Posts

Why Politicians don’t “tell the truth”.

Because they can’t.

Every utterance is not reported on its merits. When asked a question like “are green taxes good for the economy” the answer, as anyone who’s looked at this, or any other issue knows, “it depends”.

Politicians will therefore be asked to elaborate. I’m going to answer that as if I was a junior minister in the Department for Energy and Climate Change:

So there are some good taxes, and some bad taxes. For example, I am in favour of fuel duty because tax has to come from somewhere, fuel duty’s fair, provides an incentive to drive less, slower, in a more fuel-efficient car and so reduces pollution and congestion; but think the VED is ridiculous. Green Levies on utility bills are regressive and distortionary, but taxes on extracting Oil and Gas from the ground aren’t. There’s a case for state subsidy of renewables & nuclear, but wind-power is ridiculous

That answer will piss EVERYONE off. The anti-tax, anti-green band of conservatism exemplified by the Taxpayers’ Alliance will focus on support for Fuel Duty. The Daily Mail will report it as “Minister wants you to pay MORE for your petrol“, but the Guardian will contrast the “greenest government ever” with support for cutting green levies on utility bills. In the media hive-mind WINDFARMS=GREEN POLICY so a politician trotting out the summary of my opinions above will risk being branded a “climate-change denier” which will mean being ignored by about a third of the electorate from that day hence.

Papers report politicians in a way to ensure politicians are even less popular than Journalists (which is incidentally why politicians are beating up blameless utility companies right now – the abused victimising those even more hated), by focussing on the comments which will annoy that paper’s readership the most. Everyone thinks the politician in question is “an idiot” who “doesn’t know what he’s talking about“. Everyone’s prior assumption of politicians being stupid, ignorant arseholes, who’re only in it for themselves, or possibly their mates in the Union lobby/city/big business/EU (delete according to taste), is reinforced.

So politicians don’t answer the question. Instead they position themselves on whichever “side” of the debate on which they wish to be reported as being by the media, and utter the soundbite they wish to get into the papers.

And that, in a nutshell is why politicians don’t answer anything to the satisfaction of economists, experts, bloggers or,indeed, anyone paying attention. They can’t, because Journalists don’t report in enough detail. A politician’s comments might get 30 seconds of broadcast news. Even newspaper journalists don’t report in enough detail because we, the public, aren’t that interested in politics. And so we get the politicians (or the caricature of them presented by the media) we deserve.

Meanwhile politicians actually do try to create the best legislation they can, according to their beliefs and principles. And everyone will hate them for it, despite the UK being a reasonably well-governed, orderly and pleasant place to live. Our politicians are obviously doing less wrong than in much of the rest of the world.

Politics as Self-Identification: Cuts, Fracking and the Military.

There are two tribes of politics, the left and right, who are almost impossible to define in policy terms. They correlate imperfectly with Labour and Tory in the UK who, yes, in the short-run do look similar (though in the long run, very different). Whether you self-identify as left or right will define mostly what you’re angry about.
It’s the anger of these tribes, amplified in the echo-chamber of social media, with nuance and facts drowned out in the cacophony of 140 character soundbites which so distorts political debate.
Any attempt to explain detail and facts will be met with the charge that you’re one of the ‘other’ and so can be ignored.
I’ve been arguing on twitter with people on the right, whose assumptions I broadly share, who’ve persuaded themselves that the UK has cut its military to a point of irrelevance. They’re basing this view on the endless diet of “cuts” stories in the Daily Mailograph.
The fact remains the UK is a major military power, with the 4th largest Defence budget on earth, dwarfed by the USA, about half that of China, 2/3rds that of Russia and equivalent to Japan’s. From that defence budget, we maintain full-scale war-fighting competence, unlike many other mid-ranking powers (*cough* France *cough*) who maintain formations and kit which cannot be deployed for want of support formations, logistics and intelligence capability.
Britain maintains a Brigade-level deployment in Afghanistan. While this was being maintained, we are able to operate in 30 counties, maintain out-of area contingencies; and were yet able to help the French with their operation in Mali, who were unable to deploy their (significantly larger) army to their own doorstep.
The reason for the French failure in Mali is their politicians have been unwilling to cut the number of infantry batallions for political reasons, and have instead cut logistics capabilities. The UK, thanks to a continuous cycle of operations going back centuries do not have the luxury of seeing the military as a national willy to be waved at other nations, as this would leave it incapable of achieving tumescence and firing naught but blanks.
British politicians asked “what additional capabilities does a small carrier with a handful of harriers bring that couldn’t be achieved with typhoon and air to air tankers?” The answer came “nothing”. The French have not asked that question of the Charles de Gaulle, which they maintain at great expense, but to little purpose. A bit like Brazil whose flat-top carries an air-wing of… 4 jets to… nowhere in particular.
Likewise, the left, who’ve persuaded themselves that Hydrolytic Fracturing (Fracking) is poisoning groundwater, creating earthquakes and putting methane into people’s taps, and done so against all the evidence because like the right, talking to themselves about the military, they are willing to be lied to by people with axes to grind, whose assumptions they share.
I used to be angry about military cuts, until I saw dispationate discussion (at the highest level) about WHY the cuts were taken. I was forced to challenge my assumptions. I suggest you all do.
The great risk of social media is the tribes of left and right divide into mutually deaf echo-chambers who don’t challenge assumptions, instead reinforce idiocies by then endless pointing to “evidence” (in practice newspaper articles or dubious “reports”) that supports and reinforces priors.
Question everything. And in doing so accept the Government is sometimes right. Brown’s handling of the credit crunch was OK (it was his management of the economy for the decade beforehand which was criminal). The British military is effective, and enormously so for its size, and we have Labour’s willingness to slay military vested interests to thank for that. The cuts to wasteful public spending are the right policy thanks to Tory willingness to slay vested public-sector interests.
Fracking is safe and should go ahead.
The Tories are delivering cuts to that which can be cut, whatever right-wing morons who think the cuts aren’t happening may think. The cuts aren’t leaving people dead in the street, whatever left-wing morons think.
Ignore the idiots, who spout meaningless soundbites. Listen to those who force you to challenge assumptions. Some of them come from the other tribe.

On Fracking, David Cameron and The North/South Divide.

Let’s be absolutely clear. There is very little to object to about fracking. The issue is almost entirely political. Groundwater contamination can be avoided, and the threat of earthquakes is just grotesquely exaggerated. There are “seismic events” but they’re equivalent to someone dropping a bowling ball out of a tree. Detectable, but unlikely to knock your house down. Any objections remaining are “general industrial” objections to plant and machinery moving about. But fracking plants aren’t particularly big, or noisy and when plumbed into a grid, don’t require much in the way of plant moving about.

The environmental benefits are mainly from replacing coal. Coal is dirty, and produces more particulates and sulphur (things that actually destroy lungs and trees) than gas. Per unit of energy, it also produces more carbon dioxide than gas at the power station. One of the objections to fracking is that leaks of Methane from the process enter the atmosphere. These leaks can almost entirely dispel any benefit to Greenhouse emissions as Methane is a far more potent Greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide. However CO2 accumulates in the Atmosphere, whereas methane breaks down quickly. EPA estimates of leaks range from 2% (at which level there are clear greenhouse benefits to Gas) to 14% (at one rig in Utah, which appeared to be an outlier).

Methane leakage is a regulatory and engineering problem. It isn’t fundamental to the technology.

Cameron thinks Fracking can reduce energy bills. Well he’s half right. If the technology is adopted across Europe, then yes, it will but UK supply will be fed into a European gas network, and will unlikely be enough to significantly alter prices on its own. What will happen is that taxes will be levied on production and the majority of the benefit will flow to the exchequer. Furthermore, the balance of trade will improve, probably strengthening Sterling as we once again become an energy exporter. This will help to reverse the slide in living standards as imports will become cheaper again.

No-doubt Labour, gifted Lord Howell’s remarks about the “desolate” North East being suitable for Fracking, then rowing back by saying he meant the North-West (well that’s OK then…) will make this about a posh, southern “them” doing fracking to the poor, benighted north. Hence Cameron pointing out that much of the shale is in the South East of England, and his (neighbouring) constituencies had better get used to it.

Fracking. It may make your Gas bill a bit lower, but the main effect will be on helping to close the fiscal gap, reducing the pressure on the rest of the economy, and generate cheap, relatively clean energy. The risks are grotesquely overstated by the sort of people who would object to anything, anywhere, ever.

The US Environmental Protection Agency is due to report in November. But they seem to be saying in their update report that most of the problems so far identified are exaggerated, and soluble. The potential benefits to the UK are far more than lower energy bills, and most of the objections are spurious. Let’s just get on with it. Cameron’s right. Let’s frack, baby frack.

The Practical Defence of Monarchy

At every Royal occasion, this week the birth of the future King, It’s often asserted that Monarchy is “indefensible”. I argue the main victim of the system of Monarchy is the Monarch themselves, and their immediate family. No-one would now design a monarchical government, as they did for Belgium, However many of the countries in the world with the highest standards of living are constitutional monarchies. Norway and the Netherlands, for example are not noted as Totalitarian hell-holes. Luxembourg is the richest per-capita country in the world. Most of the rest are former British Colonies, who have retained the Queen as Head of State. Some are poor, but most on the list remain decent places to live, and many are better than their neighbours. My usual defence of Monarchy is that it clearly ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.

The most likely explanation for this is that by definition, constitutional monarchies have retained the anachronistic trappings of Medieval and Renaissance kingship means they have gone a long time without revolution. Revolutions are bad, and so post-hoc ergo propter hoc, monarchies are disproportionately nice places to live.

However does some of the explanation go the other way. Is there something about monarchy in a modern context which helps with stability? There may well be.

The Monarch acts as a figurehead in a time of crisis. A constitutional monarch is better placed to do this than a politician. A politician with the strength of will to govern in a crisis is likely to be divisive. This is why Charles de Gaule broke his country’s constitution, because his Government in exile did not enjoy universal support of Frenchmen, a country which is on its fifth republic since they committed regicide. Compare with King Haakon VII of Norway who was able to return from Scotland with his troops and quickly and efficiently sweep away the detritus of a Nazi occupation, and which has enjoyed remarkable stability since the split with Sweden (itself now led by King Carl Gustav XVI, and not a known totalitarian Toilet) in 1905 despite the wars which have raged around the country.

The Monarch can act as a “Chairman” in key moments. King Juan Carlos of Spain for all his current extravagances, is popular mainly for deceiving Franco by being named as Heir Apparent, while meeting opposition leaders behind the Generalissimo’s back. He rapidly ushered in democracy on the Dictator’s death and restrained the military, much to the surprise of the Falangists who thought all along, the Prince of Spain was one of them. Without a king, the end of the dictatorship could have been as bloody as its beginning.

It is often argued that a monarch has a once-only nuclear option of refusing assent to a law, which in the UK at least would trigger an immediate constitutional crisis, which could probably resolved only by a referendum. This power of Veto may (though there’s no evidence of this ever actually happening) could be used to prevent the kind of enabling law which allows totalitarians to subvert democracy. Perhaps the mere threat prevents British politicians from even trying.

These benefits listed of monarchy are dependent upon the Country being lucky with the right Monarch at the right time. Spain needed a devious liberal, Norway needed a brave and resolute war leader in exile. However, there are perhaps means by which a Monarchy can directly influence the body politic of a country for the good.

A monarch has a direct interest in stability and continuity. This tends, all things being equal, to lead to better governance than would ideological enthusiasm. Monarchs are likely to urge their Prime Ministers be cautious. The current Monarch of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms, the peerlessly dutiful Queen Elizabeth II has personally known every Prime-Minister since Churchill and has been dealing with affairs of state since the 1950s. Are you telling me a quiet word in the ear from so experienced a Queen is a bad thing, when the Prime Minister is free to ignore it?

It can be argued a Monarch tempers some of the excesses of democracy. If one of the problems of Monarchy is the risk of an idiot on the throne, the problem of democracy is that only power-hungry, manipulative and demagogic will ever reach the top, such is the nature of the system. However even the narcissists who get to the top of the Greasy pole in a Constitutional Monarchy cannot ever hope to be head of state. Indeed far from being head of state, they have to bang their tabs in to the Monarch once a week (in the British system at least) and report to their boss “this is what I’m doing with your country this week“. This perhaps engenders a little humility in those who would seek to rule us.

The Royal Family serves the same function as a national soap-opera, giving a group of people we all “know” to some extent to gossip about over the office kettle. This need to gossip seems hard-wired, yet we share few people in common in our big, atomised, impersonal world. It’s true, this is the same function that meaningless ‘slebs perform in the magazine ‘closer’, but the interest in the royals is more universal, and may even inspire some to pick up a history book. Everyone knows who the matriarch and the curmudgeon, the wayward uncle and the black sheep of our Royal family are. We all have a little party at royal family events, making them to some extent shared and ours: we’re all somewhat invited to Royal weddings. Street parties for the Jubilee brought neighbours together. And perhaps we all feel (we monarchists at least), some of the Joy of the birth of a healthy baby boy. Perhaps the Monarch’s subjects are slightly happier as a result of being able to exercise this primeval need?

In a constitutional monarch, it is the Queen or King who is the recipient of the Peoples’ nationalist patriotic fervour. There is none left over for mere politicians, who’re generally regarded with utter contempt. This British contempt for politicians, who’re (plausibly if unfairly) thought of as corrupt and grasping slime, mainly in it for themselves, is a powerful anti-demagogue shield for the UK. The people of the UK will simply not invest their hopes fully in a president or anyone who would seek to be one, and the rallies and bunting put out for US candidates for President utterly mystify most Brits. Thanks to the child born yesterday, I can see the Kings of the United Kingdom stretching into the future until long after I am gone. Perhaps that encourages Britons to think longer-term than do Americans.

None of these effects in themselves are the killer argument in favour of monarchy. Taken together, perhaps they’re plausible enough to back up “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

The little baby boy, born to a young, rich, good-looking couple in London yesterday, whom I am agitating to be called ‘Arthur’, will one day be our King though given the longevity and rude health of the House of Windsor, it is unlikely I will live to see him crowned. He will enjoy every advantage and privilege his whole life, yet be reminded of that privilege constantly, and learn to be modest, as his Father is. Hopefully he’s be as successful in business and charity work as his much under-rated Grandfather, through whose Princes Trust he has a greater understanding of the hardships of the disadvantaged in his country than many a politician. The young man will probably serve briefly and safely in the forces, (a younger brother as the ‘spare’ will be allowed to take more risk). He will hopefully get to know his peerless great grandmother who still has a good decade left to reign, and be taught follow her example of selfless duty. And hopefully he’ll be as much fun as his Great Grandfather.

Ultimately the Monarchy is a decorative bauble on top  of our democracy, but perhaps it’s not meaningless. The monarchy, as foundation of the constitution underpins the chaotic, brutal but responsive democracy that  has organically evolved in the UK since 1215. Through the list of Kings and queens, one and a half thousand years of history can be told in a personal human scale, all the way back to Egbert of Wessex, and (through the Scandinavian branch of the family) the God, Woden. You wouldn’t design a democracy like that of the UK. A designed democracy looks more like that of the Weimar republic, and that didn’t turn out to well, did it? The risks of constitutional vandalism far outweigh the potential benefits.

God Save the Queen.

Democracy, the State and Libertarianism

Libertarianism is the political belief that there is no crime, except the initiation of force or fraud. Philosophically we have much in common with the Anarchists: A belief that much of what a formal state would do, policing and so forth could and should be done without the state doing it. Some deontological libertarians oppose state action wherever possible, arguing that tax-funding is inherently coercive, and should be minimised where possible. I am however a consequentialist libertarian: I am content for things to be paid for out of taxation where the outcome otherwise would be sub-optimal.

Few argue the poor, who are mainly where they are because of bad luck, should go unhoused and without medical care. And as health care insurance would cost most for those who are likely to need it most, and almost everyone will need health care at some time, and whether you will or not is simply not predictable. Taxation in this regard is just a big risk-pool. Private-sector insurance doesn’t to solve any extra problems and adds a few of its own. Voluntary insurance adds especially a significant element of free-rider costs: We’re not going to deny care to an uninsured car-crash victim. Compulsory insurance is not significantly different to taxation in any meaningful way.

Obviously the state running anything is a disaster as the NHS and the British state ‘education’ system amply prove, but the state can be an efficient risk-pooler and purchaser on behalf of the population. This is why I favour a Free (ish – I’m not averse to small consultation and prescription charges) at the point of delivery, state-funded health care, but delivered by a variety of providers. Hospitals, clinics and so-forth can be owned by businesses, charities, partnerships and so forth. All the state needs to do is decide what gets funded out of taxation, and what isn’t. Then it needs to make payments on behalf of patients. The tax is morally no different to the compulsory insurance required by many countries, and this is what the British are used to.

As for health, so too for education. The state should however get out of provision, being content to operate a voucher program for schools. Everyone gets equal access, and gets to choose which school specialising in which brand of ideological idiocy will get to indoctrinate little Johnny. Of course most people will pick the best, middle-of-the-road school which is local enough to get to, but the competition for students will drive up standards. The other crucial difference is that market systems tend to not have shortages because there is no planning. Markets allocate sufficient resources where it’s needed better than any state bureaucrat ever could.

Transport policy: Nothing brings out the sociopath in people more than how they get about. People like roads, except near where they live. They cheerfully speed, yet complain about others doing so on their road. They regard any spending on road/rail/cycle/airports as wasted, unless they themselves use those services, in which case, the spending is grotesquely inadequate, and should be doubled immediately. “For the good of the economy. I’m thinking about others you see.” The state therefore has to mediate who gets what transport infrastructure, where and in what form, compulsorily purchasing, where necessary land in order to achieve the greater good. This sometimes requires an initiation of force, otherwise on stubborn landowner can hold up the economic development of an entire nation. It should be hard, and under democratic control, but roads are a another crucial area of reasonable roles for the state.

Everywhere you look, you find a reasonable role for a state. It’s just much, much less than the state does currently. Too many libertarians are ideologically committed to no state action. If your intellectual starting point is a state-free utopia, I reject that as completely as I do every other Utopia. Accepting there to be roles for the state is not un-libertarian. In general, I’ve long argued that Libertarianism is a state of mind, not a practical manifesto for government. I come from the long British tradition of rejecting grand ideas, preferring to ask which is the best on offer. Ultimately, the deontological position is childish.

You cannot persuade people to accept a state-free vision, and persuading people is necessary to get anything done in a democracy. You can persuade people that certain things: what people eat, drink, smoke etc… are none of the Government’s business. You can persuade people that the Government doesn’t need to own everything or spend 50% of GDP. If you say “let’s abolish the police”, you won’t be take seriously. If you say “Lets’ abolish the Department for business innovation and skills” you might be. There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit.

Libertarians need to start thinking about where we are right now, rather than imagining some ghastly Randian utopia , with other libertarians over a pint; a utopia towards which no-one sane will want to travel. Just as the fault of every planned system is the fact that everyone imagining one puts themselves in the role of planner, every objectivist, deontological libertarian ranting about a state-free utopia imagines himself in the role of John Galt.  The state is spending 50% of GDP and seriously discussing school lunches and the font on fag-packets. Never has there been more need for libertarians in Government. But the movement needs to grow up.

State-Funded Political Parties?

No Thanks! And here’s why.

At present, British political parties operate on shoe-strings. They have to scrabble round for money. Which means they can’t lose touch with people. In Labour’s case, they can’t get too far from the Unions and their membership. And the Tories rely on their membership and business. This need for money keeps them honest, so long as these donations are in the open, declared and public (which I accept they sometimes aren’t.)

Imagine a world where politicians could vote for political staffers to be paid by the state. Anyone think this bill would ever go down? Anyone think it would rise alongside wages? No. It will go from a few million to a hundred million very quickly. A billion would become “the price of democracy”.

All state funding would do is support the incumbents against the likes of UKIP (with whom I disagree, but who’s right to fight in the arena on a level playing field I will defend to the death). UKIP are building a movement on private donations, and they’re able to do so BECAUSE THE ESTABLISHED PARTIES HAVE LOST TOUCH with much of their base. State funding would hamstring UKIP who’re successfully stepping into the void left by parties squabbling over a managerialist middle, while preventing the Tories and Labour ever having to engage with their people ever again.

State funding is a solution to a problem that exists only in the minds of people who can only see corruption in a business-owner supporting a party. It says more about the cynicism of the people who support it than about the problems politicians face now.

State funding is anti-democratic, foolish and will more profoundly corrupt the British body politic than any rich man ever could.

Why? Because the state is richer than any man.

Labour and the Unions.

Let’s take these figures at face value: Trades union membership is rising, even in the private sector and union Barons are trusted more than business leaders. That’s perhaps not surprising in the slowest most anaemic recovery on record, one in which jobs are only being created on declining take-home pay. Lower productivity means more jobs, but on lower wages. People’s living standards are falling and have been for longer than at any time in recent history. It does not follow that every Union member wants class war. One third of them vote Tory!.

Despite the headline numbers, It still means the Unions are a massive problem for Labour. Over half the electorate remember the 1970s and what untrammelled union power did for the country. There are obvious parallels with the Tories’ polling on Europe: The electorate agree with broad Euroscepticism, without being fully convinced with the need to pull out. Europe is still a toxic issue for the Tories.
Unite is the Party’s biggest donor, the Unions are responsible for the clearly inadequate Ed Miliband being picked over his much more competent, better looking, less weird and probably better hung older brother. The Unions are trying, openly to get as many of their people into the Parliamentary party as possible, and they’re block-buying labour memberships to achieve this end, whenever there’s a seat up for grabs. This is what happened in Falkirk.
And here’s what they want:

The key policies we want to see trade union activists within the Labour Party fight for at every level are quite simple. It’s about giving workers the right to collectively struggle to change their conditions. We want to shift the balance in the party away from middle-class academics and professionals towards people who’ve actually represented workers and fought the boss. At the parliamentary level the key fight is against the anti-union laws. We have to restore the right to take solidarity action and strike effectively.

They are after a return to class-based politics:

We want a firmly class-based and left-wing general election campaign in 2015. We’ve got to say that Labour is the party of and for workers, not for neo-liberals, bankers, and the free market. That might alienate some people, but that’s tough.

Labour has to be a working-class party — a party for workers, pensioners, unemployed workers, single parents, the whole class.

They’re absolutely right “that might alienate some people“. That is Labour’s problem. Their backers, with whom they have an absolutely symbiotic relationship, on whom they are entirely financially dependent, and who have the whip hand not only over the money, but apparently the party membership too, are intent on dragging the Labour party towards a position: representing a shrinking traditional working class, benefits recipients and those paid to farm them and those people alone.

This is a recipe for annihilation in England outside the Northern cities. It’s a platform which has seen Labour fail, and fail again. It’s only when Tony Blair realised the country (or at least the electorate) was broadly “middle class” that they won three elections on the trot.

Unite are about to put the Labour party out of power for a Generation. And I for one am delighted.

Gay Marriage. A Pyrrhic Victory?

This is only tangentially about the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the egregious ‘Defense (sic) of Marriage Act’. DOMA was about the rights in tax and inheritance that many gay people in the USA do not yet enjoy.
Gay marriage in the UK was not about rights per-se. Thanks to civil partnerships, British homosexuals already rightly enjoy the legal, tax and inheritance rights of marriage. Having achieved this, none of the Gay people I know were really agitating for ‘marriage’. It was an issue for a fringe, the perma-outraged Peter Tatchell of Stonewall. It seemed mainly, aimed, it seems mainly at hurting the Christianists by parking a pink tank on the Traditionalists’ lawn.
In pushing so hard for this largely symbolic gesture, the unintended consequence is that the British Christian right, for so long quiescent in the Bosom of a moderate Conservative Party, has now unfurled a banner and started to fight.
Gay Marriage was the issue more than anything else which drove right-wing Tories to UKIP, a ‘libertarian’ party which seems now to march to a hang’em and flog’em tune of the reactionary right. UKIP saw the opportunity, and rapidly purged itself of any liberals in order to maximise the Tories’ discomfiture.
Issues of Sexual Morality, long settled on this side of the pond around some broadly liberal consensuses on abortion and Gay rights, are now open for negotiation. The battle lines are drawn. The Christian bigots have
Marched out and declared culture war. And they now have a party, one which is probably going to win the European elections next year.
Of course I think Gay People should be allowed to marry if they wish. I also see the reasons many think they shouldn’t (and I find most of the given reasons risible). What I don’t get is why everyone cares so much. We’ve all had to choose sides, and winding up god-botherers is good sport
But what is the cost of this victory. Is it worth it, if we Brits have to endure the Toxic culture wars which disfigure American Politics. The christianists have long sought to roll back Abortion rights. And now they are unified following their defence of a mere word, ‘marriage’ they may yet be successful in securing a tightening of Abortion laws. Women may lose real freedoms, so Peter Tatchell can hurt some bigots who’d already lost.
We social liberals may yet rue the day we prodded the god-botherers out of their sleepy acquiescence to basic freedoms.
Noisy Christians are now no longer just a problem for the Americans, thanks to tireless single-issue cranks, like Peter Tatchell, and a need of the Conservative party to lay to rest the ghost of section 28 by pandering to them. Every time sex is debated in parliament, badly dressed people will sing hymns of disapproval outside.
Was it worth it?

“A Party That Reflects My Views”

UKIP is a populist party. It’s anti ‘other’: Immigrants,
‘Liberal Metropolitan Elites’, Foreigners, cyclists. It attracts golf-club
bores, and over-confident pub ranters, whose ideas bounce off a leadership
intent on stroking their prejudices. The idiocy resonates in the echo-chamber
and builds into a great crescendo of cant. The Green Party is a populist party
for environmentalist and left-wing extremists. Their policy formation is
identical to UKIPs, but starts with a different set of stupid ideas, but the
idiocy and cant are the same. As for Green and UKIP, so too Respect, SWP, SSP
and all the other minor parties in the system.
These parties, and the collapse of the main parties, is a
symptom, not of the Failure of the democratic system, but it’s success. The
main parties have presided over a stunning prosperity over the past two or three
centuries. The forms, if not yet the reality, of democracy are near-universal.
The richest, happiest and most powerful nations are the ones, still, who have
been democracies longest. The citizens of these countries are the richest,
freest, safest, longest lived, healthiest and most productive people who have
ever lived. The options open to the poorest Briton dwarf those of all but a
tiny proportion of Congolese. The people of Britain have now, thanks to democracy, moved so far up
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, they expect to be listened to too.
If there’s one idea behind the rise of UKIP in
particular, it’s that the country has “gone to the dogs”. It hasn’t.
Nor is it “run by Europe”.  The
Tory party is not “the same as the Labour party”, and there isn’t a
grand conspiracy to do down the little guy by the “Liberal Metropolitan
Elite”. The conspiracy theories of all the other minor parties about big
business, or the oil industry are likewise, bunkum. They’re the result of
pandering to the prejudices of self-entitled people who lack the
self-discipline to accept that you cannot in reality expect to agree with
everything concerning the government of seventy-million people. They don’t like
some aspect of Labour or Tory policy and claim to want “A Party that
reflects my views”.
The fact is the rise of minor parties reflects a
self-centred ‘me-me-me’ culture, where people feel their ideas are valid,
however un-thought-out or spontaneous. Looking at a major party of Government
and thinking it insufficiently extreme, betrays a misunderstanding of what
democracy is FOR. It is not to impose one group’s ideal. It is not to conduct
accurate head-counts. It’s not even to do what ‘the people’ want. It’s to
temper the excesses of those who would seek to govern us, and vote the rotters
out  if necessary. The British have
traditionally preferred their coalitions WITHIN parties not between them. To
imagine you could ever agree with the entire manifesto of such a party, is just
stupid.
In order to get a radical change of policy enacted you
must first persuade a major party of Government, which involves persuading a
fairly conservative machine. Then you must persuade a sizeable chunk of the
activists of that party, each wedded to his or her own personal idiocies. Then
you must get supporters elected to offices of the party, selected for
safe-seats, and then win an election. Then the policy must be rammed through by
enthusiastic politicians against a conservative Whitehall machine. An idea has
to pass a pretty big set of hurdles before it becomes enacted policy of the
state. The length of time MPs can sit means ideas which were being implemented
in the 60s still have adherents in the commons to this day. Change is HARD to
effect. Only Atlee’s coming in after the war, and Thatcher’s managed to
significantly alter the direction of travel.
This is no bad thing.
Democracy, and the two-party duopoly will get shaken up
from time to time, but the Tory, Whig, Liberal, Labour stranglehold on power
which they’ve enjoyed for three hundred years isn’t all bad. Pick one. Try to
persuade it. Attempt to drag the centre ground of politics your way. Because
setting up a new party always ends up a vanity project for the likes of Nigel
Farage or the Dictator-toadying George-Galloway, and makes everyone involved
look like an twat. It also serves to ensure the splitting of your side of the
see-saw, ensuring the centre-ground of policy moves farther away from you.

Because we are all idiots in our own way, our enthusiasms
need tempering. Only the major parties have sufficiently high hurdles for ideas
to prevent most of the most idiotic ideas becoming official policy. Joining
UKIP or the Green Party rather than the Tories or Labour, is the action of an
idiot, without the self-awareness to realise he is one. It’s a reflection of
the egotism of our society. And it’s futile.

Where’s the Outrage?

It’s a  futile pass-time, but I like coming up with definitions of ‘left-wing’ and ‘right wing’. For most people it’s like the difference between pornography and art in that “I’ll know it when I see it” but it’s fun to deconstruct the mindset of the two tribes of politics.

There are many theories which try to put policy answers – Left-wing is statist for example but few argue the idea Fascists are other than right-wing collectivist totalitarians, while anarchists are mostly creatures of the left. Nazis and Communists are right and left-wing respectively. The former are dictators allied to the owners of capital, the latter to the means of production. The effect of both is big piles of corpses. Policy is unsatisfactory to define what they are: ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ is about a mindset.
Here’s a thought: Where’s your outrage directed? Are you outraged about policy on behalf of people you know or yourself? High taxes, too much ill-thought-through legislation? Do you campaign against roads cutting through YOUR back yard? Then you’re probably right-wing. The left-wing get outraged about things that happen to OTHERS, specifically people they don’t know. ‘The Poor’ whether here or in the third world and so forth. While the right are demanding/opposing a bypass in the local area, the left are outraged about Roads round someone else’s town that cut through a site of environmental concern for example.
The problem with the right-wing world view is that it tends towards nimbyism and rather ignores social problems once they’re put out of sight. The problem with the left-wing view is that it tends to see people as mute recipients of state charity, and tends to stick its nose where its not needed or wanted, to everyone’s cost. It sees the problems of the prosperous majority as very small next to the problems of their clients, and ends up seeing the Bourgeoisie as a mere source of funds.  
Both views are necessary to temper the excesses of the other. Without the right, the left over-legislates to solve perceived social problems, and in doing so, kills the golden goose of private business and wealth-creation. Left wing outrage, because it’s on someone-else’s behalf, is likely to be less accurately directed. As are the perceived solutions, which are often more about the left-winger’s own prejudices. However, without the left, genuine social problems can be left to fester.

And there we have the glorious creative tension built into the combative two-party politics, which is being lost in the multi-party system which will gift power to party managers and consensus-seekers. Consensus is almost always sub-optimal. Without the tension created by competing outrage, “consensus” will end up being in effect “the man in Whitehall knows best” when all the evidence is clear that, in the long-run, he doesn’t. Of course there are exceptions. Any left/right rule is bound to be simplistic, and riven with exceptions. But think about the things you’re outraged about. How many of them directly affect you?