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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Regret is not a policy

I just heard, on the telly, the leader of the Lib Dems repeat his support for a return by Britain to the EU. Other Lib Dems on the same show are echoing him. The Empire Loyalists of our time. They’ll attract a small lump of enthusiasts, who will spend the rest of their lives insisting that they were right to oppose Brexit. And everyone else will watch and say: so what? Even most of those who voted Remain themselves. Regret is not a policy.

Brian Micklethwait

This was too perfect not to warrant a little post of its own.

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Samizdata quote of the day

Let’s be clear: No deal is better than a bad deal.

Richard Tice, discussing Brexit.

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Haig’s greatest mistake

On 15 September 1916 tanks made their debut at Flers-Courcelette, one of the many engagements which took place during the Battle of the Somme.

The battle marked the beginning of a sorry chapter in British military history because the truth – a truth that to this day few seem prepared to acknowledge – is that the First World War tank was useless.

The list of its failings is lengthy. It was slow, it was unreliable, it had no suspension and it was horrible to operate. The temperature inside was typically over 100°F and as exhaust gases built up so crew effectiveness collapsed. It was also highly vulnerable. Field artillery could take it out easily. Even rifle ammunition could be effective against it. While normal bullets might not be able to penetrate the armour they could knock off small pieces of metal from the inside – known as spall – which then whizzed round the interior wounding all and sundry.

That the tank was the brainchild of Winston Churchill from his days as head of the Admiralty should have alerted senior commanders to the possibility that it was yet another of his crackpot schemes. But they persisted. For his part, Haig being a technophile put a huge amount of faith in the new invention. His diary is littered with references to the tank and he seems to have made great efforts to secure ever more of them. In consequence, huge amounts of effort went into a technological dead end when it would have been far better spent on guns, shells and fuzes.

Not that such efforts were ever likely to satisfy the snake-oil salesmen who made up the ranks of the tank enthusiasts. In the face of tank failure after tank failure they simply claimed that their beloved weapon just wasn’t being used properly.

Of course, like all good conmen they liked to take credit for other people’s successes. So, when a huge number of tanks were used at Cambrai in 1917 and the initial phases went reasonably well they were happy to put it all down to the tank. The fact that within 3 days an initial tank force in the hundreds had been whittled down to single figures by mechanical failures and withering German artillery fire was glossed over.

The credit should really have gone to the “predicted barrage”. As with so much to do with artillery this needs a little explaining. If your artillery barrage is to be effective you need to know where your shells are going to land. Although manufacturers attempt to build guns with uniform characteristics this is an extremely difficult thing to do. Worse still every time a gun is fired the barrel experiences wear and its characteristics change. Before Cambrai the answer had been “registration”. Guns would fire shells at the enemy and observers would spot where they landed. The drawback was that the enemy could tell that an attack was on its way. In a predicted barrage the gunners worked out in advance where the shells would land so the first the enemy would know about an attack was when he was hit by a full-scale barrage. This meant that for the first time since the beginning of the war surprise could be re-introduced to the battlefield.

Cheaper than a Great War tank and about as useful.

Cheaper than a Great War tank and about as useful.

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As a Londoner myself, this resonates rather strongly

battle-of-britain-over-london

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How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

A friend of mine reckons that Ex-Prime-Minister David Cameron’s plan was, all long, to extricate Britain from the EU. This theory reminds me of the similar things that were said about Gorbachev and the collapse of the old USSR. If Gorbachev had been a CIA agent, working to contrive the exact USSR collapse that happened, what would he have done differently? Very little. It’s the same with Cameron and Brexit. How could Cameron have done a better job of contriving Brexit than he actually did do?

You may say: Cameron might actually have argued for Brexit, in public. But if he had done that, then many of those north of England Labourites who hate Cameron might have voted Remain instead of Out, just to stick it to those out-of-touch Etonian bastards, the way they actually did feel they were sticking it to the Etonians by voting Out. And Britain might now be chained to the sinking ship that is the EU rather than liberated from it.

But, whether by design, as my friend thinks, or by accident, as most others assume, Brexit has unified the Conservative Party. With that observation, I move from the territory of undisprovable speculative diversion into the land of out-in-the-open truth. And I am not the only one who has noticed this.

For all of my adult life, the Europe issue has divided the Conservative Party. Until now.

→ Continue reading: How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

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Samizdata Google search of the day

yoga cultural appropriation

h/t Bloke In Germany In Cyprus.

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Mr McDonnell, are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

A perfectly justified question to put to John McDonnell in the light of this report from the Telegraph:

John McDonnell welcomed the financial crash and called himself a Marxist, newly found footage shows

John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, welcomed the financial crash that wrecked Britain’s economy and insisted he was a Marxist, newly uncovered footage shows.

Mr McDonnell, who is Jeremy Corbyn’s closest political ally, is seen in the 2013 video saying that the economic upheaval proves the faults with modern capitalism.

At one point Mr McDonnell, who was a backbencher at the time, says of the crisis: “I’ve been waiting for this for a generation!”

The comments are documented in a YouTube video viewed less than 60 times which was posted on the website on March 16, 2013.

Here is that video: John McDonnell MP Speaking at communities against the cuts meeting 16-3-13. The relevant extract is between 07:10 and 07:35.

In a video entitled “John McDonnell MP Speaking at communities against the cuts meeting”, the man now in charge of Labour’s economic policy is seen discussing the crisis.

“We’ve got to demand systemic change. Look, I’m straight, I’m honest with people: I’m a Marxist,” Mr McDonnell is seen saying at one point.

“This is a classic crisis of the economy – a classic capitalist crisis. I’ve been waiting for this for a generation!

“For Christ’s sake don’t waste it, you know; let’s use this to explain to people this system based on greed and profit does not work.”

Most of the comments I have read seem to think that his “welcoming” the financial crash of 2008 is the main story. I don’t see it that way. He could reasonably claim (added later: he has claimed) that it was said as a self-mocking joke about the way Marxists have been predicting the imminent demise of capitalism for years and only now, it seems, has it finally happened. No, I think the damning part is “I’m honest with people: I’m a Marxist.”

My title for this post was also intended as a historical joke. There is no doubt about what party Mr McDonnell belongs to, the Labour Party. The doubt that arises in many people’s minds is whether under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership this is still a party normal people can vote for without going the full Venezuela. We know he is now and has long been a member of the Labour party, but someone will inevitably now ask Mr McDonnell, “Are you a Marxist?”

In 2013 his straight and honest answer was “Yes”. If he answers “No” three years later, will people believe him? When did he change and why?

If he answers “Yes”… this man is Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer.

*

Update: Mr McDonnell appeared on Question Time last night. He was asked by David Dimbelbly if he was a Marxist, in the light of that video. Watch the first half minute of this clip to see how he responds. At 15 seconds in we have:

Dimbelby: “Are you a Marxist?”

McDonnell: “No, I’m a socialist.”

Dimbelby: “Well, why say, ‘I’m a Marxist'”?

McDonnell: “Because actually I was trying to, I was demonstrating, a prediction of the capitalist crisis at the time.”

Anna Soubry’s lengthy attack on him afterwards becomes tedious, but she got a solid round of applause for her initial indignant restatement of fact in the face of this farrago: “You said, ‘I’m a Marxist'”.

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Laying a few myths to rest

The middle classes in the UK and America are getting richer again. Inequality is diminishing. There are many problems, of course, but they are primarily down to the fact that the impact of the Great Recession ended up dragging on for years, with the previous misallocation of resources and capital wiping out a decade’s worth of productivity gains.

Allister Heath

So why the rise of populism? While wages are finally improving, there has been no return to boom times. Millions of younger people are despairing at exploding housing costs, fuelled by government-created low supply and rock-bottom interest rates; older workers are facing a nightmarish pensions crisis, also created by ultra‑loose monetary policy.

Voters feel culturally disconnected; they rightly voted for Brexit because they realised that democratic control was being destroyed by technocratic unaccountability. The welfare state’s inherent defects mean that people feel caught up in a Hobbesian war for resources – school places, hospital beds – of all against all, especially with high levels of immigration. But the middle classes should direct their ire towards politicians and central bankers, not free markets or technology.

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Gab.ai

There are alternatives to Twitter, but it is difficult for them to gather enough users. Perhaps Gab.ai will succeed where others are failing. Its founder seems to be adept at attracting attention. This is important.

Update: Wired are calling Gab an echo chamber. This could be a bug or a feature, I suppose. Multiple such sites with various policies and good aggregation tools would not be a bad endgame.

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Trade does not require trade agreements

Douglas Carswell makes some excellent points about the perils of any post-Brexit trade agreements with the EU:

So let’s spell it out. Access to the single market means being able to trade with single-market countries. Membership means being bound by single-market rules.

Why is this difference so important?

Because access is consistent with the vote to leave the EU. Membership isn’t.

Access clearly doesn’t require membership. Countries around the world trade with the single market. Many do so freely, with no tariff barriers, via bilateral free-trade agreements. Britain can do the same. We don’t need to be part of the single market to trade freely with it.

In fact, we will have freer trade once we leave the single market. Because the single market doesn’t enable commerce, but rather restricts it.

The single market is a permission-based system. It stops suppliers from selling things people want to buy unless they conform to standards set by bureaucrats in Brussels. Rather than remove trade barriers, the single market creates them. Not between countries, but between producers and consumers.

The effect is to limit competition. Big corporations with expensive lobbyists rig the rules to shut out disruptive innovation from upstart rivals. Economic progress is impeded.

Indeed, and as Peter Lilly wrote not all that long ago:

How important are trade deals? As a former trade minister it pains me to admit – their importance is grossly exaggerated. Countries succeed, with or without trade deals, if they produce goods and services other countries want. Thanks to the Uruguay Round, tariffs between developed countries now average low single figures – small beer compared with recent movements in exchange rates. So the most worthwhile trade agreements are with fast growing developing countries which still have high tariffs.

Quite so. The sooner we are out of the EU the better.

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Samizdata quote of the day

World order be damned for a corollary to world government, and I expect the waters of the world are not a problem to police if one returns to the policy of hanging pirates instead of playing catch-and-release.

– Commenter ‘Erik

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This will be Obama’s enduring legacy

The effort to wire the world — or to achieve “extreme reach,” in the NRO’s parlance — has cost American taxpayers more than $100 billion. Obama has justified the gargantuan expense by arguing that “there are some trade-offs involved” in keeping the country safe. “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” he said in June 2013, shortly after Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the National Security Agency (NSA), revealed widespread government spying on Americans’ phone calls.

Since Snowden’s leaks, pundits and experts (myself included) have debated the legality and ethics of the U.S. surveillance apparatus. Yet has the president’s blueprint for spying succeeded on its own terms? An examination of the unprecedented architecture reveals that the Obama administration may only have drowned itself in data. What’s more, in trying to right the ship, America’s intelligence culture has grown frenzied. Agencies are ever seeking to get bigger, move faster, and pry deeper to keep pace with the enormous quantity of information being generated the world over and with the new tactics and technologies intended to shield it from spies.

This race is a defining feature of Obama’s legacy — and one that threatens to become never-ending, even after he’s left the White House.

James Bamford (£)

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