Accidental spies; useful idiots

It is how it begins, with a friendly conversation in a quiet corner. The deeper conversations which follow are of a pattern familiar to those who may come knocking on your door earlier than you expect:

“I am pleased to meet you, as you have always understood our country and have tried to correct certain misconceptions voiced by your colleagues in Parliament and outside. As you are a member of the ‘Friends of…’ group, I think I may call you a friend. Goodwill in relations between Britain and our country would be of great advantage to both of our nations and to the world, as you understand.”

“It is frustrating that some even in your own party take a negative view of our country. I have never understood it. It is good to know that we have friends. The concerns of others about certain domestic and foreign policies of ours should not sour what should be a partnership of nations with so much in common, when we should be working together. When you yourself are in government, I hope we will. The current opposition must stem from an unfortunate prejudice as they do not apply the same standards to other countries far further from their ideas. I have long appreciated that you take the wider view.”

“Perhaps you could tell me which of your colleagues opposes our country’s policies: then we could tailor our message better. Talk to them. What are their concerns, and who is briefing them against us?”

“Such a treasure of information you have provided. Perhaps we might engage you in a professional capacity as a consultant? Your contacts in the upper reaches of the government machine may provide information that we, with our limited understanding of British political culture, fail to grasp.”

“Your services have been invaluable, and your skills as a researcher impeccable – you might also though be able to tickle some more information from ministers with a question or two in the House, within your professional role? I have taken the liberty of writing a list of possible subjects…”

Well, sir – you have become a paid intelligence agent of a foreign power.

Brecon and Radical Rethink

What just happened?

It must make some logic, in the twisted, bizarre form of logic that Parliamentary politics has taken over the last few years. So we have:

  • A clear majority of the voters of Brecon and Radnorshire voting for pro-Brexit candidates, but splitting the vote to let in a rabid Remainiac;
  • The Brexit Party’s intervention making it more likely that Parliament will cancel Brexit;
  • MPs and candidates speaking most forcefully against a no-deal are preventing a deal, making it more likely that no deal will be reached;
  • (And this after we have seen MPs telling the press that they have always voted against no-deal when their voting records show they have always voted against a deal);

Then we have:

  • The LibDems, who or many years condemned UKIP as a one-issue party turning on the Conservatives as a one-issue party, when they themselves have become just that;
  • Conservative MPs of a Remainer bent hoping to avoid a small economic bump from Brexit by risking putting into Downing Street a mad Marxist team who would make the Great Depression look like a picnic;
  • Opposition MPs growing excited at the chance of toppling the Conservative government even in the knowledge that an election would most likely produce a thumping Conservative majority.

To some it may make sense, but to the average voter it tells a story of out-of-touch politicians producing exactly the frustration which caused the Brexit vote to be so emotional.

Close the Ulster Bypass

Ulster is poorly served by the government.  The Beeb are not too warm to the DUP’s urging of direct rule.  The norms of language are unfavourable; to ‘impose direct rule’.  Perhaps if the phrase were ‘to re-assume direct responsibility’ it would be better received. The language may be batted about, but the new government must face the immediate reality of Ulster’s position, and their predecessors’ failures to address it.

From1921 to 1972, Ulster was an autonomous region, with a Governor and a Parliament of Northern Ireland, as if it had been a self-governing colony, and Westminster could practically ignore the place. Its institutions and laws were largely sundered from those of Great Britain and forced to fend for themselves. In 1972, the system collapsed in civil disorder, but instead of abolishing the Parliament and bringing Ulster back into normality, London enacted the suspension of the home-rule state with all powers passed to the Secretary of State, subject to Parliamentary assent to actual law-making, and the temporary became the permanent, until Tony Blair replaced it all with a new Assembly, which has been suspended for some years now.

Since 1921 then, Northern Ireland has been starved of all the advantages that the size of the United Kingdom brings. The old Parliament tried to keep up, but there were natural and financial limits to aspiration – that is the ‘Ulster Bypass’.

Today with the Assembly suspended, civil servants are left to run the show with no political oversight, and thus no motivation for innovation or even getting basic things right.  There is no authority to do anything new.

We moan at idiocies in government in Great Britain, but its vast size provides for every sort of expertise, not always wisely deployed, but there, and technocrats have produced what is effectively a luxury service, and we have come to expect that. Northern Ireland, though it is large in area, has a population which is barely half that of Manchester, and that is a small tax base and human resource.  You would not expect Manchester to run what would be virtually a national government, with all the luxuries and efficiencies that Westminster can command, let along half of Manchester.

Look at a few things we take for granted in our new, modern state, little things but which hint at what lies beneath.

Three sibling quangos in Great Britain, Historic England, Historic Environment Scotland and Cadw co-operate in best practice. Each has a website backed by a powerful database – the “National Heritage List for England“, “Canmore” and “Coflein“, each with a fast and efficient search function linked to extensive research material with academic references and an interactive Ordnance Survey mapping function. Every listed building or scheduled monument in Great Britain is at your fingertips. The Department for Communities in Northern Ireland has a cumbersome listed building search which has not been updated since 2015 the local government reform; for scheduled monuments and state care monuments – there is a PDF typed list if you can find it.

The Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland can provide no linked mapping because it is unresourced:  it sells to a far smaller market and so cannot do all that its counterpart in Great Britain does.  I have spoken to OSNI, and the equivalent in Dublin too, and they say the same:  they are small, have few customers and cannot provide the services.  This too then is an effect of the Ulster Bypass.

It would take very little indeed for the Ordnance Survey to take on six more counties, or for the NHLE or Canmore to take care of Ulster’s historic data, or for the Department of Communities to farm the historic estate out to the great resources wielded by English Heritage (‘Ulster Heritage’ perhaps) but without political direction and a willingness to dig up the Bypass, Ulstermen will be left behind, unable to dream of the conveniences those in the rest of the country take for granted.

Lobbing a wad of cash will not help if the structure is not there:  the structure does exist though in Great Britain, and can be deployed to serve the rest of the nation, namely Ulster.

I can give petty examples as symptomatic of the Ulster Bypass in operation and there could be many more.  Boris Johnson has given himself the title Minister for the Union, as in that role he should take these in matters in hand, and close the Ulster Bypass – otherwise Ulstermen will remain the poor relation in one of the richest countries in earth.

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Questions for Boris Johnson

Some of the questions we are asking ourselves of the most enigmatic Prime Minster in living memory, and my answers at least:

  • Can Boris Johnson achieve in 99 days what Theresa May and her whole team failed to manage in 3 years?

Yes.

  • Can Dominic Cummings drain the swamp?

Actually, we do not know yet what Dominic Cummings has been called in to do.  Is he a spin doctor-in-chief?  An election campaign strategist? A negotiator with the Brussels Blob?  He is a one who succeeds, but at what task?

David Cameron allegedly called Cummings a “professional psychopath” – good: we need psychopaths more than touchy-feely milksops, and a professional one is all the better.

Taming the establishment has been tried before and failed. The Long March through the Institutions is well entrenched.  David Cameron called Steve Hilton to push “positive populism” to reform the established powers, but he left frustrated. 

If it were done when ’tis done then ’tis well it were done quickly; ministers will go native in their new departments within weeks, and begin to defend them from outside attack. The who were called in as outsiders to reform the system will become insiders. That may include the Prime Minister, though his imaginative, playful turn of mind is a force to be reckoned with by even the most stolid establishmentarian.

  • Is there to be an early general election?

Who can tell?  It would be reckless in the extreme to call an election when the party’s poll ratings are still scraping around the 25% mark and in each constituency contest the conservative vote will be split between the Conservatives and the Brexit Party. Watch Brecon and Radnorshire.

The buzz in the media is talk of a general election, but the media love novelty and excitement: Brenda from Bristol may have other ideas. The idea is growing that if the House of Commons blocks Brexit somehow or mars the form of it then Parliament would be dissolved and election called to secure a Conservative majority on the back of a “Boris bounce”, but that is not realistic until Brexit is secure, not least because until Britain has actually left the European Union the Brexit Party will still be queering the pitch, letting the Liberals and Labour in every time.

After Brexit we are into Christmas. Maybe in the Spring we will see new shoots, but by then the landscape may be very different.

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By Boris Johnson:

Our plan for the new Prime Minister

Everyone else is doing it, so why not here?

Every column inch in the dead-tree press will be filled for weeks with columnists’ own plans to save Britain / the World, and Boris Johnson knows this well, as a columnist.  To each, the only plan for success is their own and any failure to follow it is a scandalously wasted opportunity that will seem like a betrayal. The success of Team Boris came swiftly and the backlash will be quicker. 

In the meantime, it is my duty to see what plans can come from my febrile imaginings and those of my colleagues, which are, naturally, the only solution, the slightest failing in which is a criminal waste / betrayal / surrender to the Blob.

  • Leave the EU on or before Reformation Day, 31 October, with or without a deal;
  • If Brussels will not replace or amend the Withdrawal Agreement (see earlier post on that; “Fixing the Withdrawal Agreement“, then offer a unilateral post-withdrawal deal for continuing tariff-free trade.
  • Reduce taxes for all, especially the squeezed Middle Classes, or ‘customers’ as we are known in business.
  • Register the Establishment;
  • A reforming unionist agenda:
    • Do not buy nor publish maps which only show England and Wales, or only England.
    • Run through all the Acts, rules and guidance which bar Scots and Ulstermen by carelessness of wording I have a very long list by my elbow)
    • Close the Ulster Bypass, and use the government’s economies of scale to provide services equally in Ulster as such economies provide in Great Britain (another list by my elbow)
    • Root through the national curriculum to remove regional bias
  • A radical free speech initiative, inside and outside government, and inside government:
    • Sack all diversity officers and cancel all equality and diversity training;
    • Discipline or dismiss public servants who try to get colleagues sacked for transgressing codes of PC speech and behaviour;
  • Order the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to stop taking orders from Shelter, and remove any civil servants who act as conduits for that charity’s political ideas.  Instead, support private landlords: they are the ones who provide homes and they will not if they are punished.
  • Abolish inheritance tax.
  • Delete the word “county” from local government terminology: those flags in the Square today are what counties are really about – community not bureaucracy
  • Drive back the Long March:
    • Stop advertising government jobs in the Guardian;
    • Stop handing cash to ex-Labour politicians under the guise of research grants
    • Other things that need doing you know perfectly well, but such deeds can only be named in the dark.
  • And while you are about it: Land a man on the Moon and return him safely to the Earth.

Well that’s for the first week. Going into August there is more to be done.

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