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Tuesday 30 September 2014

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On the basis of Lord Ashcroft's " snapshot ", delivered to the Conservative conference yesterday, the number of losses [in Conservative seats] could extend to the point where Labour gains a comfortable working majority at the general election.

At the moment, we're getting very close to Booker's Law cut-off: whoever is ahead six month before the election tends to win it. So far, it doesn't look good, and with recent events, it doesn't look as if the Tories are going to make it. 

As we get closer to the election, Miliband must be feeling more and more secure, so much so that we're not hearing anything from him about a referendum. This has become private Tory grief.

Looking at this pragmatically, the chances of a 2017 referendum are receding. But, if not then, when? The next window of opportunity would seem to be 2022, and even that requires a lot of things to come together.

Failing a referendum, we are looking at what could loosely be called the "UKIP model" – where Farage's party thinks it can get enough people into Westminster to hold the balance of power, and force the party in government (presumably the Tories) into taking us out of the EU.

In the meantime, we suffer five years of Labour, while – one assumes - the Conservatives backbenchers tear themselves apart.

But even if the "UKIP model" had a chance of working, it could not happen in a hurry. We are, thus, no closer to leaving the EU. In fact, the whole idea of withdrawing seems to be receding, almost to vanishing point. There is no satisfactory end game in sight, and no play that brings us closer to an exit.

This morning, David Cameron on Sky News Sunrise articulated the conundrum. "The fundamental point", he said, is this - the next election - is going to be a straight choice. Do you want Labour in power, who haven't learnt the lessons of the past, or do you want the Conservatives to continue with our plan?"

Responding to Mr Reckless's claims that his promised renegotiation of Britain's EU membership would not deliver real reform, Mr Cameron said: "He can say what he likes, but the truth is if you want that 'in-out' referendum on Europe - and I think Mark Reckless does - if you go to UKIP you make it less likely that you will get it, because you will end up with Ed Miliband in Downing Street, Labour in office, and they won't give you a referendum".

That's the perplexing thing. All those who are so quick to discount Mr Cameron's referendum don't seem to have any credible alternative. We are in the land of aspiration, with a timescale stretching to infinity. And that, to me, is not an improvement.

There ought to be a law against it.


Richard North 30/09/2014 link

Monday 29 September 2014

Conservative MPs who defect to the UKIP should be treated "with great respect", says Owen Paterson. He also said the party had to make it clear to MPs tempted to defect that "protest will not get you what you want".

Asked on Sky News how many more Tory MPs might defect after Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless he said: "I have no idea", adding: "They are misguided sadly. I think we should be respectful of their decisions - they have set a new constitutional precedent of standing down unlike Shaun Woodward and Quentin Davies who just pushed off to the Labour party".

Mr Paterson went on to say: "They are setting themselves up to be voted back which one has to respect and I think we should treat all those who are currently not supporting us with great respect. But we also have to confront the fact that frankly they are wrong".

"We have to politely point out to people – many of whom are good, sensible Tories – who are minded to support UKIP, that they are mistaken. We have to make really clear why they are mistaken in a polite, logical and measured manner and get them back".

He also hit out at Mr Reckless' suggestion that the UK could curb immigration by leaving the EU. "When you see Mark Reckless saying getting out of the EU would solve it, I'm afraid his facts are wrong". He pointed out that Switzerland and Norway have higher immigrant populations than the UK, despite not being EU members.

Asked if he might defect, Paterson says: "It's absolutely laughable. How am I going to deliver (my) agenda through any other organisation apart from the Conservative party?"


Richard North 29/09/2014 link

Monday 29 September 2014

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While Mr Carswell might have the approval of his voters, it seems that Mr Reckless isn't getting the same treatment. Instead, he has been forced to abandon plans for a walkabout in Rochester with Farage, after facing a hostile reception from local media and angry Tory activists, then having to escape through the side door of a pub.

He also got a rough ride from Tory chairman Grant Shapps. In Birmingham, Shapps told the Conference, "We have been betrayed. Every Conservative in this hall, and everyone you represent: We all know individual MPs don't succeed on their own. They do so by standing on the shoulders of others. Your shoulders".

Shapps added: "People who volunteered for Mr Reckless, they supported him as a Conservative. People who pounded the streets, they supported him as a Conservative. People who donated money from their own pockets, who worked tirelessly for him, they supported him as a Conservative. They did so in good faith".

However, the former Tory MP insists he was trying to "keep faith with my constituents and keep my promises to them", but his experience raises the interesting possibility that he won't get re-elected, making his gesture a career-ending move.

This is not a prediction, by the way – just an observation. We have yet to see any local opinion polls, and it is always possible that Mr Reckless is wildly popular and will romp home under his new colours.

But there is also the possibility that defections cut short promising careers. This might dampen the ardour of potential copycats, and stem what some hope is becoming a major political realignment.

Instead, we might be looking at a high water mark, making Mr Carswell a very lonely man in Parliament, and cutting short a political revolution. And, in a topsy-turvy world, we could even have David Cameron campaigning for Britain to leave the EU – or not.

Whichever way the dice falls, though, politics just got a little bit more interesting.


Richard North 29/09/2014 link

Sunday 28 September 2014

Modern conservatism is not about dealing with UKIP, says David Davis. It's about returning to core values, and promoting policies to help conservative supporters.

He's right in one sense – that the Tories will never win an argument with UKIP. That party operates on an elemental level that has 2,000 supporters chanting "UKIP! UKIP!" in the manner of a football crowd. It could just as easily have been "Hail Victory!"

On the other hand, there is that other political strain – conservatism. And real conservatives can do something that UKIP can never do. Individually and collectively, they can develop policy, including – in the fullness of time – a credible exit plan from the EU.

With that in mind, I was asked recently to pen some observations about the Farage Party, and was able to suggest that the essence of UKIP is negativity. Members know what they don't like, and are united in mutual detestation of the things they abhor.

Beyond this stultifying negativity, though, they have no idea what they actually want, and could not even being to unite around common objectives. There is no common ground, no ideology that could help bind them into a political force. They agree on how much they hate certain things, but there is nothing at all to define UKIP as a political party.

Thus, UKIP may hate the EU, and indeed they are keen to express that hatred at every opportunity. But while the EU is often merely the EUSSR, when it isn't the Fourth Reich, the real hatred is reserved for the "political classes" who support it, the "LibLabCon" traitors, quislings and worse.

In terms of how real conservatives should deal with UKIP, therefore, the most obvious thing to do is accentuate the positives. Unlike UKIP, a real conservative has a vision of what society should be, what the nation should look like, and what is needed to achieve a fairer, better society for all.

As David Davis indicates, therefore, rather than attack UKIP, real conservatives should be stating their case more clearly. Over term, the leadership has betrayed its own membership, which is why so many Tories switched to UKIP in the first place, but this does not stop individuals holding the torch of real conservatism aloft.

Filling the gap is vitally necessary: even if UKIP did get power, it wouldn't know what to do with it. In the 20 years of its existence, it hasn't even been able to devise or publish a credible – or any – EU exit plan.

The reason for this strange absence, though, is highly revealing about the state of UKIP as a party. Even though it is effectively a one-man band dominated by Nigel Farage, at grass roots level it is disorganised bundle of embittered warring tribes.

Within this, it harbours a great secret of which few are aware, that Farage is in thrall to a hard core "Praetorian Guard". But they are not guardians of policy – rather they represent the reactionary inner core of UKIP which demands immediate, unilateral exit from the EU, the so-called "Ollivander" option.

To this sad, dysfunctional crew, the EU treaties are "illegal" and those who signed it are "traitors". Any idea of negotiation or agreement is an anathema. They would sooner see the British economy crash and burn, with ships rusting in port,  than accept a deal with Brussels.

So powerful is this group within UKIP that Farage cannot dictate a rational exit plan. To do so would trigger massive splits and blood-letting on a scale not seen since 2001. Then, dissent over the leadership tore the party apart, and triggered the series of events that has cemented Farage in place as the Supreme Leader ever since.

Then, no one was interested in the internal politics of UKIP. Today, such a rupture would not be so private, and Farage knows full well how slender his grip on power really is. He cannot dictate policy because he dare not.

For real conservatives (as opposed to the ersatz Cameronian version), this gives them one of their most powerful weapons against UKIP. For historical reasons, the official Conservative Party is committed to supporting the prime minister's attempts to renegotiate a relationship with "Europe", but even Mr Cameron has acknowledged that those negotiations could fail.

In anticipation of that failure, real conservatives need to do something UKIP cannot – entertain a serious, wide-ranging debate of what a post-EU Britain would look like, and then produce a comprehensive exit plan, setting out the steps needed to make the vision of an independent sovereign Britain possible.

At the very least, such a plan would show up Mr Cameron's weakness. For, if there is a credible alternative to EU membership on the table, one where the UK can continue trading with its European partners and co-operate on issues of mutual interest, then it would be much harder for him to say he had won a good deal from Brussels.

What goes for an EU exit plan then has equal force with the vexed issue of immigration. Following the collapse of the BNP, Farage has quite deliberately reinvented his own party as BNP-lite, in a bid to attract the Labour supporters that might otherwise have gravitated to his competition.

But, to appeal to the racist tendency that marked out the BNP, Farage had to present the party as anti-immigration, his only policy being to pull up the drawbridge and let in a tiny number of people on license. His party thus invokes images of the white cliffs of Dover, of a fortress Britain that harks back to 1940 when the UK was isolated and the Hun was ranged across the Channel. This is the UKIP vision of heaven.

In making its pitch, UKIP is in fact exploiting a global problem. There is not a developed country in the world that is not under pressure from migration, and many less-developed countries are also suffering serious problems: one just needs to look at Turkey and the flood of Syrian refugees and Kurds that has crossed its border.

As for migration from central and eastern Europe, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the demolition of the iron curtain, does anyone think that, after nearly 50 years of separation, there was not going to be migratory pressure to the affluent West?

The EU aside, countries outside the EU, including Norway and Switzerland, have had to deal with massive inflows, and have had to deal with may of the same problems that we have had to confront.

Thus, while in the UK, migration level is 13 percent, in Norway it is 14.9 percent; in Switzerland it is 23 percent. In Australia, which is the poster child for UKIP's immigration policy, it stood at 6.2 million people (27.3 percent) in 2012, up from 4.7 million people in 2003 (23.6 percent).

Even outside the EU, therefore, we would have been troubled by the global wave of migration. In or out of the EU, the situation needs managing. UKIP has no answers to this – its immigration policy is as slender and as incoherent as its EU exit plan. Real conservatives, on the other hand, are in a position to host a genuine debate, on real answers to problems which so far has eluded the global community.

That is the singular difference between UKIP and real conservatives – answers. UKIP hasn't any, and has no ability to produce them, even though, over the next five years, its 24 MEPs will cost the British taxpayer nearly £140 million in salaries, overheads and expenses. For that money, all UKIP seems to be able to do is tell us what it doesn't want. Real conservatives, on the other hand, have the ability to answer the nation's needs.

Then, in one other issue above all else, the difference stands. While UKIP whinges about being in the EU, even the official Conservatives have outflanked them. They have promised an "in-out" referendum.

If UKIP members are genuine in their desire to leave the EU, then their options at the general election are obvious. But then they will have to confront reality: do they really want to get out of the EU, or do they enjoy hating it too much to want to leave? That is the choice they are going to have to make.


Richard North 28/09/2014 link

Sunday 28 September 2014

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It says something for the climate change "crisis" that Booker is one of the few people still writing about the special meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Apart from the Middle East, he writes, there can have been few more depressing places to be in the world than that meeting, last Tuesday, where an endless queue of world leaders, including Barack Obama and David Cameron, treated an increasingly soporific audience to leaden little appeals for humanity to take urgent action to halt global warming.

The purpose of this special meeting, summoned by that dim little nonentity Ban Ki-moon, was to issue a desperate last-minute call for a legally binding treaty in Paris next year, whereby they would all agree to save the planet through an 80 percent cut in those CO2 emissions, which are inseparable from almost all the activities of modern civilisation.

For days the usual cheerleaders, such as the BBC and Channel 4 News, had been beating the drum for this "historic" and "important" gathering. Hundreds of thousands of activists from all over the world, joined by Mr Ban in a baseball cap, on Sunday brought the streets of New York to a halt.

When the great day came, The Guardian published a 43-page running blog, reporting all the speeches from the likes of some Bosnian telling us that his country has had more rain this year than in any for more than a century (did global warming really start that long ago?).

The President of Kiribati said, "I've been talking about climate change so long I've lost my voice", although he was still somehow able to explain that his tiny island nation in the middle of the Pacific is sinking beneath the waves, despite satellite studies showing that sea levels in the area have actually been falling.

As one speaker after another overran their allotted four minutes, even The Guardian could not hide the fact that no one had anything new or interesting to say.

"The most powerful speech" apparently came from Leonardo DiCaprio, which recalled a claim made more than 20 years ago by that other Hollywood star, Robert Redford, when he said, on global warming, that it was "time to stop researching and to start acting". This prompted Richard Lindzen, the physicist and climate-change sceptic, to observe wryly that it seemed "a reasonable suggestion for an actor to make".

The biggest excitement of the day was the news flash from England that a gaggle of Greenpeace activists had hijacked a train carrying coal to a Nottinghamshire power station.

Part of the meeting's purpose was to demand that the world's richer nations must honour their pledge at Cancún in 2010 to contribute $100 billion a year to help poorer countries combat climate change. When The Guardian's blog totted up the cash promised – and despite $5 million pledged by Luxembourg – there was nothing from Obama or Cameron.

Most notably absent among the 120 "heads of government" present were those from China and India, two of the biggest CO2 emitters in the world. And, of course, this conveyed precisely why Mr Ban's shindig was as much an empty charade as that far greater fiasco in Copenhagen in 2009, when it became evident that there will never be a global treaty, because the world’s fastest-developing nations, such as China and India, have never had any intention of signing one.

As he showed in his history of the great climate scare, The Real Global Warming Disaster, published just before Copenhagen, the scientific basis for this scare was already falling apart, as temperatures were not rising as the computer models had predicted.

The real disaster from all this, he argued, was not the imagined apocalypse of the world frying, as ice caps melted and sea levels soared (thanks to Antarctica, there is more polar sea ice today than at any time since records began). It was the response of all those deluded politicians who had fallen for the scare.

Cameron may last week have drawn The Guardian's contempt for repeating that boast that his is "the greenest government ever". But Britain is still stuck, not least thanks to Ed Miliband's ludicrous Climate Change Act, with a skewed and make-believe energy policy far more dangerous than most people realise.

Until our politicians wake up from this mad dream to think for themselves and pull us back from this suicidal course, we are doomed. As yet there is little sign of any such miracle bringing them back to the real world.


Richard North 28/09/2014 link

Saturday 27 September 2014

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I am sure Mark Reckless thinks he's doing the right thing in joining Douglas Carswell. But, if there is to be any chance of having a referendum in 2017, then the preferred option must be a Conservative government.

If you do not believe Mr Cameron will deliver the goods, then presumably there must be some logic in destabilising the Conservative party, even if the short-term effect is to open the way for Mr Miliband. That, at least, will stop us losing a referendum – we simply won't get one.

Yet this is the man who told the Guardian late last month that he would be staying with the Tories to help David Cameron ensure he could deliver his promise of an EU referendum.

What is not clear, though, is where the end game lies - Helen Szamuely seems equally puzzled. Mr Reckless says he will retire as an MP and, following in the shoes of Mr Carswell, will stand for re-election. If he and Carswell survive, and then win again at the general, they will hold down former Conservative seats and thereby weaken the party further.

But if Mr Reckless says, "I want to get our country back", he is doing his very best to delay the process. But then, he tells us that he cannot keep his promise to control immigration as a Conservative, but could as a UKIP MP. This man is well named.


Richard North 27/09/2014 link

Saturday 27 September 2014

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There was never any doubt, in my view, that the "no"campaign would win the Scottish referendum, and for very predictable reasons. So one can only stand back and admire the chutzpah of Charles Moore who was telling us that Salmond was going to win and is now gravely instructing us on the lessons we must learn in order to avoid following in Salmond's footsteps and losing an EU referendum.

Actually, this also underlines the total isolation of people like Moore who, locked in their tiny, self-referential Westminster bubble, are completely oblivious to the fact that there are real people in this world who have been asking what we need to do to win an EU referendum, and have been coming up with the answers, long before he even begun to think about them.

For all that, I suppose it does no harm to have the man tell us that, in a referendum "people get frightened", and that, although "they admire passion", it also "makes them suspicious … They start to ask questions”.

If Moore was up to speed, he would be talking about FUD, and he would also be specifically identifying the fact that Salmond had not produced an effective exit plan, to answer the FUS, and to address issues such as which currency an independent Scotland would use.

As it is, Moore stops short with the observation that, in the end, Salmond painted himself into a corner. "In the end, he could not answer the boring, difficult, important question". In a European referendum, Moore then goes on to say, "comparable questions will arise". These "might be about free trade with Europe and being shut out of markets, or about the exact terms of our subsequent relationship with the EU".

If the Get Outers shake their fists like the wartime cartoon and shout "Very well, alone!", they might be chaired through the streets of Clacton, but they will lose.

Well, the funny thing is, we'd already guessed that. After all, in Dawlish, I was going through precisely these issues, having worked this out all by myself – along with the thousands of others who have come to exactly the same conclusions. And all by our little selves, we've worked out exactly the same thing that the great Charles Moore is now so earnestly telling us, that the status quo won.

From there on, though, Moore actually gets worse. The Get Outers, he says, "will need careful answers to everything – sober, statistical, dry, backed up by graphs and experts, business people and think tanks, women with professional careers, not just blokes in the pub".

But actually, that's the least thing we need, and if that is the way we approach the referendum campaign, we will most certainly lose. We really do not want to be trading points with the Europhiles, getting bogged down in interminable detail, boring everyone to death. We don't want to revel in the FUD – we need to neutralise it.

That's what I was saying in Dawlish. By offering a properly thought-out exit plan, we sideline the minutia and the petty-fogging details, by taking the high ground. We don't argue about whether leaving the EU costs us three or four million jobs – we by-pass the argument completely, with an exit plan that has us staying in the Single Market.

Moore, however, is determined to show that he has no real idea of how to fight a campaign, no demonstrably no ability to read one. He wants to tell us that, while the Get Outers have some advantages over Salmond, and "the two sides over Europe will be much closer together when the starting pistol is fired".

But he hesitates to make this last points, "because nothing should be done to induce a sort of pre-complacency". The present state of affairs, he says, is that there probably won't be a referendum and, if there is, the insurgents probably won't win it".

Pompous to the last, he tells us that: "Only if they really accept the magnitude of the task will they find the resources to prove this prediction wrong".

The thing is, Moore almost certainly thinks he's up with the leading edge of thinkers when he gives us the benefit of his stunning insight. His sort cannot even begin to understand that we are way ahead of him, and got to where is where he is now, years ago.

What the man doesn't appreciate, therefore, is that if we don't get a referendum in 2017, which looks less and less likely, we will be preparing for one in 2022, which we will have a better chance of winning anyway.

We have long known that we will only win it if we are better prepared than Salmond was, which is why we have been working on an exit plan for a year, and why we are already running workshops and seminars. And that is why, when it comes to it, we are actually going to win the referendum. And the likes of Moore will be the last to realise.


Richard North 27/09/2014 link

Saturday 27 September 2014

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Ambrose Evans-Pritchard has stepped into energy policy, cribbing from a UBS report on nuclear power. Actually, they aren't telling us much we didn't know, AE-P writing as he does that the cost of conventional nuclear power has spiralled to levels that can no longer be justified.

Of the two latest reactors being built in in Europe, these are European Pressurised Reactor and both have suffered major delays and cost over-runs. The Finnish 1.6GW Olkiluoto 3, the country's fifth and biggest nuclear reactor, was due to start operating in 2009, but commissioning has been delayed to 2018, with planned costs of €3.2 billion expected to double.

The other is the French Flamanville 3 1,650 MW reactor, on which work was started in 2007 by operator EDF. It was scheduled to start operations in 2012. It is still not operational, while costs have so far escalated from €3.3 to €8.5 billion.

The World Nuclear Industry Status Report for 2014 reports that, of the 66 reactors currently under construction throughout the world, 49 - mostly in Asia, but including five US reactors – have been delayed, while budgets are escalating. Average costs have risen from $1,000 per installed kilowatt to around $8,000/kW over the past decade.

So far in Britain's current nuclear power programme, only the Hinkley Point C plant – with a planned 2x1.6GW capacity - has received a site license and planning permission (as of October 2013). Meanwhile, in May 2012, EDF raised the estimated cost of a completed plant to £7 billion, up from £4.5 billion, leading one analyst to suggest that new nuclear power plants in the UK were no longer commercially viable – and that was in 2012.

The AE-P/UPS thesis though is that all the reactors being built across the world are variants of mid-20th century technology, inherently dirty and dangerous, requiring exorbitant safety controls. The argument is thus that we should turn to better reactor design, specifically that based on molten salt technology.

This, we are told, promises to slash costs by half or more, and may even undercut coal. Molten salt is much safer, and consume nuclear waste rather than creating more. What stands in the way, AE-P, asserts, is a fortress of vested interests.

However, apart from the fact that this technology is very far from proven, there is a huge gap in the thinking on nuclear technology, which rarely addressed. The fact is that big nuclear – like most major power installations – is extremely inefficient, delivering only 33-37 percent thermal efficiency.

If we are looking for a rational energy policy, it is to the more efficient use of energy that we should be looking and, of all the technologies available to achieve this, perhaps the most promising is combined heat and power (CHP) also known as cogeneration.

This is the use of plant to generate electricity and then capturing the heat that would otherwise be wasted to use for productive purposes such as space heating in buildings, or in domestic premises using district heating schemes. The technology includes the use of diesel generators, delivering as little as 500kW, or the same plant using spark-fired natural gas, to gas turbines delivering up to 50MW and steam boilers of similar size, driving steam turbines.

The value of this technology is substantial. In the EU, the current transformation efficiency in conventional thermal power and heat stations is only 49.9 percent, while CHP plants are capable of delivering over 70 percent efficiency, and the very best are rated at 90 percent.

But what is so remarkable is the way CHP is being recognised in the United States, as the most efficient way of capitalising on the shale gas bonanza, the bulk of the new plant being gas fuelled, spark ignition reciprocating engines. So important has CHP become that the Environmental Protection Agency established the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) Partnership in 2001 to encourage its exploitation.

The poster child, though, is Massachusetts, where a 2006 study of CHP potential determined that the technical potential for CHP was greater than 4,700 MW at 18,500 sites throughout the state, equal to approximately 40 percent of the electric industry's generating capacity.

In view of its potential states-wide, CHP is recognised by the EPA as an approved energy efficiency measure, making it eligible for financial incentives. From 2009 to 2011, it has delivered a commercial and industrial energy efficiency programme, making nine percent electricity savings.

On the basis of the Massachusetts studies, CHP - if adopted enthusiastically by the UK - could provide as much as 25GW of our generation capacity. That is a highly localised, dispersed capability and, if other techniques are applied to reduce demand, it could meet 50 percent of our electricity requirements, even at periods of highest demand.

The interesting thing, though, is that nuclear could follow the same route. Instead of "big nuclear", we could be looking at locally installed Small Modular Nuclear Reactors (SMNRs), which could also be used as CHP units adding to the small gas plant capacity. Between the two, they could supply about eighty percent of our electricity, giving us a massive boost in energy efficiency.

This is where we should be looking for our energy policy – not unrealised enhancements in nuclear technology that might, in the unspecified future, offer the promise of something better. The time is now, and the need is now and, as Massachusetts indicates, the technology is already with us. With or without SMNRs, this is the best option for our energy policy.


Richard North 27/09/2014 link

Friday 26 September 2014

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Travelling five hours on a Cross-Country train from Leeds to Dawlish, arriving late because of a points failure, and then finding the technology doesn't work because my computer wouldn't interface with the high-tech television screen, it not exactly the best way to start a talk on how to leave the EU.

And yes, I could have got an earlier train, but that would have been peak travel, adding £150 to the already exorbitant cost, or an overnight hotel bill to add to the train fare. So, a last minute dash, followed by a 20-minute taxi ride to the Langstone Cliff Hotel in Dawlish, had to suffice.

For all that, it worked. Under the CIB banner, joint-funded funded by the CIB and Anthony Scholefield, and organised by Peter Troy, the idea was to take the message of how to leave the EU outside London, to new audiences, and speak to them direct, by-passing the media and the established political parties.

Although Flexcit has been published online since March, with the latest version just posted, trying out the ideas in front of a live audience is a valuable experience and one which is an essential part of refining the message and learning how to present it.

On the day - reflecting much of the online feedback and the experience of earlier meetings - what I found necessary to emphasise is that the exit plan is complicated. Furthermore, there is a limit to the extent that one can simplify it, before you are misrepresenting the entire process.

If we look at a telephone from 40 years ago, and look at the latest devices, there is a huge leap in the degree of complexity – matched of course by a massive increase in capability. What has happened with telephones has also happened with government and we could no more go back to the simple Bakelite telephone than we could go back to the far more simple style of government which prevailed in pre-EEC days.

Secondly, one has to stress that the exit plan is primarily a tool for winning a referendum. Unless we can reassure voters that leaving the EU is a safe and ultimately rewarding experience, we are unlikely to succeed in convincing a majority that it is worth leaving the EU.

Thus, while there are many different options for arranging an EU exit, we are not free agents in this matter. We have to go for the plan that plays best to the uncommitted in a referendum campaign and, while this might no be (and most certainly isn't) optimal, it is better to advance a plan that will attract popular support, and win the referendum, than to opt for ideological purity and thereby ensure we remain in the EU forever.

It is in this context that the "Norway option" comes. It is far from ideal but, in preserving our continued participation in the Single Market, is the best tool for neutralising the torrent of FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) that we can expect the opposition to exploit.

The third point to stress is that "Brexit" is not the end point of the process, but the beginning. It is once we leave the EU that the negotiations really begin in earnest, so the finer detail of Article 50 exit agreement doesn't really matter. The important thing is to get out – almost on any terms. Very quickly thereafter, we begin to shape the final settlement.

That then brings us to the fourth element, the post-exit settlement. That requires the UK to reshape the Single Market, turning it into a true, European market, breaking the grip of the Brussels-centric regulatory machine. This is done by embracing and enhancing regional and global organisations, and by adopting better and more refined tools, to improve the global trading system.

This is where much of the complexity lies, first in understanding how the current system works, and then reshaping it to perform the same functions – but perhaps more efficiently – outside the EU. That is what globalisation is all about, and that is where we need to be, the "continuous" bit that makes Brexit into Flexcit.

With that, what people are also learning is that politics can be fun. For a day's outing, the 35-plus that attended found it an entertaining, challenging day, from which we all learnt and all benefitted.

The size of the meeting was optimal - that's the number we wanted, and that's the way we are going to reach people. Before the referendum, we need hundreds of such meetings, and have plans to make them happen, with the possibility of sponsorship to make a Flexcit film to act as a force multiplier.

The next meeting is in Rotherham on 18 October (a Saturday), and you can get booking details by e-mailing Niall Warry. That will be a Harrogate Agenda programme, and thus will include Flexcit and much more. Numbers are to be held to about 30 and we look forward to seeing some of you there.


Richard North 26/09/2014 link

Friday 26 September 2014

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In its classic Boys Own way, the Mail is drooling over the RAF's preparations for bombing raids in Iraq, using Storm Shadow "bunker busters".

As we get some of the gushing stats related to these munitions, there is a curious omission – the cost. As we observed earlier, this is the famous million pound bomb. In fact, 900 of these things actually cost £981 million.

For the debate in Parliament today, though, this is the sort of detail that should be aired. Mr Cameron will be sending Tonkas in at £33,000 an hour, to lob million-pound ordnance at targets which are probably a fraction of the value of the weapon systems used.

Therein lies the essential conundrum in asymmetric warfare, where the costs of delivering an effect are vastly out of proportion to the value of the targets. And, in a country where life is cheap, the chances are that our enemies can afford to bear more losses than we can afford to create.

Of course, the targeting videos are great theatre, keeping the media entertained and on-side. But one suspects that Islamic State fighters are going to be less impressed, and certainly underwhelmed.

One cannot pretend here, that we have the answers, but drive-by landscaping with million-pound bombs isn't one of them.


Richard North 26/09/2014 link