Another day, another moment where you can’t believe Anne Widdecombe isn’t an actual zombie from an apocalyptic Brexit-dystopian future sent to the present to kill us all, according to Renew member Paul Gerken.
Strictly’s Anne Widdecombe has taken to the Brexit limelight like, as she may put it, an oppressed slave to a 17th-century transatlantic trading vessel. Shackled, bound, beaten, gagged, tortured and ripped from her family and possessions, Widdecombe took to the stage in Brussels. Anne was here to tell her oppressors that enough was enough; Britain - that cowed, bruised and abused nation - was setting itself free. Like the displaced Africans in America, we will rise up to a glorious future once rid of our brutal subjugation. Just you wait and see…
Not lost on Anne is the fact that the EU Parliament is the only democratic institution that has actually ever given UKIP, and latterly the Brexit Party, a democratic voice. Widdecombe is aware that the UK’s first-past-the-post system means that their voice and party would have inevitably always been crowded out by the two big parties. Of course, it is only the democratic institutions of the EU that have given them the oxygen and platform to survive, but this doesn’t matter at all, because – FISHING NET LEGISLATION! Damn you to hell, EU, and the laws we’re allowed to vote on.
All this reminds me of is that point in history where we ruled a quarter of the globe, shipped people around in chains and sucked vast swathes of the world of their resources without a hint of a democratic voice. It’s exactly the same as our evil past, and we want out!
Alas, at least like with slaves past, there is a generous per diem on offer to Anne for her commitment to voice for the oppressed. I’m not sure how much it was back in ye olde days, but one can only imagine that, with inflation, it was similar to the 320 euros Widders will claim. Did all oppressed slaves also get about a £7.5k base too?
Who’s to know. Probably. Anne wouldn’t go throwing around the comparison if it weren’t pretty much like for like.
Oh for the time we can be free, ruled by the Brexit Party that has no members, just an altruistic Nigel Farage at its helm. I can smell the freedom now. Glorious!
Boris Johnson as your therapist? That's what the United Kingdom is facing as a result of its Brexit breakdown.
It’s 7pm on a Wednesday evening. You’ve been going through a bit of a crisis recently and need to talk to someone. Luckily, your friend has recommended you a new counsellor - a bit of a “rogue”, in her words, but someone who might be able to shed a fresh perspective on life’s trials and tribulations.
Apprehensive, you approach the door. On a big, gold plaque you see the name “Dr Johnson”, emblazoned boldly on its mahogany backdrop. With a small gulp, you enter the room.
Slouched over a desk is a dishevelled, tired-looking man. His poor posture corrected with a jolt, the man they call BoJo sits up, alert.
“Hello”, says Dr Johnson in a gruff, blustering sort of way. “Take a seat!”
Gesturing towards a spindly wooden chair, Johnson gives you a smile. Yet his eyes are cold. You take the seat without removing your eyes from his gaze.
“What can I help you with, what what?” mumbles the man. You’re already skeptical that this is the person to take you out of your deep depression. Could he be a quack?
You explain your predicament. A bad decision, made three years ago. A period of intense self-reflection. Regret. And now this.
Dr Johnson frowns, his doglike expression becoming a bit more gorilla.
“Well, if you ask meeeee”, growls Johnson, appearing to scramble for something useful to say, “you never made a mistake in the first place. Everything is just fine! Just stick with me and you won’t have to worry about a thing”.
You find this odd. This is the first time you’ve met the man and he’s already claiming to be the one-size-fits-all fixer to your problems. Surely he can’t be trusted?
Johnson gets up, staring out of the window of this fifty-floor office. Far below, on the streets that snake past his skyscraper, a car’s tyre bursts over a forgotten pothole.
Johnson sighs, ambling back to his messy desk, hands in pockets.
You’re still waiting for an answer.
But none comes.
He just keeps staring. A dusty, faded portrait of an old politician stares back at him. It could be Churchill or Silvio Berlusconi. Although it makes a difference to you, it doesn’t seem to matter to him. His eyes glaze over.
Then, slumping down in his seat, Dr Johnson falls asleep. Just like that, he departs the conversation. You’re left alone.
His personal assistant rushes in.
“That’ll be £360, please”, she says with an acid smile.
Hundreds of metres below, another car tyre bursts. The driver curses, but nobody hears.
You sigh. Time to have some words with that friend of yours.
Despite being more sympathetic to Brexit, England's northern communities are facing spending cuts after Brexit. That's a problem.
Between Leavers and Remainers, urbanites and country dwellers, old and young, rich and poor, those who put the milk in before(!) and after, it can often seem as though there is more that divides us in Britain than unites us. But in a rapidly changing world, the Un-United Kingdom has a way of pressing onward. The British identity continues to evolve, becoming broader and further-reaching to accommodate our changing population. In spite of our many differences, we’re remarkably good at coming together.
However, this kind of team spirit becomes a whole lot harder when what divides us is more than superficial. Our national economy remains starkly divided, along a line which partitions North from South. The divide is such that deprivation has led to a 20% higher chance of early death in the North of England than the South East. What’s more, the ten cities in the UK with the lowest levels of employment are all in the North.
It’s no secret that imbalance within an economy is dangerous, both to the health of the economy overall and to the population living under it. In light of this, we’d expect the powers that be to be doing everything in reach to heal this most troubling of disparities - but no such luck. Surprised? I think not.
In fact, the north of England is facing huge cuts to its regeneration budget post-Brexit, a lobby group has claimed. Its director, Henry Murison, expressed concerns over whether funding - currently earmarked by the EU for the UK’s most deprived areas – would be re-allocated to wealthier parts of the country by Westminster after October 31st.
Successive governments have shown no aversion to investing disproportionately in the richer areas of London and the South East. Analysis of government figures by the IPPR found that London was to receive £4,155 per person in 2018, 2.6 times more than a person in the North almost 5 times more than in Yorkshire and the Humber. More than half of UK transport investment is concentrated in the South, and over £700mn more per year in arts and cultural funding is splashed out in the South than the North.
England currently receives close to €1bn a year from the EU’s two largest funds, €380mn of which is spent on projects in the North East, North West and the Humber. Under current EU rules, money must be allocated to projects designed to boost the economy and stimulate growth. While the government has pledged to replace EU money after the UK leaves the bloc, it will no longer be subject to the same criteria. European funds prioritise the lowest income areas, but as mentioned, the UK government has a history of putting performance over need.
Given its less than impressive track record, it’s hardly difficult to imagine the ease with which Westminster could turn it’s back on the North after Brexit. The government’s pledge to match EU funding has already been called into question, following accusations of ‘questionable maths’ and the addition of extra funding streams without a commitment to maintaining the overall level. The government has so far failed to begin a consultation on its new funding plans despite promising one before the end of the year. Meanwhile, EU funding will cease in April 2020.
Without a plan for successive investment, many regions face a ‘cliff-edge’ after Brexit. What too many politicians fail to realise is that the long-term prosperity of the UK as a whole depends on reducing the disparity between North and South. Sustainable growth cannot be area-specific - it must be all-encompassing and inclusive. Contrary to what’s currently being forecast, regional economies require urgent investment if the cycle of low expenditure, low productivity and low pay is to be ended and if the UK economy is to be effectively rebalanced.
What would you give to be an MEP? More than newly-elected Brexit Party representative David Bull, if his morning-commute meltdown is anything to go by.
To add to the ever-growing list of Brexit Party embarrassments, freshman MEP David Bull threw a tantrum this week after realising that his election means actually going to work.
Lamenting the fact that he has to now “repeatedly” make the (not unscenic) trip to Strasbourg to fulfil his democratic duties, peroxide blonde hair quivering like a field of distant wheat kernels, Dr Bull appeals to the tweeting masses to offer sympathy for him. For some unknown reason, it doesn’t seem to occur to Bull that he could always rent a room in Strasbourg itself, avoiding the need for the 450-mile commute to happen on a regular basis.
To fair to the chap, Bull has it pretty tough. €7,857 a month, plus expenses, is a pretty meagre salary that most with his lifestyle would struggle to live on. Those haircuts must cost a bomb and a half, and, when coupled with a regular full-body spray tan, must consume at least half of Bull’s paltry income. An eleven-hour journey to work just isn’t worth it when you’re living below the breadline like that.
Supporters of Bull will say that the salary itself is the point - a gross ‘waste of taxpayers money’ that goes against what it means to be British. But it must surely grate even with Brexit Party voters that this man has the nerve to whine about his morning commute when he’s getting paid more than most will for a job he doesn’t take seriously.
This laughable attempt to cast the Brexit Party as martyrs ready to fall on Johnny Foreigner’s sword is just the latest in an ongoing saga of national embarrassment. As the big winner in the recent European elections, the Brexit Party found the confidence to take its brand of Poundland patriotism to the corridors of power in Strasbourg. The grand irony remains, of course, that these people don’t believe those corridors should exist - although, again, they will now doubtless claim to be the crusaders to Europe’s occupied Jerusalem, tearing down shrines as they munch on an all-expenses-paid lunch.
If this is what it means to be a British freedom fighter in 2019, god help us all. Churchill must be spinning in his grave.
At a Brexit Party rally the other evening, Nigel Farage entered the hall to the sound of air raid sirens. What on earth did it all mean?
What the party was getting at with this Budget Blitz Experience was not entirely clear. Were they warning the crowd of an impending strafe? Was Farage about to rain death and destruction on his sextenarian fans? Or was it a distasteful dedication to his German wife?
Who’s to say. The most likely theory is that the Brexit Party, indulging once more in Poundland patriotism, was making a crude allusion to Farage as the saviour of the British nation, equating this pinstripe pinocchio with the stoic folk and brave fighter pilots that dragged our country through some of its darkest hours in the early 1940s. A poorly thought-out and tactless gimmick, to be sure - but what more might we expect from a charlatan snake oil salesman like Farage?
For decades now Farage and his ilk have sullied the flag of the United Kingdom, rocking up in Brussels like Cosplay City boys to wave two aggressive fingers at the rest of Europe. Farage portrays himself as the Christ-like saviour of our national identity, but the man has no problem sitting down with far-right mercenaries like Steve Bannon and the Trumps when it serves his self-interested, destructive purpose. He milked the European Union for a fat salary - entirely undeserved given the number of debates and votes he didn’t bother turning up to - and now wants to milk the memory of World War Two in a pathetic attempt to garner patriotic support.
While the emotive, angry appeal of Farage and the Brexit Party may be seductive to some, it veils a darker project of division. Allusions to Britain’s past glories not only cast Farage in a dishonest and dangerous light, but they help supporters to extend the life of a British myth that holds us all back.
The Empire is finished, Britain is not a superpower and we are better working together with our neighbours for a whole host of cultural, economic and geopolitical reasons. In the Brexit example, this stark truth has fallen victim to a self-delusion of epic proportions.
At this point, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Farage don a flight jacket and goggles before leaving his rally in a recommissioned Spitfire. Fantasy is so easy, after all; why not go the whole hog?
The robots aren't coming - they're already here, says Renew's James Bryan.
“We are being afflicted with a new disease of which some readers may not yet have heard the name, but of which they will hear a great deal in the years to come - namely, technological unemployment” - John Maynard Keynes
Based on the decline of manual labour in industries ranging from automotive manufacturing to agriculture, the vast media coverage regarding the rise of automation technology, along with information on the Bank of England site, which gives a probability of losing one's job to automation, it seems Keynes had a point.
Much of the modern drive towards automation is based on advances in the field of artificial intelligence and the creation of more powerful microprocessors. Jobs which were once considered to be the exclusive domain of humanity are now regularly performed by machines. The benefits of automation technology are applicable to virtually any field that one would care to name, it is no understatement to say that data science and better technology saves lives and nowhere is this truer than in medicine. However, this also raises an important question that seems almost philosophical in nature: do jobs exist to employ or to create the output of that work?
As the field of automatable work expands, this question becomes ever more urgent and important. It is clear that the products of automation have lead to greater prosperity and efficiency on a global scale, but research and development of these technologies is an area which requires more investment and greater attention. While the question of technological unemployment does not have a clear answer yet, it is clear that the creation of new policies to deal with the fallout of job-loss on a perhaps unprecedented scale is a vital part of the equation. If this is to be done with minimal negative consequences, those with the technical expertise to understand these issues in their true depth will need to be heavily involved in this process.
If there is a lesson to be learned from how evolving technologies have shaped our political and social landscape, it is that those currently in power have failed time and again to address the implications of the misapplication of data science and artificial intelligence by actors seeking to manipulate public perception and promote their own agenda. Deepfakes, extremely realistic faked footage created using machine learning techniques, aren’t coming; they’re already here. Cambridge Analytica existed and we may never know the true scale of how effective their large-scale social engineering campaigns were.
The reality is, the robots aren’t coming. They’ve come, and these are issues which aren’t going away.
Watching the Tory leadership contenders battle it out last week could only heap despair upon despair, says Paul Gerken.
The magnitude of cognitive dissonance required when you state that schools, health and green energy must be better when you’ve spent the last decade tearing them to shreds, is incalculable. Yet here we are, standing amidst the ashes of a country that is, only for want of time, merely metaphorically burnt to the ground, listening to the ones holding the matches. We must accept that it is their next bright idea that will be inflicted on the nation. The lightbulb that shines brightest? That if we just convince the European Union that we’re crazy enough to do this no-deal, somehow we won’t have to do it.
Let us unpack the logic. Here it’s pretty simple; you can’t get the best deal unless you’re willing to walk away. We’ve all been there – you’re desperate for flip-flops after you lost on them on lash last night down the Khao San Road, but unless you’re not prepared to swivel on your cut and muddied feet and walk away, that street vendor is never going to give you a dirt cheap price. Precisely the same logic can be applied to negotiating with the world’s largest economic entity. We never actually convinced them we would walk away, Johnson and Raab argue, and therefore they’ve completely done us over with that peace in Northern Ireland bit - that would’ve never been an issue had they known we were sufficiently bonkers to destroy every trade relationship we have with the world.
Now, apparently, the £2 billion of our money that was spent precisely on no-deal contingency planning wasn’t anywhere near convincing enough. We should have actually spent more! (I guess?). However, don’t get Raab wrong, he does want a deal, and apparently stating that on TV doesn’t undermine your resolution to leave without one. So, what to do, Dominic? Do we ramp up again the contracts to ferry firms with no ferries, in this great deceit? It remains unclear. What is clear is we need the gun to our own heads, stat, starting with teary bloodshot eyes directly into the resolutely calm face of Michael Barnier.
But please, let’s take a brief moment to look at this from the other side of the table. If you’re the EU, what do you gain from planning completely, with certainty, that no-deal is going to happen? As in, not just a tactic to box the UK into a corner, but planning like it’s the best outcome? Sadly, Brexiteers, they gain everything. Let's think about this:
- The EU gains absolute certainty that it can manage any outcome.
- The EU retains the respect and solidarity of its members, proving its importance.
- The EU has learnt how to manage the withdrawal of any member correctly and efficiently so that the threat of any other member leaving is less of an existential threat to the entire organization.
- The EU cannot be threatened by the UK’s no-deal threat, rendering it completely and utterly useless.
- Considering the above, their money spent on no-deal will never be wasted, but the UK’s will.
The EU has repeatedly stated they are prepared for no-deal, and seen in this light, they would absolutely be best to. They are prepared for a no-deal, not because of our threats, but because it’s in their best interest. They are not preparing as a charade but as a reality. It is us who want the deal, and these threats to Europe are so feast-eatingly embarrassing that it does make you wonder if we have, in any corner of Westminster, the brainpower to get us out of this.
One final point of reflection on the no-deal threat to the EU: If it happens, both sides will lose something, but who loses what?
- UK loses – the terms of every single trading relationship it has with every single country in the entire world.
- EU loses – its trading relationship with the UK.
And what’s more, they’re prepared for this to happen, whilst we are simply pretending to be prepared.
And with that thought, I am seriously not sure who can help us now.
We are currently caught up in one of the largest and most momentous revolutions in human history – whether we know it yet or not. We’re living through perhaps the most fundamental transformation of our environment mankind has ever seen.
The war is not being fought with rifles, bayonets or nuclear force – this time around, the weapons of choice are big data and smart technology. Quieter maybe, but more insidious that its predecessors; the information revolution is changing the way we shop, vote, govern and even think.
We’re quickly waking up to the fact that pivotal changes are underway. But, as tends to be the case with such periods of upheaval, it’s almost impossible to say where they’re headed until they get there. With the conclusion of the digital revolution still a very long way off, we won’t be granted the luxury of hindsight as a means of understanding this change. It’s not for want of trying either – academia across disciplines is riddled with attempts to explain our new and interconnected world.
In the face of such uncertainty, we have a tendency to revert to what we know - ideas that have helped to explain the past but are no longer helpful in trying to understand the future. We see this all the time in our politics, but it often leaves us staunchly on the back foot and ill-prepared for challenges to come.
In her new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zuboff puts forward a welcome new attempt to describe the effects of digitisation. The focus is not necessarily the workings of the Facebook/Google/Amazon clan themselves, but rather, on the ways in which they are shaping the wider context of global capitalism as we know it. Zuboff describes the new evolution of capitalism that has emerged from big tech as ‘Surveillance Capitalism’ – a system that both relies upon and utilises big data to achieve its ends.
So-called surveillance capitalists – online service providers in their myriad forms – are able to monitor the behaviour of their user bases with a remarkable degree of detail and accuracy. While many of us feel comfortably veiled in algorithmic obscurity, in reality, tech giants are covertly collecting hundreds of thousands of bytes of data each day; data which can be fed back into improving algorithms and making predictions on the behaviour of their users. Much of this happens without explicit or obvious consent.
At best, these processes contribute to service improvement, creating more user friendly interfaces and intuitive design. At worst, the acquisition of behavioural data is used to develop highly sophisticated machine intelligence capable of predicting what you will do now, soon and later. As these techniques improve, usership grows – a feedback loop which, without regulation, could continue indefinitely. Prediction techniques and their ability to influence human behaviour are already having huge implications for the political and economic landscape, creating and shaping new markets and voting behaviours at the whim of the corporations that control them.
Digital hegemony is already well-established and will become yet more deeply entrenched as data is used to facilitate its own growth. It’s becoming increasingly important to re-examine the way we look at the wider system as the power dynamics within it begin to shift.
Traditionally, economic theory has relied on the assumption that market forces are dynamic, unpredictable and ultimately unknowable. The State should refrain from attempting to regulate or constrain markets on this basis, just as agents in a market-place are free to compete with each other in mutual ignorance. But with the rise of big tech, these fundamental principles have changed. It is essential that our assumptions about markets change with them.
Global tech firms now know too much to be granted the same licence as other free market actors - after all, under their influence, markets are no longer truly free. There’s no easy fix, either - the acquisition of user data is so deeply inherent in the operations of online service providers that self-regulation would be almost impossible.
Rather, it may be time to rethink our unquestioning faith in free-market economics - if for no other reason than the fact that markets are demonstratively becoming less and less free. The governing principles of the 20th century are becoming increasingly less relevant as time progresses, and less able to cope with this rapid, systemic change.
The absence of state regulation risks the rise of insurmountable monopolies that wield too great an influence over our markets, our behaviour and our democracy. Legislation against this will no doubt be hugely challenging, but the consequences of shying away from the problem will be more challenging still.
The frequency of extreme weather events is ratcheting up, in Britain and across the world. America is coming to the end of its wettest year on record and flooding is becoming ever more commonplace across the Midwest in particular. Heatwaves are on the rise in the UK; by 2050, scientists predict that heatwaves akin to that experienced in 2018 could occur every other year.
Warmer air also means heavier and longer-lasting precipitation events, hence the patterns currently being observed across the US. If global carbon emissions continue to go unchecked, a 30% increase in rainfall in the Midwest is possible. And this won’t be without consequence; in a region still reliant on agriculture, heavy rain, sodden soil and disruption to planting and harvest seasons could have devastating effects on the local economy.
Rivers, especially those in smaller basins, are already prone to flooding and will become more so if conditions worsen. This is all too real a possibility for those living in low lying areas close to the banks. Even very large rivers like the Mississippi are unable to cope with the higher discharge brought on by heavy rain or rapid snowmelt; the Mississippi has reportedly reached historically high water marks in four of the past seven years.
Human intervention hasn’t helped. Many river channels are narrower than at any point in their history due to excessive engineering and the construction of artificial levees, ironically designed to keep flood waters at bay. A reduction in channel width combined with a higher channel flow make the sudden levee failure more likely. Devastation to the city of New Orleans following Category 5 Hurricane Katrina remains a poignant illustration of this; flash flooding following a levee collapse left the city underwater and up to 1,800 dead. Hurricanes like Katrina, too, are predicted to become stronger and more frequent as a result of climate change.
While America still has its fair share of those who doubt the severity (or even existence) of climate change, instances of extreme weather are beginning to shape attitudes for the better. A Green New Deal is now firmly on the agenda, both in Europe and the US. The Midwest, industry-heavy and generally viewed as a hotbed of climate change denial, has recently elected several governors committed to meeting emissions targets set during the Paris accords. This is in stark defiance of Trump’s pledge to pull the entire US out of the agreement.
Recent polling shows that the proportion of Americans worried about the climate has almost doubled in since 2013 and young people in particular are more concerned than ever before. Many cited direct experience of extreme weather events as having strongly influenced their views.
While awareness is undoubtedly a vital step forward in the fight against climate change, it may be too little, too late. Reaching emissions targets will require a major shift both in how we conduct our day to day lives – fewer flights, animal products and petrol-powered cars - and how our global economy functions. The latter demands strong, decisive governmental action with regards to fiscal and industrial policy; an urgent shift away from an oil economy and heavy investment in renewables and waste reduction.
Governments rarely act in the absence of incentive, though. Mounting pressure from the electorate will be essential if green policies are to make it onto the agenda and stay there. This is an area where individuals can have a profound impact on the biggest fight of our century; support for politicians and parties who make climate change the defining policy issue of their agendas will eventually produce the leaders Earth now demands.
Voters who are duly worried about the changes our climate is undergoing can no longer afford to be apathetic. That, more than any, is the message to shout from the rooftops.
If there is one thing on which we can all agree, it is that the divisions in our society have grown substantially since the Brexit referendum in 2016. While there is a great appetite for change in British politics, one need only look at the First Past The Post voting system and career politicians found in Westminster to see why this is the case.
This arbitrary and undemocratic system is a blight on British politics; it systematically and demonstrably favours larger political parties, mis-representing the political landscape of the UK and preventing dissenting voices from being heard. It is frankly absurd that we cling to such an unrepresentative system for determining the main actors in our political system. First Past The Post does have its strengths, namely that for the purposes of regional politics, an elected representative voted in directly by their constituents has a more legitimate local mandate than representatives elected under certain proportional systems.
However, this does not override the glaring flaws in this system at the level of national and international politics. One need only look at the vote shares obtained by parties in the 2017 general election and their relative representation to understand that this is the case. There is a large proportion of the public, who through being essentially politically hamstrung, have consistently been ignored and marginalised by this country’s entrenched political class. Whether we can say red and blue are dead remains questionable, and rightly so. If we maintain this system of voting, it is unlikely that those who are currently disillusioned with British politics will ever have their voices heard.
Renew seeks to change that. To ensure fair representation at the highest levels of government there is only one possible solution. We must abandon first past the post and replace it with a system of proportional representation. If there is one thing that the result of the 2016 referendum proved, it is that the British public are tired of having their freedoms eroded by a political class drunk on power, who have maintained control of Parliament through the blatant misrepresentation of the diverse political landscape of this country.