Kicking your can

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I see Labour have kicked the can, as is the general rule of thumb with all things Brexit these days, a little further down the road in terms of coming out as the anti-Brexit party.

It still feels like Tom Watson and his gang are hedging their bets on an early autumn general election. The first thing that Boris or Jeremy will face as PM will almost certainly be a vote of no-confidence in the Government, and the remainer Conservatives, at least vocally, seem happy to bring down their own government rather than face the possibility of a No Deal Brexit (AKA the Boris Brexit, despite his protestations that it’s his plan C).

Whether these rebel Tories will vote with Labour or not, I guess depends on who wins, although I’d be amazed if Boris didn’t win, and that Labour didn’t immediately carry out the no-confidence trick (or shortly after the Brecon by-election).

Labour really must think that by alienating a big chunk of their electorate, they stand a chance of regaining the votes lost to the Lib Dems to make up for it. I don’t see it personally, I see that as more ‘suicidal’ than a No-Deal Brexit (not that either is particularly what anyone wants).

Labour would only be able to regain those they perceive to have lost to the Lib Dems in the EU elections, and I doubt many of them would seriously consider voting Lib Dem in a General Election anyway. I can’t see many Lib Dems jumping ship and switching over to a Marxist-led Labour party, just because they decided to become anti-Brexit.

What makes the logic even more spurious, is that a recent poll split people roughly 28% leave with no deal, 29% leave with a deal and just 43% revoke Article 50. By my reckoning that indicates a growth somewhere in the region of 5% for the pro-Brexit camp (compared to the Referendum).

I’m sure Jeremy Corbyn in senses that the keys to No. 10 are only just out of his reach; making a stand against Brexit may just snatch them away from him. It will also encourage the Tory membership to be more inclined to vote for Boris, and usher in more chance of a No-Deal Brexit, the one thing Labour are trying to stop.

Come together

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There’s some depressing stats in the Guardian today around how little faith the UK has in the government and generally how pessimistic we are at the moment, with lots of people thinking that recriminations between Remainers and Leavers will get worse in the next year, that the Tories are generally useless and that Britain is the laughing stock of Europe.

Not sure they really needed to poll of 2000 people in London and Leicester to mine those gems of wisdom, (or maybe I’m just more prescient than your usually pundit – highly unlikely), but it’s good to see someone trying to get a good representative poll going, even if the results, particularly among the under 30’s, are fairly grim.

What did surprise me was the upbeat conclusion drawn in the article. Rather than wallowing in misery and gloom, it picked out the fact that many people think (as I do) that we Brits are pretty resourceful and that with the right leadership and the usual British resilience, we will get on with things whatever the eventual outcome of Brexit may be.

But it we do need leadership, and not just from the new PM, but from the whole government. The article ended on a comment from a remain voter who said he wanted to see us leave the EU to regain some national pride.

This also means Labour not trying to turn everything into a political stunt to oust the Conservatives at any opportunity. They have to take notice of this poll and realise that we will only get through this if we pull together. It may be painful for them, but they have to try, at least in the short term.

Whoever wins the the PM role will quickly need to recapture the spirit of 2012 and, preferably, somehow get the cost of housing and living down, while getting us out of the EU. I sense that all the candidates to some degree get this, as well as most of the Conservative MPs, given the number of votes cast this week in Boris’ direction. Let’s just hope they all deliver quickly.

The Milkshake Wars

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It looks to me that today we will see Parliament throw a giant milkshake at Brexit by (I suspect) almost certainly voting to ‘take no deal off the table’ for good, or at least try to change the table, which is probably the more accurate simile.

I think the likes of Oliver Letwin and any other Conservatives should be somewhat ashamed of themselves for getting involved in such a scheme at this time when the bulk of the candidates for Prime Minister are laying down the mantra that Brexit must occur before or on the 31st October.

To me, it’s clearly a scheme cooked up by Labour and the Lib Dems to undermine the Conservatives at this time of perceived weakness, so as to fortify their ‘gains’ in the recent elections/by-elections.

I’ve no doubt that No Deal is not the best scenario by a long way, and not one I would strongly advocate – leaving with a deal would be the optimum (even Theresa May’s one). At the same time, I don’t share the opinion that No Deal would be the complete Doomsday scenario that many people do, purely because I just haven’t seen the evidence to back it up (if you have some, I’d love to see it). All I’ve seen is hysterical hyperbole and passionate rants, much of which is driven by self-interest and an ultra-conservative mindset. Again, it comes down to the optimists versus the pessimists.

But to take the best card in the negotiators hands away completely will surely result in no Brexit at all, as there’s no deal negotiable in that situation that would pass muster. This would indeed be the end of the Conservatives, fuelling the further rise of the Brexit Party (further weakening the Conservatives) and gifting number 10 to Labour. And a lot more milkshakes flying about.

We Are History

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It always amazes me when people of a more left-wing persuasion sneer at historic traditions, such as those seen this week during the state visit of President Trump. I’ve heard several disparaging conversations around London this week in which the word ‘pomp’ has been spat out, almost in disgust.

This, to me, is a very cold-hearted attitude to take to the wealth of history that exists around us and we take for granted each day. It’s not only built into the fabric of the cities and towns we live in, it’s in our culture and our language. It is very much the core of the extended order, and it influences us on a daily basis. Yet so many are blind to this, more concerned with how they appear to other people, too keen to dismiss the rich history around us as somehow embarrassing.

Barely seven years ago, when London hosted the Olympics, there was a great outswelling of national pride, buoyed, I think in great part by Danny Boyles’ incredible opening ceremony, which brilliantly demonstrated the great diversity of our nation’s history. For a short while, people believed in the country, not just the conservative types.

Alas, the show moved on and we returned to our myopic ways, our hearts shrinking back to being two sizes too small. It’s a shame, but such is the cynical (and hypocritical) heart, I believe, of the left (despite the constant proclamations that they are the only ones who care).

So, when you’re next out and about, rather than staring at the phone in your hand (and getting in my way), look up and around you and think of the people and the history that surrounds us, those millions of interactions and relationships and decisions and ideas that occurred through history so you could be there, at that moment, marvelling at the view. Perhaps, then, our hearts will start to grow again.

What’s next?

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Nigel Farage writes in the Telegraph today that he believes people no longer identify as left-wing or right-wing, but rather as Remainers or Leavers.

It’s an interesting stance to take, but I’m not convinced it holds much water. In the short term it does; all the time there is the chance Brexit could be stopped, conservatives (small c) that wish to keep things just as they are, will do all they can to preserve the status quo.

Mr Farage identifies these people as un-democratic, and focuses his party on ‘restoring democracy’. Obviously, this is a populist stance. It’s easy to paint the government as patently anti-Brexit, particularly with its pervading liberal authoritarian viewpoint. But Brexit is convoluted and complex. Most of the current MPs voted for Article 50; they all agreed we should leave. Since then though, they’ve become hopelessly divided over exactly how to leave. Simply reducing it down to ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken’ might be a little bit disingenuous. Yes, the likes of Letwin, Cooper, etc. have tried to take control of the situation to ‘stop the process’, but they could only do that because of the division about the way forward and lack of leadership from number 10, not necessarily because the system was broken. Indeed some people went along with them as they saw it as a way to break the deadlock, particularly with the indicative votes.

This disparity of consensus is also showing up in the leadership race. Each of the 5 million candidates has a slightly different take on how to do the Brexit thing, from Hard-No-Deal Raab through to Second-Referendum Gyimah.

The thing is, ‘we haven’t left yet, democracy is broken,’ is a nice simple concept for people to wrap their heads around. It’s also emotive. It ticks all the right boxes to get the old brain chemicals firing and stir up a bit of conflict in the old grey matter.

But what happens once Brexit actually happens (and it should do, most MPs agree with that)? We’ll move on, some people will be disgruntled, others vaguely happy something got done, but maybe not so happy with the eventual compromises I think we’ll have to make (even No Deal is a sort of compromise). What does a Leaver or a Brexiteer stand for once we’ve left? These are the messages that the Brexit Party need to focus on, I think. Some of the conservative leadership candidates have cottoned on to this, like Boris with his UBI-lite school funding.

It’s about time the Brexit Party started defining more of what they would stand for post-Brexit, and show how they will unite the likes of Fox and the Widdecombe. There is plenty to talk about, I’d just like to hear it.

The Future

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Continuing on from yesterday, I mentioned that, for the most part, we aren’t aware of how our instincts shape our conscious thoughts and actions, and how they drive our decision making. For example, if it is the case the the Conservatives are driven by an instinct to preserve things as they are, which includes theoretically preserving the status of the elites over the rest of society, it’s not necessarily true to argue that results (good or bad) of such activity are through ‘deliberate attempts’ to achieve them.

The difference between right and left-wing thinkers is down to rationalism. The left-wingers’ ‘fatal conceit’, as Hayek calls it, is that they will instinctively rationalise. It’s something we all do to a degree. The difference is at what point you stop. Those of a more ‘right wing’ disposition (but not necessarily all right wingers) are happy to leave things unresolved, content not to know all the answers; accept that they cannot know everything.

In the real world, outside of politics, lefties and righties mingle, all bringing useful viewpoints, attitudes and ideas to the table. Certainly, I work closely with people who see the world very differently to me, and I’m always learning from them and appreciative of their different viewpoints.

I wonder if the future of politics doesn’t lie down this more less combative, more collaborative route? I guess a lot in politics would have to change, but it’s interesting that the Brexit Party, united by the narrow focus of the potential derailment of democracy by the current Parliament over Brexit, have left wingers such as Claire Fox working with ex-Tories like Anne Widdecombe.

Could we, in the future, be governed less by those focussed on left vs. right and more by those united by greater ideals, taking the the best of left and right, libertarian and authoritarian?

Revolution

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I keep going back in my mind to one of the points Andy Beckett made in his ‘long read’ in Tuesday’s Guardian. My initial reaction to the idea that Conservatism developed as a way to preserve the power of the elites, was one of, ‘huh, typical paranoid leftie rationalising things too complex and coming up with random conclusions.’

But the more I think about it, the more I think he has a point, one that can more than likely be backed up by simple historical proof, should you need it.

Now, before you think I’m veering off to the left somewhere in my thinking, I’m not. I’m no fan of egalitarianism in its purist form. Forcing everyone to be equal would destroy the economy, stagnate design and development and generally make the world a worse place to be. I cannot in any way see this as positive, even if it feels on the surface like a nice thing to do.

On the other hand, it does feel to me like the Conservatives are in a bit of existential pickle. As I argued on Tuesday, if, since Thatcher, the Conservatives have taken Libertarian values to their core, when it fundamentally can’t work with them, then a party that is set up to maintain some kind of status quo where the ‘elites’ keep their power base, won’t help the situation, as these elites are the ones who wish to maintain society in their favour and keep those from the ‘lower classes’ in their place.

This might have worked well enough in the pre-digital age, but it’s not sustainable today. In a fast moving world where people can make large sums of money with their digital products, the whole power base is shifting.

So, the question is, if we should have ‘elites’, who should they be? I have no great truck with the class system, despite the British obsession with them. Perhaps it might be the entrepreneurs, the risk takers prepared to put their soul on the line to bring the next great products? If we were to let evolution take its course, various options may present themselves over time.

I suspect such a social revolution is probably already happening – and has been for some time. What Andy Beckett identifies merely as conservatism failing and a societal swing to the left might actually be something much, much bigger.

Zombies!

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Yes, I know I said I thought they were rubbish, but I’ve just finished reading an interesting article by Andy Beckett in the Guardian, “‘A Zombie Party’: The Deepening Crisis of Conservatism”, arguing that Conservatism is dying and that the Left is on the rise, and it’s rather got me thinking.

I have to say that I agree with Beckett to a point, yet as ever with left-wingers, not necessarily for the same reasons.

I felt that Beckett got the fundamentals of Conservativism muddled with the fundamentals of Libertarianism. He argues that the Hayekian free-trade, low taxes, small government of Thatcher and Reagan were Conservative fundamentals, and that they’ve never really worked. Admittedly, many Conservatives think this way too looking at what some of the candidates vying for the PM post are saying, but I’m starting to think that while many Conservatives consider themselves Libertarian, Libertarian values are fundamentally at odds with Conservative values.

Libertarian values are rooted in the Extended Order, which is almost a kind of magical spiritual realm (at least in mine and Hayek’s minds), and more ‘Liberal’ in its operation than Conservatives would feel comfortable with. It will morph and change in a progressive fashion as society evolves. Certainly, I think this is the core of Hayek’s essay, ‘Why I am not a conservative’. The Extended Order will take the best of society, and run with it, the bits that don’t work falling away. It may drift to the ‘right’ or ‘left’ in the process, but ultimately it transcends both.

A central tenet of Beckett’s argument, which I think is right, is that Conservatism is a holdover from the days when the Elites where trying to fight the rising tide of the masses gaining power. I’m not sure this means that if society drifts more to the left (which it certainly does in London) then Conservatism is dead, nor that people under 45 today who are more liberal in attitude, will stay that way as they grow older (and not go all conservative, as they have traditionally done). That said, they might do, such is the wonderful way of the world, that’s the point! It will possibly never go the way you expect it too, it’s all so com-per-li-cated.

The Extended Order is fundamentally about evolution and change, something the liberal left claim to be for, and the conservative right against. The problem is that the magical nebulousness of the Extended Order is anathema to left-wing rationalists, who need facts and figures to justify what’s happening in society, something that can only ever be sought in hindsight, and usually too late as society has moved on before the data can be found to prove it. And data is notoriously slippery at best. Just look at the climate change debate, or read Foucault’s Pendulum.

And yes, I still think Zombies are daft.

Brexit was not a populist vote

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One thing I’ve seen popping up time and again in the media, and in conversations at home and work is how Brexit was some kind of populist vote.

It was not.

To be populist, in the strict sense of the term, it has to:

1) be pioneered by someone who is not part of the establishment

2) claim to be representing the ‘all of the people’ in some kind of opposition to the establishment, even though, in reality it may only actually cater for a small percentage of the population

Clearly, from these definitions, the Brexit vote was not in any way populist. It was pioneered by the Prime Minister and the Conservatives, who promised to abide by the result, and both sides had representatives from the main political parties campaigning for the respective votes. It was offered to the whole of the UK. Everyone took part.

So, in and of itself, Brexit was not populist. In fact, the only thing you could argue was populist about it was Nigel Farage’s comment on the day after the vote, when he said that it was a ‘victory for real people’, clearly indicating that the Leave vote represented the whole country and that somehow the 48% who voted Remain were somehow less than real.

The Brexit Party now, though, is classically populist. Nigel Farage, continuing his rhetoric from after the vote, claims to represent the country outside of London, when really he’s just representing the Brexiteers. He rails at the ‘elites’ in power, something the failure of the Conservative party to deliver Brexit thus far has only inflamed.

Mr Farage’s piece in the the Telegraph today is gloriously populist, ticking all the boxes, with a clear and simple argument (us against them because democracy has failed). The shame, I think, is that he has a point, particularly after Theresa May’s latest offer. Even though I can see the sense in a lot of what the Prime Minister is trying to do, it all feels like a bit of a mess, trying to pander to too many different agendas and satisfying none of them.

For a really good exploration of Populism, check out Jan-Werner Müller’s What is Populism.

Cuts both ways?

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One of the enduring cries from those who voted for Remain in the Brexit vote (and one the government seems to have taken the line of itself, being on the whole, pro-remain – the ‘rational’ position), is that as the vote was ‘so close’, we should respect the views of the losers too, to try to find a balance between the two viewpoints. William Hague argues just such a thing in the Telegraph this morning.

I guess the whole dogmatic democracy vs. liberal democracy debate will bubble along under any democratic system, and I would hate to paint myself as a dogmatic type, but sometimes, context matters, and it does here.

If the vote in 2016 had gone as expected and remain won, what would the remainers have done in respecting the opinion of those who lost? There’s nothing they could have done, as nothing would have changed. They would have ignored calls to reform Europe, particularly after David Cameron’s failed attempts to change things.

Leavers would have continued to voice their protest – ‘It was so close, let’s have another referendum!’ These cries would certainly have fallen on deaf ears. Dogmatic democracy would have prevailed and it would have been considered reasonable.

Yet, Leave won, and because the majority of Leave voices promptly went silent after their unexpected success, liberal democracy suddenly seemed perfectly acceptable, giving rise to the ludicrous populist situation we find ourselves in now, with those ‘out in the sticks’ beyond London feeling betrayed by their ‘elite’ masters in their crumbling edifice.

Which is a shame, because Brexit was never a populist thing (more on that tomorrow), but now we find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. The Conservatives, in taking the liberal democracy approach have fluffed it up, and are now staring down the barrel of a gun they handed to the Brexit Party, which will divide their own vote and more than likely allow Labour to waltz into Downing Street.

Just goes to show, it’s not only the socialists that get hung up on rationalism to their cost.

Oh, and while I think about it, if we’d had Dominic Raab’s proposed 15% tax for the £11.5K – £45k bracket in 2017/8, it would have reduced the amount of tax by around £16 billion (down to £100.8 billion-ish from £116.8 billion-ish). Make of that what you will, but I suspect merging a few government departments wouldn’t cover it too well, although I applaud the idea of reducing tax for the lower earners.