Stronger In

Divorce would be messy.

Divorce would be messy.

I’m voting for remain tomorrow. The problems and pain points Leave voters have identified can be solved by better government at Westminster – not by trashing our existing relationship with our European allies. We already control our borders and if the government funded the Border Force properly, to record and filter those both arriving and leaving, the UK would have clarity on immigration. Similarly with the NHS – it isn’t failing under the strain of too many migrants, it’s failing because it’s underfunded. In fact importing nurses and other healthcare professionals from both the EU and non-EU countries like the Philippines is the only thing keeping it running, as this government won’t invest in training the next generation of British health workers.

The strange thing about the leave argument, regardless of all its lies and misconceptions on immigration, is the absence of any post-Brexit plan. Ripping up all our trade relationships and starting over will require investment in a new cadre of of diplomats to negotiate with every trading bloc (EU, US, China) and every other country (the rest) unilitarally over the next decade. This implies a huge investment in the Foreign Office and the Treasury.  Funnily enough I haven’t heard anything about this. Similarly for EU regulations on workers rights, environmental protection, competition. We will need our own regulations to replace them with (assuming we want safe products in our shops, clean rivers and beaches??? – maybe i’m overthinking this!). This again will require significant investment in central government with expansion of both the Treasury and other government departments to replace the functions currently performed by the EU. So I guess taxes will have to rise? Who knows? Because, as I said, there is no plan.

However in the absence of this investment in good government, multinational firms and exporters will leave the UK. There is no way the EU will allow us to continue exporting to the single market nations if we scrap all environmental protections and turn our factories and offices into sweatshops as workers lose all protection. So replacing the status quo with something resembling the status quo is baked in the cake. There’s no avoiding it.

Again, I haven’t heard a peep out of Boris or Nigel about that. Their entire campaign is just hot air about ‘taking our country back’. What they really want is power, and that’s when things will turn ugly. A Boris administration with all his extreme right wing fellow travellers in the cabinet won’t have the strategic nous, the patience or the competence to recast Britain in a post-Brexit world. The economy will falter, knee-jerk, sticking plaster solutions to all the post-Brexit problems will be all they can come up with, and ultimately multinational companies will desert our shores for Ireland, the Netherlands and other countries where they can get on with business. Our great public institutions like the BBC, the armed forces, and the NHS will be destroyed by lack of investment – a process already underway. London and the south east will survive on offshore finance and stashing the wealth of the world’s super-rich, while all the regions beyond will decline further.

Only one winner if there’s Brexit

Only one winner if there’s Brexit

Make no mistake, this means relegating the UK to second tier status, and there is no parachute payment or any way to get promotion back to the premier league. Brexit is a self-inflicted disaster waiting to happen. So vote to remain in the EU.

All That Man Is

A lot of literature written about men describes the way they would like to be viewed from the outside, Cool, calm, collected, James Bond, Jack Reacher. If you want anything that delves into a man’s actual feelings, inadequacies, or the challenges we face daily, it is likely to be heavy on imagery and description, rather than the confessional nature of books focusing on women. Hemingway’s male characters don’t tell you how their feeling but you guess from the words and actions, like an outsider looking in. The modern antidote to this a UK TV show called “Peep Show” where the two main (male) characters are accompanied by a voiceover charting their tortured internal logic, selfishness, occasional selflessness, frequent helplessness, and general bafflement at the human condition, as they desperately try to keep up appearances and conform to the masculine ideal. If you liked that deep look into the psyche and thought processes of men, then a new book of short stories “All That Man Is” by David Szalay is for you.

All that man is

Captivating, real.

The book is in nine parts, all set in various parts of Europe, with each story about a different man at a particular stage of life, emerging from adolescence, youth, maturity, middle age or older. None of the characters have much in common on the face of it (penniless posh English student, French tourist, Russian Billionaire, retired civil servant, Scottish misanthrope) but all have exactly the same fixations – sex or love, money and the associated pride, status and self-image. The strange thing is you start each story thinking “this clown is nothing like me” but every single time you get this awful echo of your own past, or fear of your own future.

It’s mesmeric despite some of the rather depressing subject matter. Part 9 is the story of the bitter middle-aged drunken Scot living a rentier (The absurdly inflated UK housing market pays for all sorts of people globally, I promise you) in Croatia. His self-delusion, sheer greed and sense of entitlement is something to behold. I always used to have running joke with Asian expat friends that if it all went wrong you could just retreat to Batam (a dusty Indonesian island across the Singapore strait) and eke out a meagre existence drinking cheap beer and eating $1 mee goreng. The fact that this guy chose Croatia is by the by – it’s the same mode of existence. His travails and disasters are cringeworthy but absolutely ring true. For modern day realism, sly, dark humour and Szalay’s chameleon like ability to make each character alive and believable in very different contexts, this is highly recommended.