK struggling more than other countries? – BBC News


[1] This phrase is typically used to emphasise someone’s particularly behaviour. (“Nowt” is a Northern English variation on “naught.”)

[2] https://bylinetimes.com/2022/11/02/brexit-polls-uk-public-want-to-rejoin-eu/