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The Old Boy’s Network

Although my trilogy is not faction or non-fiction, an important and interesting element for me has been the background research. At the moment, I am editing and re-writing Part Two – Deception. When I wrote the first draft some six years ago, there was a scene where Franco Brambilla met Charles Kane’s team. In his strong cockney accent Charles, the former MI5 agent who had been charged with monitoring the movements of UK–based oligarchs of the former Soviet Union, entered into a long tirade concerning the City of London. In particular, he mentioned the Remembrancer’s Office.  The Remembrancer sits in the UK parliament, bringing intelligence from the political sphere to the City, and lobbying in parliament on behalf of finance and the City Corporation. Something that I was not aware of at the time of writing the first draft. Now that I am editing and re-writing, I discovered more about the whole set up of the City of London in particular, the Livery Companies. The Tax Justice Network argues that these constitute an Old Boy’s Network that contribute to important but unseen business and political presence in the broader UK economy and political system.

The Corporation, which predates the British parliament, has various other special privileges and ‘freedoms’ – meaning it is carved in some ways outside of normal UK civic governance. Another unique point is its non-party voting system, where corporate players are allowed to vote alongside the 10,000-odd residents in local elections. This separateness gives the City Corporation something of an ‘offshore’ flavour,11 and its special status has helped it defend itself, and the UK’s financial sector more generally, over centuries. These ‘freedoms’ from political interference also help explain why important parts of the British Establishment and institutional apparatus such as the Old Bailey (the central criminal court) and Fleet Street (traditionally, the home of newspapers) are located in, and have thrived in, the Square Mile.
These ‘freedoms’ and prerogative powers have helped protect the UK’s democratic institutions from political interference. But they have also been mixed with other ‘freedoms’ and their uses, where far greater caution is warranted.
The City Corporation has long fought for ‘freedom’ to trade relatively unhindered from demands and pressures from various sovereigns and governments – and often from tax.

https://www.financialsecrecyindex.com/PDF/UnitedKingdom.pdf

There are over one hundred Livery Companies, many of which date back to the thirteen the Century. One of the latest to be established is The Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers (1995), what a wonderful name!!

It is worth reading the TJN report on the UK. Far from the Government’s claims that it is clamping down on tax evasion and money laundering, it seems that the UK combined with the three Crown Dependencies (Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man) and the 14 Overseas Territories, which include such offshore giants as Cayman, the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda is the world’s worst culprit.

The role of the City of London in engaging with the ex-Soviet oligarchs, and making pots of money along the way, has been well documented in a recent supplement to the Private Eye. Having witnessed the clambering volunteer lawyers and accountants in the early 1990s hoping to get their teeth into the new opportunities, the Private Eye findings did not surprise me.

When the senior KGB officer, Viktor Pavlov, was in London during the 1980s, he spent quite some time studying the Livery Companies ( he probably read the same book as I did The Livery Companies of the City of London). He decides with his IRA contact to establish The Worshipful Company of Lonely Geezers. Nothing to do with the Worshipful Company of Tax Advisers, who are becoming an increasingly isolated breed in the eyes of the UK public!

Fifty-nine days to count down – The heat is on – Everybody’s Fault but the Tories!

The Government is in a mess, Parliament is in a mess and two-thirds of the population does not feel they are not represented by the main political parties. But one thing is for sure, it is somebody else’s fault. Especially the EU who, from reading some of the comments in newspapers, are being vindictive and want to punish the UK. There may be an element of truth. But the Brexit negotiations were based on a set of “club rules” that the UK was a party to drafting. Maybe the UK should have done some swatting on what those rules entailed before launching Article 50. The mentality of the negotiation for leaving was not very different from the years of opt-outs. The EU institutional memory of the past 25 years should not be forgotten; the UK’s self-perception that the nation is different, superior, typified by comments à la former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and others who have routinely insulted UK’s European partners. These combined factors of opt-outs, insults and moving the goal posts has created an atmosphere of distrust and the UK is being treated accordingly. Both UK Parties and many politicians are guilty of continuing with that mentality, the probable exception being Keir Starmer and a minute group of scattered individuals. Of course, the narrative is now that it’s the EU’s fault for being vindictive, Eire not wanting to join the UK, and of course Labour. Everybody’s fault but the Tory Party that embarked upon this journey upon unknown stormy seas in the spirit of Sir Francis Drake or Sir Walter Raleigh

​Brexiteers and history

Dictatorships

As Brexit becomes closer, I have read with interest the evolving discussion concerning the UK attitude to Europe and vice-versa. One that has particularly struck me appeared in today ‘s Guardian Hardline Brexiteers are misreading history,

…reason Britain could never make its peace with the EU was that we are one of only four European countries not to have endured occupation or dictatorship this last century

comments by the pro-Brexit economist, historian Roger Bootle Quoted from the above article by Richard Goodwin 25 January 2019

This is a classic example of the attitude of many of the Brexit negotiators – one of arrogance and sense of superiority over all those residing beyond the shores of Britain.

One only has to read Entitled: A Critical History of the British Aristocracy by Chris Bryant to understand that Britain and many of its colonies were under a form of dictatorship for centuries lead a bunch of conniving elites whose wealth had been gained by, among others in a very long list: piracy, massacre of indigenous peoples for their own private gain, theft of property following the Reformation, Enclosures, Slavery (which they only agreed to abolish when compensated), inbreeding to maintain their status, murder of family members, general debauchery involving the rape of local women and boys or even family relatives, sucking up to the whims of equally deranged and perverted monarchs to gain more privileges such as status (titles) and opportunities to exploit the lower classes.

That kind of behaviour doesn’t seem to be very different from dictatorships or that of the average Despot outside of Europe, whom the “elites’ descendants” happily assist in hiding their money in off-shore accounts.

Now for something completely different! the TAV

This is the first part of some thoughts I am putting together out of my own interest. The TAV refers to the proposed high-speed railway link between Turin in Italy and Lyon in France. It is entitled New Thinking, New Opportunities, New Skills and Jobs

Abstract

The preparation of this document has been stimulated by a recent meeting that had the objective to discuss the preparation of proposed Piedmont legislation to protect closed railway lines in the Piedmont Region from being dismantled. Naturally, this provokes the question of why and who should be concerned? And of course, linking the proposed legislation to the ongoing debate surrounding the highspeed rail link between Turin and Lyon; and other similar projects planned or underway in Italy.

In writing this piece, I have been inspired by the Strategic Foresight Primer[1] of the European Political Strategy Centre. The document does not constitute a proposal or represent the views of any political party or interest group but rather provides some ideas for discussion, and, wherever possible, point to areas where short stories to stimulate a further exchange of ideas and visioning. As Angela Wilkinson quotes “We can either slow down the pace of change or speed up our ability to learn our way into the future”⁠([2]), and as such the document avoids any dogmatic and/or ideological approach. 

Taken in isolation, the proposed legislation risks: opposition from various political parties and interest groups; bogged down in detail by discussions regarding specific lines and technical detail. A key issue is that the future development and/or reinstatement of closed railways does not feature as a priority for the Region. The topic was not included in current POR (Regional Operative Programme of the European ESF “New Skills for New Jobs”), nor, at this stage, does it appearin the Regional Tourism Strategy that is currently under preparation ([3]) Arguably, a convincing justification for the proposed legislation should be linked to a broader medium long-term vision for the Region. 

The Context outlines some of the key issues that will impact upon the future development of the Region in the context of climate change and sustainable development; and, naturally the debate of rail vs road transport in the Region and beyond, and the importance of Turin and the Region in the related to culture in its broader sense, its tradition for engineering, research and innovation and the role they can play in under the auspices of the Alpine Convention strategies to promote a Green economy linked to innovation with respect to, among others, rural development beyond the regional conurbations.  The “headline” contextual analysis forms the basis for New Thinking, New Opportunities, New Skills and Jobs.  At the same time, suggestions for the proposed use of the lines within the context of this broader vision could be more appropriate e.g. commuter, freight, tourism, heritage, etc. and associated innovation that will develop Turin as a European Centre of excellence for research linked to the vision of European Transport in 2050. Above all, for the Region to be the European showcase for environmental sustainability and healthy legacy for future generations in line with ambitions set out in recent strategies under the auspices of the Alpine Commission and those of the European Union. 


[1]Strategic Foresight PrimerAngela Wilkinson European Political Strategy Centre; https://espas.secure.europarl.europa.eu/orbis/sites/default/files/generated/document/en/epsc_-_strategic_foresight_primer.pdf

[2]Op.cit. p.2

[3]It is not clear how advanced the tourism strategy is. There are currently two formerly closed railway lines in Piedmont that operate occasional tourist trains.

Some thoughts on UK’s EU Membership

I didn’t gain a 1st class degree in political science or a PhD in European affairs. However, I have to state that I am quite pessimistic. A significant element of the Tory Party has been pushing for a hard Brexit to fulfil their dream of a de-regulated UK and the privatisation of the welfare state on all fronts. The EU has said that the deal on the table is the only one to accept. Fine. But seen in the context of the European Parliament elections next year and the rise of the extreme right and anti-EU parties, it could be that the EU will say (as they have been doing), get on with it or crash out, they have prepared for such an eventuality. This would be a lesson to others who have signed up to a whole range of agreements and treaties and who think that these can easily be undone. For those who believe in a strong and united Europe, May’s behaviour is doing us a great favour. Whatever happens, combined with a long history of opt-outs, the UK can never be a trusted partner again. I am convinced that the experience of the past two-plus years has reinforced the opinion among the many Member States that the EU will be better off without the UK, an opinion that has also been articulated last week by Norway an EFTA member. I am not any way suggesting that the EU negotiators are being vindictive; they have followed the rules. It’s the UK that has made a fool of themselves and, I would argue, for ulterior motives that I set out above.

The Brexit Dilemma

I am a UK citizen by birth but haven’t lived in the UK since 1980 and thus did not have the possibility to vote. I look on in amazement at what is happening to my country of birth. I am worried about how misinformed the population is about the EU; its origins, what it does and its role in the global arena, in particular taking the lead on sustainable development and climate change mitigation. Putting aside the jingoistic comments by those who voted Leave, I am most concerned me the most is the naivety of many of the comments in newspapers of presumably well informed and level-headed readers. Notwithstanding what appears to be severe Brexit crisis syndrome, despair at the situation, many comments for those arguing for remain seem to have an underlying belief that the UK is entitled to some form of special treatment. Unfortunately, the current situation has been self-inflicted and has been on the horizon since the Thatcher years; Blair did very little to change the British perceptions of the EU and also had his fair share of opt-outs. So back to the worrying naive comments: People’s Vote-Second Referendum? one only has to read the various articles in the Guardian on the considerable pro-Brexit sentiments that persist in the country (e.g. Peterborough yesterday)- it will not be a clear-cut case; blaming Corbyn-that’s all too easy – he has been stuck in a straight-jacket and already being blamed for the Tory incompetences; renegotiate? renegotiate what? The UK has been told quick clearly that there is no room for further negotiations. Norway-EFTA? the UK is not wanted as a member. I’m afraid that the UK population has been outmanoeuvred by a group driven by self-interest that has patiently been planning this for years, first by supporting Thatcher and then the malleable Blair to promote the gradual disintegration of the UK’s social fabric to suit their own ends.

To take this further, I only see two options. Hard Brexit and a period of chaos and isolation, this will possibly serve the EU interests as a warning to the other Member States that have a degree of anti-EU sentiments what could happen to them.  I don’t believe the EU and EC are being vindictive but such as a situation would serve their interests. Even as a committed European, we have to recognise the faults and the interests that influence EU policies. On the other hand, there is the option I have suggested concerning Labour. Corbyn hinted at this in the recent meeting in Portugal. They must put the arguments forward of how they will address the issues that caused the Brexit vote and why it is best to work within Europe to make the necessary changes on a Continental scale. This will require full engagement in the next European Parliamentary Elections, the UK status on this I am not clear about. By not taking this route, the Tories and Hard Brexit will allow them to pursue their policies of dismantling the welfare state; and at a European level, it could risk business as usual with a few policy tweaks. Time is running out at national and European levels. 

Despite the constraints that Labour has, I strongly believe that it is time for them to take command, face the consequences and the wrath of the MSM and to fully engage in the proposals by the Social Democrat group in the European Parliament to force the necessary reform of the EU institutions and policies. https://www.progressivesociety.eu

Some reflections – Post Brexit Referendum

I don’t want to appear condescending but over the past two-plus years since the post-referendum, there are two subjects that have forced me to vent my ire. (1) A segment of the UK population, (especially the Brexiters, politicians and those who have posted comments here) thought that the UK was the focus of European attention and that in the end, the EU would surrender to the UK demands. The truth is, as I mentioned many times in my comments, apart from the day after the referendum and the last week, Brexit has not received the attention of continental newspapers if it did, it would have appeared somewhere near the birth, death and marriages (divorce!) notices. (2) Being half Italian and having lived in a number of EU countries, I have been particularly annoyed at the level of superiority and ridicule directed at some of these countries, in particular, my adopted country Italy. A past front cover of the Economist Bring on the Clowns when the Five Star Movement gained popularity, typifies the UK stereotypical opinion of EU partners. It is therefore with some satisfaction to see the coverage of the evolving chaos in the press of EU Member States. As somebody else has remarked in the Guardian, the Italians are becoming quite proud of the fact that they are (maybe) no longer regarded as the most chaotically governed country in Europe.

Politicians: Tweets, Twits and Twats

In response to Alex Clark The Observer 26 August 2918

Perhaps MPs should add the odd novel to their reading lists…

Technology seems to precipitate a decline in the quality, focus and intellectual capability of our politicians. I used to say they tended to open their mouths before they engaged their brains; now it has become more dangerous. They tap on their smartphones before they engage their brains.

They easily incite hate, create uncertainty in financial markets, abuse and lie about opponents publicly, all for the sake of publicity and to show that “they are on the ball”. Quite frankly, I can’t see how they have time to do any work, let alone read a book. Could this explain the slow progress in the BREXIT negotiations? Maybe they have been too engaged in keeping abreast of the WhatsApp and Twitter accounts to focus on the interests of their country.

Unfortunately, we seem to be governed by a bunch of publicity seeking twits (the vowel can be changed!). I have tried to explain this to Italian and Danish friends but there is not a similar pronunciation between Tweet and their language equivalent of twit. Although, an Italian speaking English may easily pronounce the word Tweet as Twit. (A constant embarrassment for me as a child when my Italian mother used to ask me in front of friends to collect the sheets off the washing line).

Without interfering with the right to free speech, safeguards against politicians abusing social media are needed. The antics in Italy this week are a prime example. A Minister incites hate and racism, when rumours circulated of him facing indictment, members of his party responded by threating to attack the prosecutors and of course the press, very reminiscent of Trump’s approach.

Yes, politicians (and their electorates) should read more; and, in the current environment of hate, a few history books wouldn’t do any harm.

A Peculiar Triangle of Friendship Fake News, Real News or is it just summertime?

As an ordinary person in the street, I’m becoming extremely confused. For quite some time, we have been bombarded with news that the Russians interfered with the US Presidential elections and that somewhere along the line, the newly elected President may have gained financially. To confuse the matter further, it seems that one of the promoters of BREXIT had contacts with the Russians and may well have received some financial assistance to promote the exit EU project. Several hundred kilometres away in the sunny land of Italy, there have been constant rumours that one of the current coalition parties, apart from apparently securing the support of the Mafia may have been involved in some financial chicanery to the tune of 49M€, and have received support financially or in kind from the Russians.

It transpired this week that President Trump is so impressed with Italy’s anti-immigrant stance that he has intimated at US support to pay the Italian debt. The other coalition party in the current Italian Government has made a similar claim regarding Russia’s apparent willingness to underwrite some of Italy’s debt.

This all sounds a bit Mickey-Mouse to me, or is it? But the question is why? What can explain these gestures (or jest-ures) of international philanthropy towards a country that seems to be constantly in the headlines for all the wrong reasons (increasing racism and associated political instability that is impacting on the economy (Spread) and future FDI? Of critical importance, one needs to wonder who are the puppet masters (Russians and/or Mafia) and what leverage do they have on the likes of Trump, BREXIT promoters and the Italian Government?  And, who has the upper hand?

A very interesting triangular relationship – but then it could be the sunny season and all those Spritz and G&Ts! Even reporters are human and make mistakes.

However, it does seem that my prologue to Triple Edge is not so far-fetched (written some years ago!). Note also my blog post of four  years ago Strange Bed Fellows – The Rise of European Right Wing Parties and Russia’s Influence

BREXIT Dilly Dallying

This dilly dallying is not going to serve anyone other than the speculators (think how much they have made over the last week) and cause even greater harm for that segment of society who voted BREXIT because they are at the receiving end of  the UK government’s austerity programmes. There is no point in believing that the terms both Johnson is proposing and Cameron basically repeating yesterday in Brussels will be met. Cameron has already been through a negotiation process and that was not accepted by the electorate. So why believe that the outcome of a future negotiation process is going to be any different?

So for the good of the UK (or whatever may remain after a BREXIT) and for the countries of Europe who want to push ahead with a more integrated Europe, just get on with it. One can keep on about the narrow majority but how many times has Britain been governed by governments that have received less than 40% of the vote in elections?

Neither the UK population nor the Europeans should be held to ransom as a result of a bunch of men with bloated egos who don’t have the interests of the country as their priority. This goes for both sides. The current work plan of the Commission http://www.politico.eu/article/junckers-ten-priorities/ is interrupted each time the UK wants special conditions or opt outs. UK voters decided that they did not want to part of this plan but for the benefit of 400+ million Europeans allow them to get on with it.

BREXIT has been a wake-up call for Europe and hopefully there will be some move towards the original philosophy of the founding six countries and in particular “jobs, inclusion and a new democracy”.  It is still early days but there are some indications that this may happen; including a re-assessment of the relationship with Russia which has always been shackled by the UK pushing the US agenda.

In the days following the Referendum result I have read the opinions of many left leaning commentators whom I respect. However, just to criticise EU as being a block that represents the interests of multinationals is not going to go anywhere. How are the left  and trade unions in an isolated UK (or England & Wales) going to have any weight in the fight/discussion to return Europe to more human values? There is a growing momentum across Europe to roll back the power of the multinationals, major tax evaders, banks and the financial speculators; unless there is a strong left within Europe to take up a united front, the risk is that  the far-right, such as UKIP, will increase their appeal through distorted information; and not serve the interests of the majority of the populations of Europe and future generations in an increasingly globalised and technological world.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, an immediate start to the BREXIT process is going to minimise the impact on the angry part of the population who voted to Leave. It may also bring about important changes to how the UK (and its parts) are governed and above all how Europe is governed.