Monday, 16 July 2018

Trump the Disruptor Could Be A Good President, But for Putin and Russia

You would think that Donald Trump would be a favourite of this country really given our predilection for bumped up buffoons and the comedy of embarrassment. The nation that brought the world Basil Fawlty and Delboy Trotter really ought to 'get' Donald Trump you would think. Instead we had the cretinous protests against him over the weekend, jumped up middle class people who felt that they ought to be angry about him and so came out to show it. Ask them what it is exactly that they object to and they would struggle. It's fair to say that even the most furious amongst them are not regular readers of the Washington Post and New York Times, are not privy to the latest machinations of the Mueller inquiry, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court and the ramifications for Roe vs Wade. They just know that he is something they oppose and that is good enough. Protest is a herd.

But he is gone, off to cosy up to his would be friend Vlad the Botoxed and to further subvert the already tottering liberal world order.

He is terribly good at it though isn't he, and of course the reason is that he resonates with a substantial part of the world, even those of us who think that he is a dangerous buffoon. It is hard to disagree with his assessment of the EU, NATO the UN. It is even hard to disagree that he would have been rather more successful at negotiating Brexit for us than Theresa May.  I have no idea what approach the Donald recommended to Mrs May if and when they spoke about it, which I rather doubt. It is safe to say however that if they did he would not have recommended the white flag appeasing approach in which we submit at every juncture and never threaten to walk away. When dealing with intransigent zealots it is best to be firm or even unreasonable. After all it has worked for them. For proof of this we need only refer to the PM's own words on Andrew Marr yesterday when she admitted that she changed her proposals because the EU indicated that they were unacceptable. The finer points of negotiating strategy seem to have escaped our Prime Minister, which is why we find ourselves in this unholy mess.

Trump may take a brazen, cavalier, rude and plain obnoxious approach to world diplomacy, but it is hard to argue that he is not getting results. He says what he wants and then lies about it. He tells people to their face what he thinks of them and then says he didn't even if we all then know what he really thinks. It has been remarkably successful. But then it has been successful because nobody behaves this way. Nobody except dictators of course. Hitler used to behave in precisely this way. So does Putin to this day. The reason they get away with it is because politeness and lying without lying are the accepted way of doing things. Then along comes a disruptor and all hell breaks loose.

The reason that Trump is being successful and may even end up getting re-elected the way things are going, is because his approach is working. It is perfectly true that NATO didn't offer any more money than they have previously done last week. But they will make sure that they at least honour that commitment for fear of what will happen otherwise. In the end Trump probably wished he had demanded more from them. Indeed he latterly demanded they double their spending to 4% of GDP, something that would exceed even America's current spending on defence. That is Trump's approach to everything. And it is working.

What is frustrating about Trump is not just his crassness. It is that he cannot see his own double standards, that he cannot admit when he is wrong. I have no idea if he has colluded with Russia. We shall see as he is fond of saying. But it sure looks bad because he treats Russia and Putin differently to the way he treats everyone else. Trump's America can bully and berate anyone they choose to, up to and including China. That's what he is doing and he is having tremendous fun doing it. But why does he soft pedal on Russia whilst beating up Canada, Britain and Germany? Why is he having a one on one private meeting with a dictator who is a proven liar, who interfered in America's election and routinely tries to wage cyber war on the US and with whom he has a relationship that is at best questionable? Is that arrogance or extreme stupidity?

Trump is not wrong about the EU. He is not wrong about NATO. He is not wrong about China. So why does he persist in ignoring the sins of Russia? Is it really because his ego will not permit him to admit that he might not have won the election thanks to his own genius? Has nobody had the courage to tell him that, even if he was foolish enough to get help from the Russians, it almost certainly didn't win the election for him? It was thanks to Jim Comey and the FBI, the uselessness of Hillary Clinton and yes thanks to his own unique electioneering style. Oh and the peculiarities of America's arcane electoral system. You won by the slenderest of margins on a fluke Mr President. But you won fair and square. Next time, if you tone it down a little, you might even win properly, win with a Reaganite style landslide. But only if you rein in your worst instincts and the instinct to talk one-on-one with Putin is one of your worst yet. What is it meant to achieve?

This blog has been as fierce a critic of Trump as anyone, but I have to admit that he is getting results and is delivering up to a point. He remains an embarrassment, a boorish ignoramus who may well end up being the worst president in history, but this is not as much of a given as some believe. His instincts are mostly good. What remains his achilles heel is his inability to admit he is wrong, his inability to be gracious and noble, his inability to be presidential. His monstrous ego and fondness for flattery are being used to play him and make him look foolish. This has been the case with his ridiculous summit with North Korea and will likely be the same today in Helsinki with Putin. Nobody knows what he is trying to accomplish and that is why we suspect that it is something corrupt or otherwise suspect. By luck Trump, even though he made a fool of himself last week, somehow also looked as though he had achieved something. The same will not be true with Putin. Trump is about to be played again. This is not Reagan versus Gorbachev. This is the boorish loudmouth versus the calculating assassin.

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Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Deuteronomy: Chapter 31: Moses Starts His Long Goodbye

God is nasty and vengeful. He is also really really petty-minded. Moses had got something slightly wrong a while back while the people had been wandering in the desert and complaining. As a consequence of this minor error of waving his stick the wrong way, Moses would never cross the River Jordan and enter the Promised Land. And so he now he started his long goodbye.

So God, the supposedly merciful, was not going to change his mind and allow Moses to enter the Promised Land. Moses, he told the people, was 120 years old. He was soon going to die. So this was his moment of passing the baton of leadership to Joshua, his anointed successor, approved by God.

Moses told them that they would soon enter the Promised Land and God would go before them and destroy the people living there. This is not even remotely true. The people were going to have to wage bloody war. So what did God do? Was he like the parachute regiment going in and conducting sabotage before they arrived?

They were going to go in to these new lands and kill and maim and enslave. And then God would claim the credit for all of it. Then when things went wrong in the future, that of course was their fault and not God's. I've said it before and I'll say it again, God and Donald Trump have a lot in common. And in case of doubt that is not a compliment.

Anyway, Moses told the people they had nothing to fear as they went in, even though they would be going in without him.

Then Moses wrote down the laws he had given them. This must have taken quite a while since there were an awful lot of laws as we have seen. Perhaps he died of writers' cramp.

The laws that God had given them via Moses were to be read out and listened to every year in the festival of booths. These laws were to be kept in the Ark of the Covenant. All of Israel had to gather to hear these laws, everyone, every man, woman and child was to be indoctrinated with these laws.

Now God spoke to Moses and told him that his time was coming. He told him to go with Joshua to the Tabernacle. God met them at the Tabernacle, blocked anyone else from entering with a cloud and they had a heart to heart.

Once Moses was gone, said God, the people would start going out a whoring. This is not as much fun as it sounds. God meant that they would start flirting with other gods again. Well it's his own fault. If he would lighten up and become a more fun kind of god like those other ones perhaps the people wouldn't have been tempted.

But this would kindle God's notoriously short temper and he would wreak terrible vengeance on his people. How dare they follow other gods and stop paying his priests.

But God had a solution to all of this. He wanted Moses to write a song. Suddenly it's God: the Musical. The idea was that this song would be sung from generation to generation.

So Moses wrote the song, clearly he was a man of many talents. And he gathered the people to hear the song, presumably using that massive PA system they carried around with them for these occasions.

He told the people that they were to follow Joshua into the Promised Land. But they were sure to be a terrible disappointment just as they had been when he was alive. So now he was going to give them one last real telling off, but this time in the form of a tune.

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Saturday, 14 July 2018

Video Diary: The Get Britain Out Edition

I wasn't able to make a Video Diary this week as I was suffering the 'care' of the NHS. I'll tell you more about that on Monday.

Instead here is the diary I made just over two years ago about why we should leave the EU. In the week in which our Prime Minister seemingly needs reminding about why the country voted the way it did it helps explain why those of us who did are now so furious with her about her sellout.

Normal Video Diary service resumes next week, always assuming the NHS hasn't killed me in the meantime.

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Friday, 13 July 2018

Trump and the Art of the Bad Deal

If you haven't already seen it take a look at the video of Trump's staff as they squirmed at his latest bovine rant about something he doesn't really understand. Quite why intelligent people stick around to be embarrassed and forever associated with this preening imbecile is a mystery. The world has to work with Trump of course, but you don't have to work for him.

You kind of have to admire or at least marvel at the sheer front of the man that he felt able to make such a pronouncement about Germany being apparently in hock to Russia. This coming from the man who has all kinds of dirty Russian money running through his businesses not to mention whatever else Putin may or may not have on him. It will be fascinating to witness his summit meeting with Putin this weekend. What concessions will he make? He made them to North Korea and got nothing back and they are already reneging on what little they offered in return. Putin and Russia have some kind of leverage on Trump it would seem, which is why we should all be nervous about what he is set to give them this weekend.

As ever with Trump his assertion about Germany illustrates how little he understands about Germany,   Russia and that gas pipeline anyway. Yes Germany buys a lot of gas off Russia and the new pipeline being built with further entrench that relationship. But that is a two way relationship. Germany is reliant on Russian gas but Russia, a country with little going for it other than its natural resources, is similarly reliant on the billions of euros it earns from its biggest customer. That is at least as big a factor in constraining Russian adventurism as NATO is. It is a truism that democracies don't declare war on one another. But neither do those in mutually beneficial trading relationships.

Trump's behaviour at the NATO summit this week has been as crass and boneheaded as we have come to expect from him. But the world has quickly learnt to play the toddler king. Stroke his ego, listen without flinching as he makes some self aggrandising remark. Tell him how big and brilliant he is. Then do what you like anyway. Away from the cameras Trump was apparently perfectly compliant and docile at meetings. He only became enraged when this was leaked to the media. In public then he goes for big bombast. Jens Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, had to tell the world how Trump's leadership has forced its members to pay more. But the reality is that they have done no such thing. They were already committed to raise spending to 2% of GDP next decade. That remains the case. Trump's intervention has made no difference. He then, because he wanted to sound big and clever, demanded they double spending again to 4%. America itself doesn't spend that much.

Trump however is most unlikely to berate and admonish Putin this weekend, despite the fact that Putin deserves to be admonished and America alone in the world has the wherewithal to do so. What a pity then that it has as its president a man who is in thrall or worse to the president of Russia and who cares so little about the institutions that keep him in check. Trump has not yet blown up the western alliance but he keeps threatening to do so and may still yet succeed. When Russia interfered in the US elections to Trump's benefit it cannot possibly have dreamt that its strategy would succeed so fulsomely. With the World Cup over and Russia no longer in need of being on best behaviour, and with Putin meeting agent Trump this weekend we should all worry about what comes next and who will get sold out, perhaps in return for the pee pee tape or for that oft mooted Trump tower in Moscow.

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Thursday, 12 July 2018

Football's Home, Result Notwithstanding

Okay, so football didn't come home, but at the same time it kind of did. Because those of us who have all been a bit meh with regard to the England football team over recent years, after serial disappointment, fell in love with it again. We did so knowing that this was not a team of world beaters and knowing that, even if we had managed to get to the final on Sunday, it was unlikely that we would win. What we loved was the way they played; the running, the hard work, the team spirit, the passion and the desire.

Ultimately Gareth Southgate's team and maybe even the manager himself, were found a little wanting last night. But it was only by a small margin. It is often forgotten that, in addition to managing the youngest squad in the tournament he is a relatively untried and inexperienced manager himself. He will have learnt from this just as they all have. He will have learnt what works and what doesn't, what extra is needed and what went right and what wrong. An awful lot went right; with a little more luck it might have been enough to get us all the way to the final.

In the end there probably wasn't enough quality and strength in depth in this England squad. There is little anyone can do about that. It was telling that Southgate kept picking the same team at all of the games that mattered. And perhaps all of those games in quick succession was a little too much. This was a team that compensated for their lack of quality with hard running and speed. Harry Kane, who looked so good in the early games looked jaded in the last one. And there is a reason why we scored so many goals from set pieces, it's because we struggled to make so many chances in open play, although ironically in this last game we made many more against quality opposition only to fail to convert them into goals.

There will be plenty of time to go over what went right and what went wrong in the weeks and months to come. All that really matters is that more went right than wrong, that England fell in love with England again and that this young team from such diverse backgrounds forged often at some of our least fashionable clubs went to the grandest stage in football and made us all proud. This young team will go off and have a much deserved and needed holiday, rest their tired limbs before hauling themselves back to their clubs. Some will probably find themselves new clubs on the back of their exploits. Others have already been given huge payrises. And then this autumn they will start to try and qualify for the Euros in 2020. They will do so in front of packed crowds because international football is fashionable again, so much so they even talked about it on Newsnight last night.

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Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Is Football Coming Home?

Let us for a moment pause from the political turmoil to revel in something much more important. This has been a wonderful World Cup. It's not just that the games have been so unpredictable and exciting, it's not that VAR has added drama, it's not that we may actually end up with a different country winning the damned thing other than the usual suspects. It's not even that England have played well or sometimes extremely well. It's all of those things and more.

And it would be churlish not to give a lot of credit to Russia. It has been a wonderful and welcoming host. They invited the world and the world came, sometimes with reservations and a little slowly in our case, but they came. There are even reports of romances between foreign supporters and Russian women, which has enraged some of the knuckle dragging thugs we all feared before the tournament got underway, which is also wonderful in its own way.

This World Cup has seen many of the top teams leave early, sometimes very early. It's been exciting, jaw dropping and rarely underwhelming as can so often be the case. All have acquitted themselves well. Even those there to make up the numbers have added to the entertainment and sometimes done a great deal more besides.

The only thing that this World Cup has really lacked is the kind of supreme opening credits we all enjoyed the last time England got this far in the tournament plus a bit of Pavarotti. Oh and Des. Gary has been great, as have Mark and Mark and Ed and Jake, but Des was the king.

But yes the main reason we are all enjoying this World Cup is that England have been restored to that special place in our hearts where there was a gap waiting to be filled. We play tonight and there is hope tinged with expectation. Croatia are good for sure, but we believe, we really believe. If the England who have played so well thus far turn up again then hope turns to expectation. We can do this. We can get to the final. If we do that then it becomes a greater challenge once again. But we will worry about that when it happens. For now just getting there would represent a quantum leap for this young team. By Sunday night we might actually be able to call them world beaters. There will be no need for the bank holiday that Chauncey has been calling for thus confirming his status as a cynical halfwit who remains clueless about the working classes he claims to represent. If we were to win the whole thing the nation will be too hungover for two or three days anyway. If we win tonight there will be a lot of sore heads.

And the best part is that we know that this team is not a team of world beaters. It is a team made up of players who are good and occasionally great. But what they are is a team of honest grafters who play to a system, work hard, run endlessly and give of their best. And they seem to lack that fear that has so often stilted teams with ostensibly more gifted members. Football is a team game and England are proving that.

I don't really expect England to be crowned world champions on Sunday. I think ultimately we won't quite be good enough, that France will be a little too good. Having said that it is a team full of players that are well known to this England team either through the Premier League or the Champions League. It is the advantage of having the best league in the world, even if they do take up places in our top clubs that might have been given to English players. I do however fully expect England to make it to the final tonight. We are good enough and we have the pace and power to win the game, maybe even to win it at a canter as on Saturday. After that, well we are just one game away. And, as this World Cup has proven again and again, anything can happen in football. It is why it is the world's favourite sport. Football might be coming home.

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Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Boris's Finest Hour?

There appears to be some confusion in the Conservative Party about what is happening at present, what it exists to do, what happened in June 2017 and the year before and how we all got to this place. Maybe they should remind themselves of recent history so that they may then be able to reacquaint themselves with reality. Let's wait for moment while they Google it. As a hint, it has do with an election and a referendum and then another election, this time for the Conservative Party leadership. The latter took place because the previous incumbent had lost the referendum even though he had only recently won an election.

Have you finished? Good. Now, let's continue.

For the life of me and indeed the rest of us who exist in the part of the party that supports the elected part, I cannot understand why any confusion exists at all. There was a referendum. Everyone was agreed that this referendum would decide once and for all the issue of Britain and the EU. Nobody thought to mention that the result would only be respected if we all voted for what the political and business establishment of this country think is best for us. Nobody mentioned that those of us who voted the other way would be treated like morons and racists thereafter for having the temerity to reject the status quo. Had the result gone the other way we would certainly not have been happy, but we would have grudgingly accepted it. That's democracy. We certainly wouldn't have tried to find a way to enact our leaving by some procedural sleight of hand or by inserting in Downing Street a humdrum technocrat armed with meaningless soundbites and a stooped, slimy manner worthy of Uriah Heap.

Here we are nevertheless and the losing side is currently close to getting its way. It is reaching the point now where even the most ardent Brexiteers are wondering if it is all worth it, whether we might not be better off giving up on the whole doomed project, whether or not the current 'deal' being advocated by people who still claim to be in favour of leaving, isn't actually much worse than staying in. Indeed the EU establishment has been suggesting the same thing themselves as they snigger about the demise of Boris their hate figure.

Here is the problem with this approach that the Prime Minister would no doubt describe as pragmatic - note that pragmatic has somehow been redefined to mean mendacious, sly and throroughly disreputable - the problem is that this would hand the next election to the Labour Party, probably by a landslide, would resurrect UKIP from the dead, bring back Nigel Farage and would likely lead to a form of populism that would make even the most ardent Boris haters yearn to have him back. Because the remain supporting Tories would not be thanked for their efforts. They would be punished along with everyone else. The betrayed working classes would decamp to the new and revivified UKIP or to Chauncey's Labour and the Tories would be squeezed in the middle, reduced to a rump of a party much like the Lib Dems were in 2015. Indeed the Conservative Party would likely cease to exist in any meaningful way because people like me would leave in disgust or even hold our noses and join UKIP.

Be very careful now Tory MPs because you are dicing with death. For better or worse the Conservatives are the party of Brexit. We own it and we have to honour and enact it. That does not mean a soft Brexit, it does not mean this diluted version being pushed by Mrs May. It means properly leaving, if necessary with no deal at all until the EU comes to its senses. That is what the people of this country voted for, what the parties have consistently promised and must now enact. That means MPs, who stood on a manifesto making the promise to take us out, doing exactly that.

The Conservative Party is in a state of turmoil now for no very obvious reason. It is only this way because Tory MPs are kidding themselves about the situation that they find themselves in. Boris is right. Even if you believe that Brexit will be a disaster you lost that argument. You lost the referendum. Now you have to do your duty, make your objections known and then vote the way the party and the country demands that you vote.

But it won't be a disaster. We are talking ourselves down, imagining the worst and ignoring the glorious potential of freedom from EU sclerosis. All that will happen, even if we leave with no deal, which remains a growing possibility because the Government is never going to get this deal through Parliament, is that we will leave and then trade with the EU on the same terms as we do the whole world. How is that disastrous? It is a minor bump on the road, but one allied to freedom and self determination.

If Theresa May continues to stick with her absurd plan then she needs to be removed. But really she needs to be removed anyway because you all know she is a hopeless liability. You all know that you cannot possibly follow her into another election. So what are you holding out for? Get someone else in. Get someone in who believes in Brexit and who will be able to go to the EU, wipe the slate clean and tell them that Britain is now under new management. Unite behind him or her and give them your unalloyed support. Vote through Brexit, which means leaving the customs union, leaving the single market and telling the EU we want a free trade deal. It's really that simple. Because that is what the British people voted for. That is what Article 50, which you all voted for, mandates.

As for Boris: congratulations, you finally did the right thing. Now what are you waiting for? Challenge the PM for the leadership. If you lose then your career goes down in flames. But you can go off and write instead. If you win then you get your ambition realised at last. Conventional wisdom has it that the assassin never wins the crown. But so what? We live in unconventional times and the cowards all around you won't do what they all know is necessary. Time to seize the day. As your hero Churchill would say: this could be your finest hour. Just make sure you make a speech worthy of him and worthy of the moment.

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