Some links on my current preoccupations

If you want something completely weird, try this. The Swiss government is still so furious about the whole business with the whistleblower who sold German tax authorities a stack of CD-ROMs with lists of tax evaders that they had their intelligence service spy on the German excisemen. But German counterintelligence found out about it somehow. Since the 1st of December, a secret warrant has been out for their arrest, and now they’ve snagged the 54-year old Daniel M., a Swiss citizen, in Frankfurt am Main, on suspicion of espionage for a foreign power namely Switzerland since at least January 2012.

So German and Swiss spooks are chasing each other around Rheinhessen? Who ordered that? Also, I had imagined that the Swiss might be trying to warn the account holders that they were coming under suspicion, but the Swiss seem to have had a more aggressive solution in mind as they were trying to identify the individual German officials involved in the deal.

Taking back control. A poll for NEF suggests that 81% of the public feels it has no control over the central government, while 70% feel they have no control over private companies that contract for public services. This neatly summarises the whole problem. You can shout at your MP and you have a reasonable chance of getting an answer. The MP can shout at this or that minister, government agency, or corporation and they have a reasonable chance of getting an answer. But try getting Sodexho, Npower, Veolia, some no-name NHS contractor, or your friendly local railway TOC to answer a question or do a goddamn thing. But it’s only the politicised minority that’s even aware of their existence. Hence the miasmatic, unfocused crankiness that permeates everything.

This also reminds me of something in Peter Mair’s acclaimed book Ruling the Void. Mair makes the excellent point that European integration – the process of wiring up the national polities with the European polity – means that discontent with the EU invariably also means discontent with the national polity. But – perhaps because he didn’t want to accept that anyone who disliked the EU might have a real problem – he didn’t follow the logic through to the conclusion that discontent with the national polity also ends up being discontent with the EU.

On which theme, here’s a good piece on the crisis of French provincial cities. The way I think of this is as follows: Europe used to be characterised by a party divide that roughly mapped onto an urban-rural divide. The countryside was organised by a network of associations that supported the conservative, or Gaullist, or Christian Democratic party. The city was organised by trade unions and other associations that supported the socialist or Social Democratic party. In the longue durée, the difference was really whether a city had developed a meaningful industrial working class; where it hadn’t, sometimes other political formations would survive to speak to specifically urban concerns. The example would be the Liberals surviving out west in the UK.

But this structure is changing. Sure, it looks roughly similar on a map, with red clusters in a blue sea. The content behind those labels, though, is changing. This change can be expressed as the effect of three flows – there’s the last wave of suburbanisation (like the lotissement) phenomenon in France, there’s a wave of re-urbanisation, and there’s also a tendency to super-urbanise. So the traditional rural constituency is being hollowed out by movement to the city, but these days the movement is direct to Paris, or London, or why not New York. At the same time, the exurbanites aren’t organised into the rural constituency because why would you join FNSEA if you’re not a farmer and you basically live on the motorway? Instead they become the classic fake news constituency, organised by the Facebook app for iPad, aka the weapon of mass destruction of our times.

Meanwhile, this piece by Mark Gregory for EY gets to something I worry about. A lot of Brexiters, and also lefties, understand the economy of London and the South-East as being basically about banks. They draw different conclusions from this; the first think we’ll be OK because just letting the finserv sector rip as a tax haven will work (never mind being tracked down by Swiss assassins), the second think we’ll be OK because bankers, fuck’em. But this misses a lot of important stuff. It makes a lot more sense to see it as an integrated professional services cluster that does software, architectural design, adverts, movies, drugs, and a whole lot of arcane specialities. Some of this is here because it’s linked to the financial centre – activity in the financial centre tends to drive demand for accountants and lawyers – but this is a subset of the total. One way to look at this is to say that it’s sucked up all the loose graduates from a large part of the world, and wouldn’t it be nice if we could kind of spread them out across the UK. Well, perhaps. But this assumes the specialisations aren’t complementary. I wonder.

More to the point, I wonder what degree of Brexit-related disruption would cause people to up sticks and go, and leave just the pure financial element.

And what about the guy who got us into this mess? David Cameron‘s £25k shed seems to concentrate every aesthetic trope of the Cameron years into one artefact. There’s the whole posh-people-go-to-festivals style – surely about to become terribly dated – but there’s also the killer detail that the light switches are made out of Bakelite. They don’t just look nostalgic; they’re chemically composed of the stuff. And, even posing on the steps of the thing, he’s still wearing his shiny black business brogues, a small bank playing a man on TV.

2 comments

  1. Metatone

    I was talking about this over dinner at the weekend with an architect. Clerkenwell really is just office furniture/flooring shops now – and of course the office buildings around hold plenty of architects etc. But some of their activity must come out of endless bank office shuffling etc. As some of that moves off to EU somewhere, some of the architecting (and office furniture shopping) will move too. In each case it’s probably 10% or something at first. But all those 10%s add up to a noticeable hit to the ecosystem. A short-term recession can’t be ruled out, but who knows if the hit to the ecosystem will trigger a vicious circle of shrinkage?

  2. Guano

    “The crisis of French provincial cities.”

    It’s all about the hypermarket, about wanting to drive somewhere and buy stuff at low prices but also wanting traditional French small-town life to continue. About wanting to have your cake and eat it. About wanting to opt-out of free movement of EU nationals but also be in the Single Market.

    David Cameron never quite got the message across that this isn’t likely, did he?

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