All posts by John B

Still, that railway, from the south

Southern’s parent company know that they’re in the G4S bracket of mean thugs. The government know it, and that’s what they’re for.  The RMT know it, and fighting them is their job.  The non-union marketing people at Southern, who are probably your nice mates, don’t. This is unfortunate.

Me at the New Statesman

The future, and other things I have no idea about

I’ve not been blogging here a lot lately. Partly because I’ve been doing that horrible thing known as “working for money and trying to forget”, partly because now that Facey and Insty exist, there’s no real need to stick amazing holiday photos up here, and partly because Brexit has completely fucked up my predictions and comprehensions about how the world goes.

Instead, here are some very different views (reproduced with permission) from very clever people who I know and respect on the future of the UK and how that affects the future of Labour. I struggle to disagree with any of these positions, which is unfortunate, because they are somewhat incompatible.

Richard / Academic:

I know many people who were heavily emotionally invested in Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader, so I understand strong reactions to the Parliamentary Labour Party’s coup: feelings of betrayal, anger, frustration, sadness, outrage.

What I can’t understand is denial that it has happened or what that implies. It is unprecedented to ask the country to elect a PM who does not command the confidence of the government that he would need to lead. The reason it is unprecedented is that it is an obviously terrible idea. It is mad.

Voters up and down the country will be perplexedly asking their Labour MPs “You said that you didn’t have confidence in Corbyn, so why are you now saying that I should?”

Tom / Nurse:

Jeremy Corbyn is taking the honest strategy of canvassing and sticking to his beliefs that he has fought for for the last 30 years. By the time the next election comes along the country will see that the media can’t lie about him longer than he can be him.

The “coup and constant infighting” ( which he isn’t rising to) is led by those elected not following the wishes of those who elected them. The huge rise in party members shows that. For MPs to lie is normal; for MPs to go against the majority wishes of those who voted for them is just shameful. The current situation isn’t working for the people under the Tories – and I don’t see any natural Labour voters voting for people like Smith, who abstained on cutting welfare and has no real policy alternative.

It’s sad that, like myself, many traditional Labour voters have become middle class – but they’ve forgotten where they came from and the hardships it entails. This leads to leaning to the middle with the loss of real socialism, and  forgetting how a little help makes a big difference to those on the breadline. It’s just so disheartening.

John / Banker:

Brexit will be discredited as the reduction in investment and rise in unemployment bite over the next several months. The autumn financial statement will likely be a horror show and next year’s budget even worse. Davies, Boris and Fox will end the year empty handed without the treaties they promised would be easy to negotiate when they campaigned for Brexit. The constitutional problem with Scotland and Northern Ireland needs more time to fester.

While the government is tilting at windmills, the cost of denying the Blairites the chance to regain control of the Labour Party is not that high.

It is much more important to give the PLP conspirators a thrashing and continue a radical reorientation of Labour Party policy to the relief of poverty and effective housing and regional policies.  Maybe next year a challenger will emerge who is more effective as a leader and yet embraces the politics of inclusion rather than elitism. Owen Smith is most unlikely to be that person.

Do you have a completely incompatible position on the current state of the UK that I also have sympathy towards? Why not post it in the comments?

 

Southern Railway, now arriving in 1973

I did a piece at Citymetric on why the disastrous shenanigans at Southern Railway are actually a resumption of a very old battle. They paid me a lot less than a Southern Railway guard gets for the same hours. I probably enjoyed it more, though.

Image: an EMD E6A leading the US Southern Railway’s The Tennessean (public domain). Used solely to annoy lazy picture editors.

Actually, it’s about ethics in plebiscite campaigning

I’ve refrained from long-form comment on the UK’s EU referendum, partly because the debate is generally painful, but also because there are extremely clever people who’ve already made most of the points I’ve wanted to make.

One thing that I think is worth addressing, though, is the current suggestion that people are switching back to Remain because they “don’t know what Brexit looks like” (thanks to Paul Evans for the formulation here). I think this is definitely true; I also think it’s a positive response to a specific failure within the Leave campaigns [1], not just a fear of change.

The reason “we don’t know what it looks like” is that the people who are in favour of it have polar opposite, completely contradictory visions of what it should look like.

When Scots voted on their Remain/Leave decision, the SNP – to its great credit – published a long document containing the details of exactly what it would do in the event of independence. Some of these were criticised for over-the-top optimism about the actions of rUK and the EU, and others on the basis of their effect, but crucially Scots knew what the people in charge after a Leave vote would try to do [2].

That simply doesn’t exist for the UK EU referendum. The Leave campaigns, all of which include people likely to be in government in the event that Leave wins, have adopted positions that range from “staying in the free migration zone and the common market” through to “deporting settled EU migrants and relying solely on WTO basic rules for trade access”.

That – not the inherent uncertainty in doing anything that hasn’t been done before – is the crux of the “not knowing what it looks like” problem.

That deliberate, dishonest ambiguity is also why Leave has done far better than it would have done had it been forced to outline what it would actually be attempting to do in the event of a referendum win. As it is, “build a libertarian paradise with no tariffs and open borders”, and “Britain first, deport all the immigrants” types can rally round the same banner, even though they disagree with each other at least as much as they disagree with the current model.

[1] The existence of “Leave campaigns” with an S is probably the tl/dr of this.

[2] The SNP white paper was flawed and optimistic, but at least it was there for you to be able to critique its optimism and flaws. Similarly, a Leave manifesto that committed to a Norway model could reasonably be critiqued on the basis that the EU might not let us have one – but in the actual campaign we’ve seen every model of multilateralism/autarky from Norway through to North Korea thrown up, dependent on what the politician in question thinks the audience wants to hear. “Is their plan credible” is secondary to “do they even have one”…

Disruptive illegal migrant gets come-uppance

I’ve tended not to blog here about my migration status in Australia, for reasons that are probably obvious. But to my great delight and relief, earlier this month I was sworn in as an Australian citizen [1].

The process, from tourist to citizen, wasn’t super-easy. However:

  • it was a hell of a lot easier for me than for most would-be migrants to Australia because of my nationality, age, education/skill level and income/savings.
  • it was a hell of a lot easier for me to do in Australia than it would be even for someone with my privileged status and position in most mid-to-high-income countries [2].

The first is obvious, I hope. My nationality and age gave me access to Australia’s Working Holiday Visa scheme, which gave me a year of almost-unrestricted work rights (and the option to have a one-off 12 months extension, if I took 90 days of manual labour in remote Australia during the first 12 months. EDIT: I chose not to do this and also not to pretend to the government that I had done it. This digression will become important later).

My education allowed me to navigate a complex system and was directly helpful for certain later migration hurdles, and my access to money allowed me to  study at an Australian university, pay government fees, hire a migration agent, meet various other administrative costs, and pay living expenses during periods when my work rights were limited [3].

The second is perhaps more surprising to people who haven’t tried living across non-EU borders, especially if they’re aware of Australia’s barbaric offshore concentration camps internment camps detention centres for refugees and reputation for being horrifically racist. But compared to most plausible countries outside the EU – certainly the US, Canada, Japan and Singapore – and to most EU countries for non-EU nationals, the path from arrival to Australian citizenship for a skilled migrant [4] is relatively easy.

My particular experience was more bureaucratically difficult than that of many skilled migrants, who are sponsored by an external employer, because I spent most of the time running my own business. In the US or UK, it would have been straight-up impossible for me to get a visa on this basis [5]. In Australia, it was a complex and often expensive but entirely legitimate process, and I’m very grateful for it.

Why am I talking about all of this today? Because of this idiot, and his incompetent and dishonest boss, who amusingly ran a company named Disrupt.

In short, a UK citizen came to Australia on a Working Holiday visa and got a job working for a small technology company.

Once the 12 month period during which he was eligible to work in Australia was over, instead of moving to a legal visa class or leaving the country, he lied to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that he had completed the 90 days of rural labour and was eligible for another 12 months.

All of this was done with his boss’s knowledge, and quite possibly (it reads from the piece) at the boss’s instigation.

Not unsurprisingly, during the second 12-month period, as he tried to return to Australia from a US business trip, DIBP discovered he was lying and deported him.

This would be a straight-up case of illegal immigration, carried out by someone nowhere near in dire enough financial or personal circumstances to justify it, even if it were true that he had no way of legally staying in the country in his status.

But the really particularly dumb and annoying thing is that he did. 

The rules for which companies are eligible to sponsor staff for Class 457 skilled four-year employee visas are complicated, and the DIBP website doesn’t let you link directly to them, but they’re under the ‘sponsors’ tab here.

The very short version is that if you are a real company that isn’t taking the piss, and you can put documents together to show this, then you can sponsor staff for this visa, even if your company is a start-up. A quote from the website:

If your business is new, you can still satisfy this requirement [to be legally operating in Australia] if you can provide evidence that your business is in fact operating, even if this has been for only a short period of time.

I can confirm this is true because I’ve done it. The company had to provide a whole bunch of evidence that it was operating legally, that it had a business plan, that it had a plan to meet training benchmarks, that it paid any existing staff legal wages, and so on. Which it did.

Overall, achieving this required a 10-page document roughly equivalent to what you’d need to get a small business loan from a local bank to buy a van or a café, and took a couple of days to put together.

Meanwhile, at Disrupt (this is shown as a fact rather than a quote in the SMH article, but I’m 99% sure it’s verbatim from the company’s boss):

As a start-up, Disrupt is not recognised as a “business” under the Migration Act for the purpose of sponsoring skilled individuals on temporary work visas.

This just isn’t true. It is nonsense. It is made-up bollocks that any competent migration agent would have told the company was made-up bollocks, suggesting that the CEO didn’t even bother to get a migration agent’s advice before encouraging his deputy to go ahead with his hare-brained illegal scheme.

Which… well, as we’ve seen with many tech start-ups, particular in the financial sphere, tech bros are not exactly renowned for seeking the advice of local experts or for not launching hare-brained illegal schemes, are they?

Generally, but especially in the context of this post, I acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners of the land on which I live, the Wangal people of the Eora nation.

[1] And almost immediately, sworn at as an Australian citizen, because Twitter is glorious and this country is glorious.

[2] Except for EU ones, of course. Hurrah for the raging Brexit idiots who want to abolish their own right to do that and the rest of ours along with it.

[3] Paid working hours for full-time overseas students in Australia are limited to 20 per week.

[4] The largest sources of new skilled migrants in Australia are now China and India, with the UK in third place.

[5] Unless you have enough financial wealth to count as a wealthy investor, which in both cases is a hell of a lot more than I do.

Electability and absurd arrogance

I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next US general election. I also didn’t know what was going to happen in the US electoral primaries, although I don’t think there’s any great shame in admitting the current situation isn’t what I anticipated.

It seems highly likely, at this point, that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate, barring the kind of machinations that haven’t been seen since Andrew Jackson’s day. The Democratic primary process is far closer, although Hillary Clinton leads Bernie Sanders by a comfortable-looking margin at the moment.

Mr Trump is a squalid, crooked neo-fascist – basically Silvio Berlusconi with added racism. Anyone saying they know exactly why he’s popular is full of shit, but it’s clearly a combination of angry white bigotry, disillusionment with Washington’s specific flavour of insider crookery, and susceptibility to the daft concept of career success as a marker of general merit (the latter is also why people unfortunately listen to Richard Dawkins’ views on Muslim theology and Barry Humphries’ views on gender theory).

Various people in the pro-Clinton and pro-Sanders camps have suggested over the last couple of months that their candidate is electable, whilst the other candidate is un-electable. I’ve seen more Clinton fans go down this route than Sanders fans, but not by a huge margin.

There are arguments why this might be the case for either candidate. Mr Trump’s success is based on disillusioned white working class male voters, and these are also Mr Sanders’ strong group by a wide margin. On the other hand, Ms Clinton has managed to combine strong popularity among black voters – whose increased turnout compared to previous years was important in President Obama’s success – with grumpy acceptance among moderate centrist Republicans (including former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg) as a tolerable alternative to Mr Trump.

But with these good arguments on either side, and given the extent to which punditry in this Presidential race has already failed dismally, anyone who says “you should vote for Ms Clinton/Mr Sanders in the primary because they’re the only one who’s electable” is an absurd arrogant fool.