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Secret Brexit negotiations – not good enough, Teresa!

Current government and pro-Brexit spin is making a very big deal out of the argument that the negotiations that are presumably going to take place at some stage are like a game of poker. They must not, therefore “show their hand in advance”, which is to say that they would like their policy-making to be kept secret. I suppose we can assume that finally they have started to make policy and think about what must be done. Can’t we?

Governments, of course, always tend to want to do things in secret. It’s so much easier than dealing with pesky oversight or explaining to taxpayers where their money is being poured. So their position is understandable. But it is bad.

Aditya Chakrabortty has explained with some clarity how this has gone down with Nissan. To summarise, Nissan’s boss says in September that the UK must cut him a deal, and he needs some kind of compensation to stay in Britain. In short order he gets a person-to-person meeting with Teresa May, soon after which he announces that not only will they stay in Sunderland, but they will make the new model of the Qashqai there. Business secretary Greg Clark won’t say how this turn-around was achieved. He asks us to believe that all was required was a gentlemanly assurance that the government has an “intention to find common ground and to pursue discussions in a rational and civilised way”. Clark will not reveal what the written commitments that are reported to have been given might be.

Of course he won’t, because if the secrecy is blown, the queue of CEOs wanting the same benefits would probably stretch from Westminster up to Trafalgar Square. And those forced to rely on food banks or punished in other ways by the government’s lack of care for those with less privilege might get angry about it. In due course, that might even cost seats in parliament, and we couldn’t have that, could we?

The government needs to surround the Brexit negotiations with secrecy because they need to hide how much the country will be bled in order to save face here and there.

Could lying politicians be held to account?

It has been reported that

The director of public prosecutions is considering a complaint that voters were misled by the Vote Leave and Leave.EU campaigns, in contravention of electoral law.

In other words, the question of whether the lies that were told amount to a criminal offence is being considered. Early days, of course, but something to be watched.

We seem to have got to the stage where politicians can tell any lie they like and get away with it because, “that’s politics”, or “people say all sorts of things in and election campaign”. I don’t know how far this will get, but it is more than time that politicians who lie suffered the consequences, including criminal prosecutions.

Breaking the Godwin Barrier

In the days when the horrors of Nazi Germany seemed, to some people (particularly people who are not German) something far away that could never happen here, it became understood that once someone accused another of being  like a Nazi camp guard or like a little Hitler, this was a clear sign that insults had taken over from reason. Hence the growth of the convention, known as Godwin’s Law, that when a discussion got to the point where those analogies were being thrown around, the first person to use them had automatically lost the argument. It was a nice idea.

But times have changed. The fact is that there are now real analogies between what is happening in the UK and America and what happened in Germany in the 1930s. For the avoidance of silliness, let me make it clear that I’m not saying that May is a little Hitler in the making. Perhaps a little Thatcher, which is bad enough, but not a Hitler. I don’t, however, have the same certainty about Trump. Jonathan Freedland, amongst others, recently summarised his awfulness better than I can. To quote one paragraph:

So a President Trump will change lives far beyond the US. An American leader who believes climate change is a Chinese hoax, who believes terror suspects should be tortured and their family members killed, who believes that Saudi Arabia should have nuclear weapons, who is fascinated by nukes’ power of “devastation” and who has asked repeatedly why the US doesn’t use them; a man who says, “I love war”; a man who drools in admiration for Vladimir Putin and whose disregard for Nato, and refusal to promise to defend a member state if attacked, would all but invite Moscow to invade one of the Baltic states – such a man would plunge all of us into a dark future. That we are not living in the US will not protect us.

But consider this. Hitler’s appointment as chancellor may have been alarming, but it was legal. Intimidation played a significant part, but his acquisition of “temporary” power to act without the consent of the German parliament – to become a dictator – was also legal. And we all know how well that went. (The Wikipedia article on Hitler’s rise to power is worth a look if you’re not familiar with the story.) The parallels are real, and Godwin’s Law no longer applies: we have broken the Godwin Barrier.

Which brings me back to Brexit. Sure, May is not remotely like Trump, thank the Lord. But the ranting of the gutter press, demanding that Parliament should be bypassed, and that the legal system that guards us from dictatorship is an “enemy of the people” is frightening. They are asking for the road to a dictatorship to be opened up. And this, merely on the basis of the fact that the resounding “Errmm…” spoken by the British people had a marginal leaning towards “leave”.

Brexit meets Bake Off

According to the Express yesterday:

JACOB REES-MOGG has savaged the High Court’s ruling Theresa May cannot trigger Article 50 alone, as the leading Brexit campaigner said Parliament passed the Referendum Bill knowing EU-exit would be exercised immediately.

This rather reminds me of Channel Four’s purchase of the Great British Bake Off. Yes, they bought the rights to the programme, at a high price, but we now all know that the services of the presenters – the “talent” – were not included in the sale. It was not in the contract. Or like someone I knew who bought a house in the countryside (this was in Ireland), and was then surprised to find that the garden around the house was not included in the sale. It was not in the contract.

Similarly, Rees-Mogg and the other leave campaigners may have assumed that exit would follow immediately if the vote went their way, and may have assumed that the referendum would be binding, however small the majority. They may have assumed that David Cameron would do what he said (even though it would have been illegal, as we now know). But it was not in the act.

As such, and as the High Court has confirmed, the rules are the usual rules of the British constitution. Even if the referendum had had a large majority one way or the other, rather than the slender 2% that was the actual result, it would only have been advisory. Nothing was included in the act to specify that the result of the referendum would have to be followed.

Working on dual citizenship

Even if I were to hear today that the whole Brexit thing was off (just pretend, of course) I would not be stopping my application for dual citizenship (GB/IT). For those with a choice, who would want to be limited to a country that is sliding into little (white) British insularity? Led as it is by buffoons like Boris Johnson, proven cheats like Liam Fox and wind-followers like Teresa May, who is hard when it comes to the poor but putty in the hands of, say, the sugar industry. She made Boris J into Foreign Secretary, for goodness sake! Either she is stupid or she really wanted to show the rest of the EU that as far as she is concerned they can go and f**k themselves. I suspect the second.

All change

Bear with me – the original purpose of this blog has faded, so it’s going to go through a few changes. If the appearance is wrong, let me know!

In the meantime, the might be a bit to see at site I have for my acoustic blues, namely alexwildingblooz.com, so you can have a look at what’s going on over there.

I forgot – it’s POOR people who have to work like Chinese, isn’t it?

So Jeremy Hunt thinks (Guardian) that a hefty reduction in the incomes of low earners will encourage them to work hard, like the Chinese, and give them self-respect. He says that ““It matters if you are earning that yourself, because if you are earning it yourself you are independent and that is the first step towards self-respect.” These changes are designed, he tells us, to send “an important cultural signal” about hard work.

Oh. So he’s turned into a radical communist? If this idea – that income should be related more closely to the amount of work done – were pushed through with any consistency his government could start by raising death taxes to something like, let’s say, 99%. He wouldn’t want to take away the self-respect of the next generation, would he?

Equally, of course, institutions such as the Duchy of Cornwall, the royal family, the Duchy of Westminster and, I suppose, all other people and institutions who make their money from rent paid by other people, rather than from actual work, should be abolished or sent to do essential jobs like shelf-filling and garbage collection, as appropriate.

We should then move on, of course to the investment bankers. No one could for a moment argue that they “earn” their sky-high salaries. After all, between them, they carry much of the responsibility for the financial crash for which working people are still paying heavily. But let’s be generous. Let’s assume that they do work long hours, and are not completely without skill, so let’s allow them to earn more than the national average. We might, to strike a balance between fairness and generosity, say that income above £100,000 per annum would be taxed at again, let’s say, 99%.

What, that’s not his thinking?

WAIT! STOP! I FORGOT!!!

It’s POOR people who have to work harder and longer for lower rates of pay in order to make ends meet and to earn their self-respect. The rich and privileged are fine as they are. Silly me.

Is the SIAE as bad as they say – Part 2?

So far, in spite of a repeated inquiry, the SIAE have failed to reply. Simona, manager of the “venue” has not been given the money back, although there is some vague talk (that I don’t understand) about offsetting the mistaken payment against future events.

I have therefore written yet again, pointing out that

… all the copyright in the music performed was mine, and I have not assigned the collection rights to anyone else. You (the SIAE) were not entitled to collect it on my behalf.

 

I therefore need to ask you (the SIAE) this: where, how and when can I collect my money? I would like to give the money to Ms. Ferrari, as I had intended to do the performance for free.

What do you think the result will be?

PS Some of you might like to check out the “Stop SIAE” page at facebook

 

Is the SIAE as bad as they say?

If you happen to have ploughed through http://alex-wilding.com/2014/03/busking-in-italy/ you will not be surprised about the resentment felt by many musicians regarding the SIAE (the Italian copyright-collecting agency). In the past, this had been a matter of stories that I had heard, but now I am in the middle of direct experience. We will see whether they are the outrageous quasi-fascist leeches that some people say, or whether they will be reasonable. I will let you know how it goes. Here is the story:

Last Saturday I did what is perhaps best described as a “benefit” gig for a local health food shop, where I have performed before a couple of times. Key points are – an audience of maybe up to 30, nobody paid, nobody got paid, and it was combined with a “tasting” of wine and olive oil. Some tables were put out on the little square outside the shop, and I believe that a little bit of extra trade was done during the hour or so that I played. It’s also important to note that I have changed my repertoire, dropping old favourites like “Love Letters Straight From Your Heart”. This is a deliberate policy, tailored for Italian circumstances – I no longer do any songs in which other people hold copyright. To be sure, the current set includes things like “House of the Rising Sun”, and there would indeed be copyright holders for various recordings of that, such as the famous Animals version, or the Bob Dylan version they learnt it from, or the Dave van Ronk version that Bob Dylan learnt it from, before which it was known as a more “generic” sort of blues. So those *recordings* would be copyright, and if you play them as background music you might be liable to pay copyright fees. But the song itself goes back further.

Unfortunately I did not make it clear in advance to Simona, who manages the shop, that this was the case and she, since there had been more publicity, went to see the SIAE and ended up paying 70 euros! Now the only person with any claims to hold copyright in what I performed is myself. Arrangements of some of the old standards are mine, and some of what I played was indeed my own composition. I have not, however, assigned my rights to any collecting agency, let alone the SIAE. They, therefore, had no right to collect fees on my behalf. If they say that my music is subject to their authority (which clearly isn’t), then I would want to know how and when I get my share of the €70. (Yes, fat chance of that, I know.)

I don’t know what Simona’s markup is, so let’s say that it’s 30%, just the sake of argument. That would mean that she would have had to turn over an *extra* €230 during the hour. Again, I don’t know what her sales were, but it’s hard to imagine that it came to that much.

The upshot is that the work of organising the performance and of giving it served one benefit: fattening the salaries and pensions of the SIAE staff, and boosting the copyright payments to their favourite people, none of whom had anything to do with any of the music that was played.

Anyway, they have been approached and informed that the whole thing is a mistake. Who knows? Perhaps they will say, “Oh, sorry, here is your money back”. We will see.