Brian Micklethwait's Blog
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Category archive: Democracy
A while back, there used to be Walkers Marmite flavoured crisps. Then, they went away. I mourned their passing.
… they’re back! That being a celebratory photo I took earlier this evening. Apparently I have democracy to thank.
I wonder, will there be a day when political elections include the added attraction of a prize draw, for all who vote?
I shan’t be voting for any other crisps to join Marmite crisps. Marmite was, as far as I am concerned, the big one. I am now happy.
I have a distinct recollection of posting a photo of Marmite flavoured crisps, here or somewhere, way back. But when I tried to find such a posting, all I could find was a photo of some Marmite spoons. But, by looking for crisps without mentioning Marmite, I did find a posting I did about an earlier round of Walkers crisp voting.
What follows is one of the better commentaries on British politics that I have recently read. It is pertinent to the current dramas involving Jeremy Corbyn and what appears now to be his likely victory in the Labour Party leadership election, because it focusses on something which I think has been somewhat neglected by other commentators, namely the weakness of Corbyn’s opponents. It is by former Conservative Party Leader William Hague.
But since the Telegraph only allows me to see thirty (I think it is) articles each month before it blocks me (for about half the month), and since I never blog about things that my readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, which means that I am actually not interested in things that readers can’t read just by clicking on a link, here is the piece, here, in full. Now I am able to be interested in what follows, because here it is.
The original article contains links to other Telegraph pieces. These I have reproduced. But I have not checked if they work, because I don’t want to exhaust half my allotted Telegraph links with the month hardly having started.
If the Telegraph asks me to remove it from here, I will immediately remove it, and will instead replace what follows with smaller quotes and further commentary. And then I will lose all interest in it, except perhaps as an interesting little event concerning the rights and wrongs of intellectual property.
In late 1997, having rather rashly taken on the job of Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I discussed with the new prime minister, Tony Blair, which of us had the most difficult job. “You have,” he said, without a moment’s doubt.
Blair was right. And that job was doubly more difficult because it was one pitched every day against him, the most formidable electoral opponent the Conservative Party has faced in its entire history. Before him, Labour had only twice since its foundation won a decisive majority; with him it did so three times in a row.
Although he is despised in Labour’s current leadership election, Blair was a Tory leader’s worst nightmare: appealing to the swing voter and reassuring to the Right-leaning, it was hard to find a square on the political chessboard on which he did not already sit. When people told me I did well at Prime Minister’s Questions, I knew I had to, since I had very little else going for me at all – I had to raise the morale of Conservatives each Wednesday to get them through the frustration and impotence of every other day of the week.
Blair courted business leaders and Right-wing newspapers, often to great effect. He was a Labour leader who loved being thought to be a secret Tory, a pro-European who was fanatical in support for the United States, a big spender who kept income taxes down, an Anglican who let it be known he wanted to be a Catholic and regularly read the Koran. He could be tough or soft or determined or flexible as necessary and shed tears if needed, seemingly at will. To the political law that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time he added Blair’s law – that you can make a very serious attempt at it.
This was the human election-winning machine against which some of us dashed ourselves, making the Charge of the Light Brigade look like a promising manoeuvre by comparison. Yet now, only eight years after he left the scene he dominated, his party’s election is conducted with scorn for the most successful leader they ever had.
The first reason for this is the truly extraordinary rule allowing huge numbers of people to join up for the specific purpose of selecting the new leader. If there was an NVQ Level 1 in How To Run a Party, the crucial nature of the qualifying period to vote in a leadership election would be on the syllabus, possibly on the first page. Every student plotting to take over a university society knows that the shorter that period, the easier it is to mount an insurgency from outside. But this basic fact seems to have escaped Ed Miliband, along with every other possible consideration of what might happen after his own unnecessarily rapid departure.
The result of this is that Labour’s leader is being chosen by a largely new electorate, with correspondingly little sense of ownership of the party’s history, in which the desire to align the party with their own views outweighs any sense of duty to provide the country with an alternative government.
The second reason is the weakness of the mainstream candidates to an extent unprecedented in any election in a major party in British parliamentary history. Even in 1935, an even darker time for the Labour Party when it had far fewer MPs than today, the leadership election was between Clement Attlee and Herbert Morrison: great names that are etched into our history. This is the first election of a Labour leader in which none of the candidates look like they could be prime minister five years later.
This weakness partly explains the third and most significant factor in what appears to be, in the form of Corbynmania, a sharp move to the pre-Blair, old-fashioned, Michael Foot-was-a-moderate, Seventies Left, which is that none of them has been able to articulate what a social democratic, centre-Left party should stand for in the first half of the 21st century.
Blair’s ability to win elections was not accompanied by a coherent philosophy. The seminars he held with Schroeder’s German SPD and Clinton Democrats on the “Third Way”, the ultimate attempt at government by triangulation, collapsed in ridicule. And the question neither Labour’s candidates nor their socialist colleagues abroad can now answer is – in a century in which markets dominate, more power passes to consumers, technology gives more choice by the day to individuals, working lives are more flexible than ever, and class-based voting is dying out, what is the role and purpose of the moderate Left?
You can scan in vain the speeches of Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and Andy Burnham for a clear answer to this question, although I do not necessarily recommend it unless you find it hard to sleep. You might think there is a modern social democratic case to be made that some people – the less educated, unskilled, and immobile – could miss out on the benefits of the information revolution and that changing that is a new purpose of the centre-Left. Instead, in Britain and across Europe, it is left to fringe parties to prey on those dissatisfied with the vast and rapid changes in modern society.
And most revealing of all, those same speeches (yes, I really have read them), point to no model abroad of the Left in power, no hero to be admired or policy to be emulated. The main parties of the Left have turned into partners of conservatives in Germany, reformist liberals in Italy, back-pedalling socialists in France, catastrophes in Latin America, and been annihilated by extremists in Greece. There is still a Socialist International, but there is no longer a common ideology to underpin it.
Seen in this context, the agony of Labour’s leadership election is easier to understand. This is a tribe lost in a desert with no star to follow, and no inspirational leader to point to a new one. Across the world, parties that thrived on the socialist ideals of an industrialising society are losing their relevance, and what we are witnessing is a symptom and dramatic demonstration of that fact.
Faced with that awful reality, Labour is turning to something, anything, that seems authentic, passionate, and consistent. The failure, in Britain and abroad, to find the social democratic version of that is a failure of historic proportions.
Photoed by me yesterday. Definitely one for the front page collection. Can’t find a link to the story though. Anyone?
Today, starting in the small hours of the morning, I’ve been rambling away at Samizdata about this election. Which was, I found, intensely dramatic and interesting, not least because all the polls were wrong. I was apathetic about voting, in a soporifically safe Conservative constituency. But I stopped being apathetic as soon as the drama of it all started to play out on the telly.
But, how could I have missed the news of this manifesto for cats, until today? Answer, today was the first time I tried googling “cats general election”.
Today, a fine looking day, a day in which many were to be seen wearing both gloves and sunglasses, I went awandering, down Victoria Street to Parliament Square, and then on across the River.
And in Parliament Square, I chanced upon a demo. I hope to do a longer bit at Samizdata, hopefully tomorrow, about this demo. In the meantime, here is a little horizontality, helpfully laid on by the demonstrators:
Click to get the original bigger picture.
If you want further thoughts from me about “that fatuous construct of political malcontents” called real democracy, follow that link.
And see also what I put in this piece about the Charlie Hebdo demo in Trafalgar Square:
… this was not your usual demo, the sort of demo perpetrated by the demonstrating classes ...
Today’s demo was exactly your usual demo. Here is a report of what they were trying to do, that being something to do with “Occupy”. From where I was standing, they failed.
I couldn’t find mainstream media coverage about this demo between this afternoon and now, which could just mean that there was lots and I didn’t find it. Comments on that very welcome.
LATER: Here is an Evening Standard report. It seems that what I saw was a failed Occupy demo, bolted onto the end of a somewhat more successful CND demo against Trident.
ALSO: Daily Mail.
About every other day Google sends me news of Emmanuel Todd, news in French. Sometimes it is news of him talking on video, in French. I can just about order a croissant in a French shop, but that’s as far as my French goes.
So, imagine my delight on learning about this video, of Emmanuel Todd talking … in English!
What he is saying is that the different family systems of Europe mean that the different nations of Europe are politically incompatible, and accordingly that the Euro is doomed. Worth a watch, if that kind of thing interests you. In particular, the way that the Euro is putting Germany in charge of France is not at all what the French elite had in mind, and this means that sooner or later the French will have to dump the Euro. But first, their elite has to explain why it made this hideous blunder in the first place. Because dumping the Euro would mean admitting they should never have done it in the first place.
Tim Evans recently gave a talk to the End of the World Club (silly name, great talks) about politics, David Cameron’s politics in particular. He said that Cameron has no problem with Britain leaving the EU, while he remains Prime Minister. Sure enough, about two days later, an email from Tim arrives, complete with the link, saying: And so it starts ...
Mark Steyn may be a grump about such things as the future of Western Civilisation, but he sure can write:
For much of last year, a standard trope of President Obama’s speechwriters was that there were certain things only government could do. “That’s how we built this country - together,” he declared. “We constructed railroads and highways, the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. We did those things together.” As some of us pointed out, for the cost of Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill alone, you could have built 1,567 Golden Gate Bridges - or one mega-Golden Gate Bridge stretching from Boston to just off the coast of Ireland. Yet there isn’t a single bridge, or a single dam (“You will never see another federal dam,” his assistant secretary of the interior assured an audience of environmentalists). Across the land, there was not a thing for doting network correspondents in hard hats to stand in front of and say, “Obama built this.”
Until now, that is. Obamacare is as close to a Hoover Dam as latter-day Big Government gets. Which is why its catastrophic launch is sobering even for those of us who’ve been saying for five years it would be a disaster. It’s as if at the ribbon-cutting the Hoover Dam cracked open and washed away the dignitaries; as if the Golden Gate Bridge was opened to traffic with its central span missing; as if Apollo 11 had taken off for the moon but landed on Newfoundland. Obama didn’t have to build a dam or a bridge or a spaceship, just a database and a website. This is his world, the guys he hangs with, the zeitgeist he surfs so dazzlingly, Apple and Google, apps and downloads. But his website’s a sclerotic dump, and the database is a hacker’s heaven, and all that’s left is the remorseless snail mail of millions and millions of cancellation letters.
And then it disappears behind a paywall. Which is to say a place where links probably don’t work for you. Which is why I never pay to get beyond paywalls. I pay for things I want. But paywalls, walls I cannot direct every single one of my readers through (in the event that they wish to be directed so), I do not want.
But, I’ll bet you anything, at least this paywall works properly.
I just left a comment at Samizdata, on this posting by Natalie Solent (who has been very productive there of late) about the lack of security of the ObamaCare website, and this Guardian story on the subject:
The insecurity of the site, probably incurable in less than several months (from what I’m reading), has always struck me (ever since I first read about it a week or two back) as the absolute worst thing about ObamaCare, though I admit it’s a crowded field. The Bad News letters from insurance companies at least put a number to how much money is now going to be screwed out of you, that Obama said (about forty times) you would not be screwed out of. But all that data lying around for any tech-savvy passer-by to grab means there’s no upper limit to what you just might lose, if you have anything whatsoever to do with this horrible horrible thing.
It took me years to trust Amazon with my bank details. Only when about half the world seemed to be signing up for that deal did I take the plunge, and I still fear that in some mysterious way I might one day regret this. I mean, what if Amazon gets taken over by greedy incompetents, skilled only at crookedness, of the sort now already running ObamaCare (and also “advising” people about it)? I know, there are safeguards in place, but my fear is, although small, real. My fear with Obamacare would now be big, and real. My attitude to ObamaCare would be (a) I want nothing – absolutely nothing – to do with it, and (b) If the President and his gang say I have to have something to do with it, then I hope the President and his gang rot in hell.
Obama, it seems to me, has been treated like a great many other bad black Americans. He has been cut a million miles of slack, never criticised, never taught any morals, and now suddenly, patience has run out and he faces a lynch mob of enraged citizens. He is going to get the political version of a life-time prison sentence, namely a place in the Presidential Hall of Infamy. (I know what you’re thinking: wishful thinking on my part. Maybe. But his friends are all abandoning him now. He surely now realises that he has screwed up big, and that there is no way back.)
Heinlein had things to say about this. If you are going to punish big later, then it is kinder to give your punishee some warning, with small punishments earlier, when he does small things wrong when younger. I’m not talking physical abuse here, just the odd harsh word when the kid does a bad thing. That way he learns, instead of being hit with the kitchen sink, out of the blue, when he turns 18 or 50 or whatever.
Yesterday was an excellent day for me, photographically. Usually, after an enjoyable and productive photo-walk, I show you people only a tiny sliver of what I took, and quite often not even that. But today, Friday, I want to do a bit more than that, with a series of postings of various sorts of things I snapped.
Meanwhile, Friday being Friday, some sensational cat news, which I spotted in one of London’s free newspapers towards the end of the day:
Monopoly fans have voted to give the iron the boot and welcome in the cat as the new token for the much-loved board game.
I guess time was when the Iron was a huge deal in life, far more than mere pets. Not any more.
I recommend googling “monopoly cat”.
A few months back I discovered that there were other Emmanuel Todd fans out there besides me, notably Lexington Green of Chicago Boyz, and James C. Bennett. Emails were exchanged, and I met up with Bennett in London. Very helpful.
Here is a big moment in what I hope may prove to be the long overdue rise and rise of Emmanuel Todd in the English speaking world. Todd is quoted here by Lexington Green, and then linked to from here. Yes indeed, Instapundit. Okay, this is because what Todd is quoted saying happens to chime in with what Instapundit wants to be saying, but … whatever. That’s how Instalaunches work.
The Todd quote:
A double movement will assure the advancement of human history. The developing world is heading toward democracy — pushed by the movement toward full literacy that tends to create culturally more homogeneous societies. As for the industrialized world, it is being encroached on to varying degrees by a tendency toward oligarchy — a phenomenon that has emerged with the development of educational stratification that has divided societies into layers of “higher,” “lower,” and various kinds of “middle” classes.
However, we must not exaggerate the antidemocratic effects of this unegalitarian educational stratification. Developed countries, even if they become more oligarchical, remain literate countries and will have to deal with the contradictions and conflicts that could arise between a democratically leaning literate mass and university-driven stratification that favors oligarchical elites.
Todd’s book, despite its flaws, is full of good insights. This passage was prescient. The Tea Party (“a democratically leaning literate mass”) and it’s opponents, the “Ruling Class” described by Angelo Codevilla, ("oligarchical elites") are well-delineated by Todd, several years before other people were focused on this phenomenon.
This may cause a little flurry of Toddery in my part of the www. Not all of it will be favourable, to put it mildly, because the book quoted is fiercely anti-American, and totally wrong-headed about economics. Todd is one of those people who insists on dividing economic activity into “real” and “unreal” categories, solid and speculative, honest and delusional. Todd’s problem is that he imagines that the making of things that hurt your foot when you drop them is inherently less risky than, say, operating as a financial advisor or a hedge fund manager. But both are risky. It is possible to make too many things. Similar illusions were entertained in the past about how agriculture was real, while mere thing-making was unreal.
Todd believes that the US economy is being “hollowed out”, with delusional activity crowding out “real” activity.
The problem is that Todd is not completely wrong. Economic dodginess was indeed stalking the USA in 2002. But the explanation for the processes that actually did occur and are occurring, which are easily confused with what Todd said back in 2002 was happening, and which will hence make him all the more certain that his wrongness is right, is not that manufacturing is real and financial services unreal, but that for Austrian economics reasons (Todd appears to have no idea whatever about Austrian economics), all dodgy and speculative activities, most emphatically including dodgy manufacturing ventures, have been encouraged by bad financial policies. Todd also seems to imagine that only the USA has been guilty of such follies. If only.
Such are some of the flaws in this book that LG refers to.
But none of that impinges on Todd’s fundamental achievements as a social scientist, which I have long thought ought to resonate in my part of the www. This should help.
My problem (one of my problems) is that I accumulate open windows, to things I don’t want to forget about, and which I am hence reluctant to shut. But these open windows, and all the advertising shite they come with, clog up my computer, or so it feels to me.
Now I am sure there is a better answer to this problem than the one that follows, but for now, my answer, today, is to stick a few such links here, where they won’t vanish in half a day and where anyway I know my way around.
The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet. Note, incidentally, the disastrous headline punctuation. Punctuation in headlines says you can’t have a full stop at the end of a headline, but that you can have whatever punctuation you like in the middle of the headline, fullstops included. Bizarre. (Not that that’s why the piece interests me.)
That Codevilla piece about the American ruling class. Actually I think a major part of this story is that it isn’t only the American ruling class. It’s a global, or at least beyond national, class. The entire West that was is starting to be ruled by a united gang of interconnected people. Rulers of The World Unite. You have nothing to lose but the love of your dreary little voters. (To “love”, should I add “consent”?)
On the Validity and Necessity of Atheist Criticism of Islam. I like Edmund Standing a lot. Mostly I agree with this. But, I think he makes too little of the differences between Christianity and Islam. Christianity is bonkers but Islam is downright evil. (Although, I do admit that Christian anti-semitism is deeply embedded in it.) The problem I have with Islam is not only that it is so false. It is that it so nasty. Allah does not exist, but if Allah does exist he should be opposed. This is somewhat less true of the various Christian versions of God, especially nowadays.
The Vanity Fair Sarah Palin piece. I want to read this to see if it actually says anything more than: she’s a politician! Is she going to run for President? If she gets to be President will she be a quite good one, as Reagan (won the Cold War - only talked about stopping the US state spending rise) was. Will President Palin, that is to say, actually stop the US state spending rise?
The Chinese state media global offensive. Were a time traveller from a hundred years hence to invite me to guess what sparked the Big War of 2037, I’d guess China versus someone, rather than Islam versus anyone. Islam has the will to Big War, but looks unlikely at all soon to command the means to wage it. (I include Iran in that judgement. There is more to having a Bomb than just having a Bomb. You must also have the means to attack the other guy’s Bomb, and to defend your remaining Bombs, which you must also have.) And I have long believed that being able to fight wars is more important in their causation than merely wanting to. I mean, few great powers unambiguously want to fight major wars, because they have too much to lose. But, from time to time, they still did, and might one day again. Hopefully The Bomb will continue to work its terrifying magic, and Great Wars Between Great Powers will continue to not happen, but how long will that last?
I want to do a Big Piece on Samizdata about all that, Real Soon Now. Globalisation as we now know it, i.e. the version where we don’t fight global wars against one another, is more caused by The Bomb (which first happened in 1945) than by Modern Electronic Communications (which first happened in 1842). See Global Ruling Class, uniting of, above.
That should clear out my computer’s tubes a little.
The thing is, Chris Mounsey aka DK can be a swear-blogger, or he can be the leader of a political party, but not both. Shame it took a bollocking from the mainstream media to make this clear to him, but he has now made his choice.
On the other hand, the still swear-blogging Obnoxio, who actually saw Mounsey’s telly performance, which I have yet to do, said he thought it wasn’t a bollocking, and that he did very well:
Chris did very well. He is, I fear, a natural media whore.
Let’s hope so.
Last Friday, i.e. on April 9th, I recorded a conversation with Tim Evans, friend of many years, libertarian (in fact President of the Libertarian Alliance) and free market think tanker of growing renown, about what David Cameron has been up to and what he thinks he is doing. It lasts a little over half an hour.
I introduced Tim’s words-to-be as in being opposition to those who say that Cameron is a waste of space and heading for disaster, of one kind or another, electoral or Prime Ministerial. He is a lightweight in a world that has become heavyweight. He is the answer to a question that is not being asked any more. That kind of thing. But actually, although what Tim said was a most convincing explanation of what Cameron reckons he is doing, it was not any sort of proof that the critics of Cameron are necessarily wrong about him, as I somewhat found myself arguing. Britain’s voters seem to be rather unimpressed by Cameron just now. Tim’s picture of what Cameron is doing is very convincing as a description of his state of mind and party political tactics, but that doesn’t necessarily make Cameron’s state of mind either admirable or guaranteed to result in electoral success.
Yes, Cameron’s various Conservative predecessors did not get what they were up against. But Cameron’s strategy (if what now follows is indeed what it is) of waiting until the last possible moment before offering alternative policies to Labour policies, having spent years giving Labour’s - and particularly Brown’s - statist inclinations a deliberate free ride, to sucker them and him into being more statist, struck me on Friday and strikes me now not only as morally dubious, but also, because so morally dubious, also electorally hazardous. What if the voters decide that Cameron is not the nation’s solution, but a mere aspect of the nation’s problem? At one point, Tim said that Cameron will now be reckoning that his current nine point lead in the polls is evidence that he is on the right track. I blurted out at that point that he should be thirty points ahead.
However, the last thing I want to do is suggest that the conversation was other than extremely interesting. It certainly interested me. The central point is that Tim was concerning himself with how Cameron thinks, with how things are. Not with how he or I might like them to be.
What Tim says may also illuminate the rest of the campaign. Tim says that Cameron has just executed a major tactical switch. When in mere opposition, Cameron refused to propose good alternative policies for our disastrous government, because the government would have stolen them. But now, in the heat of the campaign, such policy theft won’t work so well. Too undignified, too fresh in voter memory, making too much of a nonsense of the Labour manifesto of only a few days before. So, Cameron is now, finally, proposing a few anti tax and spend policies, and if Tim is right, can be expected to propose quite a few more in the days and weeks to come. We shall see.
I was not feeling a hundred per cent last Friday, so my performance in particular needed quite a bit of editing, hence the delay in posting this (what with me still not feeling a hundred per cent between then and now), but it should all sound okay now.
I just attached this rather eloquent comment to a Johnathan Pearce Samizdata posting about how he might emigrate out of here if Brown won the next election, Heaven help us:
I think JP is doing us a favour by talking about leaving, and would be doing us another favour if he did leave, if things got that bad.
No number tells politicians more clearly that they have to shape up and stop wrecking the place better than the number of people just buggering off. People leaving is the one number that tends to signify that things are about to get better, because it just can’t be ignored or spun. The number can be lied about, of course, but big queues to get out are hard to pass off as anything else.
It happened like this at the end of the 70s when all those movie stars upped sticks. They did us a favour too. They don’t call this “voting with your feet” for nothing.
Voice and exit.
Unless of course the Brown government builds a Berlin Wall around the country. But that would be pretty hard to miss also, if it worked. The more you have to sacrifice and risk to get out, the more dramatic it all looks, and the more obvious is the damage done by the lying bastards who did it.
And that’s the central problem now, making it clear how much damage is being done. That’s what the Brown gang are now all busy trying to conceal.
JP’s posting helps with this.
I wanted to have a diary entry, so to speak, about how I felt just now about it all. Comments at Samizdata are hard to get back to. Postings here are easier to get back to.
Other eloquent comments are rapidly accumulating.
Wait two months for a Brian Micklethwait Dot Com recorded conversation, and then two come along on the same day, although actually these two were recorded over a month apart.
This one with Antoine, recorded on Tuesday of this week, describes the electoral earthquake that was the victory of Republican Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in the “special election” they had there, and how the Republicans have now caught up with the Democrats when it comes to applying blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc., to the winning of such elections.
How does this affect US politics in the months and years to come? And what can we in Britain, in particular we libertarians, learn from all this?
We managed to keep it down to below half an hour this time. Enjoy.
Yesterday I did a bit on Samizdata about a BBC TV discussion show about Barack Obama. They get that Obama is now unpopular, but have no convincing idea about why. Racism and irrational fury, is all they can think of. Biased BBC linked to it. Which was nice.
Further to that, this, from the latest Radio Times, advertising a Radio 4 programme going out this evening called entitled “Turkeys Voting For Christmas”:
Why is it that people so often vote against their own interests? David Runciman looks at the unpopularity of President Obama’s healthcare reforms and asks why so many Americans seem angry about efforts to make them better off.
Because you see, Runciman just knows better than all those Americans what their own interests are. And Obama’s “reforms” could not possibly, even possibly, be a bad idea.
I am also pondering a posting about how hard it will be for the BBC to dig itself out of its bias problem, in the event that it ever decides that it wants to.