In power and out of control

I don’t want to descend into spending the next two months banging on about the UK Government’s inept shenanigans, so I will try to keep this short.

With Johnson trying to cling to office until September, the Labour Party has attempted to table a no-confidence motion in the Government. By convention, no-confidence motions are always accepted and prioritised.

This time, however, the government has refused to allow time for the motion.

David Allen Green explains how the government refusing a confidence vote subverts our constitution.

The Lunatics Have Taken Over The Asylum

Well, it’s been a bit of a fraught week or so if you follow any of the ongoing meltdown that is the UK government. It all started last week (on Tuesday) when a former civil servant revealed — to no-one’s surprised — that Boris Johnson had indeed been lying about the most recent self-inflicted scandal to beset his administration.

I say that no-one surprised but Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, was so shocked by this news that he promptly resigned. This resignation was followed promptly — suspiciously promptly — with a resignation from Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. No further ministers resigned but, over the next couple of days, most of the rest of the government did.

By Thursday, Johnson finally realised that the jig was up and gave a speech… not exactly resigning, but acknowledging that even his own party didn’t want him in charge any more. Of course, Johnson being Johnson, he still tried to cling to his salary for as long as he could get away with. But the wheels were in motion and the Conservative Party eventually started the process of selecting a new leader. Once the leader of the Conservative Party is selected, he or she will automatically become the next Prime Minister and there really is nothing more Johnson can say or do about any of this.

And we now have a date to which we can look forward:

The U.K prime minister is set to step down from his role in eight weeks’ time, after a new Tory leader is elected in a ballot of party members ending September 5. Johnson’s anointed successor is likely to take over as Tory leader and U.K. Prime Minister the following day — Tuesday, September 6.

First we have a couple of weeks during which the Conservative MPs will vote and vote again until they are down to only two candidates. Then there will be a long drawn out summer while these last two candidates attempt to appeal to the few thousand reactionaries and lunatics that make up the wider Conservative Party.

This is going to get ugly.

Eight candidates have managed to scrape together enough support to make it onto the first ballot, and what is frightening is that they are all either genuinely bonkers or pretending to be.

In many ways, Johnson is a symptom rather than the cause of this disaster.

The red-faced Europhobe wing of the Conservative Party has been around since the 1980s, if not longer, fighting the same old fantasy battles against an imaginary enemies while the rest of us got on with our lives.

It was David Cameron who, on discovering that he was unable to lead his own party, decided to hold a referendum to shut them up. And it was David Cameron who gave no thought whatsoever as to how this referendum should be organised, what question should be asked, or what the consequences might be if it all went badly wrong.

As we all know, it went very badly wrong indeed and Cameron promptly resigned.

Cameron was followed by Theresa May who — again, with no consultation or consideration of the consequences — not only rushed into starting the process of Britain’s exit from the EU, but also announced a set of negotiating red lines that set Britain on course for the insanely hard Brexit in which the country has found itself.

She could had invested some time in trying to build a consensus. She could have looked for a form of Brexit with which most people could accept. But instead, she decided to pander to the fantasist minority in her own party and, when she finally found herself facing reality, her party ousted her in favour of Boris Johnson.

Johnson didn’t even try to deal with reality. He simply lied, and lied again, telling the extremists upon whose support he depended whatever they wanted to hear.

Johnson’s lies and delusions have finally come back to bite him, but the end of Johnson does not mean the end of his toxic legacy. Under his premiership, the Conservative Party has become a hollowed out shell, comprising of English Nationalists and Libertarian Fundamentalists and one that has nothing to offer but imaginary battles and endlessly re-litigated feuds.

The sooner this party implodes, the better.

Here’s a song:

Non-fungible tokens for dummies

The Register has a report on Bill Gate’s views on Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and the related cryptocurrencies. The short version is that both are “100 percent based on the greater fool theory.”

Nothing surprising there: they are. But the article also includes a handy explainer as to what Non-fungible tokens actually are. It is such a superb piece of writing that I am posting it here so that I can refer back to it as and when necessary.

Want to buy nothing? You’d probably say no. That’s because people don’t like nothing, they like scarcity and status. In the digital world, scarcity doesn’t work because data can be infinitely replicated.

But what if I faked digital scarcity? A database with limited spaces, each identified by a unique number. Think a line of people queuing for nothing. There’s no value inherent in one spot over another, but I sell you a position in the queue. I’m not selling you the queue, or its destination (there isn’t one), just the right to stand in this particular position.

You give me a dollar, and I give you some paper work, signed by yours truly, that says you have the right to stand there. Your position in the queue combined with my paper is a token that can’t be recreated. There is only one of each position. It is, therefore, “non-fungible.” The blockchain checks every single sale of a queue position and once you’ve bought your spot, it’s listed on the blockchain. Want to sell your position to someone else? You can, and that transaction will be listed on the blockchain too.

Why would anyone want a spot in my queue? Well, what if I put up a poster next to your position? Every spot now has a unique poster, and buying a place in the queue means you can now stand next to that poster. You don’t own the poster, you don’t own the image on the poster, you can’t reproduce the image, or sell copies, or claim any other type of ownership. What you’ve bought is the right to stand next to that poster – that’s it. You can show your friends the receipt that says you can stand there. They might even think it’s cool.

Congratulations, you now understand NFTs. Yes, it really is that stupid.

Schrödinger’s Brexit

I haven’t had much to say about the ongoing disaster that is Brexit, but a couple of articles caught my eye this week, so I thought it was worth making a brief return to the subject.

First of all, Vince Cable asks “Why have Remainers gone silent as the costs of Brexit pile up?” While I am less than convinced about Cable’s conclusions, he is right to point out that the country can’t start to deal with the consequences, or to find away forward, if everyone continues to pretend that Brexit isn’t a thing.

And Rafael Behr provides a reality check by pointing out that the Northern Ireland protocol isn’t the problem, Brexit is. Behr makes much the same point as Cable, that Labour (and, to a lesser extent, the Liberal Democrats) of being cast as unrepentant remainers that they continue to fall silent in the face of the Conservatives’ attempts to constantly refight the same Brexit battles.

It is a formula for perpetual crisis. The constitutional mess that Johnson has made of Northern Ireland is so far the gravest episode, but unlikely to be the last. The problem isn’t that the protocol cannot be made to work as written, but that it was written to enact a Brexit that doesn’t work.

The result is that we see Boris Johnson and his minions promising to get Brexit done. Again, and again, and again.

Brexit has happened. Britain has left the EU and the mandate embodied by the referendum has been discharged, and then some. It does need to be recognised, though, that this is not a trivial change and there will be many consequences from implementing such a change.

The country is not going to be able to deal with these consequences, however, until people start acknowledging that they exist.

Dopamine Coins

Cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, as well as the underlying blockchain technology, are things about which I have long been cynical. As far as I can see, they have no value, no purpose and no point other than providing yet another economic bubble, profitable for those that get out fast enough but disastrous for the schmucks left holding the things when prices crash.

Then again, I’m quite cynical about most new things — I thought podcasts were a stupid idea when I first saw someone attach an audio file to a blog, and look at how popular podcasts are now. So I have largely ignored all of the cryptohype on the grounds that, if my cynicism turns out to be misplaced I’m sure I’ll find out soon enough.

However, as the reporting around these things increases, the more sure I am becoming that my cynicism was not misplaced. Indeed, if anything I probably haven’t been cynical enough.

Let’s start with the news that triggered this post, that One bitcoin transaction emits as much CO2 as a household in 3 weeks. I have long been aware that the cost of generating cryptoassets is eye-wateringly high, but it is useful to have some sense of just how much of an energy cost we are talking about. And it needs to kept in mind that this cost is in pursuit of generating something that has no use and no intrinsic value.

But you can trade them. In fact, the only thing you can do with these things is trade them. Which brings me to the second article I stumbled across recently: ‘Trading is gambling, no doubt about it’ – how cryptocurrency dealing fuels addiction.

I don’t have a very high opinion of financial trades or financial traders, but the exchanges that support this do have to comply with various regulations which — in theory, at least — provide some protection. Even casinos have to deal with a level of regulatory oversight, but not cryptoassets:

While some trading platforms that offer digital assets are regulated – because they also offer more traditional financial instruments – crypto coins and tokens are not.

Cryptoasset executives do not have to prove that they are fit and proper people to take people’s money. The companies they run are not required to hold enough cash to repay investors if they go bust. Nor must they worry about the FCA’s stipulation that financial promotions, such as those splashed across public transport in London, are fair, clear and not misleading.

If you get involved in cryptotrading, you are essentially handing large sums of money over to someone who, even if they aren’t actively trying to defraud you, will often prove to be unable to provide anything close to adequate protection. These exchanges are, all too often, being run by amateurs who lack necessary knowledge or skills and who wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near your money if real assets were involved.

Of course, the supporters of blockchain technologies will respond to these issues by claiming that these are just teething issues to be resolved, or some handwavy stuff about new or “disruptive” technologies needing time to prove themselves. But, as Molly White points out, It’s not still the early days.

Bitcoin has been around since 2009, other blockchain-based currencies and applications have similarly long pedigrees. This is plenty of time for any issues to have been worked out and plenty of time, if these things did have any value, for that value to become apparent.

The more you think about it, the more “it’s early days!” begins to sound like the desperate protestations of people with too much money sunk into a pyramid scheme, hoping they can bag a few more suckers and get out with their cash before the whole thing comes crashing down.

Blockchain is a solution in search of a problem. It’s had long enough, and it’s now safe to assume that there are no problems for which blockchain is solution. It’s a technology that needs to be abandoned, sooner rather than later.

Quote of the day: Boris being Boris

[A lot of senior government figures are] seemingly incapable of grasping that the entire executive taking on the character of this amoral and discipline-free man will end very badly indeed. It is precisely Johnson’s lack of discipline and moral courage that has resulted in this country having both the highest Covid death toll in Europe and the most unnecessarily long economic shutdown and loss of essential freedoms. Gloating that the voters don’t think they deserve better will not be the recipe for a great British future.

Marina Hyde

Perspective

Research: Covid-19 more likely to cause blood clots than any vaccine

Infection by the virus that causes Covid-19 is about 100 times more likely to cause blood clots in the brain that any Covid vaccine on the market, according to a new study carried out by Oxford University.

With people all over the place panicking about the AstraZeneca and, more recently, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, it is worth keeping in mind that any risk associated with either of these vaccines is trivial compared to the risks associated with Covid.

Vaccination is an essential part of getting the coronavirus under control. Let’s not give the virus any help by over-emphasizing minor and unproven issues elsewhere.

The Grievance Machine

When it comes to Brexit, One of the more perceptive commentators around is Rafael Behr. So it is worth considering the following remark:

For the true believers, a good Brexit is one that keeps the grievance alive; that makes foreigners the scapegoat for bad government; that continues to indulge the twin national myths of victimhood and heroic defiance. Measured for that purpose, Johnson’s pointless Brexit is perfect.

The Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) is designed as an ongoing negotiation, with five-yearly reviews and I have tended towards the view that now Brexit is “done”, the whole issue can be toned down somewhat. The TCA framework can then be used to allow Britain to make the best of a bad deal by slowly and quietly re-aligning itself with the EU.

But what if I’m being overly optimistic here? What if the TCA turns out to be the start of a lengthy deterioration in relations. If the Brexiters continue to be unable to get over the fact that they have now achieved everything they demanded, we could all be looking towards endless and escalating confrontations.

That said, it’s only a month since the transition arrangements came to an end. I can still hope that people become bored enough of the whole mess that no-one wants to hear the Brexiters any more. And, once the process becomes as dull as it should be, things can start to improve again.

But it may be worth preparing for the worst.