“It’s the principle”: why turkeys do often vote for Christmas

US liberals and leftists who won’t vote for Clinton, even though that decision will help Trump, who is even worse, are an interesting case study. It reveals a deep difference, not between liberals and conservatives, but between “principlists” and “consequentialists”.

Consequentialists do what they have to do to get the best available outcome, even if the means – and the end – fall short of their ideal.

Principlists feel an inherent wrongness in doing anything against principle, even if the result is an outcome even further from their ideal.

They’re two totally opposed mindsets – ways of thinking about how to choose action – with little scope for persuasion between them.

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Walter Russell Mead’s “The Jacksonian Tradition”: the essay that predicts Donald Trump

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.

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There are two things called ‘regulation’, and they’re very different

Whenever people discuss regulation, whether for or against, it’s always treated as basically one type of thing. Opponents might say, “regulation is bad for business,” or, “we need to cut red tape,” while advocates might argue, “regulation makes us safer,” or, less positively, “regulation is a necessary evil.”

Occasionally, someone will distinguish between good and bad regulation, but it’s still talked about as one thing, with one purpose; the debate is whether it achieves that purpose to a better or worse extent.

Visiting India helped crystallise in my mind that there are two very different things, both called “regulation”. They have different aims, and different effects on business. We shouldn’t confuse one for the other. We should also be aware that it’s a deliberate policy of business lobby groups to try to make us do just that.

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David Cameron and the EU bill: very stupid

I know this is a bit late, but it’s worth following up on.

In a previous post, I pondered whether David Cameron’s tub-thumping over the EU’s bill for £1.7bn extra in UK payments was a very clever conspiracy to boost his image as a statesman, or a very stupid tantrum which played into his opponents’ hands.

The answer would be revealed when the UK either paid, or didn’t pay, the bill. And, as it turned out, we payed:

As I said at the time, this could have been played as a triumph: our extra payments were due to better economic performance. Like a recalculation by HMRC which tells you that you owe extra income tax because you earned more than expected, it was annoying, but a consequence of being better off.

Instead, Cameron and Osborne’s handling of the issue was typical of their clueless approach, and has helped to get us where we are now: with Vote Leave ahead in the polls and in control of the debate, looking likely to win the referendum on 23rd June.

The biggest threat to national sovereignty is not the EU, but TTIP

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a sinister trade deal currently being negotiated in secret between the EU and the US, is finally starting to get some wider press and recognition.

Last week, a rebel group of Conservative MPs threatened to derail the Queen’s Speech if the government didn’t include a promise to introduce legislation to protect the NHS from the consequences of TTIP; Labour joined in, the government acquiesced, and the amendment was included.

Aside from making you wonder just how rapaciously capitalist a trade deal has to be for a group of Tory backbenchers to oppose it, the NHS-TTIP protection bill should raise two big questions in anyone’s mind:

  1. If the NHS will only be protected by special legislation, what other institutions of value aren’t going to be protected, and what will happen to them?
  2. If TTIP is such a threat that we need to have laws protecting us from it, why are we considering the deal at all?

The aim of the deal is to reduce regulation to the lowest common denominator – between Europe and the USA – and give companies the unaccountable legal power to dictate national policies. Whether you’re a Brexiter or not, if you’re concerned about the loss of sovereignty, TTIP should be starting to worry you now.

Unprecedented flooding

The Prime Minister David Cameron has described the current floods as “unprecedented”.

Clearly nothing like this has ever happened before.

There’s no way that our political leaders could have foreseen these events.

No-one can blame Cameron for not seeing this coming.

He hasn’t got a crystal ball.

As the Prime Minister said, unprecedented.

In the long run, Liz Kendall is the left wing’s best option

Recently I’ve been pondering why, despite a deep resentment of austerity and extreme wealth inequality, the UK doesn’t yet have populist leftist movements like Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos. The answer of course is that things aren’t as bad here as they are in those countries. But there are signs of a resurgence of populist, anti-establishment movements in the UK: the SNP landslide in Scotland, 3.9 million votes for UKIP, 1.1 million votes for the Green Party, and now Jeremy Corbyn’s performance in the Labour leadership race.

Jeremy Corbyn (photo by Garry Knight on Wikimedia Commons)

I also wrote about the recent history of the contemporary Labour party, and how Blair’s 1997 landslide victory was the worst thing that ever happened to it. Many Labour supporters, and most of the parliamentary party, confused correlation for causation and became convinced that Blairism was the reason Labour was elected. They forget that a) anyone could have led Labour to a victory against Major’s hated minority government in 1997, and b) Blair would have lost had he still been party leader in 2010 (which is exactly why, with characteristic savviness, he wasn’t). They remain convinced of this fallacy today, and are now in a panic that the grassroots party might choose a leader who isn’t from the approved list of “new” Labour robots.

Meanwhile, old lefties, young idealists, the unions, and anyone who prefers sincerity and principle to weaselly poll-chasing, are putting their hopes on Jeremy Corbyn. But rather than a victory for the left of the party, a Corbyn win could actually mean the final victory of Blairism and the end of Labour as the leading organisation of the left.

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How to make your vote count

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.

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Copyright madness has crossed the (blurred) line

A court in the US has found Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams guilty of copyright infringement, and ordered them to pay $7m in damages to the family of Marvin Gaye, because their song Blurred Lines sounds like Gaye’s Got To Give It Up.

Now, I hate Robin Thicke as much as the next man, and want to see bad things happen to him, but this idea of having copyright on your art and anything which is a bit like it is bullshit.

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Failure of leadership at the BBC

I love the BBC. It’s a vital institution: not just a beloved entertainer, but one of our stalwart defences against the hegemony of the media barons. Being publicly funded, it holds a unique moral high ground, from where it should be able to resist the corrupting influence of money and hold to account those who haven’t – such as the once august Telegraph, which is apparently rotten to the core. So it was heart-breaking to read Nick Cohen’s report on how the organisation has forced out the whistleblowers who broke the Jimmy Saville story, and promoted the managers who tried to cover it up.

The BBC’s enemies – that is, every private media company – will no doubt use this as ammunition in their ongoing campaign to destroy the world’s greatest public broadcaster. Yet the problem here is not one of public funding or structure, but of private sector ethos. The BBC has become infected with the same malaise as the rest of the economy: a parasitic class of executives with soaring, apparently uncapped remuneration, but no evidence of any real leadership worth paying for.

The BBC needs less private sector thinking, not more. The actions of its whitewashing managers give the lie to the idea that you have to pay the “market rate” of hundreds of thousands of pounds to get “great leadership”. All you get is a clique of overpaid climbers whose main effort is to protect their own positions and obscene salaries.

You could pull any random Army officers out of Staff College and put them in charge of the BBC – or the Telegraph, HSBC, or any other organisation – and you’d get better, more principled leadership than from any of these self-serving shits, for little more than £50,000 per annum.