Nick Clegg: historically ignorant, self-promoting buffoon

by Chris Bertram on May 19, 2010

British Tory-lite deputy-PM Nick Clegg, has announced a very limited programme of democratic and civil-libertarian reform in the following terms:

I’m talking about the most significant programme of empowerment by a British government since the great reforms of the 19th Century. The biggest shake up of our democracy since 1832, when the Great Reform Act redrew the boundaries of British democracy, for the first time extending the franchise beyond the landed classes. Landmark legislation, from politicians who refused to sit back and do nothing while huge swathes of the population remained helpless against vested interests. Who stood up for the freedom of the many, not the privilege of the few.

Over at The Virtual Stoa, Chris Brooke asks

If you were marking examination papers on nineteenth century British political history, what mark would you give someone who described the 1832 Reform Act in these terms?

Indeed. And see especially, Ted Vallance’s response in comments to Chris’s post.

The struggle of the suffragettes for female emancipation, the extension of the franchise after WW1, all are as nothing compared to Clegg’s plans to curb CCTV cameras and biometric passports ….. An elected second chamber, sounds good. Electoral reform – subject to a referendum in which the dominant party in the coalition will campaign for the status quo. Talk about overselling yourself.

{ 118 comments }

1

Jacob Christensen 05.19.10 at 3:27 pm

I sense a great love for Mr. Clegg here. :-)

Anyway, I think the word you are looking for is überschwänglich.

PS: How about the reform of the role of the House of Lords back in … euh … 191-something? Removed a veto point in the British political system.

2

Leo 05.19.10 at 3:30 pm

Obviously this is cack. Two observations:

1) He might be trying to sell it to Tories.

2) He did social anthropology at Cambridge and got a 2:1 (John Lanchester, over at the LRB blog, has been calling him ‘thick Nick’ over the past few weeks on account of this fact).

3

ajay 05.19.10 at 3:58 pm

He did social anthropology at Cambridge and got a 2:1 (John Lanchester, over at the LRB blog, has been calling him ‘thick Nick’ over the past few weeks on account of this fact).

Reading this has not made me think kindly of Lanchester, whose dazzling academic record (bachelor of arts, Oxford, grade and subject unknown) has lifted him not quite to a fellowship of All Souls, nor to the Royal Society, but to the restaurant critic’s desk on a middle-brow soft pron magazine.
It doesn’t make me think kindly of Leo, for that matter.

And I’d say that the abolition of the House of Lords in its present form and the introduction of a new voting system would probably be a bigger shake-up of British democracy than any of the various extensions of the franchise, including the 1832 Act. It’s certainly not ridiculous to argue that it is. (Not to denigrate any of the reforms, which were all great things too.)

4

Walt 05.19.10 at 4:05 pm

I have to be honest — whenever an academic uses the “if he was my student I’d give him a failing grade” line (like Brooke does in his original post), it makes me roll my eyes. I’m sure that if Brooke was in Clegg’s class, then Clegg would give him negative 1 million points.

5

Harry 05.19.10 at 4:14 pm

Oh, I don’t think so. The H o L only has power to delay. Abolishing it at this point would be nice.

I didn’t go to Oxbridge, but the people who got 2:1s despite having active political and social lives always struck me as being rather bright, far from thick. I spent most of my final year super-active in supporting the miner’s strike and got a 1, but this speaks to the complete lack of balance in my life at that time, not being brighter than others. I suspect a lot of people who became academics were unlike Clegg in that (not especially admirable) respect, rather than in being brighter.

6

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 4:17 pm

Two points – Clegg is not ‘Tory-Lite.’ Bitterness I sense, in that he went into coalition with Cameron. But really it was the best of all the available options, and already seems to be having a significant moderating effect.

Secondly – if AV passes it will a significant and immediate effect on the composition of the commons, and the make up of almost all future governments. It will likely lead to further Lib-Dem gains, increasing pressure for a proper PR-STV system, which would then turn Britain from an ultra-majoritarian US style pseudo-democracy, into a proper European one.

I think those qualify as massive changes, if not as big as 1832.

7

y81 05.19.10 at 4:17 pm

Umm, he fails because he forgot to say whether it was a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

8

ScentOfViolets 05.19.10 at 4:18 pm

Reading this has not made me think kindly of Lanchester, whose dazzling academic record (bachelor of arts, Oxford, grade and subject unknown) has lifted him not quite to a fellowship of All Souls, nor to the Royal Society, but to the restaurant critic’s desk on a middle-brow soft pron magazine.

Wait a minute – are you saying that one (presumably) poor student can’t criticize another’s grades? Particularly since the former is not in a position of great responsibilities and the latter is?

I’m not saying that grades here are everything, btw, merely noting that criticizing them as somehow out of bounds for some people seems, er, not wise.

9

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 4:21 pm

@Harry

As someone doing my DPhil at Oxford, and doing quite a bit of teaching I can assure you that a 2:1 is a very high standard. Calling someone ‘thick’ for getting the second highest grade possible is a bit weird at an elite University is indeed rather weird, if not simply intellectual snobbery of the grossest kind.

And I’m afraid the H o L has more powers than just to delay – in fact the only big restrictions are on items specifically in the government’s election manifesto. Given that this is a coalition, and arguably there wasn’t a manifesto at all for this gov, the constitutional situation is very precarious. HoL could end up looking more like the US Senate.

10

blah 05.19.10 at 4:21 pm

Isn’t it a little thick to get all bent out of shape by a little politcal hyperbole?

11

Chris Bertram 05.19.10 at 4:22 pm

Oh ffs

“I think those qualify as massive changes, if not as big as 1832.”

This is what a “massive change” looks like:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representation_of_the_People_Act_1918

12

ajay 05.19.10 at 4:29 pm

11: unnecessary use of ffs. Abolishing the House of Lords is definitely a massive change. Abolishing FPTP would also be a massive change. Massive doesn’t mean “the biggest ever without question”>

13

Salient 05.19.10 at 4:32 pm

It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that the radicalness of a voting reform proposed by an eminent politician is strongly inversely proportional to the degree to which it is touted as radical.

14

Harry 05.19.10 at 4:33 pm

Is that right. Can you point me to what additional power the Lords have? I thought that they couldn’t even delay manifesto items, and could just delay other things.

We’re agreeing about the comment on Clegg’s intelligence, right? (though things were a bit different in Clegg’s time than now)

15

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 4:35 pm

@Chris

What ajay said. I’m sorry but I lived several years in Ireland under PR-STV, and several years here under FPTP (as well as doing quite a bit of study on comparative electoral systems.) The difference IS ‘massive.’ The cost of entry into the political debate in Britain is so high that groupthink quickly sets in, large numbers of seats become safe, and governments get more power with less of the vote as people become more disaffected or dare to choose third party options (For example – the last Majority government to get into office with more than 45% of the vote was Ted Heath in 1976, and his majority was 4. Compare that to Blair scraping in with 36% in 2005, yet a majority of over 60.) Frankly, if this country had had a proportional system over the last decade, we very probably wouldn’t have seen Labour’s 13 year crusade against civil liberties, some of the more grotesque excesses of the financial boom before the bust, or indeed the Iraq war, simply because they wouldn’t have been able to do so on just 40% of the vote.

16

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 4:40 pm

@Harry 14

I do agree with ye that Clegg is pretty bright. And if anyone would like to doubt that I’d take a look at some of the articles he wrote before becoming party leader. Very few politicians who can claim Samuel Beckett as their favourite author, write about him intelligently, and not get laughed out of the room.

As for HoL – I couldn’t tell you with all specificity, though a former colleague of mine wrote her DPhil on the Lords arguing that its influence on legislation in the last 20-odd years has been hugely underestimated. It has amending functions, can theoretically introduce legislation, and can delay non-manifesto items for up to a year. In practice, I believe this amounts to sticking a wrench in the gears of government (ala the Senate) to force concessions. But I’m afraid I couldn’t tell you more than that!

17

ajay 05.19.10 at 4:42 pm

15: generally agree, but not on the Iraq war, which received cross-party support from the Tories and thus would probably have passed even under PR; Tories also not noted for their scepticism of the financial industry.

I am also rather touched by Chris’ shocked discovery that a politician has made a speech saying that the policy he favours is important and laudable. Such infamous self-promotion! Certainly such a thing would never happen in academia. Most of the grant proposals I’ve read start off along the lines of “Few people are interested in this area of study – rightly so, because it is both tedious and irrelevant…”

18

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 4:45 pm

Ajay @17 –

But if Blair had performed similarly under an STV system (doubtful, but lets just play along for a second) he would have been in coalition with the Lib-Dems. Ashdown or Chatshow Charlie would have unquestionably made Iraq a deal breaker for his premiership, methinks. But as we’re talking very hypothetical hypotheticals…

19

Chris Bertram 05.19.10 at 4:46 pm

Daragh@15 well ajay explicitly makes the breathtakingly stupid “biggest ever” claim albeit “probably” @3 , which you didn’t – so apologies to you for the “ffs” which is better directed at him. But your latest is beside the point, isn’t it? Since Clegg isn’t proposing PR-STV but a referendum on a non-proportional alternative to FPTP and, moreover, one that would have delivered a massive Labour majority in 1997 and majorities at the two subsequent elections too:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8506306.stm

20

P O'Neill 05.19.10 at 4:55 pm

#15

I’m sorry but I lived several years in Ireland under PR-STV, and several years here under FPTP (as well as doing quite a bit of study on comparative electoral systems.) The difference IS ‘massive.’ The cost of entry into the political debate in Britain is so high that groupthink quickly sets in, large numbers of seats become safe, and governments get more power with less of the vote as people become more disaffected or dare to choose third party options (For example – the last Majority government to get into office with more than 45% of the vote was Ted Heath in 1976, and his majority was 4. Compare that to Blair scraping in with 36% in 2005, yet a majority of over 60.)

If the test is actual outcomes, PR-STV hasn’t done Ireland much good. Fianna Fail’s 1st pref. vote share has trended down from 50% (1977) to 40% (2007) yet this has kept them in power for all except 7 of the last 33 years and given them enough latitude to destroy the economy twice in that span, and with safe-seat ministers who wouldn’t know one end of their briefing book from the other. Now you could say that FPTP would have given them even bigger majorities but that counterfactual is very hard to do. But the prima facie case for PR from Ireland is not good.

21

ajay 05.19.10 at 4:59 pm

19: ajay explicitly makes the breathtakingly stupid “biggest ever” claim albeit “probably” @3

You stay classy, Bertram. I always find that the best thing to do when I disagree with someone is to kick in with a few obscenities and then call them stupid.

22

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 5:00 pm

@Chris

Two points on the referendum. First, he’s in a coalition with the Tories and its the best Cameron could get from his party. Labour was offering the marginally better AV+, but couldn’t get their own backbenchers (or indeed, a third of the cabinet) to sign onto a coalition. AV is far from perfect, but its better than the status quo.

Secondly, the analyses the BBC produces assumes that people would have voted the same way even if the electoral method was different. In real life, this just isn’t the case. How many people in 2005 would have ‘held their nose’ and voted for Labour to keep out Howard’s Tories if alternative options were available? How much better would the SDP-Alliance have done in the 80’s? Indeed, given the lower cost of entry into the political game, whose to say there would have only been three parties? Would ‘Old’ Labour not simply bolted the party after Clause IV? Changes in voting systems lead to changes in voter behaviour, so I tend to take these ex post facto analyses with a massive grain of salt.

23

Henry 05.19.10 at 5:02 pm

Having once interviewed Clegg for a couple of hours (when he was an MEP), I can safely say that he is _not_ thick. He had mastered a highly abstruse and technical issue area (local loop telecoms regulation), and run rings around member state negotiators and a whole lot of incumbent telcos who were seeing their monopolies threatened and howling for blood. My suspicion is rather that his faults are likely to be the faults of the overly wonkish technocrat.

24

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 5:05 pm

@P O Neill

I disagree strongly. De Valera’s attempts to get rid of FPTP were based pretty explicitly on the idea that it would keep FF in power forever. And note that FF hasn’t been able to rule on it’s own since 1987. As a result its become significantly less corrupt and authoritarian.

Additionally, the Irish Civil War has had a long shadow over our politics. British ‘tribalism’ pales into insignificance next to Irish ‘tribalism.’ I’m from a traditionally Fine Gael family, and even though I have no particular attachment to FG or its policies, I still feel an irrational sense of revulsion at the IDEA of voting for Fianna Fail. Its just bred into me, even if I know its ridiculous. The fact that third (and fourth and fifth) parties can survive and have an impact under such circumstances is nigh on miraculous.

25

piglet 05.19.10 at 5:07 pm

Could anybody explain the 2:1 reference to non-insiders?

26

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 5:07 pm

@Henry

Totally agreed. I’m a fan of the Lib Dems, but Clegg is a difficult politician to love. But then again, pragmatic liberalism isn’t exactly an ideology that brings people to the barricades…

27

Daragh McDowell 05.19.10 at 5:12 pm

@piglet

Officially means Second Class Honours, Upper Division. Its the second highest mark one can receive, roughly equivalent to an A- (or so my guide for marking American students tells me.) A First is the highest grade, and roughly equivalent to an A+. The full list is

First,
2:1
2:2 (C+ to B)
Third (D+ to C)
Pass (D-)
Fail

28

Tim Worstall 05.19.10 at 5:31 pm

The Lords can introduce legislation, amend it and even vote it down and thus thow it out.

If they do that last then the Govt (or private members with private members bills etc) can pass it in the Commons again and then send it up to the Lords. If it’s rejected again it can be forced through under the Parliament Act.

So, “delay”, yes, but use of the Parliament Act is seen as near to being the nuclear option. It’s been used 7 times since the first (there are two Parliament Acts and one of the uses was to get the second passed in 1949) was passed in 1911.

Bills which were intruduced first in the Lords cannot have the Parliament Act used upon them.

However, “money bills” are different. The Lords can delay only by a month and a money bill can be deemed passed and sent for Royal Assent without the Lords at all.

Manifesto committments…it’s a tradition really that the Lords does not interefere in such. If push came to shove it would probably be the Parliament Act used again (or threatened to be).

Err, yes, this is sketchy and possibly contains some errors of detail. But on matters other than taxes and spending (ie, money bills) the Lords has quite a lot of power. More than just “delay” even if that’s what the P Act means on paper. For use of the P Act is sufficiently rare that rejection in the Lords usually means total rejection (the last use was Hunting with Dogs Act…something which was always going to be tricky to get through the Lords really).

29

piglet 05.19.10 at 5:37 pm

“the last use was Hunting with Dogs Act…something which was always going to be tricky to get through the Lords really”
– and that was truly the most important issue of the past generation or so ;-)

30

alex 05.19.10 at 5:55 pm

Hyperbole ( , from ancient Greek “ὑπερβολή”, meaning excess or exaggeration) is a figure of speech in which statements are exaggerated. It may be used to evoke strong feelings or to create a strong impression, but is not meant to be taken literally.

# bitter – acrimonious: marked by strong resentment or cynicism; “an acrimonious dispute”; “bitter about the divorce”
# bitter – very difficult to accept or bear; “the bitter truth”; “a bitter sorrow”
# bitter – acerb: harsh or corrosive in tone; “an acerbic tone piercing otherwise flowery prose”; “a barrage of acid comments”; “her acrid remarks make her many enemies”
# bitter – expressive of severe grief or regret; “shed bitter tears”
# bitter – English term for a dry sharp-tasting ale with strong flavor of hops (usually on draft)

Maybe sense #5 will help with the others, Chris.

31

bert 05.19.10 at 6:44 pm

#27 & #28:

The full list is
First
2:1
2:2 (C+ to B)
Third (D+ to C)
Pass (D-)
Fail
Tim Worstall

32

nick s 05.19.10 at 7:59 pm

Though I’m always wary of what gets left out in Lord Melv’s discussions, his one on the 1832 Reform Act is worth a listen, because it does manage to puncture many of the popular myths about its radicalism. (I blame ‘Dish and Dishonesty’.)

Having Tories and Lib Dems sharing the government benches around the centenary of the Parliament Act 1911 is going to produce some nice contrasts: for instance, the ‘Mr Balfour’s poodle’ exchange from 1907, when Lloyd George was still President of the Board of Trade, which deserves reading in full.

33

Richard 05.19.10 at 9:09 pm

Is political hyperbole of that kind really an adequate justification for that kind of vitriolic bile? Particularly not when Clegg is trying to seize an opportunity to introduce a set of welcome reforms that the party you were so keen to see remain in office spent 13 years ignoring, impeding or actively necessitating.

34

novakant 05.19.10 at 10:06 pm

The fact that CB voted Labour makes his huffing and puffing seem a bit silly.

35

Nick L 05.19.10 at 10:42 pm

It might be helpful to point out that about 70-80% of students at the best UK universities get 2:1s. The current system is unhelpful as almost all of the variance amongst students going to good universities is contained within one classification.

36

Phil 05.19.10 at 10:50 pm

Nick – might not be true, though. Certainly my experience at the University of Manchester would suggest that the distribution is more like 1:5:3:1.

37

Tom Hurka 05.19.10 at 11:52 pm

What about the good old days when Oxbridge grades were, e.g. alpha minus minus slash beta?

38

kid bitzer 05.20.10 at 12:09 am

tom, you’re leaving out the best part: the “query”-modifier, signified by a question-mark.

so right between beta plus, and beta double-plus, there was the beta plus-query-plus, i.e. “b +?+”, to indicate indecision between giving one or two pluses.

and of course, right above beta double-plus there was beta/alpha, which was the highest of the beta marks, but lower than alpha/beta, which was the lowest of the alpha marks. (i mean–wouldn’t you rather get an alpha-minus-minus rather than an alpha/beta? i know i would. and if i’d received an alpha minus-query-minus, then i’d know that i’d been within an ace of a genuine alpha-minus!)

as i recall the syntax, “query” could only be pre-posed to a minus or a plus, and only to the final minus or plus (if there was more than one). so “beta query minus” is well-formed, as is “beta minus query minus”. but “beta query plus plus” would not be well-formed, and “beta query alpha” would not be well-formed. indeed, it would be bad form: indecision between an unmodified alpha and an unmodified beta? ridiculous. that’s to overlook the ten shades in between! (beta-query-plus; beta-plus; beta-plus-query-plus; beta-double-plus; beta/alpha; alpha/beta; alpha-double-minus; alpha-minus-query-minus; alpha-minus; alpha-query-minus).

ah the good old days.

39

Anon 05.20.10 at 12:11 am

6: “It will likely lead to further Lib-Dem gains, increasing pressure for a proper PR-STV system, which would then turn Britain from an ultra-majoritarian US style pseudo-democracy, into a proper European one.”

Really? AV and STV are certainly preferable as voting systems to FPTP, but it would hardly make the difference between whether or not the UK is a democracy. Perhaps putting it this way reflects my gross naivety, but it seems there’s an implicit argument amongst the LDs that as their reforms will bring us freedom and democracy, we should accept them irrespective of the fact that they will likely mean worse policies on poverty and inequality. A fairly similar argument is employed concerning how much we should be willing to lose to get their rollback of Labours “13 year attack on civil liberties”

40

Richard 05.20.10 at 12:28 am

This seems a bit of willy-waving contest. Clegg thinks the coalition’s reforms will be bigger than those in 1918. Chris disagrees. I don’t see how any of this makes Clegg a “historically ignorant, self-promoting buffoon”. I don’t know of any objective measure of the “big-bangedness” of a programme of reform. Perhaps you can enlightened me?

There also seem to be some disingenuousness in this post. The civil liberties reforms are derided as simply “[curbing] CCTV cameras and biometric passports”, when any look at the coalition agreement is much more than that. On political reform, there is only mention of an elected Lords (under a PR system) and an AV referendum*, but no mention of fixed-terms, power of recall, Wright committee recommendations, lobbying register and party funding reform. Then there’s the part Clegg talked about that you didn’t even mention, namely decentralisation. Maybe that’s anathema to an over-centralising, self-aggrandising oaf such as yourself, but it would still be quite a shift regardless.

* What does it matter what the Conservatives campaign for in it? Do you expect Clegg to not only have got a referendum, but changed Conservative party policy too?

Tim Worstall:

Manifesto committments…it’s a tradition really that the Lords does not interefere in such. If push came to shove it would probably be the Parliament Act used again (or threatened to be).

The problem with that is that there was no coalition manifesto before the election, so arguably the Salisbury Convention doesn’t apply. So we may have to see the Parliament Act used a few times (particularly for Lords reform). Also, I believe the Liberal Democrats oppose the convention too.

41

engels 05.20.10 at 12:29 am

#36, #37 This seems like a very clear explanation, in relative terms at least.

(c) My collection has come back covered with Greek letters further confused with plus and minus signs. What on earth do they all mean?

It will presumably be obvious to you that an alpha is better than a beta which is better than a gamma, but it is quite possible to be mystified by the finer nuances of the Oxford marking system until and unless it is explained, so that the marks awarded on a collection do not in fact convey to the student all that the tutor wished to convey. For example, to the uninitiated, an alpha double-minus might look like a double detraction from a respectable alpha (whereas it is, in fact, an excellent mark) whereas a beta-alpha might look like a curiously roundabout way of writing beta triple plus, or of equivocating between the beta and alpha grades.

None of this made any sense to me until it was explained by one of my tutors in terms of what was necessary in order to gain a first in finals. (This may not be your expectation, but it may nevertheless help you grasp the principles of the marking scheme a little more clearly). To obtain a first in Theology, I was once told (other subjects may well be different, please note), it is necessary to obtain two and half alphas (on nine papers). Naturally, I wondered what half an alpha might be. Apparently a “pure” alpha is an alpha followed by one or more minuses (in practice alpha-minus seems to be the highest grade ever awarded in Public Examinations) but no other Greek letter. This counts as one alpha. An alpha-beta then counts as one half of an alpha, whilst a beta-alpha counts as a third. Anything else beginning with beta doesn’t contribute to the alpha-count, but anything beginning with a gamma counts as minus one alpha. Anything beginning with alpha (down to and including alpha-beta) is described as a “leading alpha” mark and is very good. Beta seems to be about the “average” mark, so that a beta followed by pluses or by an alpha is still fairly good (i.e. a beta-plus is respectable whereas a beta-alpha is really pretty good). I am sure I can now leave you to work out the significance of a beta followed by minuses or of anything beginning with gamma. If you see a leading-delta mark on your paper then you really are heading for trouble – I might almost say that you would then have hit rock-bottom had I not read in one examiner’s report of a candidate whose efforts were so awful that the examiner had felt obliged to think in terms of an epsilon. It must have taken considerable ingenuity to produce something as bad as that!

42

engels 05.20.10 at 1:05 am

There’s also a very nice post about the ‘Liberal Conocrats” planned ‘tax cut for the poor’ on the LRB blog.

43

john b 05.20.10 at 4:02 am

For non-UK, non-Oxbridge types, it’s worth pointing out that the alpha/beta (? -) Oxbridge essay grading system ran, and I think still runs, in parallel with the 1st/2:1/2:2/3rd/pass/fail degree class system used by all UK universities.

Tutorial essays and termly exams (“collections”) are, or were in 2000, generally graded “alpha-beta minus”, etc. These results don’t affect your degree class on graduation – just, your college might suspend (“rusticate”) you or expel you if your results are exceptionally appalling.

The way that finals exams (ie the ones that determine your degree class, generally but not solely taken at the end of your course) are marked varies by subject – AIUI some, are straightforward “70+ = First, 60+ = 2:1, 50+ = 2:2” as in other universities, and some are marked according to the tutorial grading system and weighted as Engels says. Various other rules also apply.

However, at the end of the process, the only information disclosed on your degree certificate (or by the university in any official capacity I’m aware of), is your degree class.

Finally – a very large proportion of students at Oxbridge, more so than other ‘good’ English universities, do end up with 2:1s. This reflects the fact that:

1) the university doesn’t bell-curve degree classes, but rather sets a standard and expects students to live up to it.

2) the admissions system ensures that few students who are incapable of achieving what the university believes to be a 2:1 enter it in the first place.

3) the tutorial & collections system ensures that most students who are capable of achieving a 2:1 but too lazy/busy with external interests to do so are kicked thoroughly enough up the arse that they start doing serious amounts of academic work on the basis that encouragement to leave would otherwise be on its way.

4) the system also ensures, for the most part, that students who aren’t fully up to the standards of their course but are clearly working hard can be spotted and coached, or at least not kicked quite as hard as students who’re just lazy.

The main conclusions to draw are that someone with an Oxbridge 1st is clever and hard-working; someone with an Oxbridge 2:2 is not as clever but hard-working; that someone with an Oxbridge 3rd or below probably turned up for Finals drunk; and that an Oxbridge 2:1 tells you almost nothing about the person holding it, aside from the fact that they don’t fall into any of the other categories.

44

magistra 05.20.10 at 6:42 am

In fairness to John Lanchester, the ‘Thick Nick’ comment was made when he noticed that both Gordon Brown and David Cameron had first-class degrees. He is therefore innocent of the prejudice of some Oxbridge people that a 2.1 from there should automatically be seen as equivalent to a first from any other UK university. (Actually, at the time Cameron was at Oxford, they still had an undivided second class, even if in practice you were told if it was the equivalent of a 2.1 or a 2.2). The Oxford Handbook for 1983 defined the degrees in the following terms:

First – A fluke
Second – The degree you have to struggle to avoid getting
Third – The greatest distinction: the bottom column of the ‘Times’.

Lanchester also gives the details of other former PMs’ degree class. I think Cameron’s first is interesting, because it argues against his success being purely due to family connections/wealth. You could get into Oxford at the time on the basis of having been to a ‘good’ school, but they wouldn’t give you a first unless you were clever, at least in superficial way.

45

Tim Worstall 05.20.10 at 8:22 am

@ 31.

No, a third.

“that someone with an Oxbridge 3rd or below probably turned up for Finals drunk; “

LSE not Oxbridge and only one of them.

My defence is that I’m thicker than I thought I was.

46

Chris Bertram 05.20.10 at 8:43 am

To respond to the silly ad hominems:

* Making a specific claim about a piece of legislation from 1832 that most of the electorate have no clue about (even those who paid attention in history class) is a bit odd for hyperbole. If he were merely engaging in hyperbole, then Clegg would have either engaged in non-specific puffery or would have referenced some historical event that people have mostly heard of.

* I did indeed vote Labour, but am I supposed to be bitter that Labour didn’t win? I didn’t expect them to: in fact, this is about the best result that Labour could have had and the Tories are clearly dismayed by the resilience of the Labour vote. I am surprised at how easy it was for the Lib Dems to get into bed with Cameron but had I being paying more attention to the Orange Book faction, perhaps I wouldn’t have been. (I expected Cameron to form a minority government.) “What’s the difference between David Laws and a Tory?” sounds less like a genuine question than the beginning of a joke.

* The psychology of those Lib Dem enthusiasts who painted themselves as “progressives” but are now cheerleading for the coalition is interesting, but hardly without historical precedent, as students of the Comintern will know.

47

Chris Bertram 05.20.10 at 8:46 am

Commenters on the Oxbridge marking system have neglected the use of the question mark: as in

beta ? –
alpha -?-

I think there can also be repetition of letters, as in

alpha beta beta

etc

48

Richard 05.20.10 at 8:54 am

“The psychology of those Lib Dem enthusiasts who painted themselves as “progressives””

While the psychology of those Labour enthusiasts who painted themselves as ‘progressives’ at the same time sneering at a set of measures they should be supporting is also interesting.

49

ajay 05.20.10 at 8:56 am

The problem is that Clegg didn’t know his place.

At the bottom, you see, are the ignorant public, who don’t generally pay attention in history class, and therefore don’t know anything at all about anything except X Factor and Lady Gaga.
In the middle is Thick Nick, who has a second-rate degree and, while he has heard of the Great Reform Act and even knows what year it was passed in, displays a laughable, buffoonish incomprehension of its details and implications – and an even more laughable assumption that some of the public might actually have heard of the Act as well.
At the top, secure on Laputa, the Floating Island of Philosophers, are the history professors, troubled mildly by rising ad hominem attacks from the filthy neo-Stalinist Yahoos below.

50

Chris Williams 05.20.10 at 9:11 am

ajay #17 – certainly I’ve loved to write a grant proposal that begins “We must keep a sense of proportion about how interesting and relevant the proletarianisation of the office of constable in 1829 was. Nevertheless, it’s interesting enough to warrant some study.” but the problem is, that would be filed in the bin by the reviewing committee, who tend to be primed to treat any claim other than “This is the Best Thing Evah!” with disdain.

Partly this is to do with a PR-driven policy on the part of the research councils, partly due to the ‘impact agenda’ and partly (perhaps mainly) it’s to make assessment of bids easier: measure every claim, ditch the ones that don’t go up to 11 on all criteria, choose from the rest. Less work. And when 90% of them are going to fail anyway, less work is good.

51

chris y 05.20.10 at 9:30 am

It’s at least arguable that the significance of the 1832 lay almost entirely in the fact that it was passed, and negligibly in its actual provisions. It came at the end of a very long – several generations – effort, and it was resisted to the end, to the extent that the government had to threaten a mass creation to wedge it through the Lords. And it was, of course, a shoddy compromise. Nevertheless, its passage established the principle that Parliamentary reform was possible, and arguably made the 1867, 1884, 1911, 1918, 1930 and 1948 reforms more or less inevitable. This was in some sense understood; that was why it was the Great Reform Act to its contemporaries.

It’s possible that Clegg is trying for a more exact analogy than Chris B allows. An elected Lords and AV for the commons would be just such a shoddy compromise. On its own merits, arguably not worth the candle. But as a reform it would bury FPTP. It would place the debate over the electoral system front and centre, and increase the likelhood of a genuine proportional system within a generation immensely. For a traditional LibDem, that would be a fairly big win, I’d have thought.

52

Chris Williams 05.20.10 at 9:59 am

‘Bigggest since 1832’ – not a problem. ‘1832 extended power beyond the landed gentry’ – problem. Wilkes and Liberty, ffs.

53

praisegod barebones 05.20.10 at 10:08 am

Tom Hurka @ 37

Your examiners were clearly unusually decisive. I still remember with pride the beta-beta-alpha slash alpha-alpha-beta that I received for one of my philosophy finals papers twenty years ago.

(From what I remember ther grading of Maths finals papers was even weirder…)

54

Walt 05.20.10 at 10:23 am

Okay, you people are making up this Oxford grading system, aren’t you? And we gullible Americans will fall for it.

55

novakant 05.20.10 at 10:46 am

What Richard said at #47.

Also, after 12 years, a vote for Labour was a vote for the continuation of the status quo. So criticizing Clegg for not changing the status quo enough is doubly inconsistent.

56

ajay 05.20.10 at 10:56 am

49: quite – I’m not criticising anyone for writing “Best research topic ever” proposals, that’s just the way advocacy works in any field of life. The alternative sounds a bit Kai Lung-ish. “Kai Lung Submits His Grant Application” would be worth reading.

53: not so. If we were making it up, we’d at least try to make it sound credible. I remember a fellow student being completely baffled by the string of symbols on one of his essays, because he’d never learned the Greek alphabet. I think he thought his tutor had had a stroke or something.

57

alex 05.20.10 at 10:59 am

“Silly ad hominems”, Chris, after what you titled this thread? I magnanimously refrain from further comment.

58

bert 05.20.10 at 11:08 am

#44 Actually, I was just having fun with copy and paste. The two comments run together seamlessly you see. But it’s very good of you to respond. Worstall, jolly nice chap. Knew him at school. At that Lord Pearson? Mark my words. Very clever man.

59

bert 05.20.10 at 11:28 am

Chris did take the trouble to make clear before the election that his support of Labour was partly tribal identification (“I was struck by my own emotional reaction …”). If we can’t learn to discount that in advance, his contributions will inevitably come across as weirder than they might otherwise.
But they’re not indefensible, and they have the merit of a declared point of view. I’m looking forward to his take on the leadership race. I don’t expect to agree.

60

praisegod barebones 05.20.10 at 11:43 am

ajay @ 55

Unless we thought that it was much more believable that Oxford and Cambridge would have ludicrously implausible grading scales than only slightly implausible ones. Which it is of course…

(Aristotle: it is likely that many unlikely things will happen)

Mind you these aren’t the only ludicrous grading scales in existence. When I was a TA and temporary lecturer at Leeds, we used something called the ‘Millican scale’, on which the numbers between 49-51; 59-61; and 69-71 were deemed not to exist for the purpose of grading individual questions.

(Actually, I think the point of this was precisely to prevent people from wasting hours agonising over whether something was a beta-beta-alpha slash alpha-alpha-beta or merely a beta-beta-alpha slash alpha beta beta…)

There was also a story (possibly apocryphal) of an alpha/gamma garde being awarded for work on the ‘first-class/third-class borderline.

61

Chris Williams 05.20.10 at 12:03 pm

“work on the ‘first-class/third-class borderline.” If ever I start a blog, I have the title ready. Thanks, Barbon.

62

Rhyden Staines 05.20.10 at 2:09 pm

And more at the LRB, this time a piece by title=”Glen Newey”>chapter two

63

sg 05.20.10 at 2:10 pm

chris at 45…

The British are steeped in a knowledge of the importance of their own history, even if they don’t know anything about it, so citing vague historical moments with the implication that they were Very Important is an effective type of hyperbole, like Americans citing anything with the word “Lincoln” in front of it, or Australians saying “since Federation” like it means anything.

The best result Labour could have had would have been to lose the election but negotiate in good faith with the Lib Dems, but they refused to and the reason they refused to was electoral reform. They lumped Britain with the Tories in order to protect their own sectional interests, so it’s pretty rich for you or any other labour supporter to complain that the lib dems have compromised their own principles for a watered-down version of electoral reform.

Your complaints have nothing to do with the possibility that Labour’s chances of holding power are going to be permanently squibbed by even a moderate reform, are they? Because from the point of view of a self-identified labour tribalist, I’d have thought those changes are actually pretty significant.

64

Alex 05.20.10 at 2:30 pm

59: The Millican scale actually sounds quite sensible as a way of fighting the tendency to a) bunch at the obvious percentile boundaries and b) make decisions about a 59 vs a 60 that are inevitably going to be arbitrary.

65

chris y 05.20.10 at 2:33 pm

Graders should take a lesson from the long serving and largely untouchable teacher at my school who marked an internal exam out of 97 and then told the headmaster that it wouldn’t take Einstein to turn the results into percentages.

66

Tim Wilkinson 05.20.10 at 3:02 pm

Engels @41 – the ‘Conocrats’ (γ?+ for that one) piece seems about right, but the graph is a bit odd. It seems to be saying that the lowest household-income decile would benefit from a raised threshhold for higher rate income tax. Is this right?

(The original paper refs a blog post from Tebbit, btw.)

——

Worstall @28: the Parliament Act…’s been used 7 times since … 1911.
…or four times since 1991, giving a mean frequency of once per 5, rather than 15, years.

Choosing 1991 is blatant gerrymandering of course, but on the other hand this way of presenting the data fails to reflect the diachronic trend
(by decade: 2.0.0.[1].0.0.0.0.2.2.?).

There are slightly more subtle examples of the use of the PA, too. The ID card bill was passed through a reluctant Lords, amended only to delay the rollout, as a consequence of the govt’s threat to force through an unamended version. Similar compromises happened twice in the 70s with trade union and nationalisation bills – on which occasions the PA procedures were actually started.

Generally, the implicit threat of being bypassed entirely (and of being slapped down) must be an influence on the Lords even when it’s not made explicit, and is backed by increased willingness to use the PA. Certainly the fact that it’s rarely invoked doesn’t mean it’s not having an effect. As well as successful – thus unobtrusive – deterrence, there’s the ‘resistance is futile’ effect: cf. pre-emptive self-censorship, ‘consent’ to the forceable taking of fingerprints, etc. (though in a sense that’s also deterrence, based on indifference + ‘transaction costs’).

Which is not to say that the resulting balance of power is necessarily skewed – though restraint in resorting to the PA is precariously dependent on governments’ lack of effrontery. Treating the PA as only rarely having influence is wrong, ‘s all.

67

Daragh McDowell 05.20.10 at 3:33 pm

Chris @ 45

I’ve been very polite in this discussion so far despite an often combative approach on your part, but I think I’ve officiall reached my ffs moment.

First off, I regard myself as both a Lib-Dem, and a progressive as well as supporting the coalition. You imply that the only way I can do that is by engaging in deliberate self-deception or simply being stupid. You discount entirely the idea that I might disagree with Labour, not only on means but also on ends. I regard civil liberties as a critical issue, one on which Labour’s record is appalling. Its total capitulation to the tabloid agenda on law and order issues has turned the UK into arguably the most authoritarian state in Europe, with the prison population to boot. I think that the pupil premium and some form of ‘free schools’ initiative are far better ideas for improving education than regional targets, SATs and daily directives from Ed Balls. Inequality has skyrocketed under Labour, so as far as I’m concerned any other party willing to address the issue (as the Lib Dems are) deserve a crack at at least trying new ideas. That’s before we get to foreign policy, tax, and immigration. (As a ‘progressive’ Labour supporter, how can you possibly posture as a progressive and defend the imprisonment of child asylum seekers, a policy this government will overturn? Do you have your Comintern goggles on as well?)

I support the coalition primarily because the only other viable alternative was an effectively unrestricted Tory government. The coalition has both moderated the Tory right and has (at least temporarily) thwarted the Tory right’s plans for the Human Rights Act, the distribution of taxation (the Tory IHT plans have been scrapped, and CGT will almost double) and will introduce a referndum on electoral reform, an issue I regard as critical for reasons I’ve already gone into above. Of course, there are policies the coalition will implement I disagree with, and the Lib Dems have had to give ground. That’s what coalition politics is all about. Adopting a stance that if the Lib Dems don’t get everything they want then the only ‘progressive’ thing to do is stay out of any coalition is profoundly childish and ignorant.

As an aside, I’m a student of Russian and Soviet politics – I’m fully aware of the history of the Comintern, particularly Stalin’s insistence that only ‘his’ parties were truly progressive, and any alliance or coalition with other allegedly ‘reactionary’ parties could not be contemplated. That is, ideological and political purity was deemed preferable to any compromise. How did that work out again?

A policy of insulting Lib Dem supporters as mindless drones and apologists is, I believe, not a great strategy for rebuilding Labour’s majority. Its also extremely rude.

68

Chris Bertram 05.20.10 at 4:19 pm

Good luck with your project of moderating the Tories, Daragh. I’m sure you are quite sincere about it. Meanwhile, I gather that the coalition is planning Post Office privatization. Mandelson planned to do the same of course, but at least there were some Labour MPs who were willing and able to stop him.

69

Chris Bertram 05.20.10 at 4:31 pm

Chris Dillow is quite interesting on the post-coalition psychology of Lib Dems, btw:

http://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2010/05/coalitions-and-commitment.html

70

Daragh McDowell 05.20.10 at 4:31 pm

@Chriss 66

That’s not my primary goal. My goal is to implement as many Liberal policies as possible. And have you ever stepped back and asked ‘maybe privatising the post-office is a good idea?’

71

Chris Bertram 05.20.10 at 4:32 pm

_And have you ever stepped back and asked ‘maybe privatising the post-office is a good idea?’_

No.

(Do read Dillow, btw)

72

Daragh McDowell 05.20.10 at 4:44 pm

Chris,

Perhaps a bad issue to pick but fine, your choice. Frankly I think if it’s going to be done the LD plan of 49% private, the rest split between the state and employees is probably a good one.

You haven’t answered two questions however – given that the only viable alternative to the present coalition was a Tory minority government (which in 6 months would have called a snap election and become a majority government) both of which would have been substantially more right wing, how is what the Lib Dems are doing now some act of betrayal?

Secondly – why are people who prioritise issues such as civil liberties and electoral reform, and who disagree with Labour on most economic means if not ends, insufficiently ‘progressive’ in your eyes for compromising to achieve some of their goals, especially since coalition was essentially the only game in town other than supply and confidence?

73

Harry 05.20.10 at 4:44 pm

Dillow’s very good. He could be describing the relationship of a lot of Labour people to Tony Blair (at least until well into the Iraq War).

On civil liberties: you should remember that many of Labour’s policies which the Tories ended up opposing had been Tory policies which Labour opposed in the 90’s. Both major parties have lousy records on civil liberties when in power (I know, I know, the last liberal HS was Jenkins). Clegg didn’t insist on getting a LibDem as Home Secretary — it’ll be interesting to see how this works out.

For what its worth, I don’t see that Clegg had any other choice than going into coalition with the Tories, so I hope the LDs do their best. I don’t think it will work out well for them, and I don;t really think that overselling the deal is smart politics.

74

Pete 05.20.10 at 4:55 pm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8693832.stm says that the coalition is not planning to privatise the post office, which I guess puts them to the left of Labour?

I’m looking forward to the defence of how the Labour party is the only one true home of progressivism, despite their actual enacted policy.

75

Daragh McDowell 05.20.10 at 4:55 pm

@Harry

On the contrary – I think the Lib Dems angling for one of the ‘great offices’ would be a terrible idea, particularly the Home Office. It would get them into too many fights with the Tories, and they’d become lightning rods for criticism. The low-level economics and education portfolios, with LDs in every department strategy to me is sound.

@Chris

Forgot to mention – since you’re tossing around accusations of Comintern-esque double-think, why are you so supportive of a party whose last leader claimed in 2007, that he fought tooth and nail for light touch regulation when all around him were arguing for the heavy hand, yet in 2010, boasted how he struggled mightily to impose strict regulations on the perfidious bankers when all were clamouring for a light touch?

76

Chris Bertram 05.20.10 at 5:00 pm

I don’t believe I’ve used the word “betrayal” or any synonym of it. Personally, I’m not unhappy for the LibDems to ally themselves with the Tories, but that’s because I think that the choice to do so reveals their true character (or perhaps true characterlessness) and that they’ll pay a heavy price for it (I certainly hope so). So “what should Clegg have done?” is really not a question for me.

The other matter you raise about “issues” and their prioritization, is really very characteristic of LibDemSpeak. Talk is cheap, and it has been especially cheap for the LibDems given they’ve never had to put their money where their mouth is. Already we see the not-so-tacit dumping of their populist election chatter on university tuition fees:

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/story.asp?sectioncode=26&storycode=411668&c=1

The first of many such moves, I suspect.

77

Harry 05.20.10 at 5:11 pm

Oh, I agree that it was politically smart in the circumstances. I’d just be annoyed if I were relying on them to keep a close eye on civil liberties issues.

78

Sebastian 05.20.10 at 5:24 pm

Not to put too fine a point on it: you really shouldn’t count on governments (Labor/Tory/Democratic/Republican/Whatever) to protect civil liberties without a very strong push from the population. The Obama administration is only example number 5,391 of that principle. Concern for civil liberties (like election reform and fiscal stewardship) is what minority parties talk about to try to restrain ruling parties. Ruling parties almost never really worry about that because of course they wouldn’t misuse such powers.

79

Steve LaBonne 05.20.10 at 5:44 pm

That’s one question where I’m completely on the same page as Sebastian. Speaking in the US context, many people warned during the Bush administration’s “unitary executive” orgy that once a president arrogates new powers to himself, it’s as certain as the sun coming up in the morning that future presidents- regardless of what kind of game they talk– WILL use those powers. If a president you like is allowed to get away with inventing new powers you can bet your bottom dollar they will soon be wielded by one you don’t like.

80

Chris Brooke 05.20.10 at 6:02 pm

On Oxbridge marking conventions, by the way, has anyone mentioned the squiggly line pointing upwards yet?

Maybe it was just the people who taught me, but you could get something like a beta-plus-query-plus-squiggly-line-pointing-upwards, which I think meant that your tutor thought it was probably a beta-plus-query-plus, but perhaps it was a little better than that.

81

Tim Worstall 05.20.10 at 6:06 pm

“And have you ever stepped back and asked ‘maybe privatising the post-office is a good idea?’”

Doesn’t particularly matter whether it’s a good one or not. The EU has decided that postal system monopolies must be opened to competition. The RM cannot survive such competition without large investment (partly because of the pension fund deficit and partly because it is simply inefficient as is). Government cannot make the large investment because you cannot make such large investments preferentially in markets which are supposed to be competitive under EU rules.

The EU is not saying that RM must be privatised. But the net effect of the various rules hemming in the options is that someone, somewhere, from the private sector must make that large necessary investment: part privatisation in essence.

82

Steve LaBonne 05.20.10 at 6:09 pm

Tim gives a nice example of why, were I British, I’d be a left-wing Euroskeptic. The EU is getting its neoliberal ass handed to it all over the place these days and needs to be told to just stuff it with regard to such policies.

83

Mike Otsuka 05.20.10 at 6:27 pm

The introduction of AV would result in the enfranchisement of millions of currently silenced second preference votes, which must surely rank up there with the extension of the franchise to women.

84

chris 05.20.10 at 6:28 pm

The EU has decided that postal system monopolies must be opened to competition.

Network economies of scale be damned? Communications networks are almost a textbook example of natural monopoly (and the apparent exceptions, like US phone companies, are tightly regulated and required to interoperate so that they can serve individual customers separately without building complete separate networks and cutting off their customers from each other). You might as well demand opening a water system to competition.

The first thing a private post office is going to notice is that all those rural deliveries are operating at a loss. That will lead to service cuts, price discrimination, or both.

Post offices to some extent subsidize the low-traffic parts of their networks with the economies of scale realized in the high-traffic parts, and this is generally considered socially beneficial. But that social benefit is incompatible with the profit motive.

85

Tim Wilkinson 05.20.10 at 7:02 pm

Daragh McDowell @22:

Labour was offering the marginally better AV+, but couldn’t get their own backbenchers (or indeed, a third of the cabinet) to sign onto a coalition.

I’m not clear that this was the case.

Possible alternatives:
1. the comments were a combination of (a) bluster, aimed at influencing Brown and or the Libs in the process of negotiation, (b) dissent from Blairite spoilers like Blunkett and Reid who were not commons MPs thus not in a position to withhold a vote.

2. the comments were genuinely meant and indisciplined but could have been brought under control. For example, those making them may have been mistaken in thinking their demands couldn’t be met, or susceptible to being placated in other ways.

3. Since IIRC the objections came quite late in the process, they may have been a reaction to an accurate assessment that the Lib/Con deal was done, or that the Libs were insisting on genuinely unacceptable Orange Bookish terms (or an inaccurate, thus remediable, assessment, e.g. misinterpreting Brown’s resignation) . The comments in this case would perhaps have been aimed primarily at saving face, or positioning for the imminent leadership contest, or something.

There are of course also a variety of plausible reasons – probably more plausible than the above – why some or all of them might indeed have scotched an acceptable deal with the Lib Dems. If so, I disapprove strongly, and may even write a letter.

But since the whole business was a matter of secret negotiations, deals, positioning and bluff, there can be no general presumption that any public remarks were what they superficially seemed to be. I’d be very interested to know exactly what did go on, as I strongly suspect that Labour do deserve blame – even if the LIbs would never have joined them anyway.

Suspected factors: a combination of fatigue and unwilingness gto rethink premature defeatism; selfish willingness to pass on the poisoned chalice described by Tory Melvin; tribal hostility to the SNP and/or LDs; opposition to AV (perhaps less plausible given the manifesto commitment); failure of discipline or communication by the lame duck leadership (which btw makes rebellion against AV more plausible).

There’s something on R4 tonight (actually in a few minute I think) which purports to be able to shed some light on what really went on, but it’s primarily about the Libs and Cons, and is also highly unlikely to contain any useful uncensored inside info, and even if it does the probelm is identifying it among the bullshit and other noise.

86

Harry 05.20.10 at 7:15 pm

Its not at all clear to me that massive subsidies for well-off californians who live at frontier levels of population density is socially beneficial. Its not the USPS, so much as the financing of the roads, that I’m thinking of (but the USPS too).

87

Harry 05.20.10 at 7:16 pm

Especially since all the people I know in that situation complain incessantly about government subsidies for poor people.

88

Richard 05.20.10 at 7:43 pm

There’s also a very nice post about the ‘Liberal Conocrats” planned ‘tax cut for the poor’ on the LRB blog.

That hatchet job by Tim Horton of the Fabians has been going around the web a lot over the last few months. I say hatchet job, because while its trivially true that the rich benefit most from raising the income tax threshold to £10,000, the “research” basically ignores how that is paid for – like increasing capital gains tax to the same rates as income tax.

Its total capitulation to the tabloid agenda on law and order issues has turned the UK into arguably the most authoritarian state in Europe

This is assuming Belarus is not in Europe, of course.

89

Richard 05.20.10 at 7:47 pm

Since IIRC the objections came quite late in the process, they may have been a reaction to an accurate assessment that the Lib/Con deal was done

Nope, because the Labour people started coming out against the deal when negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and Labour were going on.

90

chris 05.20.10 at 8:40 pm

Its not at all clear to me that massive subsidies for well-off californians who live at frontier levels of population density is socially beneficial.

Well, I was thinking more of the not as well-off Ohioans, Iowans, etc. The *actually* rural parts rather than the exurbs. (Although I’m not sure what the English analogue of either group is, or how numerous they are.)

It probably is true that the USPS delivers at a loss to lots of acres of McMansions, but they wouldn’t really be hurt by paying double or triple rates for non-urban delivery or pickup. They would complain, but they can afford it.

91

Harry 05.20.10 at 9:52 pm

Mike Otsuka @82 – you are being ironic, right?

92

sg 05.20.10 at 10:36 pm

Tim at 84, a simpler explanation is that the Labour party knows its goose is cooked under proportional representation, and it wasn’t going to cut a deal that saw it lose any chance to ever get back into power, combined with Chris Bertram-style huffiness. Why bother looking for subtle explanations for self-preservation?

It’s funny watching progressives supporting a party that sold out all its progressive principles years ago by sneering at another party for compromising its principles.

Of course, this wouldn’t be happening if Labour had been willing to bargain with the Lib Dems in good faith, and we could have seen just how progressive the latter are capable of being, but we’ll never know because “progressive” Labour would rather throw the country to the Tory dogs than introduce a voting reform that would actually require them to engage with their electorate.

93

engels 05.21.10 at 12:49 am

A policy of insulting Lib Dem supporters as mindless drones and apologists is, I believe … also extremely rude.

That’s the beauty of it. And it’s not as if they don’t deserve it, at least those of them who aren’t now kicking themselves repeatedly.

94

Chris Bertram 05.21.10 at 4:43 am

#91 given the arithmetic, a deal with the Lib Dems alone couldn’t have achieved a governing coalition. Presumably you know this. The bulk of your comment is simply a recycling of Lib Dem spin, subsequent to the decision to form a coalition with the Tories.

95

Mike Otsuka 05.21.10 at 7:16 am

Harry @ 90: Yes. But isn’t it the American who’s supposed to be unsure whether the Brit is being ironic, and not the other way around?

96

alex 05.21.10 at 7:41 am

@93: It could be an honest opinion that the Labour Party in the last 10 years has become a gang of warmongering authoritarians, whose reprehensible collusion in economic catastrophe cannot be excused by their willingness to fund hugely over-bureaucratic measures to marginally relieve poverty, while neglecting to tackle any of the structural weaknesses of the current social model. Or something like that.

97

Pete 05.21.10 at 8:45 am

Chris, given your comment at 93, what did you expect to happen? Minority government?

I’m still amused by the defence of the Iraq war as progressive.

98

ajay 05.21.10 at 8:45 am

pprntly n n s llwd t spprt th Lb Dms t f hnst cnvctn. t’s ll Stlnsm, slf-dlsn, stpdty, bsqsnss r nkd lst fr pwr.
hp th sm thng’s tr f Lbr spprtrs, bcs ‘d mch rthr thnk tht Brtrm ws lyng, dldd, flsh r cmplsnt thn thnk tht h spprtd Lbr bcs h hd frm, wll-rsnd blf n slghtr brd nd sbs t hm.

99

Chris Bertram 05.21.10 at 8:58 am

FYI, I opposed the Iraq war.

100

Tim Worstall 05.21.10 at 8:58 am

“The first thing a private post office is going to notice is that all those rural deliveries are operating at a loss. That will lead to service cuts, price discrimination, or both.

Post offices to some extent subsidize the low-traffic parts of their networks with the economies of scale realized in the high-traffic parts, and this is generally considered socially beneficial. But that social benefit is incompatible with the profit motive.”

Entirely true. But that network must indeed be opened to competition. Them’s the rules…..

101

ajay 05.21.10 at 9:13 am

98: jst nt ngh t wnt t vt gnst th prty tht strtd t.

102

Ollie 05.21.10 at 9:32 am

It seems to me that to credibly accuse the Libs of selling out their principles, they would have accepted several policies against their fundamental desires.

I for one, a LibDem supporter with deep-seated hostility to the Tories, can not however fault the accord made with the Tories.

First, if you overcame your snotty contempt of the Libs and obtained a copy of their manifesto, you will find that many LibDem policies will be implemented by the coalition.

Second, Labour do not seem to understand that for the Libs, the bottomline has been electoral reform, taking on the outsized & irresponsible financial sector, housing and tax proposals. All of these will be tackled in this coalition to varying degrees. In that light, it is simply ludicrous to accuse a party of sell-out when it takes the opportunity to implement its most dearly-held beliefs for the first time in 2 generations.

I will not pretend that there are not several significant drawbacks to aligning with the Tories. There is a majority within that party that in various ways wants to preserve privilege, roll back progressive gains, govern in authoritarian ways and trample on most popular notions of what constitutes a fair society. The majority of governmental actions do not engage the legislative process, and do not refer to party manifestoes. Thus, there is a lot of room for the Tories to damage Liberal political treasures.

However, the most deeply held desires of the LibDem voters, supporters, sympathisers, activists and tribalists (apart from hostility to the Tories) will be addressed in this coalition. Again, I assert it’s ridiculous to call that a sell-out on principles.

103

Chris Bertram 05.21.10 at 10:11 am

#101 Ollie: can you point me to where I (or anyone else) accused the Lib Dems of “selling out”.

104

chris y 05.21.10 at 10:13 am

And it’s not as if they don’t deserve it, at least those of them who aren’t now kicking themselves repeatedly.

I don’t see why any LibDems would necessarily be kicking themselves, even once. They’re an independent party with their own programme and their own priorities, and they’ve made a political calculation based on that. The outcome will not be decided for years.

The fact that a number of disaffected left wingers mistook them for the Campaign Group and still don’t understand why they were wrong isn’t really their fault.

(Full disclosure: didn’t vote for them, don’t support them, don’t like the government.)

105

Chris Bertram 05.21.10 at 10:14 am

Dealing with ajay and Alex Martel (whose last comment I just deleted) is proving too tedious, and I haven’t got the patience. So chaps, I’d rather not have you in my threads in future, if you don’t mind. If you need to remind yourselves of our comments policy, there’s a link at the top of the page.

106

Pete 05.21.10 at 11:09 am

It’s suprising how vicious this has got, especially after the election.

107

engels 05.21.10 at 11:29 am

Chris Y, I did say ‘Lib Dem supporters’, not ‘LibDems’, so I was referring partly to the leftwing wishful thinkers you have in mind. I think they also have (or had) plenty of longstanding supporters though who would never have dreamt of a ConDem alliance.

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thomas hagelund 05.21.10 at 12:02 pm

gentlemen,i pretend no expertise w/ either british academic grading system or your political machinations.i am ,however,much taken with nick clegg( as i was not w/ gordon brown or bush’s lackey tony blair..)..i am proud to say that he served as an intern on our oldest progressive magazine,The Nation..that alone deserves an A+,in my book…perhaps a bit of breathing room is in order..

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Harry 05.21.10 at 12:26 pm

Mike — I thought Americans weren’t supposed even to wonder, thus enabling Brits to be doubly rude, and feel that they are getting away with it (wrongly, ironically).

Anyway, no, I had no doubts about it at all (it made me giggle the first time, then the second time as well). Just thought it was worth getting clarification in the context of this thread.

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Mrs Tilton 05.21.10 at 1:24 pm

Chris,

I’m not going to wade into this pissing contest. But your words in this thread, and your deletions and disemvowellings and bannings (however much they may be within your rights as host), don’t speak well of you. It’s what I would expect of an American wingnut’s website, and if I saw that sort thing in that sort of forum I’d think nothing of it — the poor dears can’t help what they are. Coming from you, though, it is surprising and, in my CT-reading experience, uncharacteristic, so I do think you ought to be called on it.

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Daragh McDowell 05.21.10 at 1:35 pm

@Chris B

I read the Dillow – its pretty typical of the attitude taken by Labour supporters such as yourself so far in terms of intellectual contempt for parties on the left that disagree with them. In fact I could replace a lot of the nouns in the article with ones like ‘Clause IV’ ‘New Labour,’ ‘Blair’s leaderhsip,’ ‘Brown’s Leadership,’ ‘The Iraq War,’ ‘anti-terror legislation’ etc. and make a similar critique of Labour supporters.

I’m afraid I can’t agree with your booting of ajay (didn’t read the other comments.) From the very beginning of this thread I’ve felt that you’ve been completely unwilling to engage with the people who’ve expressed disagreement with you, most times quite respectfully (by the standards of the Internet.) Its been one long sneer. Example:

The other matter you raise about “issues” and their prioritization, is really very characteristic of LibDemSpeak. Talk is cheap, and it has been especially cheap for the LibDems given they’ve never had to put their money where their mouth is. Already we see the not-so-tacit dumping of their populist election chatter on university tuition fees:

Apparently the fact that I personally prioritise certain political issues over others in deciding who to vote for and support (as virtually 100% of voters do) is simply ‘LibDemSpeak’ – whatever that is. And because they’ve backed off one of their proposals (IMHO, an extremely bad proposal) within the context of a coalition, coupled with the fact that they’ve been shut out of government for decades is indicative that they’re all talk. Or something. Its getting difficult to follow. And that’s before you compared us to Comintern drones.

Frankly, this is a big part of why even now I can’t bring myself to join or really support Labour. The astonishing arrogance of its partisans in they’re self-appointed role as guardian’s of ‘progress.’ Don’t pay any attention to the fact that Labour has been hand-in-glove with the City and Murdoch for decades now – its proponents will always self-righteously declare that they are ‘the people’s party’ and that anyone who disagrees with them is either intellectually subnormal, or just plain evil. You can’t disagree with the Labour monolith, and only slightly within it, or you’re a bad person, or deluded, or an apologist or, or, or.

I’m not saying this is you Chris, but you’ve complied with the stereotype on this thread so far. Your remarks have been condescending, rude and have made a genuine debate almost impossible. I found nothing particularly unreasonable with what ajay said given the tone of many of your responses (the ‘Comintern’ one in particular) and your banning of him appears to me to be simply intellectual bullying.

I’m tired of apologising or defending myself to Labour partisans such as yourself , Mehdi Hassan, Tom Harris, or whoever. Labour does not have all the answers. There are legitimate points of difference regarding goals, means and priorities on the left of the political spectrum, and people can disagree with Labour’s prescriptions without being mindless dupes. A lot of the chatter regarding the coalition negotiations has centred on the role of Brown, and how Clegg simply found him an impossible man to deal with. I thought this was a bit of a weak explanation when it first came out, but I’m beginning to understand just how difficult a lot of the Labour tribalists find things like compromise, dialogue, or indeed a willingness to accept that they aren’t always right.

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Daragh McDowell 05.21.10 at 1:43 pm

Apologies for the awful grammar in that last thread. Was written quite quickly. And as some who has been an avid reader of CT from the beginning, and has always respected the way in which its bloggers have engaged with commentators, I must agree with Mrs. Tilton.

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chris 05.21.10 at 1:55 pm

I tend to agree with Mrs Tilton; and it’s hardly surprising that a thread with “self-promoting buffoon” in the title might descend into insults, so it’s really not seemly to act shocked — shocked! — when it does.

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Chris Bertram 05.21.10 at 2:06 pm

Daragh, in the original post I said noting about Labour v Lib Dems and made no claims about sellouts or betrayals. Nor did I say that any of the proposals were bad in themselves. What I said in the post was simply that Clegg’s claim for their historic importance were manifestly absurd. I stand by that judgement. (I agree that I should have been more prudent in my choice of title, btw.)

In response I got a load of irrelevant personal abuse from anonymous trolls, quite a lot of whataboutery, got accused of being an apologist for the Iraq war, of being a bad loser in the election, and so forth. None of which was responsive to the original post. Usually I just let this stuff slide, but I wasn’t in the mood.

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Daragh McDowell 05.21.10 at 2:18 pm

Chris –

Its as much about tone as it is about substance. And (speaking for myself) the argument from the beginning that I focused on WAS the reform and its importance. You on the other hand, rather than engaging with the argument, first dropped an ffs on me, called another commenter ‘explicitly stupid,’ compared Lib Dem supporters to the comintern and on and on. I’m sorry, but even if one or two commenters were annoying you, you’re the moderator and are held to a somewhat higher standard and this was pretty nuclear. I don’t appreciate being spoken to with such contempt (even on the internet) on a blog I’ve had a lot of respect for and followed for a long time.

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Chris Bertram 05.21.10 at 2:29 pm

_rather than engaging with the argument, first dropped an ffs on me_

I rather thought I engaged with the argument by ostension: I pointed to the Wikipedia entry on the 1918 Representation of the People Act to show how absurd it is to deny the central claim of the post.

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Daragh McDowell 05.21.10 at 2:35 pm

Chris – Alright. But if you’re broad argument is ‘a politician said something hyperbolic and a bit silly’ is that really worth a whole blog post, much less declaring Clegg to be a ‘buffoon?’ That’s what politicians do.

On the other hand, others disagreed with you on the merits, noting the specific circumstances of the time, the realities of the 1832 act, and in my case what I believe to be the extremely important and qualitatively transformative issue of electoral reform. You then responded in what appears to be the rudest, snottiest way possible. Not a great way to run a blog I think.

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Chris Bertram 05.21.10 at 2:37 pm

Well I think it best for all concerned if we draw a line at this point.

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