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June 2016

« May 2016

KMD would quite like to stay in the EU please.

Posted 21/06/2016 at 11:09 Comments

I was going to make this funny, I really was. See, the UK is currently in the grip of a referendum that is probably confusing anyone outside it, for reasons that make no sense to anyone outside it*, and Boris Johnson (who definitely makes no sense to anyone outside the UK) was making very silly comments about knickers and cake, ** both of which I Have Strong Opinions on, and really, someone has to out-do his silliness.

Plus, I don't make outright political preferences clear, because honestly I'd just rather people got interested, got involved and voted than get into who for or why. My somewhat haphazard ideas don't clearly align with any party, though I think word has escaped that I might be a feminist. At least, if you think someone can be both capitalist AND feminist and sell pants that might be considered, in a certain light, to be sexy (really not everyone agrees these are combinable).

But the EU is really important to those of us who trade globally, and to KMD, and plenty of the debate has brought up issues that are actually just part of day to day business even for a teeny tiny company like us (current full time population; 2, countries involved in trade in some way with us, lost count). So I was going to talk about it, but make it funny.

And then someone murdered our MP. Stabbed and shot her.

None of us are joking any more and I can't make this fun. It's pretty clear that something about the way we've been handling the referendum has contributed to this. Also, please, if you're about to say "but he was just crazy" or something, please, just don't. Psychologist here. All too aware that people with mental health issues are usually at the sharp end of harm, not the dishing it out end, and that the association of mental health and violence just makes things even harder.

So, I tried to write calmly and clearly about how running KMD makes me a bit baffled by the leave campaign. It got long. It could be longer, but here's a very short version for anyone who really can't take any more blogs at this stage.

I run a business and trade with countries in and out of the EU; it's noticeably massively easier within the EU, especially as someone with disabilities (I have consistent rights within the EU), even compared to some of the supposedly similar trade agreements (all of which involve things the leave campaign doesn't want, like free movement of people, as well as the trade). Plus, when you trade and work across the borders it gets harder to believe the notion that a relatively small strip of water makes us significantly seperate and different, not a part of a continental plate, or hold the delusion that we're particularly great, or at least so I find.  Also, from the perspective of many people I work with it looks like leaving could be the thing that really messes up most of our precarious states and tips many of us off into closing finally, if only because the initial phase will be wildly turbulent. I don't see that leaving the EU offers any clear solutions to any problems we're facing; I don't see that staying causes any obvious problems that we won't face anyway. I don't think leaving will be as disatrous as some people have claimed; but it's a bit like pressing the emergency eject button on a plane you never really read the manual on and you have no idea if there's a parachute or a safe place to land. We can do better than that.

Working at a trade show in Paris; Maz is helping Bex who was working for Velda Lauder at the time. There's nothing like a trade show to make you feel at your most British, whilst making you realise we are neither that different to everyone else and are very much interconnected.

 

The long version:

All that seperates us from the continental plate is an unusually stormy channel that's small enough that someone with serious endurance can swim across. On the other side of that is a densely populated area of people we've been having interesting times with for thousands of years.

If you're in business producing goods, that channel is largely meaningless, a minor accident of geography (though the banks seem to disagree as they take much longer to transfer money to other countries than within ours, which makes no sense. Can anyone explain this better than "the banking chunnel is full of jam"?)

Because of the way the UK's economy has ended up structured and also because we're actually a bit small, physically, even if we make stuff here (which is hard, so as a nation we mostly don't, which is a big bag of problem all of its own), we have to import things - in our case, fabrics, components, elastics, that sort of thing, or entire garments. The things we make, here or in other countries, then sell from here and surprisingly often go overseas - a big chunk within the EU, another to the USA, varying amounts to other places (often depending on their import duty issues, currency exchange rates and local economy. Australia, for example, is really quite dramatically up and down over the years). 

Every company I know that makes knickers, or even things like electronics or well, anything,  is like this, a loose network of contacts and traders and suppliers, dodging through commercial pressures and exchange rates and the other million variables to get the right products at the right prices to the people who keep them going.

KMD's network works best in the EU. Dealing in the EU is smooth.(Ish). We have to do a VAT form 4 times a year and sometimes there's a bit of a fight about it if someone got the numbers wrong, but that's it. We know the rules and regs, consumer rights are protected (that's where your 14 day return period comes from!) and we have access to the EU legal system to handle stuff like retailers not paying for goods (I've never actually pursued this that far, but friends in the music industry report a surprisingly high rate of success in getting paid).

Even with people we have trade agreements with, things are more administratively complicated. Interestingly, and in contradiction to everything the leave campaign seem to be saying, I have more problems exporting goods to Switzerland than I do wandering back and forth to it in person. It helps, in a time of increasing fuel prices and shipping issues, to deal with people closer to us, and we have a shared cultural heritage that makes our brand make sense in Europe in a way it doesn't in many places.

(For example, the Chinese government would only like us to take entire products out, please, not in, also the population have no idea what a femme fatale is, or film noir or "retro", also our garments smallest size is their plus size on average and they don't really value waist cinching or stockings, also mostly folks don't care that something's a British brand if its not a big luxury name. We have sold more pants to Finland, for heaven's sake, and they're the least densely populated country in the EU).

I don't know why any politician really believes that trading elsewhere is so easy - I promise you it isn't, and I'm sure our overseas customers can chime in and tell you some tales of the time it takes to get goods to them AND the hefty import duty they pay  - we generally assume that anyone buying for any reason outside of the EU can get hit up for at least 10% and usually more like 30% on top of the cost of the product. Plus admin fees. Oh! And we basically can't sell anything to Russia, For Reasons. Russia is Ineffable.

Whether we're in a country or not, we already have to make sure we're in line with regulation; fabric tests for the USA (they're very worried about flame retardancy of your underpants), insuring ourselves against litigation there, and dealing with customs questions from their import people take up way more time than I care to calculate. But I don't recall being able to impact on US laws, ever. Oh, and Russia managed to effectively ban lace knickers, which definitely affected us even though I have no impact at all on Russian law.

We're in this world,  living and working and travelling and trading. There's no out, we have to deal with the stuff other countries do no matter what our legal arranegements are. At the moment we have a fair chunk of power within the EU, including a veto. How will we have MORE power in negotiations if we leave? Britain has many great things about it, but it only takes one multinational trade show to realise that we aren't the boss of everything, and we don't exactly dominate the trade circuit the way we did when we has occupied 25% of the world. And we can't go back to that.

As a woman with disabilities, I also very much value being able to trade and travel within the EU in the knowledge that even with illnesses the travel insurers computers don't understand, never mind let me cover, plus a haemophilia disorder, that I will be safe if I have an accident or illness whilst working overseas, as I'm registered wth the European health card scheme. Not only that, but when I pay a business in the EU, they are obliged to be as accessible to me as possible, and not to discriminate. To be in the EU you have to sign up to such standards. I haven't found one I object to yet . . . nary a banana angle standard law in sight.

Yes, these values also include having to sign up to the free movement of people to some extent. We currently do less than the counties whose apparently amazing trade deals we could share; they had to promise way more freedom of movement to get those deals, but we didn't. Also, leaving the EU doesn't magically free us of our international obligations to people getting the heck away from war or givernments hell bent on opressing their own people. So by what mechanism will leaving the EU mean that we can put the country into totalshut-down mode - even if we're absolutely sure we want to?

Kiss Me Deadly has at various times been inspired,  staffed or supported in some way by folks who can't trace their patrilineal line as far back as mine (1066, by the way, feel free to check out the coat of arms. My matrilineal line all left the country pre-WW2, apart from my great grandmother who was supposed to follow, but couldn't, what with there being a war on and all). I'd like to be able to keep working with people from overseas. Our main model/photographer? Spanish. It's already sort of socially awkward, to say the least.

I've been asking people at length about why they want to leave and I'm not going to tell you that whatever you are concerned about isn't a problem. It's not that there aren't problems, it's that I don't see how leaving solves them.

I think we all know that there's something odd in the economy and things aren't as rosy as we're being told. People moving about is hard - hence South-East England, that loads of us moved to in the last decade or two, has totally different pressures on it to the North, where plenty of us moved from (hi! Yes, I know I mostly lost the accent, but just ask me to say bath). Wars and environmental disasters displacing large populations? Terrifying; especially when we seem to have aggravated much of it. The increasing use of private companies to provide public services really, really worries me. TTIP, lord knows how that will work out. I'm glad we don't have to try and get in on our own - I don't see how we avoid it because of that whole "trade involves lots of countries thing. The pressures on the NHS/social care from an aging population are pretty dreadful. We seem to have a few problems left over from selling off our public housing stock a while back, especially in London. The EU has some democracy issues - but you know, we could also fix our own democracy issues (first past the post?! An unelected second chamber?), and start actually coming out to vote for our MEPS and then make them show up at the actual parliament for their actual job, because we have that power. We really do.

Or maybe you just hate capitalism and want to burn it all to the ground, though in that sole case, basically, I have no time for you, because I worked with enough people who went through bloody revolutions and think they are basically a terrible idea that hit those of us who are vulnerable the worst. So I'd rather do things the much, much harder way, which is by talking it through at vast length with enormous documents and everything being very complicated.

So, if you're thinking to vote leave, I ask you; do you really, really, hand on your heart, see a logical path between the problems that you have, and how leaving the EU will fix them?  A series of steps that take you from A to B? Because I haven't seen anything that links in any sensible way the problems we're facing with "and leaving the EU will fix that". This vote is stay, or go, it is NOT stay, go, go-and-fix-the-nhs, or go-and-fix-the-housing-crisis, or anything else. And I'm really worried now that we're leaving and we don't have any idea where we're going. Can we keep the EU, but ALSO tackle the issues at home, please?

If you're not sure which way you're voting -  then let me put it this way - could you live with carrying on as is, or would you like to try a big mystery box of don't know what will happen next, combined with a lovely recession for a bit? If you think you might on balance prefer the former, do pease come out and vote.

I also recommend this article from, of all places, NewsThump, who dropped the comedy for a serious statement this week. It's the clearest thing I've seen on many of the purported issues, and covers the structure of the EU and the money stuff and so on. I also found this visual guide to Brexit from the Financial Times really informative - I'm not going to argue with anyone who finds the plethora of arrangements and agreements complicated; I managed to put us in the wrong place on this map of them. I just think that reflects the reality that the world IS very complicated and you can't make it simple. The BBC are compiling a list of answers to questions about structures, implications and the practicialities of how even voting will work here.

I'm keeping one last silly thing from my original writing:

Even if we leave, WE CAN NEVER LEAVE EUROVISION. Seriously, we're never getting out. It's not an EU thing, you can tell by the way Australia is in it. EUROVISION FOREVER. Love, love, peace, peace!

We also can't leave the human rights stuff, because it's international, not EU.

At this point I'm going to break for flowers. If you're not UK/European there's my attempt to explain underneath, or otherwise, as usual, feel free to ask anything in the comments because I know there's tons of stuff I either haven't covered or just don't know!

 

*Insofar as I can explain this to folks from overseas, this is my extremely biased story of what the heck I'm on about:

Post-Hitler, Europe was thinking maybe lets not go to war again ever, also how about not letting countries go to hell and turn into industrialised clinically planned programmes of death and discrimination. The UK has never been entirely sure about this because we definitely opposed the latter, but we are physically slightly seperate and we have this colonial past and such, and also we never really got the hang of speaking any other languages. But, in the 1970's, largely for economic reasons, we joined anyway what was then mostly a trade union, because free trade mostly kinda seems to work. But it's difficut to have free trade without having a load of stuff with it (like a membership fee, which really grinds on anyone who thinks national economies are the same as household economies), and lots of paperwork, and it's now very complicated, which is saying something coming from a country that has no written constitution so is essentially just one big historical wrangle. While our social values have been getting more progressive, our political ones have shifted right, especially when it comes to economic, except we seem very confused at the moment about that and neither left nor right really agree about the EU in any sort of way consistent with that divide. The far right is absolutely convinced that immigration that causes all ills, and has been increasingly vocal about it. To avoid splitting the right wing vote (because we have a first past the post system designed for two parties, where small parties can't get into power but can run round causing trouble stopping anyone winning), the mainstream right party (Conservatives, also referred to as Tories) promised that if they won they'd have a referendum on leaving. Oddly enough, this could all be a moot point as the results of referundums aren't actually legally bindng here, but since both major political parties have factions that were already fighting each other fairly badly, it's been pretty unpleasant. It's literally just in or out on the vote but it's all got very fraught and in the middle of it someone shot a politican dead, which is an incredibly rare thing to happen in the UK.  So people are a) angry b) scared/anxious and c) sad. or, in some cases, having an existential crisis. I have to say I am proud to live in a country where when someone gets shot dead we pause political campaining to think very seriously about what we've been doing.
I gather from the oustide it just looks like a giant mess, which is probably because it is in fact a giant mess. It's already noticeably screwing financial stuff up. If you want to arbitrage it, and you reckon we'll stay in, buy pounds now while they're cheap, and sell after.

Basically its like Game of Thrones; the PG consititutional version with acres of paperwork no-one understands. That's because Game of Thrones is based on our Wars of the Roses, and we've been trying to do more debate and paperwork, less war, ever since.

** Total number of actions Boris Johnson has previously taken to support the UK lingerie industry; 0. You know nothing, Boris Johnson.