Conservative Win in Britain Means More Than Economic Trouble Ahead

Yves here. Just as with Trump, the press and public too often gets wound up in Boris Johnson’s dramas, and loses sight of the common-welfare-destroying policies that the Conservative Party has made its calling card.

Although this post covers familiar terrain for Brexit readers, the high level overview may be  helpful for contacts who don’t keep close tabs.

By Malcolm Sawyer, Emeritus Professor of Economics, Leeds University Business School. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

The British General Election held on 12th December 2019 resulted in a large Parliamentary majority of 80 in a parliament of 650 for the Conservative Party and Prime Minister Boris Johnson. This clearly puts Johnson in a strong parliamentary position to ‘get Brexit done’ (his major election slogan), as not only does his party have a large majority, but those within the Conservative Party who opposed Brexit have been effectively purged through a combination of defections to other parties, de-selection and retirement. The majority in Parliament means that, while there is little constraint on passing the legislation to finalise Brexit, there is not majority support amongst the electorate for the form which Brexit is likely to take. The vagaries of the British first past the post system mean that the less than 44 per cent share of the vote for the Conservatives translates into over 56 per cent of the Parliamentary seats. The combined votes of the Conservatives and the Brexit Party was 45.6 per cent, while the combined vote of the political parties opposed to the present forms of the Withdrawal Agreement for Brexit (Labour Party, Liberal Democrats, Green Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru) was 51.2 per cent. The precise approaches of those parties varied. Nevertheless, the outcome could be interpreted as a majority against the present proposals amongst the electorate, though no doubt a mandate for those proposals will be claimed by the government.

The previous Conservative government had come to a Withdrawal Agreement (WA) with the EU: initially when May was Prime Minister where the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) was defeated in Parliament, and subsequently a revised version with Johnson as PM where the WAB was given a second reading but it’s passage into law aborted when the election was called. The WAB, which is now certain to be passed through Parliament, means that the UK enters into a transitional period (on 31st January 2020) with the intention to leave EU by the end of 2020. During the transitional period, negotiations take place to finalise the relationships between the UK and EU following the UK’s exit. The ‘political declaration’ attached to the withdrawal agreement on the broad outline of the future relationships, including but not limited to trading arrangements.

Contrary to the claims of the Conservatives during the election campaign, Brexit will not ‘be done’ by end of January, and UK politics will continue to be dominated by Brexit. The uncertainties over Brexit and the UK’s relationships with the EU will continue. The prospects of a close trade agreement (such as a customs union) between the UK and the EU have now disappeared, which could provoke shifts of investment to within the EU by those companies who had clung to the hope that a close trade relationship would prevail. Many believe that any trade agreement between the UK and EU within 12 months is very unlikely. The government would then have the choice between a ‘no deal’ situation in which trade between the UK and the EU would proceed under WTO rules and seeking an extension to enable the completion of a trade deal. It is widely viewed that a ‘no deal’ outcome would have substantial adverse effects on EU/UK trade (as tariffs are introduced), with little if any offset through trade deals between UK and non-EU countries. The most widely touted would be one between the UK and the USA, which (despite Trump’s claims to the contrary) would at best have small positive effects on trade and output; and that is before taking account of potential harmful effects from a UK/USA trade deal including diminution of regulatory standards for environment and food.

Any Brexit deal, short of a customs union and close alignment with the single market—which is effectively ruled out by the election result—will involve adverse effects on trade and employment, restrictions on movement of labour and immigration, combining to depress economic activity. Inappropriate fiscal responses such as cutting public services in the face of lower output would make matters worse.

During the EU referendum campaign in 2016, many forecasts were made on the impact of different forms of Brexit on economic activity, employment etc., though often over a time horizon of more than a decade. Each side of the argument will claim that the actual outturn over the past three years supports their position – that is little, if any, effect in the case of leavers and a depressing effect in the case of remainers. The forecasts were (and still are) comparisons between what would happen under a leave scenario with what would happen with continued EU membership. Further, any forecast for the domestic economy has to make assumptions about the international economy and policy responses. The forecasts were often presented as ‘output will fall’ whereas the forecasts were saying ‘output will be lower than it would have been otherwise’. With allowances made for the path of the global economy and policy responses (particularly by the Bank of England), those viewing a vote for Brexit has having adverse economic consequences appear to have been largely right.

While Brexit is likely to involve lower economic activity than would have been the case, it may still involve increasing economic activity. No doubt economists will be running their regressions for many years to come to seek an answer as to whether Brexit made a difference to economic activity. I would suggest that the lower (than otherwise) economic activity will not be substantial enough to in effect derail Brexit provided that macroeconomic policies are used sensibly. Policies on public expenditure and fiscal policy could have a significant impact on the eventual outcome and perceptions of that outcome. How will government respond to lower tax revenues consequent on the UK leaving the EU? There have previously been threats that lower tax revenues arising from lower level of economic activity coming as a consequence of the UK leaving the EU would mean lower public expenditures to meet budget deficit targets. Such threats have largely disappeared. The rhetoric of austerity and the urgency to ‘balance the books’ have been dropped. During the election campaign, the Conservative Party pledges some increases in public expenditure, modest by comparison with the pledges of the Labour Party (and indeed other parties). Much of the proposals for increased public expenditure would do little more than reverse the effects of the cuts in public expenditure over the past decade: an example being proposals to increase the number of police officers by over 20,000 in the context of a reduction in the number of police officers by 20,000 over the past decade. At least for the next few years, the obsessions with deficit reductions with the emphasis on cutting back public expenditure have dissipated. There are then at least possibilities of using well directed public expenditure to offset many of the economic effects of Brexit: but that does require a government willing to use public expenditure to good effect.

The longer term effects of Brexit may well unleash forces which will bring into question on the stability of the UK, and whether there will be a United Kingdom in ten years’ time. Northern Ireland and Scotland both voted to remain in the 2016 referendum by votes of 55 and 62 per cent respectively, and in both countries there will be pressures for leaving the UK. The Scottish government (a minority Scottish National Party, SNP government with support of Greens) push for a second Scottish independence referendum (previous one held in 2014), bolstered by desires for Scotland to remain within the European Union when the UK leaves. Exit from the EU and a majority Conservative government in London will surely strengthen the push for Scottish independence.

In the general election, for the first time ever in Northern Ireland, the Nationalist parties (Sinn Fein, SDLP) returned more members of Parliament (albeit that Sinn Fein do not take their seats as unable to swear the oath of allegiance required of MPs) than the Unionist Parties (DUP, UUP). The prospects are that Brexit will require the re-introduction of border checks affecting the relationships between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic– whether between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (and the rest of the UK) as they would be in different customs territories or between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as currently proposed in the Withdrawal Agreement. The peace process in Northern Ireland embed in the Good Friday agreement following thirty years of the ‘troubles’ will not be aided by these border checks and more generally difficulties of cross-border movements.

The major, and in the longer term the most damaging, losses from the result of the general election were for the environment and addressing the climate emergency. The prospects of the UK reaching zero net carbon emissions and making the transformation to a sustainable economy have severely receded. The UK’s exit from the EU damages co-operation between European countries on confronting environmental damage. The political parties opposed to the Brexit deal on the table had proposed targets for zero net carbon ranging from 2030 (Green Party), during the 2030s (Labour Party) through to 2045 (Liberal Democrats). The Conservative government had opted for a date of 2050, with considerable doubts on the strength of their attachment. Environmental policies and climate change were little discussed during the election campaign, and did not feature in the major interviews with the party leaders nor in the leaders’ debates. There was one exception to that – a leaders’ debate on the environmental organised by the television Channel Four, which Boris Johnson did not attend and was empty chaired with a lump of ice. The opportunities for a ‘Green New Deal’ have been lost, and in the longer term this may well be the most devastating effect of the election result and Brexit.

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  1. John A

    There is an immediate environment-related quandry for the British government. A regional airline ‘flybe’, is on the verge of collapse and begging for government intervention/support. Due to the growth of low fare airlines, people now ‘commute’ by air to and from various parts of Europe/Britain. Rescue proposals include cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights and deferring tax payments for several years. Incidentally, spiv Branson and his Virgin group have a financial interest in flybe.
    Will be interesting to see if any Tory greenness falls at this first hurdle.

    1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

      I use Flybe from Belfast on the odd occasion I have to visit England & the last time I did wonder if they had cut staff, judging by the lone unfortunate woman faced by an angry mob when checking out at the Manchester cattle market.

      I am not a good flier & I like their use of propeller driven De Havilland’s, which I figure perhaps incorrectly, would be more likely to glide rather than simply go splat !! I did hear that Ryanair are going ahead with Max’s, although it was only by word of mouth.

      I also suppose that it will be the usual suspects at the bottom of the heap that will feel the full force of the screw….there but for the grace of the market go many IMO.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Ryanair have doubled down on the 737Max. They really have no option, their whole buying strategy is based around the 737. They did a deal years ago with Comac, but I don’t think they’ve gone as far as ordering any of their new A220 clone), I think its too small for their needs.

        Oddly enough, I feel a little more vulnerable in those turboprops, although I’m not sure if that is rational. They are certainly mechanically simpler and probably have more fail-safe features (such as less wind resistance in an engine failure), but they lack the more modern safety features of fly-by-wire, etc.

        1. Clive

          Worst flight I ever had was on a FlyBe De Havilland Dash. I will never fly on a prop aircraft ever again as a result — which as you say is probably perverse given they are more straightforward and the Dash is a proven design. But the passenger experience is scary, regardless of what the technical theory might say.

          And yes, Ryanair don’t look too clever with their one-way bet on 737Max’es. They were going to expand services to compete with EasyJet on some routes, but that’s been scaled back — presumably as a result of the constraints on aircraft.

          For my regional flight options (choice of going out of Southampton / Heathrow) Southampton is a better customer-focused option but limited carriers and if FlyBe go under, there’s not going to be much left from Southampton at all. I can’t believe I’ll be reduced to crawling back to BA, but that’s the way it’s looking.

          Returning to the green alternatives, I’ve got to travel to the midlands tomorrow. I just booked on my company’s travel portal a return (standard class) rail fair from Basingstoke to Birmingham New St. Just shy of £180. Yes, a hundred and eighty quid. It’s — what? — a hundred and twenty miles or something like that. I know it was booked last minute and I might have got a better fare if I’d given some notice, but a lot of travel, certainly business travel, simply doesn’t allow for that. Talk about rip off Britain…

          1. Peter

            I will never fly on a prop aircraft ever again as a result

            what was the problem?
            Living in the Azores, the typical means to travel between the Islands is either the ferries of the grupo central or the new high speed catamaran – which seems to be murderous in bad weather – or the turboprop Bombardier (Q200 an 400) planes which I really like even when the air is rough – and that is quite often here.

            1. Clive

              The deafening noise and the sluggishness of the climbing ability. It felt like it was a 1950’s car trying to drive on today’s autobahn.

              I’m not the most relaxed flyer that’s ever been known. But even allowing for that, compared to a modern jet, the Dash seemed antidiluvian.

              1. PlutoniumKun

                A couple of years ago I did a flight on regional turboprop – a Fokker I think. It was in the middle of a storm and while I was pretty sure it was safe, the take off and landing was pretty traumatic for everyone on board. It makes you realise just how incredible the engineering of modern jets can be – I still get a bit of a rush from the sheer smoothness of a modern jets acceleration and take-off.

                As to UK train travel, it really is a scandal. I used to work in Essex and to go to meetings in in Hertfordshire could cost up to £120 – this was back in the 1990’s. Little wonder everyone just drove. There is something very seriously wrong when you have to choose planes over trains because of the huge price differential.

                I should say as well I annually travel from Dublin to meet friends in County Durham. I’ve tried all types of ways to reduce environmental impact as well as cost, from ferry-bus to ferry-train to drive myself with ferry, and flying with car hire. Apart from being much faster, the latter has proven consistently much cheaper, even than getting buses with ferry tickets (allowing for the need for overnights).

                1. ChrisPacific

                  The local airline used to run Metroliners on some of the shorter routes. They are long and thin, seat two to a row, and the ceiling isn’t high enough for you to stand up all the way. Boarding always felt like crawling into a toothpaste tube.

                  They are fast because of the small profile, but they bounce around like crazy if there is any kind of weather.

      2. Math is Your Friend

        “I like their use of propeller driven De Havilland’s, which I figure perhaps incorrectly, would be more likely to glide rather than simply go splat”

        Correctly, as it turns out.

        Jets are usually optimized for high speed, not for lift.

        While the Q400s, unlike other De Havilland turboprops are not STOL, they will still have better gliding and a much lower landing speed than almost any jet transport, save possibly military tactical transports.

        I’d feel safer on them too.

        1. RMO

          “I’d feel safer on them too.”

          You really shouldn’t, as they aren’t safer. This is coming from someone who loves flying, has no trouble flying in single engine piston aircraft… and my preferred number of engines in an aircraft is zero (nearly 1500 hours flying without an engine so far). A turboprop engine is more complex and has more potential failure points than a turbofan, and is more likely to be involved in a fatal accident. You also shouldn’t be particularly nervous flying on one either as while less safe than a large jet they’re still pretty safe – depending upon the airline operating them more than anything. Their advantages are primarily efficiency on shorter length routes. By the way the last DHC aircraft design that was STOL was the Dash-7. STOL provides no real benefits for the vast majority of scheduled passenger routes and costs in efficiency from designing in the capability are usually a net negative.

  2. PlutoniumKun

    A pretty good overview I’d summarise my bullet point summary of where we stand and what the future holds for the UK as follows:

    1. Austerity as we know it is dead. The true believers around Bojo never believed in it economically – it was always a stick to beat the chavs with. The Tories will spend what they deem necessary to keep their new northern/urban voters happy. This means spending on universal benefits (NHS) and infrastructure (especially roads), while screwing down hard on benefits for the poorest 10% or so. Austerity will only apply to the Tories enemies. Expect lots of cash to be shoved into public services at precisely the same time as they are stealthily sold off.

    2. The Tories have the whip hand over the Scots and Northern Irish and they know it. They can simply refuse an Indyref2 and border poll (until they decide its in their interest to jettison some celts). They will squeeze the Scots economically just for the fun of it. They will throw money if necessary at NI (as they already have as part of the Assembly deal) because the Irish know how to make and use bombs.

    3. Business (apart from City business) has lost its voice in London. They didn’t fight the move right within the Tory party, now Boris and his crew think the future of the UK is finance, tax incentive schemes and wheeler dealer capitalism for everyone. The North will get Guangzhou style tax schemes so lots of screwdriver type operations set up, and they’ll get the infrastructure cash they need. They will be far less concerned with a final trade deal with the EU than the EU (and British business) thinks. Expect announcements on a series of Free Trade Zones all across the North of England.

    4. I’m not sure the environmental impact will be as serious as the article thinks, because Johnson knows the value of a bit of populism, and if populism moves that way, he will move along with it. He will push ahead with the stunningly expensive nuclear plants they are building, but they will also need off-shore wind to compensate for falling gas supply from the North Sea. They will push for fracking, but are likely to be very disappointed at the results. The UK power system will suffer as planned interconnections with Europe/Ireland will be rolled back. A falling sterling will make fuel very expensive, which will hit his voters hard.

    1. Clive

      Ni will be fascinating to watch. I never thought I’d see that day, but both nationalists and loyalists seem to have reached an identifiable limit to what their constituencies will tolerate. I always had a hunch that the Assembly was forever destined to be a political Cinderella and just given lip service and platitudes by both the DUP and Sinn Féin, but all the while each side pursued their own agendas which didn’t really involve power sharing long-term.

      However, the anger from both republicans and unionists on the ground at their supposed political representatives was fairly startling. The collapse of Stormont whacked both the DUP and Sinn Féin, Aliiance’s position — that NI’s future lay in a more-or-less permanent Special Status option — seemed to genuinely be a sought-after alternative to the usual factionalism and polarisation.

      The British government’s “stuff their mouths with gold” strategy might both keep a lid on the whole thing and preserve the traditional green/orange push-me pull-me (which I’m guessing is the intention). One does get a sense, though, that a slow burn but still profound change has been set in motion. I’m not sure if anyone can tell where that might lead.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Yes, I think the rumblings on the ground were too strong for the parties to ignore, but I think the biggest catalyst was simply that neither SF nor DUP had any more to gain from staying out. SF probably gave more away than the DUP to start it again, but their eyes are now on the election in the Republic (8th February, just announced today). For now, London will shove cash to NI, and quietly forget the billion or so burnt in the cash for ash scandal, but the DUP would be very foolish if they think that money is guaranteed. Traditionally, its been cheaper to bribe NI politicians than bribing their constituents, so thats probably what London will do.

    2. vlade

      NI is IMO a harder case for Tories than Scotland. If there are repeated polls that show 60+% for unification, then it would be very hard to resist the call for it (as opposed to delaying it though, like “in the next parliament, ok?”). Paradoxically, RoI could help Tories there, as if RoI poll would show only a marginal “yes” to the unification, it would put a bit of a cold shower on the NI..

      Scotland – who knows. I could see plausibly throwing Scotland under the bus (i.e. giving them the referendum), because long term it would help Tories as an English nationalistic party, and would cause no end of economic problems in Scotland so fun (for Tories) to watch.

      Agree on all else. Woyuld just add one more thing – if Tories turn as populist as you suggest, they would create a lot of problems for Labour and LD – what would they campaingn on? The bottom 10% hardly votes, and even if all of them did, if the Midlands are gone for Labour, it would not help them.

      One thing that will mess up Labour further IMO is that Labour right now is a a party of young. The retired – of all background – disproportionately vote Tories. You’d actually argue that the North was lost to Labour not because of policies per se, but because of demography – the correlation of age with Labour/Tory vote is extremely strong (IIRC around 60% either way_). If the effect is correct, that spells trouble for Labour, as young are way more concentrated in cities than older, who are spread more evenly. I write Labour is the party of young, but I’m not sure Labour knows it, and if it doesn’t realise it, the young – who have no historical ties to it, really – will move to the likes of Green etc. Which would kill Labour for good, because it would have no real constituency anymore.

      1. Anonymous 2

        Yes. On the demographics I read that the Tories got 67% of the votes of the over 70s and 57% of the vote of the 60 to 70 cohort. They really are the party of the pensioners.

        1. David

          The problem with the generational argument is that it doesn’t take account of aging. The Tories got 57% of the vote among the 60s to 70s. But in five years time about half of the current 50-60 cohort will be between 60 and 70. So won’t they vote Tory? And if not why not? If the percentage of over 60s in the population is slated to increase, then logically the Tory vote will increase as well.

  3. xkeyscored

    “UK politics will continue to be dominated by Brexit”
    I’m sure people like us will continue to think about Brexit, but with a large Tory majority in Parliament, enabling Johnson to push through more or less whatever policies he wants with ease, will it continue to dominate politics in the sense of what everyone, especially the media, is talking and thinking about?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think the point would be that ‘Brexit’ will dominate, but other other names. This will suit the Tories as they can blame everything on someone else.

    2. David

      I think the problem will be the Tory Party, not Parliament. “Brexit” is an easy slogan to campaign under, but working out the UK’s future relationship with the EU on a whole variety of complex issues is going to expose fundamental and perhaps irreconcilable divisions among the Tory Party, often on issues that many MPs have never consciously thought about. It may not be “Brexit” in the narrowest of terms, but for the next year, at least, the future relationship with theEU and the implementation of the WA will dominate British politics.

      1. xkeyscored

        I expect ‘Brexit’ (in its wider sense) will preoccupy the civil servants, parliamentary committees and so on tasked with negotiating these matters, but will it continue to dominate the media? That is what I doubt. Too many mind-numbing details, and no Great Constitutional Crisis.

  4. jackiebass

    I watch BBC World regularly. Yesterday they had on two people talking about US and UK relations. Since Trump has been in office long enough the UK has come to the reality that the US is no longer a reliable ally. That means the UK will have to reassess their defense needs. The point of the discussion was that it will cost a lot of money the UK doesn’t have. It appears to me the ground work is being laid for a drastic increase in military spending. The money will have to come from somewhere. I suspect like in the US it will be at the expense of social programs and other public projects like roads and bridges. Of course the conservatives will be more than willing to do this. Even though the UK form of government is different than in the US the same dynamics exist. The citizens will be thrown under the bus. The same kind of propaganda will be fed to get them to believe what is needed is in their best interest. A form of the Shock Doctrine will be used to sell this. Most of the promises Boris made when campaigning will be tossed aside like the rainbow stew it is. The UK is in for hard times and its average citizens will pay the price.

    1. Plenue

      “That means the UK will have to reassess their defense needs”

      They’re a miserable rainy island. They have no defense needs.

      1. ambrit

        Tell that to Julius and later Caesars. Plus the odd Dane, Angle, Jute, Saxon, Norman, etc. etc.
        As for the citizens being “thrown under the bus;” remember the General Strike of 1926? To the other extreme, Mosley and the BUF. Johnson and his lot had better be very canny about what they do and how it looks to the general public.
        Imagine a food shortage that can be “blamed” on Brexit. That is the traditional flash point for civil disturbance.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The UK is in a very tight alliance with the US on defence spending, so I doubt they could disentangle themselves so easily – not least because of their very expensive nuclear deterrent (which uses mostly US designed equipment), and their need for F-35’s for their new aircraft carrier. The UK shipbuilding industry has been so devastated its doubtful if they could increase navy expenditure domestically even if they wanted, at least without years of infrastructure investment first. Its been so long since they’ve built a frigate, they’ve literally run out of engineers who know how to build one, they’ve all retired. Most of their defence industry is based around weapons that can be sold to the Gulf States.

      1. The Rev Kev

        It’s so tragic that for the British armed forces. In order to keep their nuclear deterrent, buy the F-35s and to build those two aircraft carriers, they have gutted troop numbers, ship numbers, tanks and it seems everything else. That triad of weaponry that they are buying might be useful for power projection operations but there would be little to back it up with. The later two only make sense if they are part of an expeditionary force but Trump has proved so feckless that it would be hard for the UK to depend on him which renders their present forces structure problematical at best.

      2. David

        British policy since at least the 60s has been based on retaining certain capabilities (nuclear, intelligence, capability for high-intensity operations) to keep a privileged link and influence with the US, and a leading role in NATO. Largely, this worked during the Cold War, but it’s become progressively more difficult since. One reason for this, which started as early as the Trident programme in the 1980s, was the need to safeguard major influence-related projects by making cuts in other areas. The obsession with retaining a “balanced force”, capable of doing something of everything, meant increasing miniaturization of capabilities, to the point where they started to become unusable, combined with counter-productive shaving of candle-ends.
        The original justification for this approach was partly economic: the UK would have access to various capabilities at a price far lower than would be the case if the country had to provide them itself. It’s the equivalent of getting a PP license so that you can borrow an aeroplane from your friend. Retaining this economic benefit came at a considerable cost in political and strategic independence, but the price was thought worth paying. Now, the equation might be changing.
        I’ve no idea what the government has in mind, and I’m not sure they do. But recreating capabilities in many areas would be desperately expensive even if the technical capability exists. In the nuclear area, for example, the UK gave up the capacity for ballistic missile design in the 1960s, and it’s hard to see how it could recreate it now. It’s all very well having your own warhead and guidance systems, but you need something to put them on. And even the capabilities for high-intensity conventional operations are becoming smaller and smaller, and so less and less proportionately influential.
        Thee’s no answer to this question in the terms in which it is posed: any major increase in defence spending is out of the question, and indeed would probably be eaten up by cost escalation. But it’s been coming since the 1980s, when people started to draw simple graphs of, for example, the decline of the surface fleet year after year. There was a point, somewhere around 2050, I think, when the UK would have a navy of one ship. Now you don’t have to take this literally to realize that mathematically you simply can’t go on miniaturizing your conventional capacity to safeguard strategic assets forever.

        1. The Pale Scot

          If I remember correctly from a few years ago, the RN had 35 combat ships out of a total of 62, 30% of which would be at sea at any one time. To command this force the RN had 53 admirals. The cost of new ships is secondary to maintaining them, with all the composite materials and electronics. You can’t just slap a coat of mercury based paint on ’em anymore

          1. David

            The RN has about 25 surface combatants at the moment, of which a proportion will be unavailable for various reasons, such as refits. This is around a third of the strength at the time of the Falklands War, but the loss of capability is greater than that, because a ship can only be in one place at once.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Yes, the way that Britain has stretched its forces so wide seems ridiculous and wasteful, but it probably made a sort of strategic sense, at some stage anyway. A big problem of course is that many people think the big expense of running a military is buying shiny hardware – its not, its keeping that hardware running and in the field and all the ancillary things you need to ensure that the shiny hardware doesn’t get destroyed in your enemies first strike (like attack submarines to protect aircraft carriers).

          The only way the UK can increase its military capacity without massively increasing the proportion of GNP spent of course is to cut something big. The obvious thing to cut is the submarine nuclear force, which never made much sense to me. As the North Koreans, etc., have shown, 95% of the deterrent power of nuclear weapons is in possessing them. The rest is just the cherry on the pie.

          The aircraft carriers are of course the silliest thing of all. They are really just glorified assault vessels, and would be characterised as such in any other Navy. But the cost has drained money from numerous other more useful investments.

          Its hard not to contrast with the Russians and Iranians, who have limited budgets to spend, but spend it on precisely what they need and so are far more formidable in military terms, taking account relative size and wealth.

          I know there is the strong argument that what the UK has bought is a place at the top table internationally – I think that was at one time a legitimate argument, but there comes a point where the weak kid striving too hard to be with the big boys doesn’t earn him kudos and respect for trying so hard, it just makes him look a little pathetic.

          1. David

            It all comes down really to the question of what consequences you are prepared to accept for giving up which capabilities.
            The idea of having an independent nuclear force is to retain the UK’s current privileged status and influence in the P5, bilaterally with the US and France, and within NATO and to a lesser extent with other European states like Germany. There’s a qualitative difference in being a declared nuclear power under the NPT and being wealthy or powerful in other ways, and even being a “sort-of” nuclear power like NK. Simply out, you get invited to the best parties. And for what it’s worth the French are keen that the UK retains its nuclear force, because they don’t want to be exposed as the only nuclear power in Europe.
            The same argument broadly applies to carriers. With them, you can operate out of area. Without them, you are limited to areas where you can be protected by land-based aircraft. It’s the difference between the French Navy and the German Navy (what there is of it). Giving up carriers means retreating essentially to home waters, where the military task is … unclear, and would probably mean the effective end of the Navy in a generation.
            So it’s all about the pain that you are prepared to accept in certain scenarios.

            1. vlade

              There’s an argument to be made of using missile frigates/destroyers instead of carriers. They can provide similar level of AAA at least until you get some AAA on the land, and can also provide some anti-land capabilities, all at a fraction of expenses. And getting your large carrier sunk is a lot of a sunk costs. Not to mention that to protect your carrier, you have to get those frigates and destroyers anyways, as a lone carrier is a death sentence (it can’t run 24/7 anti-sub + CAP + land support all at once).

              But carriers look better, and who wants to be an admiral on a frigate?

    3. xkeyscored

      That means the UK will have to reassess their defense needs.
      If defence is the issue, how much would an S-400 or S-500 system cost for such a tiny group of islands? That, and sharply reducing the country’s number of enemies at a stroke by cutting ties with the USA, and joining the growing African-Eurasian alliance.
      Just a few years ago this might have seemed entirely fanciful, the premise for something like “A Very British Coup.” Today, various European nations are moving in this direction, even if I’d like them to move faster and more decisively.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        This ultimately comes down to ‘force projection’ being vastly more expensive and complicated than ‘homeland protection’. You can’t have both without spending waterfalls of money. But the choice is very rarely given to the public.

      2. J7915

        The US Needs the UK so we can pretend our military adventures are multinational ops. As for UK military resources? Compare purchase orders, Chinook orders by UK would be a rounding error for the US Army, and so forth.

    4. d

      They did build new destroyers, they aren’t clones of US destroyers. They have been working on new frigates before the US decided to do the same.problem really is in scale, they don’t have a lot of ships, like they used. And they don’t have a lot ship yards any more, so no big building program for that, or even putting in orders for them. Even the new carriers are a problem,because of the lack of escorts. Always wondered why NATO did just agree to setting it so member was responsible for what they do best, UK for navy only, others provide other forces. UK is an island, navy is their main defense

  5. Jon Cloke

    I know it isn’t going to happen, but just suppose for the sake of imagination Bernie surmounts all the barriers the instituto-Dems put in his way, avoids the gerrymandering, vote rigging and the massive ‘progressive antisemitism’ campaign coming his way in the Presidentials, and ends up POTUS.

    That would present the highly amusing possibility of an exhausted Jobbik Johnson, having just about gotten through negotiating a trade deal with the EU, turning around… and having to try and negotiate a US trade deal with President Sanders.

    This is surely such a delicious scenario we can only hope and pray…

    1. d

      well that could work, if not for Russia under Putin. Or the ‘normal’ strains of Europe, if the EU failed.odds Putin leaving office any time, bill until he dies. EU failure?unlikely. But possible. That leading to war? Likely

  6. DHG

    Nothing that jeopardizes the full functionality of the Anglo-American world power will take place, as this world power will be hurled to its destruction still alive. Yes people in both countries will not be protected from the whims of their leaders and very well may go through all kinds of machinations heaped on them by their leaders but this system is passing away and it will be destroyed and replaced by the Kingdom of God to time indefinite.

    1. d

      so maybe just maybe, Trump is the anti-christ? He does seem to fit the bill. Even has the evangelicals fooled

      1. xkeyscored

        Even has the evangelicals fooled? You mean they usually have their heads at least half screwed on?

  7. RBHoughton

    If I compare Brexit to an investor considering the prospects for his investments in the global economy today, I believe he will be withdrawing from the casino on opportunity and transferring his wealth to commodities. Applying this simple analogy, I can see a few variables that are likely to influence the national economy and the value of the GBP.

    1. Synoia

      Umm…Blair was a Socialist? Or Tory Light?

      If the second, then the Tories have been in power since 1979, over 40 years.

      1. Pym of Nantucket

        Blair isa full on Tory and warmonger like Shrub. That with the Guardian flipping to an MI5 mouthpiece after getting spanked for Snowden meant they were happy to make up relentless hit prices about Corbyn. It was non-stop. Who funded the anti-Semitism fable?

        1. Clive

          The Guardian also does a nice sideline in Russian “interference” stories. You name it, the Guardian has “concerns” (never entirely convincingly backed up by evidence) about Russian “involvement” or “influence” in it.

          It really is a rag. It’s only redeeming quality is that it makes CNN look good.

          1. Steed

            Agree that it is a rag. However, its other redeeming qualities are John Craces political sketch and various bylines by Marina Hyde, her 90s pop culture references are hilarious.

        1. Drako

          A product of the FPTP system sadly.

          Votes for Tories in 2019: 13,966,451
          Votes for the larger opposition parties (Labour, Lib Dem, SNP, Green): 16,040,290.

          Seat numbers:
          Tories: 365,
          Combined opposition: 263

          1. Larry

            How does having fptp explain labour losing their red wall? And let’s not forget yougovs survey on demographics. The older screwed the younger over.

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