Blueprint for a Peaceful, Legal, and Non-Violent Civic Resistance

How the Continuity-Remain Government’s and political class’ anti-democratic determination not to deliver the Brexit which 17.4 million voted for could be resisted and defeated

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Saturday 11th August 2018 

Just after the 2016 EU Referendum, I speculated on Twitter that, despite the clear majority vote to leave, the overwhelmingly anti-Brexit ‘Liberal’-Elite, New-Class Establishment would not willingly respect and implement the electorate’s democratic decision without a fight, so that we might have to take to the streets, preferably non-violently, to achieve it.

In hindsight, even that pessimistic prediction was an under-estimation, but the revelations from Theresa May’s now infamous Chequers Summit, and developments since, serve only to exacerbate fears of an impending massive sell-out and a soft-Remain, Brexit-In-Name-Only, at the very least. In my view, even May conceding a second referendum, as the price of the EU’s agreeing a limited or even indefinite extension of Article 50, can’t be ruled out.

Assuming that supposedly Brexiteer Tory MPs continue to sit on their hands, and that the burgeoning grassroots revolt doesn’t grow sufficiently large or irresistible to force her resignation and replacement with a committed Brexiteer, the question arises: what next?

I don’t believe that May and her sycophantic majority-Remain government should be allowed just to ride roughshod over democracy itself. I hope there’d be huge outrage across the country, particularly among the 17.4 million who voted for Brexit, not least on the Government’s promise to implement their decision. But: to be effective, what tangible form should it take?

The ‘Liberal’-Elite Remainer Establishment would undoubtedly love us to take to the streets, so that we could, with the willing assistance of its similarly-inclined compliant media, be painted as ‘violent far-right’. Something more subtle would be required. To quote Sun Tzu in ‘The Art of War’ – ‘the wise general never fights a battle on ground of the enemy’s choosing’.

My provisional blueprint for a rolling programme of peaceful, non-violent, civic-resistance has as its inspiration the fuel price protests of 2000. A maximum of a mere 3,000 people, by cleverly strategically blockading the main fuel refineries and distribution facilities, and skilfully eliciting public support, not only credibly threatened to, but very nearly did, bring the country to a halt, but also, crucially, and as was admitted only later, very nearly brought Blair’s first government down.

Fuel Protests 2000 v2

We’ve become accustomed to believing that, between elections, we’re comparatively powerless. I’m not so sure. True, we may not have direct political power. But what 17.4 million of us in aggregate do potentially have is economic power, and in spades. There are several ways we can exert substantial unconventional political influence, and by wholly peaceful, legal means.

Mass, rent and council-tax strikes can adversely affect local authority finances very quickly. The key is in numbers. They can’t possibly sue and/or prosecute everyone, because that would overwhelm most local authorities’ meagre legal resources, as well as clogging up the Courts; moreover the cash-flow problems it would cause most councils would be damaging on their own. Imagine if council staff couldn’t be paid because of a mass rent and council tax strike.

The next option is for a mass boycott of the corporates who’ve joined in anti-Brexit scaremongering, whether of their own volition or at the Government’s request. 17.4 million is a lot of customers. . . .

Alternative supermarket chains to, for example, Morrison’s, or Sainsbury’s whose Blair-ennobled Lord (David) Sainsbury donated £4.2 million to the Remain campaign, are available. Watch their share prices start to tank if costs rise from un-sold or perishing stock, as sales slump and profits start to slide.

We don’t need to choose, or continue to use anti-Brexit Branson’s Virgin-branded trains, banking services, or satellite TV. Not only are there alternative online retailers to Amazon available, but can we not do without most of what we buy from Amazon for three months?

Because it could take as short as that. Remember, the modern mass retailing business model is predicated on just-in-time delivery for high-volume sales, thus minimising stock-holding and warehousing costs. A significant interruption to the constant flow of high-volume sales, via a mass customer boycott, has the potential for major logistical problems, a build-up of non-shifting stock, and with all the attendant cost ramifications and effect on profit.

And that has the additional possible effect of reducing the State’s tax take, both from VAT on sales and from corporation tax on company profits further down the line.

You can probably think of many more:  but this final one might, I suspect, be a potential clincher. It exploits the old adage that if you owe the bank £50,000 and can’t repay it, then you have a problem: but if you owe the bank £50,000,000 and can’t repay it, then it’s the bank which has a problem. Because a mass withholding of mortgage payments can affect the entire banking system faster than you might think.

This is where it gets a bit technical, but please bear with me.

It’s all to do with the extra capital which, under international banking standards, a bank must retain, once a mortgage goes into non-performing mode for two or three months. Not only that, but banks then also have to increase the provisions they set aside against default and losses too, so it can be a double-whammy. Provisions are a charge against profits, so it means lower profits, no new lending permitted, & in extremis, restrictions on withdrawals, because liquid deposits can form part of the (greater) capital that suddenly has to be retained.

When a bank lends money, it creates an asset of its own –its right to receive repayment, or the indebtedness of the borrower to the bank. But under those same international banking standards, the bank must assign that asset a risk-weighting, which in turn dictates the amount of capital the bank has to retain against it, and which therefore cannot also be lent.

Lending to sovereign governments, particularly those with good credit ratings, can typically be risk-weighted low. Governments, after all, have the power to tax their citizens, backed by the threat of State coercion, to stump up the money to meet their debts, and so are considered a good risk.

Likewise, lending to good-quality corporates, especially those with a high Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, or Fitch credit-rating, can be risk-weighted only slightly higher than medium-quality sovereign debt.

Basel II Risk Weights

Residential mortgages are typically risk-weighted at 35 per cent to 40 per cent: which means that, for a residential mortgage portfolio totalling, say, £500 billion, the bank must retain, and therefore not lend, a capital base of between £175 billion and £200 billion to support it.

But if a residential mortgage goes into default through non-payment, its risk-weighting has to rise substantially, and can double, to at least 70 per cent to 80 per cent. If a whole £500 billion residential mortgage portfolio went into payment arrears, then the bank would immediately have to set aside between £350 billion and £400 billion against it, not between £175 billion and £200 billion. That’s between £175 billion and £200 million which, suddenly, is no longer available for lending on other, new borrowing, and at a profitable interest-rate margin.

I used to be involved in ‘What If?’ modelling for this kind of contingency: the planning assumed increased mortgage defaults from a major economic crash, but the effects from a mass withholding of mortgage payments aren’t dissimilar.

Clearing banks & building societies, as prime retail lenders, especially, are more vulnerable than often assumed. The shock of a significant part of an entire residential property-mortgage lending book suddenly needing double the previous capital base just to support it is a potential nightmare scenario, particularly for primarily-retail lenders.

And if that newly-doubled capital base is comprised partly of liquid deposits, whose withdrawal has to be restricted, then depositors may start to worry that they may not be able to get their money out. And then you have all the ingredients in place for a bank run. Remember Northern Rock?

It doesn’t stop there. Say the bank decides to foreclose on a mortgage and sell the asset which comprises its security. But banks aren’t in the residential property management business, and don’t want bricks and mortar assets sitting on the books, so they will typically go for a quick sale, even at well below market value, to recover their debt quickly.

Now imagine a small residential close of 20 houses, average market value, say £300,000, but including two whose owners are in default on their £200,000 mortgages, and which the bank as mortgagee is therefore threatening to re-possess and sell.

Residential close

The bank wouldn’t be bothered about market value: it would merely want to recover its debt as fast as possible. So suddenly, two allegedly £300,000 houses are potentially coming up for sale at only £220,000 each. What happens to the market value of the other eighteen? And how do their owners feel about that? Translate that on to a national scale, and suddenly you’re looking at a potential house-price crisis as well.

But, and as Sun Tzu himself might have said, you don’t actually have to create a bank run and/or a house-price crisis – you just have to create the plausible prospect of a bank run and/or a house-price crisis.

To my mind, the ironic beauty of this kind of overall strategy is that, instead of challenging the Remainer Establishment-Elite directly, on the streets, as it would prefer, it instead targets, and in its key aspects – rampant retail consumerism, fractional reserve banking, cheap credit, and a property bubble – the very system which the crony-corporatist globalist oligarchy has created and encouraged at least partially to enrich and empower itself, and then uses it as a weapon against its own creators. Sun Tzu, I suspect, would approve.

These are merely the economic measures. There are others. For example, it needs only six vehicles travelling sedately, but perfectly legally, at 40-50 mph in a horizontal line across all six lanes, to induce motorway gridlock.

In 2000, we saw what just 3,000 people – a mere 0.02 per cent of 17.4 million – so nearly achieved by boxing clever. Just like Sun Tzu favoured, they targeted their opponent where he least expected it, at a point where he was weak, and would have preferred not to fight.Fuel Protests 2000 v1

Imagine what pressure could be brought to bear on a Brexit-denying government and political class by a concerted, concentrated mass participation in a rolling programme of peaceful, non-violent, civic resistance on the same basis.

It feels increasingly unlikely that we’ll succeed in getting our democracy-disdaining political class to implement the democratic result they promised to respect and honour by appealing to their principles, or to their hearts and minds.

But then, as a shrewd, if cynical, man reportedly once said: ‘If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will soon follow’. 

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The Overpowering Stench of Treachery

The sheer scale and level, exposed by the past week’s revelations, of Theresa May’s deceit and double-dealing on Brexit have created an overwhelming miasma of perfidy that now envelops her, her Government, and her Party

Note: this is the longer (and updated) version of the article originally published at The Conservative Woman on Wednesday 18th July 2018.

If there was already a whiff of treachery surrounding Theresa May’s Machiavellian double-dealing revealed in her Soft-Remain (non)-‘Brexit’ plan sprung on her Cabinet at Chequers on Friday 6th July, then the past week has transformed it into nothing short of an overwhelming stench.

On Thursday 12th July, it emerged that May had not, as she claimed, merely ‘shown’ her plan to German Chancellor Angela Merkel: as many had suspected, correctly as it turned out, it had actually been submitted for approval. At the Chequers ‘summit’, the now-resigned former Brexit Secretary David Davis was, reportedly, told by May that her plan could not be changed, because ‘I have already cleared it with Angela Merkel’.

What an admission. Britain’s head of government requesting approval of her plan for Brexit, (if the ‘Brexit’ label can any longer be accurately applied to it all) before its disclosure even to her own Cabinet, from a foreign leader who, if not an enemy, must certainly be regarded as an adversary.

2018.07.12 Me Theresa Chamberlain Betrayal in our timeWas May really so naïve as to imagine that its content would not immediately be relayed to Michel Barnier and the EU’s negotiating team? If so, that surely beggars belief. Several less than flattering comparisons with Chamberlain’s 1938-1939 undue deference to Hitler inevitably followed, but were hardly excessive. May’s No. 10 Downing Street team reacted by issuing an (unconvincing) denial of the words allegedly used to Davis, but, tellingly, not of their substance.

Then, late on Saturday 14th July, came the bombshell. Former (and also-resigned) Minister of State at the Brexit Department, Steve Baker, revealed the covert, cloak-and-dagger operation, mounted by 10 Downing Street and presided over by May, not only deliberately to foil a Brexit which would fulfil the pledges of May’s 2017 General Election Manifesto and her Lancaster House and Florence speeches, so as to engineer as a substitute for it the Soft-Remain plan presented to the Chequers ‘summit’ as an unalterable fait-accompli, but also secretly to use the Brexit Department’s functions and output as deception and camouflage to fool Ministers, MPs and the public into believing that a genuine Brexit was being pursued.

Baker’s quotes were, and are, political dynamite, and almost defy belief:

An establishment elite, who never accepted the fundamental right of the public to choose democratically their institutions, are working towards overturning them.’

‘The Brexit Department was effectively a Potemkin structure designed to distract from what the Cabinet Office Europe Unit was doing for the Prime Minister’

May had willingly deceived not just us, the voting public, but even her own Ministers and MPs. She mobilised them to defeat the Lords’ Brexit-wrecking amendments in the House of Commons over the past few weeks, so as to preserve the façade of a plausible-sounding Brexit. At the same time, she was presiding over a secret plot cynically to deceive and exploit her own Brexit Department as a camouflage to conceal her Cabinet Office Europe Unit’s backstairs operation to procure her preferred Soft-Remain (non)-Brexit, in collusion with the EU negotiators.

In hindsight, it’s easy to see why the Eurocrats refused to negotiate with us on the basis of May’s fabled ‘Red Lines’, if they were at the same time being privately sounded out on what became the Chequers Deal. The ineradicable suspicion is that Brussels was being secretly assured all the time that our ‘official’ negotiating stance was mere theatre for the consumption of the gullible masses, and that the UK would accept whatever crumbs were chosen to be dropped from the Brussels table, at whatever cost.

Almost simultaneously, from sources close to Airbus, came allegations that May’s arch-Remainer inner circle had manipulated it into issuing, in the week preceding the Chequers ‘summit’, its much-publicised dire warnings about the dangers for jobs and exports of a No-Deal Brexit.

However, this commentary, by someone with the technical knowledge to know, suggests that the reality is rather more prosaic and long-term, and that subordinating the commercial imperatives of aircraft manufacturing to fulfilling the short-term expediencies of politicians with an agenda isn’t always the wisest course.

Whatever its effect, Airbus’ ‘welcome’ anti-Brexit contribution had, it was said, been agreed after discussions with the Government – presumably signifying Business Secretary and arch-Remainer Greg Clark having been not merely the willing mouthpiece of pro-Brussels, crony-corporatist big-business, but also its helpful script-writer too.

That, in the midst of all this, both Business Minister Andrew Griffiths’ forced resignation after sending over 2,000 ‘lewd’ texts to two female constituents, and the Government awarding a £2billion RAF contract, not to its compliant partner-in-deception Airbus, but to Boeing, passed almost without comment, spoke volumes.

Political observers were still trying to digest the Baker revelations when May herself appeared on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday 15th July: though not before claiming, somewhat incredibly in The Mail On Sunday that she was ‘fighting for the Brexit that the British people voted for’, but later contradicting herself by issuing her ‘Back my Brexit, or I’ll abandon any Brexit’ threat.  How the latter was meant to assist the former was unclear.

Predictably, May’s interview with Andrew Marr did not go well. It culminated in what May obviously intended to be the takeaway soundbite, but which backfired spectacularly. Her “People may have voted with their hearts, but I have to be hard-headed” remark successfully managed to disparage 17.4 million Leave voters by condescendingly portraying them as merely un-thinking and emotion-driven.

It emerged later that day that, as if No 10 threatening dissenting Ministers with a walk home from Chequers on Friday 6th July wasn’t petty enough,  Conservative Central Office was now apparently contemplating threatening to withhold centrally-disbursed funds from Brexiteer Tory MPs.

2018.07.16 Strafford Tory threats de-fund Brexiteer MPsAlthough, if true, its enthusiasm for this may be tempered by the prospect of some of the £4million loans extended to it from constituency associations being recalled and used locally to support Brexiteer MPs, it did tend to show May’s claque behaving more like the henchmen of a paranoid Mafia boss than the office of the Prime Minister in a democracy.

The morning of Monday 16th July brought what is arguably the next phase of the Remainer-Elite’s Project Overturn Referendum, Justine Greening’s proposal for a second vote on  Brexit. Which is curious, to say the least, given her January 2017 assertion that, although she was a pro-Remain campaigner and voter, nevertheless ‘we have to respect the overall democratic result.’

Greening re 2nd Ref via Change Britain

If incredulous initial observations, that this was less likely to be an original idea conceived by Ms Greening, hitherto most noted for proposing that individuals be empowered to change their gender merely by ticking a box on an official government form, than a pre-planned, scripted, intervention using her as the designated mouthpiece, may have been merely churlish, the subsequent trenchant criticism and the  widespread derision heaped on her suggested Referendum question – two Leave options to split the Leave vote, but only one option for Remain – was more than justified.

Justine Greening's 2nd referendum planThe afternoon of Monday 16th July saw May make a statement to the House of Commons on the previous weekend’s NATO summit. Standing at the Despatch Box, and with a completely straight face, she criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin for ‘undermining democracy’. Not for the first time, she gave the impression that her brain simply does not connect her mouth with her memory.

The House then debated the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill. After (rightly, but, predictably, for the wrong reasons) May had accepted four amendments tabled by Brexiteers of the backbench European Research Group, the consequences of which would be effectively to render May’s Soft-Remain (non)-Brexit Plan unacceptable to the EU, the most die-hard Tory-Remainer MPs retaliated by actually voting with Labour, the Liberal-Democrats and the SNP, against the Government trying to pursue the Ultra-Soft Brexit they claim to want.

We thus saw alleged ‘Conservatives’, plotting with Leftists to prevent the Government honouring the very Manifesto commitment on which those same ‘Conservatives’ had been content to stand for election and be elected, a mere 13 months ago.

On the morning of Tuesday 17th July, those same die-hard Tory-Remainer MPs were reported to again be aiming to defeat their own Remainer-dominated Government in further debate on the Cross-Border trade Bill that evening. Despite knowing full well that, should they succeed in defeating the Government, that could precipitate a General  Election whose outcome was likely to be a Corbyn-led Government, no fewer than 12 of them voted with Labour and other Leftist parties in a way that reflected starkly their anti-Brexit recalcitrance and desire to see it halted it in its tracks, whatever the cost to their Party.

The 12 Remainer rebels

They failed. Thanks to 5 brave Labour-Brexiteers defying their Party and voting with the Government, not to ‘support the Tories’ but to uphold democracy, the Government won the vote by 307 votes to 301. This almost certainly means that the May-Robbins Soft-Remain (non)-Brexit Plan will be dead on arrival in Brussels, containing provisions that the EU could probably never accept.

However whether a Prime Minister, who by now evidently lacked the authority even to persuade MPs to award themselves five extra days’ paid holiday by bringing Parliament’s Summer Recess forward, would have even noticed is in itself debatable.

To an extent, the Greening proposal and the Parliamentary antics of the die-hard Tory-Remainer MPs are peripheral to the reek of deliberate betrayal now pervading the May Administration and the upper reaches of the Conservative Party. But they are nevertheless an integral part of it.

With the possible, and even then disputable, exception of Blair on Iraq, I personally cannot recall in recent political history an example of a Prime Minister practising sheer anti-democratic duplicity and deception on a level and scale equivalent to what has been revealed about May in the past week.

While pretending to be implementing the democratically-expressed wishes of the British electorate, she has in fact been systematically deceiving her own Cabinet, Ministers, MPs, activists, voters, and the public, in order to manifest the wishes of a small coterie which clearly regards both the demos and the institution of democracy with undisguised contempt, and as something to be ignored, if not covertly circumvented, if it delivers an outcome uncongenial to them.

Moreover, the Party that she nominally – and I use the word advisedly – leads cannot escape the charge of complicity in her perfidy. Which other Ministers were in on the plot? Who knew what, and when? At the very least, that the majority of its MPs, even now, support her desire to mute if not negate the largest mandate for one specific policy in British political history leave them open to that charge.

Were her chicanery and double-dealing, and their own charlatanry, restricted to matters of domestic politics, they might, though still egregious, evade the ultimate accusation of treachery. But they are not. They prejudice and endanger, not only the enduring public consent for our constitutional settlement and the continuing validity of our democracy, but also the nature of our relationship with a foreign power who, though it may not be an enemy, is arguably an adversary and certainly not, in this matter, a friend. It is this latter element which surely makes the accusation of treachery tenable.

The present ‘Conservative’ Party, at least in its higher echelons of command, has been exposed this past week as a morally-bankrupt cesspit of political putrefaction, a rotting, decaying husk. In another, perhaps better, time, a Prime Minister accused of what Theresa May now, with justification, stands accused of, would have been defenestrated within days, if not hours. That she is allowed to cling insecurely to office, incompetent and ineffective in everything she does except calculated betrayal, is the visible manifestation of the overpowering stench of treachery that envelops her and her Party.

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Bearding Branson For Bucks

Branson was dead keen to play for Remain. To pay for Remain, though, not quite so much….

Recall how, during the EU Referendum, one of the Remain campaign’s most prominent and vocal celebrity supporters for keeping Britain in the EU was Richard Branson?

Despite laying himself open to charges of rank hypocrisy – Branson, remember, is such an ardent advocate of Britain’s EU membership that he bases himself in the (non-EU) Caribbean, and his business interests in (equally non-EU) Switzerland – Beardie was nevertheless adamant about what a sheer, unmitigated catastrophe for Britain a vote for Brexit would be.

Neither the numerous critics of his arrant hypocrisy, nor the multitude of commentators who pointed out how, er, spectacularly inaccurate a track record he had on the entire issue of the Euro and the Single Market, could deter him.

euro-by-branson-2

Now surely, you might imagine, such a committed pro-European wouldn’t have hesitated to back his unshakeable convictions with a sizeable chunk of his considerable fortune? Via even some kind of significant contribution to such a transparently noble cause?

Alas not.

For, as Michael Mossbacher and Oliver Wiseman recount in their book “Brexit Revolt – How The UK Voted To Leave The EU”, Beardie, although keen to be associated prominently with the case for a Remain vote, was, shall we say, rather less keen to stump up all the moolah to pay for it….

mossbacher-wiseman-quote-re-branson

That’s right – the Remain camp had to tap up billionaire pro-Labour, pro-EU donor and peer Lord David Sainsbury to pay, in addition to this other donations to the Remain cause, part of the cost of Billionaire Branson’s Remain-supporting ads.

And now, being openly unwilling to accept the democratic verdict of 17.4 million people, Beardie’s also agitating for either a second Referendum, or in effect a Parliamentary blocking of Brexit implementation. 

branson-demand-for-2nd-referendum-poster-05jul2016

Presumably he’d want to play an equally prominent pro-Remain role in any second Referendum. And possibly even a third if a second once again delivers the “wrong” result.

Let’s hope for Sainsbury’s sake that he has a lock on his wallet….

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The Heseltine Fascination

Chancellor George Osborne’s enduring deference to Michael Heseltine’s 1970s model of state-crony corporatism will lead to poor policy, regionally and nationally

Osborne budget boxUnderstandably, most of this week’s post-Budget reaction focussed on two things – Osborne’s continuing failure to ameliorate Britain’s worsening structural fiscal position, and the introduction of the illiberal (and almost certain to be largely-ineffective) sugar tax.

Less noticed, however, was how two Osborne announcements reveal, not only his ongoing attachment to the 1970s-style state-crony corporatism epitomised by (Lord) Michael Heseltine, but even his enduring fascination for Heseltine himself.

The first instance came just after Osborne’s reference to the Greater London Authority moving towards full retention of its business rates. He added:

“Michael Heseltine has accepted my invitation to lead a Thames Estuary Growth Commission and he will report to me with its ideas next year.”

To anyone familiar with the history of Heseltine’s political-economy, this should have rung warning bells. First, the very name “Thames Estuary Growth Commission” itself carries connotations of the semi-bureaucratic, state-interventionist, “Government picking winners” model of infrastructure development that Heseltine has long so admired (and of which more later).

ebbsfleet-map 2014 v3Second, it recalled Osborne’s previous, and underwhelming, foray into Thames Estuary development. In the 2014 Budget, he announced, to the now habitual fanfare, that “Britain’s first Garden City in 100 years”, including 15,000 houses, would be built at Ebbsfleet. Critics, however, soon pointed out that a mere 15,000 houses hardly amounts to a Garden City, plus the inconvenient fact that Ebbsfleet itself, sitting on a flood-plain with an average height of just 2 metres above sea level, bordering the Thames Estuary, might be a, shall we say, less-than-ideal site for a new Garden City.

 Two years later, just 65 of the planned 15,000 houses have been built.

Then, shortly afterwards, Osborne named-checked the National Infrastructure Commission (beginning to sound familiar?) which he’d established under the aegis of the Treasury last year, and proclaimed the following:

“They recommend much stronger links across northern England. So we are giving the green light to High Speed 3 between Manchester and Leeds”

HS3 would, of course, be an extension of HS2, which is itself far from certain to go ahead, being mired in controversy:

  • Its projected cost has risen inexorably from even the risibly-low estimate of £50 billion once peddled unconvincingly by the Government, which, astonishingly, excluded off-balance-sheet costs.
  • It would have to be funded almost exclusively by borrowing, when the National Debt is already £1.5 trillion and rising.
  • HS2 IEA WellingsIts claims for economic regeneration of the North are dubious.
  • It is, and is likely to remain, beset by planning approval disputes and housing-blight claims, for years.
  • Its claimed service improvements could be met by lower-cost alternatives.

HS2’s flaws were comprehensively and forensically exposed by Dr Richard Wellings’ 2014 paper for the Institute of Economic Affairs.

Heseltine Infrastructure CommissionTurn now to Osborne’s National Infrastructure Commission itself. Who does one find adorning the ranks of its Commissioners? Why, none other than ……. Michael Heseltine.

Heseltine was recruited into the Treasury, with Osborne’s approval, to “advise” on infrastructure development and urban renewal, because of his 2012 report “No Stone Unturned In Pursuit Of Growth” that purported to be a putative blueprint for stimulating economic growth.

In its 89 recommendations, however, over 80 of which the Coalition accepted, it presented in miniature a picture of the interventionist-government corporatist state of the 1960s and 1970s: the decades in which Heseltine cut his political teeth, and for which its practitioners could, despite its manifest flaws, conceive no alternative.

It showed that Heseltine remains an unrepentant apologist and enthusiast for Big Government: that his vision for stimulating economic growth is one of national industrial policy, governmental top-down oversight, regional-quango consensus investment, local council-level enterprise partnerships with spending grants. For Heseltine, Adam Smith’s invisible hand must, it seems, be subsumed within multiple layers of statist-corporatist glove.

Heseltine no stone unturnedHis is an approach that instinctively eschews solutions based on economic liberalisation, deregulation and free markets: like regional pay to mitigate any crowding-out effect of nationally-set pay rates, especially in the public sector, on local job opportunity uptake: like encouraging more non-State free schools and academies, with the freedom to adjust their curricula to make them attractive to students who will be seeking employment in the area: and like, above all, unblocking the planning process in which so many developments can get bogged down.

He appears to favour what he termed “growth funds” being allocated through new Local Enterprise Partnerships. But given that the money would come from people and businesses via the tax system in the first place – Government has no money of its own – quite why government and the local quangocracy would be better judges of investment potential than savers, investors and businesses themselves was not explained. Not much of Gladstone’s enjoinder to let money “fructify in the pockets of the people” there.

Heseltine’s recommendations were roundly criticised at the time by a Professor of Economic Geography at the LSE(!), no less, as “a return to policies, many of them not particularly successful, that were developed in different times, to tackle different challenges”. It’s difficult to suggest these words don’t equally apply in 2016.

The FT’s Janan Ganesh wrote in late 2012 that Heseltine’s prescription for encouraging infrastructure development was very much a Gaullist vision. This still resonates: Heseltine’s vision is more akin to France’s state-dirigisme of Les Grands Prôjets: yet it’s in France where the State’s share of GDP persists at an unsustainably-high 50+%, unemployment is at levels not seen for two decades, and competitiveness continues to fall.

osborne delivers budget 16mar16Osborne’s reverence for Heseltine is misguided, and counter-productive. To stimulate the infrastructure growth of the future, Britain needs, not reheated 1970s-style regional industrial policy predicated on state-interventionism, but a comprehensive supply-side revolution. We need a smaller state, lower, simpler and flatter taxes, less-onerous workplace regulation, a freer and more responsive education system, and a major reform of planning law.

Sadly though, while we have a Chancellor of the Exchequer so ideologically in hock to Heseltine’s state-crony corporatism, that will remain an impossible dream.

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