David Runciman writes something goofy about US vs. British Politics

by Rich Yeselson on May 28, 2015

David Runciman wrote a brief essay http://www.lrb.co.uk/v37/n10/david-runciman/notes-on-the-election in the LRB about the results of the British election. I want to focus on one peculiar passage. Runciman observes:

The two countries that have seen the greatest rise in inequality over the past couple of decades are Britain and the United States. Both have a first-past-the-post system designed to offer a clear choice between two main parties. Yet whichever of the two parties wins, the drift towards inequality has been inexorable.

This is, well, nuts or maybe just inexplicable coming from a political thinker of Runciman’s reputation. It tells us nothing about why inequality has accelerated or what might be done to mitigate it. Runciman conflates the British and US political systems because they both have “first past the post” voting—but he somehow neglects to then distinguish them because the US has a presidential model with separation of powers across three branches of government and a widely dispersed federalism, and the UK has a parliamentary model. Which means, of course, as nearly every knowledgable political writer has been screaming during the this time of divided US government, that the US system does not at all offer a “clear choice between two main parties.” In fact, as Juan Linz famously pointed out, in a presidential system two major parties or coalitions can both claim legitimacy by controlling a respective branch of government. (And thus the US can have, simultaneously, two warring “Prime Ministers”, eg, President Obama and Speaker Boehner.)

The American system offers a decidedly murky choice; Because the congressional party (whose election is spread over three cycles) does not merely oppose, but also obstructs the presidential party, the US way of democracy provides the electorate with no logical party accountability—presidential “failures” can be caused by minority legislative parties because the presidential party only appears to voters—and to Runciman, apparently—to be the governing party, but is not. The US system is really enormously different from the UK system. If Runciman had wished to argue that the Congress, whether controlled by Republicans or Democrats, has, in recent decades, abdicated the making and execution of foreign policy to the president, he’d have a point. But he writes as if clear party control of the levers of American politics was built into the system.

And there’s no need for the whole history lesson here, but that’s exactly how it wasn’t designed in the first place. It was, in fact, designed by people who did not anticipate the development of coherent political parties at all and, in fact, loathed the very idea (even if many of them then proceeded to become rather shrewd party politicians in the next phase of their careers). The whole point, as imagined by men who, with certain important exceptions, were very much determined not to replicate the powers of a monarchy in their fledgling nation, was to create conditions that would force elites to compromise and to limit the power of the propertyless (let alone the slaves) to even enter into the discussion. Compromise between powerful interests, not the clarity of unitary authority, was supposed to occur not only between the branches of government, but also between the national government and those of the states (and between the North and the slaveholding sub-nation of the South). There is absolutely nothing structurally about the American system of government, either in its inception or in its current dissipated condition, that offers voters a “clear choice” regarding domestic politics. (Even the rare historical circumstances that have seemingly given one party or the other effective control, eg, FDR’s already balkanized Democrats for, at most four years in the mid 1930s, in fact allowed a cross-party coalition of reactionaries to make the New Deal for “whites only.” http://www.amazon.com/When-Affirmative-Action-White-Twentieth-Century/dp/0393328511)

Later in the essay, Runciman expresses shock that the purportedly smooth running American political structure has crashed into a ditch like the regional trains that its warring parties of equal legitimacy refuse to fund. He writes contemptuously, comparing the squalid Brits with the squalid Yanks, “It is blackmail and veto power, with small groups clamouring to get what they want from the people in charge. This is the current model of American politics, which for all its premium on clarity and executive power is also extremely messy, with all sorts of minor players holding the big boys to ransom.”

But writers and scholars like Norm Ornstein, Thomas Mann, Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson (and many many others) have written copiously about how and why divided government does not engender clarity in the current iteration of the American presidential system. Runciman seems wholly unaware of this literature.

Sorry to be so sour, but has Runciman ever read The Federalist? Or Madison, in particular? Or just a good history about the ratification of the American constitution http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Honest-Men-American-Constitution/dp/0812976843? To frame his essay with this spurious comparison made it impossible for me to take the rest of his argument seriously.

{ 145 comments }

1

Robbie 05.28.15 at 4:01 am

Isn’t this to make a mountain out of a molehill? Runciman, so far as I can see, mentions the United States once in what is clearly an aside in what is clearly an exploration of contemporary British politics. The accuracy of that brief remark seems to me to have nothing to do with the argument he’s putting forward, that while governments with clear majorities can be decisive they aren’t that good at tackling problems that are deeply disputatious among and beyond those they have been empowered to govern decisively, this because they don’t need to pay much attention to those who disagree with what they decide and because that gives outside forces an easy target to aim their efforts to influence at. I hope I’ve got that right. But whether I have or not, his off-the-cuff, beside the point aside should figure not at all in the assessment of Runciman’s argument. I imagine others will identify whatever grievous faults it suffers from.

2

david 05.28.15 at 4:07 am

Elections have not produced governments that Runciman likes, so he holds forth devolution and mandatory compromise as solutions; this forces him to confront the fact that the US is full of far more devolved powers and mandatory compromises and yet obstinately refuses to elect governments that Runciman likes.

Cue a few hundred words of confabulation. I’m not sure any other outcome could have been expected. The chutzpah of praising “compromises and backroom deals” from a “host of minor parties” in one paragraph, and then condemning “small groups clamouring to get what they want from the people in charge” in the very next, has to be admired though. It is refreshingly transparent about the intellectual gymnastics being desired, viz., procedural barriers in the way of policies I don’t like are good, procedural barriers in the way of policies I like are bad.

(Mainly I am wondering whether Runciman has noticed that “minor parties” would include the UKIP, which would have a far larger parliamentary presence under proportional representation than it does now. A hypothetical right-wing niche party in the UK is no longer a hypothetical)

But attacking his political systems knowledge is unfair, I think. The US imperial presidency is not in Madison. Neither is the shifting nature of federal-state powers. It’s not unreasonable to take the post-Civil-War, post-New-Deal, post-Civil-Rights-Act, post-Watergate regulatory federal presidency as a starting point. Conversely, the UK has enjoyed a consensus political discourse where more devolution is always good and yet never sufficient for about twenty years now – even putting aside binding commitments like the ECHR, parliamentary supremacy in Britain itself is increasingly hypothetical. Who seriously thinks Westminster could abolish the Scottish parliament, even if it has the theoretical power to do so?

3

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 4:34 am

“The system makes them do it” enables a flight into meta, where the thin atmosphere and lessened gravity, makes all kinds of intellectual acrobatics possible, as david notes.

Technical tweaking of electoral rules may make knowledge seem like power, but, as Cersei Lannister so eloquently put it, “Power is power.”

Neither the U.S. nor Britain has an effective, popular party with committed mass support or a committed leadership. Politicians of both Parties respond pretty much only to the very, very rich and to well-organized business interests. That’s not to say that the Parties are “the same”, because they are not. But, it is to say that the political weight to force the kinds of political compromise with the general or mass interest Runciman apparently desires is simply not there, and no clever reforms can conjure it up.

4

John Quiggin 05.28.15 at 5:03 am

A bit of a side point, but it’s a serious misunderstanding to suggest that FPP “offers a clear choice between two major parties”. The last British election was a chaotic maelstrom in which large numbers of voters could have no clear idea of what kind of government their votes might produce. Most obviously, what about supporters of the two major parties (the ones for whom this system is supposedly designed) in electorates where the main contenders were a member of the other party and a third party candidate?

That’s a difficult problem to solve in any system. But, if you want to facilitate a choice between two main governing parties, while still allowing third party candidates, preferential/AV/instant runoff is the way to go. Most of the time, you can cast your first preference for the candidate you actually like, while the actual effect of your vote is determined by which of the major party candidates you place lower.

Of course, if there are effectively only two recognised parties, as in the US, then any system you like will give you a choice between them.

5

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 5:27 am

Electoral systems and party formation are related reflexively. Presumably, one makes the rules, knowing that the rules will tend to shape the kinds of strategies Parties will use to try to win elections and those (conflicting) strategies will also shape the character of politics.

FPP in single-member districts tends to winnow political competition down to two major Parties, and usually those two major Parties will fight over an imagined political center. Neither of the two major Parties is likely to develop a particularly hard ideological edge, because both major Parties will have to be fairly large coalitions. One Party may coalesce around a majority cultural identity, if such exists, and then the Other Party has to become a collection of outsiders, of everyone else.

I do not think there is any use in imagining that there is some ideal electoral system, which will then allow a “good” politics to become automatic or for some effortless consumer sovereignty to emerge. The underlying systems are not just mechanisms; they are also the ambitions of politicians and the goals of organized interests in motion.

6

John Quiggin 05.28.15 at 6:28 am

“FPP in single-member districts tends to winnow political competition down to two major Parties”

Tell that to the Brits, or the Canadians.

It’s surprising that this doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t. The US two-party system has a huge set of structures keeping it in place, over and above the incentives provided by FPP.

7

Salem 05.28.15 at 7:07 am

???

As a “Brit,” I’d nod, and say yes, there are two major political parties here, and they have been set in place since the 1920s. Minor parties do exist too, of course, but they are almost never relevant.

8

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 7:21 am

I did not say that there are not other factors and forces.

The U.S. has national parties, because of the overwhelming importance of the Presidential election, and because the electoral college. It is odd that the U.S. does not have regional Parties. In a parliamentary system, with no popular election to national office, maybe it would. Britain and Canada do not have an election for a national office and a parliament is kinder to minor parties than the Congress.

9

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 7:34 am

Among the “other” factors, I would say that human ambivalence and association do not “naturally” bifurcate.

10

reason 05.28.15 at 7:56 am

Bruce
The problem with a two party system is that it stifles debate (at least in the major media – crooked timber is an exception of course). Politics unfortunately today is about symbolism and personalities, I’m old enough to remember a time when it was about policy (as in my view it should be). The US presidential system unfortunately institutionalises it being about personality which I regard as an enormous mistake. voting systems are not the solution to everything, but they matter.

11

Sasha Clarkson 05.28.15 at 10:19 am

The British system wasn’t designed at all: Parliament evolved over 750 years or so from a feudal assembly. Over the centuries one branch of it has gradually usurped the function of government from the feudal lord. As one chamber isn’t even elected, the system is barely democratic, and even less accountable: surely nobody in their right minds would seek to import it today!

12

Maria 05.28.15 at 11:04 am

There was another recent piece in the LRB – can’t remember who it was and don’t have my paper copy handy – that theorised FPTP countries are also more likely to have unfettered state surveillance. Purely on the basis that the UK, US and Canada have it, and ignoring the other members of the 5Is.

FPTP seems the theory du jour for unfortunate policy outcomes. I thoroughly dislike FPTP, living in a country where less than 40% of the 66% who voted actually voted for the government (what is that % overall / where is Daniel when you have to do sums?). But it seems simplistic and fragmentary as a cause of those policies.

What is cause and what is effect? The French (with their own FPTP-flavoured presidential run-offs) would say the Anglo-Saxon philosophy that creates and valorises rising inequality simply manifests in FPTP, rather than is caused by it. And they’re pretty partial to a bit of state surveillance themselves, too.

13

sanbikinoraion 05.28.15 at 11:06 am

FPP gives you a two-party contest in every individual seat; as Labour just found out, however, the two parties don’t have to be the same in every seat…

14

Daragh McDowell 05.28.15 at 11:15 am

@Maria

I think the French FPTP ‘flavour’ is offset not only by said-same runoffs, as well as the ‘semi-Presidential’ system (the ‘semi-ness’ of which, of course, depends on who is in charge of each palace at any given time).

John Quiggin @6

Take a look at the UK elections at constituency level. I think you’ll find that most of them are basically straight up fights between two parties. As to Canada, divisions among the right in the early 1990s led to a decade of liberal dominance that only ended when Reform and the PCs merged. The Canadian Tories were outpolled by explicitly anti-Tory parties in 2011 to an even greater extent than the UK Tories were a few weeks back, but gained a majority due to a similar split in the left. They will likely retain power unless Trudeau totally collapses and the NDP replaces the Liberals on the left end of the spectrum. Looks pretty binary to me.

Overall –

I think the pernicious effects of FPTP can be overstated/determined, but the broader point I got from Runciman’s essay is that FPTP systems tend to effectively reduce the accountability of elites and magnify the gulf between them and their constituents. This in turn, increases the influence of self-interested elites leading to lots of malignant policy outcomes. I don’t find this particularly controversial.

15

Chris Bertram 05.28.15 at 11:25 am

@Maria “what is that % overall / where is Daniel when you have to do sums?”

Tories got 36.9 % of a 66.1 % turnout, which is about 24.4% of those eligible to vote.

A back of the envelope calculation the other day told me that means that about 22% of the permanent resident adult population voted for them (ie. including foreign nationals not in the general election franchise).

Or, to put it another way, for any random adult you’d find in the UK, there’s a .78 chance they didn’t vote for the party that has a majority in the House of Commons.

16

Tom Hurka 05.28.15 at 11:57 am

Following up JQ at 6:

FPP in single-member districts doesn’t favour just two major parties if there are strong regional differences, i.e. *different* leading parties in different regions. That’s been the Canadian experience, with a succession of prairie- based parties (Progressives, CCF, Social Credit) and Quebec-based ones (Creditistes, Bloc Quebecois). The UK has just discovered this in a big way with Scotland.

17

rea 05.28.15 at 1:34 pm

I’m old enough to remember a time when it was about policy

You’re old enough to remember the Washington Adminstration? (Although even then, the New Cincinnatus, and all . . .)

18

Ed 05.28.15 at 2:07 pm

JQ is correct. Its counter-intuitive, but there are tons of examples of countries that use single member districts, either single member plurality (usually called “first past the post”) or single member majority and have multiple parties in the legislature, and elections where no party winds up with a majority in the legislature. I’ll add that there are lots of examples of presidential systems, including some cases where the writers of the constitution deliberately copied the US, with multiparty systems, though admittedly they tend to use proportional representation.

In fact, it turns out that the only country in the world with a US style two coke/ pepsi two parties and that is all you are going to get electoral system happens to be the US. This is probably due to the fact that, also somewhat uniquely, in the US the Democrats and the Republicans jointly staff the bureaucracies responsible for running the elections and counting the votes.

19

Maria 05.28.15 at 2:50 pm

Chris, thank you. And wow, 22 – 24%? That’s a tiny number, especially in comparison with the proposed requirements for turnout and support of unions in strike ballots.

20

TM 05.28.15 at 2:52 pm

Ed 18: American exceptionalism indeed.

21

Omega Centauri 05.28.15 at 5:03 pm

There might be issues of subtle incentives/drives towards certain types of outcomes, which effect the dynamics of how the system evolves. Does FPP which gives uneven decision power to swing voters in swing districts, favor those political actors (or pressure groups), which can capture these swing voters? If that is indeed happening, does it favor big money, over grassroots or vice versa?

I’m not up to date on the British system with regards to financing of campaign publicity efforts. There used to be strict limits on money in UK elections, in the US -especially after citizens united, there are effectively no limits on big money spending to influence results. Surely this creates forces that effect how the overall system evolves. In the US we have one party which is openly in the pocket of big money interests, and another which is rhetorically opposed, but in fact has to raise substantial funds from big money sectors in order to remain competitive. This of course creates a bit of a dichotomy, one party can have a clear set of principles it appears to be loyal to, whilst the other is continually compromising between its ideals, and its funders desires -therefore even though its policies are generally fovored, the personal integrity of its candidates can be continually undermined.

22

Igor Belanov 05.28.15 at 6:31 pm

The British political system is extremely conservative, some of which is no doubt due to the voting system.

Take the 2015 election as an example, but in terms of the actual representation. The UK has remained a two-and-a-half party system, as it has been since at least 1997, but with the SNP replacing the Lib Dems. Meanwhile, the dominant political party over the past hundred years has won a majority yet again with a minority of those actually voting.

This is against a backdrop of massive change when it comes to voting and political attitudes. The winning party received the same proportion of the vote as the Labour Party did in its disastrous defeat in 1979. While almost all elections involve the vast majority of seats ‘swinging’ from one party to another, this election saw a bizarre collection of swings in different areas and individual constituencies. Scotland moved decisively for the SNP and against Labour. The North and the big cities saw safe Labour seats pile on enhanced majorities but lose out in marginal seats, while in the Midlands and South Labour lost votes slightly almost everywhere to the Tories and UKIP. The only uniform factor was the drubbing handed to the Lib Dems.

Despite the vagaries of the political system, however, the real sign of the conservatism of the British system and society is that people seem quite happy for a government to rule with the support of 22% of the population and to wait patiently for the opportunity to repeat the process in five years time.

23

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 6:44 pm

reason @ 10: The problem with a two party system . . . Politics unfortunately today is about symbolism and personalities . . . The US presidential system unfortunately . . . I’m old enough to remember a time when . . .

Are the pathologies of politics related in a substantial way to the two-party system? What is the problem with the institution of the Presidency? (Or, what is the problem with institution of the Parliament?)

Two-party systems can have a variety of equilibria, which may involve various emergent third or fourth parties or movements on the periphery, as it were. The OP is raising the question of whether the Party system presents distinct choices, or should, and whether presenting distinct choices is related to being able to hold the Parties responsible and accountable, and whether the Party system encourages or discourages deliberation in policy choice or conduct.

These are all reasonable questions to ask at a time when the neoliberal course of policy evolution seems to be trending in a direction non-responsive to the substantive interests of the mass of people and the apparatus for authoritarian governance is being augmented. Tweaking the rules might disrupt undesirable trends driven by the peculiar turn taken recently in the strategic competition of the Parties.

Tweaking the (framework structures and) rules is not completely crazy, as a means of intervention. In large corporations, tweaking the rules to disrupt the evolution of internal politics is a practically a constant, as executives turn to that as a means of maintaining control from the top. (Works really well as a way of defeating government attempts to collect taxes or administer regulatory oversight, too.)

I do think it is dangerously naive, however, to imagine that tweaking the rules alone could create out of nothing, consumer sovereignty in government. The foundational problem in politics is the increasing concentration of wealth and the attendant increasing inequality of incomes. This is what drives neoliberalism. This is what drives a politics of symbolism and celebrity.

Thinking you can change the rules in the direction of some platonic ideal and a politics of good government will magically emerge seems to me like a wilful turning away from the true difficulty of the root problem. It is the same spirit that leads so many to express their well-meaning political identity in hand-wringing over a denatured concept of the increasing “inequality” of income. It is just another way to struggle ineffectually to free one’s self from the neoliberal quicksand dragging us all down, down, down.

The root problem with Obama, for example, is not that he’s frustrated by those eveel, racist Republicans and a “system” of checks and balances in the administration of government. The root problem is with us, that we get sucked into supporting him against the Republicans, and, consequently, into supporting, or not objecting effectively to, a policy program that we ought to despise. The root problem is that mass participation and mass movements in politics are so easily defeated and defanged and derailed.

24

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 6:48 pm

Igor Belanov @ 22: . . . people seem quite happy for a government to rule with the support of 22% of the population . . .

I assume you mean that observation ironically.

25

Sasha Clarkson 05.28.15 at 7:07 pm

In 2005, the Labour party under Blair got 35.1% of the vote on a 61.4% turnout, meaning the support of 21.6% of the electorate – an all time low for a party winning an overall majority in the Commons.

Blair was certainly never the great vote winner he was spun to be: in terms of the popular vote, Harold Wilson did consistently better in the 60s, on higher turnouts too. Gaitskell and especially Attlee did far better than Blair, even in defeat! New Labour won because the Tories were even more unpopular, and because of the larger votes for minor parties, of those who couldn’t stomach either of the main ones.

What has determined the result of UK general elections since the 1970s is fluctuations in the number of minor party voters and stay-at homes, rather than popular enthusiasm for the leading party.

Elections have also become more expensive, although a tiny fraction of the cost of those in the US. On the other hand parties’ membership has gone down, so pandering to sponsors and donors to fund media campaigns has become more important than keeping the dwindling band of activists happy. This might be connected to the reluctance to challenge the wealthy and powerful, for example by making them pay their taxes, which no doubt has fuelled inequality too.

If things change for the better it may start via politics outside the Westminster machine. I personally have given far more money to the pressure group 38 degrees in the last few years than I ever gave to the Labour party for the quarter of a century I was a member of it. (I left in 2002.)

26

Sasha Clarkson 05.28.15 at 7:20 pm

Sorry Igor, I didn’t see your post as I was too long typing mine.

But to amplify both our perspectives, it’s worth people looking at the seats and popular vote statistics on UK general elections in Wikipedia. Each page gives easy links to the next and previous elections. 1951 is an interesting place to start. Note that Labour under Attlee got more votes in defeat than the incoming government under Churchill (Conservatve and National-Liberal (also Conservative) ). In fact, Churchill never won the popular vote in an election.

27

Sasha Clarkson 05.28.15 at 7:21 pm

28

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 7:58 pm

Richard M’s britsplaining comment, from the UK elections open thread a while back, is really worth revisiting.

http://crookedtimber.org/2015/05/07/uk-election-open-thread-2/#comment-628011

29

MPAVictoria 05.28.15 at 8:02 pm

Sasha that was a very depressing read. Good comment, but very depressing. So… Thanks? I guess? Maybe…

30

Bruce Wilder 05.28.15 at 8:14 pm

I found this piece from Naked Capitalism to provide a great deal insight into just how poisonous a figure Tony Blair has been on policy.

http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2015/05/bill-black-new-labour-leaders-want-to-go-back-to-blairs-policies-that-blew-up-the-uk.html

Some might find it a bit off the path of the present discussion, but I think it helped me to anchor the abstract to concrete detail, in understanding how New Labour has undermined UK politics.

31

Both Sides Do It 05.28.15 at 8:34 pm

Yeah Bruce mentioned it above without spelling it out: I think it’s an offhand reference to Duverger’s Law.

It was a fadish trope among nonpartisan political writers to refer to it that had its day. That Runciman used it in an aside like he did I think just means he doesn’t realize the rhetorical ground has shifted; it’s an argument now, not just a trope like it had been.

Last I looked at the literature, the Law’s full of exceptions but seems to hold up reasonably well in presidential systems where the presidency cycle doesn’t overlap with a sig. portion of the legislature, or where the electorate’s preferences have a particular skew to them.

Of course, it’s never referred to like that.

32

Collin Street 05.28.15 at 9:10 pm

In fact, it turns out that the only country in the world with a US style two coke/ pepsi two parties and that is all you are going to get electoral system happens to be the US. This is probably due to the fact that, also somewhat uniquely, in the US the Democrats and the Republicans jointly staff the bureaucracies responsible for running the elections and counting the votes.

The actual root of the problem is twofold:
+ the way that the requirements to be able to nominate candidates are different between established and new parties, and at a ludicrously high level for new parties, entrenches the two main parties to an undesireable degree; effort that in a normal context would be spent in setting up a new political movement is in the US better-spent taking over one or the other of the party shells
+ the way that the state dictates through the primary process who the parties will run as “their” candidate means that the parties can no longer be regarded purely as private-space organisations but essentially part of the state.

“Why don’t people start new parties in the US to compete against the established ones?” is the same damned question as “why don’t people start new parties in the USSR to compete against the communist party?”, it’s just that the US has two parties instead of one.

33

Sasha Clarkson 05.28.15 at 10:28 pm

Thank you Bruce for your illuminating links @28 and @30.

As I repeat everywhere ad-nauseam, those who think Blair was a great vote-winner haven’t looked at the figures: at “best” he was less of a vote loser than the other guys. Miliband actually got more votes for Labour in England and Wales than Blair did in 2005. But the Scottish strategy over the last few years , as well as the ineptness of pink Tory Ed Balls’ “austerity lite” agenda destroyed Labour’s chances.

http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2015/05/ed-balls-austerity-lite-labour.html

It wasn’t just Balls: several Labour shadow cabinet members spent a lot of time pandering to the Tory media agenda, and insulting Labour’s traditional supporters. If a party lets its enemies set its agenda, then it deserves to lose!

There is a way forward, though it isn’t guaranteed. Greece with Syrizia and Spain with Podemos have shown that it is possible for a new Left movement to make a breakthrough. If Labour shadow cabinet members aren’t worried about Pasokification, then they are either foolish or have another agenda.

In the past, the right wing press has always made a big fuss about “entryism” into the Labour party, typically by Trotskyite groups. Now, whilst these allegations had some foundation, the elephant in the room has always been right wing entryism, by those who did not support the aims of the Labour movement, and wanted to steal the party from its roots and use it as a vehicle to advance their own careers as part of the ruling elite. Blair was the ultimate entryist and succeeded absolutely where others had failed, leaving to join the SDP etc. Blair is gone, detested by much if not most of the grass roots, but his spawn are well ensconced in key positions, holding the rest of the party hostage.

34

otpup 05.29.15 at 2:40 am

The US system has three, mutually reinforcing pillars: disproportionality (i.e., a uniquely pure 2 party system), super-majority requirements (Senate disproportionality and filibuster, Presidential vetos, staggered elections, etc) and structural demobilization (low voter turnout, registration laws, cultural pessimism/realism). Most of this rooted in the notoriously hard to amend Constitution. Reform in the US is high gear when it’s only 50 years behind the rest of the advanced industrial nations.

35

otpup 05.29.15 at 2:42 am

@Sasha, nice posts.

36

Vanya 05.29.15 at 6:16 am

Runciman is clearly looking in the wrong direction if he is concerned about inequality. Germany has proportional representation, and has also been moving steadily toward greater inequality.

37

Igor Belanov 05.29.15 at 7:20 am

@33

I think there is an incredible inertia within the core Labour vote, and there is such an anti-Tory feeling within a good quarter of the electorate that many of us end up voting Labour merely to try and keep the Tories out. While the present voting system exists I think this situation will endure.

That said, I suspect that the next five years will provide a useful experiment as to just how far the Labour Party can stretch the allegiance of its core vote without it snapping. I reckon that the next Labour leader will make Blair seem like Blanqui.

38

Richard M 05.29.15 at 8:37 am

Obvious point, but not sure if it’s only never mentioned because everyone knows it:

The US has a pure 2-party system because open primaries. They mean that it is always easier for a regional faction to take over one or other of the local parties rather than establish a separate identity.

Even a more or less open fascist like LaRouche went straight from competing in Democratic primaries to a prison cell. There was no intermediate step of ‘we are not going to allow this guy to be our candidate’.

Hence the difference between UKIP and the Tea Party; if UKIP voters could simply hand-pick a Tory MP who wanted to build a fence across the Channel, they wouldn’t need to be UKIP voters. Instead some get a relatively pro-Euro Tory,. Which makes space for a locally viable new party.

In return, the Conservatives have a chance of winning nationwide without being dragged down by those who are only locally viable. Note that they apparently won 33% of the BAME vote, as opposed to < 10% by the US Republicans.

39

Daragh McDowell 05.29.15 at 9:05 am

Sasha: I’m no fan of Blair – Iraq was a big part of my decision to support the Lib Dems when I came of age – but it’s no use pretending he wasn’t hugely popular with the public at large. Until the ongoing catastrophe that was Iraq his poll ratings were either sky high, or at the very least consistently better than his predecessors at comparable points in their careers.

More to the point, I’m not sure it’s useful to include non-voters when we discuss democratic mandates. Decisions are made by those who show up. If you’re not willing to demonstrate the minimal degree of civic engagement voting demonstrates, or worse, think that not voting represents some form of radical protest against ‘the system’, then you’ve effectively made a decision not to be counted, Javid’s hypocritical and opportunistic union-busting notwithstanding.

40

DavidtheK 05.29.15 at 9:57 am

@Richard M (No.38) New York State, where I live, does not have open primaries. One needs to be registered in that party in order to be a primary voter. Although primaries in some other states are indeed open, it is not a blanket rule,

Perhaps a more interesting distinction to draw is that the mass parties in the European democracies grew out of social mutual benefit organizations. Isn’t that how Labour became a party in the fist place? I don’t think this kind of history has ever been present in the US. I am curious – Do European parties still require a “membership” of some kind to be a primary voter? Or do you just declare yourself an adherent of a particular party when you enter the voter rolls? If there a fees involved, I’m thinking that could involve Constitutional issues in the US, particularly a prohibited “poll tax”.

41

reason 05.29.15 at 10:25 am

DavidtheK @40
Primaries? What are those?-)

42

Main Street Muse 05.29.15 at 10:25 am

US needs campaign finance reform – stat. And they need to do what they can, if anything, to stop the revolving door. As the banks led the economy over the cliff, bankers finagled fantastic bonuses from one of their own – Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who, as CEO of $GS, had lobbied Congress in 2002 for lower capital requirements, a business practice that considerably weakened banks’ ability to weather a financial crisis. There’s huge backlash against raising the minimum wage, coming from – as you can imagine – well-coordinated lobbying efforts by companies that pay people so little they require federal assistance to survive. Corporations see huge profits but workers don’t get a raise – the profits head out the door to shareholders. We bow at the altar of the shareholders, to he$$ with all else.

It’s all very sordid and the furthest thing Madison et al. could have imagined.

43

Richard M 05.29.15 at 10:36 am

By ‘open primary’ I meant ‘open to any candidate’, not necessarily ‘open to any voter’. My bad for forgetting that was a term of art.

As I understand it, in every state in the US, for every possible political position, ‘win primary -> win seat’ is a lower difficulty than ‘establish party -> win seat’. If you have the support, volunteers and backing to make a credible attempt at the latter, the former is a walkover.

It’s just in some cases that’s only a matter of the difference between impossible and very impossible.

44

Jonathan 05.29.15 at 11:02 am

I don’t know enough about the US system to comment meaningfully about the merits of Runciman’s analysis. However, more broadly Iversen & Soskice do provides some pretty clear evidence that amongst established democracies FPTP systems both are markedly less likely to lead to left governments and markedly less redistributive. This does seem to be consistent with Runciman’s broader argument
http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~iversen/PDFfiles/Iversen-Soskice2006.pdf

(Incidentally this isn’t to endorse every detail of Iversen & Soskice either – I am aware there are critiques of it)

45

Sasha Clarkson 05.29.15 at 11:43 am

Daragh “I’m not sure it’s useful to include non-voters when we discuss democratic mandates.” I am – if sufficient people don’t vote, then the democratic process loses legitimacy. Hence the old anarchist slogan “Don’t vote – it only encourages them!”

This principle was clearly evident in the recent Police and Crime Commissioner polls, where many people were actively hostile to having another high paid political careerist foisted upon them. The typical poll of successful candidates was well under 10% of the electorate. There was actually zero turnout in some polling stations!

As for Blair’s alleged “popularity”, it didn’t turn into real votes. 60% of individual Labour party members rejected Blair’s nominees for London Mayor and Wales’ First Minister. Blair’s use of the block-vote to rig those elections lost many thousands of members, including me. London then supported Ken Livingstone rather than official Labour nominee Frank Dobson, and Labour’s consequent poor performance in the subsequent Welsh polls resulted in New Labour apparatchik Alun Michael’s position quickly becoming untenable, and him being replaced by the “defeated” Rhodri Morgan whom a majority of the party had voted for.

If we judge the performance of party leaders by the percentage of the electorate voting for their party, then, since WWII, Attlee was by far the most successful, getting 40.3% in 1951 – ironically when Labour “lost” because of the electoral system. Before the Iraq War, Blair got 30.8% in 1997, and a mere 24.2% in 2001 when the shine had already worn off. Mrs Thatcher at her worst did better than Blair at his best, as did John Major in 1992.

The reason I concentrate so much on the statistics, is because there is an enormous amount of both spin and intellectual laziness when political pundits discuss election results. I remember reading in a history book that the electorate in 1951 had “tired” of the Labour Party. The figures tell a different story: Churchill was “immensely popular”, but Attlee always got more votes. The rest was down to the electoral system and regional variation.

46

Stephen 05.29.15 at 11:57 am

Collin Street@32: ““Why don’t people start new parties in the US to compete against the established ones?” is the same damned question as “why don’t people start new parties in the USSR to compete against the communist party?”

The questions are similar but the answers were very different. Starting a new party in the US has never got you imprisoned, tortured and shot. In the USSR, however …

47

Stephen 05.29.15 at 12:04 pm

Igor Belanov@22: “The British political system is extremely conservative, some of which is no doubt due to the voting system”.

Maybe. Take a look at a neighbouring country, the Republic of Ireland, which has STV in multi-member constituencies. The political system there seems no obvious improvement, to say the least: consider the career of Charlie Haughey.

And in Northern Ireland they have STV in multi-member constituencies for elections to Stormont, again with sub-idealresults (though I realise that NI is such an odd place that comparisons are usually misleading).

48

Daragh McDowell 05.29.15 at 12:07 pm

I am – if sufficient people don’t vote, then the democratic process loses legitimacy.

Turnout in last US congressional elections was 36.4%

Turnout in the Presidential election of 2000 was 47.4%

In neither case did this materially affect the ability of the victors (with an asterisk for Dubya) in either election, or inspire any serious discussion about democratic legitimacy on a national level. Indeed – the GOP has explicitly embraced a strategy of driving DOWN voter turnout to enhance its political power.

While the old anarchist slogan might be pithy, actual experience suggests elites don’t give a damn if you don’t turn out to vote, just so long as a majority of those that do put them back in office.

49

Robespierre 05.29.15 at 12:42 pm

While the focus is on FTPT voting, I feel the need to point out that inequality of income in the UK, as measured in terms of GINI coefficient, shot up dramatically in the 1980s, but roughly stagnated under labour.

I understand that one can loath labour for their shift to the right and the fact they did not reverse the march towards greater inequality, but give conservatives their due.

50

Salem 05.29.15 at 1:19 pm

If we judge the performance of party leaders by the percentage of the electorate voting for their party, then, since WWII, Attlee was by far the most successful, getting 40.3% in 1951 – ironically when Labour “lost” because of the electoral system. Before the Iraq War, Blair got 30.8% in 1997, and a mere 24.2% in 2001 when the shine had already worn off. Mrs Thatcher at her worst did better than Blair at his best, as did John Major in 1992.

You keep repeating these kinds of statistics, and it really makes me scratch my head. What makes you think you can judge the relative popularity/performance as party leaders of Blair and Attlee by the percentage of the electorate voting for them? Of course it’s meaningless, because Blair and Attlee were operating in very different circumstances. In Attlee’s time, people had a straight choice between Labour and Conservative. In Blair’s, it was a three-way choice. In Attlee’s time, political parties were mass-membership organisations, with both Labour and Conservatives having millions of members, and political engagement and election turnouts were very high. By Blair’s time, political parties had a couple of hundred thousand, mostly elderly members, and political turnout was very low. Of course Blair got fewer votes as a percentage of the electorate than Attlee, because fewer people were inclined to vote, and those who did vote had more choices.

And no, these were not factors caused by Blair, both were in train long before he took the leadership (although both continued under him). Your argument is as silly as saying that Alan Shearer wasn’t as good as Dixie Dean because he didn’t score as many goals, ignoring the massive changes in context in which the two men operated. If you want to compare Blair to other Labour leaders, you have to compare him to people operating in roughly similar contexts; the couple of leaders before and after him. Smith never fought an election, so we should compare Blair to Foot, Kinnock, Brown and Milliband. Hmmm. I wonder who was the most electorally successful.

Whether or not you agree with his policies, Tony Blair won extremely comfortable victories in 1997 and 2001. In 2005 he squeaked to victory due to quirks of the electoral system that are likely to be undone in the current Parliament, but he did nevertheless win. It seems pretty clear that Labour could win the next election by following that path. I am not saying that Labour should necessarily do so; maybe you’d rather have a truly leftist opposition than a left-of-centre government.

51

otpup 05.29.15 at 1:42 pm

The US has open primaries because the 2 party system is over-determined, not the other way around. The tendency toward fewer parties is due to (see Duverger) the tradeoff between voting for a party of one’s preferred ideology and the voting for a party that might actually be represented in the legislature (let alone wield power). SMD’s, bicameralism, the existence and strength of a presidential office, federalism, etc. are all structural factors leading to fewer parties, mostly because they create or heighten the trade off. In a supermajority legislature like the US, the trade off isn’t even between voting one’s ideological or policy preference because reform is so unlikely. It is between voting for one’s preference and defensively voting for a party that, at the least, can block unwanted reforms by the other side.

52

Igor Belanov 05.29.15 at 2:11 pm

@51

I see you’re repeating the usual mantra about those opposing the rightward shift of Labour preferring purity to a practical left-of-centre government. Nice try, but moderation didn’t work for Kinnock in 1992 or Miliband this year.

Blair did ultimately fail in a wider sense. He aimed to set up ‘New Labour’ as an alternative permanent party of government, based on managerial technocracy. This was ebbing fast by the 2005 election, and he got out just in time to preserve his reputation as some kind of political genius.

53

Igor Belanov 05.29.15 at 2:12 pm

Sorry, the above should be @50.

54

Salem 05.29.15 at 2:35 pm

moderation didn’t work for Kinnock in 1992 or Miliband this year.

I would certainly not call either Kinnock or Miliband moderates; Blair was a moderate, those guys are leftists. But there is no point arguing about the definition of words. Hopefully we can agree that Kinnock (1987, 1992) and Miliband (2015) campaigned well to the left of Brown (2010), who campaigned well to the left of Blair (1997, 2001, 2005). And the results went accordingly. Whether you want to call it “moderation” or something else, the Labour Party needs to move towards the centre-ground if they want to have a chance in elections in non-disaster years.

I think the problem for some people is that they can’t get beyond a solipsistic approach. Miliband is not as left-wing as they would like him to be, which makes him a “moderate” (compared to them), so if he fails, “moderation didn’t work.” But that is not what moderation is about – it’s not about tempering your views, it’s about being close to the centre of British politics. You know who’s a moderate? David Cameron.

55

Ed 05.29.15 at 3:34 pm

This is a technical point that doesn’t really take away from the points the various commentators were making about that election, but the Conservatives and the Liberals had an electoral pact in 1951. That explains alot of the odder features of that election, such as Labour winning the popular vote but losing its parliamentary majority, and the low (even for them) Liberal vote percentage.

The 2005 election holds the record of the lowest vote percentage producing a parliamentary majority in British electoral history, narrowing beating out the 2015 election. It really was an example of electoral failure, what people were really voting for was something more like the 2010 result.

56

Igor Belanov 05.29.15 at 5:52 pm

@54

You’re having a laugh, right?

Please tell me what was so left-wing about Kinnock’s campaign in 1992 or Miliband’s this year? According to that logic Wilson in 1974 must have been akin to Durruti and the Spanish Anarchists.

57

Salem 05.29.15 at 7:32 pm

Yes, Kinnock’s campaign in 1992 was to the right of Wilson’s in 1974. So what? No-one is claiming that Miliband led Labour in the most far-left way imaginable. Just that he led it in a way that was well to the left of the political centre. As a result, despite a rather chaotic coalition government that had to cut public spending in an unprecedented manner, Labour not only failed to take power as they would have been expected to do, but actually lost seats.

If Labour wants to have a realistic shot of government (except in disaster years), then they need to be in the centre ground*. Like Blair was. You seem to think you’re arguing against this view by claiming that “moderation didn’t work for Kinnock or Miliband.” But those guys weren’t in the centre ground like Blair was, they were well to his left, and indeed, well to the left of the median voter.

If you have some substantive disagreement, make it. But I am not in the least interested in some linguistic game as to what makes a “leftist.” These positions are all relative.

* This is also true of the Conservatives.

58

Igor Belanov 05.29.15 at 8:41 pm

@57

I’m ready and willing to hear what Miliband and Kinnock did or promised that was ‘well to the left of the median voter’. In the chaotic psephological circumstances of the 2015 election I’m amazed that someone can talk with such ease of a ‘median voter’.

In 1992 Kinnock’s Labour had dropped all references to unilateral nuclear disarmament or hostility to Europe, issues that were held to be vote losers back in the 1980s. They pledged to maintain anti-union legislation and Kinnock sought to keep the unions in their place. Opinion polls told them that health and welfare were held to be highly significant issues and voters were prepared to pay higher taxes to fund them. Labour proposed very modest tax rises to pay for higher public spending. Labour was firmly in the political centre, taking a position that had been urged on it by party ‘spin doctors’ and the media commentatiat. They still lost.

Miliband did little to contradict the conventional media wisdom that Labour had caused the crisis and that cuts were required to ease the deficit. He and Balls proposed to cut more slowly to protect some of the most vulnerable from the effects of reduced social spending. Minor measures were proposed to curb the abuses of utility companies – not at all unpopular. Crackdowns were proposed on those who employed illegal immigrants. All main parties agreed to maintain spending levels on the NHS. Labour still lost.

You describe Cameron as a ‘moderate’ and Miliband as ‘far to the left’. How does this correspond with the attitudes of a man who was prepared to see food banks rise at a steepling rate, who introduced the bedroom tax, and who welcomes the introduction of zero-hours contracts? If the centre ground is so vital and if Cameron captured it (according to your reckoning), then how was Labour to push him off it? The shadow cabinet might as well have declared itself redundant and become Tory members as there would have been little to propose that could differentiate them.

Still, according to your logic Labour can have some consolation. If they’d been as far left-wing as the Lib Dems they’d have really got thrashed…..

59

Joe Perry 05.30.15 at 8:53 am

Salem: “…indeed, well to the left of the median voter.” You’ve asserted this, but not offered any substantive evidence for it. The polls I’ve seen suggest that the median voter is well to the left of the Miliband campaign on some issues (e.g. rent controls, rail nationalisation), to the right of him on others (immigration, benefit caps), and more or less with him on others (nuclear (dis)armament). The campaign accepted many of the premises of Tory austerity, although it’s a programme well outside the economic mainstream. It wasn’t a meaningfully left-wing campaign, certainly if the Tory campaign is described as moderate!

60

Batocchio 05.30.15 at 8:54 am

The whole point, as imagined by men who, with certain important exceptions, were very much determined not to replicate the powers of a monarchy in their fledgling nation, was to create conditions that would force elites to compromise and to limit the power of the propertyless (let alone the slaves) to even enter into the discussion.

This is a nice summary of an important point that’s too often overlooked.

61

Joe Perry 05.30.15 at 9:00 am

In any case, the political centre is clearly not an immutable thing. One of the successes of the Thatcher/Major government was to create a new centre ground to the right of its previous location. If elections are won from the centre ground that doesn’t necessarily mean you should move there. It might be worth trying to make it come to you…

62

Robespierre 05.30.15 at 9:42 am

I find it hard to express how fully I agree with #61.

63

Sasha Clarkson 05.30.15 at 9:53 am

Salem @50 “You keep repeating these kinds of statistics, and it really makes me scratch my head.”

If you can’t cope with minor complexities, why are you wasting your time here? Of course, many people do have problems with fact if it contradicts their favourite political myths. The two-party system in the 40s and 5os was not the norm: the 20s and thirties had a multi-party system with schisms and realignments, as did much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The Labour Party was electorally successful from 1945-51 because it put forward a clear programme which was approved of by a clear plurality of the electorate. (BTW well said Joe@51!) The Liberals had become irrelevant because most of them had morphed into Tories in all but name, and the rest had no clear message to define themselves. That should be a warning for several parties today.

Parties ignore democratic legitimacy at their peril. Low voter turnout and support for a government makes law enforcement more difficult and civil disobedience more likely to counter, as the last Labour Government discovered during the fuel protests of the naughties. Ignoring illegitimacy in Scotland is what has led to the Tories’ decline from the majority party in the 1950s, to a pathetic third today, and will likely cause the break-up of the UK.

Having lost their ability to inspire voter support, the whole-UK party machines have given up even trying. Their strategy has become to capture the state via negative campaigning in a malfunctioning system, and then dishonestly claim a mandate. The Tories now plan to gerrymander the system in their favour, rather than reform it, whilst ending “passive tolerance” of individuals they think “undermine democracy”. Of course, reform of the unelected House of Lords will not be a priority.

SPOING!! My irony meter has just broken again!

64

otpup 05.30.15 at 12:09 pm

Salem et al. Referring to a center of the electorate without realizing that said center is an artifact of the electoral system (in the broad sense) is not good. Labour (ala Blair) is chasing votes in a system that gives swing voters disproportionate influence given their actual percentage of the population. The situation in the US is many, many times worse. Liberals and progressives in the UK, where electoral reform is at least a possibility, need to realize (though many do) it is both a matter of the highest principle and urgent necessity (for the medium/long run if not the short).

65

Igor Belanov 05.30.15 at 12:54 pm

@64

“Labour (ala Blair) is chasing votes in a system that gives swing voters disproportionate influence given their actual percentage of the population.”

Yes, and the situation for Blair in terms of vote maximisation was much simpler than it was for Miliband this year.

Blair’s aim was to detach enough voters in key constituencies from the Tories, and he was able to do so by means of the Tories’ deteriorating reputation, a willingness for change after 18 years, and a very modest programme of reform that was sold very successfully.

Miliband on the other hand was faced with the potential desertion of masses of Scottish voters due to a perception that Labour was not left-wing enough and unable to defend Scotland’s interests, the prospect of losing some working-class votes to UKIP on issues like immigration, and the need to pick up as much as possible of the Lib Dems’ collapsing vote. In these circumstances it is impossible to just ‘go for the centre’, even if you have any idea where it lies!

My instinct would be just to try and build a programme on what the party’s membership wants and then try and persuade as many people of its desirability. Naive I know, but probably no more naive than assuming that electoral ‘market research’ or some kind of process of divination can discover this elusive ‘median voter’.

66

engels 05.30.15 at 1:07 pm

“To frame his essay with this spurious comparison made it impossible for me to take the rest of his argument seriously.”

I can certainly sympathise: the link in the first sentence of this post wasn’t embedded properly and that made it impossible for me to consider any of its arguments

67

Sasha Clarkson 05.30.15 at 1:10 pm

Labour leadership contender Liz Kendall thinks she has the answer: “aspiration”!

Influenced by Shaw’s Pygmalion, she seems to believe that if the lower orders can only be taught not to drop their aitches, then social and economic improvement will occur automatically?

So, white working class young, repeat after me: “In Hertford, Hereford, and Hampshire, hurricanes hardly ever happen”– NOT “In ‘ertford, ‘ereford, hand ‘ampshire, ‘urricanes ‘ardly hever ‘appen”: your lives will improve beyond measure!

Of course, I might have misunderstood: she might really believe that lack of ambition amongst the underprivileged is the cause of our social and economic ills, and not the result of them. In this case, her views confirm my impression that the modern generation of PPE students learn plenty of BS and rhetoric, but very little political economy, nor how to develop their reasoning skills.

Or, it might be even worse: a cynical ploy by an ambitious and unscrupulous second generation Blairista entryist to popularise a new meaningless buzzword, replacing the equally weasel-like “modernisation”.

What is there to aspire to when wealth inequality increases in both boom and recession? What is there to aspire to when manufacturing has been exported to countries with minimal environmental protection, where life and labour are cheap? With modern technology, we can provide for human needs with less labour, so what will people do instead? The question is, for whom does technology work? Working smart is more important than working long hours at menial tasks. If you have an enjoyable job, why should you be paid more as well?

The New Labour project was and is dishonest to the core, combining empty rhetoric with a head-in-sand attitude to the important social and economic issues of today.

http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/29/liz-kendall-will-back-white-working-class-young

68

engels 05.30.15 at 1:31 pm

Liz Kendall to punch UK’s last coal miner

LABOUR leadership hopeful Liz Kendall has promised to punch the last surviving British coal miner hard in the face.

The punch, which will take place in front of the media at the site of Woolley Colliery in Barnsley later today, is Kendall’s attempt to outflank her rivals on the right.

Kendall said: “This miner, who lives in a terraced home on benefits and doesn’t even own a car, represents everything that Labour needs to leave behind.

“He worked down the mines for more than 40 years and never invested in the property market, never started his own business, no aspiration whatsoever.

“It will be my pleasure to deck him.”

Once Kendall has punched 62-year-old Roy Hobbs, she will confiscate the instruments of the Woolley Colliery Brass Band and melt them down to make a statue of Alistair Campbell…

69

Sancho 05.30.15 at 1:52 pm

Being Australian, I assume The Onion is relevant in this case. And if not, well that’s my quaint antipodean misunderstanding.

http://www.theonion.com/article/area-man-passionate-defender-of-what-he-imagines-c-2849

70

The Temporary Name 05.30.15 at 3:11 pm

Geez, engels, you left out the best part:

Once Kendall has punched 62-year-old Roy Hobbs, she will confiscate the instruments of the Woolley Colliery Brass Band and melt them down to make a statue of Alistair Campbell.

Hobbs said: “She’s Labour, so I’m sure it’s for the best.”

71

The Temporary Name 05.30.15 at 3:13 pm

Blockquote fail on my part of course…

72

engels 05.30.15 at 3:52 pm

Geez, engels, you left out the best part:

I had a vague feeling that copying and pasting an entire article wasn’t kosher- sorry.

73

Bruce Wilder 05.30.15 at 5:21 pm

Runciman’s complaint is a rather vague one, about the responsiveness of politics, and it seems to me that his big mistake is imagining that the Continental polities, where the remnant Left has been Pasokified in grand coalition governments, is in any better shape than the UK.

If you have leftist sympathies, you may look upon SYRIZA in Greece, Podemos in Spain, or even the Five Star movement in Italy with some small measure of trepidacious hope. But, even if forlorn hope gets one of these Parties elected, like SYRIZA, they may find themselves unable to formulate a useful way to lead or exercise power.

There’s been some back and forth in this thread using clichés concerning two-party competition for the generic political center or median voter. To me, the discussion just highlighted how incoherent such generic analysis has become.

Attlee may have succeeded, as the New Deal succeeded, because of the social and political solidarity forged by the experience of World War II. That sense of solidarity with the state, reinforced by a politics of mass-membership Parties, which was particularly necessary to Labour representing its eponymous constituency, gave advantages to the politicians, who sought to further the interests of the common man and the public good. As that sense of solidarity has dissolved, the politics of self and symbolic political identity have displaced it, and the advantage has shifted to lobbyists for corporate interests, who can supply the funds for sophisticated campaigns of media manipulation and neoliberal rhetoric that can apologize for, and cover for, “reforms” that facilitate economic predation.

From my great distance, one of the more remarkable patterns in the recent British elections is the rise of a desire for political solidarity. Most British voters were, according to polls, fairly hostile to the Conservative agenda. And, though fragmented, the most effective political appeals seem to be centered on political solidarity of one kind or another. Labour found itself falling back on its historical constituencies and the voters who identify with it most strongly. Scottish nationalists of course, and English nationalists, too surged in the polls.

To the extent that politics is about who gets what, in the distribution of power and income, it is always, at its core, a potential war between the rich and poor, the few and the many, in which feelings of political solidarity are a means of reconciliation, of binding elites to followers, or, alternatively, allowing sufficient organization of the many to overwhelm with numbers the otherwise superior organization of elites pursuing their own selfish interests at the expense of the many.

In our neoliberal era, the “poor” and the many are losing, steadily and inexorably. Parties of the many — like Labour — do not seem to be able to find leaders who want to represent the genuine interests of the many or to make arguments for the interests of the many.

Arguments about consumer sovereignty in politics can obscure the import of the political losses of the many. Do people vote “against their interests”? Do they prefer racism to socialism? Why can’t people see how much better Obama is than Romney? Why didn’t people get more enthusiastic about Miliband’s austerity-lite? Why are politicians of the centre-left so shy of challenging the shibboleths laid down by the right-wing press? Why was Miliband such a tool, rejecting cooperation with the SNP or engaging in self-parody with his policy tombstone?

When the rich are not genuinely afraid of nazis or commies, many have little or no interest in genuine solidarity, and are freed to engage in the most cynical sort of manipulation. Also, they will have the good sense to do what they can to undermine, or destroy, any nascent mass-movements with economics on their minds. And, as a second line of defense, they will actively seek to put political power out of constitutional reach, so that a popular party that achieves electoral success will be without the means to put together a coherent policy agenda.

This has been a long-winded way of saying that electoral arithmetic is a distraction from the difficulty of forming and leading a mass-movement against a well-organized, well-financed economic elite determined to prevent it. It’s long-winded, because I want to get to a somewhat harder point: in the absence of a solidarity the encompasses a large part of the economic elite, the popular party has to depend on the passions of resentment and righteous anger, and contemplate the necessity of meeting violence.

Anger and resentment are not attractive qualities in political leadership. It’s a tricky business to feed these into electoral politics, to (ideally) stage-manage ripping the mask of humanity off of the Camerons of this world, revealing them for the predators and sociopaths they, and their sponsors, may be.

I think this is realistic, but it is a long way from tweaking electoral rules to bring about a glorious era of consumer sovereignty in politics, and much closer to revolution in its aims and means.

74

Ed 05.30.15 at 6:41 pm

Bruce Wilder makes some excellent points in his post at # 73, but I’ll add that one thing different about the 1930s and 1940s is that countries fought wars by conscripting as many working class men as they could into the army (those that could be spared from manufacturing weapons and yes, from the coal mines), and handing them rifles. This mass mobilization made it very important for the elites to actually pay attention to what the masses want, also to make sure they were well fed enough and healthy enough to do their military service.

Universal suffrage was invented in the French Revolution along with conscription, and was implement in most of Europe and North America in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, right around the time of the World Wars. The US was late again here, in effect not instituting universal suffrage until after World War 2. The reason behind the rollback of democracy and the welfare state is simply due to the fact that the changes in technology means that the elites don’t need them to fight for them anymore.

75

Stephen 05.30.15 at 6:46 pm

Bruce Wilder: “the New Deal succeeded, because of the social and political solidarity forged by the experience of World War II”. I am not an expert on American history, but didn’t these happen the other way round?

“the popular party has to depend on the passions of resentment and righteous anger, and contemplate the necessity of meeting violence”. Three problems here. One: in contemporary British politics, Labour are not in fact the popular party. Surely, if they were, they would have had a majority, or at least a plurality, of votes. I suspect that by “popular party” you mean the party you approve of which, if only more people agreed with you, would have had much more support than it actually did.

Two: “the passions of resentment and righteous anger” are dangerous things to play with. Who is to judge what is righteous? Do not the SNP and UKIP depend on them, by their own standards (which I much doubt you share) of righteousness?Did not the NSDAP (ditto, in spades)?

Three: “contemplate the necessity of meeting violence”. Even more dangerous, given that as far as I know absolutely nobody significant is contemplating using any violence that the “popular party” might have to meet. (Insignificant exceptions: the nuttier fringe of the Islamists, the irreconcilable dissidents of Irish nationalism.) I fear that by “meeting violence” some people would interpret you as meaning OK, we lost the election, let’s use violence against those who got more votes than we did. I do hope that is not what you meant.

76

Salem 05.30.15 at 9:13 pm

Most British voters were, according to polls, fairly hostile to the Conservative agenda.

???

Firstly, half the country voted Conservative or UKIP. They backed the Conservative agenda, or something more extreme.

But OK, maybe they voted that way despite being unhappy with the Conservative agenda. It’s possible. So let’s take the opinion poll from the 22nd May.

Do you think that David Cameron is doing well or badly as Prime Minister? Well 50%, Badly 41%

Do you think the government is managing the economy well or badly? Well 54%, Badly 36%

What about cutting benefits?

Reducing the maximum amount of benefits a household can receive each year from £26,000 to £23,000? Support 63% Oppose 24%

Continuing to freeze the level of child benefit? Support 58% Oppose 26%

Limiting child benefit, so it is only paid for a maximum of three children? Support 73% Oppose 18%

Stopping housing and unemployment benefits for under 25s who are not in work or training? Support 48% Oppose 35%

OK, but what about the tax cutting agenda?

Increasing the amount of money people can earn before they have to pay the 40% tax rate from £41,865? Support 55% Oppose 29%

Increasing the personal tax allowance from £10,000 to £11,000? Support 83% Oppose 5%

What about austerity as a whole? Yougov don’t seem to ask this specifically, but the Ashcroft poll has 76% backing the austerity of the past 5 years.

The Conservative agenda is broadly popular, and to the extent that it is unpopular, that criticism is often from the right (haven’t cut the deficit enough, too much immigration, didn’t hold an EU referendum, etc). This is my answer to Igor, too. How can Cameron be a moderate if he pursues all these policies you don’t like? Because it’s not about you. Labour has a better “brand” than the Conservatives but the Conservatives have more popular policies. But “brand” is just policies with a lag. Unless Labour can move back to the middle they will torpedo their brand too.

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Joe Perry 05.31.15 at 7:27 am

^”the Ashcroft poll has 76% backing the austerity of the past 5 years.” No it doesn’t. It has 76% of people backing ‘a period of austerity’. Unsurprisingly, of course, since (as I mentioned above) Labour largely capitulated to that agenda: none of the major parties (besides the SNP) were putting the opposing case. In that situation, what do you expect people to think?

Your other evidence isn’t inaccurate, just selective. You didn’t, I note, cite any of the many polls expressing support for the mansion tax or the imposition of a higher tax band, though they aren’t hard to find.

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Igor Belanov 05.31.15 at 9:31 am

@77

Yes, and Salem still hasn’t told us what constitutes ‘the centre’ in British politics, or how Labour is supposed to achieve this nebulous ‘centre’ while actually differentiating itself from the Tories.

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Salem 05.31.15 at 10:57 am

It has 76% of people backing ‘a period of austerity’.

If you can find another recent poll with a question wording you prefer, feel free to cite it. But in fact Miliband and Balls spent the last five years saying the Conservative deficit plans were an ideological excuse to shrink the state. That’s why option 3 (which Labour voters rather back) is on there. But a super majority disagrees.

And besides, if voters are just taking their cues from the party leaders, why does every group, including Labour supporters, back the benefit cap?

Your other evidence isn’t inaccurate, just selective.

Of course I only focused on policies within the Conservative agenda, because I was responding to the question of whether that agenda is popular. If we’re agreed on that, then I cheerfully agree that not every popular policy is in the Conservative manifesto.

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Val 05.31.15 at 11:15 am

@ 74
Can I point out to you that you are talking about universal male suffrage in your comment, not universal suffrage. Historically ‘universal suffrage’ may have been used to mean ‘universal male suffrage’ at the time of the French Revolution, but that usage been pretty inappropriate for at least the last 100 years or so, don’t you think?

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kidneystones 05.31.15 at 11:25 am

There are some real differences between the UK and US systems. However, the party of the workingman in Britain seems to be unable to nominate a new leader with any actual work experience. All four claim to represent the values of ordinary Britons, but went directly from snotty universities into political incubators, and have absolutely no sustained contact with either white or blue-collar work. Do they plan to pay someone to explain how people who did not go to upper-class schools actually think and live? How can the Labour party call itself the party of the workingman when the party can’t nominate a single leadership candidate with any work experience unconnected with politics?

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Val 05.31.15 at 11:29 am

@76
You gave a link for the May 22nd opinion poll. This is the full address that link takes you to: http://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/2g0umt985b/SundayTimesResults_150522_Website.pdf

It has the first two questions you mentioned, but not the ones about benefits.

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Val 05.31.15 at 11:46 am

@76
I presume the survey you are talking about is the one discussed in this article https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/05/18/should-labour-move-centre/

I can’t work out from the discussion in what order these questions were asked, but if they were asked in the way set out here, there is an obvious problem of bias, as there was question about benefits to large families being capped, and then a question about tax cuts versus benefits to families.

That woukd set up a frame in which people are thinking about the benefits to “large” families while answering the question about tax cuts vs benefits to families, thereby potentially confounding the issue of ‘benefits to low income families’ with ‘uncapped benefits no matter how many children you have’. There’s several different concepts and discourses being referenced there and I think it’s a very dubious question – I wouldn’t put too much trust in it.

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Val 05.31.15 at 12:05 pm

@76
I see the second one I linked to only includes some of the questions you mentioned, so I guess you are referring to several different surveys, and I won’t try to look at them all. Of course, people’s attitudes are influenced by a range of sources, including media and government itself. Some of the answers seem surprisingly mean spirited, all the same. (I should note here that I’m Australian, not English)

If you are suggesting that the Labour Party should become more mean spirited in order to get more votes, I hope you can see the flaw in that reasoning when it’s put that way.

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Layman 05.31.15 at 1:46 pm

Salem @ 76

“But OK, maybe they voted that way despite being unhappy with the Conservative agenda. It’s possible. So let’s take the opinion poll from the 22nd May.”

Why cherry-pick? Doesn’t the poll you cited also show that a plurality (45%) disapprove of the government’s performance; and that a plurality (44%) think the government is bad for them?

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Salem 05.31.15 at 3:08 pm

Salem still hasn’t told us what constitutes ‘the centre’ in British politics, or how Labour is supposed to achieve this nebulous ‘centre’ while actually differentiating itself from the Tories.

You seem to be pushing two contradictory positions.

1. Miliband was a moderate. Cameron is way out on the right wing.
2. David Cameron so thoroughly controls the centre-ground that Miliband was forced to push leftist views as the only way to differentiate Labour.

They can’t both be right.

@Val:

The benefits questions come from this poll. You are quite right that these questions are sensitive to framing, and shouldn’t be relied on too much. But I’m the only one citing any evidence at all. If other people have better evidence that the Conservative agenda is unpopular, by all means let’s hear it. But on the face of it, it looks popular, both in terms of opinion polls on specific questions, and in terms of electoral results. Half the country voted either Conservative or UKIP. The further 8% who voted Lib Dem must be presumed to be happy with the Coalition. What’s the contrary evidence?

If you are suggesting that the Labour Party should become more mean spirited in order to get more votes, I hope you can see the flaw in that reasoning when it’s put that way.

As I wrote in 50, “I am not saying that Labour should necessarily [move towards the political centre]; maybe you’d rather have a truly leftist opposition than a left-of-centre government.” If you don’t think that a more centrist Labour government would be worthwhile, or able to address the country’s problems, then, as Joe Perry wrote in 61, “it might be worth trying to make [the centre] come to you.” The question of how to balance electoral viability with ideological purity is a moral question and not one I can answer for you. I’m just saying that you need to approach that trade-off with a clear hold of the facts.

The disadvantage of trading your purity for electoral viability is obvious – that when you get into power, you won’t be able to do what you want with it. But the disadvantage of sacrificing electoral viability should be equally obvious – if you don’t have power, you also can’t do what you want with it. If Labour moves left, it faces certain electoral defeat in the medium term, and essentially waiting for some disaster to let you in – for example, I think an unreformed, Kinnockian Labour Party would have won in 1997 (and been turfed right back out in 2001/2). And indeed, the Labour Party doesn’t have the divine right to be a major party. If Labour hadn’t moved right after 1983, the Alliance would have overtaken them. Things aren’t at that stage yet, but the strategy of moving left and trying to make the centre come there too might mean that the beneficiaries of the next electoral meltdown will be UKIP.

Why cherry-pick? Doesn’t the poll you cited also show that a plurality (45%) disapprove of the government’s performance; and that a plurality (44%) think the government is bad for them?

We’ve had a coalition government, not a Tory one. People who like David Cameron and don’t like Nick Clegg shouldn’t be held as opposing the Conservative agenda. But as long as people are actually looking at poll results rather than assuming public opinion favours whatever they happen to personally believe, I’m happy.

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Bruce Wilder 05.31.15 at 4:04 pm

Stephen @ 75: [Didn’t the New Deal happen before WWII?]

The New Deal, as a policy program and a political coalition, was initiated as a response to the Great Depression of the 1930s. By most accounts, the New Deal, policy and program, was put in considerable jeopardy by the steady march of Southern Senators and senior Representatives to the Right during the 1930s. FDR’s so-called “court-packing scheme”, though it ended the Supreme Court’s intransigent opposition to key New Deal programs also galvanized a conservative coalition of Republicans and Southern Democrats in Congress in opposition to FDR, and key New Deal programs of public works spending, advance of union rights and social liberalization were in jeopardy as the Depression eased toward the end of the 1930s.

What I asserted was that the New Deal succeeded to the extent that it did, as a result of WWII. The massive national effort of the war derailed the efforts of conservatives to curtail or reverse New Deal policies and programs. New Dealers became powerful administrators of the industrial and agricultural mobilization required by the war, and many goals and policies of the New Deal were advanced far beyond what had been achieved in the 1930s. Most notably, the war ended the stalemate over income distribution, resulting in what economists have labeled the Great Compression in income distribution, and the enormous “Keynesian” stimulus spending of the war altered the distribution of financial wealth in programs of forced savings among a new, broad middle class.

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Igor Belanov 05.31.15 at 5:41 pm

@86

I have never suggested that Cameron was ‘way out’ on the right-wing, merely that he is clearly at least centre-right by anyone’s standards, and that Miliband was scarcely more than slightly left of him in terms of the policies offered.

You are the one who claimed that Cameron was a moderate, which I am presuming makes him in the ‘centre’ by your reckoning. So by your logic that you can only win an election by being in the centre, would suggest that you think the two parties have to be practically identical. Given that the Lib Dems are still just breathing, but also essentially a ‘centre’ party, where is the choice?

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Bruce Wilder 05.31.15 at 5:52 pm

Stephen @ 75: I suspect that by “popular party” you mean the party you approve of . . .

Not at all. By “popular party”, I mean “the party of the people” as opposed to the party of business, aristocracy or the religious and cultural establishment. I am referring to how the party defines its coalition and its general “philosophy” or identity. It is quite common for the partisan division to split along social and economic lines, particularly in a two-Party system, such that one Party identifies itself with the interests of the common man or the working man or with outsider groups, when the other Party becomes identified with elite or establishment interests. The original template was the ancient split between patricians and plebians, and then the much later split of the late Roman Republic, between the Popular Party and the aristocratic Optimates (“all the best people”).

In historic British politics, the original split of partisan identity occurred in the 17th century, between Tories and Whigs, both Parties of the establishment, the established church, the aristocracy and landed gentry. As often happens in two-Party systems, there was a conspicuous excluded middle: the heirs of Cromwell, recusants, dissenters, levellers, republicans and the working classes generally. Whigs identified with a policy liberal inclusion of excluded groups, but were never a popular party. The Whigs became the Liberals, more or less, after the Great Reform, and the Tories became the modern Conservatives after Disraeli’s second Reform. Labour began to emerge as a popular party, only after Gladstone’s third Reform widened the suffrage and redistributed seats to better represent urban areas, and Labour’s claim to be a genuine popular party in contradistinction to the more abstract pretenses of the Liberal Party to be champions of the commons played a large part in shaping party identity in British politics.

In American politics, universal male suffrage became a fact of political life much earlier. The modern Democratic Party became the popular party under the leadership of the charismatic Andrew Jackson and his politically astute vice-president, Martin Van Buren, a Tammany Hall politician of considerable talent. The contradistinctive party of the business and religious establishment formed first as the Whigs and then the Republicans. In the absence of an hereditary aristocracy or an established church, by British standards, all American politics was popular. The first Whig President and the first Republican President were promoted as self-made men, born in log cabins. The excluded middle of American politics was originally racial with slaves and Native Americans excluded entirely.

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Stephen 05.31.15 at 6:21 pm

Bruce Wilder: what you say about the modern situation makes perfect sense as long as you agree that in the UK the party of business, aristocracy or the religious and cultural establishment actually has more current support than what you regard as the party of the people.

I am reminded of a very possibly apocryphal headline from some South American newspaper denouncing an election result: “The People, 35%. Elitist Fascist Reactionaries, 65%”,

As for 17th century English politics, I think you are way off beam when you write of “a conspicuous excluded middle: the heirs of Cromwell, recusants, dissenters, levellers, republicans and the working classes generally”. There is no sense that I can understand in which the heirs of Cromwell, dissenters, and republicans could be regarded as middling between Whigs and Tories: rather, as supporting the Whigs on their extreme wing (at least in the 1680s-90s). Recusants, on the other hand, had nothing at all in common with the aforementioned and were rather on the extreme wing of the Tories. I don’t think there were many Levellers left, after they had a fatal collision with, oh dear, Cromwell, dissenters, and other republicans. You might, I suppose, regard the working classes, in as far as that concept was understood, as being excluded, though whether the Church-and-Queen/King Tory mobs should be regarded as middling I would not like to say. Rather later, Gordon Riots?

Your analysis of US politics seems to me, in my comparative ignorance, as mostly accurate. Though I am a little surprised to find Lincoln classified as a representative of the business and religious establishment, but what do I know?

I made four points in my original reply to your post. I would be interested in your responses to the other three.

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Stephen 05.31.15 at 6:24 pm

Bruce: I had overlooked your response re the New Deal and WWII, which greatly clarifies your original statement.

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Bruce Wilder 05.31.15 at 6:29 pm

Stephen @ 75: . . . by “popular party” you mean the party you approve of which, if only more people agreed with you, would have had much more support than it actually did.

I’ve explained what I mean by “popular party” in a comment above.

It seems to me that you’ve missed the essential values behind my comments about the weakness of the Labour Party, as well as the values motivating Runciman’s analysis referenced in the OP.

This is not about matters of idiosyncratic taste: statements akin to “I like vanilla ice cream” as opposed to “I prefer chocolate ice cream”. My concern — and the concern of some of the other commenters — is about the balance of opposed political interests and the possible exclusion of a large and important set of political interests and viewpoints from the contest of politics.

Two-party system give voice to opposed interests only to the extent that the Parties divide up the interests of the electorate among them. Interests that find no home in either Party, or find a place without influence in only a single Party (which can be much the same thing as exclusion from politics), cannot defend themselves in politics. A politics that harmonizes society not by reconciling opposed interests, but by exclusion, risks becoming dangerously and unproductively authoritarian.

The controversy over the policy of austerity in Britain stands as an exemplar, because the policy of austerity is demonstrably self-destructive to Britain, and yet the policy of austerity has not been effectively criticized by Labour in its role as the nominal Opposition Party. Some of this debility is the result of corruption in the Labour Party. The Conservatives blame the 2008 financial crisis on Labour overspending, which isn’t true, but what is true is that Labour financial regulatory forbearance and relaxation played a major part in exacerbating the financial crisis for Britain. Some of the difficulty lies in the outsized importance of the (international) financial sector in the British economy. Other factors play into this, including the social class of Labour leaders, as kidneystones points out.

The bottom line, though, is that, in the absence of effective political opposition from representatives of “underdog” interests and groups, British politics will move in a direction that promotes greater income and wealth inequality and greater authoritarianism in law and policy.

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Igor Belanov 05.31.15 at 6:33 pm

Well put, Bruce.

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Stephen 05.31.15 at 7:14 pm

Bruce@92: to some extent, I agree with you. But:

There is not, at present, a two-party system in the UK. The “exclusion of a large and important set of political interests and viewpoints from the contest of politics” which you rightly lament applies most strongly to the interests and viewpoints of, on the one hand, UKIP and on the other hand the Greens. Are you in favour of more consideration of their wildly divergent viewpoints?

“A politics that harmonizes society not by reconciling opposed interests, but by exclusion, risks becoming dangerously and unproductively authoritarian”. Hmm. Apply this to the largely admirable Attlee government. Did they try to reconcile opposed interests? Did they become authoritarian? And what happens when opposed interests are genuinely irreconcilable? Eg, Scargill/Thatcher?

“The policy of austerity is demonstrably self-destructive to Britain.” For some values of demonstrably. We have been told that austerity (defined as a continually increasing Government debt) will cause massive unemployment, double- or triple-dip recessions, but such destruction doesn’t seem to have happened.

“The Conservatives blame the 2008 financial crisis on Labour overspending”. I haven’t seen this. What they do seem to criticise in Labour overspending, in the sense of running a large deficit in the boom years, is the UK being left in a weak position when the 2008 crisis hit. Are they wrong?

As for your bottom line: in as far as representation of “underdog” interests means benefits going to relatively well-off claimants (see Salem’s posts above) I find it hard to sympathise. If greater authoritarianism in law and policy means a harsher line with hard-core Islamists (not Muslims in general), I do sympathise. What else did you have in mind?

I note that two of my original points remain unanswered.

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magistra 05.31.15 at 7:32 pm

The big problem for the “party of the underdogs” is that in the UK there aren’t enough of them: people in semi-routine/routine jobs make up about 25% of the population, long-term unemployed another 5% (based on National Statistics socio-economic classification) . Against that, there are around 30% of the population in managerial and professional jobs and another 9% small owners/self-employed. (In between are around 20% intermediate workers, plus 9% unclassified). You can’t get elected based on working-class votes anymore and the Conservatives are liberal enough on gay rights and race that Labour hasn’t got an effective lock on LGBT or ethnic minority votes in the way that the Democrats seem to be moving towars.

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Igor Belanov 05.31.15 at 7:49 pm

@94

The interests of the poor, who got hammered by the last government, have been completely overlooked by the political system. And many people that I might call ‘urban liberals’, often in relatively well paid jobs but with a social conscience, are rapidly becoming alienated from Labour but dissuaded from voting Green or for other left parties because of the electoral system. Many people in these two groups will have voted SNP in Scotland.

@95

I would suggest that ethnic minority voters, and possibly LGBT as well, vote heavily in favour of Labour. Many of Labour’s highest increases in votes, and safest seats, occurred in inner city seats with the highest concentrations of ethnic minorities, as opposed to more monocultural towns and suburban areas that saw large votes for UKIP.
I also question your suggestion that ‘working class’ voters now form a minority. These types of classification are very subjective, and ‘professional/managerial’ categories, for example, include many white-collar jobs that would pay around or under the median wage.

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Salem 05.31.15 at 8:24 pm

I haven’t seen any numbers for LBGT voters. So-called “BME” voters went solidly Labour (52% Labour to 33% Conservative) but this is a massive narrowing of the gap since 2010, when it was 68% to 16%. The Conservatives won among Hindus and maybe also Sikhs.

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Keith 05.31.15 at 9:05 pm

The simplest explanation for Labour failing to win the general election is that under the westminster system it is often the case that a party in power for a long time finds it hard to return to office once in opposition without a long period “out”.

The Labour party despite being run by supposedly clever students of academic type politics theory made the classic mistake of being unable or unwilling to defend their record in office effectively or reinvent themselves with a radically different vision and set of policies. The lazy assumption that you can easily repeat the trick of triangulation performed by Blair and co. sank them totally. Blair and Brown with the help of the Great financial crisis towards the end alienated large chunks of the electorate by the time 2010 came around and they were outmaneuvered by the Cameron team who enjoyed the power of office and used it to bolster the core tory vote with bribes for the well off and the help of a unbalanced pro Tory media, and the whiz of exploiting the SNP surge on the one hand as a threat to England and pandering to anti European UKIP types on the other. While the Conservatives concentrated the reactionary vote Labour leaked the left of centre vote away to the SNP in Scotland and the greens in england.

It is an irony that the Labour leadership ruled out a referendum on the EU as bad for business and so unacceptable while the Tories were happy to advocate one regardless of any future negative effect on business “confidence” from a possible brexit! The liberals laid the ground for this by the coalition quite perfectly but presumably not intentionally; yet any fool could have told them any coalition without PR was suicide. A large part of the Third party vote is a protest and likely to go if you join a coalition especially during a period of economic depression.

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Stephen 05.31.15 at 9:11 pm

Igor@96: I entirely agree that in the UK many white-collar jobs pay around or under the median wage, currently about £26,000 pa (US$ 40,000). Even more so, many working-class jobs. That probably explains why a large number of people are strongly in favour of the late Coalition’s policy of restricting social security benefits to £26,000, and of the recent proposal (backed even by some Labour leaders) of lowering the limit to £23,000.

Salem: unfortunately, a large proportion of the enthusiasts for Labour (not, of course, Ed Milliband) come across as being anti-Israeli, pro-Palestinian and generally pro-Muslim. That is I think enough to explain Hindus and Sikhs becoming increasingly pro-Tory. As I understand it, a majority of UK Jews are already pro-Tory. Once again, UK =/= USA.

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engels 05.31.15 at 9:42 pm

“professional/managerial’ categories, for example, include many white-collar jobs that would pay around or under the median wage”

Yup. Also ‘self-employed’ ⊃Uber drivers, freelance delivery people, people who make poverty wages selling knick knacks on eBay, etc, etc

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kidneystones 05.31.15 at 10:46 pm

‘The last thing we need is a left-wing version of the tea-party,’ claims Dem centrist John Delaney. I disagree, to say the least. The problem in the US is that nobody gives Bernie Sanders and snowball’s chance in hell and, besides, he’s far too polite to really ruffle any feathers, or attract the like-minded. Feingold is back in the mix, but there are far too few of his ilk to have much chance of moving the dialogue left, yet. The political efficacy of the Occupy movement exists only, as far as legislative evidence is concerned at the national level, only in the minds of its very few supporters.

Labour’s path back to power should be simple-fiscal fairness, accountability, and rectitude. Once again, Farage showed Labour the way, and Labour instead took the totally predictable route. Note the telling vocabulary – Following Labour’s catastrophic defeat, Ed did what leader’s traditionally do, he resigned. Almost everyone, expected and <predicted Ed to follow this <time-honored practice. The Labour grandees have decided to hold the elections for the new leader before they complete the inquest to discover just WTF the party got wrong. Textbook bass-assward thinking. Ed’s resignation should have been rejected and he should have been forced to deal with the fallout of his strategy publicly. Conduct the analysis quickly, debate the issues, and elect the best leader in September.

One voice of sanity has emerged, Chi Onwurah, argues: “Labour has “barely started” to debate the ideas it may need to consider in order to win the next election, a North East MP has warned. And it is in danger of allowing only a small selection of candidates to go forward for party members and supporters to choose between, said Chi Onwurah, the Labour MP for Newcastle Central.”

Onwurah, of course, is certain to be ignored by Labour’s oxbridge elite. She was an anti-apartheid activist, is the daughter of immigrants, graduated from a good technical university with a degree in engineering, and enjoyed a very successful career in work. If you’ve never heard much about Ms. Onwurah, you’re not alone. Neither had I, and I’m certain that’s no accident.

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Abbe Faria 05.31.15 at 11:48 pm

The Tories won the Hindu and Sikh vote because they promised to legalise CASTE discrimination.

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basil 06.01.15 at 12:18 am

Thank you Sasha and kidneystones for your contributions. These are the sorts of opinions one wouldn’t find elsewhere.

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magistra 06.01.15 at 5:48 am

Kidneystones@101

A left-wing version of the Tea Party probably wouldn’t get my vote and I’m someone who’s just voted Labour (though in a safe Conservative seat). I suppose I count as a member of the “metropolitan elite” and certainly the “Oxbridge elite”, having been born in southern England, educated at Oxford and recently working in London. I have variously voted Labour/Liberal/Green over the years, depending both on their policies and who I think most effectively might stop the Conservatives.

But a populist form of Labour that sneers at the middle classes and the educated doesn’t appeal. Especially when it’s done by the sort of slight of hand that you seem to be encouraging. Let’s look at Chi Onwurah, shall we? “The daughter of immigrants, graduated from a good technical university with a degree in engineering”. Her father was a Nigerian medical student studying in the UK (hardly working-class) and she went to Imperial College, which is among the top UK universities. Why is Andy Burnham, whose parents were a telephone engineer and a receptionist and who studied English at Cambridge, mysteriously more middle-class or elite than her? I don’t agree that the Labour Party should just be about “aspiration”, but when I start hearing arguments about the importance of the “white working-class” or the need for “populism”, beneath that I hear the kind of nasty anti-intellectualism that could drive a lot of people like me away from voting Labour.

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Bruce Wilder 06.01.15 at 7:29 am

Stephen @ 90: There is no sense that I can understand in which the heirs of Cromwell, dissenters, and republicans could be regarded as middling between Whigs and Tories: rather, as supporting the Whigs on their extreme wing (at least in the 1680s-90s). Recusants, on the other hand, had nothing at all in common with the aforementioned and were rather on the extreme wing of the Tories.

I was using the term, “excluded middle”, to invoke the logical fallacy of that name, while introducing the idea that two-Party systems can, in fact, be structured to exclude interests or groups from effective political participation or influence. I thought it was kind of fun to juxtapose “excluded middle” to the doctrinaire recitation by other commenters of the clichéd notion that two-Party systems always commit the Parties to a contest over some imaginary political center.

The heirs of Cromwell, republicans, recusants, dissenters were politically excluded by the Restoration settlement. They were neither a political center, nor a radical extreme. They were outside politics, and very nearly outside the law altogether. In the context of the late 17th century, exclusion of disparate points of view on politics and religion was itself highly desired, because of the recent experience of the Civil War, with its chaotic failure to establish any kind of stable political consensus within any political institution, or any balance to the interacting dynamics of the three kingdoms.

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Igor Belanov 06.01.15 at 7:36 am

The problem with the Labour elite isn’t so much that they were university educated as the fact that they are career politicians with no real experience of ordinary work. As such, they tend to have something of a distance from the people they are appealing to, and it is easy to see them as rather cynical and insincere. In essence, they are the remnants of a managerial/technocratic elite that Blair and other New Labour politicians saw as replacing the Conservative tradition as ‘natural party of government’. Blaming Miliband for being too ‘left-wing’ is really a desperate move on the part of these people in their attempt to repeat Blair, the second time as farce.

As Magistra suggests, a lot of ‘professional’ people have a social conscience and liberal opinions, and many of the university educated enjoy far from bright career prospects or lack traditional ‘aspirational’ values. These people count too.

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kidneystones 06.01.15 at 8:17 am

104 Thank you for the reply. The UK has no particular need of a Tea Party. The paragraph you cite refers to US political figures and the particular problems of the Democratic left in America.

Your personal feelings aside, there are some clear problems with your comment. The problem isn’t oxbridge, it’s that only oxbridge will do. The problem isn’t one candidates’ lack of work experience – it’s the fact that all four contenders for the leadership of the Labour party all went to elite schools as Cameron and co. and not one ever had a job outside politics. That lack of diversity in the Labour leadership pool doesn’t provide voters and supporters with much of a choice. I’m certain you agree with that much.

That lack of intellectual and social diversity, IMHO, significantly contributed to Labour’s spectacularly ineffective strategies over the last two years, at least.

Burnham has to insist his father’s experience in work be counted as his own, because Burnham has none to call to call his own. The three other pampered ‘choices’ come from the same cookie-cutter mold.

Ms. Onwurah is clearly different in that she did not go to oxbridge and she had real work experience. My question is why someone of her credentials and background is not among the choices offered voters this year? Why is it that the only candidates for the leadership of the Labour party in 2015 can only claim contact with the working population of Britain by blood, especially in light of the spectacular failure of the oxbridge elite who run the Labour party today?

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Sasha Clarkson 06.01.15 at 8:38 am

I’m all for learning the lessons of history, but it’s dangerous to take make broad extrapolations from too far back. Many of the “heirs of Cromwell” became embedded in the restoration government. The Montagues for example, including Sam Pepys’ patron Sandwich, were part of, and prospered under, both regimes.

Cromwell wasn’t a radical republican like Harry Vane, nor was he a Leveller. Part of the purpose of the Commonwealth and Protecorate was to defend the property rights of the middle class from arbitrary encroachment by the King. The loyalty of most members of the Cavalier Parliament was not unconditionally to the King, but to their own perceived collective interest as the landed ruling class. Royalist they may have been, by conviction or convenience, but the restoration settlement embedded their rights and privileges, and they meant to assert them. The religious policy of the Cavalier Parliament was less tolerant than Charles himself would have chosen, but was driven by MPs frightened by the forces the previous regime had unleashed.

Charles II was not stupid enough to try to turn the clock back to his father’s or James I/VI’s time. He neither attempted nor had the power to assert “the divine right of Kings”. He ruled with parliament as their figurehead, tool, and ally, As the years went on, divisions grew, both within Parliament, and between Parliament and the King. There were signs that Charles heir, the openly Catholic James, did not intend to abide by the terms of the new contract. Many “loyal” members of the Cavalier Parliament, and even several of Charles own ministers, gradually found themselves to be in the opposition. Thus the English Party system was born in the Exclusion crises and the run up to the “Glorious” revolution of 1688.

Politically, in the end, William III was the true heir of Cromwell, acting not as an absolute monarch, but, as Simon Schama put it, as “Chairman of the Board”.

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engels 06.01.15 at 9:12 am

“when I start hearing arguments about the importance of the “white working-class” or the need for “populism”, beneath that I hear the kind of nasty anti-intellectualism that could drive a lot of people like me away from voting Labour”

Fwiw Firefox search tells me there was one mention of the ‘white working class’ in this thread, Sasha disapprovingly quoting Liz Kendall. The only mention of ‘populist’ was yours.

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engels 06.01.15 at 9:37 am

(I do agree that setting up Onwurah as some kind of underdog / person of the people because she went to Imperial [followed by senior management jobs in tech companies and a MBA] rather than Oxford or Cambridge seems a little strained.)

111

Haftime 06.01.15 at 10:28 am

kidneystones:
‘it’s the fact that all four contenders for the leadership of the Labour party all went to elite schools as Cameron and co. ‘

Yvette Cooper went to a comp + a local sixth form;
Andy Burnham went to a state catholic school;
Liz Kendall went to a comp (despite the name – but clearly a good school nevertheless);
Mary Creagh went to a comp.

‘it’s the fact’

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kidneystones 06.01.15 at 10:37 am

@110 I appreciate your generally sensible comments. You are quite wrong, however, in suggesting I ‘set-up’ Onwurah as any kind of underdog, or person of the people in other than in relative terms. Indeed, I would probably agree that in terms of education and training she belongs to an elite, but certainly not the oxbridge elite that studied politics and did nothing else, which is, I remind you, my central point.

I confess I find myself slightly vexed at having to explain in such detail that base facts of the non-choice Labour provides for itself. There are only four candidates – all four have virtually identical cvs, oxbridge – no experience outside politics/government, just like the gang who just lost the last election so badly. I know! Let’s select from four toffs from the same cookie-cutter mold, who must look to some voters (me, for example) as clever twits possessing a guilt complex/social conscience and few real skills.

Lest, however, I be accused of anti-intellectualism and being anti-oxbridge, in particular, let me be clear about make my ongoing debt to both institutions. I draw a clear distinction between the people teaching and doing research in these institutions and the clowns who have arrived for their pedigrees through the centuries. I have no doubt that the vast majority of undergraduates since the 20th century at both institutions are/were extremely bright and conscientious. That’s certainly my hope.

At the graduate level, three of my most important teachers took degrees at Oxford and Cambridge and/or teach there. Two provided unstinting support and criticism over two decades, despite the fact that I was not officially affiliated with either institution at the time. They simply provide/ed assistance and direction because they found small some merit in my research.

We owe individuals who graduate from these institutions no similar respect, especially when these individuals treat voters like some foreign species. This unpleasant phenomena is most often seen in conservative circles. Labour oxbridge grads of this type normally do a much better job of concealing their contempt. I’ll also stress that this form of snobbery is in no way exclusive to these schools.

Frankly, I’d like to see Onwurah drafted and elected, despite the fact that I know almost nothing about her. A person who learned how to design and build things and then took a graduate degree to learn how to run companies that build things sounds about right to me. She couldn’t possibly be any worse than the four duds already ordained for us by the grandees, and she might very well be precisely the candidate to bring both workers and the ‘aspiring’ class (an odious term) back to Labour.

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kidneystones 06.01.15 at 10:53 am

@111. The sentence you cite was constructed (badly) during my commute. I can offer no similar excuse the syntax errors elsewhere. As a measure of my respect for you and your contribution I’ll turn toWiki.

Yvette Cooper – Oxford
Andy Burnham – Cambridge
Liz Kendall – Cambridge
Mary Creagh – Oxford

Given the repeated references to oxbridge elites in my comments, your attempt at ‘gotcha’ borders on depressing. I enjoy lively invective. Yours is just sad. I’d suggest you try harder, but I suspect this really represents your best.

My time will now be better spent examining the pricing and weave of royal underwear.

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reason 06.01.15 at 12:51 pm

Bruce Wilder @23
“The root problem with Obama, for example, is not that he’s frustrated by those eveel, racist Republicans and a “system” of checks and balances in the administration of government. The root problem is with us, that we get sucked into supporting him against the Republicans, and, consequently, into supporting, or not objecting effectively to, a policy program that we ought to despise. The root problem is that mass participation and mass movements in politics are so easily defeated and defanged and derailed.”

Sorry, I don’t really understand your answer here. One of the reasons that we get sucked into supporting him against the Republicans is that the two party system gives us no alternative. We have no way of changing the debate and nobody in the debate who speaks for us. Let us have a third or fourth party, and proportional or preferential voting and we can say which policies we find attractive. (P.S. What is wrong with a presidential system, I think should be clear – division between power and responsibility -i.e. blame shifting). The difference can’t be seen by looking only at the outcome, you need to see the different internal dynamics as well, they are even more important.

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Sasha Clarkson 06.01.15 at 12:53 pm

I’m certainly not anti-intellectual. My concerns are two-fold. The first is that there is a disconnect between most of the Labour leadership and the people and communities they purport to serve. A vaguely working class background does not compensate for real experience at grass roots level, if one’s adult life has been spent stalking the corridors of power.

My second concern is the poor public intellectual performance of those who have allegedly had an elite education. On 6th May 2010, Vernon Bogdanor, one of David Cameron’s teachers at Oxford, described him as “brilliant”. I find this description difficult to reconcile with the man who makes high profile crass remarks almost weekly. He clearly is too lazy research even basic facts, before pontificating about complex problems in foreign countries. His (untrue) statement “We’re paying down Britain’s debts”, in a 2013 political broadcast was breathtaking in its dishonesty, or (I suspect) it’s ignorance. Blogger Tom Clark (of Another Angry Voice) described it as being “as bad as someone expressing an opinion about physics that confuses the meanings of “speed” and “acceleration”.” Of course, although there was allegedly an economics component of Dave’s PPE degree, he didn’t take Maths “A” level, and I suspect he wouldn’t understand Tom’s criticism either.

Other PPE graduates seem to perform similarly badly (Ed Balls for example): I regard this particular “Oxford Elite” as having had not so much a course of study, as an initiation into the priesthood of the ruling class, tailored to those who want to boss other people about rather than acquire a useful skill themselves. I doubt they could earn a living outside the environs of politics. At least Nick Clegg is a linguist and could have a lucrative career as a translator/interpreter!

To go back to the point that (I think) Kidneystones was making: it’s all very well to live in the rareified heights of Whitehall and Westminster, but successful politicians, especially on the Left, need to have their feet firmly on the ground too and that doesn’t mean bathing in the sewer at Wapping!!

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Guano 06.01.15 at 5:50 pm

#73 – Good contribution

Runciman’s main point seems to be that there is no evidence that majority governments are actually able to take the “tough decisions” they claim majority governments are able to take. The fundamental long-term issues that the UK faces have not been addressed by Thatcher, Major, Blair or Cameron. It’s a good point, but then Runciman goes off into an irrelevant discussion of electoral systems.

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hix 06.01.15 at 7:08 pm

Do people really think it is not in their personal interest to vote the more left leaning of the aviable two choices just because they dont stand at an assembly line but rather sit in a small office box answering customer phone calls? I somehow doubt that…..

From where im standing, for me its completly natural to see many assembly line workers as middle class (even according to a rather narrow definition – say the 25-30% below the top 1-5%) and most white colour workers as working class. Thats just a normal thing in a developed nation – that being able to read and write (on a comp/typewriter), the basic white colour qualifications do not distinguish.

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TM 06.01.15 at 8:06 pm

Salem 76: the polls were actually worse for Cameron before the election. In the poll you linked to in an earlier thread (http://crookedtimber.org/2015/05/10/why-doesnt-the-labour-party-divorce-into-a-scottish-socialist-party-and-englishwelsh-labour-party/#comment-628536), majorities disapproved of the government and said 44 to 50 that Cameron was doing a bad job as PM. It is not unusual that people look favorably at the winner directly after an election. Also, as I pointed out earlier, the poll hardly indicates mass support for austerity policies:

When asked about fiscal priorities, 44% wanted more services and investment spending and only 20% cared about reducing the deficit. Majorities supported limits on certain benefits while strongly opposing cuts to NHS and education. I would point out that some of the questions are borderline manipulative, for example “which of the following areas do you think the government should cut spending in the MOST?”

I don’t think the poll supports the contention that austerity is popular. What it does indicate is that the political debate is framed in a way that austerity is presented as inevitable, and for that I would contend Labour must bear some of the blame.

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Bruce Wilder 06.01.15 at 8:57 pm

reason @ 114: One of the reasons that we get sucked into supporting him against the Republicans is that the two party system gives us no alternative. We have no way of changing the debate and nobody in the debate who speaks for us. Let us have a third or fourth party, and proportional or preferential voting and we can say which policies we find attractive.

Blaming the menu for the debility of politics seems to me to be fundamentally misguided. The consumer sovereignty of a restaurant is a bad model: in a restaurant you and I can order to our personal tastes, and should, because our meals are private goods. The task of politics is to govern and to make choices about public goods and public policy: there’s ultimately no way of multiplying those decisions: in the end, a single public choice of public policy will be made, and the task of politics is to make it. Politics succeeds, to the extent it succeeds, when its product, public policy, is both coherent and legitimate.

No matter how we multiply the proposals or factions championing various viewpoints and representing various, opposing interests, the public policy choice will be reduced to binary questions — yes or no — at each juncture.

It is really not easy to get to a political consensus that accepts policy choices as coherent and legitimate. Public policy choice is rarely a single decision; the decision has to be made over and over and over, and then confirmed again and again. Both coherence and legitimacy require consistency and persistence in the making of public policy choice. A representative democracy faces risks at opposite poles — either that a single coalition will form that is able to rule arbitrarily from considerations of narrowly conceived interest alone, without deliberation or persuasion, or, at the opposite extreme, that a multiplication of interests and convictions will be unable to bring disputations to any final arbitration. Either way, government is unable to find or remain committed to a course, both coherent and legitimate.

The mantra of neoliberalism — “there is no alternative” — is an apology for a democracy already preempted. The Labour Party in Britain is no longer dependent on its erstwhile membership, who, in contrast to the past, are no longer actually members of a mass-membership representative organization. Its leaders are not so much leaders, as celebrity spokespersons for a brand identity. There’s very little class consciousness and very little in the way of political deliberation. If Ed Miliband has trouble finding workable slogans, it is because there’s so little preparation not only of his own intellect, but also of his base’s thinking and information base. No one is brought up in an ideology that could make predictable sense of his rhetoric; he’s trapped in the neoliberal framework of a largely right-wing media.

In the American context, there isn’t sufficient party or faction or movement organization to discipline politicians, particularly Democrats. And, leading Democratic politicians are past masters at the art of feeding the news junkies who substitute for politically-aware and interested public, explanations and excuses that pre-occupy their minds. It is admittedly dysfunctional, at least as representative democracy — it seems work ok as a plutocracy — because government has ceased to be responsive to any but the very rich and large business corporations. Disciplining politicians requires organizational discipline in the mass-membership movement, and even the idea of withdrawing support is met with incomprehension. There was no reason why in the Presidential election of 2012, dissatisfied Democratic voters could not have threatened credibly a withdrawal of support except there is no such organization to make such a credible threat, to convince people of the desirability of taking a stand or delivering votes. Even dissenting in “safe” States by voting a “third party” (and there are such “third” parties on the ballot in many States) as a protest never attracted more than a tiny fraction. (Even the idea is met with well-organized derision from people who blame Nader for 2000, as if the Supreme Court wasn’t involved.) The finely tuned manipulations of the Obama campaign were able to achieve a nearly certain outcome with a phenomenally small vote margin — having made only the most minimal commitments to populist rhetoric or causes to squeeze out that margin in opposition to a vulture capitalist tax-evader identified with a religious cult. But, I digress.

My general point is that while tweaking electoral systems might be a useful tactic on occasion, it is not a substitute for a strategy of political organizing that contributes substantively to the kind of mass deliberation and participation necessary to actually pressing for the interests of the great mass of the people in the operation of government.

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Bruce Wilder 06.01.15 at 9:00 pm

How disputes become “disputations” above, I have no idea.

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Bruce Wilder 06.01.15 at 10:56 pm

Sasha Clarkson @ 108

Someone remarked in comments recently that British government wasn’t designed, it evolved (with the implication, more by accident than by sensible arrangement). Evolution by accident and breakdown into chaos is difficult to narrate, but that’s the challenge presented by the political history of the Civil Wars, Restoration and Glorious Revolution.

I remarked above that the challenge of politics is to achieve policy coherence and legitimacy. This Charles I conspicuously failed to do. Although he seems to have been personally smart enough and more seriously dutiful than his father or eldest son, somehow he still managed to get himself into a war between Scotland and England, in which he was responsible for financing both sides, and with no means to do so. (One is tempted to recommend that David Cameron study his example, except for the fear that imitation may follow.)

Charles II did better financially, in part because the Cavalier Parliament tried (without entirely succeeding) to be more generous and later in his reign, because the economy finally began to expand, and the agricultural and demographic crisis eased. But, he also had to depend on subsidies from Louis XIV, which served to subvert the foreign policy of England vis a vis the Netherlands.

The Stuarts came to the throne after the international medieval economy had already passed away — the Staple was long forgotten, Calais lost in the year Elizabeth ascended the throne, and the English were struggling in trade against the more modern and efficient Dutch. Historians since Hume have not failed to notice that the Commons Charles I faced was richer by far than the Lords, but what to do with that fact isn’t clear. The ancient notion that the King should “live on his own” when not at war was not something the limited demesne of the Stuarts could support. But, it took a long time and some very rough experience before anyone thought to invent the Bank of England and a national debt.

The religious disputes and passions are more difficult to fathom in their abstract, practically irrelevant and confused details. Why the Stuarts thought the Scots needed Bishops I am not that clear on, nor why the Scots felt so strongly about liturgy, and the adamancy with which Tories clung to a rigid conformity is a bit of a mystery. Hobbes seemed to think religious people, with formal education and without, just liked to dispute senselessly. The sheer brutality that could be visited on witches, heretics, Catholics and blasphemers is remarkable.

The confused expediencies of the two Bishops’ wars and the three English civil wars and whatever went on in Ireland, followed by the conspiracies, real and imagined, of Charles II’s reign fostered a political cynicism and paranoia that seems to have become a feedstock for both Tory and Whig political theory, as well as increasingly sophisticated practice. Politics narrowed considerably in its focus, but also got smarter in its deliberations, reducing its reliance on the monarch and the court. Many medieval standards and practices, at least those not already put paid by the Tudors, were finally retired. The proto-democratic political campaigns of the Exclusion Crisis and Tory Reaction seem to have left a mark with regard to the necessity of popular legitimacy.

If there’s a lesson, I think it would be in recognizing how this process of political evolution shapes the political constitution, without the participants being entirely aware of what they do.

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F. Foundling 06.01.15 at 11:08 pm

>Bruce Wilder 06.01.15 at 7:29 am:
>The heirs of Cromwell, republicans, recusants, dissenters were politically excluded by the Restoration settlement. They were neither a political center, nor a radical extreme. They were outside politics, and very nearly outside the law altogether.

Just because you don’t have official representation in politics doesn’t mean you are outside of it. It’s clear that a radical socialist in the USA, while excluded politically, is still ideologically closer to the democrats than to the republicans, and, conversely, if you feel a strong need to lynch black people or send them back to Africa, even though your sentiments are officially no longer represented by anyone, there’s still a certain party that you will find more appealing than the other one (I’ve already written enough inflammatory stuff on this theme in the earlier Nazi thread). The excluded extremes will support the party that is closest to their respective views, and that party in turn will secretly court them while vociferously denying any connection with their taboo positions.

Similarly, after the Restoration, open continuity with the Parliamentarian side in the Civil War, including religious dissent and the eventual republicanism and regicide, was completely out of the question politically; and yet it was also pretty obvious that the anti-absolutist, militant Protestant, anti-Catholic parliamentary opposition to Stuarts number 3 and 4 was somehow very similar to the anti-absolutist, militant Protestant, anti-Catholic parliamentary opposition to Stuart number 2. A few faces were actually the same, as in the cases of Algernon Sidney and John Wildman, although the ranks of the opposition were also filled by many of Cavalier background whose Protestantism suddenly trumped their earlier support for absolutism. In spite of some early Whigs’ protestations that they were no Whiggamore raiders, a contemporary who had lived through all the tumults of the 17th century still couldn’t help perceiving it like this: “I hear further since that this is the distinction they make instead of Cavalier and Roundhead, now they are called Tories and Whigs.” And by the 1690s, the Whigs themselves would openly embrace this, publishing pamphlets in the name of exiled regicide Edmund Ludlow, as well as a version of his memoirs (heavily edited to purge them of religious elements deemed unappealing to the new generation of radicals). The much-maligned “Whig history” *is* how the Whigs saw themselves, and were seen. Continuity does not mean absence of change.

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F. Foundling 06.01.15 at 11:29 pm

>Bruce Wilder 06.01.15 at 10:56 pm
>The religious disputes and passions are more difficult to fathom in their abstract, practically irrelevant and confused details.

It was ultimately about the degree to which a hierarchy presided over by a Pope or a King should control the faith of an individual or of a community. Protestantism was essentially an anti-authoritarian movement in the sphere of religion. It was completely natural that it would co-occur, as it did, with anti-royalist and (vaguely) egalitarian radicalism. By now, these denominations have become just another type of quasi-ethnic identities, so the whole thing seems unimportant. But I’m pretty sure that if I were a believer and a Christian, and took the whole thing seriously, I would have to be a Protestant, and then definitely a Dissenter. And yes, Christmas is a pagan feast with no scriptural basis and should be banned!

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F. Foundling 06.02.15 at 12:09 am

Forgot to sign my previous post:
Fly-fornication-and-Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith Foundling. You can see why I just go with the F. most of the time.

125

ZM 06.02.15 at 1:16 am

F. Foundling,

“It was ultimately about the degree to which a hierarchy presided over by a Pope or a King should control the faith of an individual or of a community. Protestantism was essentially an anti-authoritarian movement in the sphere of religion.”

I have said it before – but Anglicanism was a nationalist religion more than a Protestant religion. Scots Presbyterianism was more Protestant. Anglicanism was more authoritarian. You can see this in the controversy over the Book of Common Prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer was first published in 1549 by the authority of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer and Parliament proclaiming it an “Act of Uniformity”. Although it was part of the Reformation it was a top-down document “imposed on congregations and causing riots through its perverse assumption of doctrinal oddity and destruction of the old ways of experiencing the divine; yet also at the same time a vehicle for new forms of religious devotion and a brilliant literary achievement in its own right”. “Yet in making this book Cranmer also preserved the vestiges of a thousand years of tradition, since much of it was translated from the Latin liturgy…. the 1549 text can be seen as a kind of sacred parody or even travesty (in the strict sense) of old ritual.”

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer “contains a fascinating mixture of what may loosely be called the “Catholic” and “Protestant” strains in the emerging Anglicanism that was to enjoy its high age in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Yet the 1662 edition is still a consciously backward-looking book…. a deliberate enactment of of cultural recuperation, a mending if the torn leaves of the past through textual conservation and meticulously woven emendation.”

The restoration of The Book of Common Prayer was an important part of the Restoration of the monarchy. “Parliamentarians [had gone] to war over motives which included the establishment of the church in terms of Royal supremacy and bishops; the elaborate ceremonies of worship and rituals of kneeling and crossing which were considered by many to be a remnant of Catholicism; and the use of The Book of Common Prayer itself, which was abolished in 1645.”

(Source Brian Cummings Ed. The Book of Common Prayer : the texts of 1549, 1559, and 1662)

The change in religious practice is central to the plot of Hamlet. Hamlet has returned home from university where he was attending university at the same institution as Martin Luther when he nailed his protest to the door. In Elizabethan England the old ways of mourning the dead with masses etc were abolished and there was said not to exist any ghosts after death. Shakespeare had lost his son Hamnet and so would have been mourning. People have found a document hidden in a roof that seems to suggest Shakespeare’s father at least had retained a belief in Catholicism. The ghost in Hamlet then becomes important as ghosts were said not to exist yet the characters see the ghost – this confusion is echoed in the to be or not to be speech and indeed throughout the fabric of the whole play.

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Bruce Wilder 06.02.15 at 2:01 am

F. Foundling @ 122

The Anglican conformity that the Tories insisted upon, and the Whigs accepted even if they made sympathetic noises for effect, and which was enforced by the so-called penal laws (aka the Clarendon Code), was pretty severe, and things in Scotland and Ireland could be worse. That is not at all equivalent to marginalizing radicals.

I know I kind of confounded the marginalization of the “extremes” that two-party systems are capable of, with exclusion from the body politic, but now you make me think I was wrong to do so.

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Peter T 06.02.15 at 3:09 am

I don’t think there is a simple way forward for Labour (or indeed any of the other parties), so I suspect the UK is in for a decade or so of floundering conservative rule. The deep cause of this is that the collective purposes that drove first social democratic politics (an interlocking combination of class and national rivalries) and then the politics of growth are both outmoded. As BW notes, politics is essentially about collective choices, and the menu analogy does not apply except insofar as the collective framing is settled. When the framing comes undone, we are all adrift.

For the last fifty years or so, the great collective project has been economic growth – the purpose of riches was more riches. And we look back at the past as if they too wanted most of all to get rich, or as if riches was as essential a tool for enabling choice for them as for us. Neither is true. Very broadly, middle/high medieval people saw wealth as a means to honour or to salvation – the great collective purpose was the construction of Christendom. If you made money you spent it on masses, churches or crusades. The renaissance upper classes shifted the emphasis to glory, the reformation shifted back to salvation, with the emphasis less on the institutional church and more on the collective religious life (all those religious disputes and passions really mattered to them), from 1750 to 1950 it was all about the nation.

That we cannot continue to pursue growth as an end in itself poses a major conundrum for our politics. I expect a good deal of thrashing about, denial, attempts to clothe some new purpose in old phrases and so on before a new direction emerges. My money is on some synthesis of mysticism and ecology, but I won’t be alive to see it.

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Bruce Wilder 06.02.15 at 3:54 am

Stephen @ 75

I see I still owe you a response to Point #2 and Point #3

Point 2: “the passions of resentment and righteous anger” are dangerous things to play with.

Indeed, they are.

Point 3: “contemplate the necessity of meeting violence”. Even more dangerous, given that as far as I know absolutely nobody significant is contemplating using any violence that the “popular party” might have to meet. [emphasis added]

The high priority assigned by the Conservatives to building the surveillance state and enacting expedience into law ought to give pause. Any government that combines such enthusiasm for economic predation with such careful attention to organizing civil security ought to be suspected of contemplating violence.

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ZM 06.02.15 at 4:15 am

Peter T

“That we cannot continue to pursue growth as an end in itself poses a major conundrum for our politics. “

Trades Hall in Victoria recently held the Victorian launch of the book Collision Course by NSW researcher Kerryhn Higgs (MIT Press 2015) about the limits to growth and history and economics since the 70s. I have not had time to read the book yet but met the author at a conference on climate change and rapid mobilization last year, and based on discussions with her and her lecture at the launch (which was videoed so should be available somewhere) it would be very well worth reading.

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magistra 06.02.15 at 5:51 am

kidneystone@112

There are only four candidates – all four have virtually identical cvs, oxbridge – no experience outside politics/government, just like the gang who just lost the last election so badly. I know! Let’s select from four toffs from the same cookie-cutter mold, who must look to some voters (me, for example) as clever twits possessing a guilt complex/social conscience and few real skills.

Again, not true. Mary Creagh was lecturer in entrepreneurship at Cranfield School of Management and went to a comprehensive school. In what way is she a toff with no experience outside politics? There is a decent argument to be made about too many SPADs getting advancement to the cabinet. But you don’t make that argument by simply ignoring the evidence.

We’ve had this debate on outside experience before on a previous thread, in which it was pointed out that Iain Duncan Smith had a ‘proper job’ as a soldier and thus should presumably be regarded as a better politician than Harold Wilson/Clem Atlee etc. Meanwhile you’ve told us all about Chi Onwurah’s background but almost nothing about her actual political views, which might be wonderful or terrible.

You seem to be arguing for choosing the leader of the Labour party solely on the grounds of identity and not ideology: what matters is that they have a good story, not whether they support good policies. And you’re arguing for an identity that excludes a large proportion of good candidates. To go back to my original point: you do not become a ‘toff’ just by going to Oxbridge. A lot of the brightest, most ambitious children from working class and lower middle class backgrounds are going to go there (as well as people from public schools). A Labour party that loudly proclaims that such people are the “elite” and to be rubbished increasingly looks like the politics of resentment.

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reason 06.02.15 at 9:12 am

Bruce @119
I think we will have to agree to disagree. I don’t know your history, but I have lived in countries with different political systems. Believe me, the dynamics – the way that policies are discussed changes. I’m not talking about menu choice – I’m talking about political dynamics.

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Salem 06.02.15 at 9:42 am

I dunno. Wilson was a disastrous PM, and Attlee served in WW1 so is immune from the charge.

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engels 06.02.15 at 9:58 am

“Mary Creagh was lecturer in entrepreneurship at Cranfield School of Management”

*headdesk*

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engels 06.02.15 at 10:02 am

135

Salem 06.02.15 at 10:06 am

“Mary Creagh was lecturer in entrepreneurship at Cranfield School of Management”

*headdesk*

Yeah, I noticed that too, but didn’t want to raise the level of divisiveness.

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kidneystones 06.02.15 at 10:53 am

@130 Mary Creagh, Mary Creagh…who is this Mary Creagh person who had a career before politics? According, to leftfutures, http://www.leftfutures.org/contributors/ Mary is a card-carrying member of Ed’s oxbridge inner circle, seven years teaching entrepreneurship at Cranfield notwithstanding. Course listings for Mary are not easily found, but Cranfield doesn’t jump out at me as being a place I’d pay money to attend, and certainly not to study who has from an individual who has spent zero hours in work.

Would you pay for driving lessons from someone who’d never driven a car? I actually expect Mary’s LSE training would make her an excellent candidate for work in a bank, instead she chose academia. If you think you’re going to win back the UKIP/Labour vote with this individual, you’re dreaming.

I do have one other question, do any of these candidates supports an EU exit? When I pointed out prior to the election “on another thread” that the British public preferred UKIP’s position versus that of Labour by a margin of 48-12, one of the leading lights here promptly declared that this reflected the general bigotry of the lower orders.

@134 Thanks for the link. Most illuminating. I’m actually reasonably confident that the SNP and the Conservatives will squander their temporary advantages and that some Labour voters will start to return simply because they can’t stand the Conservatives. But not in numbers to allow Labour to form another government as long as this gang of tossers is in charge. The Greens stand to do very well, they do at least believe in something. The real danger to Labour remains UKIP.

I’ve worked in business and lectured at a much better business school than Cranfield for two years.. I’ll be lunching this week with executives (ooh-ah!). I’ve also belonged to unions run by communists, helped organize unions, and been on strike in the last decade.

Creagh is extremely unlikely to appeal to the left or the right. She lacks the business experience to win the confidence of business people (IMHO), and she lacks the trust of unions in her own backyard. See above.

I stand on my argument that Labour needs to suspend the leadership race, complete the inquest, and do their best to widen the field to add some real diversity. From leftfutures:

“If you want more reason for dealing with the political elite’s career structure in the Labour party, just look at who represents Yorkshire in Labour’s shadow cabinet. Labour has 32 MPs from Yorkshire (the Tories having gained 10 seats in 2010), just 12% of the 258 won by Labour in 2010, but it has 37% of the MPs in the Shadow Cabinet (10 out of 27). This makes Yorkshire the best represented region of Britain at Labour’s top table.

Yorkshire’s finest includes the only member of the shadow cabinet that earned a living as a manual worker, former plumber Jon Trickett. But of the 10, half went to Oxford and all but 2 to a Russell group university (the 24 which see themselves as the UK’s best). Only two were born (though three grew up) in Yorkshire and no more than two live in Yorkshire now. Seven out of ten were SpAds (or the equivalent in the European parliament), and 2 others had worked full time in politics.”

And that must be my last.

Cheers, btw, for the illuminating digression on the Book of Common Prayer. I teach my own students that booting the Puritans out of the universities provided ordinary people outside state-sanctioned learning centers with access to a good education. That’s the sum total of my knowledge on that topic.

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ZM 06.02.15 at 11:23 am

You’re quite welcome. You could also mention to them the connections between education and church in the 19th C, church Sunday School education taught many ordinary people to read before there was universal schooling provided by the State – this topic also happily allows you to use the word antidisestablishmentarianism in its proper context.

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Ronan(rf) 06.02.15 at 11:34 am

This is, of course, what you get from a political system that values “real job skills”

https://mobile.twitter.com/Oireachtas_RX/status/602617465437364226

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Sasha Clarkson 06.02.15 at 11:59 am

Engels @134

Thanks for the link. The Labour Party may or may not have outlived its usefulness, but I found the article shallow and one-sided. Of course, I’m twenty years older than Dr Todd, and remember some of the debates very clearly. My grandfather had been a steel-works shop steward in the 1926 General Strike, but my father was a Personnel Officer in ICI, involved in industrial relations on the junior management side. Although I was only 13, we had some interesting family discussions about ‘In Place of Strife’. ICI was a new and very enlightened company, paid well, and had worker/Trades Union representation at all levels of its organisation, and therefore relatively few industrial relations problems. They certainly were not interested in the reduction of workers’ rights. The problems elsewhere in British industry came partly because the industrial revolution started here, and therefore others were able to learn from our mistakes. There was a plethora of smaller trades unions, often involved in demarcation disputes with each other, for example fitters versus boiler makers in the shipyards. This was exacerbated by low investment and poor management in declining traditional industries. In the 197os, some British factories were still using 1930s plant, whereas foreign competitors, in particular Germany and Japan, had started from scratch after WWII, and had less legacy class conflict and prejudice, helped no doubt by the shock of defeat.

The Trades Union movement was unpopular, partly of course because of a hostile press. However, it didn’t do itself too many favours: internal union democracy was often very poor, decision was often by a show of hands at a mass meeting rather than by ballot, and block voting at the TUC and Labour Party conferences was an embarrassment even then. ‘In place of Strife’ aimed at more union democracy and self-discipline, together with better dispute resolution procedures in industry. Barbara Castle was on the left of the party, and her purpose was not to weaken unions, but to stop them damaging their own cause, and that of the Labour party. The internal party opposition which led to the abandonment of the proposals was led by Jim Callaghan: karma overtook him when he lost the General Election in 1979 after the Winter of Discontent. The Tories enacted their own laws, which were much less favourable to unions than Castle’s proposals. And who knows: if Castle had won in ’68, Wilson might have been re-elected in 1970.

In the end, an internal power struggle in ICI caused my dad to be the first of his rank to join ASTMS (now part of Unite). I myself was a school rep for the NUT in the 1980s, and I believe strongly in unions, but also in proper democratic decision making within them: that certainly strengthened our hands in the pay/conditions disputes of the 1980s.

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Sasha Clarkson 06.02.15 at 12:11 pm

There are several reasons as to why ICI was such an enlightened company. One of them was the tradition of one of its parent companies, Brunner-Mond. Sir John Brunner was the kind of capitalist who might be regarded as far too left wing by some in the Labour Party today!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sir_John_Brunner,_1st_Baronet

Of course, ICI was eventually destroyed by the City asset-stripping “shareholder value” culture.

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novakant 06.02.15 at 1:37 pm

kidneystones, I think everybody now knows where you’re coming from, but you are starting to remind me of the Warsaw Pact apparatchiks whose job it was to weed out any bourgeois elements from the party

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William Timberman 06.02.15 at 3:21 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 119

So many of our discussions of politics these days, despite the impressive effort expended on them, turn out in the end to look either desperate or sad. As I was bumbling my way through this one — late again as usual — this leapt out at me:

My general point is that while tweaking electoral systems might be a useful tactic on occasion, it is not a substitute for a strategy of political organizing that contributes substantively to the kind of mass deliberation and participation necessary to actually pressing for the interests of the great mass of the people in the operation of government.

Talking here strictly about the US, because I know it best, it’s long seemed to me that the entire physical and intellectual infrastructure of what we used to call the First World was erected, post WWII, on a single principle, that of turning citizens into consumers, rewarding them to the extant that they agreed to be politically passive, threatening them when they showed the slightest sign of becoming restive — Betty Furness and the USA in your Chevrolet if you gave up ideas above your station, Joe McCarthy and George Meany if your notions of political participation involved ordering off the menu.

The Sixties, for all that it was largely driven by the irrational exuberance of youth, was really the last time you could mention politics and mass participation in the same breath without sounding like you just woke up from a long nap. We’ve had single-issue populism since — anti-abortion on the right, for example, and global warming on the left — but coherence on the grand scale that political ideologies used to provide is notably absent, and more to the point, the political anesthetic applied in the 1950s still shows few signs of wearing off. People are locked into the system, and not surprisingly, looking after number one is their first priority. Until and unless that becomes impossible for a very large number of us, political organizing will necessarily be a lonely, seemingly interminable task. Any light apparent at the end of the tunnel will always be suspect as one of those illusions of a faith that, as moderns, we’d prefer not to have to rely on.

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Stephen 06.02.15 at 4:30 pm

Novakant@141: I don’t think kidneystones’ approach is a matter of weeding out bourgeois elements from the Party, rather of trying to ensure that a party which is supposed to bring about justice for the workers (by hand and brain) does not degenerate into a mutual admiration society of those who hold all the fashionable opinions, but have never done a hand’s turn of work in their lives, and have employed their brains only in as far as that is needed for getting a rather questionable university degree. Exhibit 1, E Milliband.

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Stephen 06.02.15 at 4:55 pm

Bruce Wilder@128: thank you for your courteous, if belated reply.

I’m glad we agree that the passions of resentment and righteous anger are dangerous things. I hope you appreciate that the real danger is that, if we inflame those passions in those who agree with us, the resulting inflammatory environment is very likely to vastly strengthen such passions in other groups we completely disagree with: and the net result will not favour a reasonable and non-violent outcome.

Consider the present state of Northern Ireland, for instance: both nationalists and unionists have (as they see it) excellent grounds for resentment and righteous anger against the other. Encouraging either would be most unwise.

And you say the present government “ought to be suspected of contemplating violence” because they support “predatory capitalism”, whatever that is, and favour “organising civil security”, which is in some ways one of the primary duties of any government. (Do you think that Islamist or residual Irish Republican terrorists do not need substantial surveillance?) Consider a parallel case: suppose it were argued that anybody who writes of the necessity of depending on the passions of resentment and righteous anger, and contemplates the use of violence, and regards the capitalist system as predatory, ought to be suspected of wishing for a violent communist revolution with all its attendant and inevitable horrors? I very much doubt that you would agree with such an argument. Me neither. But is that not remarkably close to what you have said?

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Sasha Clarkson 06.02.15 at 7:53 pm

Stephen @ 143

As well as the Oxford piece of paper, E Miliband has an M.Sc in Economics from the LSE: His A levels were also excellent, before the dumbing down of the mid-nineties, in Mathematics (A), English (A), Further Mathematics (B) and Physics (B).

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