In 1999, American foreign policy academic Walter Russell Mead wrote an influential essay, The Jacksonian Tradition. In it, he identified a strand of US political thought associated with its conservative and anti-intellectual middle and working classes.
The article was highly prescient in anticipating the appeal of George W Bush as president. Now, as the US teeters on the brink of electing an unimaginably worse candidate, it’s worth reading again. Mead’s analysis turns out to be just as perceptive an insight into Donald Trump’s supporters and their political attitudes.
It is not fashionable today to think of the American nation as a folk community bound together by deep cultural and ethnic ties.
However, the seventh President, Andrew Jackson, built his political career on identifying and mobilising that community – white, Anglo-Saxon/Celtic, working and middle class – which Mead terms the “Jacksonians”.
His political movement—or, more accurately, the community of political feeling that he wielded into an instrument of power—remains in many ways the most important in American politics.
Jacksonian America has produced—and looks set to continue to produce—one political leader and movement after another.
The future of Jacksonian political allegiance will be one of the keys to the politics of the twenty-first century.
Have you decided how to cast your vote on Thursday? Will it really make any difference?
The 2015 general election actually presents the UK with a greater opportunity for real change at national level than any in recent history. After decades of the two-and-a-half party system, this year there are four parties (Conservative, Labour, SNP and the Liberal Democrats) which stand a genuine chance of having a significant role in government during the next parliament.
But the paradox for an individual voter deciding what to do with their ballot paper is still the same: for the vast majority, it will have no effect. The reality is that 90% of the 650 seats up for grabs on Thursday are safe seats, with such a big majority that the conclusion is foregone. The election will be decided by the results in the remaining marginals, where the 2010 results and the polls are so close that there’s a real chance of seats changing hands. So unless you live in one of the small number of marginal constituencies, your vote is effectively pointless.
It gets worse. Even in marginal seats, the winner is likely to end up with a lead of certainly hundreds, perhaps even a few thousand, votes. The chances of a seat being won by one vote are vanishingly small. On the rare occasion that the candidates’ results are within even a few tens of each other, they’ll demand a recount, and when recounts have occurred, the results have changed by several votes each time. In other words, your vote is smaller than the margin of error.
Labour is currently undergoing an ideological crisis, similar to the one the Conservative party went through between its overwhelming defeat in 1997, and the election of David Cameron as leader at the end of 2005. It has no idea what it stands for or how to persuade people to vote for it. It is haemorrhaging its core working class voters to apathy, UKIP or worse. Its leader, Ed Miliband, is a catastrophe: vilified as a union puppet by right-wing commentators, but simultaneously, completely incapable of speaking for working people or earning their trust and confidence. The fact that Labour sympathisers now wistfully imagine how much better things would have been if David Miliband had won the leadership – even though the criticisms of Ed (out-of-touch, middle-class, London, Oxbridge, career politician / policy wonk with unfortunate ties to the Blair/Brown years) apply equally well to David – shows how poor and uninspiring the potential Labour leadership pool is.
The existential plight Labour now finds itself in is a direct result of its long period of electoral failure in the ’80s, followed by its resurgence under Tony Blair in the ’90s. Continue reading →
My first reaction was ultra-cynical. The Conservatives are faced with the threat of another by-election against UKIP in a couple of weeks. Perhaps the whole thing had been orchestrated in cahoots with the EU as an elaborate charade. Here’s how it works in Cameron’s favour: the EU pretends to be owed £1.7bn, Cameron makes a big stand and refuses to pay, the EU backs down from its fictitious demand and Cameron struts around like he’s proved he can defeat them. Wobbly Eurosceptic voters decide he’s the real anti-EU statesman and stick with the Tories instead of haemorrhaging to UKIP.
The 2014 Indian general election is currently under way. With over 800 million people eligible to vote, it’s a long and complicated process: polls are being held on different dates across the 543 parliamentary constituencies, over the course of five weeks. The first were held a week ago, on 7 April, while the last won’t be until 12 May, with the final result due to be announced on 16 May.
With that ongoing, I thought I’d record my observations from travelling around the country at the end of last year.