Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Don't panic, the delay to Brexit is much needed

This article originally appeared on United Politics on 30/08/2016.

One of the big criticisms of Vote Leave during the referendum campaign was that they had no plan for actually leaving the EU, or ‘what Brexit looks like’. Though it gave Vote Leave the campaign flexibility to advocate different positions and simultaneously none at all, it was a legitimate criticism, and one that has become all the more substantial in the wake of the vote.

That said, the same criticism can be levied at the government. It was unspeakably arrogant of Cameron to call the referendum and not lay any groundwork for the possibility of a Leave vote. This lack of preparation has been made all the more apparent by the floundering and half-baked ideas we’re currently seeing.

Top of the list we’ve got the Tory right and UKIP maintaining calls for a ‘hard Brexit’, advocating pulling out of both the EU and the Single Market and damning the consequences. This shows a fundamental lack of understanding of just how entrenched those institutions are in our own operations. There’s a certain cognitive dissonance involved in, rightly, arguing that the EU had too much influence and control over our governance and believing that we can harmlessly eradicate that in one swift movement. Brexit will not be an event but a process, taking five, seven, ten years or more, and we must leave the same way we went in; gradually, and in stages.

The basis of this ‘hard Brexit’ plan is the desire to strike a bespoke Free Trade Agreement with the EU, which itself relies on several misconceptions. Firstly, negotiating a bespoke deal of the required scope simply cannot be done in the two year time frame allowed by Article 50. Advocates of doing so were the same ones who rightly pointed out the EU’s ineptitude of signing trade deals in good time. The deal with Canada for example has taken seven years to negotiate so far, and has still not been implemented, and trade talks with India have been shelved after nine years of back and forth. Yet a bespoke deal with the UK can apparently be agreed within a couple of years. There’s that cognitive dissonance again.

‘So be it’ the hardliners say, suggesting reverting to WTO rules and replying in kind should the EU impose tariffs. The irony of this position is that they clearly have no idea what those WTO rules are. They cite the rule that nations cannot impose discriminatory or punitive tariffs, apparently unaware that the EU is recognised by the WTO as a Regional Trade Agreement and is thus permitted a certain level of discrimination against non-members. Under such a scenario the UK would acquire ‘Most Favoured Nation’ status and, under those WTO rules, the EU would be obliged to impose tariffs. The UK however would not have RTA status and thus would fall foul of those WTO rules preventing discrimination should we seek to impose tariffs on EU exports.

Tariffs though, are much of a red herring. It is regulatory harmonisation that is the key issue, and why we should not be looking to pull out of the single market, at least not during this first Brexit step. Meeting regulations is one thing, but proving you’ve met those regulations is something else entirely, and this is where the Single Market comes in. Without the required paperwork exports into the EU must go through various customs checks to ensure they meet those standards. This would mean our EU trade would grind to a halt with dire economic consequences.

“But China and Australia don’t have free trade deals and they trade with the EU easily enough.” That’s because whilst they don’t have comprehensive FTAs, they, and others, have a multitude of Mutual Recognition Agreements, smaller deals that facilitate trade in various areas by adopting common standards.

This brings us onto the Swiss option, which the chancellor is now reportedly advocating. More realistic than the ‘hard brexit’ option, it is not without it’s challenges. The EU has little appetite for replicating Switzerland’s model of multiple deals and the two year Article 50 timeframe again represents a significant stumbling block. The latter problem could be overcome by going into the negotiations and requesting an immediate extension to the negotiating period before even putting our cards on the table. However, as any extension needs the unanimous agreement of the remaining 27 member states, it’s a risky strategy.

Finally the Norway option is under great misconceptions from both sides of the debate. The Financial Times reported that the City had rejected this scenario in favour of the Swiss option as Norway has to ‘accept all the rules without having a say in them’. Merely reading the EEA agreement itself puts this one to bed. Through the EEA Joint Committee, Norway and the other EFTA states, have significant input into the formation of Single Market regulations and even have a de facto veto over their implementation. This veto has never been used precisely because of the extensive consultation process they are involved in.

Furthermore, it makes the false assumption that the EU is the top table. On the contrary, it is increasingly a middle man between it’s member states and the actual top tables of global trade. It is here where Norway wields significant influence in forming regulations before they get anywhere near the single market. Far from having no say, it arguably has more. Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to be the architects of a global single market and leave behind the parochialism of the EU’s arrangement.

Nor does the EFTA/EEA option mean accepting freedom of movement. Lichtenstein has set a precedent, through the measures set out in Articles 112 and 113 of the EEA agreement, of having quantitative restrictions on free movement. There is no reason why the UK cannot follow this precedent in order to gain greater control over immigration. Moreover, it’s important to remember that this EEA move is merely the first step. Once this transitional arrangement is in place, there would be added clout to negotiate free movement reforms for the EEA as a whole.

The dearth of informed people involved in this process, Remainers and Leavers alike, has been incredibly depressing. Whilst the think tanks that usually exist to instruct the government on how to do everything have been missing in action, there have been some who have been doing the necessary research. The Flexcit plan from the Leave Alliance – whose sterling work informs much of this article – should be shoved into the hands of every civil servant and government minister remotely associated with getting the UK out of the EU.

The upcoming French and German elections are a good reason to delay triggering Article 50 until we know who it is we shall be negotiating with. In the meantime it offers the opportunity for those involved to do the necessary research so as to go into those negotiations with a clear picture of what we want, what we need, and what is possible.

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Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Forcing a Muslim to sell bacon: A riposte

This article originally appeared on United Politics on 23/08/2016.

Fellow United Politics contributor Samuel Hamilton wrote a piece last week defending French authorities’ decision to warn a Muslim shop owner he has to sell alcohol and pork or face closure. Doing so, he argued, conserved “a relatively insignificant part of their life and identity – the cold beer after work, the bacon sandwich on a Sunday morning – as a means of conserving traditional values and liberty for a few ordinary French citizens.”

Leaving aside the idea of a bacon butty being a French tradition, my issue with Samuel’s arguments is his conflating conservatism with libertarianism, calling out the latter for defending the shop owner in this instance. “It seems that many conservatives have forgotten that our primary responsibility is to ‘conserve’ and that the pursuit of liberty and freedom of the markets is virtuous only after we have conserved the things that make them possible” he says.

The problem with this analysis is that libertarians don’t see liberty and freedom of the markets as the goals to be achieved by the values Samuel espouses, but rather the very means to promote and secure those values.

He is right that the fundamental guiding principles of libertarianism, free trade and free speech, form the cornerstone – to varying degrees – of western civilisation, and that the biggest threat to those principles today is Islamism.

But where Samuel falls down is in his assertion that “total ideological freedom is not and has never been desirable in a free country. And where an anti-libertarian religion spills into the bounds of ideological or political influence, we should see that it is curtailed.” Generally speaking he would be right, but in this instance he is calling on the state to do that curtailing, and that’s where he loses me.

The only answer to bad speech, is more speech. We shouldn’t be calling on the state to limit the freedom of ideologies we disagree with. The danger in that should be self-evident. Only by ensuring complete freedom of speech, do we guarantee that bad ideas are effectively challenged, and that good ideas gain traction and win out. The marketplace of ideas should be a free trading one, not a protectionist one.

When it comes to avoiding political influence of ‘anti-libertarian religions’, the simplest way is to ensure that political institutions are entirely secular. It’s an area where we fall disappointingly short in this country. From having an established church and bishops in the house of lords, to the continuing state funding of faith schools, we have a long way to go if we want to lead by example and refute the notion that religious ideology should be conferred on us by our executives.

But when it comes to the public at large, if we believe in the free market and free speech, we should rely on them to provide the outcomes we desire. I abhor Halal slaughter and so try to avoid any shops or restaurants where the products sold are prepared that way. Similarly, if the residents of Colombes disagree with the ideology behind the store, nobody is forcing them to shop there.

Being on the outskirts of Paris, I’m sure they can quite easily find their booze and bacon elsewhere. And if they do, in large numbers, eventually the store will no longer be a viable business and the problem goes away by itself, without state intervention. That is precisely the outcome that libertarians, and supposedly conservatives, are supposed to champion.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

It's time to scrap the licence fee, and the BBC has nothing to fear

This article originally appeared on United Politics on 20/08/2016.

From September 1, users of the BBC’s iPlayer will need to have a TV licence. Currently anyone who watches live TV needs one, but they can go without if they only use on demand services. This loophole reportedly costs the BBC £150m a year, and is to be closed as part of the deal which will see the corporation shoulder the burden of free licences for pensioners.

In order to enforce this new law, the Telegraph has reported that new ‘sniffer vans’ will spread out across the country. One computer expert has suggested that these detector vans could use a technique known as ‘packet sniffing’. Dr Miguel Rio said that licence-fee inspectors could view encrypted ‘packets’ of data travelling over a home Wi-Fi network, and by controlling the size of the packets the iPlayer uses, allow them to establish if devices at homes without television licences were accessing BBC content.

This is an incredibly invasive move which privacy campaigners are rightly worried about. Thankfully, the BBC have denied that they will be using packet sniffing technology, stating ‘While we don’t discuss the details of how detection works for obvious reasons, it is wrong to suggest that our technology involves capturing data from private Wi-Fi networks.’ This raises the question though of what techniques the BBC is employing to hunt down non-licence fee payers.

The comptroller and auditor general of the National Audit Office, Sir Amyas Morse, described in his latest report how  ‘where the BBC suspects that an occupier is watching live television but not paying for a licence, it can send a detection van to check whether this is the case. Detection vans can identify viewing on a non-TV device in the same way that they can detect viewing on a television set. BBC staff were able to demonstrate this to my staff in controlled conditions sufficient for us to be confident that they could detect viewing on a range of non-TV devices.’ This would be targeted surveillance under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act, but it still doesn’t address how the BBC identifies occupiers it suspects aren’t paying the licence for surveillance in the first place.

All of this seems rather moot. The entire licence fee system is incredibly antiquated in the internet ready, 21st century. The most obvious solution to the iPlayer problem seems to be to tie in the TV licence with a username and password that gives you access to the on demand services. The Netflixification of the iPlayer is the simplest option and doesn’t involve the need for surveillance vans with complicated and expensive technology. The only reason one suspects the BBC is averse to this move is that it puts them on the path to a subscription based service that for some reason the corporation seemingly wants to avoid at all costs.

But why? Proponents of the licence fee often crow about what great value for money it is. I couldn’t agree more. Auntie makes, and has made, great content over the years. From it’s brilliant documentaries, fronted by the likes of Sir David Attenborough, to hit dramas such as Downtown Abbey and light entertainment shows like Great British Bake Off. It has franchises such as Top Gear and Doctor Who that bring in huge audiences, not just in the UK, but across the globe, and has a rich history of developing brilliant comedy shows.

This writer originally only got interested in politics as a young teenager so that I would understand the jokes and references on Dead Ringers (the last series of which was the best one in years). It has it’s detractors sure, but generally speaking the Beeb has a sterling reputation for providing great television and great radio. There is nothing to suggest that that quality would disappear in moving to a subscription service.

Netflix may operate on a much smaller scale, but it is still producing some of the greatest TV shows out there right now, why should the BBC be any different? Indeed, with a greater emphasis on the carrot rather than the stick, it could well end up producing even better content than it does now, enticing even more viewers. The current coercive funding model is incredibly illiberal, and an anachronism in this day and age. It’s time to scrap it and force the BBC to compete on a commercial level. I have no doubt that it would flourish.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Forget the 'new politics', Jeremy Corbyn is the archetypal politican

This article originally appeared on United Politics on 13/08/2016.

Duplicity and hypocrisy. Power at all costs. Cronysim. These cynical characteristics are ones that embody the typical caricature of a politician. When Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour party, he declared a victory for a new kind of politics, focused on issues and principle and devoid of any party political point scoring, or the self-serving spin and corruption seen to have embodied the Blair era. The focus was not to be on individual politicians or parties, but on the issues that the people of this country faced and how best to tackle them.

Many of his supporters backed Corbyn for precisely this reason. Fed up of PR men and women who seemed more interested in playing the game of politics to their own ends rather than actually running the country to the benefit of it’s citizens, they cheered a man who had routinely eschewed partisan issues and stuck to his principles – often in defiance of the party whip – all the way to leader of her majesty’s opposition.

I confess that whilst I disagree with large swathes of his politics, I too was rooting for Corbyn to win the Labour leadership. Aside from the cynical desire to see socialism quashed in UK politics for at least another generation, politicians of principle are few and far between these days. Since taking up the role though, Corbyn has been nothing but a disappointment, proving himself to possess all those undesirable characteristics we have come to expect in our politicians.

First up was Corbyn’s declaration for the Remain campaign. This represented a complete about face on his previous position. He voted to leave the then EEC in 1975, he voted against the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 and the Lisbon Treaty in 2008. His website was full of articles decrying the EU and its corporatist nature.

These were subsequently removed of course, displaying the sort of behaviour his supporters saw him as the antidote to. It’s entirely possible that Corbyn did indeed reassess his view on our EU membership, though it’s much more likely this about turn was an attempt to maintain some semblance of party unity in the wake of the Trident row. Indeed, when asked why he had changed his mind, Corbyn stated that the Labour Party backed EU membership and ‘that’s the party I lead and the position I am putting forward’.

So much for principle over party. The reports that in the privacy of the voting booth Corbyn checked the box marked ‘Leave the European Union’ only further demonstrated this ‘one thing in public, another in private’ casuistry of his EU position.

Duplicity and hypocrisy? Check.

Following the vote, we started to see the first glimpses of Corbyn’s desire to hold on to any position of power. Hilary Benn had the audacity to challenge Corbyn directly about his lack of leadership during the referendum campaign and was promptly sacked as shadow foreign secretary. Having booted the first rat overboard, Corbyn saw the rest of the opposition front bench follow suit, ultimately culminating in the vote of no confidence and leadership challenge we’re currently witnessing.

Interesting comparisons have been drawn between Corbyn and Jim Murphy. The former leader of Scottish Labour won his vote of no confidence, but resigned anyway, knowing such a narrow margin made his position untenable. Even Margaret Thatcher resigned after winning the first round of her no confidence vote. Corbyn though, has opted to cling onto the leadership despite the motion of no confidence passing with flying colours, 172 votes to 40.

This railing against PLP ‘disloyalty’ is made even more ironic when considering the leadership challenges Corbyn himself has instigated over the years. When he orchestrated a challenge to Neil Kinnock in 1988, the Labour leader immediately set about gaining nominations to ensure he was on the ballot and send a message, rather than hiding behind his incumbency. Corbyn, knowing he would be unlikely to secure the required nominations, has opted for the latter. This meant a court battle, further damaging Labour’s already bedraggled reputation as an effective parliamentary force.

Power at all costs? Check.

And now we have the controversy surrounding Shami Chakrabarti’s peerage. Even the casual observer has noticed the ballooning problem of anti-semitism that appears to permeating Labour. But the inquiry found only an ‘occasionally toxic atmosphere’, as if claiming ‘Jews were the financiers of the slave trade’ as one activist did, was merely some political flatulence to be wafted away. Corbyn himself appeared to compare Israel to ISIS at the report’s launch.  Yet Chakrabarti merely recommended members ‘should resist the use of Hitler, Nazi and Holocaust metaphors’.

What appeared to be a mere whitewash has since acquired the stench of corruption. Barely weeks after the inquiry’s publication, Corbyn has nominated Chakrabarti for a peerage. This is despite last year saying ‘Labour will certainly not nominate new peers for the Lords, which risks undermining its legitimacy.’ A proper assessment of Labour’s antisemitism problem may have damaged Corbyn’s credibility as leader further still. This now looks extremely dodgy, ‘whitewash for peerages’ being the phrase bandied about.

Hyprocrisy? Cronysim? Power at all costs? Check, check check.

And yet why are we surprised? Corbyn has been an MP since 1983. A man spending 33 years working in the commons can quite comfortably be defined as a career politician. He allegedly divorced his ex-wife for insisting on sending their son to a state grammar school, yet he himself graduated from one. Though in fairness he only managed two E grade A levels, so one could see why he thinks they’re no good. But most of all, the man is a committed socialist. If history teaches us anything it’s that socialist governments invariably succumb to corruption, deception and authoritarianism.  Corbyn’s leadership could well be remembered for the same things.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Nintendo NX: Thoughts, Hopes, Fears and Speculations

As we inch towards an official unveiling of the NX the hype train and rumour mill are getting increasingly active, and whilst a metric tonne of salt needs to be taken with each report until Nintendo give us an official announcement, certain things appear to be clarifying. Or at the very least, looking more and more likely.

Over the past couple of weeks we had the big story from Eurogamer claiming that the NX would be a portable console with detachable controllers. Citing multiple sources it also said that the device would come with a TV docking station to allow users to play games on their TV, as well as using cartridges instead of discs. This ties in with the prevailing thought on the console, that it is a portable/home console hybrid, borne out of Nintendo's decision to merge their handheld and home console hardware divisions back in 2013.

Combining Portable and Home Consoles

I was initially less than enthused by this hybrid prospect. Whilst I own both a 3DS and a Wii U, they both offer very different experiences, and I was wary of a device that tried to consolidate those experiences into one machine, fearing it could be to the detriment of one or the other. Much of it depends on the focus of the device and how well Nintendo can amalgamate those two different disciplines into one product. There needs to be the sprawling adventure games like Zelda and Metroid, as well as the big hitters like Mario, but equally there will be a place for games that are better suited to a portable platform. Games like Animal Crossing and Tomadchi Life. Interestingly, certain franchises already span that divide - your Mario Karts and more recently Smash Bros - but a franchise like Zelda currently offers vastly different experiences across the disparate platforms. However, the more I've thought about it and the more information that appears to be coming to light about this console, the more excited about it I have become.

Breaching the gap: Smash Bros on 3DS and Wii U

One of the big issues though is storage. The Eurogamer piece mentions that Nintendo initially considered a digital only platform before opting for cartridges. As someone who traditionally has always favoured physical media, I've increasingly found myself moving towards digital versions of my games. Especially when it comes to 3DS, as it removes the need for carrying a load of cartridges around with me whenever I'm gaming on the go. But I've also found myself moving towards digital on Wii U too, especially for games where I may only want to jump in for a quick session. I have digital versions of 
Splatoon and Starfox, as well as numerous indie titles, but have also found myself wishing I had purchased the likes of Mario Kart 8 through the eShop too. If NX is indeed this portable hybrid, it will need a large storage capacity in order to optimise the 'take your games on the go' experience. Traditionally this has not been an area where Nintendo has excelled. The Wii had a tiny hard drive, the larger version of the Wii U also fills up very quickly, never mind the 'core' model, and I know of few people who didn't immediately put a larger SD card in their 3DS. The NX will need a large hard drive, especially if the reports of Nintendo's recommended 32gb cartridge size prove to be true. That's worryingly small given the size of many modern games.

Keeping Third Parties On Board

This is where the third party issue comes into play. The biggest problem the Wii U had was it's sporadic software releases. Nintendo can only turn out so many games a year and it needs third parties to fill those gaps. Unfortunately, the technical limitations of the Wii U made it difficult, if not impossible in some cases, to port games from the other consoles in the market to Nintendo's hardware. Nintendo badly needs to learn from this with the NX. Without the support of third parties, fewer people will buy the console, and if there isn't a worthwhile install base, fewer developers will make games for it, leading to fewer users and so on and so forth. Ensuring they don't get trapped in this cycle will be the overriding goal of Nintendo going into launch. This is the reason President Tatsumi Kimishima has given for eschweing a holiday release, and aiming for a March 2017 launch of the console. Nintendo want a strong launch line-up to get a healthy install base secured from day one. 

Happily, Nintendo are seemingly positioning themselves to lead the charge on this, with MCV reporting that, as well as Zelda, new Mario and Pokémon games are slated for the first six months of the console's life. Add to that Pikmin 4 which Miyamoto has said is all but finished (I'd be surprised if that wasn't now an NX title, maybe even a launch game alongside Zelda?) and the titles third parties have already confirmed are in development - Dragon Quest from Square Enix and the new Sonic title for example - and the NX should have a rather strong launch. Longer term though, architecture will also play an important role.
Nvidia's Tegra X1 chip, rumoured to be in NX dev kits

On this point, much has been discussed about the Nvidia Tegra chip the console is reportedly using. Dev kits are apparently sporting the Tegra X1 chip, currently found in the Shield Android TV, which would put the NX's power somewhere in the region between PS3 and PS4. This would give the NX some impressive visuals for a handheld, but would still leave it under cooked when compared to it's biggest competitors. Whilst Nintendo have eschewed the arms race and going toe to toe with Sony and Microsoft over the past couple of generations, this does give third parties a headache when it comes to developing for Nintendo's system alongside Playstation and Xbox.

The other option would be Tegra's X2 chip and as well as being more desirable, looks increasingly likely. Rumours have circulated that the NX will be operating on Nvidia's Pascal architecture, which the X2 utilises. What's more, the X2 is also much more power efficient. This will be crucial when you consider the importance of a decent battery life in a handheld console. It would also put it approaching the region of Xbox One in terms of power, at least when docked. The prospect of a Supplemental Computing Device (something Nintendo was recently granted a patent for) within the cradle for the NX to increase it's power when in docked mode could mean a power level that allows it to at least not be unduly disadvantaged when compared to it's competitors, making it easier for third parties to port their games to the NX and keep that crucial software library well stocked.

Games, Games, Games

As mentioned earlier, that library will need to be stellar from the get go. Breath of the Wild, if it turns out to be a launch title, would certainly be a strong start, especially if it delivers on it's early promise. The sheer hype surrounding it's E3 unveiling could really give the NX launch the pizzazz it needs. Naturally there will be a Mario game at some point. If the one rumoured to be coming within that six month launch window turns out to be something in the vein of a Super Mario Sunshine or Galaxy then that will certainly help carry any Zelda generated momentum forward. As for the Pokémon game Game Freak are apparently working on, it's difficult to say. If it is indeed coming within that first six months, I'd be very surprised if it was a full-on adventure. More likely it's a Pokémon Colosseum type game that maybe links somehow to the upcoming Sun and Moon games for 3DS. Further down the line though, if NX does end up replacing both Wii U and Nintendo's portable hardware, this raises the prospect of a fully fledged Pokémon title running on powerful hardware that can be played both on the go and on your TV. The much sought after Pokémon MMO could finally be on the horizon.

Pokémon Sun and Moon. The final portable only, mainline Pokémon games? 

This switching between the two throws up interesting ideas for other series like Animal Crossing too. Pottering around my town on the TV whilst still being able to check in to harvest fruit on the go sounds like the perfect way to play that game. It will be interesting to see what fun gameplay mechanics Nintendo and other developers come up with that utilise the unique features of a hybrid console like this. Streetpass style rewards for taking NX on the go, that unlock things when you next dock to your TV perhaps? 

It does throw up some dilemmas for other series though. 
Take Zelda for example, Would NX see an end to top down titles like A Link Between Worlds, or does this portable characteristic mean that Breath of the Wild will end up being a one off? Ideally of course we'll get both experiences, though how they will be marketed will be interesting. The thought of a top down Zelda with beautiful HD art direction however, certainly has me excited.

Ultimately, there will need to be a good balance of the sprawling adventures we're used to seeing on a home console, titles that traditionally are better suited to a portable, and indeed games that work just as well in either environment. This latter type of game is why I think a
Smash Bros. Championship Edition would make a perfect launch title. Porting the Wii U/3DS game complete with all DLC and perhaps even with all the Wii U and 3DS maps in one place, would demonstrate the features of the console perfectly. Train on the commute to work, before heading home, jumping online and taking on the world on your TV. Given the long development time of a Smash Bros title, I imagine this is the most likely scenario. Sakurai and his team put a huge amount of work into that game and the development time on a new entry from the ground up for NX would put it several years into the console's life cycle. They could even dangle the promise of future DLC for the Championship Edition to entice Smash fans who own the game on Wii U and 3DS to make the switch to NX. This would also be easier to do than creating a whole new entry.

Other Wii U ports we could potentially see 
include Super Mario Maker - assuming the NX's screen has touch capabilities - and Splatoon. Personally though, I think Splatoon would benefit more from a direct sequel instead of a port, taking advantage of the unique features of the NX. Smash Bros has been perfected over 17 years and five iterations. Splatoon on the other hand has only it's first title to it's name. A Spla2oon that improved on the formula of the first would make for a great addition to the NX's library. There's no reason why it couldn't include a few fan-favourite maps and weapons, much like Mario Kart's retro tracks. It would even be a system-seller in Japan where Splatoon is huge.

Nintendo rarely fails to deliver on software though. The Wii U may have flopped as a console, but it is home to some of the best software the big N has produced. The key for me is that third party question. I want to be able to play FIFA and Call of Duty and other multi-platform titles on my NX. Especially as cross-platform play becomes more prevalent. And whilst the hardcore FPS fans are unlikely to play the likes of COD on NX, if Nintendo can ensure those multi-platform staples come to their hardware, then they'll be in a much stronger position than they have been this generation.


If the software issues are kept in check, then the biggest challenge will be how the device is marketed. The Wii U suffered horrendously from poor messaging. Consumers were baffled as to whether it was a new device, an addition to the Wii, or something else entirely. Similarly, Nintendo need to think about how they are pitching the NX. Is it a successor to the Wii U, the 3DS or both?

The Wii U. Confusing branding.

Nintendo needs to make a decision as to whether to sell the NX as either a games console you can take on the go, or a portable console you can play on your TV. For what it's worth, I believe the former sounds like a more exciting proposition, but it does put it in more direct competition with PS4 and Xbox One than taking the latter approach. Regardless, if it's priced right, has the right library and isn't hugely under powered when compared to those big hitters, a simple message - devoid of any Wii branding - could be a big hit with that strong USP. If pitched similarly to the Wii as a second console to accompany the Xbox or Playstation, it even has the potential to hit the sort of highs the Wii did. Especially if Nintendo's goal of using mobile to introduce consumers to their brands in order to entice them over to more traditional experiences comes to fruition.

In conclusion, despite initially being lukewarm on the idea, I've grown to be rather excited by what the NX might entail. If it does manage to kick out some decent power, ensuring it isn't abandoned by gamers and developers alike, then the prospect of consolidating my home console and portable gaming into one device is an enticing one. Regardless, Nintendo will undoubtedly kick out some great software - Breath of the Wild means it will be a day one purchase for me anyway - but if everything lines up, the NX could be one brilliant console indeed.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

REVIEW: Blues Pills - Lady In Gold

This review was originally written for GetYourRockOut.co.uk

Two Swedes, an American, and a Frenchman go into a recording studio. What results is far from a joke, but rather a sterling piece of soulful, blues rock psychadelia. The Sweden based foursome have taken the 60s voodoo template of their 2014 debut and added lashings of soul and gospel elements to great effect.

This embellishment of the Blues Pills sound is evident right from the start, the title track opening with marching piano to the foreground and vocalist Elin Larsson's soulful banshee soaring over the top. The gospel style backing vocals adorning the track's crescendo complete the evolution from blues rock foreplay to psychedelic soul climax.

And the soulful notes keep coming, Little Boy Preacher bringing to mind flares and platform shoes rather than black lights and tie-dye shirts, and I Felt A Change is a straight up soul ballade, the simple electric piano really showcasing the emotion of Larsson's voice.

Not that the band have been castrated. Dorian Sorriaux's guitar may be less prevalent this time around, but it's subtlety makes it all the more impactful when it does take centre stage. The lysergic riff of Burned Out's atmospheric blues, coupled with the subtle organ, creating a remarkably transcendent atmosphere. Offset by a tremendous shuffle, and with Larsson taking it to church in the finale, it serves as a tremendous highlight only three tracks in.

Elsewhere there's more groove in the form of Bad Talkers and more blues powerhouses in the shape of You Gotta Try and Won't Go Back, the former with subtle similarities to former tour partners Rival Sons. Tony Joe White's Elements and Things gets the Blues Pills treatment to round things out. Sorriaux's crowning moment of the album, with the wah pedal being worked to the bone, his Peter Green-esque phrasing and economic note selection has him knocking on the door to be included alongside Joe Bonamassa and Scott Holiday in this generation's guitar heroes.

The work ethic embodied by Blues Pills' relentless touring in the wake of their debut has clearly paid dividends when it came to their sophomore studio effort. There's a greater variety in material than can be found on that freshman release, though it is very much more evolution than revolution. Some further experimentation and the taking of a few greater risks could've pushed the needle from fantastic to phenomenal, but on this trajectory the band are well on their way.


Lady In Gold
Little Boy Preacher
Burned Out
I Felt A Change
Gone So Long
Bad Talkers
You Gotta Try
Won't Go Back
Elements And Things

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Theresa May must be the luckiest politician alive

In the wake of the Brexit vote, British politics has been equal parts enthralling and bug-nutty, bat shit crazy, with the three largest parties in the country all playing out various soap operas. The Prime Minister resigned, prompting his would be successors to begin a typical Tory blood letting. Labour back benchers mounted a coup against their leader, plunging the party still further behind in the polls. And the man arguably most responsible for securing the referendum, had a second crack at resigning as leader of UKIP and launched that party into internal warfare as well. Given the current landscape, our new Prime Minister could be forgiven for feeling a little smug.

Because for Theresa May's Conservative Party, there is currently little to no electoral threat. Her Majesty's opposition is missing in action. Jeremy Corbyn may have rallied several thousand young socialists to his cause, but the wider electorate who rejected Ed Miliband's brand of leftist politics at the last election aren't about to lend their vote to a man who's own politics make Red Ed look like the Iron Lady. The PLP might just know this, and could be why they launched a leadership challenge in the wake of Corbyn's sacking of Hillary Benn. However. far from solving the issue, their approach has all but consigned Labour to electoral oblivion. Their ultimate choice to challenge Corbyn isn't someone with a more centrist approach, but with equally strong socialists views. Indeed, Owen Smith's entire pitch for the leadership seems to be 'Corbyn's policies, but without the stigma'. Not that it really matters, even taking into account Labour's attempts to prevent entryism, Corbyn still enjoys the backing of huge swathes of the membership. It's incredibly likely that he will fend off Smith, and use his renewed mandate to truly purge the front bench of Blair/Brownites. This may will win him all those student votes that previously went to the Lib Dems (remember them?) but will alienate much of Labour's traditional working class support. Those people don't want the kind of state enforced egalitarianism Corbyn espouses, but the opportunities to climb the social ladder themselves.

This is precisely where UKIP should be planning to mount their assault. They already had strong second places in many of these Labour seats at the last general election and with the right approach could do to Labour in it's northern heartlands what the SNP did north of Hadrian's Wall. Prospective leadership candidate Steven Woolfe knew this, and it was precisely this platform on which he was launching his leadership bid. A charismatic, media-savvy operator of mixed race heritage and a working-class-lad-done-good back story, he was perfectly positioned to lead UKIP into the post-Farage era, clean up the party's image and take the fight to Labour in those northern towns and cities where their traditional base is feeling left behind. Alas for Woolfe, and much of the UKIP membership who support him, it's not to be. Following poor administration procedures, and an apparent attempt from some on UKIP's National Executive Committee to undermine his bid, Woolfe has been successfully kept off the leadership ballot. Three members of the NEC have resigned in protest, admonishing their colleagues in a statement, claiming the NEC is 'no longer fit for purpose' due to an 'escalating megalomania that is detrimental to the functioning of the party.' Those candidates that did get their paperwork in on time are mostly unknowns. The exception being the new favourite Diane James. Also confident in front of the TV cameras, but much too southern to really strike a chord in those northern constituencies where UKIP need to focus their efforts.

And amongst all this, Theresa May must be grinning like a loon. Having seen her main leadership challenger knifed by the next strongest contender, ultimately dooming both of them, she was able to ascend to the position of Tory Party Leader with little effort, and having got there, discovered that there's no party willing to challenge her government. Labour is sawing off the branch it's currently sat on and UKIP has tied it's own shoelaces together before the start of the race. This may give the government some much needed breathing room on Brexit, but a strong democracy needs a strong opposition and as it stands, there doesn't seem to be anyone in a position to provide it.