Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the open

Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the openEx-Tory chairman Grant Shapps emerges as ringleader of rebellion against prime minister

Source: Plot to oust Theresa May breaks into the open

After Diem Horribilis Grant Shapps claims leadership of backbench challenge to her leadership Mrs May must have though things could not get any worse. Then up pops Michael Gove on the Today programme offering his complete support. She must see her days are numbered.

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Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘red lines’ undermine Theresa May

Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘red lines’ undermine Theresa MayIntervention on eve of Tory conference scuppers premier’s plan to reassert controlRead nextLabour’s galvanising conference in Brighton4 HOURS AGOTheresa May with other EU heads of government at a summit in Tallinn on Friday © EPAShare on Twitter (opens new window)Share on Facebook (opens new window)Share on LinkedIn (opens new window)Email162 Save to myFT8 HOURS AGO by Robert Wright and George ParkerBoris Johnson issued a direct challenge to Theresa May over her Brexit strategy last night, undermining the prime minister as she tries to reassert her authority at the Conservative conference that starts on Sunday.The foreign secretary used an interview to stake out his four “red lines” for Brexit, which go beyond the carefully agreed cabinet position set out by Mrs May in her speech in Florence last week.

Source: Boris Johnson’s Brexit ‘red lines’ undermine Theresa May
https://www.ft.com/content/

The Tory leadership campaign is likely to be long and bitter. Europe has always had the potential to tear the party apart and the process of getting rid of Mrs May may be the catalyst which is why she remains Prime Minister.

Telling the truth in politics has never been a moral commitment. Rather a practical imperative not to be found to lie has tempered political rhetoric. That seems now to have gone. Boris lied in the Brexit campaign and he is lying again. It will be interesting to see if this carries any weight with MP’s and party members when a leadership challenge is mounted.

One thing which might undermine his campaign is his open disloyalty to the leader. Many Conservatives think it is a sin to undermine the leader publicly whatever you might do privately. Given that lying, and being found out is not necessarily a disbar from the role of leader it may be possible for an unplaced runner to come in late. Someone like Grant Shapps for instance. He certainly has the brass neck for the job.

On the other hand, time is the friend of the wounded. The longer Mrs May is in power the longer politics has the opportunity to throw up something that might help her. A week is a long time… but months and years is even longer. Mrs May is in power because the party fears the alternative. The longer they fear this the more difficult it will be to replace her. Given the poisonous challenge of Europe is quite possible they will fear it though to 2022.

Mrs May’s strength may be holding the ring on this potentially fatal issue. The next week is strewn with banana skins but if she gets through it it will be an important milestone in her Premiership. She may well see this government though, however whether it lasts to 2022 is a whole different issue.

 

Theresa May to champion free market in Bank of England speech | Business | The Guardian

A strong and properly regulated free-market economy is the only way to guarantee higher living standards, Theresa May will say on Thursday as she contrasts her economic approach with the call for more state control made by Labour at this week’s conference.

Source: Theresa May to champion free market in Bank of England speech | Business | The Guardian

Prime Minister May’s defence of the free market is not a critiques of Jeremy Corbyn. I did not hear him say he wants to do away with the free market at any point nor did he talk about the overthrow of capitalism. His target is a particular version of actually existing capitalism structured by the principles of neo-liberalism. A view of the world which bifurcates it very much as was done in Animal Farm i.e. “State Bad Market Good”.

Such a position is not coherent. In the reporting above Mrs May calls for a “properly regulated” free market but opposes Mr Cobyn’s call for more state control. Who does she think is going to “properly regulate” the market if not the state?

Mr Corbyn is correct in suggesting that the centre ground of British politics has moved. Mrs May herself appreciates this and proposed quite radical ideas about workers on Boards when she first came into power. She is constantly tacking back to where she thinks the bedrock of her support is. She lacks to courage of her convictions. Mr Corbyn does not.

That Fight is Ours Too…

Politics in the United States is not the obvious place to look for inspiration at the moment however Senator Elizabeth Warren’s book “This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People” is like a shaft of light in  a dark cave. Ms Warren is the senior US senator for Massachusetts and a Democrat. Her book provides an analysis of how the US has been transformed over the past four decades from a nation characterised by a stable and growing middle class optimistic about its future to a society riven with insecurity and fear.

She is a genuine patriot, particularly proud of the amazing growth of the middle class in the states following the Great Depression driven by FD Roosevelt’s government which took on the multi-millionaires of the time. Promoting trade unions, breaking monopolistic practices, regulating competition, investing in education for all and creating a nascent welfare state.

Warren BookAll of this meant that over the period from 1935 to 1980 some 70% of all the income growth went to the bottom 90% of the population and 30% went to the top 10%. It meant that an enormous middle class was created whose experience was of steady employment, with good pensions to look forward to and a faith their children would be able to build on the foundations they had laid and gain a better future through education and their own efforts.

Do not think Ms Warren looks back through rose tinted spectacles however, at “the good old days”. Her personal experience as a child of how precarious existence could be when her father had a heart attack and could not work prevents that. When her mother became the only breadwinner in the house and got a minimum wage job at Sears things were tight, however, in the mid 1960’s, that one minimum wage kept a family of three afloat paying the mortgage and keeping food on the table.

It is not that everything back then was perfect, it was just that there was a sense the arc of history was bending in the right direction. Since then however the arc of history has been pushed in a different direction. Whilst the cost of living has increased significantly the value of the minimum wage has plummeted in real terms and the idea that a single minimum wage, could keep a family of three afloat is laughable. The current Federal minimum being $7.25 although in many states higher rates are paid up to $15 (£9) per hour. Worse, median wages have stagnated so that over a thirty year period working Americans have seen virtually no real increase in their pay. Why is this?

One of the reasons is that in the period since 1980 to 2015 the income growth of the country mentioned above got shared out differently. The amount received by the bottom 90% was a large round number – zero. And for those who struggle with maths this means the top 10% have taken 100% of the growth. How could that happen?

Well not by accident. Back in those crazy communist days of the 1960’s the 10% started to become discontent with the mere 30% of the wealth they received. This discontent was channelled in 1971 by a confidential memo written by a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell which was essentially a call to the rich to transform themselves in to the rich and powerful.

To do this they were encouraged to invest their wealth in gaining control of the political agenda. Whilst this included funding supportive politicians in increasingly costly election campaigns it was more insidiously about capturing the realm of ideas. To do this they should fund research, think tanks, media shows, anything which promoted their ideas. Ideas which could be boiled down to low taxes for the rich and an ever reduced role for the state in the provision of services, regulation and, worst of all, transfer payments.

Ms Warren draws on her own experience and that of a number of individuals to illustrate what that process has done to people and their life chances. She talks about Gina, the woman whose family income has halved over the past 20 years from $70k to $35k. “No crisis. No Accident. No tale of woe. Juts the grinding wear and tear of an economy that doesn’t work for families like Gina’s”

She talks about Kai a young woman who worked hard through school and wanted to work in design. She paid to go to a private University but after the first year could not afford the fees so decided to return to her home state and complete her degree there only to find the credits from the Private University were not recognised so had to repeat a year. The upshot is she now has $90k of the $1.4 trillion US student loan debt and is repaying it out of her job as a waitress.

Finally, Michael who worked hard at his job at DHL for 16 years securing a house with  a mortgage and what he though was a solid middle class life ahead. Then 2008, DHL eliminated 14,900 jobs including Michael’s. He then got a call asking if he wanted his old job back. Not his full time job with benefits though, a part time job with no guaranteed hours and no benefits. He had to take on two jobs but even then he could not pay the penalous mortgage he had been mis-sold so lost his home.

Even then he did not give up but just kept on eking out jobs here and there until he got work in a Nabisco factory putting the cream in Oreos. Just when he thought he was getting back on his feet the factory was closed and production relocated to Mexico.

The real life stories of individuals trying to live up to the myth that hard work is all that is needed to secure a reasonable living are heartbreaking. They translate debates about trade deals, de-regulation and labour rights into a increasingly depressing reality for millions of American. As “the economy” and Wall Street does well and the stock market booms the 90% get left further and further behind.

Ms Warren is under no illusion about the implications for working people of a Trump presidency backed by a Republican Congress. However she draws strength from the millions of Americans who want to stand up against bigotry, for a fairer economy and most of all for Democracy. Her battle for Democracy has implications far beyond the States. Democracy there has been infected most by the “greenback virus” but it is happening in many other places including the UK where election expense rules are starting to be challenged by being ignored. We have a common interest in Ms Warrens fight.

If this book is a kite being flown to test support for a 2020 campaign run it gets my vote. Ms Warren comes across as intelligent, incisive, authentic but most of all humane. If voters want a choice of opposites in the 2020 election she would provide it.

 

Elizabeth Warren. This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save Working People. Harper Collins. 2017.

Trumping Democracy

Right now in Washington DC there is a battle in progress for the soul of American democracy. An increasingly embattled President Trump is making comments and exploring actions which, if followed through, would undermine one of the pillars of any democratic society, respect for the rule of law and the independent administration of justice.

The President gave an interview to The New York Times earlier this week in which he criticised the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, both of whom he appointed, and threatened to sack Special Counsel Robert Mueller who is investigating the links between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

In relation to the Attorney General, his sin was that he recused himself from anything to do with the investigation into the Trump campaign’s links with Russia. As head of  the Department of Justice his recusal from anything to do with the investigation was inevitable given his previous role as a top advisor to Mr Trump’s campaign. Who could not understand this…? President Trump. He argued if Mr Sessions had told him he would recuse himself from the Russia investigation he would not have appointed him to the post of Attorney General.  The only inference you can draw from this is the President wanted someone as head of the Department of Justice who would do his bidding, thus transforming the rule of law into the rule of the Executive!

In normal circumstances the kind of comments made by the President would have led to the automatic resignation of the Attorney General. It is testament to how far we are from normal times that two days later and their has been no resignation. The President can, however, fire the Attorney General and he may do just that in order to clear the way for him to get at Robert Mueller who is appointed by and sackable by… the  head of the Department of Justice, or when he has recused himself from issues Russia, his Deputy Rod Rosenstein.

Mr Mueller’s sin is that he is investigating the links between the Trump campaign and Russia’s attack on the 2016 election focused on securing a Trump win. But worse than this it is thought he may have extended his investigation into the Trump family finances including those of the President. If this is the case is it this just a prurient desire on the part of Mr Mueller to know about the business dealings of a billionaire? Or is it perhaps, given the increasing evidence of Trump/Russia links, that it is a reasonable suspicion there may be some material business connection here which creates a security risk for the United States.

Will President Trump sack Attorney General Sessions? Who knows, but it is far from inconceivable, which is where it should be. Would he then go on and get a more compliant Attorney General to sack Robert Mueller? One suspects there is little point in taking all the heat that would arise from the former without going on and doing the latter.

The architecture of government established by the founding fathers with its separation of powers and the norms of democratic behaviour evolved over 200 years are currently wrestling with a President who is using all the power and authority accrued to his office over generations to destroy the very foundations upon which it stands. The bureaucrats in the front line of this battle should be recognised for the vital job they are doing.  There should be no misunderstanding  about the gravity of the situation. The fact Trump is a buffoon and a boor should not distract from his naked exploitation of power in office for personal interest.

President Trump and his family seem incapable of seeing any distinction between their interests and those of the office of President. What’s good for Trump is good for the USA might be their credo. It seems they are genuinely incapable of seeing the issues and conflicts their behaviour generates. The recent revelations about Trump Junior and his meeting with Russian lawyer Veselnitskaya is typical of what has happened throughout the past 6 months. A meeting initially described as with four or five people about the process of adoption becomes, over time, a meeting about Russian hacked data of Hilary Clinton’s, with 6 then 7 and now 8 people. One a “former” agent of Russian Military Intelligence.  Another suspected of having links with Russian intelligence and one with self confessed links to Yuri Chaika, the Supreme Russian Prosecuter.

Perhaps, if President Trump does start to scythe through the Justice department, the partisan anchors within the Republican party will start to be pulled up and the Legislative arm of the government would at last take action against what, it is increasingly clear, is a rogue President. If they do not then there is a genuine threat to democracy in the United States and that is a matter of global concern.

 

How to become a millionaire and why that does not qualify you for public office.

Back in May I published a review of an excellent book by Jane Meyer on Dark Money, the vast amounts of private wealth deployed my multi-billionaires to promote a libertarian agenda in the United States. Central to the book are the Koch Brothers, owners of the second largest private company in the US, Koch Industries, which has made both of them multi billionaires. Generally they don’t come out of the book well but there is one story which does indicate at least a glimmer of self awareness.

It relates to a speech given in 2003 to alumni of the Deerfield Academy when David Koch was pledging $25m to the prep school he had attended. He asked himself the question he thought they would all be thinking: How did David Koch become so wealthy as to be able to donate $25m to his former school? He explained thus.

It all started when I was a little boy and one day my father gave me an apple. I soon sold the apple for $5. With the five dollars I bought two apples and sold them for ten. Then bought 4 apples and sold them for twenty. This went on day after day, month after month year after year until my father died and left me $300m!

This story displays a degree of humility which does not seem to have been evident at any other time in the life of either Koch brother. Unwittingly however, I believe it goes to a profound truth. Immense wealth is a matter of immense good luck. That good luck might be being heir of a man who built his fortune in the run up to world war two building the third largest oil refinery in the Third Reich; it might be being a KGB operative in the years of marketisation of the Russian economy acquiring state assets at knock down prices; it might be being part of a landed gentry that had the foresight to acquire large tracts of land which became central London; it might be coming up with an operating system which gets adopted as a key component in an industry just as it experiences exponential growth.

For those multi-millionaires whose fortunes are not wholly good luck, simply arriving with birth, their effort is at least matched by good luck. Being in the right place at the right time. When a significant fortune is acquired a series of reinforcing processes start to kick in.

As Mr Piketty points out “…once a fortune passes a certain threshold, size effects due to economies of scale in the management of the portfolio and opportunities for risk are reinforced by the fact that nearly all the income on this capital can be ploughed back into investment.” You can diversify your investments to reduce risk, you can employ some very clever people to help you, you can also employ some other very clever people to ensure that you do not pay the level of tax on your earnings that lesser mortals do.

So for example the fortune of Liliane Bettecourt, heir to the L’Orael cosmetic fortune saw her wealth increase without doing a days work in her life between 1990 and 2010 from $2bn to $25bn. Bill Gates, the epitome of en entrepreneur saw his fortune increase over the same period from $4bn to $50bn. This provided a real return on capital for both of them of around 10% per annum. Interestingly that rate of growth has continued since Mr Gates stopped working.

Now the question arises as to whether any of this matters. These fortunes are built on industries that employ thousands of people, contribute millions in taxes, is this not simply the politics of envy? If we did not allow this concentration of wealth would not entrepreneurialism collapse? Would we be killing the goose that lays the golden eggs? These are all legitimate issues and they need to be addressed but there is an underlying risk which is threatening the very foundation of wealth creation in the modern world. A legitimate and effective state.

If we put aside any moral question about how people can “earn” $100m or $10bn or $50bn there is a fundamental problem about the way in which wealth and power interact. In multiple and complex ways wealth enables people to exercise much more power within a state than less wealthy citizens, not just in areas  like the business they own and know, but across a much wider range of matters.

Obviously, wealth can be deployed in very direct ways to buy media to shape opinions, it can support election campaigns to ensure the right people get into public office. These and a host of other practical things can be facilitated by those that have lots of cash

There is another, more insidious exercise of power however which we all collude in to some degree. We still have a tendency to see wealth through a secular version of the Protestant work ethic as a sign of being one of the elect. Perhaps they have not been chosen by God but the talent for getting rich is seen as a sign of generic skill. The skills and temperament that enable you to become very rich should enable you to be good at other things indeed at anything. Your views should be listened to on whatever is the question of the day.

A variation of this is the view that the “business” of government would be better managed by people who are good at making money.  Who is going to make government work better, a lowly paid Building Inspector or a a multi-billionaire property developer?

Fortunately, Donald Trump is working hard to dispel this myth. We will take as fact that he has increased the fortune left to him and he is a canny property developer. I appreciate these are both moot points, but put that to one side.  If we look at his period in office, not just from the wishy washy, Guardian reading viewpoint of someone that thinks misogyny,  Islamaphobia, racism and generally being uncouth is bad, but just in Trumps own terms. His performance as President has been an unmitigated disaster. Despite controlling both houses of Congress he has not managed to secure one significant piece of legislation. He has made the United States and the Presidency objects of pity and derision respectively.

His incompetence goes to the people he has surrounded himself with. People who can not even collude with a foreign nation effectively. Donald Jnr and Jared Kushnar run off to a meeting to secure adverse information about Hilary Clinton from someone who is presented as an emissary of the Russian government. Kushnar then reveals the meeting. Donald Jnr thinks that is not incriminating enough so sends out an email trail that clarifies the offence. Perhaps worst of all, if they are to be believed, they didn’t even get any dirt on Hilary. Collusion a la Johnny English.

As the heat of the multiple investigations has grown President Trump has now appointed a team of lawyers to defend him. His incompetence seems to know no bounds, even when his personal liberty might be at risk he seems to appoint people he is comfortable with rather than people that might be competent. Leading the his legal team is Mark Kasowitz, a lawyer who has worked for Mr Trump for some time on property and matrimonial issues.

Mr Kasowitz shares President Trumps forthright way of expressing himself. He has just had to make a public apology to someone that emailed him suggesting he might not be the best person to represent President Trump. This triggered a series of email responses containing threats and profanities in equal part. You might think this is not the measured temperament you would prefer in what is likely to be a high stakes legal defence. I think you would be right.

The challenge to his professional strength on constitutional and political matters may be more or less correct however of much greater significance for President Trump Mr Kasowitz has not applied for security clearance and given revelations about his personal life this might be because he assumes he wont get it.

Why is this important? Because much of what Donald Trump might be in legal jeopardy about is classified. Not only would Mr Kasowitz not be able to see the information, no one could tell him what it was about!

Mr Kasowitz and the rest of the legal team defending President Trump will cost a lot of money. It is fortunate for President Trump that his talents for making money in the private sector mean he can afford to pay such fees in order to defend his lack of talents for leading in the public sector.

It seems increasingly likely that Mr Trump’s Presidency will not end well. Bizarrely he seems to be doing everything he can to ensure it does not end well for himself. It is vital however that his boorish incompetence is not allowed to further undermine faith in politics and the state. If the experience of the Trump presidency confirms being a millionaire is largely a matter of luck and more importantly no indication of a more general competence embracing public office then President Trump will have done at least one good thing in his hopefully brief term as leader of the free world.

 

 

A Spectacle of Public Degredation

It is ironic that on both sides of the Atlantic conservative governments are trapped with leaders they would change in the blink of an eye if they could. Here Theresa May is in office but not power and only remains so because the Conservatives cannot identify a leader who would not result in the party tearing itself apart. In the States however the position is much, much worse.

This is a holiday weekend in America and it was preceded by an unprecedented attack by President Trump on MSNBC’s Morning Joe show hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski. The twitter attack has broadened into a general attack on “fake news” and the “biased media” but the initial tweets did not just challenge the views of the two people involved, they were personally offensive.

There is a risk that familiarity breads indifference. This must not be allowed to happen. Another MSNBC  presenter, Rachel Maddow made two very good points about the attack. The point Ms Maddow’s makes is that it gives some insight into the political method of this President and also the contempt in which he holds the office he holds and the Nation he leads.

In terms of political method it is suggested the twitter storm was consciously created to take the eyes of the American people away from two bad news stories. One is the assessment by the Congressional Budget Office of  the latest Senate proposals for the repeal of Obama Care. As may have been anticipated the cuts are even worse than the Congressional proposals. They have to be in order to fund the tax cuts for the wealthy that the neo-liberal right want to get through.

The second was a story about a Republican supporter called Peter W Smith. In 2016, after it was confirmed the Democratic Party had been hacked by the Russians, Mr Smith pulled together a group to try to make contact with those that had done the hacking with the aim of asking for any emails of Hilary Clinton’s which could be used to undermine her credibility in the election. This would have been collusion with a foreign power who it was known was trying to undermine the US election. More significantly Peter Smith implied he was working with Mike Flynn, President Trumps first National Security advisor who had to be sacked after it was discovered he had lied about contacts with the Russians during the campaign and transition.

There are a number of links in this chain which need to be tested. However, if the Trump campaign was working with Mr Smith and he was trying to get hacked material from a source he knew to be acting on behalf of a foreign government to attack Hilary Clinton then this looks like collusion to undermine the electoral process in the US.

It is clearly true these are two bad stories for the President and provide motive for deflecting the public’s attention away. However, I think Ms Madders overestimates the guile of the President. This man does not think he tweets. He tweets about whatever comes into his head that he gets exercised about with no consideration of the consequences. There is a trap lots have fallen into which is trying to make sense of what this man says. Myself, I think inside of his head ideas roll around with all the logic of fridge magnet letters that have been dropped.

There is however one thing I suspect does provide a thread of consistency through his thoughts and actions. Follow the money. His actions to date in terms of avoiding conflicts of interest by handing over control of his business interests to… his two sons should have been branded outrageous. It is difficult to understand how he has got away with it. Partly it confirms Shakespeare’s line, “If money go before, all ways do lie open”. He uses his wealth as a testament to his ability and his avoidance of  tax as evidence he is smart.

Where I believe Ms Maddow’s is bang on the money is in relation to his disdain for his office and for the consequences of his actions on the standing of the United States of America. There are a number of ultra rich, ultra libertarian individuals in the States who will be happy Trump is in power as it goes to their agenda of undermining popular support for democracy. They need to be careful what they wish for.

Since he was elected Trump has bee driven by his narcissistic personality to confirm he gained the majority of the popular vote despite all evidence to the contrary. He has talked a lot about voter fraud  and indeed has set up the Presidential Election Integrity Commission the vice Chair of which is a man called Chris Kobach. He wrote to all the States Attorney Generals asking for a list of all the voters registered in their State, their address, the party they vote for, their voting history, their date of birth, their social security number, any convictions they have had.

The separation of powers is a testament to the wisdom of the founding fathers and never has it been a more positive benefit. To date the response of all the states has been… NO! In fact the State of Mississippi in its official response to the request said that the Commission could “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico”. This push back is important.

Mike Rogers, Head of the National Security Agency has complained to lawmakers he is frustrated at his inability to get the President to accept Security Agency information about the the Russian attack on the election. At the same time budget proposals put forward by the President propose to withdraw funding ($4m) from the Election Assistance Commission who’s role it is to protect the American voting system that the Russians have just attacked.

President Trump is an uncultured and loutish boor who is undermining the office of the President. That would be bad enough and is a matter for the American people. To the extent that his actions have repercussions around the world and undermine the foundations of democracy it is a matter for all of us. His behaviour is a public spectacle of degradation, worse it is a degradation of his public office.