Sunday, 14 August 2016

Brexitwatch: 'take control' means lose control

‘Take control’ was always a bit of an odd slogan for the Brexiters – dominated as they are by laissez faire right wingers who have happily watched the commanding heights of our economy – the car industry, the railways, etc – sold off to foreign companies. Indeed, apparently two-thirds of our major manufacturing companies are now in overseas hands.

Since Brexit, we have lost even more control. The fall in the pound and slump in shares it caused meant our businesses could be snapped up at knock-down prices. So, for example, Pinewood Studios has gone to the Americans, hi-tech trailblazer ARM was bought by the Japanese, and Qatar has increased its share in the company that owns British Airways.

Another foreign-owned enterprise is Hinkley Point nuclear power station. It looks as though Theresa May would dearly love to cancel it because of the eye-watering price for electricity it commits us to paying, but, the Chinese are major investors, and they have made it clear that if it does not go ahead, they will be severely displeased.

As the Brexiters’ ‘plan’ involves us cosying up to people like the Chinese to replace the trading partners in Europe we are turning our back on, it will be interesting to see how much ‘control’ they dare exercise over Hinkley Point. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Brexitwatch: turkeys vote for Christmas - 2

In spite of receiving £60m worth of subsidies from the EU every year, the people of Cornwall voted 57-43 to leave. Europe contributed to a whole swathe of things – such as the Eden Project, education, broadband, and other infrastructure in the county.

To considerable derision from those had voted to stay, within hours of the referendum result, Cornwall’s representatives were rattling the begging bowl demanding that they should not lose the EU subsidies they had just voted to get rid of.

Apparently they were relying on assurances from leading Brexiters that they would not lose out if they opted to kill the golden goose. It is not clear on what authority Boris, Fox, Leadsom and co gave these promises.

Perhaps the Cornish should now ask them to have a whip round. After all, however the rest of us may have suffered, they have done very nicely out of Brexit. It might also be worth approaching the 5 local MPs who campaigned to leave.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Brexitwatch: turkeys vote for Christmas - 1

About 60 per cent of Britain's old age pensioners voted for Brexit. But in many ways they have the most to lose from leaving the EU.  About 75,000 of the people working in adult care, such as old people’s homes, come from the EU.

This work is notoriously poorly paid, and replacing them could prove very difficult. Already the sector has 70,000 unfilled vacancies. As the population ages, an independent report by two NGOs reckons that by 2020, it will be short of 200,000 workers.

It is a similar story in the NHS. One doctor in every ten, and one nurse in every 25 comes from Europe.

The Express, one of the most virulently anti-EU propaganda sheets, is now panicking about the effects of Brexit, warning pensioners: ‘your retirement funds are set to shrink’ because of falling interest rates and rising inflation. Not to mention the fall of the pound. Should have thought of that before you urged people to vote Leave.

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Coups d’état; what is the chance of succeeding?

Last month’s coup d’état against Turkey’s President Erdogan failed, but between 1950 and 2010, on average a coup had a 50-50 chance of succeeding.

Jonathan Powell and Clayton Thyne from the University of Kentucky examined 450 from that 60 year period, and found that 227 – 49.7% – were successful. And the plotters seemed to be improving, because those mounted since 2003 had a 70% success rate.

But coups have become less common. Their heyday was the 1960s, when there were about 15 a year. By the first decade of the new millennium that was down to 5 a year. One reason may be that the world is getting richer. Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler of Oxford University found that if people’s average incomes doubled, the risk of a coup fell by more than a quarter.

As to the ingredients of a successful coup, there seems a fair degree of consensus – detain key leaders, take over key media outlets, control key transport arteries. The Turkish plotters failed to  implement these properly, but perhaps a new factor was at play – social media, which President Erdogan used very effectively to rally support.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Most ISIS victims are Muslims

Following yesterday’s murder of an 86 year old Roman Catholic priest in his church in Rouen in northern France, a reminder that most victims of ISIS terrorists are Muslims.

More than 40 people have been killed by a massive suicide truck bomb in the Kurdish-controlled city of Qamishli in north-east Syria near the border with Turkey. ISIS said it was behind the attack which happened near a security headquarters. The blast appears to have caused a gas tank to explode, adding to the destruction.

Kurds have been perhaps the most resolute opponents of ISIS, in spite of also finding themselves under attack from Turkey’s increasingly autocratic president, Recep Erdogan. As a result they have often been the victims of bombings by the Islamist terrorists.

Earlier this month, an ISIS suicide bomber on a motorbike killed 16 people among a crowd which had gathered to celebrate the end of Ramadan in the Kurdish-majority city of Hasakah in northeastern Syria.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

'Storm: Nature and Culture': out in September!

This is how the publisher, Reaktion Books, describes my new book:-

Storms affect our lives in many remarkable and dangerous ways. Gales, hurricanes, cyclones, blizzards, tornados, hail and sand and dust storms regularly demonstrate the awesome power of nature that all of us experience in some form. But what causes them? What role have they played in our history, religion and the arts? And will climate change make them even more destructive? 

This strikingly illustrated book takes an in-depth and unique look at the nature of storms and their impact on our lives. It shows how storms have changed the course of history, playing a decisive role in major battles and momentous revolutions from Roman times to the modern day. It describes the deadliest storms in history, such as the Bangladesh cyclone of 1970 that killed perhaps a million people, and explains how humans have tried to control storms through religion, superstition and science. Despite their potent ability to cause destruction, storms also benefit humanity. Stormdescribes the major role they have played in the arts, from Shakespeare’s plays to novels such as Robinson Crusoe and famous works of art by Rembrandt, Constable, Monet, Munch and Turner. It describes how storms even out global temperatures, providing rain and clearing out old trees to make way for new, and considers what will happen to storms in the future. Fully illustrated and brilliantly written, Storm is the first book to cover all aspects of these natural phenomena.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Brexitwatch: Broken Promise no 7 - 'taking control'

The Brexiters told us that if we voted to leave the EU, we would 'take control.' Apparently not.

With less than a month gone since the referendum, we have already had a prime minister that no one voted for imposed on us . So are the Brexiters demanding a general election? Apparently not.

The other thing we heard a lot about from the Leave campaign was that the UK parliament must be sovereign. So is it going to get a say on when our unelected prime minister gives notice to quit the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty? Not if the Brexiters get their way.

The minister in charge of Brexit, David Davis, appears determined to make sure Parliament has no control, but a number of British citizens are mounting legal challenges. Predictably they have been subjected to threats and racist abuse.