Archive for the ‘Ideology’ Category

22/12/2016

An article from Foreign Affairs discusses populism and its relationship to facism, “right-wing movements have mounted increasingly strong challenges to political establishments across Europe and North America, many commentators have drawn parallels to the rise of fascism during the 1920s and 1930s. Last year, a French court ruled that opponents of Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, had the right to call her a “fascist”—a right they have frequently exercised. This May, after Norbert Hofer, the leader of Austria’s Freedom Party, nearly won that country’s presidential election, The Guardian asked, “How can so many Austrians flirt with this barely disguised fascism?” And in an article that same month about the rise of Donald Trump, the Republican U.S. presidential candidate, the conservative columnist Robert Kagan warned, “This is how fascism comes to America.” “Fascist” has served as a generic term of political abuse for many decades, but for the first time in ages, mainstream observers are using it seriously to describe major politicians and parties.

Fascism is associated most closely with Europe between the world wars, when movements bearing this name took power in Italy and Germany and wreaked havoc in many other European countries. Although fascists differed from country to country, they shared a virulent opposition to democracy and liberalism, as well as a deep suspicion of capitalism. They also believed that the nation—often defined in religious or racial terms—represented the most important source of identity for all true citizens. And so they promised a revolution that would replace liberal democracy with a new type of political order devoted to nurturing a unified and purified nation under the guidance of a powerful leader.

Although today’s right-wing populists share some similarities with the interwar fascists, the differences are more significant. And more important, what today’s comparisons often fail to explain is how noxious politicians and parties grow into the type of revolutionary movements capable of fundamentally threatening democracy, as interwar fascism did. In order to understand this process, it is not nearly enough to examine the programs and appeal of right-wing extremist parties, the personalities of their politicians, or the inclinations of their supporters. Instead, one must carefully consider the broader political context. What turned fascists from marginal extremists into rulers of much of Europe was the failure of democratic elites and institutions to deal with the crises facing their societies during the interwar years. Despite real problems, the West today is confronting nowhere near the same type of breakdown it did in the 1930s. So calling Le Pen, Trump, and other right-wing populists “fascists” obscures more than it clarifies.

Like many of today’s right-wing movements, fascism originated during a period of intense globalization. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, capitalism dramatically reshaped Western societies, destroying traditional communities, professions, and cultural norms. This was also a time of immense immigration. Peasants from rural areas, which had been decimated by new agricultural technologies and the inflow of cheap agricultural products, flocked to cities, and the citizens of poorer countries flocked to richer ones in search of better lives.

Then, as now, these changes frightened and angered many people, creating fertile ground for new politicians who claimed to have the answers. Prominent among these politicians were right-wing nationalists, who vowed to protect citizens from the pernicious influence of foreigners and markets. Fascist movements arose in almost all Western countries, from Argentina to Austria and from France to Finland. Fascists became disruptive forces in some countries and influenced policymaking in others, but they did not fundamentally challenge existing political orders before 1914. Their policies and appeal alone, in other words, did not make them truly dangerous or revolutionary. It would take World War I to do that.

That conflict killed, maimed, and traumatized millions of Europeans, and it physically and economically devastated much of the continent. “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime,” British Foreign Secretary Edward Grey remarked at the beginning of the war. And indeed, by the time the war was over, an entire way of life had vanished.

The year 1918 brought an end to the war, but not to the suffering. Europe’s continental empires—Austro-Hungarian, German, Ottoman, and Russian—­collapsed during or after the conflict, creating a variety of new states that lacked any experience with democracy and featured mixed populations that had little interest in living together. Meanwhile, in many of Europe’s older states, such as Germany and Spain, old regimes also collapsed, making way for democratic transitions. But like the new states, most of these countries also lacked experience with popular rule—and thus the habits, norms, and institutions necessary for making it work.

To make matters worse, the end of the war, rather than ushering in a period of peace and reconstruction, brought with it an unending stream of social and economic problems. New democracies struggled to reintegrate millions of soldiers back into society and reconstruct economies that had been distorted and disrupted by the fighting. Austria and Germany had to respond to the humiliation of a lost war and a punitive peace, and both were hit with hyperinflation. Across the continent, lawlessness and violence quickly became endemic as democratic governments lost control of the streets and parts of their territories. Italy suffered through almost two years of factory occupations, peasant land seizures, and armed conflicts between left- and right-wing militias. In Germany, the Weimar Republic faced violent left- and right-wing uprisings, forcing the government to send in troops to recapture cities and regions.

Despite these and other problems, fascists at first remained marginal forces. In Italy, they received almost no votes in the country’s first postwar election. And in Germany, Hitler’s 1923 Beer Hall Putsch flopped, ending with him and many of his coconspirators in jail. But as time passed, problems persisted. European economies had trouble getting back on their feet, and street brawls, assassinations, and other forms of social disorder continued to plague many European countries. By the late 1920s, in short, many Europeans’ faith in democracy had been badly shaken.

DEMOCRACIES IN CRISIS

Then came the Great Depression. What proved so catastrophic about that event was not the economic suffering it caused—although that was bad enough—but the failure of democratic institutions to respond to it. To understand the difference, compare the fates of Germany and the United States. These two countries were hit the hardest by the Depression, experiencing the highest levels of unemployment, rates of business collapse, and drops in production. But in Germany, the Weimar Republic then fell to the Nazi onslaught, whereas in the United States, democracy survived—despite the appearance of some pseudo-fascist leaders such as the Louisiana politician Huey Long and the radio preacher Father Charles Coughlin. Why the different outcomes?

The answer lies in the two governments’ divergent responses to the economic crisis. German leaders did little to ease their society’s suffering; in fact, they pursued policies of austerity, which exacerbated the economic downturn in general and the horrifically high rates of unemployment in particular. Strikingly, even the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, sat meekly by, offering little in the way of an attractive alternative program. In the United States, meanwhile, democratic institutions and norms were longer lived and therefore more robust. But also critical to staving off fascism was President Franklin Roosevelt’s insistence that the government could and would help its citizens, by laying the foundations of the modern welfare state.

Unfortunately for Europe, too many governments there proved unable or unwilling to respond as actively, and most mainstream political parties offered little in the way of viable alternative plans. By the early 1930s, liberal parties had been discredited across much of the continent; their faith in markets, unwillingness to respond forcefully to capitalism’s downsides, and hostility to nationalism struck voters as completely out of synch with interwar realities. With the exception of Scandinavia’s, meanwhile, most socialist parties were also flummoxed, telling citizens that their lives would improve only once capitalism had fully collapsed—and that they could do little to help them in the interim. (Socialists were also indifferent or hostile to concerns about national identity and the evisceration of traditional norms—another politically unwise stance during a period of immense social upheaval.) Communists did at least put forth a compelling alternative to the status quo, but their appeal was limited by an almost exclusive focus on the working class and their hostility to nationalism.

And so in all too many European countries, it was the fascists who were able to take advantage of the declining faith in democracy that accompanied the Depression. Fascists offered both a strong critique of the reigning order and a powerful alternative to it. They criticized democracy as inefficient, unresponsive, and weak and promised to replace it altogether. The new system would use the state to protect citizens from capitalism’s most destructive effects by creating jobs, expanding the welfare state (for “true” citizens only, of course), eliminating supposedly exploitative capitalists (often Jews), and funneling resources instead to businesses that were deemed to serve the national interest. Fascists promised to end the divisions and conflicts that had weakened their nations—often, of course, by ridding them of those viewed as not truly part of them. And they pledged to restore a sense of pride and purpose to societies that had for too long felt battered by forces outside their control. These positions enabled fascism in Germany, Italy, and elsewhere to attract an extremely diverse constituency that cut across classes. Although fascist parties received disproportionately high support from men, the lower-middle class, and former soldiers, they enjoyed a broader base of support than any other type of party in interwar Europe.

Despite all these advantages, the fascists still lacked the strength to take power on their own; they also needed the connivance of traditional conservatives. These conservatives—who sought to preserve the power of the traditional elite and destroy that of the people—lacked mass constituencies of their own and believed they could use the fascists’ popularity to achieve their long-term goals. So they worked behind the scenes to maneuver Mussolini and Hitler into office, believing that they could later manipulate or get rid of these men. Little did they know that the fascists were playing the same game. Soon after being appointed chancellor, in 1933, Hitler did away with his erstwhile conservative allies, whom he correctly viewed as a hindrance to his long-planned revolutionary project. Mussolini, who had been appointed prime minister in 1922, took a little longer to completely secure his position—but he, too, eventually pushed aside (or simply killed) many of the traditional conservatives who had helped make him Il Duce in the first place.

LESSONS FOR TODAY

So what does all of this say about Le Pen, Trump, and today’s other right-wing extremists? They certainly share some similarities with the interwar fascists. Like their predecessors, today’s right-wing extremists denounce incumbent democratic leaders as inefficient, unresponsive, and weak. They promise to nurture their nation, protect it from its enemies, and restore a sense of purpose to people who feel battered by forces outside their control. And they pledge to stand up for “the people,” who are often defined in religious or racial terms.

But if the similarities are striking, the differences are even more so. Most obvious, today’s extremists claim they want not to bury democracy but to improve it. They critique the functioning of contemporary democracy but offer no alternative to it, just vague promises to make government stronger, more efficient, and more responsive.

Current right-wing extremists are thus better characterized as populist rather than fascist, since they claim to speak for everyday men and women against corrupt, debased, and out-of-touch elites and institutions. In other words, they are certainly antiliberal, but they are not antidemocratic. This distinction is not trivial. If today’s populists come to power—even the right-wing nationalists among them—the continued existence of democracy will permit their societies to opt for a do-over by later voting them out. Indeed, this may be democracy’s greatest strength: it allows countries to recover from their mistakes.

But the more important difference between today’s right-wing extremists and yesterday’s fascists is the larger context. As great as contemporary problems are, and as angry as many citizens may be, the West is simply not facing anything approaching the upheaval of the interwar period. “The mere existence of privations is not enough to cause an insurrection; if it were, the masses would be always in revolt,” Leon Trotsky once wrote, and the same logic applies to the appearance of fascism. In the United States and western Europe, at least, democracy and democratic norms have deep roots, and contemporary governments have proved nowhere near as inept as their predecessors in the 1920s and 1930s. Moreover, democratic procedures and institutions, welfare states, political parties, and robust civil societies continue to provide citizens with myriad ways of voicing their concerns, influencing political outcomes, and getting their needs met.

For these reasons, the right-wing extremists in the United States and western Europe today have much more limited options and opportunities than their interwar counterparts did. (On the other hand, in eastern and southern Europe, where democratic norms and institutions are younger and weaker, movements have emerged that resemble traditional fascism much more closely, including Golden Dawn in Greece and Jobbik in Hungary.) As the scholar Theda Skocpol has stressed, revolutionary movements don’t create crises; they exploit them. In other words, true revolutionary threats to democracy emerge when democracies themselves create crises ready to be exploited by failing to deal with the challenges they face.

Things can change, of course, and the lack of true fascist movements in the United States and western Europe today is no excuse for complacency. But what the interwar period illustrates is that the West should worry more about the problems afflicting democracy than about right-wing populists themselves. The best way to ensure that the Le Pens and Trumps of the world go down in history as also-rans rather than as real threats is to make democratic institutions, parties, and politicians more responsive to the needs of all citizens. In the United States, for example, rising inequality, stagnating wages, deteriorating communities, congressional gridlock, and the flow of big money to campaigns have played a bigger role in fueling support for Trump than his purported charisma or the supposed authoritarian leanings of his supporters. Tackling those problems would no doubt help prevent the rise of the next Trump.

History also shows that conservatives should be particularly wary of embracing right-wing populists. Mainstream Republicans who make bogus claims about voter fraud, rigged elections, and the questionable patriotism and nationality of President Barack Obama in order to appeal to the extremist fringes are playing an extremely dangerous game, since such rhetoric fans citizens’ fear and distrust of their politicians and institutions, thus undermining their faith in democracy itself. And just like their interwar counter­parts, these conservatives are also likely enhancing the appeal of politicians who have little loyalty to the conservatives’ own policies, constituencies, or institutions.

Right-wing populism—indeed, populism of any kind—is a symptom of democracy in trouble; fascism and other revolutionary movements are the consequence of democracy in crisis. But if governments do not do more to address the many social and economic problems the United States and Europe currently face, if mainstream politicians and parties don’t do a better job reaching out to all citizens, and if conservatives continue to fan fear and turn a blind eye to extremism, then the West could quickly find itself moving from the former to the latter.

 

 

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Trump, liberalism and the search for meaning

18/12/2016

An article argues that Trump has returned America to its norm of fighting over identity, morality and religion, “Americans have elected an “illiberal democrat” as president. That doesn’t mean the United States will become an illiberal democracy — where democratically elected leaders fundamentally erode the rights and freedoms we associate with the classical liberal tradition — anytime soon. But it does mean we could become one. As a minority and a Muslim, the result of this election is distressing — and perhaps the most frightening event I’ve experienced in my own country. That said, there is something admirable in the idea that democratic outcomes will be respected even when people you hate (or people that hate you) come to power. I’ve studied “existential” elections in the Middle East, where there is simply too much at stake for the losers of elections to accept that the victors have, in fact, won. I was nervous about Donald Trump. But I also recognized that he was an unusually compelling candidate in an age when they are few and far between. I remember the first time I heard him give a long, rambling, ad-libbed speech at a raucous rally. It’s not just that I couldn’t look away; I didn’t want to. Trump was funny, charismatic, and vaguely charming but also quite obviously petty and vindictive. His rallies were more like faith-based festivals. This wasn’t politics as an end — it was politics as a means to something else, although I wasn’t quite sure what. But I did know that I had seen it before”.

The writer goes on to point out “It’s almost unfair to compare Trump to the democratically elected Islamists that I normally study, since Trump’s open disrespect not just for liberal norms, but democratic ones as well, has been so unabashed. In his infamous statement during the final presidential debate, Trump refused to commit himself to democratic outcomes if his opponent won. Mainstream Islamist groups that participate in elections — whatever we think their true intentions are — have rarely gone this far. The differences between ethno-nationalist parties, such as Trump’s new Republicans, and religious parties are of course numerous, which makes the similarities all the more glaring. There is the same sense of victimization, real and imagined, at the hands of an entrenched elite, coupled with an acute sense of loss. In both cases, the leader of the movement is seen as the embodiment of the national will, representing “the people.” The overlap between Trumpism and Islamism is no coincidence. In my book Islamic Exceptionalism, which discusses Islam’s tensions with liberalism and liberal democracy, I argue that some public role for religion is necessary in religiously conservative societies. Religion, unlike secular nationalism or socialism, can provide a common language and a kind of asabiyya — a 14th-century Arabic term coined by the historian Ibn Khaldun meaning roughly “group consciousness.” Asabiyya was needed to bind states together, providing cohesion and shared purpose”.

The author crucially argues that “In less religious or “post-Christian” societies, a mainstream Christianity is no longer capable of providing the necessary group identity. But that doesn’t mean other ideas won’t fill the vacuum. In other words, be careful what you wish for: An America where religion plays less of a role isn’t necessarily a better one, if what replaces religion is white nativism. Whether it’s nativism, European-style ethno-nationalism, or, in the case of the Middle East, Islamism, the thread that connects these disparate experiments is similar: the flailing search for a politics of meaning. The ideologies might seem incoherent or hollow, but they all aspire to some sort of social solidarity, anchoring public life in sharply defined identities. During the Arab Spring, for instance, the Muslim Brotherhood hoped, at least in the long run, to transform Egypt into a kind of missionary state. The essence of politics then isn’t just, or even primarily, about improving citizens’ quality of life — it’s about directing their energies toward moral, philosophical, or ideological ends. When the state entrusts itself with a cause — whether based around religion or ethnic identity — citizens are no longer individuals pursuing their own conception of the good life; they are part of a larger brotherhood, entrusted with a mission to reshape society”.

Pointedly he contends that “This isn’t necessarily surprising. Western elites too often assume liberalism as a default setting, but after spending more than six years living, studying, and conducting fieldwork in the Middle East, and after witnessing the demise of the Arab Spring, my view of human nature became quite a bit darker. Illiberalism, not liberalism, seemed the default setting. Islamism promised to remove the spiritual confusion associated with individualism and seemingly unlimited choices. I’ll never forget sitting in the back of a Cairo cab with a random guy, who was getting high on hashish and going on about the need for sharia, or Islamic law. He wanted an Islamic state to force him to stop doing drugs because he didn’t want to sin. But he didn’t know how, at least not on his own. Despite watching the march of illiberalism nearly everywhere, from Europe to the Middle East to Asia, I resisted my own conclusions when it came to considering the appeal of Trump’s illiberalism at home”.

He continues “As a personality, he was singular and compelling — but could he really win in a country where constitutional liberalism was so deeply entrenched? Intellectually, I knew we had to take his movement seriously and thought he had a good chance of winning. But as an American citizen with a stake in my country’s democratic ideals, I couldn’t bring myself to actually visualize it as something real. We all need to believe in our better angels, particularly when it comes to the very countries in which we live and believe. The writer Yascha Mounk called Nov. 8 “the worst night for liberal democracy since [1942].” He’s probably right. But there is a perhaps sunnier way to view Trump’s election: It could prove a definitive rebuke to what liberal democracy had, contrary to the intent of its originators, become — the kind of center-left managerial technocracy that was as uninspiring as it was unthreatening. This techno-liberalism could, to be sure, improve people’s lives by nudgingand tinkering around the margins. But aside from the “poetry” of periodic moments like Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, it offered only the prose of technocratic policy — prose that could become its own kind of faith, offering certainty and even a sense of identity, but primarily directed at elites and wonks who believed that the future of politics was in finding the right “facts.” These facts, objective and unimpeachable, would aid in the slow work of, say, refining a flawed universal health-care system and getting Wall Street to behave a little bit better. For everyone else, it failed to offer a substantive politics of meaning”.

Importantly he posits that “Humans need to belong, and so we gravitate toward in-groups of like-minded people. In my case, those like-minded people are of different races and religions, but we share a culture, lifestyle, and a sensibility. We were moved by the kind of joyous diversity on display at the Democratic National Convention. In those images, I could recognize the America that I knew and perhaps the only America I hoped to know.  But most members of the so-called and now somewhat clichéd “white working class” relate to each other more than they could ever relate to me. They see me as different, in part because I am. Is this a kind of nativism? Maybe. But, ultimately, my politics are just as motivated by identity and culture as theirs. The decline of Christianity in the United States has left an ideological vacuum, and for many, perhaps most, modern liberalism is just a bit too boring to fill the gap. Or, to put it differently, it doesn’t provide the existential meaning that they want and even crave”.

He ends “In his seminal essay “The End of History?” the political scientist Francis Fukuyama grappled with the victory of liberal democracy. He wrote that “the struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.” But Fukuyama was ambivalent about this, instinctively recognizing liberal democracy’s inherent weakness before most. He ended his article on a prescient if now somewhat terrifying note: “Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.” We are now condemned to live in exciting times. Boredom is, quite clearly, underrated. At the same time, I must confess that as Trump’s victory settled, my despair was coupled with a rush of blood to the head. I felt my fear, including for my family, giving me a sense of purpose. I at least knew what I believed in and what I hoped America could still become. And, in one way or another, even if we don’t quite consciously want it, it’s something we all apparently need — something, whatever it is, to fight for. Now Americans on both sides of the ever-widening divide will have it.

 

May’s religious nationalism

18/12/2016

Andrew Brown writes about the importance of understanding Threasa May’s faith when it come sto understanding Brexit, “Among the least understood, yet most important, things about British Prime Minister Theresa May is that she is the daughter of a Church of England vicar. The fact that she is personally devout, by contrast, is well-known. I have heard several anecdotes about her time as a member of Parliament and minister when she would turn up at local parish initiatives that could offer her no conceivable political advantage. Such devotion to the church is unusual if not unknown among British politicians. Gordon Brown remains a very serious Presbyterian; Tony Blair went to Mass most Sundays. But the reason May’s Anglicanism offers insight into her political character, and her political agenda, is not because it has informed her identity as a devout Christian. Rather, it is because it has informed her identity as an Englishwoman”.

Brown argues “As a Conservative politician, May’s appeal depends largely on her apparently apolitical common sense. Her manner and rhetoric always suggest that things are pretty much all right as they are, that reasonable people don’t want to rock the boat, and that there is something wrong with the people who want large change. She expresses distrust of ideologues and chancers — the two labels that most naturally attach to her political rivals at the moment. But it’s telling that the teachings of the Church of England have always managed to combine common sense with a very strong nationalistic streak. The clue is in the name. The one thing that distinguished Henry VIII’s church from that of his father, Henry VII, was that the king of England appointed the clergy, not the bishop of Rome. Doctrine had hardly changed at all. (That would have to wait until the convulsions under Henry VIII’s children, Edward, Mary and Elizabeth.) Until Henry died, all that really changed was that England became, to use the technical term of the times, an “empire.” In that sense, Brexit really is a continuation of the Reformation impulse — it promises nothing so much as a restoration of national prerogatives and privileges”.

Brown notes that “This is not to suggest that May, who is now obliged to oversee the Brexit process, is enthusiastic about its prospects. Prior to the referendum vote that initiated Brexit, May believed the economic effects were likely to be disastrous, as her leaked pre-referendum speech to Goldman Sachs showed. And her intentions about Brexit are still remarkably opaque: A senior aide leaving a recent briefing at the newly created Department for Exiting the EU was photographed holding a briefing note on which the words “have cake and eat it” could be read. That plan will clearly not survive contact with the enemy. But it’s worth noting that May seemed quick to embrace the idea of a hard Brexit, in which keeping out immigrants takes priority over ensuring decent trading conditions. And that would be consistent with her time leading the Home Office, where she showed a consistent determination to keep down net immigration figures. (Someone who worked with her then described her three policy priorities as “down with immigration, down with crime, and up with Theresa May.”) Generally, the leaks we have had make it seem that she is more concerned about managing her party, and its constituents, than managing relations with the French and Germans”.

Brown points out “If Americans don’t immediately grasp what this style of thinking has to do with the Church of England, that’s because it’s built on a very different model of Christianity from the one that seems natural in the United States. From the Middle Ages until very recently, the church was organized and understood itself on the basis of the parish. The parish, in England, is a geographical division, one that is no longer a unit of political or economic significance but which remains fundamental to the church’s self-understanding. Everyone lives in a parish, and every parish has its church, so everyone has a priest in the Church of England who is in some sense responsible for their spiritual welfare. This has also meant that the church hierarchy — the clergy, and ultimately the bishops, who sit in the House of Lords and thus have a say over all legislation considered by Parliament — is expected to feel a responsibility for everyone in their respective parishes, no matter how poor and miserable. This sense of responsibility, almost as much as the two world wars, was what reconciled the English Conservative Party, which had a close relationship with the church hierarchy, to the welfare state. And that state was very much inspired by the work of Anglican intellectuals, such as William Temple, the wartime archbishop of Canterbury. For that generation, the postwar welfare state was an attempt to turn England into the New Jerusalem. The Christian elements of that vision faded with time and so did the nationalist ones. The last ones may now be coming back”.

Brown mentions “The Church of England is, in an important sense, not a religious body at all. It is, or was, a mode of being English. It was the official position of the Church of England that it had no distinctive doctrines of its own. It was simply the English part of the universal church. This claim was hard to sustain in reality — the doctrine that the Church of England has no unique doctrines is itself unique to the Church of England — but it reflected a deep conservative self-confidence. It was only as a member of the Church of England that C.S. Lewis could write a book titled Mere Christianity, referencing the plain, commonsensical essence of belief, without the extravagance of Rome or the doctrinal extremism of the puritans. The link with May should be obvious. The lack of explicit theological distinctiveness in her church coheres with an almost complete lack of ideology in her politics. She seems to have no large vision of how society should be organized or the economy run: She sees problems in her nation and fixes them, without worrying too much about how everything might fit into a grand scheme. If she had a slogan, it might be “common sense without stupidity.” The Brexit vote would seem to contradict both halves of the slogan. But we still have no clear idea how she intends to deal with it — except that she does not intend to let anyone outside the government know anything until the last possible moment. The attempt to negotiate what is supposed to be a return to parliamentary sovereignty without a vote in Parliament is one example. Another is her repetition of the phrase “Brexit means Brexit” until its lack of meaning became embarrassingly obvious”.

He ends “It’s almost as if she believed her policies could be as private as her spiritual beliefs. Though she has by all accounts a strong sense of duty, May is quite remarkably undemonstrative. She is extremely private about her religious beliefs, as with all other aspects of her private life; this, too, is a traditional sort of Englishness, in which you perform your duties but have no public existence outside them. Those duties sometimes take a universalist cast. One of the causes May pushed hardest at the Home Office and elsewhere was the fight against modern slavery. There are few votes to be won in this fight, but it is the right thing to do, and she has worked very hard to ensure that problem was taken seriously throughout the criminal justice system. The bishops would agree with her on that, while being a long way to her left on welfare reform and on the treatment of refugees. It’s very notable that some of the most bigoted social conservatives on the English Christian scene are also in favour of the large-scale resettlement of Christian refugees from around the world to England. Generally, however, May’s political career is given coherence by her supposition that her Christian duty is to the people of England rather than to humanity in general or even to other Christians”.

He finishes “This is another thing that distinguishes state churches, on the European model, from congregational ones, on the American model. The state church is not something you join, or leave, any more than the nation is. It is run as a kind of public utility: a national spiritual health service, if you like. In Germany and Scandinavia, the churches are paid for out of taxation collected by the state, as the English church once was, even if the church taxes in Europe are now voluntary. Because there is no special membership status, no one is excluded either, and there is an obligation to serve everyone. May’s father was legally obliged to marry or bury any resident of the parish who demanded this service — the assumption being that they were members of the church. May won’t bring her faith into politics explicitly, but we can expect her to behave as if England were a special, almost sacred, country in ways that none of her immediate predecessors, much less Americans, would understand”.

 

“Trump’s election feels like a nightmare”

06/12/2016

An article argues that Trump is the end of the world as we know it, “The only thing that makes nightmares tolerable is that you never do experience the consequences. You might be falling from a great height, but you wake up — or miraculously change scenery — before you can hit the ground, or even wonder about survival. For most of the world, Donald Trump’s election feels like a nightmare that lacks that one saving grace. For the last few days we have all been in free fall, with the ground fast approaching, except that we also know we are wide awake. Difficult as it is, however, it’s time to start thinking about what exactly awaits the world after it slams into its new political reality. This is not an easy task. While Trump is a man of strong words, he is not one of consistent views. Over the course of the last 12 months, he has flip-flopped on just about every issue, from the welfare state, to civil rights, to nuclear proliferation and the use of American military power”.

The writer points out that Trump may well undermine democracy, “First and foremost, we must not underestimate the possibility that Donald Trump may prove a serious threat to liberal democracy in the United States. In the campaign, he has attacked every norm of democratic politics: He has threatened to jail his opponent and to disregard the result of the election if he loses. He has attacked the independence of the judiciary and promised to muzzle the free press. This may be the verbal expulsions of a man to whom the art of saying extreme things without thinking them through comes very lightly, but it is just as likely to be a reflection of the depth of his authoritarian impulses. And even if his victory at the polls has not been nearly as resounding as the immense power it has given him suggests, it did make one thing clear: A shockingly large number of Americans were not put off by this authoritarian rhetoric. They may be willing to go along if he decides to walk the walk as well. The hundreds of political scientists (myself included) who signed a letter warning of the danger Trump may pose to liberal democracy did not overcome their professional reluctance to engage in partisan politics on a whim; they were motivated by the similarities they saw between Trump and to the many undertakers of democracy in other historical periods and geographic areas”.

The writer points out that Trump may end the dream of a multi-ethnic democracy, “It is rarely noted that democracy took hold in many European countries at the precise moment when decades of war and ethnic cleansing had turned them extremely homogeneous. This is probably no coincidence. In the modern era, democracy has always gone hand-in-hand with nationalism. And the popular perception of who truly belongs to these nations has, in turn, been deeply restrictive. In most times and places, you did not truly belong to the volk unless you descended from the same ethnic stock as the majority of your co-citizens. This is one way in which the United States really was at one point, if not quite unique, then certainly special. For despite its long and deep history of radical racial injustice, it was tempting to think that America had in some ways become a genuinely multiethnic democracy. Even as many whites jealously guarded their privileges, for example, most had come to accept that blacks or Latinos were fellow Americans”.

He contends that the illiberal order will continue to rise, “During the election campaign, global opinion polls showed an overwhelming preference for Hillary Clinton in most parts of the world. But these polls missed a crucial detail: among the illiberal populists who are now on the rise in such diverse countries as France, Sweden, Hungary and Russia, Trump has always enjoyed strong support. Nigel Farage, who helped bring about Brexit as the leader of the U.K. Independence Party, campaigned with Trump. Other illiberal populists were among the first — and the most enthusiastic — to celebrate his victory. Marine Le Pen, of France’s National Front party, congratulated Americans on “choosing their president of their own accord instead of rubber-stamping the one chosen for them by the establishment.” Geert Wilders, the Dutch far-right leader who recently out-Trumped Trump by calling for on an outright ban on the Quran, rejoiced in the fact that “politics will never be the same…. What America can do, we can do as well. There is a reason for their joy. While the far-right leaders who have enjoyed a meteoric rise in recent years are virtually always deeply nationalist, they now see themselves as part of a common enterprise: to divorce liberalism from democracy. In a liberal democracy, the rights of minorities are protected and independent institutions like the judiciary rein in the power of the government. In the illiberal democracies which the vanguard of the illiberal international has established in countries like Turkey or Poland, by contrast, minorities are scapegoated for political gain and independent power centers are systematically undermined”.

He ends most worryingly discussing how America’s allies may look elsewhere, “Even in the best case, American foreign policy will remain unpredictable for the coming years. For countries whose security has always depended on the reliability of their American allies, this is deeply scary. For now, they will be extremely vulnerable to the caprices of President Trump. That insecurity cannot be a good feeling. And so, if decision-makers in capitals from Berlin to Tokyo have any ounce of strategic vision, they must now be hard at work in figuring out how to become less dependent on the United States. But their options are sparse. They could invest much more heavily in their own defence, and doubtless many of them will. But for countries like Germany or Japan, it would be incredibly costly to modernise their armed forces sufficiently to be able to do without the protecting hand of a friendly hegemon. They could strengthen alliances with countries that still do share their values. But those are few and far between, and they are unlikely to be stronger than themselves militarily. Finally, they could seek the reassurance of nuclear weapons. But this is likely to engender significant domestic opposition and may prove counterproductive if it scares their neighbors into an arms race. And so, the most realistic alternative among all the possibilities available to America’s longtime allies may be to move away from a values-based system of international alliances. In a world in which there is no reliably liberal democratic hegemon left, smaller nations will be very tempted to scurry for protection wherever it might be on offer. And if that comes to pass, then the Western liberal order may disintegrate more quickly than we might have imagined a few short years ago”.

Duterte changes sides

01/12/2016

Max Boot writes about Filipino foreign policy and the consequences of its turn to China, “International relations theorists of a “realist” persuasion like to claim that states are rational actors pursuing their strategic interests in an anarchic world where power alone matters. Ideology and domestic politics do not much concern these thinkers; they believe that a nation’s foreign policy is much more likely to be shaped by factors such as geography, demography, and economics. This was the viewpoint of Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, who famously tried to realign China from being a foe of the United States to a friend — never mind that the Chinese leader they had to deal with was Mao Zedong, one of the worst mass murderers in history. “Nixinger” believed, correctly, that China’s interest in countering Soviet power would lead it to draw closer with the United States. But even in the case of China the applicability of realist insights was limited. China did not begin the transformation that would make it a leading economic force and trade partner of the United States until Mao had died, replaced by the reformist Deng Xiaoping. Even today China is more foe than friend of America”.

Boot goes on to point out how “Today, the Philippines is Exhibit A in illustrating the limits of the realist conceit that some unvarying strategic logic governs foreign policy. The Philippines has seen a vertigo-inducing change in its foreign-policy orientation since Rodrigo Duterte became president this summer. This crude populist is now transforming the Philippines’ relationship with the United States in a fundamental and worrying manner. The Philippines is America’s oldest ally in Asia, and until recently one of the closest”.

Boot mentions how “In 2014, President Barack Obama signed an agreement with then-President Benigno Aquino III that would allow U.S. forces more regular access to bases in the Philippines and increase the tempo of training exercises and military cooperation between the two countries. Now that achievement looks increasingly like a dead letter. Duterte journeyed to Beijing this week to announce his “separation from the United States” in military and economic terms. “America has lost,” Duterte said. He claimed that a new alliance of the Philippines, China, and Russia would emerge — “there are three of us against the world.” His trade secretary said the Philippines and China were inking $13 billion in trade deals; that’s a pretty hefty signing bonus for switching sides. Duterte said he will soon end military cooperation with the United States, despite the opposition of his armed forces. What could account for this head-snapping transformation? Manila’s strategic and economic interests have not changed. While China is the Philippines’ second-largest trade partner, its largest is Japan, a close American ally and a foe of Chinese expansionism. The third-largest trade partner is the United States”.

He notes that “the Philippine people remain largely pro-American. English is the lingua franca of the Philippines. The Armed Forces of the Philippines have many decades of cooperation with the United States and have been built in the image of the U.S. military; they have no experience working with China’s People’s Liberation Army. Moreover, and despite Duterte’s nasty rhetoric and ad hominems, the United States continues to express its desire to protect the Philippines. This massive geopolitical shift is entirely Duterte’s doing. It cannot be explained any other way. It is a product of his peculiar psychology. He has long been ideologically hostile to the United States — he has called Obama a “son of a whore” — and he feels an ideological affinity with China’s authoritarian rulers. Although elected democratically, Duterte is a strongman in the making. He has already violated the rule of law to unleash death squads that are said to have killed at least 1,900 people, including a 5-year-old boy, in the name of fighting drugs. He has cited Hitler as his role model: “Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now, there is 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them.” He has also said “I don’t give a shit” about human rights. China’s rulers don’t put their worldview quite so crassly, but they, too, don’t care much for human rights. The Duterte-Xi Jinping marriage thus seems like a natural match”.

Boot point out that “From the American viewpoint, Duterte’s flip-flop — assuming it leads to a lasting strategic shift — is a potential disaster. Aligned with the United States and its regional allies, the Philippines can provide a vital platform to oppose Chinese aggression in the South China and East China seas. If the Philippines becomes a Chinese satrapy, by contrast, Washington will find itself hard-pressed to hold the “first island chain” in the Western Pacific that encompasses “the Japanese archipelago, the Ryukyus, Taiwan, and the Philippine archipelago.” Defending that line of island barriers has been a linchpin of U.S. strategy since the Cold War. It now could be undone because of the whims of one unhinged leader. China could either neutralise this vital American ally or even potentially turn the Philippines into a PLA Navy base for menacing U.S. allies such as Taiwan, Japan, and Australia. At the very least, the U.S. Navy will find it much harder to protect the most important sea lanes in the world; each year $5.3 trillion in goods passes through the South China Sea, including $1.2 trillion in U.S. trade”.

He notes that “The opposition is already making hay over Duterte’s China trip. A Supreme Court justice in Manila has warned the president that, were he to give up sovereignty over the Scarborough Shoal, it could result in his impeachment. The only good news from the American standpoint is that what Duterte is doing could be undone by a more rational successor, assuming that democracy in the Philippines survives this time of testing”.

Realignment after Trump

27/11/2016
 Lee Drutman posits that the nature of the American political system is changing, “By the numbers, the 2016 election was not very different from the 2012 election or the 2008 election. Donald Trump won because he did slightly better in a few key states than Mitt Romney did. The map changed slightly. But as with previous elections, there were few swing voters. The election was decided primarily by disappointing turnout among core Democratic constituencies. But by the substance, the 2016 election was very different. Donald Trump romped through the primaries, breaking with conservative orthodoxy. He ran as a very different type of Republican. He was ardently nationalist, promising to rip up trade deals, make America more isolationist, and start imposing tariffs to protect American manufacturing. He promised to tighten borders, reduce immigration, and protect Social Security. His core voters were downscale whites, voters who a generation ago had been Democrats but moved over into the Republican camp for cultural and identity reason”.

Drutman goes on to argue “Now the big question is whether he will try to reshape the Republican Party along these lines. If he does, American politics will be in for some significant changes. The Republican Party will look different in substance. And the Democratic Party will, too, in response. This seems like a very likely scenario. In understanding why Trump is going to remake the Republican Party, note that his candidacy and his core movement were based around challenging the party establishment. Throughout the campaign, he has welcomed a steady stream of fights with establishment party leaders, most prominently Paul Ryan. Trump is not a man who forgives grudges. He’s a man who punishes his enemies. He’s a man who above all wants to win. Now he is about to be president. He will never be in a stronger position to be the transformative figure he clearly sees himself as. Here, it’s worth paying attention to what he has been saying. Look at the top priority in his stated plan for his first 100 days in office: “FIRST, propose a Constitutional Amendment to impose term limits on all members of Congress.” This is not an olive branch. It’s a shot across the bow. Not surprisingly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tersely responded: “It will not be on the agenda in the Senate.” Or look at the proposal Trump gave prime real estate to in his acceptance speech. A major infrastructure rebuilding program: “We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.” Again, McConnell noted a big infrastructure bill was not his top priority. After all, it sounds suspiciously like President Barack Obama’s stimulus that McConnell and his fellow Republicans once opposed so adamantly as reckless spending”.

The piece contends that “Interestingly, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has been enthusiastic about Trump’s infrastructure bill, more so than Republicans. In a statement, she said: “As President-elect Trump indicated last night, investing in infrastructure is an important priority of his. We can work together to quickly pass a robust infrastructure jobs bill.” And remember that it was Democrats, not Republicans, who were most opposed to granting Obama fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Note that the first item on Trump’s list of “seven actions to protect American workers” is renegotiating or withdrawing from NAFTA, and the second is withdrawing from the TPP. It’s also worth noting that Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has been aggressive in going after China for currency manipulation, also a Trump priority (No. 3 on his list of “actions to protect American workers”). Obviously, there’s much that Democrats disagree with Trump on. But typically, incoming presidents focus first on the issues where there is unity within their party, in order to capitalize on the momentum of their victory and rack up their achievements. By contrast, Trump has prioritized issues that divide his party and, together with his strident tone on social issues, make him sound more like a Southern Democrat from around the time most of his voters think America was great. Party systems in the United States are inherently unstable. Because it is a two-party system, the party that wins is the party that builds the biggest coalition. But the bigger the coalition, the more unstable it is”.

Crucially he writes “As the political scientists Gary Miller and Norman Schofield have astutely noted: “Successful American parties must be coalitions of enemies. A party gets to be a majority party by forming fragile ties across wide and deep differences in one dimension or the other. Maintaining such diverse majority coalitions is necessarily an enormous struggle against strong centrifugal forces.” Or as political scientists Edward G. Carmines and James A. Stimson similarly put it: “By their very nature, all party alignments contain the seeds of their own destruction.” The United States has had six party systems in its history. By party system, I mean relatively stable coalitions that relitigate the same set of issue battles. Each, until now, has lasted for at most 36 years. That seems to be about as long as a coalition of enemies can stick together, before some issue divides them”.

He contends that “The first system lasted from roughly 1792 to 1824 (32 years), the next from 1828 to 1856 (28 years), one from about 1860 to 1896 (36 years), another from about 1896 to 1932 (36 years), and another from about 1932 to 1968 (36 years). The current alignment came out of the 1968 election and has been pretty consistent since about 1980, when the Reagan coalition really solidified. The Reagan coalition was built around a mix of traditionally upper-class, economically conservative voters, very religious “values voters,” and “Reagan Democrats,” which became the nickname for the disaffected working-class whites whose aversion to the Democratic Party’s condescending elitism and racial liberalism overwhelmed their hope that government could somehow help them out. What these voters had in common was that they felt the Democratic Party didn’t represent them. The enemy of their enemy was their friend. For decades, these different voters came together around a shared “conservative” ideology of “limited government.” For the traditionally Republican economic conservatives, this meant low taxes and low regulation. For newer converts to the Republican coalition, limited government primarily meant not taking their money so that poor black people could get a generous welfare check. Anti-communism and a strong America abroad were powerful cementing forces. But as time went on, cracks emerged. The Soviet Union collapsed, the Iraq War turned sour, jobs went overseas in old-line manufacturing regions, and then the economy cratered”.

Crucially he posits that “More and more, the downscale Republican voters felt they were being betrayed by their party’s elites. Eventually, the only thing that united these factions was the story that America was engaged in a Manichaean struggle between good and evil in which Democrats were definitely on the side of evil. Now that Republicans control all branches of government, there is no more Obama to organize against. Now that the campaign is over, there is no more “Crooked Hillary” to unify the party around. Now they will have to wrestle with the consequences of their anti-government, anti-Washington rhetoric. And now that they finally have power, Republicans will have to find a way to reconcile two competing visions for the party: the traditional small-government, free-market, internationalist mode that many in Congress ran on and the new nationalist, populist, isolationist mode that Trump is bringing to town. In some places these views can be reconciled. But in many places, they cannot. The party will have to decide. Trump will almost certainly be bringing the fight — and looking at how he won, the electoral map is on his side. Republicans won by taking back old industrial states and winning big among working-class whites. This is now the core voting bloc of the Republican Party”.

If Republicans move in a Trumpist direction, what happens to the more upscale cosmopolitan Republicans who would have preferred Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio or John Kasich, who promised they would never vote for Trump, but probably did anyway because party loyalty made it too hard for them to envision a Clinton in the White House again? Some of them will revise their beliefs so that they could still feel comfortable as Republicans. Nobody likes cognitive dissonance, and partisanship is almost always stronger than ideology. But if Trump continues his strong anti-immigration stance, continues to encourage white identity politics, and takes American foreign policy in an isolationist direction (and it’s hard to imagine him doing otherwise), more and more cosmopolitan Republicans are going to feel disenchanted with the Republican Party and start to feel homeless. This may not amount to that many voters. But it amounts to a lot of potential donors. Democrats will also have many ways to shore up their existing base in the near term. If Republicans toughen law enforcement in ways that disproportionately harm people of colour, continue to make it harder to vote for people of colour, and take away health insurance from 20 million poor people by repealing Obamacare, Democrats can reasonably bet on tremendous backlash among minority voters who didn’t fully grasp what was potentially at stake for them in this election because they were not inspired by Hillary Clinton and her policy papers. They can also rely on millennial voters, especially minority millennials, feeling less complacent in future elections. Almost their entire adult lives have been under an Obama presidency, and they took it for granted that America was becoming a more tolerant, inclusive nation. Clinton wasn’t inspiring, but Trump couldn’t really win, could he? Most likely, these voters will feel different after four years of a Trump presidency. These are reasonable assumptions for Democrats to make”.

Drutman goes on to argue “As much as Democrats might talk about winning back working-class whites, the reality is that there’s not much they can do at this point, other than wait for wages to continue to stagnate for rural and exurban whites and hope that perhaps these voters will decide things really are hopeless after four years of a Trump presidency. This might sound cynical, but with Trump as the newly enthroned tribune of the white working class, there aren’t many other realistic options. Of course, this is risky strategy for Democrats. For one, policy and even economics may not matter as much as emotional valence. Trump voters were excited because somebody finally recognized and acknowledged their plight in a way that felt genuine. Perhaps this is all Trump has to do. As long as he picks fights with the right enemies, he can continue to become the champion of the forgotten man. This may even allow him to bring in some of the (mostly white) Bernie Sanders supporters and help him win alliances with battered industrial unions who are as protectionist as Trump is. Moreover, to the extent that he can tone down some of the overt racism and attempt to speak directly to African-Americans and Hispanics who also feel like powerful elites in Washington have conspired against them, his message may resonate even more broadly. Again, although Trump may not grasp policy, his campaign is testament to his remarkable understanding of human psychology. People, above all, want to be recognized and acknowledged. They want somebody on their side. And the more Trump picks fights with unpopular Washington “establishment” types, the more he might gain in popularity, regardless of his policy successes. Democrats also will face internal fights. There will be many in the party who will now be convinced that Sanders would have won, because he tapped into the anger in the country in a real and genuine way. And they’ll want Democrats to move in this direction”.

Interestingly he notes how “it’s hard to see the Clinton wing of the party giving up power. After all, there will now be new and shiny fundraising opportunities for Democrats to be had among wealthy cosmopolitan business leaders and environmentalists (especially in Silicon Valley) who are terrified by Trump. And it’s hard to see how Democrats distinguish themselves by being Trump-like populists, just without the racism. This, then, continues to be the Democrats’ coalition moving forward: highly educated professional whites, especially women, and minority voters. This is essentially the Obama coalition, but with more of an emphasis on diversity and tolerance, and even more of a role for wealthy cosmopolitans. Again, the core story of realignment going forward is not so much a tremendous bloc of voters shifting parties, but rather both parties shifting their substance to become more in line with the sympathizers they now need to excite most. If Democrats define themselves as the party that is opposed to Republicans (as they must), they will soon find themselves as the party of fiscal responsibility (as opposed to the Republicans, who will again run huge deficits), as the party of international responsibility (as opposed to the more isolationist and nationalist Republicans), and as the party of global business (as opposed to the protectionist Republicans). They will continue to be the party of environmentalism (the stakes of this will get even greater soon) and the party of diversity and tolerance. This is the realignment that is happening. And with a President Trump, there is now a change agent to accelerate these forces”.

 

“Trump’s ultimate impact on the court’s membership”

23/11/2016

Robert Barnes writes that the election has re-shaped the Supreme Court, “The political earthquake that hit has enormous consequences for the Supreme Court, swallowing up Judge Merrick Garland’s ill-fated nomination and dismantling Democratic hopes for a liberal majority on the high court for the first time in nearly a half-century. In the short term, Republican Donald Trump’s victory means that at some point next year, the nine-member court will be restored to full capacity, once again with a majority of Republican-appointed justices”.

Barnes argues that “Democratic attempts to filibuster Trump’s choice would likely lead Republicans to end that option for Supreme Court justices, just as Democrats did for other judicial nominations when their party controlled the Senate. Trump’s upset victory likely changes the court’s docket as well: Court challenges to President Obama’s regulations regarding the Affordable Care Act and immigration, which have preoccupied the justices in recent terms, will likely disappear under a President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress. The long-term question will be Trump’s ultimate impact on the court’s membership, and whether he gets the chance to do more than choose the successor to Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February. Two of the court’s liberals, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer, are 83 and 78, respectively. Moderate conservative Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is 80. As long as those three stay, the court’s rulings on sensitive social issues — protecting abortion rights, affirmative action and gay rights, for instance — are secure. “A lot of the big things are actually ones on which the court already has a so-called liberal majority,” Neal K. Katyal, the acting solicitor general under President Obama, said before the court’s term began last month. Tuesday’s election assures that Kennedy will remain the court’s pivotal justice, for now. Trump has said he will draw his Supreme Court nominee from a list of 20 judges and one senator: Mike Lee of Utah. All appear to be more conservative than Kennedy, the court’s longest-serving justice. Kennedy is the member of the current court most likely to be in the majority when the court splits 5 to 4 in its most controversial decisions. Most of the time, he sides with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and the court’s other remaining conservatives: Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito”.

The piece goes on to note that “on some social issues, Kennedy sides with the liberals: Ginsburg, Breyer and Obama’s two choices for the court, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. He joined them and wrote the majority opinion finding that gay couples have a constitutional right to marry; in fact, Kennedy has written all of the court’s cases protecting gay rights. Last term, he wrote the decision approving the limited use of race in college admission decisions, and voted to strike down a Texas law that the court said imposed unnecessary burdens on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. But three of the five justices supporting those issues are the oldest on the court. Abortion rights advocates immediately sounded an alarm. “President-elect Trump has publicly pledged to overturn Roe and promised punishment for the one in three American women who will have an abortion in her lifetime,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. She was referring to Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision assuring a woman’s right to an abortion. Garland, a moderate liberal who is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, would likely have replaced Kennedy as the justice in the middle. Obama nominated him last March in part because Republicans in the past have said he was the most likely Democratic nominee to win confirmation”.

The writer points out that the “Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declared on the night of Scalia’s death that Republicans would not act on any Obama nominee. The move brought charges that McConnell had politicized the process, but the gambit worked: It will now be a Republican president making the lifetime appointment to replace Scalia. Trump has said his nominee will come from the list compiled with the help of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and the legal group, the Federalist Society. His nominee will be like Scalia in seeking to overturn Roe and be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, Trump has said. All eyes will now be on the court’s oldest members, Kennedy and Ginsburg. Replacing Kennedy with a more stalwart conservative would immediately impact the court’s dynamics. He has given no indication about how long he intends to serve on the court. Ginsburg has said she will serve as long as she is up to the job. She would likely be loath to allow Trump to pick her successor; she caused an uproar this summer when in media interviews she called him a “faker” and said she feared for the court and the country if he were elected. Ginsburg turned aside calls from some liberals that she retire years ago, so that Obama could name her replacement. She said it was unclear whether the Senate would confirm her successor. And she told The Washington Post that there was no rush: She felt it was likely that another Democrat would be elected after Obama”.

 

Cameron resigns again, more broken promises

13/09/2016

An article discusses the recent resignation of David Cameron from the House of Common and his legacy, “On June 27, David Cameron issued this statement: “I will continue with my duties as the MP for Witney. It is an enormous privilege to serve the people of West Oxfordshire.” So enormous that he could only bear it for a few more weeks, apparently. He’s off, leaving the Commons and triggering a by-election in Witney: some lucky Tory will soon inherit one of the safest and prettiest seats in the country”.

The article adds “What does this tell us about Mr Cameron? Nothing terribly positive, to be honest. Let’s remember, he fought the EU referendum campaign promising not to quit if he lost, then quit when he lost — but only having clung to office as long as possible and having banned the Civil Service from doing any preparatory work for Brexit, thus making it harder for his successor to actually get on with the job. In between breaking his promise not to resign as PM and breaking his promise not to resign as an MP, the only significant official work he undertook was drawing up an honours list handing an OBE to his wife’s stylist and a knighthood to his press officer.  Not exactly the most dignified departure from office, is it? And certainly not one that’s easy to reconcile with many, many statements from Mr Cameron about the sense of duty he owed to his nation, the selfless service he felt obliged to render.  In fact, it’s rather more reminiscent of the way Tony Blair took his leave: as soon as he lost power, he left Parliament. For Blair, there was no honour or nobility to be found in Parliament as a mere backbencher. Politics was about one thing: power. If you don’t have it, can’t exercise it, there’s no point doing it.  It’s a sentiment that will be familiar to anyone with small children: If you can’t win the game, why play it? In neither Mr Blair nor Mr Cameron is this petulance an attractive or admirable quality: storming off because things are no longer going your way simply isn’t a good look. The similarities continue, too, because in both cases, a hasty and graceless departure was out of keeping with the premiership that went before it”.

The writer, showing his own partisanship and support of Cameron’s only historical legacy, he adds “Cameron made mistakes, including the European errors that ultimately undid him. But he was not, overall, a bad prime minister. In fact, he was often quite a good one. Certainly his reflexes and instincts in times of trouble were sound: when in doubt, he generally did what was sensible, and the nation recognised that. He saw Britain through a financial crisis that could have ended truly badly. There was, despite his occasional intellectual pretensions, no Cameronism, no big idea or school of thought. His best ideas were never driven home with real force, never made permanent parts of our political and national life. That’s why Theresa May saw no reason to pause before trying to sweep away what was actually a fairly successful Cameron education policy and replacing it with the grammar schools he so opposed. He’s has now confirmed he doesn’t care enough about those policies to stay on and fight for them”.

The piece ends “And this is why flouncing out of Parliament in this way is so telling: it speaks to something fundamental about Mr Cameron’s character and his approach to politics: a lack of seriousness, the absence of real commitment.  Yes, he wanted the job and yes he put the hours in, to the cost of his family. But he would never die in a ditch for his political beliefs, never shed blood and move mountains to hammer home his arguments. It was always enough to get by, to do just enough to get the top grade and do better than the rest. Blessed with charm, a cool head and a good mind, Mr Cameron’s just-good-enough performance was, in fact, pretty good, and probably better than any of the others who might have done his job at the time”.

He concludes “Yet that lack of commitment, the sense that he never anything more than a gentleman amateur trying his hand at governing out of a combination of duty, boredom and vanity will stay with him when the histories are written. He won’t care, of course. He goes from here to start a very nice, very comfortable life, enjoying his family and wealth beyond most of our dreams. That will be enough for David Cameron. And if you or I happen to think less of him for the manner his departure, why should he mind?  Who are we to judge him?  The end of his political career shows just how little he really cares about what the little people think of him”.

 

Chamberlain, Timothy and May

24/08/2016

A piece from the Economist examines Threasa mays new chief of staff, “ON JULY 7th 1906 Joseph Chamberlain led an 80-car rally to celebrate his 70th birthday. Thousands of Brummies lined its 17-mile route. “Our Joe” had fought for Birmingham’s workers as mayor and, on the national stage, had advocated tariffs protecting its industries. The city was a palimpsest of his achievements: its schools for the poor, its magnificent parks, its grand civic buildings, its whirring workshops and clanking factories full of confident, well-fed workers. Still, eyebrows twitched when, in a speech almost precisely 110 years later, Theresa May cited him as an example. She was campaigning for the Tory leadership and, though he had ditched the Liberal Party over its tolerance for Irish autonomy, Chamberlain had never been a Tory. That the woman who today runs Britain praised him had everything to do with her closest adviser: Nick Timothy. He is one of the most interesting figures in her government. The son of a steelworker and a school secretary, he venerates Chamberlain’s interventionism and wrote a biography of the man. He even wears a long Victorian beard”.

The article goes on, “Those close to Mrs May differ on how much Mr Timothy influences her, but only between “quite a lot” and “enormously”. Like her he is a cricket fanatic (he lives a big six away from the Oval ground). He shares the post of Downing Street chief-of-staff with Fiona Hill. For most of their boss’s spell as home secretary this duo was her praetorian guard: bossing around civil servants, telling David Cameron’s aides to mind their own business and generally exhibiting an unflinchingly protective loyalty to her”.

Interestingly it adds, “Admirers credit this with Mrs May’s unusually long (six-year) stint in the job. Critics fret that the control freakery will now constipate Whitehall: “You couldn’t blow your nose without Nick or Fi knowing,” recalls one former colleague. It is not an exaggeration to discern a direct line between Mr Timothy’s upbringing and Mrs May’s vision. He provides a pragmatic prime minister with an idealistic edge. His credo is captured in an article he wrote in March (one of a series for ConservativeHome, a Tory-aligned website) about “modernisation”. Here a bit of history helps. Back in the early 2000s, when the Conservatives were in the doldrums and the reactionary old farts were doing battle against modernisers, Mr Timothy was with the modernisers. But with David Cameron’s rise to the leadership in 2005, the debate shifted to what modernisation should mean. There was “Easterhouse modernisation”, a focus on the poorest, named after a Glasgow housing estate. There was “Soho modernisation”, an urban social liberalism named after a trendy part of London. But Mr Timothy reckoned a third leg of the stool was missing: “Erdington modernisation”, a concentration on the struggling, patriotic working-class named after the industrial suburb of Birmingham where he grew up”.

The writer goes on to note how “His writings expatiate on the idea. At home: more intervention in the economy, a clamp on immigration, less greenery, tough measures against crime, more religious schools and selective education rewarding poor, bright kids. Abroad: closer links with the Commonwealth—akin to Chamberlain’s proposed imperial economic union—and looser ties to Europe, which features in Mr Timothy’s output only as a source of bad public policies, corrupt leadership and justifications for Brexit. It also means a cooling of Britain’s links to both America, to which he reckons Tony Blair was too close, and China, to which he believes Mr Cameron was too craven. Overall it means a government keener to confront foreigners, vested interests and especially the sort of polenta-munching elites who share each other’s globalising enthusiasms, holiday villas and platforms at Davos”.

It adds “May’s premiership is not a month old. But already it bears Mr Timothy’s stamp. Britain has lost a department dedicated to climate change and gained one devoted to “industrial policy”. She has sidelined the “Northern Powerhouse” programme to integrate the big northern cities and committed to reining in foreign takeovers. A Chinese bid to finance Hinkley Point, a nuclear power station, has been put on hold. The new prime minister’s speech to the Tory conference in October (in Birmingham, as it happens) should be a Chamberlainite symphony. Renewal, a think-tank founded in 2013 to promote working-class Toryism, is emerging as the new regime’s brains trust. Mr Timothy’s analysis of his party—that it can appear not to “give a toss about ordinary people”—is accurate. The Cameroons’ brand of modernisation owed too much to noblesse oblige, to a vision of society that treated the welfare state as the institutional equivalent of giving one’s gardener a Christmas bonus. Mrs May’s authoritative mien and middle-class roots, combined with Mr Timothy’s instinct for working-class priorities, makes her party newly formidable, propelling it into landslide territory (an early election is surely not off the cards). Moreover, she and he have a point. Britain is too unequal. The past years have been brutal to the sorts of left-behind places that have been denied the boom enjoyed by the big cities”.

It ends “Still, the new Chamberlainites have questions to answer. Britain has found confidence and relative prosperity as a linchpin of globalisation. It is good at the sort of service industries that demand flexible labour markets, urban clusters, worldly universities and fast-moving capital: think not just the City of London but successful provincial centres like Swindon, Milton Keynes and Manchester. Where manufacturing survives, it is often thanks to the country’s openness to foreign investors. All this has bypassed some towns. But for decades Britain has sought to make the most of its strengths while helping those who have lost out to adapt or move. Mrs May and Mr Timothy seem to reckon those strengths—and globalisation itself—are much more malleable than their predecessors have realised. The burden of evidence is on them”.

The end of UKIP?

24/08/2016

A piece questions the future of UKIP, “THE past couple of months have hardly been an advertisement for the competence of British politicians. Yet few blunders have been as avoidable as that made by Steven Woolfe, an MEP for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who on July 31st submitted his application for the party leadership 17 minutes late. He blamed a malfunctioning website for failing to accept his papers (others pointed out that he might have had more luck had he not waited until 25 minutes before the midday deadline to apply). Mr Woolfe had spoken of the need to “professionalise” the party. On August 3rd UKIP’s governing body ruled that he would not be allowed to stand in the contest. Mr Woolfe had been the front-runner; his exclusion leaves a field of six, and many possible paths for the insurgent party”.

It continues, “After the Brexit vote, which it was instrumental in helping to win, UKIP should be on a roll. Instead, it has reverted to its favourite pastime of infighting. One faction, which includes the outgoing leader, Nigel Farage, argues that the party should focus on winning seats in northern England and Wales by appealing to disaffected, working-class Labour voters. Mr Woolfe, a mixed-race former barrister who grew up in a tough part of Manchester, had seemed perfect for the job, combining a hard line on immigration with talk of improving social mobility. His supporters may now shift to Diane James, the party’s deputy chair, who has stronger support in the south.  Another camp wants to make the party more emollient in the hope of appealing to moderate voters. It includes Douglas Carswell, the party’s sole MP, who criticised the “angry nativism” of some Brexiteers during the referendum. This group seems to have united behind Lisa Duffy, a local councillor from Cambridgeshire. Yet for all the talk of contrasting visions for the party, the split is really about personal differences, says Matthew Goodwin, a UKIP expert at Kent University. Indeed, Ms Duffy, the supposed moderate candidate, recently said that she supported a “total ban” on Muslim state schools”.

The article mentions that “First, Mr Farage and his supporters will seek to change how UKIP works. In a recent article for Breitbart, a right-wing news website, Mr Farage described the party’s high command as “total amateurs who come to London once a month with sandwiches in their rucksacks, to attend [party] meetings that normally last seven hours”. He and others have been considering adopting a decentralised model in which party members have more say—similar to that of Italy’s populist Five Star Movement—for the past year or so, says Mr Goodwin. It is likely they will try to push ahead with such plans now. If that fails, a split could be on the cards. One former aide to Mr Farage, writing on Facebook the night before Mr Woolfe’s exclusion, vowed to “declare full-scale war on UKIP” if Mr Woolfe was blocked from running. Arron Banks, a prominent donor, tweeted that Mr Woolfe’s exclusion would be “the final straw”. Some have suggested that a new party could be created from the remains of the Leave.EU campaign, which Mr Banks founded and to which he gave £6m ($8m) during the referendum”.

It ends “Despite its achievements, which include winning 12.6% of the vote in last year’s general election, UKIP has never had much institutional ballast. During the 2010 election campaign its then-leader, Lord Pearson, admitted when quizzed on the party’s manifesto: “I haven’t remembered it all in detail.” If the popular Mr Farage were to leave UKIP, many of its members might follow suit. Yet he and his supporters will surely be loth to abandon a brand they have spent years building. The squabbling has only just begun”.

Cameron, the worst PM?

18/08/2016

A piece calls David Cameron the worst prime minister for a hundred years, “David Cameron is not given to melodrama but he has starred in enough. For the time being, there are three moments of history to remember, outside that famous door. The time when he walked through it with Nick Clegg. The time – even more surprising – that he walked through it on his own, just thirteen months ago”.

It adds “And now this, which in time will be the only time that mattered. The UK out of Europe. The union with Scotland on the brink. Northern Ireland too. All for what’s being called a gamble but is in fact simply a strategic failure. “I love this country,” he said, his voice cracking. The 74th Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and, more latterly, Northern Ireland. And there will in all likelihood be just one more, before Little England is loosed upon the world. ‘Broken Britain’ is a term that has forced its way into public parlance and the Cameron years – six of them, now over. Well it will be broken, now. And this will be all that he is remembered for”.

It goes on to mention “It was a highlights reel. Significant achievements, some of them, but all were leading with insidious intent to an overwhelming admission. “I think the country required fresh leadership to take it in this [new] direction. I will steady the ship for the coming weeks and months. “There needs to no precise timetable in place,” he said, but “a new Prime Minister should be in place before the Conservative Party Conference in October.” It is more than ten years since he took over a factionalised and failing party. He transformed it, and now he leaves it as he left it. It is hard not to see how without him, it will always be thus. As he turned around and strode back through the door, the hair on the back of his head gone grey overnight. The youngest ex-Prime Minister since 1895, drawing his political pension. Yesterday’s man now, when the full peril of tomorrow is when his party will need him most”.

“Politics is never just about policy. It’s also about emotion”

08/08/2016

A piece urges politicians to inspire people, “David Cameron. François Hollande. Hillary Clinton. What do they have in common? They’re all deeply traditional politicians. They all have long track records of public service, and they’re all thorough, meticulous managers. They make a point of exuding calm and competence.  All of which probably helps to explain why so many people dislike them. Despite helping France climb out of a long economic slump last year, Hollande’s popularity has been hitting historic lows. His compatriots despise him for his milquetoast manner and failure to move decisively against terrorism. Cameron achieved a remarkable record of growth during his six-year stint as British prime minister — but that didn’t matter to voters when he gave them a referendum on whether their country should stay in the European Union. His ignominious defeat in last month’s Brexit ballot, which prompted him to step down, will remain as the most memorable, and inglorious, achievement of an otherwise successful term in office”.

Aside from the author’s obvious lack of knowledge of the tenure of Cameron, his disastrous decisions and seemingly endless shifts which are anything but “meticulous” the overall point is still valid.

The piece notes “Clinton is burning through millions of dollars in her textbook campaign to win the presidency. But Donald Trump — dysfunctional, dishonest, underfunded Donald Trump — continues to hold his own. Clinton, Cameron, and Hollande are all very different politicians, operating in very different contexts. Yet they all seem to be suffering from a similar problem. The nature of their opponents may hold an important clue. Despite their impressive credentials, these establishment titans have proved vulnerable to exactly the same sorts of opponents — namely, fiery populists. Trump and Bernie Sanders are worlds apart ideologically, but together they’ve given Clinton a humiliating master class in the power of simple solutions and raw emotion. Hollande’s nemesis is National Front leader Marine Le Pen, who has ridden her blistering brand of far-right identity politics to unprecedented heights. Cameron was undone by his Conservative Party comrade Boris Johnson, the extravagant and ruthless former mayor of London (now turned foreign minister), and by Brexiteer-in-charge Nigel Farage, who has successfully channeled corrosive anxiety about migrants and globalization into a potent challenge to the status quo”.
He rightly points out that “To be sure, the U.S. presidential hopeful, the ex-British PM, and the struggling French president all have plenty of real flaws. Their problem is that we’re in a historical moment that plays up their shortcomings and undercuts what would normally be their strengths.  The Great Recession and the disruptions of technological change have transformed economies, fueling white-hot anger among those who have been left behind. Terrorism and immigration stir deep-seated fears, tapping into sections of the reptilian brain that don’t really respond to sedate calls for reasonableness and unity. Politics is never just about policy. It’s also about emotion. And that’s never been truer than today. It’s a sad fact of life that the most powerful political emotions aren’t always positive. The politicians of the far right have shown that appeals to nativism can be more effective in stirring people up than high-minded calls to idealism and common purpose. That’s a big reason why Euroskeptic nationalists are gaining the upper hand over the efficient, well-educated, and deathly dull officials who run the European Union. The British politicians who campaigned for the U.K. to stay in the EU — most notably Cameron and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn — conspicuously failed to make emotionally compelling arguments for their case”.
The piece ends, “For Hillary Clinton, the answer is simple: Be more Margaret Thatcher, less Oprah. Something like this is what political satirist Jon Stewart had in mind, I think, when he astutely described Clinton as a “bright woman without the courage of her convictions.”  The problem goes beyond worries about some alleged lack of “authenticity.” Personally, I don’t give a damn about whether my president is someone I’d want to have a beer with. But we really do need to have a serious think about why some voters feel drawn to over-the-top buffoons. I suspect that it’s precisely because — in open defiance of the reigning ethos of focus groups, data mining, and sentiment analysis — the Trumps and the Johnsons and the Farages make a point of exciting a strong visceral response. So the Republican convention is a mess? Perhaps. But it’s generating a huge amount of nonstop coverage, social media attention, and passionate discussion. The Democratic version, coming soon, is shaping up to be a sleek, smooth, flawlessly managed machine. One wonders if anyone will tune in”.

The press, democracy and Brexit

29/07/2016

An important article notes the decline of the British press, “There is a conceit among many senior editors in the U.K. that Britain has “the best journalism in the world.” At its best, certainly, British journalism is very good indeed. From the sober analysis of the Financial Times and the Economist to the tub-thumping of the tabloid press to the BBC’s worldwide reputation for accuracy and impartiality, the British public has access to a healthy mixture of domestic, foreign, and investigative reporting. On many occasions, democracy has been well served by journalists who make important stories accessible and hold power to account”.

Correctly he notes that “At its worst, however, journalism in Britain can be truly awful. Five years ago, much of the world was rightly shocked by revelations of phone-hacking on the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday tabloid News of the World. The subsequent judicial investigation into the culture, practice, and ethics of the press, led by Lord Justice Leveson, exposed the tasteless practices on which some British tabloids had come to rely: the invasions into personal privacy, the gross intrusions into private grief. At the time, it seemed like a new low for the industry. If the Leveson inquiry revealed the tawdry side of the media business in the U.K., however, the Brexit campaign has featured a different kind of journalistic abuse: contempt for basic norms of truth and accuracy”.

He points out that “In the lead-up to the June 23 European Union referendum, British mainstream media failed spectacularly. Led, inevitably, by the viscerally anti-EU Daily Mail, Sun, Daily Express, and Telegraph papers, most of Britain’s national press indulged in little more than a catalog of distortions, half-truths, and outright lies. It was a ferocious propaganda campaign in which facts and sober analysis were sacrificed to the ideologically driven objectives of editors and their proprietors. The interests of readers, much less the interests of British democracy, were barely considered. Three days after the vote, I spoke to a Labour Member of Parliament who represents a constituency in northern England with one of the lowest proportions of immigrants in the country. Despite this, a majority of her constituents had voted to leave the EU. Why? Mainly, she said, because they were convinced that waves of immigrants would soon overwhelm their communities, take their jobs, and undermine their way of life. They were particularly concerned about the looming massive influx of Muslims, given the imminent European debut of Turkey – a country that stands no chance of joining the EU in my lifetime, let alone in the next few years”.

He questions, “How did things get so bad? In part, you can blame the internet, which has gutted traditional business models of journalism around the world. British journalism has been particularly vulnerable: For historical and geographical reasons – partly due to early industrialization and partly due to efficient distribution networks in a small country – Britain has long enjoyed the largest national press in any mature democracy. Nine national newspapers (10, until March, when the Independent went online-only) still battle furiously for eyeballs. This is, in many ways, for the good. But this frantic competition for a diminishing pool of readers and shrinking ad revenue, particularly at the tabloid end of the market, partly explains why some publications have been willing to sacrifice basic journalistic norms of accuracy and respect for privacy. But a second, equally powerful reason is unique to the United Kingdom — the passionate right-wing ideology that drives many of those newspapers. The country has a long history of explicit partisanship in its journalism. While there has always been a predominance of right-wing papers (at times, very right wing: the Daily Mail famously supported pro-Fascist groups during the 1930s), in the past, this was partly balanced by the mass circulation of the Mirror newspapers. But the Mirror’s decline has been precipitate; the Mails online dominance, on the other hand, driven by its embrace of celebrity news and pictures (mostly of young women in various states of undress), has enhanced its popular and political influence. Led by the Murdoch-owned Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and the Telegraph, with the Times (also Murdoch-owned) in a supporting role, the partisan right now overwhelms the comparatively insignificant presence of the Daily Mirror and Guardian on the left, especially with the left-leaning Independent now relegated to an online-only presence. During the referendum campaign, this toxic combination of uncompromising devotion to a political cause and contempt for the truth played a major role in leading Britain down the Brexit road”.

He mentions that “In a June 18 blog post, journalism blogger Liz Gerard compiled a montage of front-page headlines in order to demonstrate how the constant reiteration of words such as “migrants” and “borders” in large, bold font systematically ramped up the xenophobic message. “Turks, Romanians, Iraqis, Syrians, Afghans, Albanians: millions of them apparently want to abandon their homelands and settle in the English countryside — and only leaving the EU will stop them,” Gerard wrote. “No claim was too preposterous, no figure too huge to print.” The tabloid campaign against the EU itself — its faceless pen-pushing bureaucrats, its absurd regulations, and how much it costs the U.K. as an institution — lent itself perfectly to the oft-repeated Leave mantra of “Take back control.” Perhaps the most egregious example was a front-page Daily Mail headline on June 16 (inevitably repeated by the Sun) claiming that a truckload of migrants had arrived in the U.K. demanding, “We’re from Europe – let us in!” The story ran despite video footage that clearly demonstrated the new arrivals had informed officials that they were, in fact, refugees from Iraq and Kuwait. In a futile attempt to demonstrate that they aspired to some notion of journalistic integrity, the following day’s paper carried a “correction” consisting of 54 words at the bottom of Page 2″.

The article goes on to point out that “This was a much-repeated pattern throughout the referendum campaign: Journalist Hugo Dixon, who founded a pro-Remain fact-checking site called InFacts, drew attention to both the number of inaccurate stories and the chronically inadequate “corrections” relegated to inside pages. The problem was compounded by the sheer weight of anti-EU press. According to a Loughborough University study, once newspaper circulation is taken into account, just 18 percent of media coverage was pro-Remain compared with 82 percent pro-Leave. It’s difficult to prove conclusively that this constant drumbeat of headlines directly influenced voters’ decision-making. What is clear, however, is that it influenced the national conversation and, in particular, played an agenda-setting role for broadcasters, which in the U.K. (as in most of Europe) are bound by strict impartiality rules and are therefore more trusted by consumers to provide a nonpartisan approach. Remain campaign strategists were confident that the message of economic risk would succeed – as it had in the Scottish independence referendum – but they did not factor in a deeply hostile press whose slogans served as an echo chamber that broadcasters could scarcely resist”.

He notes how “This echo chamber was particularly evident on the vaunted BBC, which, by an unfortunate coincidence, is immersed in negotiations with the government about the renewal of its 10-year charter, always a tricky and delicate task. As a result, its normally self-assured journalists have been obsessed with “balance”: Any argument that receives airtime is accompanied by a counterargument, however patently absurd. This silliness was on display, for example, during a broadcast on the highly influential Radio 4 Today program, which featured an eminent scientist on the huge scientific research risks of Brexit. She was then “balanced” by a marginal and wholly unrepresentative cancer specialist who had previously stood as a candidate for the anti-EU UK Independence Party. Overall, the BBC’s EU referendum coverage was much more inclined to follow rather than lead. Film director Lord Puttnam, the former deputy chairman of Channel 4, a competing broadcaster, memorably described the BBC’s journalism during the campaign as “constipated.” In her post-referendum media roundup, the Guardian’s Jane Martinson revealed that, within an hour of Leave’s declaring victory, Sun editor Tony Gallagher told the Guardian: “So much for the waning power of the print media.” There was a further twist a few days later, when, on one of the most dramatic days in British politics, prominent Leave campaigner Boris Johnson, long considered the most likely next Conservative leader, abandoned his leadership bid. A leaked email suggested that, among other obstacles to a successful bid, he didn’t have the support of Murdoch or Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre. Even in the age of social and digital media, which so many commentators believe will democratize communications, old-fashioned media proprietors and editors still serve as political kingmakers in Britain”.

He concludes questioning if anything can change, “In the aftermath of the phone-hacking scandal, Parliament did, in fact, accept Leveson’s key recommendation: that the press’s efforts at self-regulation should be periodically scrutinized by an independent body in order to ensure that it is abiding by its own Code of Conduct – whose first rule is that newspapers should “take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information”. A Leveson compliant system would include regulatory sanctions for errant publications, such as equal prominence for corrections and fines for systematic code breaches. Had such a system been put in place, perhaps Brexit coverage would have been different. The kind of deliberate distortions that featured repeatedly across most of the tabloid press may have, at the very least, been discouraged by a regime that would oblige newspapers to print a front-page headline correction to counter a front-page headline lie. In any event, the new Conservative government, under huge pressure from the same press barons who undid Johnson, has stalled on implementing Leveson’s recommendations, and the British press today therefore feels free to break its own industry code with as much frequency and impunity as before 2011. To deflect criticism, it has established a “new” regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which is owned and run by the major publishers. As the referendum campaign demonstrated, IPSO has been ineffectual in holding its newspaper members to account. Those same commentators who preach the revolution of social media also like to cite new media like BuzzFeed, Vice News, and other online outlets as examples of greater plurality and more opportunities for journalists. These are all welcome additions, but so far they have been unable to compete with the legacy of traditional news brands, which are extending their online presence. According to some sources, the entertainment-focused Daily Mail website, which attracts upward of 200 million global visitors every month, is the most popular English-language site in the world. Perhaps that will gradually change. Meanwhile, broadcast journalism still aspires to the highest standards of accuracy and impartiality, and another hope lies in detaching those broadcast newsrooms from their mind-numbing dependency on agenda-driven newspapers”.

 

Clinton and Kaine, preparing to govern

27/07/2016

A report from the New York Times notes that Clinton’s pick of Kaine means that she is looking to govern rather than campaign.

It opens “In selecting Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia as her running mate, Hillary Clinton is sending the clearest signal yet that she is confident she will win the presidential election. If she were worried, she would have chosen Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who could have helped her win that critical Midwestern state — where she is now tied with Donald J. Trump. And Mr. Brown could have energized progressives nationally, who were far more enthusiastic about Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont than they have been about Mrs. Clinton. Other picks could have helped her more on Election Day. Former Gov. Tom Vilsack of Iowa, for instance, would have turned out Democrats and independents in his swing state. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey would have galvanized fellow African-Americans in key cities like Philadelphia and Detroit. Tom Perez, labour secretary, and Julian Castro, housing secretary, might have boosted Hispanic voting in Florida and the West. Mr. Kaine, by contrast, doesn’t bring obvious political rewards. Mrs. Clinton is likely to win his home state of Virginia in any case. The members of his natural demographic — white men — aren’t going to forget their problems with Mrs. Clinton just because Mr. Kaine is on the ticket. And he isn’t a break-up-the-big-banks liberal who will bring home the left wing of the party”.

Crucially the piece notes that “His value is almost entirely about governing — about what he can do for Mrs. Clinton in the White House rather than at the ballot box. To that end, the pick is deeply revealing about how she sees the general election and how she would govern as president. Mrs. Clinton is showing her cards: In her view, she already has a straight flush heading into the fall with President Obama, former President Bill Clinton, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts ready to campaign for her. She doesn’t think she needs an ace in the hole in November, according to Clinton advisers. Mr. Kaine’s chief job in the general election is to win the vice-presidential debate on Oct. 4 — it happens to be in Virginia — against his Republican counterpart, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. Mr. Kaine and Mr. Pence are both solid debaters, but Mr. Kaine is more natural as an attack dog, a quality that Mrs. Clinton prizes. And as a member of both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Armed Services Committee, he is well suited to highlighting Mr. Trump’s knowledge deficits on world affairs”.

Naturally it notes that “Clinton herself is more popular than Mr. Trump with women, Hispanics, African-Americans and immigrants, which gives her some assurance that she can carry these voters without any particular help from her running mate, her advisers say. She is optimistic that because Mr. Trump is so divisive, she has no reason to fear him in traditionally Democratic states. She is investing far more money than the Trump campaign in voter turnout operations in battleground states, as well as spending far more on television commercials”.

The article goes on to discuss how Clinton and Kaine hold similar views on policy and style, “Kaine is a strong advocate of gun control, opposes the death penalty and favoured the Iran nuclear deal. He has also backed some restrictions on abortion and is a strong supporter of Israel. While he holds many progressive views, the fact that he does not come across as a fire-breathing partisan has helped give him a reputation as a moderate. He comes across like the nuts-and-bolts governor and mayor he once was — perhaps even a little boring — but it’s a style and approach to governing that won’t upstage Mrs. Clinton. “Tim is a sensible and pragmatic guy whose presence on the ticket will be very reassuring to centrist Democrats,” said Steven Rattner, a Wall Street financier and longtime ally of the Clintons. That won’t be so reassuring for supporters of Mr. Sanders, however. Mr. Kaine has supported free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership that Mr. Sanders, Mrs. Clinton’s top rival for the Democratic nomination, and other liberals regard as job and wage killers. Mr. Kaine hasn’t been an outspoken champion for the extensive overhauls of banking and Wall Street regulations that Mr. Sanders wants, nor has he been an advocate for sharply raising taxes on the wealthy”.

The report goes on to mention how “Democrats close to Mr. Sanders, who has already endorsed Mrs. Clinton, say they do not expect him to lead a revolt against Mr. Kaine, who the Vermont senator has called “a very decent guy.” Clinton advisers say they are hopeful that Mr. Kaine will win over more progressives with his stand on guns and his lines of attack against Mr. Trump. They also say that picking Mr. Brown, or even Ms. Warren, was problematic because Republican governors would have filled those seats, hurting Democratic chances of retaking the Senate. Virginia’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, will replace Mr. Kaine if he and Mrs. Clinton win”.

Interestingly the piece goes onto note how Kaine does not have a significant ego, “Among Democrats who know him well, Mr. Kaine is considered a self-effacing workhorse who shuns the spotlight and prefers digging into domestic policy and national security rather than showboating on Sunday news programs. Mrs. Clinton sees herself in much the same way. Unlike some of his rivals for the ticket, he is widely viewed by colleagues as fully capable of being president — Mrs. Clinton’s top criterion for a running mate. Mrs. Clinton also wants a vice president who acts as a sounding board for her, as Mr. Biden did for Mr. Obama and Al Gore for her husband, and can handle any task, domestic or foreign. Given his decades of experience in government and politics, Mr. Kaine wouldn’t face much of a learning curve as No. 2 to Mrs. Clinton, who is itching to dive into work after Inauguration Day. He is a strong advocate of comprehensive immigration reform and a fluent Spanish speaker, which she thinks could make him a valuable emissary on the issue with voters and former Senate colleagues. Mr. Kaine has a down-to-earth style, and drew praise for his response to the mass shooting on the Virginia Tech campus in 2007. He also received high marks when he delivered strongly bipartisan message in response to President Bush’s State of the Union address in 2006. Mrs. Clinton, with her reputation for partisanship and unpopularity with Republicans, was eager for a governing partner who would help reach out to the other party”.

The piece goes on to mention how Kaine and Bill Clinton get on well together, “Mrs. Clinton also wants a vice president who would have a good relationship with Mr. Clinton, especially since the two-term president would likely have some sort of policy role and be an outside presence in the White House. Mrs. Clinton remembers her rivalry with Mr. Gore during the first two years of the Clinton administration and wants to avoid distractions like tension between Mr. Kaine and Mr. Clinton. So far the signs are good: Mr. Clinton strongly supported the choice of Mr. Kaine, Clinton advisers say, and the two share similar policy views and were governors of Southern states”.

IMF and neoliberalism

25/07/2016

An unusual article notes how even the IMF might be seeing the problems of unrestrained free markets, “The research department of the International Monetary Fund dropped a political bombshell last month. The furor was set off by the publication of an article — “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” — that sparked a near-panic among advocates of free market policies and celebrations among their critics. The piece concluded that, over the past 30 years, the proponents of the economic philosophy known as “neoliberalism” have been systematically overselling the benefits of the two planks at its heart — namely, fiscal austerity during economic slowdowns and the deregulation of financial markets”.

The article adds “This is a huge concession for an institution long known for its ideological self-assuredness. Essentially, the article contends that these two policies, which the IMF has long championed, are of questionable utility. It finds that they “have not delivered” the higher economic growth rates that were promised and may have even done more harm than good. Additionally, according to the article, both fiscal austerity and increased financial openness have often exacerbated economic inequality, which itself could become a drag on future economic growth rates. In other words, the venerable institution had essentially everything wrong — at least as far as these two key tenets of neoliberalism go. Most strikingly, the article infers that three policy prescriptions long advocated by the IMF’s critics — regulation of some capital flows, Keynesian fiscal stimulus policies, and effective economic redistribution — all have more merit than the IMF has long contended. As Ben Norton wrote in Salon, these conclusions amount to heresy: “It is somewhat like the Pope declaring that there is no God; it is a volte-face on almost everything that the IMF has ever stood for.” Longtime IMF critic Naomi Klein tweeted sarcastically, “So all the billionaires it created are going to give back their money, right?” Presumably not. But the significance of the article — at least in the long term — is that it might signal a deeper reckoning, both within the IMF and more broadly across Western capitals, about the failure of 30 years of neoliberal policies to bring about financial stability or lessen widening economic divides”.

The author goes on to write that “In the meantime, unsurprisingly, the IMF leadership was quick to distance itself from the piece, making clear that it had no intention of abandoning neoliberalism. The organization’s chief economist, Maury Obstfeld, conceded that the shock of the 2008 global financial crisis has “led to a broad rethink of macroeconomic and financial policy in the global academic and policy community,” including within the fund, but argued that the troublesome article “has been widely misinterpreted” and “does not signify a major change in the fund’s approach.” Similarly, the Financial Times described the article as “more a reflection of the vigorous debates [underway] inside the IMF than a brutal takedown of the free market policies the fund has long advocated.” Indeed, despite the uproar, it’s not clear that the IMF’s approach to economic development is about to change”.

Crucially it mentions that “Many IMF watchers have noted that the fund continues to operate as usual, attaching austerity policies and other neoliberal reforms as binding conditions to its loans. Economist Jerry Epstein said while such internal debates within the IMF are healthy, they have so far had little or no impact at the operational, country level of IMF policy. Isabel Ortiz of the U.N. International Labor Organization wondered, “Will the operational side of the IMF even listen to the researchers?” The controversial article’s lead author, Jonathan Ostry — who is the deputy director of the IMF’s research department — said the piece focused on two specific policies and was not meant as an attack on “the entire neoliberal agenda or the Washington consensus.” On the other hand, he also hinted that he hoped the article would be the first of more to come and that it would set up the opportunity to more broadly examine neoliberalism this year”.

Correctly the author notes that “The fact that the IMF is using the word “neoliberalism” in such a high-profile way is telling, since it is employed almost exclusively by critics of economic liberalization. Advocates of neoliberalism prefer to avoid the term, assuming that the policies are so self-evidently right that they don’t need a name at all. The fact that the IMF’s own research department has acknowledged the term could be interpreted as a nod to the fund’s critics that some of its policies did reflect ideological biases and that other approaches are valid. If so, it’s about time. The challenges raised by neoliberal economic development policies were easy for Western leaders to ignore when they were limited to crises in the developing world, such as Latin America in the 1980s, East Asia in the 1990s, and Russia and Turkey in the early 2000s. But since the 2008 financial crisis struck the rich countries too, their shortcomings have been harder to deny. With economic inequality untamed, financial markets still unstable, and fiscal austerity having utterly failed to revive economic growth and employment to pre-2008 levels, it’s increasingly difficult to keep pretending that the status quo is working”.

The article writes that “Before Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher repopularized the ideology of free markets in the 1980s, the need for Keynesian economics and financial regulation had been widely accepted for a 40-year stretch following the Great Depression, and the advocates of free markets languished on the sidelines. Western leaders had learned the best way to prevent socialist revolutions and fascist dictatorships was to adopt policies that would avoid financial crises and lessen economic inequality. But the Reagan-Thatcher revolution set about unlearning those lessons, and the worsening inequality and financial instability of the last 30 years were the unfortunate result. If the IMF’s article is the first sign of a swing back in the other direction, Norwegian economic historian Erik Reinert, for one, won’t be surprised. He has noted that the popularity of free market policies has risen and fallen cyclically throughout history, such as before and then after the French Revolution, before the 1847 financial crisis that was followed by a string of social revolutions across Europe in 1848, and before the stock market crash of 1929 that was followed by the Great Depression. During each of these cycles, free markets were championed for a while but then eventually abandoned as financial crises became more frequent and economic inequality more pronounced”.

The writer goes on to make the point that “Today, in a time when Thomas Piketty’s critique of worsening economic inequality is a best-seller, leading U.S. presidential candidates rail against free trade deals, right-wing anti-immigrant parties win elections across Europe, and even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development calls on its members to put the brakes on austerity, it’s clear that the political center, which has favoured neoliberal policies for the last 30 years, is no longer holding. The high-profile IMF mea culpa may well be a first shot across the bow, a sign that we are now entering what Reinert calls our own modern-day “1848 moment.”

 

May’s Cabinet: blood and Brexit

15/07/2016

A report notes the recent reshuffle that took place earlier this week in the UK after the new PM was formally appointed, “Theresa May has drawn a decisive line under the David Cameron era with a sweeping reshuffle that saw several of his key ministers, including justice secretary, Michael Gove, sacked, and her own handpicked team rewarded with cabinet posts. Conservative MPs, some of whom had seen the former home secretary as a continuity candidate who would build incrementally on the record of the Cameron governments, were stunned by the radical reboot. May began the day in her Westminster office, holding a series of one-to-one meetings with ministers she had decided to replace, including Gove, the education secretary, Nicky Morgan, and the culture secretary, John Whittingdale. She later moved to Downing Street, where senior Conservatives came and went throughout the day to be told their fate”.

The piece adds “In total, six of Cameron’s ministers, including the former chancellor George Osborne, have been shown the door since Wednesday night. Big winners included Justine Greening, who will run a new beefed-up Department for Education, and Liz Truss, who takes Gove’s role as justice secretary. May will travel to Scotland to meet first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, on Friday for her first official visit and stress her determination to uphold the union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom despite the decision to leave the EU – something Scottish voters rejected at the referendum. She will say: “I believe with all my heart in the United Kingdom – the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This visit to Scotland is my first as prime minister and I’m coming here to show my commitment to preserving this special union that has endured for centuries.” There were several surprising appointments to May’s cabinet. She handed key roles to Brexiters demonstrating that she is determined to repair the rift in the party created by the hard-fought referendum campaign”.

It continues “Andrea Leadsom, who paved the way for May’s premiership when she dropped out of the leadership race earlier this week, will be the new secretary for environment, food and rural affairs. Leadsom made clear during the leadership campaign that she would like the ban on foxhunting to be repealed and once suggested the subsidies which are received by farmers from the European Union should be completely phased out. Priti Patel, the former employment minister, takes over as secretary of state for international development, despite a history of being sceptical about foreign aid. She has previously called for the department to be abolished. The new cabinet has a distinctly less privileged flavour, with Cameron’s party chairman, his close friend Lord Feldman, replaced with Patrick McLoughlin, who comes from a working-class background in Yorkshire. Greening went to a comprehensive school. Only about a fifth of the new team were privately educated, compared with almost half under Cameron. McLoughlin has been given the job of winning seats and gaining support in parts of the country that are not traditional Conservative strongholds in a clear signal that May hopes to exploit Labour’s disarray by reaching out to working-class voters”.

Interestingly the report notes “May’s allies insisted she was not motivated by a personal animus against the “chumocracy” of close friends and allies that surrounded Cameron and Osborne; but had ruthlessly favoured colleagues she believed could deliver. The new prime minister also announced the most radical shakeup in the shape of Whitehall for years, with the Department for Energy and Climate Change being abolished and its responsibilities absorbed into a new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. Sajid Javid, who has been far more reluctant to use the phrase “industrial strategy” than his coalition predecessor, the Liberal Democrat Vince Cable, will move across to be communities secretary, while Greg Clark takes over at business”.

Sensibly it mentions that “Education will be beefed up under Greening, taking over responsibility for apprenticeships and higher education, currently overseen by the business department. Downing Street said that was so that children’s full journey, from the early years to their first steps into the workplace, would be overseen by a single Whitehall department. Despite Truss and Greening’s success, however, expectations that Britain’s second female prime minister would bring a decisive boost to the number of women in government were disappointed, with most roles still held by men. Senior Conservatives came and went in Downing Street all day to find out what job their new leader was prepared to offer them. There were rumours – which were believed to be true by senior officials at the Department of Health – that Jeremy Hunt would be sacked, but he was later confirmed in his post, tweeting, ‘“rumours of my death have been exaggerated” and that he wasthrilled to be back “in the best job in government”. One well-placed NHS official said: “We were told this morning [Thursday] that he was going. Everybody was hoping that he would move on and everyone was expecting that he would move on. But then we were stumped that he was being retained. People were genuinely surprised. Hunt staying was clearly not the plan”. May’s office denied reports that Stephen Crabb was offered the health brief, before turning it down”.

The article mentions that “May’s spokeswoman later said her appointments demonstrated that she would run a “bold” cabinet. “What we’re seeing is the commitment of the prime minister to putting social reform at the heart of her government,” she said. Truss’s appointment in particular was a signal that criminal justice reform is a key priority for May, who had previously been regarded as a relatively hardline home secretary, but has made a pitch for the centreground by stressing her commitment to reform, since standing for the leadership. In her first handful of announcements, on Wednesday night, May placed the responsibility for negotiating Britain’s way out of the European Union squarely on the shoulders of the men who fought for it in the referendum campaign – David Davis, Liam Fox and Boris Johnson, who will be Brexit secretary, overseas trade secretary and foreign secretary respectively”.

As expected it mentions “Between the hiring and firing on Thursday, May found 15 minutes to receive a congratulatory call from the US president, Barack Obama. The pair discussed the need to safeguard the “special relationship” between the two countries and May stressed to him that she would honour the electorate’s decision at last month’s referendum to leave the EU. Jon Ashworth MP, the shadow minister without portfolio, responding to the cabinet announcements, said: “We had warm words from the prime minister yesterday on the need for her government to stand up for more than just a privileged few, but Theresa May’s appointments are completely out of kilter with her words on the steps of Downing Street yesterday. It’s difficult to see this new-look cabinet as anything other than a sharp shift to the right by the Tories.”

“She has always been driven less by ideology than by morality”

15/07/2016

A piece from the Guardian profiles the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, “For a woman on the verge of running the country, Theresa May has seemed almost preternaturally calm over the past few days. “She’s basically the same as ever; quite relaxed and cheerful. There’s no sense of the prison shades falling,” says a longstanding friend who has observed her closely during the campaign. But then, unlike Andrea Leadsom, seemingly badly shaken by a single weekend of hostile media coverage, May knew better than anyone what to expect. Over the past six years, May has weathered riots, sat in on a decision to go to war, and chaired an emergency Cobra meeting in the prime minister’s absence following the murder of soldier Lee Rigby”.

The writer goes on to remark that “She has been diligently doing her homework for years and, while even she did not foresee David Cameron resigning in these circumstances (let alone the collapse of all other contenders), she is as ready as she will ever be. The question is whether that is anywhere near ready enough for the turbulent times ahead. Tory grandee Ken Clarke’s unguarded remarks about her being a “bloody difficult woman”probably did May nothing but good with female voters – and she turned them to her own advantage at the last parliamentary hustings, promising that European commission president Jean-Claude Juncker would soon find out how “bloody difficult” she could be. But even her friends concede Clarke has a point. “She can be a bugger,” says one otherwise admiring colleague succinctly. “Not easy to work with.” May fights her corner tigerishly and, unusually for a politician, she does not seem bothered about being liked”.

Interestingly it mentions that “It is typical of her take-me-or-leave-me approach that she managed to win the support of almost two-thirds of her parliamentary colleagues despite refusing to bribe waverers with job offers. “You can’t go in and say, ‘Make me under-secretary of state for sproggets and badges and you’ve got my support’,” says Eric Pickles, the ex-cabinet minister and longstanding ally. “That’s not how she operates. You’ve got to take her unconditionally.” Indeed, the most intriguing political comparison is arguably not with Thatcher, but with Gordon Brown, the last political figure dominant enough to become prime minister basically by acclamation. Two serious-minded children of religious ministers, steeped in moral purpose, both possessed of an iron need to control. May is a famously reluctant delegator, needing to know exactly what her juniors are doing and to chew over every detail of decisions – a micromanagement style she cannot hope to apply to an entire government – and like Brown, she demands unswerving loyalty. (Although unlike him, she generally won’t say behind your back what she wouldn’t say to your face)”.

It goes on to make the point “Yet for all her apparent stubbornness, in private May is surprisingly open to a well-sourced argument. A former junior minister who observed her playing hardball in negotiations says she will usually do a deal in the end: “It’s not just ‘because I say so’ – if you make a good argument to Theresa, she can be willing to change her position.” She may not be adored, but she commands admiration, a wary respect, and deep gratitude from many Tory women for what the business minister Anna Soubry calls the “proper sisterhood” that she has built inside the party. There is something fitting about the fact that over a decade after May overhauled the candidate selection system to bring more women and minority ethnic MPs up the ladder behind her, her party briefly volunteered an all-female shortlist for the top job”.

The writer goes on to mention that “What makes a May premiership interestingly unpredictable is that she has always been driven less by ideology than by morality, a very personal sense of right or wrong. Her more radical moments – attacking police corruption, fighting Downing Street for an inquiry into institutional child abuse, overruling civil service advice – have often come from a feeling that common decency has been offended. She loathes any sense of impropriety in public service, of sloppy and self-serving behaviour leading to injustice. On Monday, she hinted at an equally moralistic approach to economic policy, outlining plans to curb executive pay and put consumers and workers on corporate boards. In a rather audacious parking of the tanks on Labour’s lawn, she plans to pitch herself as a champion of the “left behind”, people struggling financially who voted to leave the EU because they didn’t see how things could get worse. Robert Halfon, the minister without portfolio and champion of blue-collar conservatism, recognises that description well from his Harlow constituency. He backed May partly because he hopes she will advocate a more socially responsible capitalism. “I don’t think she’s a slasher-and-burner. I think she’ll take on crony capitalism – I’ve said we should be a party of the NHS, not BHS, not these awful people screwing the workers,” he says. It’s not hard to see where she got this rather old-fashioned sense of duty. The only daughter of the Rev Hubert Brasier and his wife Zaidee grew up in rural Oxfordshire, in a family that revolved around the demands of her father’s parishioners. It was dinned into her very young that, as the vicar’s daughter, she was always “on show”, and to this day she retains a puritanical streak; the juiciest surprise in her published tax return is that she gives quite heavily to charity”.

Crucially it notes that “Hers was a comfortable middle-class upbringing – two years of private school, then a local grammar and Oxford – and she enjoys a famously strong marriage to Philip, a banker she met at a Tory student disco. But life hasn’t always been easy. Her father was killed in a car crash shortly after she graduated, and her mother, who had multiple sclerosis, died the year after. Then came the bitter discovery that the Mays could not have children. She watched as, one by one, her male Oxford contemporaries bagged seats before her and, despite being promoted dizzyingly fast when she finally reached Westminster in 1997, was never quite part of any leader’s inner circle. Perhaps it took a certain sense of detachment to deliver that broadside after the 2001 defeat, in which she warned that the Conservatives would not regain power while they were seen as a “nasty party”. It remains a pivotal moment in Tory history, presaging Cameron’s modernising revolution four years later. Surviving the ferocious subsequent backlash, meanwhile, taught her that she was tougher than she thought”.

The author adds “Such feats of daring remain, however, rare. “She likes to go through the usual structures,” says a fellow senior minister, who praises her as careful rather than wildly creative. She is in many ways the continuity candidate, with Tories speculating that trusted colleagues might well stay in their old jobs to smooth the transition. Even the chancellor, George Osborne, has gone out of his way to be helpful, holding private talks with her in recent days. At a time of national crisis, caution has its appeal. Halfon says that when he asked constituents for their views on a new leader, the word he kept hearing was “security”. She may lack a grand political vision, but if the sky fell in you sense she’d know what to do. Yet awkward questions remain. If she is such a strong leader, why did she disappear during the EU referendum? Surely she was not cynically hedging her bets? And can a remainer ever really deliver a form of Brexit that satisfies the Tory right, without outraging her more centrist supporters? The collapse of the leadership contest means May has not been forced to clarify her views on several controversial issues related to Brexit, chief among them immigration. As home secretary, she managed to be both passionately liberal on race issues – challenging stop-and-search because it routinely discriminates against young black men, for example – and hardline on immigration, baldly stating in a speech to last year’s party conference that current levels were not in the national interest. Many MPs do wonder how she can honestly reconcile such apparently conflicting beliefs”.

It ends “But Pickles, who worked with her for years on community cohesion, argues that she has merely been quicker than most to recognise what a toxic issue immigration has become. “I’ve always been of the view that if you let the genie out of the bottle, it’s very difficult, but I think she got the early warning signs,” he says. “I think [that speech] was a genuine attempt to try and pull us back before the great chasm we descended into.” Whatever the truth, the Conservatives are in that chasm now. It now falls to Theresa May to drag them out”.

 

Boris absents himself

13/07/2016

In a dramatic move a report notes that Boris Johnson removed himself from the race to become the future Tory leader and next prime minister, “Boris Johnson has unexpectedly ruled himself out as a candidate for Britain’s next prime minister, after the justice secretary, Michael Gove, sent shockwaves through Westminster with a last-minute bid for the Conservative leadership. Gove had been chairing Johnson’s leadership campaign, after the two men worked shoulder to shoulder in the campaign for Britain to leave the EU. But with just hours to go before formal nominations closed at noon on Thursday, Gove announced that he no longer believed Johnson was the right man for the job, and that he would launch his own bid to be the next prime minister. Despite having been the leading public face in the victorious Vote Leave campaign, Johnson quickly concluded he could not command enough support from his party, after a series of key lieutenants, including the business minister Nick Boles and the pro-Brexit MP Dominic Raab, defected to the Gove camp”.

The report notes that “He stuck to plans to hold a mid-morning press conference at a London hotel, and delivered a defiant speech saying Britain should take last week’s Brexit vote as an opportunity to “think globally”, and “lift our eyes to the horizon”. But he concluded by saying he would no longer put his name forward. “Having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament, I have concluded that person cannot be me,” he said, stunning MPs who had assembled to show their support. Johnson’s backers, who had gathered in the hotel to lend their support to the former mayor, appeared shocked by his announcement, after he spent much of his speech setting out a pitch to be a one-nation Tory.“This is not a time to quail, it is not a crisis, nor should we see it as an excuse for wobbling or self-doubt,” Johnson said of Britain’s vote to leave the EU, before he announced he was not planning to stand”.

The report goes on to mention “Gove is now widely regarded as the main rival to Theresa May, the home secretary, who had launched her own campaign earlier on Thursday with a pledge that “Brexit means Brexit”, and that there would be no general election until 2020. The other contenders are the work and pensions secretary, Stephen Crabb, the former defence secretary Liam Fox, and the pro-Brexit energy minister Andrea Leadsom. The first round of voting will take place on 5 July, with the weakest candidate eliminated in successive rounds, until the field is whittled down to two candidates, who will be presented to the Conservatives’ grassroots members. The result will be announced on 9 September. A source close to Johnson said: “He’s proud to have been one of those who led the campaign for Brexit, and he’s absolutely proud that it’s given voice to millions of Britons who have previously felt ignored”.

It adds later that “Gove’s allies said he had had growing doubts about Johnson’s ability to build a future government in recent days, and over how he would manage the complex negotiations that will be required to extricate Britain from the EU. They suggested he lacked the “focus and grip”, to succeed in No 10. Johnson’s backers in parliament suggested the late timing of Gove’s intervention was a long-planned act of treachery. “Anyone can see who has wielded the knife, and how it has been wielded,” a source said. Gove’s statement said: “I have repeatedly said that I do not want to be prime minister. That has always been my view. But events since last Thursday have weighed heavily with me.” He added: “I wanted to help build a team behind Boris Johnson so that a politician who argued for leaving the European Union could lead us to a better future.” Ed Vaizey, one of the MPs who attended a meeting with Gove on Thursday morning, said: “He was ready to back Boris; but the closer it got, the harder he thought about it, he thought, it’s not the right person. Follow that through to its conclusion: the logic is, if he doesn’t think Boris can do it, he has to step up to the plate and do it.”

Leadsom pulls out

11/07/2016

Andrea Leadsom has pulled out of the contest to become the next Conservative Party leader and UK PM – with Theresa May now set to succeed David Cameron. Mrs Leadsom said she did not believe she had sufficient support to lead a “strong and stable government”. She also said a nine-week leadership campaign at such a “critical time” for the UK would be “highly undesirable”. The energy minister said Mrs May was “ideally placed” to implement Brexit, and wished her the “greatest success”. A source close to the energy minister told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg “the abuse has been too great” for Mrs Leadsom during the contest”.

“Cameron is the captain who drove HMS Britain onto the rocks”

05/07/2016

A piece argues that Cameron has been able to change the Conservative Party, “This is how a political life ends: with a crash, not a whimper. David Cameron’s place in history is now assured. He is the man who took the United Kingdom out of the European Union. As we wait for the full impact of Thursday’s referendum to be felt, he may be remembered as the prime minister who presided over the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, too. Scottish independence, defeated as an idea just two years ago, is back on the table. Cameron’s ten years as leader of the Conservative party and six as prime minister now boil down to these solitary facts. Nothing else matters; nothing else will be remembered. Cameron gambled everything on one roll of the dice and lost it all”.

The writer goes on to mention “No prime minister in living memory has suffered a defeat of such cataclysmic proportions; none has been so thoroughly humiliated by his own electorate. Cameron lost control of his party and then his country. The consequences of that carelessness will be felt, in Britain and internationally, for years to come. Future political historians will ponder a melancholy question: what was the point of David Cameron? And their judgment is likely to be severe. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. Cameron was to be a different kind of Tory, one comfortable with the face and reality of modern Britain. He was elected leader on a modernising platform that stressed the party’s need to change. He would lead a gentler, more inclusive, Conservative party that would be economically conservative but socially liberal. Tax cuts and gay marriage; welfare reform and a marked increase in spending on international aid for the world’s poorest countries. Above all, he insisted, the Tory party would have to stop “banging on” about Europe. The EU, he recognised, was a distraction from more immediate and pressing concerns. Besides, Cameron appreciated that Tory divisions over Europe helped bring about Margaret Thatcher’s demise and crippled John Major’s premiership”.

Pointedly the piece notes “A year ago, Cameron didn’t even expect he would have to honour his party’s platform promise to hold a referendum on EU membership. But that was before he won a surprising majority in last year’s general election. Suddenly he found himself trapped by his own manifesto promises — promises made to placate the Eurosceptics in his own party and see off the threat posed to his right flank by the virulently anti-European UK Independence Party. A referendum would have to be held. Even so, Cameron was confident — or complacent — enough to think winning it would be an easy task. After all, most of the British establishment was firmly in the pro-Europe camp and so, overwhelmingly, was British business. Economic self-interest would surely persuade voters to set aside their concerns about the EU and endorse the status quo. They might not do so with any great measure of enthusiasm but a reluctant vote Remain was all Cameron, and his government, needed”.

Correctly the author makes the point that “if Cameron understood that there was anti-establishment sentiment in his country, he was entirely too confident he could placate it. Cameron’s attempt to win over Euroskeptics by renegotiating the terms of British membership was an embarrassing, even humiliating, flop. He had disastrously misjudged his room to maneuver. Britain was already a semi-detached member of the EU, granted exemptions from the single currency and the common Schengen travel area; there was not much further autonomy for Britain to win within the confines of the EU. Cameron’s attempt to do so was an inevitable failure, and an unforced strategic blunder”.

Centrally he argues “Any remaining hope the Remain side might cruise to a comfortable victory evaporated when Boris Johnson, Cameron’s most probable successor and arguably the most charismatic and popular politician in Britain, declared he would campaign for Leave. Worse still, the temper and character of the times offered Cameron little encouragement. Populism is the currency of the age and “elites” are fair game everywhere. The EU, which has never inspired much enthusiasm in Britain, was easily depicted as an unaccountable undemocratic, and out of touch. More relevantly, though perhaps less fairly, the same held true Cameron, with his privileged background and aristocratic manner. The would-be “One Nation conservative” came to be dismissed by his countrymen as a hapless toff. It did not help matter that all Cameron could offer, in response to the Leave campaign’s promise to “take back control” and restore British parliamentary sovereignty, was a parade of “experts” — ranging from the World Bank and the IMF to Barack Obama — all of whom warned against leaving the EU. Experts, too, are out of fashion in Britain. “We are about democracy, they are about economics” said Johnson, while Michael Gove, a former key Cameron ally turned impassioned Leave campaigner, remarked that “I think people in this country have had enough of experts”. Above all, the Leave campaign concentrated its fire on the issue of immigration. Cameron once promised to cut net inward migration to Britain to less than 100,000 people a year”.

The report notes “Cameron finds himself the laughing-stock of Europe. His reinvention of the Conservative party, reviving it in the aftermath of three shattering election defeats at the hands of Tony Blair, counts for nothing. His party is split in two; his country faces an impossibly uncertain future as the full impact of Thursday’s extraordinary vote begins to be felt. Most of all, Cameron must reflect on the manner in which he lost the confidence of the British people. The roots of this crisis run long and deep but they are connected to the ongoing impact of 2008’s financial crash. The British people have put up with six years of “austerity” government but have never done so enthusiastically”.

Yet this would be true if the Tories had not been re-elected last year. Had they rejected the level of austerity they should have voted for Labour who would have dramatically slowed, if not reduced it. Some mistakenly were enable to see past Ed Miliband’s personality instead of his competence at the job.

The report adds “We used to think Cameron was a lucky politician at his best in a crisis. He had the good fortune to face two Labour leaders — Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband — who were in their different ways almost heroically unpopular. In 2014 he saw off the threat of Scottish independence and, until just a few weeks ago, looked like seeing off the threat of Brexit too. That analysis no longer holds. This plebiscite was a revolt against Westminster just as much as it was an expression of anti-European animus. The British people have tired of the governing officer class and gleefully took the opportunity of kicking Cameron in the shins”.

It ends “The referendum result revealed a picture of a sharply polarized Britain. Older voters voted to Leave while their grandchildren overwhelmingly voted to Remain. Middle-class university graduates voted to Remain but working-class high-school graduates voted to Leave. London and Scotland endorsed the EU, the so-called “heartlands” of “middle England” backed Leave. Britain this morning is a country divided by class and geography as almost never before. That too is part of Cameron’s legacy; the proof of a failed premiership. At some point and eventually, even lucky generals find their good fortune runs out. Cameron has proved no exception to that immutable law of politics. Almost all political lives end in failure but few in quite such a devastating fashion as this. This is a shipwreck and Cameron is the captain who drove HMS Britain onto the rocks. That is his legacy; that is what he will be remembered for. And deservedly so.

The party of Brexit

01/07/2016

Following the vote of the UK to leave the EU, Brexit, an article in the Guardian reports that the Conservative Party is now the party of Brexit, “ow different defeat feels in practice. Before the referendum David Cameron was consistent in his formula: the vote was not a test of his leadership or of his tenancy of No 10. Should he lose, he would continue to govern, providing the continuity and experience that the nation would require as it exited from the maze of the EU. There was a cool rationality to this argument, typical of the man and his distaste for drama. Those around him were ready to fight a confidence vote and believed they had sufficient numbers to prevail in such a test of his position. As collateral, they already had a letter to the PM signed by more than 80 Tory Brexiters urging him to stay on, even if he lost the referendum. At the very least, this would give Cameron – and his party – a breathing space to consider their options”.

The author writes “in the pitiless light of day, the plan collapsed like Dracula turning to ash in a sunbeam. In December 2005, the new Tory leader rebranded his party as “Cameron Conservatives”: compassionate, modernising, no longer “banging on” about Europe, green by inclination (Steve Hilton replaced the party’s torch logo with a tree), and supposedly at ease in contemporary Britain. This morning it became overwhelmingly clear that the party now belongs to the Brexiters and that the era of Cameron Conservatives is over. For now, the voters do not want to hear about pluralism, global interdependence, the complexity of modern society, or the difficulty of striking the right balance in migration policy”.

The writer goes on to make the point that people “want “control” – which is another way of saying that they want, and expect, the results that, in their opinion, the political elite has woefully failed to provide. How, to put it more crudely, could the defeated leader of the remain campaign preside over the negotiations to get out of Europe, and what would the leading Brexiters be doing while he got on with it? David Davis and others had tried to negotiate potential compromises in the past month. But there was no sense in a new government in which all the kinetic energy belonged to the victorious leave camp but the crucial actions were delegated to the very man it had defeated. Cameron had fought, as he admitted in Downing Street, with “head, heart and soul” to stay in the EU but been answered with “an instruction that must be delivered” to bring about precisely the opposite. There would have been no dignity in this – effectively, a return to coalition government but, in this case, an alliance between two wings of the same party”.

The piece ends with the writer noting “I will not say of Cameron that nothing became his career like the ending of it. More than Gordon Brown, he was the first prime minister to feel the unmitigated wrath of the electorate post-crash, amplified by social media, oxygenated by a broader contempt for elites of all kinds. The Brexiters will soon discover that the flames they fanned are not easily controlled. But that is a theme we shall address fully in due course. For now, let us say that Cameron made errors, but his record is not the litany of disaster that some obituarists are already claiming. He held the coalition together for five years and returned his party to government with a majority for the first time in 23 years. He pursued the austerity in practice that Alistair Darling had promised in theory: such decisions, by definition, are harsh and unpopular. Does anyone imagine that the Brexiters will be kinder? No government can sustain a rival government in its ranks. It must concede defeat, or destroy the pretender. Cameron knew the latter option was not open to him, and had the guts to follow where the implacable logic led. Better than most, he knows what lies ahead and how expectations of change, unmet by those who promise it, can compound anger faster than we imagine. As he reached the end of his speech, his voice broke. He yearned to weep, but I do not think his tears were principally for himself”.

Trying to oust Corbyn as Labour disintegrates

01/07/2016

After the UK vote to leave the EU, the leader of the Labour Party is rightly being blamed for the disaster, “Labour MPs are preparing to launch a bruising leadership contest that will aim to topple leader Jeremy Corbyn after he reacted to an overwhelming vote of no confidence by declaring he had no intention to resign. Politicians want Angela Eagle, who has stepped down as shadow business secretary, or Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, to agree about which of them will trigger the challenge if their leader continues to hold on in the face of massive hostility. MPs backing Eagle were on Tuesday night collecting names of colleagues who were prepared to nominate her in order to start a contest, but Watson supporters were calling for calm, insisting that Corbyn could yet stand down”.

The report mentions “The Labour leader has so far held on despite a dramatic and destabilising coup attempt, started at the weekend, which has now seen two-thirds of his shadow cabinet step down, as well as 28 shadow ministers and 11 private parliamentary secretaries. More than three-quarters of Labour MPs – 172 – voted to show that they had no confidence in his leadership, while 40 voted for him. Corbyn responded by issuing a warning that he had the support of Labour members, and that he was going nowhere. “I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60% of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning. Today’s vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy,” he said”.

The report goes on to mention “His allies said the only way to take Corbyn on would be for another MP to collect the 51 nominations of MPs and MEPs needed to start a contest, warning that he would stand and that they believed he would win. The standoff marks the start of a potentially bitter battle for the heart of the Labour party that will pitch MPs and local government leaders against pro-Corbyn members and trade unionists. David Ward said John Smith, the previous leader for whom he was chief of staff, had told him that any leader would have to resign after a vote of no confidence. “You cannot survive,” he said, arguing that it was the only mechanism in the party to force a leader out. Corbyn’s support among members is the reason that Labour MPs, desperate to oust him, want just one candidate to stand against him. People who were being talked about as potential contenders, including Dan Jarvis and Lisa Nandy, have now ruled themselves out of the contest”.

It adds “Eagle and Watson are now seen as the only two realistic possibilities. Jess Phillips MP echoed the view of dozens of her colleagues that the pair had to make a decision about who would run. “The party has to agree on one person. Just like Jeremy, people in the PLP should put aside any personal ambition and instead agree on one candidate who can save the party for the sake of the country,” she said. The former shadow education secretary, Lucy Powell, who was one of the first major resignations, urged Corbyn to give up: “This is a very clear result and if Jeremy is to show any leadership quality at all he must now reflect and respond to this overwhelming and unprecedented indication from the parliamentary labour party which includes all wings and all groupings.” Sources suggested that while Eagle’s team had been busily collecting names, Watson’s preferred action was to hold tight and wait for Corbyn to step down voluntarily after experiencing the reality of running an opposition with such a thin frontbench”.

It goes on to note that “Although the Labour leader has replaced most shadow cabinet positions, it will struggle to fill many of the vacancies, while he will have to face a parliamentary committee on Wednesday to discuss the confidence vote. On Tuesday night he emailed members of his party’s national policy forum to cancel a meeting in Nottingham this weekend, arguing that the result of the EU referendum meant it would be undemocratic to discuss policy options. He promised to put the party on a “war footing” in case of an early general election after the Tory leadership contest is decided in September. The prospect of an election is what has triggered the action against Corbyn and comes as a leaked poll commissioned by the party revealed that over one in four (27%) of Labour voters was less likely to vote for the party following the referendum campaign in which 214 Labour MPs called on people to vote to remain in the EU. The YouGov survey said 11% were more likely to back Labour. Corbyn is determined to keep going because of a philosophical belief that it is Labour members that should control the party and not its MPs. On Monday he weathered an explosive meeting of the PLP in which he was repeatedly begged to resign, and told by his former Scottish secretary to “call off the dogs” after pro-Corbyn supporters began protesting outside his constituency office”.

It concludes “The Labour leader left the meeting and then headed into Parliament Square to address thousands of supporters, organised by the grassroots movement Momentum, in a move that infuriated MPs. One told the Guardian that the move had increased the scale of the no-confidence vote, which was followed by further resignations, including that of shadow communities minister Liz McInnes, who had spoken up for Corbyn in the meeting.“It is clear his behaviour last night in whipping up a rally of largely non-Labour members and his refusal to accept any blame for the referendum defeat turned off a number of colleagues from the left who were considering abstaining or voting for him,” said the politician, who also argued that there was deep anger about the perception that Corbyn had not tried hard enough to mobilise Labour voters during the referendum campaign. Corbyn’s team strongly deny that charge, pointing to several speeches and regular media appearances. MPs have argued that Corbyn would struggle to secure enough nominations, but the leader’s advisers believe that he would be automatically placed on the ballot. Legal advice leaked to the Guardian does conclude that he would be able to run again without any set number of MPs backing him, but sources say that the party’s national executive committee has commissioned a separate piece of work that has the opposite finding”.

The EU: Cameron’s downfall

25/06/2016

Having seen the numerous missteps made by Cameron that led to the exit of the UK from the EU an important article discuss the downfall of Cameron, “They used to call it Greek tragedy when the fates wrought their revenge on human folly and weakness. But maybe a better term in the case of the folly and weakness of the modern Tory party is European tragedy. For, as a broken David Cameron announced his resignation on Friday morning, one question must have been battering his exhausted brain more than any other. How was it that a modern-minded liberal Conservative leader who long ago told his party to “stop banging on about Europe” if it wanted to get back into power after three successive defeats – and who then delivered two terms in government – has himself been brought down by that same party over that same European question? Cameron himself played the role of tragic hero as he notified the nation of his intention to step down before the autumn. “There can be no doubt about the result,” he said. “The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected.” But he added that the tortuous negotiations ahead with the EU would require “strong determined and committed leadership” that he felt he could no longer provide. “The country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction.” And there seemed scant consolation in his laconic summary of what he would rather be remembered for”.

The report makes the point that “All of that is likely to be forgotten in the European tumult. The warnings from history could not have been clearer. Party divisions over Europe had been the undoing of both Cameron’s predecessors as Conservative prime minister. Margaret Thatcher’s fall in 1990 was triggered by her increasingly anti-European rhetoric and stance. John Major’s long slide to defeat in 1997 was powered by his inability to prevent poisonous divisions over the Maastricht treaty on European integration. Right from the start of his own rise to the top, Cameron knew the dangers. Yet the faultlines in Cameron’s own approach to Europe were always there too. The young Cameron was never one of those Tories who ate, drank and slept Europe; but nor was he an heir to the pro-European generation of liberal Tories such as Michael Heseltine and Kenneth Clarke. Instead, fatally as it has now transpired, he was always a “Eurosceptic – but not as Eurosceptic as you are”, as he put it to his first political boss, the former chancellor Norman Lamont”.

The piece continues “Cameron’s lifelong soft Euroscepticism meant he had no answer to the hardliners on Europe once the issue had become turbocharged by austerity and immigration. Cameron’s differences with the more committed Eurosceptic wing of his party have always been over emphasis and tone, not substance. He has had no alternative vision of Europe to offer, in the face of the party’s Europhobes. Although he was always in favour of remaining, he failed to make the case for UK membership until almost the last minute. If Cameron’s default position had always been “Eurosceptic – but determined to make Europe work”, things might have been different. But it was the opposite. “I’m much more Eurosceptic than you imagine,” he once told Labour’s Denis MacShane. When he was first running for parliament in the Oxfordshire constituency of Witney, which he won in 2001, Cameron characteristically tried to have the best of both Tory worlds on the issue. He should be thought of as a Eurosceptic, he told the centre-right libertarian Sean Gabb, “on the basis that I oppose the single currency and any further transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the EU”. But, Cameron added, he was not in favour of withdrawal and accepted the supremacy of EU law in some cases”.

Interestingly the article point out that ““Let me get this straight,” he repeated in a Guardian article in May 2003 about the EU constitution plan, which Tony Blair supported but on which the Labour party was reluctant to allow a referendum, “I am no Euro obsessive”. Readers could not accuse him of “excessive Daily Mail reading, too much time spent alone with Bill Cash or anything else”. But, he added, “the Euro-maniac Blair” would have to concede a referendum on “the wretched thing”. “He’s Eurosceptic, no shadow of doubt,” the Tory pro-European grandee Sir Nicholas Soames told Lord Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott for their anti-Cameron biography Call Me Dave. “He’s immensely irritated by it and frustrated by it in every way. But he’s not a Get Out man.” But nor was he ever explicitly enough a Stay In man. In 2005, as he began campaigning to succeed Michael Howard as the liberal and modernising alternative to what Theresa May famously called “nasty party” Toryism, Cameron promised that, under him, the Tories would pull out of the European People’s party alliance in the European parliament. He did it because he wanted to siphon votes from his rivals David Davis and Liam Fox by burnishing his own Eurosceptic credentials”.

It adds that “It is doubtful if that promise was decisive in Cameron’s victory as party leader. But it is certain that the decision drove a wedge between the Tories and their Christian Democratic, centre-right fellow parties in Europe. In particular it poisoned relations and trust with Angela Merkel, who was to be the key figure in European politics in the years ahead. Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, Cameron put tactics before strategy in his handling of Europe. So, when Cameron made his famous remarks to the Tory conference in 2006, his first speech as leader to the party, the warnings were more tactical than strategic. “Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most,” he reminded his party as he assessed the Tories’ third successive electoral defeat at Blair’s hands. “While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life, we were banging on about Europe.” Many saw these words, especially in retrospect, as an attempt to shift the way the party approached Europe. But the words were an attack on the consequences of the party’s approach, not on the approach itself. Cameron was being consistent with his own soft Euroscepticism, not innovative in the way that might have equipped him to fight his corner more effectively when the referendum came in 2016. Back in 2007, when Europe was gearing up for what became the Lisbon treaty on EU reforms, Cameron was again consistent in his own terms. First he pledged “a cast-iron guarantee” from the Tories to hold a referendum on the treaty. Two years later, with the general election now approaching, Cameron declared the guarantee was no longer relevant, since the treaty was now law and could not be reopened. He had managed both to fire up the hardliners and to outrage them”.

The piece continues “Yet Cameron did not make a virtue of his change of policy on the treaty by embracing it – even though it embodied many of the less centralising approaches to Europe that he had advocated. Throughout this time, his adviser Steve Hilton was pressing for Cameron to prepare the ground for exit from Europe. In practice, however, Cameron neither prepared for exit nor for engagement. Instead the juggling act continued. The 2010 election, which was in most respects a triumph for Cameron, ensured ever more frantic juggling. Going into coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats meant the referendum on UK membership of the EU that many Conservatives continued to advocate was put in the deep freeze. The coalition’s official policy was that there would be no in/out referendum and that only Cameron and Nick Clegg could settle European policy between them. This was a purgatorial outcome for the hard Eurosceptics. Not only had Cameron made a coalition with the Liberal Dems, whom they despised; he had also sold the pass on Europe, again. The hard right’s revenge came in October 2011 when the MP David Nuttall’s motion for a referendum triggered the largest Tory postwar revolt on Europe, with 81 Eurosceptics voting against the government. Two months later, Cameron tried to assuage his rebels by vetoing a eurozone rescue plan at an EU summit in Brussels. The clashes left Cameron isolated on both fronts. The Tory rebels, in Lord Finkelstein’s words, never took yes for an answer. Meanwhile Merkel and many of the other heads of government were outraged at Cameron’s defiance”.

Pointedly the article mentions Cameron’s lack of backbone in standing up to the unhinged Tories, “Although Cameron still tended at this time to treat the EU issue as a party management problem, the eurozone crisis and migration pressures were beginning to transform the issue into something much larger, much angrier and less manageable. The rise of Ukip – with whose policies a significant minority of Tory MPs agreed – pushed ever more Tories into the referendum camp. In June 2012, Cameron finally cracked and said a referendum might be necessary. From that moment the issue became when, not whether, Cameron would pledge a referendum as Tory policy at the next election. When a worried Clegg challenged him in 2012, Cameron’s response was that of a tactical politician. “I have to do this. It is a party management issue. I am under a lot of pressure on this. I need to recalibrate,” he told Clegg, according to David Laws’s account of the coalition. “He’s so busy wondering how to get through the next few weeks that he could endanger Britain’s international position for the next few decades. It’s all very very risky,” Clegg told Laws in 2012, wholly accurately as things were to turn out. When Clegg put this to Cameron later in 2012, Cameron’s reply was eloquent and to the point: “You may be right. But what else can I do? My backbenchers are unbelievably Eurosceptic and Ukip are breathing down my neck.” After a long buildup, Cameron finally made his referendum pledge in 2013 in a speech at the Bloomberg offices in central London”.

The piece mentions that “The speech put the promise in the context of an unusually eloquent argument by Cameron for Britain to remain in the EU. Perhaps if he had gone into the 2015 election emphasising that Britain must stay, he would have been in a stronger position to stem the slide of ministers and backbenchers into the leave campaign in 2016. But Cameron didn’t do that. Once again, he let the issue go off the boil. Meanwhile, though, the pressure from immigration and the fear of Ukip transformed the political climate. Cameron only began to make the case to remain in the weeks running up to this week’s vote. By then the damage had been done”.

It concludes “Although Cameron had been expecting another hung parliament in 2015, he emerged from the general election unencumbered by coalition. As a result, the referendum pledge made at Bloomberg and set in stone in the Tory manifesto had to be banked. Throughout late 2015 and early 2016, Cameron bargained for concessions from EU partners whose minds were far more focused on the continued economic crisis, immigration from Syria and elsewhere, and terrorism. The deal Cameron unveiled at the end of the Brussels summit on 19 February might have been a strong enough package to sell to an electorate that wanted to back a popular prime minister – as Harold Wilson’s equivalent deal was when Britain voted to stay in Europe in 1975. But times had changed. Cameron may have promised to fight “heart and soul” for Britain to stay in, but immigration, an impatient electorate and the absolute determination of the anti-European press and hard-sceptic MPs ensured that 2016 would be completely different. In the end, Cameron has been faced with forces and dynamics in British life that he has proved powerless to control. Indignation about immigration, disrespect for politicians, a reluctance to be frightened by warnings, press distortions and Labour’s weakness in delivering its vote all did their bit to fuel a general mood of popular payback against the political and economic establishment, as well as the EU. The remain campaign threw everything but the kitchen sink at their leave opponents, but the assaults only seemed to strengthen the mood of defiance. Even the killing of Jo Cox did nothing more than cause a temporary lull in the leave mood. Three years ago, in a comment on Cameron’s referendum pledge in the Bloomberg speech, Tony Blair likened it to a comedy western of the 1970s. “It reminds me a bit of the Mel Brooks comedy Blazing Saddles where the sheriff says at one point as he holds a gun to his own head: ‘If you don’t do what I want I’ll blow my brains out,’” Blair warned. This week, Cameron has done just that”.

 

Bibi moves (even further) right

13/06/2016

A report notes the Israeli reshuffle, ““It’s delusional,” said Benny Begin, a senior Likud parliamentarian, when asked what he thought of Avigdor Lieberman’s incipient appointment as Israel’s new defense minister. “[It] exhibits irresponsibility towards the security establishment and all of Israel’s citizens … the prime minister apparently prefers to exchange the day-to-day hardships of running a narrow coalition for hardships and dangers exponentially greater stemming from this appointment.” Begin, the son of Likud founder and former Prime Minister Menachem Begin, was just one voice in a cacophony across the Israeli political spectrum shocked at the recent turn of events. A week that began with rumours of a national unity government between the center-left Zionist Union opposition party and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud ended with an abrupt volte-face by Netanyahu: Out went the option of the Zionist Union, and in came Netanyahu’s former foreign minister, the ultranationalist Avigdor Lieberman, as defence minister. In response, outgoing Defense Minister Moshe “Bogie” Yaalon resigned in protest from both the government and Knesset. In a parting shot at Netanyahu, he said that he had lost confidence in the premier and that dangerous extremists had taken over both the country and his Likud party”.

The report goes onto add “Despite the war of words, the entire episode leaves Netanyahu in a politically stronger position — but it’s certainly a gamble. The drawn-out negotiations succeeded in smashing the Zionist Union, Israel’s largest opposition party, into violent, bickering factions, and likely signaled the end of Isaac Herzog’s tenure as party chairman. Netanyahu successfully neutralized a right-wing nuisance by bringing Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party into the governing coalition, in the process expanding his previously razor-thin majority of 61 seats in the 120-seat Knesset to 67 seats. This will likely allow the passage of two major pieces of legislation: a natural gas framework agreement to replace the one previously struck down by the Supreme Court, and a two-year budget. The budget deal will go a long way in ensuring his government’s survival, as failure to pass a budget triggers, by law, early elections. Meanwhile, it’s likely not a coincidence that the first order of business announced by Netanyahu in the immediate wake of the Lieberman-Yaalon kerfuffle last week was the reworked gas deal. But a government that had already been described as “the most right-wing” in Israeli history has now become even more extreme, a development sure to cause unease internationally. President Barack Obama’s administration has already said the Lieberman appointment “raises legitimate questions” about Israel’s policies moving forward”.

The piece continues “But for Netanyahu, the political gains appear to outweigh the domestic and international opprobrium. Among the prime minister’s right-wing base, his recent political maneuvers have been cause for celebration. Yaalon is no dove — he consistently spoke out against a Palestinian state, once calling Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic” for his peace efforts — he did believe in upholding the rule of law and the IDF’s moral standards. This made him an outlier both in the Netanyahu government and Likud. The divide between Yaalon and Netanyahu burst out into the open in the aftermath of IDF Sgt. Elor Azaria’s killing of an already-neutralised Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron in March. Yaalon, along with the IDF high command, condemned Azaria’s actions, promising a full investigation and trial. In contrast, many right-wing politicians, like Lieberman and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, came out in support of Azaria, calling him a hero. While Netanyahu paid lip service to the IDF’s ethical doctrine of “purity of arms,” he also made a show of ringing up Azaria’s father and urged the military judges trying the case to show understanding towards the soldier”.

Worryingly he makes the point that “It is an open secret that a large segment of the Likud’s Central Committee is today made up of highly disciplined religious-nationalists who vote in Likud primaries to influence the makeup of the country’s ruling party, and then in general elections turn around and vote for other pro-settler parties. One such Central Committee operative, Yossi Dagan, head of the West Bank’s Shomron Regional Council, was asked by the Yediot Aharonot daily last weekend what he expected from the new defence minister. “To return the deterrent [value] to the IDF and to remove obstacles to [settlement] construction” in the West Bank, Dagan replied flatly. Another Likud Central Committee member, Avi Roeh, the head of the Binyamin Regional Council, told the newspaper that he hoped Lieberman would think of new ways to save illegal settlement outposts mandated for demolition. “Yaalon, who obsessively attributed holiness to every court decision, didn’t even want to try,” Roeh said. “We need someone here who will dare.” Netanyahu, for his part, defended the Likud strongly against Yaalon’s attacks”.

Pointedly he argues that “It is these two contradictions — between Israel’s Jewish and democratic character, and between settlements and peace — that lie at the crux of the current political moment. Yaalon ran afoul of his own party, and his own prime minister, precisely on issues relating to the continued occupation of the West Bank: settlements, rules of engagement, security and economic cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, and above all, the relationship between the political echelon and the defense establishment. It is indicative of the disconnect between the government and the army that Yaalon was the only retired general in recent memory to have entered politics on the side of Likud; with him gone, Netanyahu’s cabinet is bereft of major security figures save for Yoav Galant, a retired general from the center-right Kulanu party”.

It ends “Netanyahu’s latest maneuver may prove to be his undoing — a bridge too far that finally galvanizes the long-serving prime minister’s many challengers. Perhaps, as former Defense Minister and Likud member Moshe Arensopined, a “political earthquake is in the offing.” Recent polls have shownthat if Yaalon joins with other prominent center-right politicians then this new party would have a chance at toppling Likud — although who this party’s choice for prime minister would be is still far from clear. Netanyahu is gambling that the short-term damage wrought by the Lieberman appointment will be outweighed by the creation of a stable, ideologically coherent government. He is also betting that the international community, for all its bluster, won’t punish such a government for its policies, and that his political opponents will be too fractured to mount a serious bid to topple him. But above all, Netanyahu is gambling that through a mixture of apathy, fear, or conviction, the Israeli public is more like the modern Likud than most would like to believe”.

“This is how fascism comes to America”

07/06/2016

Robert Kagan in the Washington Post, writes that “The Republican Party’s attempt to treat Donald Trump as a normal political candidate would be laughable were it not so perilous to the republic. If only he would mouth the party’s “conservative” principles, all would be well. But of course the entire Trump phenomenon has nothing to do with policy or ideology. It has nothing to do with the Republican Party, either, except in its historic role as incubator of this singular threat to our democracy. Trump has transcended the party that produced him. His growing army of supporters no longer cares about the party. Because it did not immediately and fully embrace Trump, because a dwindling number of its political and intellectual leaders still resist him, the party is regarded with suspicion and even hostility by his followers. Their allegiance is to him and him alone. And the source of allegiance? We’re supposed to believe that Trump’s support stems from economic stagnation or dislocation. Maybe some of it does. But what Trump offers his followers are not economic remedies — his proposals change daily. What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence. His incoherent and contradictory utterances have one thing in common: They provoke and play on feelings of resentment and disdain, intermingled with bits of fear, hatred and anger. His public discourse consists of attacking or ridiculing a wide range of “others” — Muslims, Hispanics, women, Chinese, Mexicans, Europeans, Arabs, immigrants, refugees — whom he depicts either as threats or as objects of derision. His program, such as it is, consists chiefly of promises to get tough with foreigners and people of nonwhite complexion. He will deport them, bar them, get them to knuckle under, make them pay up or make them shut up”.

Kagan goes on, “That this tough-guy, get-mad-and-get-even approach has gained him an increasingly large and enthusiastic following has probably surprised Trump as much as anyone else. Trump himself is simply and quite literally an egomaniac. But the phenomenon he has created and now leads has become something larger than him, and something far more dangerous. Republican politicians marvel at how he has “tapped into” a hitherto unknown swath of the voting public. But what he has tapped into is what the founders most feared when they established the democratic republic: the popular passions unleashed, the “mobocracy.” Conservatives have been warning for decades about government suffocating liberty. But here is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people”.

Kagan unswervingly continues, “This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called “fascism.” Fascist movements, too, had no coherent ideology, no clear set of prescriptions for what ailed society. “National socialism” was a bundle of contradictions, united chiefly by what, and who, it opposed; fascism in Italy was anti-liberal, anti-democratic, anti-Marxist, anti-capitalist and anti-clerical. Successful fascism was not about policies but about the strongman, the leader (Il Duce, Der Führer), in whom could be entrusted the fate of the nation. Whatever the problem, he could fix it. Whatever the threat, internal or external, he could vanquish it, and it was unnecessary for him to explain how. Today, there is Putinism, which also has nothing to do with belief or policy but is about the tough man who single-handedly defends his people against all threats, foreign and domestic. To understand how such movements take over a democracy, one only has to watch the Republican Party today. These movements play on all the fears, vanities, ambitions and insecurities that make up the human psyche. In democracies, at least for politicians, the only thing that matters is what the voters say they want — vox populi vox Dei. A mass political movement is thus a powerful and, to those who would oppose it, frightening weapon. When controlled and directed by a single leader, it can be aimed at whomever the leader chooses. If someone criticizes or opposes the leader, it doesn’t matter how popular or admired that person has been. He might be a famous war hero, but if the leader derides and ridicules his heroism, the followers laugh and jeer. He might be the highest-ranking elected guardian of the party’s most cherished principles. But if he hesitates to support the leader, he faces political death”.

He adds, “In such an environment, every political figure confronts a stark choice: Get right with the leader and his mass following or get run over. The human race in such circumstances breaks down into predictable categories — and democratic politicians are the most predictable. There are those whose ambition leads them to jump on the bandwagon. They praise the leader’s incoherent speeches as the beginning of wisdom, hoping he will reward them with a plum post in the new order. There are those who merely hope to survive. Their consciences won’t let them curry favor so shamelessly, so they mumble their pledges of support, like the victims in Stalin’s show trials, perhaps not realizing that the leader and his followers will get them in the end anyway. A great number will simply kid themselves, refusing to admit that something very different from the usual politics is afoot. Let the storm pass, they insist, and then we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and get back to normal. Meanwhile, don’t alienate the leader’s mass following. After all, they are voters and will need to be brought back into the fold. As for Trump himself, let’s shape him, advise him, steer him in the right direction and, not incidentally, save our political skins”.

Crucially he argues, “What these people do not or will not see is that, once in power, Trump will owe them and their party nothing. He will have ridden to power despite the party, catapulted into the White House by a mass following devoted only to him. By then that following will have grown dramatically. Today, less than 5 percent of eligible voters have voted for Trump. But if he wins the election, his legions will likely comprise a majority of the nation. Imagine the power he would wield then. In addition to all that comes from being the leader of a mass following, he would also have the immense powers of the American presidency at his command: the Justice Department, the FBI, the intelligence services, the military. Who would dare to oppose him then? Certainly not a Republican Party that lay down before him even when he was comparatively weak. And is a man like Trump, with infinitely greater power in his hands, likely to become more humble, more judicious, more generous, less vengeful than he is today, than he has been his whole life? Does vast power un-corrupt? This is how fascism comes to America, not with jackboots and salutes (although there have been salutes, and a whiff of violence) but with a television huckster, a phony billionaire, a textbook egomaniac “tapping into” popular resentments and insecurities, and with an entire national political party — out of ambition or blind party loyalty, or simply out of fear — falling into line behind him”.

Changing ideology

10/05/2016

An interesting article argues the traditional ideological questions are disappearing with dangerous consequences for democracy, “This year’s U.S. presidential election is pretty extraordinary. Who would have possibly predicted the stunning rise of Donald Trump and the shrewdly calculated provocations of Bernie Sanders? But the United States isn’t the only place where the politics of liberal democracy have taken an unexpected turn. Just read Pierre Briançon’s sharp take in Politico Europe on the recent collapse of Europe’s traditional left-wing parties. He makes a compelling case that they’ve hit rock bottom. The dismal economic situation, the challenge of terrorism, and the refugee crisis all pose problems to which Europe’s traditional leaders — and, above all, those on the Left — have no coherent answers. As a result, he concludes, “The European Left often looks divided into two camps: One loses elections, the other doesn’t seem interested in winning them.” True enough. And yet the European Right isn’t doing itself any favours either”.

The piece adds “As British journalist Freddy Gray points out in the Spectator, traditional conservatives are also in disarray. “Everywhere you look, in country after country, batty nationalists are winning and conservative pragmatists are running scared,” he writes. “The victory on [April 25] of Austria’s Freedom party candidate, Norbert Hofer, who likes to carry a gun, is just the latest in a series of gains for this new right-wing populism.” The new generation — which includes Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage — has knocked establishment conservatives for a loop”.

Yet the problem with this is the definition of these people as “traditional conservatives”. Traditional conservatives seek to slow change rather than accelerate it. They are sceptical of human nature and thus grand projects. Thus, the worship of deregulation and the free market are not “traditional conservative” principles. Furthermore the notion of the organic society has been lost leading to ignoring the poor with no thought given to the moral or social consequences for the state’s withdrawal. 

The piece adds “Gray notes that Boris Johnson, the Conservative Party mayor of London, has begun positioning himself as a kind of Trump-in-waiting. Johnson aims to undermine his rival (and, technically, boss — as head of the same party), Prime Minister David Cameron, who is desperately working to stave off a potentially disastrous defeat in next month’s referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. In case you haven’t been following the Brexit controversy, Johnson wants the U.K. to leave, while Cameron wants it to remain. That divide, which appears to be growing increasingly bitter, reaches all the way down through their party. Just like Republicans in the United States, British Conservatives are — to quote Gray — “tearing [themselves] apart.” Even as political conflict intensifies, there’s a sense that the old ideological divides are breaking down”.

Importantly the author notes “We still categorise our politicians as “right” or “left,” usually without remarking that this is a distinction that dates back to the French Revolution. Yet the “conservative” Trump, who spent much of his life flirting with Democrats, doesn’t look at all like someone intent on preserving the status quo. He’s an aggressive insurgent, openly waging war on his own party even as he dumps its once-sacrosanct principles of free trade and open borders. (Which perhaps helps to explain why American über-conservative Charles Koch recently hinted that Hillary Clinton might make a better president than The Donald. After all, she started off as a Goldwater Republican, and she has shifted positions so many times since that it’s hard to tell what she really believes.) For his part, Trump even has admiring words for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin — a weakness he shares with his European counterparts like Farage, Le Pen, and Orban. For 20th-century conservatives, defending freedom was the sine qua non, the indispensable belief. Now it’s an accessory”.

The author rightly notes “Indeed, some of these profoundly un-conservative conservatives openly flirt with authoritarianism and racism in ways that would have appalled their Christian Democrat ancestors who helped build the EU in the decades after World War II. Needless to say, those pro-European conservatives of the 1950s and 1960s were motivated by an all-too-fresh awareness of where such flirtations could lead. Orban has candidly expressed his preference for “illiberal democracy” of the sort supposedly embodied by Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If Orban were to make good on his statement by rolling back Hungary’s democratic institutions, that would amount to a revolution from the Right, not a conservative defense of the status quo. Meanwhile, amid a refugee crisis that has seen tens of thousands of Muslims transit through Hungary, Orban has boosted his political profile by describing himself as a stalwart defender of Europe’s “Christian values” — at a time when Europeans are more secular than they’ve ever been. Meanwhile, Sanders describes himself as a “democratic socialist,” though neither he nor his fans seem to have a very clear understanding of what the term means. Historically, socialists were the people who believed that the state should own the means of production, or at least control the “commanding heights” of the economy. Sanders’s vague promises of free college education or moves to “break up the banks” are thin gruel by comparison. He may love to rant about Goldman Sachs, but even he’s never proposed nationalising it”.

The piece goes on to mention “It’s particularly ironic that Sanders has assumed the socialist mantle just at the moment when his European counterparts, whom he often holds up as models, are abandoning it. As Briançon points out in his article about the malaise of the European Left, “Politicians such as France’s reformist economy minister Emmanuel Macron hardly hide the contempt they have for a bureaucratic party system where the traditional notions of ‘Right’ or ‘Left’ have lost their significance.” Meanwhile, Britain’s Labour Party finds itself embroiled in a controversy over anti-Israel remarks — some of them with clear anti-Semitic overtones — made by leading functionaries. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been forced to OK an independent inquiry into allegations that his party abides intolerance. Surely nothing shows how far the party has drifted away from its original values of internationalism than this”.

The report notes “The Labour scandal is all too indicative of the general confusion in which we now find ourselves. The old ideological poles of Left and Right once reflected an important social reality, the fundamental divide between the industrial and agricultural working class and the people who ordered them around. Western societies are no longer so straightforwardly organized. The number of people who work on assembly lines and farms has diminished sharply and will continue to do so. The trade union movement, once the backbone of left-wing political parties, has faded. Many members of the modern underclass perform services rather than making things. Manufacturing is steadily becoming the province of small and highly trained elites. Is a Google programmer better represented by the Left or Right? What about a farmer who depends on federal subsidies? Or a super-skilled worker who assembles sophisticated medical equipment? Is someone who works at a peer-to-peer lender a member of the ruling capitalist class? Class distinctions obviously still exist, but they’re far more complicated than they used to be. Today’s big political challenges — gay marriage, Black Lives Matter, the integration of Muslim immigrants — often turn on culture as much as economics. Over the past few decades, both American Democrats and British Labourites have defined themselves as the defenders of the minorities produced by increasingly multicultural societies — only to discover that their old core constituency, the white working class, has turned away, shifting its loyalties to the Trumps and the Farages. But the intellectual blurriness of those new populists, whose popularity owes more to tribalism and gut feeling than coherent programs, leads one to wonder whether they’ll really manage to come up with better answers”.

He ends “What we’re seeing right now, throughout the West, is a political system that is lagging dramatically behind these complicated social realities. (“Is the U.S. Ready for Post-Middle-Class Politics?” one recent headline from the New York Times Magazine asked.) I’m not sure what the answer is. But the problem is definitely attracting attention. A conservative think-tanker proposes coming up with a new name for capitalism. (Good luck with that!) An academic calls for the creation of an American social democratic party — a suggestion that, given the stagnation of Europe’s social democrats, feels a lot like a 19th-century response to 21st-century problems. Yet another public intellectual suggests the founding of an entirely new “Innovation Party,” on the assumption that Silicon Valley will find all the answers. The dismal state of civic culture on Facebook and Twitter suggests that we shouldn’t hold our collective breath. These would-be visionaries could be on the right track, of course. It’s possible that we’re facing some sort of fundamental political realignment, some profound shift in the balance of societal forces, and we just don’t yet see where it’s going to go. But there’s also a more radical possibility: that Western liberal democracy is witnessing nothing less than the end of politics as we know it — to potentially tumultuous effect. Judging by the current convulsions the West’s political system is enduring, I’m not sure that we can entirely rule that out”.

Of course such hyperbole should be dismissed. Ideology will remain but will change. There will still be the haves and have nots, there will still be the rich and poor. So while the lines will blur, the problems will remain. The question about the “free market” and the role of the state have not, and will not, be answered and are thus perennial questions that need to keep being asked, if not answered. They will remain the basis for ideology albeit under a difference guise for years to come.

 

Sanders, influencing Democrats for decades

02/05/2016

An interesting piece argues that Bernie Sanders is changing the way millenials think about politics, “After Bernie Sanders’s defeat in New York last week, his chances of winning the Democratic nomination are dwindling. Yet, even if he loses this campaign, a poll published Monday suggests that Sanders might have already won a contest that will prove crucially important in America’s political future. The poll of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 finds that Sanders is by far the most popular presidential candidate among the youngest voters. This group’s attitudes on a range of issues have become more liberal in the past year. The data, collected by researchers at Harvard University, suggest that not only has Sanders’s campaign made for an unexpectedly competitive Democratic primary, he has also changed the way millennials think about politics, said polling director John Della Volpe. “He’s not moving a party to the left. He’s moving a generation to the left,” Della Volpe said of the senator from Vermont. “Whether or not he’s winning or losing, it’s really that he’s impacting the way in which a generation — the largest generation in the history of America — thinks about politics.” Apparently, Sanders’s popularity with young voters isn’t just some shallow fad or a cult of personality with little connection to substantive questions of politics. Young people, it seems, are taking Sanders’s ideas to heart”.

The piece adds “In one of Harvard’s polls of young people in 2014, the number who agreed that “basic health insurance is a right for all people” was 42 percent. That figure increased to 45 percent last year and to 48 percent in Monday’s poll. The share who agreed that “basic necessities, such as food and shelter, are a right that government should provide to those unable to afford them” increased from 43 percent last year to 47 percent now. The share who agreed that “The government should spend more to reduce poverty” increased from 40 percent to 45 percent. It’s rare, Della Volpe said, for young people’s attitudes to change much from year to year in Harvard’s polling, and even more remarkable for so many of these measures to shift in the same direction at the same time”.

It goes on to mention, “For the first time in the past five years of Harvard’s polls, significantly more young people called themselves Democrats than said they were independent. Forty percent were Democrats, 22 percent were Republicans and 36 percent were independent. On the trail, Sanders has railed against what he called “casino capitalism,” calling himself a “democratic socialist.” A narrow majority of respondents in Harvard’s poll said they did not support capitalism. While just 1 in 3 said they supported socialism, the figures are still an indicator of millennials’ frustration with the U.S. economic system, Della Volpe said”.

It goes on to note “The millennial generation has no universally accepted definition, but one point of departure is the Census Bureau’s projection that by 2020, 36 percent of eligible voters will be adults born after 1980. Young people don’t vote as much as older people, to be sure. Just 41 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 24 turned out in the last presidential election in 2012, compared with 72 percent of those older than 65. Yet as these millennial voters grow older, pollsters expect that they will begin voting more frequently, and their opinions will carry increasing weight in elections. Della Volpe cautions that it’s impossible to predict how millennials’ views will shift in the future, but people change parties only rarely after about age 30, researchers have found. If that pattern holds for the millennial generation, then Democrats could be indebted for decades to a politician who has rejected a formal association with the Democratic Party for his entire career until now. In Harvard’s poll, Sanders was the clear favourite of young people. Fifty-four percent said they had a favourable view of him, and 31 percent said they had an unfavourable view. With respect to Hillary Clinton, 53 percent had an unfavourable view, and 37 percent said their views of the former secretary of state were favourable. Her gender does not seem to be helping her among young people: even self-identified millennial feminist women in the Harvard poll say that Sanders would do the most to improve women’s lives in the United States, Della Volpe pointed out. Millennials’ opinions of Donald Trump, by contrast, are decisively negative. Seventy-four percent said they view the Republican front-runner unfavourably, including 57 percent of young Republicans. By contrast, 52 percent of the poll’s respondents viewed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) unfavourably, including just 30 percent of millennial Republicans. Among that group, 56 percent had a favourable view of Cruz”.

It ends “There are some moderate Democrats who argue that a more liberal agenda is unlikely to succeed, both politically and in practice. They’ve been pushed to the margins in this primary campaign, as both Clinton and Sanders have competed to establish themselves as liberal stalwarts. The poll suggests that as millennials vote in increasing numbers over the next several election cycles, they could pose another obstacle for moderate Democrats seeking to reestablish their position in the party. In the long term, a major question will be whether these young people newly identifying as Democrats will remain loyal to the party. If so, then today’s millennial liberalism has the potential to create a small but lasting numeric advantage for Democrats. To some degree, the increase in millennial identification with the Democrats could reflect Clinton’s efforts, along with young people’s antipathy toward Trump, the Republican front-runner. Yet Della Volpe said Sanders’s evident popularity deserves much of the credit”.

 

Trump supporters after Trump

27/04/2016

A piece from Chatham House discusses what might happen to those who support Trump after the elections, “There are two clear reasons to believe Donald Trump will not be the next president of the United States. One, Trump may yet be denied the nomination by the Republican establishment’s attempts to derail him; and two, in a general election match up with Hillary Clinton, the odds are stacked against a Trump victory. Yet whether he wins or not, his candidacy will continue to have a huge and lasting impact on American politics. Despite Trump’s persona dominating election coverage, it is a mistake to view his candidacy − and the very concept of ‘Trumpism’ − solely as an individual-driven phenomenon. Support for Trump has emanated from a widely dispersed group of Americans. They share some key characteristics: they are very angry at the political system, they feel voiceless and they are ready to embrace authoritarian solutions. The group is also very white and nationalist”.

If Trump fails, this group will not simply dissipate. If anything, their worst fear − that the system doesn’t work − will be embedded deeper. With all the focus on Trump’s personality, it is easy to forget that he is as much of a symptom of deeper societal division as he is a unique phenomenon. The rise of Trump has highlighted and inflamed deep-seated xenophobia within certain segments of the United States. The fact that Trump refused to distance himself from a white supremacist who served as one the KKK’s most senior officials is extremely concerning. The comparison with President Ronald Reagan, who quickly condemned the KKK when they voiced support for his election, is stark. The loose network of extremist groups that have coalesced around Trump’s candidacy are both driving his support and using his candidacy to revitalize their own groups. For example, Trump’s embrace of an anti-Muslim hate group, the Center for Security Policy, has caused traffic to their website to skyrocket. The damage to American society caused by what many see as Trump’s vindication of xenophobic statements is difficult to calculate”.

The piece goes onto mention “Despite his triumph in New York on Tuesday, the fevered ‘anyone but Trump’ effort in the GOP to deny Trump the nomination may have finally started to work effectively after many weeks of confusion. Party insiders are focusing ruthlessly on pulling as many delegates away from Trump as possible. A concerted effort has gone into gaining control of the ‘unbound’ delegates and there is even an effort to rule Trump retroactively ineligible for his delegate share in South Carolina (given he reneged on a promise to support whoever is the GOP nominee). If successful, these efforts may deny Trump the prize, but only further enrage and energize his supporters. It is easy to imagine this happening if he wins a near majority of the delegates, but is kept from the nomination through a technocratic and insider-dominated convention. Such an outcome could prove successful for traditional Republicans in the short term, but more damaging in the long term”.

The piece adds “Even if Trump manages to win the nomination but loses to Hillary in November, there could be further fracturing within the GOP. Trump supporters may blame the party establishment for ‘sabotaging’ his candidacy from the start, while many who already oppose Trump within the party will feel that their view of Trump as an electoral risk has been vindicated by the result. There is work to be done in understanding the true effect of Trump on the Republican electorate, but it is hard to see Republican primary voters becoming anything but more anti-establishment and more willing to embrace obstructionism among the Congressional caucus. Many of these voters may be more willing in the future to get involved with their local party and change the apparatus from within. White nationalist groups that have already been making robocalls on Trump’s behalf may decide the time is right to try and influence the Republican Party from the inside”.

It concludes “Trump’s candidacy will also likely contribute to other worrying trends in American politics. The Republican Party fracture, already clearly evident since the Tea Party came to prominence in 2010, looks set to worsen. The anti-free trade movement, long popular on the left, has found new supporters on the right − and Paul Krugman may well have a point about America facing a ‘protectionist moment’. The unusually high levels of political polarisation witnessed during the Obama years could be surpassed by even higher levels of division. In a political system reliant on partisan cooperation for any form of governance this makes every challenge even harder to solve. At 69 years old, this might be Trump’s last chance to win national office. But even without Trump, the movement behind him will find new leaders. Many could run for state elections or Congress. In the not-too-distant future a more credible successor to Trump may emerge and run for president. If such a candidate can articulate a similar vision to Trump, but can avoid the sexism and unforced errors that have stalled Trump’s momentum, they could conceivably be more effective. It is possible that Trump’s biggest legacy may not be his effect on the November election or the towers he has emblazoned with his name, but the political movement he has initiated”.

“Ryan would not fare well against either Democratic presidential candidate”

21/04/2016

Speaker Paul Ryan would not fare well against either Democratic presidential candidate in the general election if he were to become the Republican nominee, according to a new poll. The Rasmussen survey released Thursday found that the Wisconsin Republican trails Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in a hypothetical match-up, 40 to 34 percent. The results are similar against Bernie Sanders, who would beat the Speaker, 41 to 34 percent. In both matchups, at least a fifth of voters say they’d prefer another candidate. The poll comes amid rumours that the GOP leaders are hoping to nominate Ryan during a contested convention as a last-ditch effort to block the party’s front-runner, Donald Trump. Ryan has said that he’s not interested in the nomination. The poll found that 59 percent of Republican voters view the Speaker favourably, while 64 percent of Democrats view him unfavorably. His unfavorable numbers are slightly higher than his favourable ratings among all voters, 44 to 39 percent”.

“His ideas will have gained prominence”

11/04/2016

A piece in the Economist notes that the cradle of progressivism in Wisconsin, is backing Sanders, ““WE HAVE a history of progressive politics,” says a voter in Wisconsin’s primary elections. He is leaving the Frank Zeidler municipal building, named after Milwaukee’s three-term Socialist mayor, who stepped down in 1960. The voter, an employee at the state Department of Transport, opted for Bernie Sanders, whose environmental policies he especially likes. Even if Mr Sanders does not become the nominee, he argues, his ideas will have gained prominence. Next time round an even stronger candidate espousing his ideas could win. Almost everyone leaving the Zeidler building on a chilly April 5th had voted for Mr Sanders, who went on to win the primary with 56.5% of the vote compared with 43.1% for Hillary Clinton. “This is one of the most Democratic wards in a very Democratic city,” said Katie Parch, who also voted for the senator from Vermont”.

The report goes on to mention “Surrounded by staunchly Republican suburbs, Milwaukee was the cradle of the American socialist movement. Founded by mostly German immigrants, this was sometimes referred to as “sewer socialism” because of its proponents’ habit of boasting about the city’s excellent sewer system and their fixation with cleaning up political life. In the early 20th century, socialists competed in the city with progressives. Robert La Follette carried Wisconsin for the Progressive Party when he ran for president in 1924, on a Sanders-ish platform of pacifism and trustbusting. To many Wisconsin progressives, especially students, Mr Sanders seems to be the rightful heir of this legacy. He denounces inequality, wants free public college education and free health insurance for all, promises to introduce a $15 minimum wage nationwide and to spend $1 trillion on the country’s crumbling infrastructure”.

Correctly the piece adds that “The self-proclaimed democratic socialist never bothers much to explain how he would pay for his promises. But this did not seem to matter to many of his fans, who came out in force for a rally on an evening when the opening game of the local baseball team, a Donald Trump pageant at the nearby Milwaukee Theatre and the Tripoli Shine Circus competed for attention. Does Mr Sanders still have a chance of winning the Democratic presidential nomination? He has triumphed in six of the past seven primaries and caucuses and raised $15m more than Mrs Clinton in March. Yet she leads with 1,748 delegates (out of 2,383 needed) compared with 1,058 for Mr Sanders. Punters on Predictwise, a prediction market, give Mrs Clinton an 89% chance of clinching the nomination. To catch up, Mr Sanders would need to win big in the New York primary on April 19th”.

The piece ends “Even if he loses those contests, Mr Sanders vows to campaign all the way to the convention. That leaves Mrs Clinton grappling with a much stronger and better-funded rival than she anticipated. And to the delight of many Milwaukeeans, it increases the chances of social-democratic ideas taking root in a country notoriously hostile to them”.

 

End of the Iranian left?

03/04/2016

A piece in Foreign Affairs argues that Iran’s left has died, “Democracy in the Islamic Republic is a peculiar institution: it is designed to reinforce the legitimacy of the theocracy. Various vetting bodies, all ultimately controlled by the clergy, routinely nullify parliamentary legislation. The Majlis, Iran’s parliament, has long been a mere echo chamber for the ruling elite, an escape valve for regime-loyal dissent”.

The piece goes on to mention “The curiousness of Iran’s theocratically managed democracy is amplified by elections (like the ones just held) and the Iranian press, which reports on the campaigns and the differences among the political elite as if they were the left-right contests seen in the West. President Hassan Rouhani and his supporters styled themselves as hope-and-change candidates. By instinct, the Western press used the same vocabulary. In truth, the elections of 2016 did signal change, but not the kind the Western press had in mind. Rather, they spelled the end of Iran’s once-vivacious reform movement and the death of the “Islamic Left,” which has produced nearly all of Iran’s reformers”.

This contention is somewhat counter-intuitive as the elections were widely hailed as a victory, as far as is possible in Iran, for what has been called centrist politicians.

The piece gives critical context, “In the early 1990s, in the aftermath of the Iran-Iraq war, an eclectic group of Iranian politicians and religious scholars undertook an imaginative re-examination of the role of the people in Islamic government. The essential basis of their ideology was that the interpretation of holy scripture must adjust to changing human conditions. For them, the elected institutions were more important sources of authority than appointed offices with mandates from heaven. These reformists, who were all loyal to the Islamic revolution, were convinced that compulsory imposition of religious strictures and a disdain for democracy would inexorably erode both the faith and the other foundations of the state. Unlike the hardliners, the reformers had ample confidence in the ability of the populace to sustain a country that was religious in character yet democratic in practice. The movement has had its moments of success: in the 1990s, it captured both the presidency and parliament. The Islamic Republic’s security services, tightly aligned with former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, once Rouhani’s mentor, and Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, struck back hard in the early 2000s, with harassment, imprisonment, torture, and murder. In turn, they recaptured the government”.

The writer goes on to note that these travails led to the 2009 Green movement after the rigged presidential election. “Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his praetorians, the Revolutionary Guards, had the power, but the reformers still held in their hands the legitimacy of the system. To take it from them, hardliners conducted show trials and weaved intricate conspiracies about how the reformers plotted with Western intelligence services to undermine the Islamic Republic. Beneath all the aspersions was fear: the mullahs knew that they no longer had a popular mandate to govern”.

Pointedly he argues that “For the regime to crush the spirit of resistance, the reformers had to be transformed from dissidents into collaborators. That is precisely what took place in the recent elections”.

Yet this may indeed be true but it overlooks a number of important elements. First is that the liberals are not so liberal but as other Iran experts have said are merely centrists looking to bring some balance back to the system after 2009 not in order to reform it beyond recognition but to save it. In other words the liberals may always have been “collaborators”. Indeed, it is unlikely that Dr Rouhani would have risen as far as he did without the assent of Khamenei. This argument also overlooks the idea that Khamenei may have a hand, at least in part, in the rise of the “liberals” as the writer describes them. Some scholars have described Khamenei as acknowledging the need for more centrist voices after the reaction to the events of 2009 and saw in Rouhani someone who could “steady the ship” and do a deal with the West on the nuclear issue and sanctions.

The author goes on to argue that “The electoral cycle began with the usual mass disqualification of reformers and independent-minded politicians. A vicious media campaign in the right-wing press vilified the reformers as agents of the West. The pro-democracy Green Movement was denounced as a sinister creation of the Central Intelligence Agency. The major difference is that, this time around, instead of staying away from the rigged vote, the reformers begged for inclusion. The leader of the reform movement today, the comical figure Mohammad Reza Aref, clutching his list of candidates on television, was reduced to pleading with the regime for a nominal reformist presence. There were no more demands for the release of political prisoners and electoral transparency. The giants of the reform movement, such as Abdullah Nuri, who once faced down interrogators on television and paid a torturous price in prison, were reduced to calling for mass participation in an election from which they were largely excluded. No one can be sure how many Iranians actually voted. The regime reports a 62 percent participation rate. The final result is a parliament divided between hardliners, conservatives, and some reformers. In today’s Islamic Republic, the political spectrum has shifted so far to the right that die-hard reactionaries, such as Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, are presented as reasonable conservatives”.

Importantly he argues “The real victor of the election was Rouhani, who in previous decades would not have been seen as a moderate at all, since he can project an image of moderation, thus easing the path for international investment. Foreigners don’t have to confess that they are investing in an increasingly conservative and increasingly strong theocracy; rather, they are aiding “moderates” at the expense of hardliners. It is commerce with a conscience. Paradoxically, the demise of the reform movement may yet presage the Islamic Republic’s downfall. The clerical regime has repeatedly been divided against itself, as Islamists heavily influenced by Marxism and leftist sociology have moved into the tolerated opposition. As long as there was a vibrant left-wing reformist faction lingering in the background, there was hope among the public that the regime could be liberalized through its own constitutional processes. Someday elections could matter. Someday bold men committed to real change could assume power. But now those reformers have become pets living off the hardliners’ scraps”.

He ends “Iran is at an impasse. It has an economy that it cannot reform, a political order that it cannot liberalize, and a population that it cannot propitiate. There are now no pressure valves, no avenues toward a politics of accountability. On some occasion, something will spark another protest movement. But the Islamic Left won’t be there to defend the system. The clerical regime again will have to use brute force. And as the Arab Spring and everything that followed has shown, brute force may not be enough to squash a popular insurrection”.

 

Remaking of the US party system?

22/03/2016

A piece from the Economist argues that US politics is strange because both Democrats and Republicans are so odd, “POLITICAL parties are never monoliths. As those inside them are ceaselessly aware, they are fractious and fractured. And yet, especially in two-party democracies, they endure. A mixture of delivering the goods their voters desire, dividing spoils between internal factions and adapting to external change allows them to overcome their centrifugal pressures. They even manage, much of the time, to look more or less coherent while doing so. For most of the 20th century most Americans knew, more or less, what their two parties stood for. These times, though, are out of step. Though political scientists proved slow to pick up on it (see article), America’s parties are more fragmented than usual. The state of the Republicans is particularly parlous. But the contradictions among Democrats, though less obvious, also run deep”.

The author goes on to make the point “Donald Trump’s run for the presidency has prospered despite lacking all the things parties usually provide for a front-runner: not least strategists and policies, money. It is hardly surprising that the Republican Party failed to see Mr Trump coming. What is odder, and much more culpable, is its failure to address the mismatch between its grassroots supporters and its policy agenda into which Mr Trump has tapped so effectively. In its subsequent disarray, the party has come to resemble a newspaper that has just discovered that its readers no longer need it to mediate between themselves and the world.

As neat as the criticism is the problem is that these people who support Trump have been “happy” to vote for the GOP up until now and thus have not been as visible as the writer seems to think. He is correct to note the centrality of money, a problem of funding that has been addressed here before.

The article continues drawing a VERY broad, though not incorrect, sweep “The Republican Party arrived in the 21st century as an alliance of small-state, low-tax, pro-business voters with religiously inspired social conservatives and national-security hawks. It enjoyed a disproportionate popularity among white voters, the result of its successful recruitment of southern whites who disliked the innovations of the civil-rights era and, under Ronald Reagan, of blue-collar workers across the country. This mixture of interest groups had proved pretty successful: it held the White House for 28 of the 40 years from 1969 to 2008. During this time the pro-business lot were the senior partners in the arrangement, not least because they paid for the party’s election campaigns. This is the first primary season in 50 years where that has not held true. The Koch brothers, who have built the wealthiest network of political donors in America with the aim of electing Republicans who will cut regulation and taxes, disapprove of Mr Trump. They have said they will not fund his campaign; and yet he thrives”.

The piece goes on to mention the faultlines being exposed “Trump’s ascendancy cannot merely be ascribed to his wealth—though that certainly helps, by allowing him to appeal directly to the concerns of the base rather than those of his donors. He has exposed faultlines within the different camps, as well as between them. Even before his rise, some pro-business Republicans were beginning to despair of the party, the congressional wing of which seemed to enjoy nothing more than shutting down the federal government and playing chicken with the debt ceiling. After the financial crisis, when a Republican-led administration bailed out several large financial institutions, denunciations of crony capitalism became a Republican theme as much as a Democratic one. Mr Trump has deepened the divide on the business wing. In December the head of the national chamber of commerce said he viewed Mr Trump’s candidacy as a form of entertainment. He has also spilt the social conservatives. A libertine history and the look of a roué gone to seed would not in themselves preclude the support of evangelical Christians, who are, after all, keen on repentance. But Mr Trump is not very religious and does not go out of his way to seem so; his adoption of pro-life positions seems insincere”.

Interestingly the piece goes on to argue “The reason evangelicals vote for Mr Trump has little to do with faith or specifics of policy. It is more a question of attitude. A study by the RAND Corporation, a think-tank, has found that the most reliable way to tell whether a Republican voter was going to support Mr Trump was whether he agreed with the statement: “People like me don’t have any say about what government does.” Trump voters feel voiceless, and whatever attributes Mr Trump lacks, he has a voice. He lends it to them, to express their grievances and their aspirations for greatness, and they love it”.

The author makes the very valid point that “The weakest of the three Republican factions, the defence hawks, might even prefer a President Hillary Clinton to a President Trump. Mr Trump’s constant refrain about American troops always losing, his tendency towards isolationism, his insulting of prominent veterans such as John McCain, his attacks on George W. Bush as commander-in-chief and, most of all, his apparent enthusiasm for soldiers committing acts that would have them court-martialled, are a recipe for these Republican voters to the Democratic camp. Again, though, part of Mr Trump’s appeal reflects what at least some Republicans like about hawkishness; its association with authority. The Republican Party has spent the past half-century opposing the might of the federal government in every arena other than foreign policy. It now faces the prospect of going into the election led by someone who, surveys suggest, draws his most ardent support from those who would like a more authoritarian president in the White House. At that point it would be hard to say what, if anything, the party stands for”.

The piece continues noting that there is a divide between the generations, “Trump’s ability to blow Republican cracks asunder is unprecedented. But it has been helped by a long-standing unwillingness to face and fix those contradictions. For years the party has concentrated instead on opposing Barack Obama’s policies and, indeed, his legitimacy. With Mr Obama on the way out, that is moot now”.

The report notes that “As Republicans long to tear down achievements they associate with Mr Obama, Democrats want to protect and uphold them. This has tended to keep the members of the party’s own coalition in agreement. Yet the ties between the voting blocs that favour Democrats—Hispanics, blacks, those with postgraduate degrees, single women, the non-religious, union members and millennials—are subject to change. The primaries have also revealed a powerful urge among activists to move the party leftward. Democrats fare exceptionally well with non-whites: in 2012 one in four of those who voted for Mr Obama were in this category, compared with one in ten of those who voted for Mitt Romney. But the interests of blacks do not always align with those of Hispanics. Fearing more competition for low-wage jobs, the congressional black caucus, allied with the unions, was partly responsible for defeating a push for immigration reform under George W. Bush. The party has found ways round this clash, presenting immigration reform as a question of civil rights; when Mr Obama meets caucus members, immigration reform tends to be omitted in a mutual show of good manners. But the division remains”.

He adds that the Democrats are divided along generational lines “The current crop of primaries has also made it clear that Democrats are divided along generational lines. Bernie Sanders has thrashed Mrs Clinton in every contest among voters whose formative political experiences were the Iraq war (which she supported) and the financial crisis (blamed on her Wall Street supporters). For those born before the Reagan years, by contrast, the fact that Mr Sanders honeymooned in the Soviet Union disqualifies him from consideration. Older Democrats remember the party’s move to the centre in the 1990s as pragmatic, correct and fruitful; younger ones consider it a betrayal. When its members actually turn out to vote, the Democratic coalition is still formidable. Non-whites make up an ever-increasing share of the electorate. Polling by Gallup shows that the number of Americans who describe themselves as liberal has increased over the past 20 years, while those who call themselves conservative has held steady. Self-declared moderates lean Democratic. But often—especially in non-presidential election years—the coalition can’t be bothered”.

Pointedly he argues that “This has led to a party unable to refresh itself. Were Mrs Clinton (68) to win the nomination and then fall under a bus or an indictment, the names often mentioned as possible replacements are John Kerry (72) and Joe Biden (73). During Mr Obama’s presidency Democrats have lost 900 seats in state legislatures, 11 governors, 69 seats in the House and 13 senators. This helps to explain why Mrs Clinton has had no young pretender to voice the opposition to her from within the party. Mr Obama relied on his own apparatus, separate from the party, in his two presidential campaigns. Mrs Clinton has vowed to rebuild the party if she wins. But that supposes that its constituent interest groups continue to see the Democratic Party as the best way to get what they want. Once the presidential election is over, they may find apathy more attractive again—not least because, now that it has acted on heath-care reform and (to an extent) on climate change, the party has been remarkably poor at setting out new worlds to conquer”.

Yet this is a somewhat unfair observation, names like Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris all point to a diverse Democratic Party.

Crucially the writer makes the point that “There is nothing immutable about the way the two parties currently line up. Republicans used to be the big-government progressive party, formed in opposition to slavery and pushing to remodel the South after the civil war; they have also been the small-government party, not only now, but in opposition to the New Deal in the 1930s. Democrats were once the small-government party, opposing those who wanted a more powerful federal government and defending the interests of white southerners against Washington; now they are famous as the big-government party, pushing federal anti-poverty programmes in the 20th century and government involvement in health care in the 21st”.

Interestingly the writer posits that this election could see the current alignment being re-altered, “This election could see the furniture rearranged again. Some Republicans wonder if a Trump candidacy might redraw the electoral map, winning over blue-collar whites who don’t normally vote in rustbelt swing states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan or Wisconsin. If he loses, the party might still conclude that it needs to pay more attention to the economic anxieties of those who feel left behind. For their part Democrats are counting on Mr Trump to energise members of the coalition that voted twice for President Barack Obama, and to put in play moderate Republicans, notably women, who can expect to be bombarded with Democratic messages about the billionaire’s misogyny. If Mrs Clinton marshals a broad anti-Trump coalition that peels off some habitual Republican voters and combines it with high turnout among traditional Democratic supporters, she will have an opportunity to create a new centrist coalition that may long outlast her. Nobody yet knows whether what is happening in 2016 is an anomaly caused by the one-off political persona Mr Trump has created, or if it is tracing the outline of the future. Whatever the parties look like after November 8th, though, Mr Trump’s success to date has already changed the system, in part by proving that voters value ideological consistency (and rhetorical restraint) much less than the political classes assumed. That could be liberating, if it allows elected representatives to stray from the party line. It could be damaging if the only lines they can stray towards are brutally populist ones”.

It ends “Parties exist to distil a complex set of questions into a binary choice; it is impossible to imagine a big democracy staying healthy without them. Yet in 2020, with Mr Trump in mind, the strongest candidates may start from the assumption that they do not need their parties much at all”.

IDS resigns, Osborne falters

22/03/2016

On Friday Iain Duncan Smith resigned from the Cabinet as secretary of State for Work and Pensions. A report in the BBC notes that “Duncan Smith has warned that the government risks dividing society, in his first interview since resigning as work and pensions secretary. He attacked the “desperate search for savings” focused on benefit payments to people who “don’t vote for us”. And he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr his “painful” decision was “not personal” against Chancellor George Osborne. Downing Street said it was sorry to see Iain Duncan Smith go but was determined to help “everyone in our society”.

The piece adds “Duncan Smith told the BBC he had supported a consultation on the changes to Personal Independence Payments but had come under “massive pressure” to deliver the savings ahead of last week’s Budget. The way the cuts were presented in the Budget had been “deeply unfair”, he said, because they were “juxtaposed” with tax cuts for the wealthy. He criticised the “arbitrary” decision to lower the welfare cap after the general election and suggested the government was in danger of losing “the balance of the generations”, expressing his “deep concern” at a “very narrow attack on working-age benefits” while also protecting pensioner benefits”.

A report in the Guardian notes that the resignation will damage the leadership hopes of George Osborne, “By uttering the heresy that George Osborne’s fiscal targets are “arbitrary”, forcing the government to make “unfair” cuts, Iain Duncan Smith risks pulling down the whole doctrine of austerity that has sustained the chancellor’s reputation. An admiring biography of Osborne by the Financial Times journalist Janan Ganesh styled him the “austerity chancellor”; but Duncan Smith carefully set his view that the pursuit of the targets, ceilings and rules Osborne has erected have ultimately perverted the “one-nation Conservatism” that should protect the most vulnerable. George Osborne has long-coveted the prize of the Tory leadership. But Duncan Smith’s sudden and dramatic resignation crystallised nagging concerns about the chancellor within his own party. The bookmakers William Hill said on Saturday it had pushed Osborne’s odds of being the next prime minister from 2/1 favourite to 7/2 second favourite, and shortened Boris Johnson from 3/1 to a 15/8 clear favourite. William Hill’s spokesman, Graham Sharpe, said: “So sure-footed for so long, Mr Osborne was widely regarded as Cameron’s natural and chosen successor, but recent blunders seem to have dealt him a serious blow to achieving that outcome.” It is a sentiment increasingly widely shared in Westminster, where what one backbencher said an “Anyone but George” campaign was gathering force”.

The report goes on to make the point that “The climbdown over disability benefits and the loss of Duncan Smith is just the most damaging of a series of recent revolts, including a defeat in the House of Commons over Sunday trading laws and the “tampon tax” rebellion, which forced the prime minister to discuss the issue with his EU counterparts. And last summer, in what was boldly styled Osborne’s first Conservative budget after the party unexpectedly won a majority in May’s general election, he introduced the deep cuts to tax credits that were subsequently overturned by the House of Lords, another embarrassing U-turn. In his devastating interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr on Sunday, Duncan Smith said he had also had qualms about these plans, which were introduced to meet the Conservatives’ bold pre-budget promise of cutting £12bn from the nation’s welfare bill. This time, in a bid to avoid similar embarrassment, some budget proposals, including a fuel duty rise and a cut in tax relief on pensions contributions that would have hit higher earners, were ditched even before they went to the printers, as Downing Street sought to avoid any noise in the runup to June’s referendum. In order to secure the leadership, when the prime minister steps down at some point before 2020, Osborne would have to win over enough backbenchers to make it through to the final two candidates, who are then put to grassroots members for a vote. Osborne had already been eclipsed by Brexiteer Boris Johnson in the hearts of many individual members, who tend to be more Eurosceptic than the Tory party in parliament”.

Crucially the piece notes that “Osborne, and to some extent Cameron with his pre-election pledges to pensioners and other groups, has trapped himself and his party in a straitjacket of his own making. His promise to deliver a surplus on the public finances by 2020 was far more about stymying a Labour party struggling with its own attitude to austerity than the national interest. And the welfare cap, similarly, was more a political stunt, aimed at isolating Labour as the friends of scroungers and skivers, than a well-thought-out policy. Yet by tying himself and his party up in all these pledges, promises and targets, the chancellor ended up delivering a budget that – as Duncan Smith pointed out – couldn’t possibly be construed as fair in its own terms”.

Pointedly the article concludes “While the public may approve of the general idea of bringing down the welfare bill, they also understand that politics is about choices, and targeting the disabled while giving extra cash to wealthy shareholders fails the most basic tests of fairness. It also plays to the most damaging caricature of Osborne, as the privileged son of a baronet, keener on protecting his wealthy friends than helping ordinary Britons: something he has fought hard to shrug off by introducing his “national living wage”, for example”.

A related piece discusses the place IDS played in “reforming” welfare, “was midway through complicated reforms that he has struggled to make work. In office he displayed a reforming zeal that mixed Victorian morality with a determination to tear up the bureaucratic framework underpinning the Department for Work and Pensions. It has been a troubled department, with five ministers for disabled people in six years. Aside from accusations of unfairness, Duncan Smith’s reforms have often been characterised by incompetence in their implementation, and a failure to save the money promised”.

Similarly a report notes why IDS really resigned. It posits five main reasons the first of which is what is said at face value, “Duncan Smith says he is resigning because he cannot accept the cuts to the personal independence payment (PIP), and his argument on this sounds sincere. He says the cuts are “a compromise too far” (meaning a compromise with austerity too far). He says he cannot justify the cuts if they are part of a budget that also cuts taxes for the rich. Duncan Smith has questioned the way cuts have been targeted in the past; before the election he let it be known that he thought there was a case for putting the squeeze more on wealthy pensioners, and means-testing the winter fuel payment, so it is not as if his concerns are 100% new. But nevertheless it is odd that he has decided to resign now, when his department announced the PIP cuts a week ago”.

The second point the article makes is PIP being the last straw, “Resignations are not normally triggered by a single event, and Duncan Smith’s decision to go is the culmination of a feud with the Treasury that has been going on for years. It has been focused on universal credit, Duncan Smith’s flagship policy at the Department for Work and Pensions, and a measure that is currently being rolled out nationwide. Universal credit is supposed to simplify the welfare system, by combining six benefits in one, but, crucially, it was also intended to increase the incentive to work, by ensuring that working always pays more than staying on benefits. However, under pressure from the Treasury,the mechanics of universal credit (tapers, the work allowance etc) have repeatedly been changed, with the effect of making the benefit less generous and the work incentives much weaker”.

The article goes on to argue that there was a personal feud between Osborne and IDS that also helps explain the resignation, “Duncan Smith blames George Osborne and the Treasury for undermining universal credit. But this is partly personal too. Relations between the two have never been entirely harmonious since Matthew d’Ancona published his book about the coalition in which he quoted Osborne telling allies that he thought Duncan Smith was “just not clever enough”.

The article does mention that the EU is a factor, “Duncan Smith’s resignation is not directly related to the EU referendum. But he is one of the six members attending cabinet who is backing Brexit, and for him fighting the EU is one of the great causes of his political career. Normally a sense of collective enterprise helps cabinet ministers to stick together even when they disagree strongly, but what the EU referendum has done is loosen those bonds”.

Lastly it contends that IDS may have been pushed from DWP and therefore decided to jump, “David Cameron is expected to hold a significant reshuffle if he wins the EU referendum (if he loses, it will be another prime minister’s reshuffle) and Duncan Smith was widely expected to be moved or sacked at that point. In the last parliament Cameron tried to get him to move from DWP to Justice. On that occasion Duncan Smith said no, and his status as a former party leader helped keep him in post, but after more than six years in office this summer, he would no longer be in a strong enough position to resist. Sensing that his career at DWP was coming to an end anyway, he may have decided it was best to go on his own terms”.

Amid all the chaos the government quickly appointed the Welsh Secretary, Stephen Crabb MP as the replacement of IDS. His firs act was to concede that the cuts to PIP were not only counterproductive but immoral and would be reversed, “David Cameron has been forced to concede that a £4.4bn black hole created by the U-turn over disability benefits will not be filled by further cuts to welfare as he fought to shore up his credibility following the shock resignation of Iain Duncan Smith. The spending climbdown was announced on Monday by Stephen Crabb, the new work and pensions secretary, an hour after Cameron addressed the political crisis engulfing the Conservative party by offering his support to George Osborne and praise for the work of Duncan Smith. Aiming to strike a conciliatory tone in the Commons, Cameron said Duncan Smith had “contributed an enormous amount to the work of this government” in his work campaigning for welfare reform, which he said had reduced child and pensioner poverty and inequality”.

“Signs of an ideological revival are everywhere”

18/03/2016

A long piece discusses the ideological wars in China between Confucius and Mao, “For most Chinese, the 1990s were a period of intense material pragmatism. Economic development was the paramount social and political concern, while the various state ideologies that had guided policy during the initial decades of the People’s Republic faded into the background. The severe ideological struggles that had marked the end of both the 1970s and the 1980s had exhausted the population, leaving it more than eager to focus single-mindedly on an unprecedented bevy of economic opportunities. Now the tide is changing yet again. Chinese society is apparently rediscovering, or at least re-prioritizing, its moral and ideological cravings. Over the past several years, ideological forces and divisions have moved back to the center of Chinese political and social life, and ideological tensions among Chinese elite are now arguably higher than at any point since the immediate aftermath of the 1989 protests. The image of a “post-ideological” China has become increasingly outdated”.

Interestingly the piece contends “Relatively few observers or policymakers, however, seem to entertain the possibility that Chinese elites are ideological creatures, or even that they may be dealing with an ideological population. This is a remarkable sea change with profound implications for policymaking. Just a decade or two ago, many commentators had trouble accepting that Chinese statesmen — or even educated Chinese — were anything but Communist ideologues. In the early 2000s, the notion that Chinese elites no longer believed in Communism was still a novel one that sometimes triggered incredulity and backlash. By contrast, anyone today who insists that Communist ideals still hold sway over Chinese policymaking does so at considerable risk to his or her reputation as a serious China hand. How did the idea of a post-ideological China arise? The charitable — and possibly correct — interpretation for this change is that it simply reflected a general shift in Chinese social attitudes. Chinese political and social discourse turned away from ideologically charged arguments in favour of the kind of flexible pragmatism that the former Chinese leaders Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin regularly advocated”.

The writer posits that the other expectation is that Chinese growth led to a sense of vulnerability as opposed to the Western democracies, he adds, “In China today, the signs of an ideological revival are everywhere. Most visibly, a number of icons, long thought dead, have made prominent and in some cases highly successful resurrections in national political rhetoric. First is long-deceased Party Chairman Mao Zedong’s rehabilitation as arguably the core element of the party’s founding myth and its historical legitimacy. As a number of scholars and commentators have noted, in several recent speeches Chinese President Xi Jinping has enthusiastically embraced Mao not only as the party’s founding father, but also as a symbol of its commitment to nationalism and populism. This marks a significant departure from the subdued and almost reluctant treatment of Mao that Xi’s predecessors”.

In addition the author notes the rise in Confucius in China, “It is easy, and perhaps tempting, to dismiss these initiatives as cynical ideological propaganda by an authoritarian state facing unprecedented socioeconomic and political tension. There is undeniably some truth to this, but it is far too simplistic. In fact, one could just as plausibly argue that the party has played a reactive role, rather than a proactive one: its ideological campaigns to revive figures such as Mao and Confucius reflect intellectual and cultural currents that have rapidly gained force among highly educated Chinese over the past five to seven years. Compared to the depth and momentum of these currents, the party may simply be trying to catch up”.

He argues that a new left has emerged alongside a neo-Confucian movement, “The New Left combines nationalist sentiments — as a January 2010 editorial in the Global Times declared, “we do not want to become a Western intellectual colony” — and widespread dissatisfaction with economic inequality into a potent call for a “reconstruction of socialism,” one that would both reinstate many of the planned economy policies of the 1980s, and further strengthen ideological control over the Internet and media. If one surveyed the current Chinese intellectual world, the most influential figures — and those that enjoy the closest ties to the party leadership — tend to be leftists. This includes the prominent economists Wang Shaoguang and Justin Yifu Lin, the political scientist Cui Zhiyuan, and the philosopher Liu Xiaofeng. Neo-Confucian figures, on the other hand, generally support both the revival of Confucian ethics such as filial piety and the reinstatement of certain traditional political institutions, particularly the civil service examinations. Although they tend to be less mainstream, the sheer combustibility of the term “Confucianism” in Chinese political and intellectual discourse has nonetheless given them an outsized media presence. Since the late 1990s, calls for a Confucian revival have steadily gained in volume and popularity”.

Crucially he writes that “Both developments have their roots in anti-Western nationalism. From the early 1980s to the 2000s, democracy, the rule of law, and free market reform were the political lingua franca not merely of most Chinese intellectuals, but also of most business leaders, and even some officials, who paid at least regular lip service — and probably more than that — to these aspirational ideals. During this period, Chinese elites appeared to share the consensus that China should, in a word, Westernize. To a large extent, both the New Left and neo-Confucianism were intellectual backlashes against this consensus”.

He makes the point that these movements have begun to converge with nationalism being central, “Whatever its causes, the current ideological landscape likely has serious consequences for Chinese policymaking: ideological resurgence dramatically alters the social and political landscape in which the party-state operates. The sources of legitimacy are very different in a pragmatically materialist society than in an ideologically charged and polarized one. Whereas robust economic growth was the key to popular support in the former, it is probably insufficient, and perhaps not even necessary, in the latter. At the moment, it’s profoundly uncertain which side — liberals, leftists, or cultural conservatives — will eventually gain the upper hand in these ideological wars. If one side does emerge on top, the government may find itself forced, or at least strongly incentivized, to seek sociopolitical legitimacy via redistributionist policies, civil rights reform, or perhaps a full-scale swing towards some reconstructed notion of traditional cultural values. This could be either a curse or a blessing: it might force the party-state into uncomfortable ideological positions, but it could also provide alternative sources of social support in times of economic or geopolitical turmoil”.

The piece ends “Nationalism, like any distinctive political ideology, is a double-edged sword. Over the short term, and particularly during economic downturns, the party leadership may find it convenient to tap the leftist or neo-Confucian movements for social support — which recent rhetoric suggests the party is attempting to do. But this is not necessarily a comfortable long-term solution. One need only look back at the spectacular rise and fall of Chinese politician Bo Xilai to find a major example where the party leadership was profoundly uncomfortable with the ideological zealotry of some self-identified Maoist intellectuals. Leftist ideologies are not always more reliable allies than liberal ones”.

He concludes “Chinese policymakers themselves deeply ideological, or at least becoming more so? It’s true that Xi’s recent positions on Mao, Chinese cultural traditions, and the need for a culture change among government employees are broadly consistent with those of a pragmatic autocrat. But they are also broadly consistent with the behaviour of a bona fide socialist and cultural conservative pursuing his ideological goals in a measured and cautious fashion. Regardless of what one thinks of the current leadership, with any luck, the Western notion that Chinese politics are simply rooted in pragmatism will soon die out”.

Rubio, GOP’s last hope?

04/03/2016

A piece in the Economist notes that the best hope for the GOP is Marco Rubio “HIS father Mario, a struggling bartender; Oriales, a hotel maid and devoted mother; Pedro, his garrulous, cigar-smoking grandfather, known to the grandchildren as Papá; an elder brother, also Mario, who became a Green Beret: the supporting cast in Marco Rubio’s back-story is a technicolour pageant of striving Cuban immigrants turned patriotic Americans. If Mr Rubio somehow manages to seize the Republican nomination from Donald Trump—a feat that, after his second-place finish in South Carolina, he seems best-placed to achieve—Americans will hear his story often”.

The piece goes on to note that the Rubio story “is also, of course, a story about Mr Rubio’s own exceptionalism—as some voters, knowing American meritocracy is often more promise than reality, intuitively understand. “It’s really cool,” said a young man cradling a baby after a rally in Rock Hill, South Carolina, “that he could navigate through all these obstacles—it wasn’t just handed to him on a silver platter”. The contrast with some other candidates, privileged in money, schooling or connections, is plain. As for his difficulties with mortgage payments and ill-advised property dealings, which some have used against him: Mr Rubio adduces them, like his student debt and rueful talk of post-dating cheques in pinched times, as yet more evidence that he alone can “talk to people who are living the way I grew up”.

The article goes on to mention “These attributes bolster his claim that, in a field of Republican gargoyles, he is likeliest to prevail in November. Yet the longer he remains in the race, the louder two key criticisms will become. They seem contradictory, but both contain elements of truth. One is that, beneath the altar-boy haircut, winning smile, chirpy voice, football talk, jokes and jokes about football, Mr Rubio is as ideologically extreme as anyone in the contest. The other is that the feel-good narrative masks a void”.

It goes on to note that “Jeb Bush was Florida’s governor during Mr Rubio’s lightning rise through its house of representatives, which took him, in short order, from whip, to majority leader, to become, aged 34 (he is now 44), its first Cuban-American speaker. Alongside the portraits of his grizzlier predecessors that hang in the capitol in Tallahassee, his is startlingly boyish. Mr Bush presented him with a sword, symbolising conservatism; at least, that is what it symbolised then. Strikingly, in the tussle that ended with Mr Bush’s withdrawal on February 20th—a face-off that, in a saner primary season, might have been the headline drama—most of Florida’s Republican establishment lined up behind the former governor”.

Interestingly it contends that “if Mr Rubio could not rely on a parental Rolodex, as he puts it, his career has been blessed in other ways: seats opening up at serendipitous moments, money and well-paid jobs magically materialising. Norman Braman, a Miami car-dealing tycoon, took a lucrative shine to him, donating generously and employing his wife. Not long after he secured the Florida speakership, Mr Rubio landed a $300,000-a-year post at a politically connected legal firm (he once specialised in land-use law). Some of his jobs were not terribly demanding, suggesting, to his critics, a pattern of absenteeism stretching to his poor attendance record in the Senate. “He’s just like Barack Obama”, worried a woman in Florence, where Tim Scott, a South Carolinian senator, whooped Mr Rubio onto the stage like a boxing announcer. The implicit concern is that he has more offices to his name than achievements, or, some say, principles. They point, above all, to his gymnastics over immigration: running for the Senate, he opposed a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, then embraced it as part of a doomed reform in 2013; now, in the xenophobic heat of the campaign, he downplays that idea, arguing that terrorism has upended even unrelated aspects of his policy”.

The piece notes interestingly, “anyone who thinks Mr Rubio entirely devoid of convictions should watch his farewell speech in Tallahassee in 2008. “God is real,” Mr Rubio passionately declared: “He loves you…whether you are an embryo or behind bars.” God’s providence, and Mr Rubio’s gratitude for it, often feature in his story. His faith is longstanding: as a boy, he would don a sheet after mass and pretend to be a priest. (It is also ecumenical: in Miami, he attends both Catholic and Baptist churches, and during a childhood spell in Las Vegas went to a Mormon one.) And for all his pole-climbing, his philosophy has been consistent. A better reading of his flip-flop-flip on immigration may be that his liberal stance was an anomaly. His tougher line today—no Syrian refugees; fewer family-reunion visas—fits into an ultra-conservative outlook that his story has sometimes camouflaged”.

The piece notes that the usual GOP obsession with making society more unequal persists, “Take his avowed commitment to helping the little guy. He acknowledges the alienation some members of minorities feel, drawing on his own experiences in cosmopolitan Miami. He speaks warmly of early intervention for disadvantaged toddlers, and of leniency towards mildly straying youngsters. He can be insightful about America’s precarious place in a globalised, post-industrial economy. But when it comes to taxation, his priorities lie elsewhere. One of his favourite lines is that the poor are not made richer by making the rich poorer. Under his plans there is no fear of that: his proposal to scrap taxes on capital-gains and dividends would instead make the rich richer”.

On foreign policy the piece makes the observation that “he may not be quite as hawkish as his revered Papá, who thought Margaret Thatcher should invade Argentina as well as the Falklands, but it is close. He says he would cancel the nuclear deal with Iran on his first day in office, and undo the normalisation of relations with Cuba. He wants to send American troops into Syria, and take on Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State at once. He threatens to pack off more terrorists to Guantánamo”.

The article concludes, “he shows little appetite for compromise on the neuralgic issues that will continue to divide America under its next president. That might hamstring him in the White House; more immediately, it might prevent him reaching it. His well-honed formula—robust conservatism with a smile—will attract some voters who share his instincts but are repelled by harsher rhetoric. Whether it can convert moderates in sufficient numbers is unclear. That is where the story comes in. “It makes him a whole person, a real person”, said a supporter in a barn in Gilbert, as the obligatory country music rolled. Transmuting astringent economics into compassion, promising tolerance without a cost, wreathing jeremiads in sunshine, the story might even do the trick. Mr Rubio’s inauguration is the climax its logic demands. In the end, its meaning is simple. The moral of the story is its teller, Marco Rubio”.

“The alliance of oligarchs and corrupt officials will stand strong”

02/03/2016

An interesting piece argues that the oilgrarchs really run Ukraine, “After hours of public bashing by lawmakers in the session hall of Ukraine’s parliament, Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk rose from his chair, visibly nervous. These were the last minutes before a no-confidence vote that he and his government were likely to lose. Nevertheless, he did his best to make his case: “We inherited a plundered country, with the Russian army and Russian boots marching on Ukrainian territory. We had no army, no money, no public administration. But we kept this country together. I ask you to respect that,” he said, clenching his fists. But the speech seemed to fall flat. This would surely be the end of Yatsenyuk and his cabinet, Ukrainians all across the country thought, as they followed the scene yesterday on live television and on the internet. But suddenly, Mustafa Nayyem, a well-known reformist legislator, saw a sight that must have chilled him to the bone. Moments before the vote, dozens of legislators from a range of parties, all affiliated with powerful oligarchs Rinat Akhmetov, Ihor Kolomoiskiy, and Victor Pinchuk, suddenly left the session floor — they weren’t going to vote against the government. Nayyem rushed to Twitter to warn the country: a backdoor deal had been reached, and the no-confidence vote would likely fail”.

The piece adds “Just hours before the vote, Ukrainians had been sure that Prime Minister Yatsenyuk was finished: his popularity ratings were dismal and international pressure to remove him for failing to tackle the country’s massive corruption was rising. In recent weeks, one top reformer after another kept resigning from the government, citing the impossibility of making any progress in a system that was still corrupt at the very top. Finally, on February 16, President Petro Poroshenko himself called for Yatsenyuk’s resignation, officially ending their two-year post-revolutionary alliance. Yatsenyuk and his cabinet were due to defend the performance of their government over the previous year on the parliamentary floor. After hours of heated debate, the gathered lawmakers overwhelmingly rejected the report as “unsatisfactory,” by 247 votes out of 339. The success of a no-confidence vote, due to take place just 10 minutes later, seemed a foregone conclusion”.

However the report mentions that “the campaign against Yatsenyuk collapsed in a matter of minutes, leaving Nayyem — and everyone else — with dropped jaws. First came the walkout. Then, almost three dozen legislators from President Poroshenko’s party failed to support the no-confidence vote. In the end, the no-confidence motion gathered just 194 of the 226 votes it required. Yatsenyuk and his government had survived. After the vote, most of the gathered legislators were dead silent, as if stunned — and the minority that opposed the motion erupted in cheers. Ukraine’s rent-seeking oligarchic elites were free to celebrate their latest and greatest victory against the forces of reform since the 2013 Euromaidan revolution”.

The author writes that “There are no party lines, no real policy debates, no ideological clashes: just cold-hearted vested interests and short-term alliances between various oligarchic groups. The second you accept that, and stop seeing Ukrainian politics through the political lens of the developed world, you’ll see what I see: a simple pushback by oligarchs against internationally backed efforts to finally rid the country of the corruption that inspired the Euromaidan. For too many of the current elite, a new prime minister could mean a shake-up of the whole government, and possibly a restart of much-delayed reforms that would threaten their financial interests. Or it could also mean more competition for resources — a further takeover of some of the top positions in government by business interests connected to President Poroshenko’s ruling party. Either of these scenarios would be a loss for the vested interests. Preserving the status quo, in which everyone’s territory has already been carved up and divided, was the optimal equilibrium for Ukraine’s top kleptocrats”.

He mentions that “that clusters of corruption thrive inside almost every party, including that of President Poroshenko, Prime Minister Yatsenyuk, the Opposition Bloc, and others. Further, the various corrupt forces successfully cooperate with each other, even when they are not “formally” allied politically. For example, a productive alliance that protects corruption within the energy sector reportedly exists between political and business elites tied to the fugitive former President Yanukovych, current President Poroshenko, and Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. The same is true of the reformers: you can find brave fighters for change not only within heavily corrupt parties but inside the corrupt government as well: from the anti-corruption crusader Serhii Leshchenko of President Poroshenko’s party to reformist Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko. Unfortunately, these reformers are outnumbered by the kleptocrats. The West shares the blame for the reformers’ failure to win the fight for change in Ukraine. As direct stakeholders in its future, with billions of dollars already invested through bailout loans and aid, the country’s foreign partners and supporters have been remarkably idle in pushing for specific reforms. Many have closed their eyes to exactly how much power the vested interests among the post-revolutionary political elites still wield”.

Worryingly the piece goes on to make the point “Now, as the political crisis mounts — and, perhaps sensing weakness, Russia-backed separatists probe the country’s defenses — Ukraine’s Western partners may find themselves facing much higher costs to fix the mess. Ignoring complex crises hasn’t worked very well for the developed world in recent years, and Ukraine is just another illustration. It’s true that in recent months we’ve seen growing pressure from the country’s international partners demanding real reforms. But that should have happened two years ago, not two months ago”.

He suggests a way out of the mess, “There are still ways for the West to avoid a full-blown Ukrainian collapse. First, it must fight hard for the remaining reformers: as long as the hands of powerful people like Minister Jaresko or anti-corruption crusaders like Mustafa Nayyem and Serhii Leshchenko aren’t tied, there’s a chance that the country’s development will continue. Secondly, the West shouldn’t fall for the cheap theatrics of a “political cleanup” that are being propagated by the country’s ruling elites. In an apparent alliance with various political groups in parliament who have ties to the oligarchs, President Poroshenko and his Solidarnist party have built up suspense by keeping allegedly corrupt officials in place, accumulating negativity around two specific people — Prime Minister Yatsenyuk andProsecutor General Viktor Shokin. Now, by publicly bashing the former anddumping the latter, these elites hope to release the pressure and convince the public and the international community that a cleanup is underway. But after two years of empty promises, neither Ukrainians nor their foreign partners should be satisfied. In Ukraine, it doesn’t matter who runs the government or the General Prosecutor’s office. With Yatsenyuk and Shokin or without them, the alliance of oligarchs and corrupt officials will stand strong — unless we stop paying attention to personalities and demand real, structural reforms”.

He concludes “If this charade doesn’t stop, the system will just keep replicating itself without ever changing — and the hopes of yet another Ukrainian revolution will have been betrayed”.

The EU and Boris’s view of sovereignty

29/02/2016

A piece in the Economist notes that Boris Johnson has decided to support Brexit, “the commentariat, and almost no one else, has been waiting excitedly for Boris Johnson to show his colours in Britain’s upcoming EU referendum. The great moment came at 3:30pm with the BBC’s confirmation of prior reports that London’s mayor would back a Brexit vote. This news is bad for the In campaign—he is the country’s most popular politician, after all—though not nearly as much as some excited Eurosceptics will claim in the coming hours. It positions Mr Johnson to run for the Conservative leadership should David Cameron lose the referendum, and perhaps, though not as immediately, if he does not. But shamelessly self-interested and probably contrary to his real views on the EU though it is, the mayor’s move is perhaps not entirely disingenuous. He has always insisted that his decision would turn on his concerns that EU membership is incompatible with British sovereignty. Expect him to concentrate on this objection in the coming days”.

The report mentions that “Johnson has thus aligned himself squarely with Michael Gove, the justice secretary with whom he consorted earlier in the week and who declared his support for Brexit on Friday in a 1,500-word statement that overwhelmingly concentrated on national self-rule. The “decisions which govern all our lives”, Mr Gove argued, should be taken uniquely by “people we choose and who we can throw out if we want change”. It is worth taking this variety of Euroscepticism seriously—partly because it comes from the more thoughtful, liberal wing of the movement (Mr Gove is not the Little Englander of Europhile lore, for example). But also because it will feature very prominently in the debates between now and June 23rd, especially as Mr Johnson will now presumably become the face of the Out campaign”.

Interestingly the piece goes on to make the point that “The Johnson-Gove argument goes something like this: unlike many continental countries, Britain has an unbroken tradition of liberty and representative democracy (a “golden thread”) dating back to Magna Carta and shared by other Anglophone nations. This tradition is almost uniquely uncompromising about accountability, steadfast in the conviction that power should rest only in the hands of leaders elected by and answerable to a nation constituting a demos, a community of shared assumptions and experiences. Thus the EU, accountable to foreigners as well as Britons, breaks the sacred bond of mutual power between decisionmakers and those on whose behalf they act”.

Correctly the writer argues that “The flaw in this case lies in the tradition’s idealistic definition of sovereignty. For Mr Johnson and Mr Gove, being sovereign is like being pregnant—you either are or you aren’t. Yet increasingly in today’s post-Westphalian world, real sovereignty is relative. A country that refuses outright to pool authority is one that has no control over the pollution drifting over its borders, the standards of financial regulation affecting its economy, the consumer and trade norms to which its exporters and importers are bound, the cleanliness of its seas and the security and economic crises propelling shock waves—migration, terrorism, market volatility—deep into domestic life. To live with globalisation is to acknowledge that many laws (both those devised by governments and those which bubble up at no one’s behest) are international beasts whether we like it or not. If sovereignty is the absence of mutual interference, the most sovereign country in the world is North Korea”.

He goes on to note “Thus the EU is just one of thousands of intrusions on the sort of sovereignty that the likes of Mr Johnson so cherish. Britain is subject to some 700 international treaties involving multi-lateral submissions to multilateral compromises. Its membership of the UN similarly infringes its self-determination, for it can be outvoted there just as it can in Brussels. Likewise the WTO, NATO, the COP climate talks, the IMF, the World Bank, nuclear test ban treaties and accords on energy, water, maritime law and air traffic all require Britain to tolerate the sort of trade-offs that Eurosceptic souverainistes find distasteful: influence in exchange for irksome standardisation, laws and rules set mostly by foreigners not elected by Britons (regulations that Britain would not apply, or would apply differently, if left to its own devices). Yet it submits to all of these knowing that, as with the EU, it is free to leave whenever it wants—but at a price not worth paying”.

The argument goes on to deride Johnson’s view of the UK outside the EU, “This is precisely why the two models for a Britain outside the EU often cited by Eurosceptics (including Mr Johnson), Norway and Switzerland, constitute such weak arguments for Brexit. Under the Johnson-Gove view, these countries are quite dramatically more “sovereign” than Britain. But in practice their economies and societies are so intertwined with those of their neighbours that they must subject themselves to rules over which they have no say. This exposes a false choice: in an increasingly interdependent world, countries must often opt not between pure sovereignty and the pooled sort, but—however distasteful the choice may seem—between the pooled sort and none”.

The piece argues against the view of the special UK and its common voters all standing together, “The media is fragmenting and internationalising. The citizens of a given country do not all watch the same television programmes and read the same newspapers any more. Across Europe there is evidence of growing political polarisation along cultural lines: for all their differences in experience and outlook, voters in declining, post-industrial parts of England and France have much more in common with each other than with those in cosmopolitan London or Paris. Language divides people less all the time. Sub-national allegiances are growing in strength (note Scotland’s slide towards independence) and form an increasingly appropriate and effective basis for government (consider all the recent literature on the “age of mayors”). So while one can still argue that power exercised at a national level is more democratically valid than that exercised at a supra-national one, that case becomes less pressing with each passing year”.

The report concludes “Talk of foreigners imposing their will on Britain’s elected government is usually (and especially in Mr Johnson’s case) accompanied by a patriotic flourish: the assertion that, as one of world’s great economic, cultural and military powers, the country deserves to get its autonomy back and can make it on its own. But this chest-puffing diverges from the underlying sovereignty argument, which only works if, deep down, you think Britain a bit puny. Consider the trade-off: let foreigners have some influence over your country of 64m and in return receive quite a lot of influence over a union of more than 500m. When Eurosceptics only mention the first half of this bargain, they imply that Britain is too weedy to take advantage of the second. Which is odd, as the national strengths they otherwise celebrate give the country a tremendous ability to do so. Its diplomatic service, its global alliances, its language, its historical heft—not to mention the absence of a power similarly well positioned to exercise continental leadership—all put it in a fantastic position to set the agenda in Brussels at those rare moments (for example, at the time of the Lisbon Agenda and the union’s eastwards expansion) when it puts its mind to the task. The EU is Britain’s to run, if only it could overcome its insecurity about scary foreign bullies. In an interconnected and ineluctably integrated 21st century, it is that, far more than the Eurosceptics’ purity games, that is real sovereignty”.

Cameron gets his deal

21/02/2016

A report in the Washington Post notes that David Cameron has come up with a deal on the future of the UK’s relationship with the EU, “Having persuaded 27 fellow European leaders to do a deal to save Britain’s E.U. membership, Prime Minister David Cameron faced an insurrection at home on Saturday as his government emerged divided over whether to back a Brexit”.

The article goes on to mention that “In a rare Saturday morning cabinet meeting — the first since the Falklands War in 1982 — Cameron attempted to rally his senior ministers to the cause of keeping the United Kingdom a part of the European Union when the country votes in June. The meeting came just hours after the prime minister inked a deal in Brussels with his E.U. counterparts that he said would dramatically improve British relations with the bloc. The agreement featured concessions in various areas, including currency protections and immigration, and it only came together after two days of round-the-clock talks. But with a referendum campaign now underway in Britain, there were major defections from the government’s senior ranks, reflecting bitter divisions in the prime minister’s Conservative Party over the country’s membership in the E.U. Polls show that voters as a whole are almost evenly split”.

The piece notes that the referendum to decide on the place of the UK in the EU will take place on 23 June, “giving both sides four months to try to convince a majority of voters. Cameron had first promised the referendum in 2013, bowing to a strong current of Euroscepticism that has run through British politics for decades and is unequaled anywhere else on the continent. A British departure would be a first for the bloc, and it could imperil the union’s future by empowering anti-E.U. forces across the continent. The stakes are high for Britain, as well. “We are approaching one of the biggest decisions this country will face in our lifetimes,” Cameron said Saturday. The prime minister announced that a majority of his cabinet was recommending that the British public vote to stay in, and he argued that a departure — popularly known as Brexit — would damage Britain by depriving the country of vital partners”.

The scale of the divisions within the Tories is well know but the piece adds “only minutes after the prime minister spoke, a half-dozen cabinet ministers announced they would defy Cameron and side with out. Cameron had bucked British political convention by allowing his ministers to choose either side of the E.U. debate, rather than demanding loyalty. Saturday’s defections were not a surprise; six have been sharply critical of the E.U. in the past. But their stance reflects just how politically divisive the referendum is likely to be, cutting across party lines. Among the defectors — dubbed #TheSecessionistSix on Twitter — is Justice Secretary Michael Gove, an influential Tory and one of Cameron’s closest friends”.

It goes on to mention “In a lengthy statement released Saturday afternoon, Gove said that he was anguished at the idea of opposing the prime minister, whom he credited with launching his political career. But he said he could not ignore his belief that the United Kingdom would be “freer, fairer and better off outside the E.U.” The union, Gove wrote, is a relic of the 1950s and 1960s that “is now hopelessly out of date.” It is also, he argued, fundamentally anti-democratic”.

Gove is taking a gamble. If the referendum choice is to remain in the EU then his chances of becoming, or at least influencing the future direction, and leader, of the Tories is greatly diminished.

Interestingly the piece notes “Other top government officials opted for “in,” including finance minister George Osborne and Home Secretary Theresa May. May, a hardliner with Euroskeptic tendencies who was at one time considered a possible Brexit supporter, released a statement Saturday announcing she was for “in.” She said the decision was “for reasons of security, protection against crime and terrorism, trade with Europe, and access to markets around the world.”

The report goes on to note that “London Mayor Boris Johnson, a leading Conservative who covets Cameron’s job, has also toyed with supporting the “out” campaign. He did not immediately show his hand Saturday, and the BBC reported he was unlikely to announce his decision until Sunday at the earliest. Johnson would give the “out” movement the sort of charismatic and broadly popular leader it currently lacks. Compared with the Conservatives, the center-left Labour Party is less divided over the issue, with most of the party’s elected officials supporting E.U. membership. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn described Cameron’s E.U. renegotiation Saturday as “tinkering.” But he nonetheless said his party would campaign to stay in the E.U. because “it brings investment, jobs and protection for British workers and consumers.” The political leanings of Britain’s newspapers were on vivid display Saturday morning, with right-wing papers dismissing Cameron’s Brussels deal and left-leaning ones praising it”.

 

The piece ends “Analysts suggested that Cameron had won a better deal than many expected but generally played down the effect of European concessions. The prime minister won a British exemption from Europe’s goal of “ever-closer union,” a national veto on E.U. laws, protections for countries that do not use the euro and “an emergency brake” to limit benefits paid to immigrants from within the E.U. Cameron trumpeted the latter concession as a chance to limit net migration to Britain, which is at an all-time high. But experts have cast doubt on the claims, pointing out that most workers do not come to Britain for government benefits”.

 

 

 

“Mud-slinging between Leave.EU and Vote Leave”

17/02/2016

A report notes how the divided the Brexit campaign in the UK is, “the months leading up to the still-as-yet-unannounced referendum on its European Union membership, Britain has seen a knock-down, bare-knuckle political death match — a contest filled with outsized personalities and vicious insults, which ultimately asks the most fundamental questions about who Britons are as a nation and who they want to be. And that’s just on the Brexit side”.

The author goes on to make the point that “For those who want to support the campaign for Britain to remain within the EU, the choice is simple: There’s only one group making that case to voters, a group called Britain Stronger in Europe (though it prefers to be called “Stronger In,” on the grounds that “BSE” is also an acronym for mad cow disease). Despite the support of Downing Street and various business leaders, it hasn’t made the strongest impression: Its own chairman forgot the name of the campaign four times in a single interview. The jostling for who will be the official voice of the pro-Brexit side, on the other hand, appears to be just getting started — and has turned very nasty indeed”.

Interestingly the piece notes “The most prominent of the pro-Brexit groups is “Vote Leave,” launched last October and staffed by a collection of top-drawer, mainstream political operators drawn largely from the ranks of the Conservative Party. Next largest is “Leave.EU,” a rival operation set up in July by the insurance tycoon Arron Banks, a political novice until he donated 1 million pounds to the far-right, anti-immigration UKIP party in the run-up to last year’s general election. These two groups may represent the two major camps in the Brexit campaign — but the infighting has also prompted the formation of “Grassroots Out,” a group that claims to be focusing on constituency-level activism (but has so far made a mark mostly for its lamentable taste in neckwear), and “Labour Leave,” which used to be part of Vote Leave but whose members last week decided to go their own way. Much of the coverage of this fighting so far has focused on the personal rivalries, which have admittedly been entertaining. Banks, in particular, has shown himself ready and willing to turn personal, calling Douglas Carswell — UKIP’s sole MP, who, unlike most of his party, is backing the Vote Leave campaign — “borderline autistic with mental illness wrapped in.” More recently, Banks revealed to the Times that his key aide starts every morning with unflattering impersonations of the Vote Leave high command, including its chief executive Matthew Elliott”.

Crucially the piece mentions that “Why all the squabbling? Because under Britain’s electoral rules, the campaigns cannot each make their own respective cases for leaving the EU to their own audiences. Instead, a body called the Electoral Commission will designate one of them the official voice of the Brexit campaign. That status brings free TV advertising, a far higher cap on campaign spending of all kinds, and a guaranteed seat at the table for any debates that take place. The group that wins, in other words, will get to define both the case for why Britain should leave and the vision for what should come next. The mud-slinging between Leave.EU and Vote Leave, in other words, is not just about personality clashes: It is about fundamentally different political visions. Vote Leave’s staff is largely drawn from the Conservative Party; Leave.EU emerged from UKIP. The resulting fight is not unlike the ongoing contest in the United States between the Tea Party and mainstream Republicans over who will be the GOP’s nominee for president. Vote Leave sees Leave.EU members as bumbling zealots who have gate-crashed its party — and rendered its cause toxic in the process. Leave.EU sees the Vote Leavers as toffee-nosed Westminster elitists who don’t understand the concerns of ordinary decent Britons”.

The piece correctly notes that “The best way to explain the difference between the two major camps is to look at the split between Nigel Farage, UKIP’s longtime leader, and Carswell, who, while he may be UKIP’s only MP, crucially defected from the Tories. Farage has not officially come out for Leave.EU — his public statements have been limited to noting that he wants the two groups to get their act together — but it is clearly the Leave.EU campaign that comes closest to sharing his philosophy, with its focus on immigration controls and sovereignty. Carswell, for his part, publicly threw his support behind Vote Leave from the moment it launched, highlighting “the importance of appealing to undecided voters.” Both men are viscerally eurosceptic — but that’s about the only thing they have in common. Farage is a classic Little Englander: His politics are about taking Britain back to the “good old days,” about shutting the door to immigrants and restoring traditional values — the sort of thing that is meat and drink to traditional right-wing voters but less appealing to those in the center. Carswell is best described as a techno-libertarian: He wants to rip apart Whitehall, embrace technological innovation, and allow Britain to make its own way in the world, free from Brussels’s meddling oversight”.

Pointedly the piece argues that “Banks told me he thought it was natural and desirable for the two anti-EU campaigns to join forces. After all, Leave.EU is essentially a marketing campaign, gathering hundreds of thousands of names on social media then converting them into committed grassroots supporters. Vote Leave, meanwhile, has the political expertise: Its staff are masters of the arts of policy and polling, rebuttal and strategy. One could energize core votes; the other could reach undecided voters in the middle. One could fight the ground war; the other the air campaign. The problem is that banding together in anything but the most superficial manner would require a shared vision — and there isn’t one”.

The piece concludes “During the campaign itself, it may be possible to put this infighting to one side. Leave campaigners of all stripes insist that the referendum itself isn’t about deciding what kind of country Britain should be — it’s about making sure that British voters have the right to make that decision, not Brussels apparatchiks. And as with every campaign, the philosophy will be very much in the background: We’re more likely to see endless leaflets informing voters that they’re paying enough to the EU every week to build X new hospitals or that EU membership is worth Y to every household in the country. But still: The Brexit referendum is fundamentally about whether or not to set the country on a new course. If Britain does vote to leave, it will necessarily trigger an entirely separate, and equally impassioned, argument about what exactly that course should be”.

 

Scalia dies

15/02/2016

A piece reveals the death of Justice Scalia, “Justice Antonin Scalia, the longest-serving member of the current Supreme Court and an intellectual leader of the conservative legal movement, died Saturday, and his death set off an immediate political battle about the future of the court and its national role. Scalia, 79, was found dead at a hunting resort in Texas after he did not appear for breakfast, law enforcement officials said. A cause of death was not immediately reported”.

The report adds “President Obama, who disagreed with Scalia’s jurisprudence, nevertheless praised him as “a larger-than-life presence on the bench” and a “brilliant legal mind [who] influenced a generation of judges, lawyers and students, and profoundly shaped the legal landscape.” Obama said he would nominate a successor, even though the Senate’s Republican leadership and its presidential candidates said an election-year confirmation was out of the question”.

Pointedly the piece writes “Scalia’s sudden death casts a cloud of uncertainty over a Supreme Court term filled with some of the most controversial issues facing the nation: abortion, affirmative action, the rights of religious objectors to the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and the president’s powers on immigration and deportation. An eight-member court could split on all of those issues. It would seem to assure that the Supreme Court, often far down the list of voters’ concern when choosing a president, would become a prominent issue in the campaign”.

The piece adds that “Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, soon to be 83, is the oldest member of the court, while Justice Anthony M. Kennedy is the same age as Scalia. The jurist’s death leaves the court with three consistent conservatives — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. — and Kennedy, like Scalia a Ronald Reagan appointee but one who often sides with the court’s liberals on social issues, such as same-sex marriage. The court has four consistent liberals: Ginsburg plus Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Despite their sharp ideological differences, the justices nevertheless often proclaim their personal affinity for one another, and it seemed especially true regarding Scalia”. 

Crucially the piece notes “Although the fate of Scalia’s successor seems likely to consume political Washington, the outcome of the many controversies will be complicated by an eight-member court. If the court ties in deciding a case, the decision of the appeals court remains in place, without setting a nationwide precedent. For instance, the court already was working with one less justice in a case involving the use of race in an admissions case at the University of Texas. Kagan sat out the case, presumably because she worked on the issue when she was Obama’s solicitor general. That means only seven justices would decide whether the appeals court was correct to uphold the program. The court is scheduled to hear in April arguments about Obama’s plan to shield more than 4 million illegal immigrants from deportation”.

 

 

Millennials and the end of the American Dream

18/12/2015

A report in the Washington Post discusses the end of the American Dream, “When Harvard’s Institute of Politics asked 18- to 29-year-olds if they considered the American dream to be alive or dead, the result was an even split. About half said they considered the American dream alive and well for them personally. About half said it was dead as a doornail”.

The report mentions “Harvard also asked millennials about a number of other issues, too; people in that age bracket like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders more than other Republicans and Democrats, for example. But this bit of data on the American Dream stood out. Particularly in light of data released on Thursday by Pew Research. Pew found that the beating heart of the American dream, the middle class, has shrunk significantly over the past 40 years”.

The piece goes on to note “young Americans are sceptical of their ability to get ahead. Pew’s data also shows that the age range looked at in the Harvard IoP survey saw the biggest drop in income status since 1971, with the biggest gain of any demographic group going to those 65 and over. Within that American dream data was a noticeable split. Those with a college degree thought that the American dream was alive and well at a rate 16 percentage points higher than those who weren’t in college or who had never attended. Non-college-graduates also saw broad decreases in income in Pew’s analysis, with the research firm writing that “[t]hose Americans without a college degree stand out as experiencing a substantial loss in economic status.” We’ve known for some time that people with college degrees have done better in recent years. But two threats still exist. The first is student loan debt, which continues to be a massive burden to recent college graduates. The second is wage stagnation. In analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, for example, wages for young college graduates have been dropping since the year 2000. The trend is more widespread and older than that, but this number certainly might make a new graduate pessimistic”.

It concludes “The idea of the American dream is somewhat nebulous, relating mostly to the idea of the equal opportunity for economic success. Half of people under the age of 30 are sceptical of that idea, and even those with a college degree might still see clouds on the horizon. The results of Harvard’s survey aren’t surprising, even if we might think they should be”.

 

Osborne, the new Victorian

01/12/2015

A piece from the Economist lauds George Osborne as he quickly dismantles the British state, “GEORGE OSBORNE is the ultimate Westminster operator. On November 25th, setting out the government’s five-year spending review, he praised colleagues, ditched unpopular cuts to tax credits that had formed the centrepiece of his budget only five months ago, cracked jokes—“We’re not going to make that mistake again,” he deadpanned of a botched government attempt to privatise forests in the last parliament—showered Tory-leaning pensioners with cash and favoured MPs with oinking heaps of pork. A grant here, a spending guarantee there and a kind word for the other guy: the chancellor of the exchequer, who talks of professional politics as a “guild”, was plying his trade with panache”.

It seems Osborne can do no wrong as he makes it harder to be poor, increases the taxes on the poor, makes life for the rich easy by not introducing a rise in income tax and pares back the state either giving it to local government (without the resources) or privatising it, with cuts to policing and health care while continuing the march of the State out of the education system and proposing a market system despite all that has previously happened when such systems have been introduced. The writer makes no attempt to excoriate Osborne for even thinking that his plan over tax credits may have dented his ability to govern for the poorest and most vulnerable in society instead of adhering to nonsense about a smaller state and freer people. The Economist has been criticised elsewhere for its positions.

The piece goes on “It is easy to see why Mr Osborne, with his hurricane of micro-announcements, feints and sleights of hand, is compared to Gordon Brown, his predecessor-but-one. Like Mr Brown as chancellor, he craves the premiership and is prone to short-term fixes and populist gambits. Yet when Mr Brown became prime minister in 2007, it transpired he had little long-term vision. The vacuous, headline-chasing mores of that period were captured by “The Thick of It”, a sardonic television comedy featuring a hapless minister for “social affairs and citizenship” whose grand plan was a “Fourth Sector Pathfinder Initiative”. Mr Osborne walks in the footsteps of a Moses who descended from the mountain with an Etch A Sketch”.

Interestingly the piece does mention, “Is he condemned to the same fate? The consensus is: yes. On the left Mr Osborne is seen as an aristocratic, louche, post-moral dandy. On the Tory right he is considered a metropolitan, louche, post-moral luvvie. Both sides start from the assumption that the chancellor has no big plan and few fixed beliefs. This is wrong. Mr Osborne is a liberal idealist. He bombards aides with accounts of the great Victorian reformers. He badgered Bagehot to reread Mill’s “On Liberty”. Consider the few subjects on which he differs from David Cameron, the prime minister from whom he is otherwise inseparable. Unlike his boss, Mr Osborne was an early Tory supporter of gay reproductive rights, cried at Margaret Thatcher’s funeral and has little time for tax breaks for married couples or Sunday trading restrictions”.

Yet Osborne makes the same mistake as many in the United States whose mantra is to end/abolish/shrink the state and let “people” flourish. Yet what will probably, and to an extent is already, happening is that only the richest best connected people will flourish in this new Victorian age that Osborne seems bent on introducing. The poor will become poorer, less heeded and more irrelevant to the political process than ever become as money and politics continue their sickening march together. The state, according to this view has no moral purpose and is seen as an inherent blockage to “progress”. The fact that there are Sunday trading restrictions is good, to abolish them in order to boost economic growth makes little moral sense and diminishes the common good and ignores the social implications.

The piece goes on to praise him “From this outlook stems a vision of the state evident despite Mr Osborne’s tactical tacking. New Labour, the political project that he filleted for lessons for the Tories, governed in the tradition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Its underlying view was that a civilised society needed the state’s corrective hand. Because he differs from this, many Labour types consider the chancellor a follower of Thomas Hobbes, with his brutal, dog-eat-dog vision of human nature. The chancellor has, it is true, sometimes nurtured this image, characterising welfare claimants as lazy scroungers, for example. Yet Mr Osborne is broadly loyal to the third pole: John Locke, who believed that people tend to be decent, wise and fair. His is an outlook essentially optimistic about human nature but wary of state bloat”.

What the piece omits is that a smaller state will only hurt the poor and be of immeasurable gain to the rich. Without regulation the market will eat itself and effectively take society with it.

The article continues in its praise, “That comes across in his policies—including those outlined on November 25th. The chancellor transferred to councils responsibilities for homelessness and social care and announced that he would wind up their government grant. But he is also letting those authorities control and retain local business-tax receipts. The essence of his vision is thus to scale down the great Whitehall subsidy machine, pushing responsibilities down to citizens, companies and local authorities. Hence the cuts to tax credits should be partly mitigated by a higher minimum wage. Big cities outside London are rapidly gaining powers over their public services and economic fortunes. Housing benefit is being cut as more support is going to housebuilders. Grants to trainee nurses and students are being replaced with loans, and state services increasingly carry user charges (for visa applications and, in some cases, court time). Big companies will soon foot the bill for the apprenticeships from which they benefit. Mr Osborne, in other words, is reducing government’s compensatory role”.

The report goes on to spin this shrinking state as a positive, “Instead the chancellor proposes an enabling state: one that, though offering a limited safety net, concentrates on creating the conditions in which actors can solve their own problems. Thus in 2013 Mr Osborne pushed successfully to lift a cap on university student numbers, has cut corporation tax (and wants to cut it further) and is now pumping cash into infrastructure and science. He often fails to live up to the credo; he has done too little to curb old-age and middle-class welfare, spur house-building, or plug gaps in skills. Yet this does not detract from the vision that—once the thick layers of hyperactive political pragmatism are stripped back—serves as the lodestar of his chancellorship”.

The piece ends frightenly, “The chancellor stands a good chance of running Britain for a while if, as seems probable, he succeeds Mr Cameron in a few years. If he does, his priority will be to win the next election. But in the process, and especially if he succeeds, the outcome could be a state transformed: committed to forging a benign environment for individuals, firms and municipalities, but less willing to meddle in how they proceed—or to catch them when they fall”.

A worried GOP

19/11/2015

An article in the Washington Post notes that the GOP establishment are worried that either Ben Carson or Donald Trump might win the GOP nomination. It begins “Less than three months before the kickoff Iowa caucuses, there is growing anxiety bordering on panic among Republican elites about the dominance and durability of Donald Trump and Ben Carson and widespread bewilderment over how to defeat them. Party leaders and donors fear that nominating either man would have negative ramifications for the GOP ticket up and down the ballot, virtually ensuring a Hillary Rodham Clinton presidency and increasing the odds that the Senate falls into Democratic hands”.

The report adds “The party establishment is paralyzed. Big money is still on the sidelines. No consensus alternative to the outsiders has emerged from the pack of governors and senators running, and there is disagreement about how to prosecute the case against them. Recent focus groups of Trump supporters in Iowa and New Hampshire commissioned by rival campaigns revealed no silver bullet. In normal times, the way forward would be obvious. The wannabes would launch concerted campaigns, including television attack ads, against the ­front-runners. But even if the other candidates had a sense of what might work this year, it is unclear whether it would ultimately accrue to their benefit. Trump’s counterpunches have been withering, while Carson’s appeal to the base is spiritual, not merely political. If someone was able to do significant damage to them, there’s no telling to whom their supporters would turn, if anyone”.

Interestingly the piece adds “some in the party establishment are so desperate to change the dynamic that they are talking anew about drafting Romney — despite his insistence that he will not run again. Friends have mapped out a strategy for a late entry to pick up delegates and vie for the nomination in a convention fight, according to the Republicans who were briefed on the talks, though Romney has shown no indication of reviving his interest. For months, the GOP professional class assumed Trump and Carson would fizzle with time. Voters would get serious, the thinking went, after seeing the outsiders share a stage with more experienced politicians at the first debate. Or when summer turned to fall, kids went back to school and parents had time to assess the candidates. Or after the second, third or fourth debates, certainly”.

The piece adds “Before Tuesday’s debate in Milwaukee, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker had a reception at the Pfister Hotel with party leaders, donors and operatives. There was little appetite for putting a political knife in the back of either Trump or Carson, according to one person there. Rather, attendees simply hoped both outsiders would go away. There are similar concerns about Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, who is gaining steam and is loathed by party elites, but they are more muted, at least for now. Charlie Black, who has advised presidential campaigns since the 1970s, said he believes the 2016 contest “will eventually fall into the normal pattern of one outsider and one insider, and historically the insider always wins.”

It ends “the party establishment’s greatest weapon — big money — is partly on the shelf. Kenneth G. Langone, a founder of Home Depot and a billionaire supporter of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said he is troubled that many associates in the New York financial community have so far refused to invest in a campaign due to the race’s volatility. “Some of them are in, but too many are still saying, ‘I’ll wait to see how this all breaks,’ ” Langone said. “People don’t want to write checks unless they think the candidate has a chance of winning.” He said that his job as a ­mega-donor “is to figure out how we get people on the edge of their chairs so they start to give money.” Many of Romney’s 2012 National Finance Committee members have sat out the race so far, including Peter A. Wish, a Florida doctor whom several 2016 candidates have courted”.

It concludes “Angst about Trump intensified this week after he made two comments that could prove damaging in a general election. First, he explained his opposition to raising the minimum wage by saying “wages are too high.” Second, he said he would create a federal “deportation force” to remove the more than 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally. “To have a leading candidate propose a new federal police force that is going to flush out illegal immigrants across the nation? That’s very disturbing and concerning to me about where that leads Republicans,” said Dick Wadhams, a former GOP chairman in Colorado, a swing state where Republicans are trying to pick up a Senate seat next year. Said Austin Barbour, a veteran operative and fundraiser now advising former Florida governor Jeb Bush: “If we don’t have the right [nominee], we could lose the Senate, and we could face losses in the House. Those are very, very real concerns. If we’re not careful and we nominate Trump, we’re looking at a race like Barry Goldwater in 1964 or George McGovern in 1972, getting beat up across the board because of our nominee.”

 

Ryan, left or right?

14/10/2015

As the quest to find a new speaker continues a report notes that some consider the lead candidate too left wing, “Far-right media figures, relatively small in number but potent in their influence, have embarked on a furious Internet expedition to cover Representative Paul D. Ryanin political silt. In 2012 when Mitt Romney picked Mr. Ryan, Republican of Wisconsin, as his running mate, the concern among some in their party was that Mr. Ryan was too conservative, particularly when it came to overhauling social programs likeMedicare and Medicaid. Now, as he agonises over whether to answer the appeal of his colleagues to become their next speaker, the far right is trotting out a fresh concern: Mr. Ryan is too far left”.

The article notes that “He is being criticized on issues ranging from a 2008 vote to bail out large banks to his longstanding interest in immigration reform to his work on a bipartisan budget measure. On Sunday night, the Drudge Report — a prime driver of conservative commentary — dedicated separate headlines to bashing Mr. Ryan on policy positions. Even a self-congratulatory book outlining how Mr. Ryan and two other Republican House leaders drafted Tea Party candidates to help them take over the House in 2010 — “Young Guns” — is being recast by some as a manual of how to be traitorous to conservatism”.

Interestingly the article makes the point that “The influence of conservative websites has enraged members who were once considered right of center themselves, and who are desperately trying to keep Mr. Ryan from getting spooked. “Anyone who attacks Paul Ryan as being insufficiently conservative is either woefully misinformed or maliciously destructive,” said Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma. “Paul Ryan has played a major role in advancing the conservative cause and creating the Republican House majority. His critics are not true conservatives. They are radical populists who neither understand nor accept the institutions, procedures and traditions that are the basis of constitutional governance.” To some degree, the attacks on Mr. Ryan, so far an unwilling draft pick by his colleagues to replace Speaker John A. Boehner, reflect criticism of flashes of pragmatism by Mr. Ryan, the architect of his party’s conservative budget dogma”.

The report goes on to mention that “Since the 2012 general election defeat, Mr. Ryan has indeed become more of a consensus builder and leader in the House, even as he has maintained his ideological tilt. He has largely voted for bills to keep the government operating and the debts paid when many other Republicans vote against them these days. He was half the brain on a 2013 compromise with Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington, to funnel more money to the government and avert two years of budget brinkmanship, even though two years earlier, he had refused to sit on the original committee that tried and failed to find a solution to the government’s financial problems”.

It later adds, “Mr. Ryan moved this year to the chairmanship of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee from the Budget Committee because he said he wanted even greater influence on national fiscal policy, and his prescriptions are anathema to most Democrats. But the current flak following Mr. Ryan stems from a growing and powerful collection of far-right pundits and news media — from Mark Levin to Laura Ingraham to the sites RedState and Breitbart and the new Conservative Review — that have successfully wielded influence over Republican voters and lawmakers in strongly conservative districts. Their bill of particulars against Mr. Ryan have shifted from the national debt and spending to immigration. Lately, they have focused on Mr. Ryan’s enthusiastic support for free trade, traditionally a policy that has gotten broad Republican support but is now being used as a bat against him. Beyond Mr. Ryan, the conservative targets have seemingly shifted from old time establishment lawmakers to a process seemingly more akin to random selection”.

It reports “On Monday, a Tea Party group in Alabama sent out warning flares to Representative Martha Roby, a Republican, advising her that she would come under fire if she supported Mr. Ryan for speaker. While the influence of Fox News on conservative voters has been well documented, “There’s a lot we don’t know about this bumper crop of digital news start-ups of the past five or 10 years, especially ad-supported ones,” said Jesse Holcomb the associate director of journalism research at the Pew Research Center. “Many aren’t public and don’t produce earnings statements and aren’t required to release information on revenue or profit margins.” But House Republicans and their staff say millions of Republican primary voters have their opinions shaped by sites like Breitbart.com, which define a version of the conservative position of the moment, then whip their readers into a frenzy, imploring them to oppose anyone who takes a different position”.

The article ends, “The conservative rap on Mr. Ryan’s fiscal positions is especially curious. As Budget Committee chairman, Mr. Ryan was the author of plans that would convert Medicare into something akin to a voucher plan, where seniors would get government subsidies to purchase private insurance and move away from government-run health care. He also wanted to turn Medicaid into increasingly tight block grants to state governments, and he also called for drastic cuts in food stamps, Pell grants and many other domestic programs. But in 2013, Mr. Ryan and Ms. Murray reached an agreement, which passed 332 to 94 in the House, that modestly raised spending restrictions on military and domestic programs for two years, bringing temporary peace to the incessant budget wars that are now eliciting the wrath of the conservative industrial complex”.

It concludes “Immigration is proving to be an even more ripe area for venomous assessment of Mr. Ryan. He pressed for a vote on an immigration reform bill with his Republican colleagues in 2013, noting that “earned legalization is an issue I think the House can and will deal with” but was rebuffed. While 53 percent of Republicans support some earned path to citizenship for immigrants living in the country illegally, said Robert P. Jones, the chief executive of the Public Religion Research Institute, citing a 2013 poll, “support drops well below majority to 45 percent among Republicans who identify with the Tea Party,” he said. The question for Mr. Ryan, now ensconced in Wisconsin with his family while Congress is in recess, is whether the heat from the right is worth the fight or whether he will gamble that he can overrun them and win far in excess of the 218 votes needed to elected speaker in spite of all that noise, and start off strong and ready for the next round.”

An ungovernable GOP

12/10/2015

After the withdrawal of Kevin McCarthy for the speakership a piece in the Washington Post questions the ability of the GOP to function as a party, “Less than a year after a sweeping electoral triumph, Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national political party. The most powerful and crippling force at work in the ­once-hierarchical GOP is anger, directed as much at its own leaders as anywhere else. First, a contingent of several dozen conservative House members effectively forced Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) to resign rather than face a possibly losing battle to hold on to his job. Now they have claimed House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), who had been considered the favorite to replace Boehner until he announced Thursday that he is dropping out of the race”.

The piece adds that “With no obvious replacement for Boehner in sight, “it is total confusion — a banana republic,” said Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.). “Any plan, anything you anticipate — who knows what’ll happen? People are crying, they don’t have any idea how this will unfold, at all.” Parallel currents of rage and chaos have been roiling the 2016 presidential race, diminishing hopes that an eventual nominee can bring order and direction to the increasingly dysfunctional party. Initially, GOP elders believed that their primary would be a showcase for a cast of ­well-regarded senators and governors, current and former. They were confident it would be an appealing contrast to the quirky group of GOP candidates who had run in 2012, and to the Democratic contest, where Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared to be cruising to the nomination”.

Sadly in an indictment of the GOP the author argues that “But government experience has become a liability for Republicans, rather than a credential. Celebrity billionaire Donald Trump, the leader in every poll, has rallied the conservative base by mocking the entire GOP establishment as weak and feckless. Many of the other candidates have followed his lead. “You know Kevin McCarthy is out, you know that, right?” Trump crowed to a crowd of about 1,500 in Las Vegas, “They’re giving me a lot of credit for that, because I said you really need somebody very, very tough — and very smart.” Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a presidential contender at the back of the pack, added in a statement blasted out by e-mail: “The race for Speaker of the House is not about Kevin McCarthy, it’s about burning the corrupt Washington political machine to the ground and rebuilding our country.” The forces that have made the House ungovernable are coming from the same wellspring of insurgency, beginning with the tea party movement, that propelled the Republicans back into control of Congress”.

The report adds “In the House, Republicans regained and expanded their majority by picking up 63 seats in the 2010 midterm elections and 13 more last year. They now have their largest majority since the late 1920s. Battalions of conservative ground troops have come to Capitol Hill in the past five years with expectations that were not in line with what could actually be achieved while there is still a Democrat in the White House. Disappointed in their ability to follow through on their campaign promises to turn back President Obama’s policies, they trained their fire on their own commanders. For all their gains on the state and local level, Republicans are deepening the problems that have cost them the popular vote in all but one of the last six presidential elections. The divisive and exclusionary rhetoric of their 2016 contenders has hit a chord with primary voters — Trump, for instance, has made a series of insulting comments about women and immigrants — but threatens to further alienate key groups of voters in an increasingly diverse country. Their contempt for compromise has also undermined the Republicans’ drive to prove that they can actually govern”.

Worryingly for the future of the GOP and the United States, “There are institutional forces at work as well that make it more difficult for the party to bring itself into anything resembling a formation. Junior members of Congress no longer have to seek the favour of more senior ones to rise through the ranks. Modern media has given them the power to play to a national audience — as presidential contender and first-term senator Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has demonstrated in the Senate. In July, Cruz went so far as to call Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) a liar on the floor of the Senate. Such a breach of decorum would have been unthinkable in earlier times, but it has burnished Cruz’s image with the conservative base. Changes in campaign finance laws have made the parties themselves less powerful, and ideologically driven outside groups more so”.

Now both parties must realise that the decision of Citizens United has damaged them both as well as the noble democratic ideals that America was founded on. It must no be overturned.

The report goes on to mention “In the presidential race, the Republican National Committee set up a process aimed at making the nomination more orderly than in 2012 by compressing the calendar of state primaries and caucuses and allowing fewer debates. That strategy may have backfired. Given the size of the Republican field — 14 candidates at the latest count — the new party-imposed order may actually have made it more difficult for any of the more mainstream candidates to overtake outsiders Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina. At the Obama White House, officials were not gloating at the Republican turmoil — in part, because it could pose problems for carrying out their own agenda. For instance, the president is going to have to rely on a large number of GOP votes to pass a Pacific Rim free-trade deal that is drawing opposition from Obama’s own party. Among those who are expressing resistance is Clinton, despite the fact that she had promoted such a deal when she was secretary of state”.

GOP as banana republic

10/10/2015

The race to replace John Boehner has become much more open as Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy pulled out, “Thirty minutes beforehand, John A. Boehner had no idea. About 11:30 a.m. on Thursday, just before House Republicans were scheduled to choose his successor, the House speaker sat down with reporters from his native Ohio. He smoked a Camel. He talked about buying a car, a regular-guy moment to savour after nine years of being driven by the Capitol Police. And Boehner was certain that his top deputy — the affable, attentive, unobjectionable Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) — was about to win”.

Pointedly the article notes “There had been reasons to doubt that. Last month, McCarthy had embarrassed Republicans by suggesting that the House committee to investigate the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, was designed to score political points. Two days before, a back-bencher who opposed McCarthy circulated a vague letter asking whether any top Republicans had committed “misdeeds.” One day before, McCarthy had been formally rejected by the House’s hard-right caucus. Still, after all that, McCarthy had the votes. Boehner was sure. After all, who else was there? “I’m confident he’ll win today,” he said, according to the account of a reporter from the Gannett News Service. The reporters left. Boehner went to perform a ceremonial duty, opening the House for the day. Then, at 12:03 p.m., a pair of staffers pulled him into an office to tell him he was wrong”.

The article goes on to mention “On Thursday, Capitol Hill was still struggling to make sense of McCarthy’s sudden withdrawal from the race for speaker. It was caused, in part, by a party at war with itself. The same hard-line conservatives who hounded out Boehner had hounded out his likely successor before he had even held the speaker’s gavel. On Thursday, McCarthy seemed like a bystander at his own big moment, so much so that he did not even warn his allies that he was about to give up. “I’m not the one,” McCarthy told the other Republicans, who’d come expecting a vote. He said it so softly that many members couldn’t hear him at all”.

The extent of trouble in the GOP is clear when the piece reports that “Boehner had announced his resignation on Sept. 25, after four tumultuous years as speaker. His obvious successor was McCarthy, 50. The golden era of his candidacy lasted all the way until Sept. 29. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy told Fox News Channel’s Sean Hannity, who had challenged him to state a promise that Republicans had delivered on. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.” With that comment, McCarthy seemed to cast doubt on the credibility of the Benghazi committee, which discovered that Clinton had used a private e-mail account to conduct business as secretary of state. To Democrats, he seemed to be admitting that one of Congress’s most sacred duties — to investigate crimes and failings in government — had been perverted into a lab for political-opposition research”.

The article reconstructs the events speculating that “Last weekend, in private, McCarthy began to worry that he didn’t have the votes. He would need 218 votes to become speaker when the formal vote was held in late October. But no Democrats were going to back him. That meant McCarthy could afford to lose only 29 of the 247 House Republicans. On Thursday, the GOP would hold its internal vote, a crucial test of McCarthy’s strength. In his internal projections, he wasn’t getting what he needed. “I knew I could get 200-and-some votes. But getting 218 was not easy,” McCarthy said in an interview Thursday evening”.

Needless to say “That meant McCarthy needed to win over some of the House’s professional “no” votes, the same conservatives who had defied him and Boehner in votes over the debt limit, the “fiscal cliff” and the federal budget. This was a job McCarthy had never been good at. He was a walking personification of the problem that had felled Boehner — a human symbol of the GOP’s inability to keep order. McCarthy had recruited many of those conservatives, visited their districts, knew their families, bought them pizza. And, yet, even when he was the official party whip, they defied him. On Tuesday night, he went back to the same people, seeking a different result”.

The article goes on to add “McCarthy walked into a third-floor ballroom at the Capitol Hill Club, a bastion of the Republican establishment just south of the Capitol. Waiting for him were dozens of conservatives, including the crucial House Freedom Caucus — a group which says it has about 40 members (the exact number, and the full caucus membership list, are both secret). The Freedom Caucus had pledged to vote as a bloc if 80 percent of them could agree on one candidate. I’m my own man, McCarthy told them. I’m not John Boehner. I’m committed to creating a more inclusive House. He laid out plans to create a “kitchen cabinet” consisting of leaders drawn from conservative groups such as the Freedom Caucus. But they wanted him to make specific promises. Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), the leader of the House Tea Party Caucus, asked McCarthy to publicly oppose efforts by establishment groups — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and others — to run radio and TV ads criticising conservatives who defied their own leaders. McCarthy would not commit to a public pledge”.

Worryingly for the very future of the United States as a global power the piece mentions that “A few of them were willing to give McCarthy a chance, including some of those who McCarthy had recruited in 2010. But the vast majority couldn’t do it. Their constituents had been calling to complain that McCarthy was too much like Boehner. That left two other choices: Chaffetz and Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fla.). On paper, there was not much to recommend Webster: He was little-known in the House and was in danger of losing his seat entirely because of redistricting. His appeal as a leader was that, in effect, he was promising not to lead them. Elect me, he had told members, and every House member would be part of the team. No orders from on high. They chose Webster. If the Freedom Caucus followed through on its promise to vote as a bloc, that meant McCarthy might have lost 40 votes. Which would mean he couldn’t win”.

A related to this a piece speculates who might be the speaker if McCarthy is not “Conservatives seized the moment as McCarthy made his exodus, celebrating the departure of one of the GOP’s moderates and fastest-rising stars — and pledging to push for one of their own, a hard-liner on fiscal and social issues, to step forward in the coming weeks before the leadership elections are rescheduled. McCarthy’s associates, many hailing from mainstream Republican districts, urged caution and began efforts to draft another centrist Republican to succeed Boehner (Ohio). Boehner personally asked House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to run for speaker over two long phone conversations, according to two sources familiar with the exchanges. Boehner has told Ryan that he is the only person who can unite the House GOP at a time of turmoil. “It is total confusion — a banana republic,” said Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), a Boehner ally, as he recounted seeing a handful of House Republicans weeping Thursday over the downfall of McCarthy and the broader discord”.

Not surpurisingly the article notes “The scene at the Capitol yielded more questions than answers by the hour Thursday afternoon, with an array of influential figures such as  Ryan still reluctant to take McCarthy’s place as the consensus candidate of the party’s establishment and those averse to firebrands. As they mulled and were courted, a parade of hopefuls with low profiles beyond Capitol Hill — such as Rep. Daniel Webster (Fla.), a former state House speaker, and Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (Utah) — made the case in huddles and in the hallways that they are ready to be a fresh face for an unsettled House”.

Sadly the piece goes on to report “Boehner, who last month said he would resign the speakership after weeks of facing a near-certain revolt from conservatives frustrated by his handling of legislation and what they see as a lack of aggression in countering President Obama’s agenda, said he will “serve as speaker until the House votes to elect a new speaker.” The bench for the House GOP is sparse, emptied in recent years by the same forces that have vexed Boehner and McCarthy. Virginia’s Eric Cantor, then the majority leader and firmly in line to succeed Boehner, was defeated in a 2014 House primary by a conservative challenger, elevating McCarthy but gutting the leadership of the political capital that Cantor had accumulated. The committee chairmanships, long a grooming area for future leaders and the path Boehner took to the speakership, have been filled in places by youthful members such as Chaffetz, 48. And the leadership slots below Boehner and McCarthy – majority whip and chief deputy whip – are occupied by Steve Scalise (La.) and Patrick McHenry (N.C.), respectively. Both have served in the House for a decade or less and are inexperienced as national spokesmen — inside operatives but far from recognisable voices”.

The confusion seems to grow when the piece mentions “That left Republicans searching Thursday for new names to add to mix. King floated Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a respected former House GOP campaign chairman, as a person who could be a calming presence. Several conservatives suggested House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Tex.), a former leadership member who has strong relationships with the party’s conservative bloc. Others on the right said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which was wary of McCarthy, would best reflect the political drift and impulses of the House. But he told reporters that he is not interested”.

The problem grows worse when several senior Republicans have refused the speakership, “Another House Republican who drew interest was Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), who is chairing the House Select Committee delving into the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya. William Kristol, the editor of the conservative Weekly Standard, said in a Twitter message that Gowdy should be “interim speaker for next year,” days after Gowdy was called to run for the post by conservative groups who have cheered his Benghazi investigation. But as the boomlet began, Gowdy said “no” when asked by reporters whether he would consider running. Scalise and McHenry, who had been running for lower leadership spots should McCarthy win the speakership, were encouraged to look higher up the chain of command. Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), who has been a front-line participant in the latest talks about the future of the GOP, also mulled his options”.

The piece adds that none of these names, bar Ryan, has the necessary qualities. Reports state that Boehner will have to remain until a replacement can be chosen, “Sensing that perhaps no one can ably navigate the terrain — or get the necessary votes, as required by the Constitution, to win the speakership in a floor vote — Rep. Greg Walden (Ore.), the National Republican Congressional Committee chairman, said he would consider running to be interim speaker as the House GOP worked out who could actually lead it in the months ahead. Tea-party groups weighed in, hoping to exert their own pull on the speaker’s race. Activist Mark Meckler said in a statement that the House GOP must end the “Washington cartel at a time when people are looking to outsiders to challenge the status quo.” Tea Party Patriots’ Jenny Beth Martin said this was a “historic moment” that demands a speaker with deep support with grass-roots conservatives”.

The article concludes “McCarthy, in an interview with National Review on Thursday, said whoever follows will have to grapple with a right flank of about 40 members that wants to direct the leadership, rather than being led. “I wouldn’t have enjoyed being speaker this way,” he said. On who he’d like to step forward, McCarthy said, “I personally want Paul Ryan.” On whether the House can be led, he said, “I don’t know. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom.” It was that feeling, expressed across the GOP base, which gave candidates like Webster — a backbencher who won just 12 votes in the vote for speaker earlier this year — some optimism as others scrambled to fill the vacuum left by McCarthy”.

“The Trump fantasy will fade at some point”

11/09/2015

In this the 4000th post an article from the Economist bursts the Trump bubble, “DONALD TRUMP is not going to be America’s next president. The vagaries of the electoral college notwithstanding, the next occupant of the Oval Office will be someone who wins a lion’s share of the 130m or so ballots cast in November next year. And though Mr Trump has spent weeks leading the field of Republicans with White House ambitions, no survey suggests that 60m Americans, or indeed anything like that number, are willing to vote for him”.

The report goes on to note that “The remarkable thing is not that Mr Trump is not going to be president, but that such a thing should even need saying. This spring it would have seemed self-evident. Mr Trump was then just a rich, oft-married businessman, reality-television star and controversialist. His name conjured up associations such as “arrogant” and “blowhard”—still the words that most readily spring to the minds of voters who are asked about him, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. But since he announced in June, after months of speculation, that he was going to seek the Republican nomination, his fortunes have changed. He has not only gained a lot of support—between a quarter and a third of Republican voters back him in recent polls—but he has also gained it from across the party. It is not just Tea Party folk and whites without a college education who like him; so do a lot of evangelical Christians, who might be expected to look askance, and many self-described moderates. And even those who do not support him see him more favourably than they did. In Iowa, which has an early voice in the process by which a candidate is selected, the number of Republicans who would “never” back Mr Trump fell from 58% in May to 29% in August”.

Correctly the piece notes that “Outspoken populists often disrupt the early stages of the Republican Party’s search for a candidate. In 1996 “Pitchfork Pat” Buchanan nearly won the Iowa caucuses and beat the eventual candidate, Bob Dole, in the New Hampshire primary. In 2012 a series of “anyone-but-Romney” candidates passed through the limelight. But such enthusiasms normally collapse as the party establishment imposes order and the insurgents reveal their flaws. Mr Trump has flaws aplenty, including a thin skin, short temper and a policy platform of bumper-sticker depth and subtlety”.

Importantly the writer adds “This time, though, things look different. Mr Trump is not fighting a single establishment champion, like Mr Dole or Mitt Romney, but a slate of politicians vying for that position. Because of loosened campaign-finance rules it will be much easier for deep-pocketed backers to keep chosen candidates afloat during this election season than it has been in the past, and this means that the field, which includes big-state governors, serving senators and the establishment’s supposed favourite, Jeb Bush, a former governor of Florida and the brother and son of presidents, may be winnowed out only slowly. In the meantime the focus remains on the self-funded Mr Trump. And nothing he says, no matter how outrageous, seems to alienate the voters who see him as a champion”.

Pointedly he argues that “Party grandees still hope that Mr Trump’s campaign will eventually stall or flame out. But they are beginning to accept that they cannot stop him on their own. He remains a long-shot for the nomination, but it is striking that prominent conservatives in Washington no longer dismiss the idea of a Trump candidacy out of hand. And even if it does not come to that, the Trump insurgency has already reopened wounds that party leaders do not know how to heal. Grassroots Republicans and the politicians they elect may be united in their loathing for Barack Obama and the Democrats. But many rank-and-file Republicans do not share the pro-trade, free-market ideology that dominates the party’s upper echelons and the ranks of those who routinely fund its operations. The grassroots also suspect that party leaders could have done much more to thwart Mr Obama, if they were not so cowardly or inept. Mr Trump did not invent those divisions, but he is exploiting them masterfully. And when he goes—if he goes—they will be wider than ever”.

The author writes that Trump “would deport all 11m foreigners living in America without legal papers (though he would try to let the “really good” ones back in quickly), and would end automatic citizenship for children born on American soil to immigrants without legal papers. This plays well with activists incensed that Mr Obama has used his presidential powers to shield millions of migrants from deportation in what they see as a tyrannical assault on the rule of law. It will do nothing to improve the dismal 27% of the Hispanic vote won by the Republican candidate in 2012. Often addressed to large crowds (his record to date, set in deeply conservative Alabama, has been put at 30,000), Mr Trump’s swaggering, ad-libbed speeches describe an America beset by simple problems. If working Americans can no longer find jobs for life in a factory, it is not because emerging markets or robots offer unprecedented competition. It is because the country is being betrayed by chump-like politicians who let ruthless foreign governments roll over them. Mexico is accused of sending its worst criminals to America. China only undercuts America because it cheats”.

The author notes that some of Trumps policies cross traditional GOP ground, he “takes a karaoke-club approach to politics, belting out crowd-pleasing hits from across the political field. His attacks on corporate bosses seeking cheap foreign labour at the expense of unemployed Americans would not sound out of place in a rustbelt trade-union hall. He charges hedge-fund bosses with paying too little tax thanks to loopholes that he would scrap, increasing their tax bills to fund tax cuts for middle-earners”.

It becomes even more interesting when the article reports that “On health care Mr Trump promises to repeal Obamacare, just as the chorus does. But in a televised debate which, on August 6th, delivered Fox News the largest audience in its history, he went on to praise Canada and Scotland for their state-funded health systems—another conservative heresy. Not that he is advocating anything along those lines, or indeed anything specific at all; he just says that he will replace Obamacare with “something terrific”. Mr Trump shows no sign of caring whether he qualifies as a conservative. He is very clear, though, that he does not want to be thought of as a politician. He says that big businesses and their lobbyists bend both parties to their will through corrupting donations”.

Worryingly he goes on to mention “It is a scorn his supporters share. Two-thirds of Republicans in Iowa told a recent Monmouth University poll that the country needs an outsider president, rather than someone with government experience. Add Mr Trump’s support to that of the two other contestants in the Republican field who have not held office, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, and Carly Fiorina, a former boss of Hewlett-Packard, a technology firm (see Lexington), and they account for more than 50% of the voters likely to make a choice in Iowa and New Hampshire. As befits an anti-politician, Mr Trump has poured particular scorn on Mr Bush. On August 31st his campaign released a video showing mugshots of Hispanic migrants accused of murder over a recording of Mr Bush saying that some migrants entered America illegally in an “act of love” for their families. “Forget love. It’s time to get tough,” the ad concluded”.

Crucially the author notes that “In the past generation, the number of Americans who call themselves consistently conservative or consistently liberal has doubled. Ideology and identity have coalesced, so that partisans do not just think alike about taxes or Iran, but live in the same neighbourhoods and have like-minded friends. Partisanship may yet curb Mr Trump’s rise. An awareness of this may be why Mr Trump’s tactics are becoming more conventional, and more conventionally right-wing. His campaign has started touching on themes from the late 1960s, another era of bitter politics and widespread disenchantment in Middle America”.

The piece ends “appeals to partisan purity may be surprisingly ineffective in peeling away those who admire Mr Trump. His fan-base is characterised not by the fidelity of its conservatism, but by the ferocity of its rage. Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, says he was shaken by a focus group he held on August 24th for two dozen self-declared Trump supporters. They included folk on the hard right but also ex-Obama voters. Unemployed Americans rubbed shoulders with the affluent. But the group had three things in common, says Mr Luntz. They are “mad as hell” about the state of America. Mr Trump speaks their language. And they do not care what anyone else says about him. On August 28th Mr Trump visited the Boston suburb of Norwood for a rally at the home of Ernie Boch, a wealthy car dealer. It was not an obvious stop for a Republican in primary season; Massachusetts last voted for a Republican presidential candidate when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Several in the throng said that they rarely vote Republican. But they roared at Mr Trump’s jokes, cheered as he condemned Mr Obama’s recent deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions and applauded his grumbling about America’s “third world” airports and crumbling roads”.

The report concludes “If Republican leaders do not know how to stop Mr Trump it is partly their own fault. Theirs is a smaller-government, pro-business party that wins elections by posing as an anti-government insurgency. Now they are facing the consequences: millions of voters dazzled by a showman who presents the next election as a hostile takeover, offering to turn America around with his dealmaking brilliance as if Congress, the Supreme Court and limits to presidential power are mere details to be negotiated. The Trump fantasy will fade at some point. It has already revealed a democracy in real trouble”.

Sanders as frontrunner?

09/09/2015

An article from the Hill argues that Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is now the frontrunner, “In 2008, Hillary Clinton lost the Democratic nomination to then-Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). In 2015, another senator is giving the Clinton campaign a headache; however, this election cycle has an additional cast of characters that normally isn’t a part of any presidential rivalry. Because of a federal judge, the FBI and Justice Department investigations, and an energized base of progressive voters throughout the nation voting for Sanders, it’s evident Clinton has lost her status as the leading presidential candidate for Democrats”.

The report goes on to make the point that Sanders has passed Clinton in the polls, “Sanders formally announced his run for the presidency on May 26, 2015. Since then, Clinton’s lead in nationwide polls has dwindled. This paradigm shift has been fueled primarily because of scandals, Clinton’s inability to answer questions in a forthright manner, and the energy exhibited by Sanders’s supporters. Furthermore, CNN cites a recent Franklin Pierce University/Boston Heraldpoll that reports Sanders ahead of Clinton in New Hampshire. Even when acknowledging that Clinton still leads Sanders in various other polls, CNN writes that “polling has also shown Clinton’s vulnerabilities as voters question her honesty and trustworthiness.” Echoing CNN, Quinnipiac University issued a report in July titled “Clinton In Trouble In Colorado, Iowa, Virginia, Quinnipiac University Swing State Poll Finds.” This Quinnipiac poll explains that Sanders now performs as well, or even better than Clinton”.

The report goes on to make the point that “Clinton’s numbers have dropped among voters in the key swing states of Colorado, Iowa and Virginia. She has lost ground in the horserace and on key questions about her honesty and leadership,’ said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. True, there is a poll among Democrats where Clinton still has a wide lead, however, this poll doesn’t ask voters about “honesty.” Whenever a poll is narrowed down to issues like trustworthiness, then data from Quinnipiac University’s Swing State Poll and CNN’s findings illustrate that voters in swing states (Democrats can’t win the White House without winning a majority of swing states) simply do not trust Clinton”.

Interestingly the piece goes onto mention that “The Hill’s Brent Budowsky, in his Contributors piece titled “Sanders beats trump by 20 plus points,”explains that Sanders is just as competitive as Clinton against GOP competition: The fact that Sanders beats Walker by six to seven points, depending on whether all voters or likely voters are counted — a near-landslide margin in a general election — makes it clear that the Sanders surge is more than a surge against Donald Trump, but move that makes him competitive with all Republican candidates”.

Pointedly he goes on to mention “Budowsky also dispels the myth that Sanders is unelectable or too extreme, explaining that “giving free college tuition at public universities paid for by a transaction tax on Wall Street firms, and Medicare-for-all healthcare are all popular positions that Democrats should adopt in one form or another.” The fact that Sanders doesn’t need to convince voters to trust him, whereas Clinton continues to battle against FBI investigations of her emails, is yet another Bernie Sanders is rising in the polls”.

The writes continues “It’s important to remember as well that the Iowa caucus is on Feb. 1, 2016. The Sanders campaign is literally just getting started in terms of mainstream media attention and nationwide organization. In contrast, the Clinton campaign is going in the opposite direction, due to the FBI’s confiscation of her email server, and the inability to answer why she had this server in the first place. The disparity between both campaigns could be much wider by February of next year, primarily because Sanders doesn’t have scandals to defend against and can simply focus entirely on campaigning”.

The second point he notes is that Clinton has problems with the FBI “According to the Wall Street Journal, U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan is now part of the ongoing controversy: The judge ordered the State Department to request the FBI alert the department about “any information recovered from Mrs. Clinton’s server and the related thumb drive” that is potentially relevant to the FOIA case and not already in the State Department’s possession”.

The final reason he says that Sanders is the lead candidate is that “questions about security will continue to plague the Clinton campaign. In addition, new information has surfaced indicating that some of Clinton’s emails were classified from the start, not retroactively. A recent Reuters article explains why the Clinton campaign can’t hide behind the notion that Clinton never knew certain emails were classified: The new stamps indicate that some of Clinton’s emails from her time as the nation’s most senior diplomat are filled with a type of information the U.S. government and the department’s own regulations automatically deems classified from the get-go — regardless of whether it is already marked that way or not. In the small fraction of emails made public so far, Reuters has found at least 30 email threads from 2009, representing scores of individual emails, that include what the State Department’s own “Classified” stamps now identify as so-called “foreign government information.” Therefore, if information was always classified, or “born classified,” then there’s no defense for keeping such data on a private server without the protection of government security. This fact alone could lead to numerous issues that eventually undermine Clinton’s chances in 2016″.

He ends “Democrats, and the country, can’t enter the voting booth 441 days from now with the FBI investigating emails and private servers. This fact, along with the millions of Sanders voters around the country filling arenas to hear the senator speak, are reasons why Sanders is the true Democratic front-runner. Over 100,000 people have attended his events thus far, and it’s safe to say that such enthusiasm and energy will continue to grow until Election Day. Democrats in Congress might not admit it at the moment, and Clinton supporters might still believe the email controversy is fabricated, but only one Democrat in 2016 can win the presidency. His name is Bernie Sanders, and the longer Hillary Clinton’s email scandal persists, the more Sanders becomes the only hope Democrats have of winning the White House”.

Clinton, the progressive with power

23/07/2015

A piece from the Economist discusses the campaign of Hillary Clinton, “HILLARY CLINTON is a fighter. In a very long speech at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park in New York City, where she officially re-launched her presidential campaign this weekend, she declared that she is here to fight. She is ready for battle in “four fights” in particular. There is the fight “to make the economy work for everyday Americans”; the fight “to strengthen America’s families”; and the fight to “maintain [America’s] leadership for peace, security, and prosperity”. Last, but not least, she will join the fight for “reforming our government and revitalising our democracy.” At an abstract level, this is all rather unobjectionable. But who, exactly, is Mrs Clinton fighting against? It’s not America’s external enemies she’s itching to take on. She’s not in a lather about the Islamic State. It’s the Grand Old Party she’s got a beef against, and if you’re inclined to support it, Mrs Clinton has it in for you, too”.

This summation is a tad unfair. The GOP have been consistently responsible for the many, though obviously not all of the problems in modern America, from their obsession of cutting taxes to higher rates of poverty and reduced social mobility to shutting down the government they have helped bring America to where it is today.

The piece goes on to mention “Mrs Clinton’s combative partisanship is a far cry from Barack Obama’s promises to heal the divisions of a fundamentally united nation through edifying speeches and determinedly cooperative leadership. Mr Obama cast himself as a sort of King Solomon, capable of sagely arbitrating the disputes of rival factions from a position of lofty moral as well as political authority. But it didn’t work out as Mr Obama, or his supporters, had hoped. His great achievement, the passage of Obamacare, was the result of a brute-force party-line vote. Subsequent attempts at Solomonic negotiation were repeatedly foiled by the dogged partisan unity of congressional Republicans. Mrs Clinton has advertised her disinclination to reach across the aisle only to have her hand slapped away. Her model of leadership is more General Patton than Solomon. Mrs Clinton does not promise progress through reconciliation, but Democratic victory over the forces of Republican darkness with a combination of superior strategy and force”.

This strategy could be a refreshing change from the naivety of the early Obama years where he was either stupid enough or arrogant enough to believe that he could heal the profound and in some cases, natural ideological divisions within American society. While Clinton’s approach appears, at this moment, to be more brawn it may in the end lead to more compromise with the GOP recognising her as a more serious political operator not to be ignored.

As the report adds “Mrs Clinton promises a Democratic party exhausted by Republican intransigence something much different, and much desired: victory. To Democrats fed up with congressional obstruction, and Mr Obama’s failure to blow past it, this is a most appealing message. And it’s a savvy move, too, converting Mrs Clinton’s lack of charm, and her reputation for shady dealings, into assets. She’s not here to make you like her. She’s here to make sure that you get what you’d like—if you’re a Democrat. ‘A vote for me isn’t a vote for ‘unity”, writes David Frum in the Atlantic, perceptively drawing out the subtext of Mrs Clinton’s speech. ‘It’s a vote to claim a larger piece of the nation’s dwindling resources from people you don’t like and who don’t like you. In an age of increasing partisan polarisation, Mrs Clinton’s openly hostile message verges on a refreshing frankness about the nature of politics”.

The report adds that “Voters also like to be assured that they’re doing the right thing by supporting policies which, incidentally, happen to feather their nests. Take, for instance, Mrs Clinton’s proposals to ‘make it easier for every citizen to vote’ through ‘universal, automatic registration and expanded early voting’. This is presented mainly as a defence of the ideals of democracy, not as a way of making it easier for Democrats to win elections. But she won’t mind too much if you happen to see the big picture”.

If this plan were implemented it would be a temporary loss for the GOP, yet it would also be a challenge to them. They would have to propose policies that would woo these newly enfranchised voters away from the Democrats to the GOP. This would be better both for the GOP and in the end, as Clinton says, democracy.

The report adds “To understand the particular combination of pugnacity and idealism in Mrs Clinton’s announcement speech, it is necessary to understand how the rising influence and confidence of the progressive left is reshaping both the rhetoric and moral worldview of the Democratic Party. The 1990s ‘new liberalism’ of Bill Clinton, a former president and Mrs Clinton’s husband, was a Democratic version of the sunny view, normally associated with the right, that a rising tide raises all boats. The displacement of Bill Clintonian ‘liberalism’ by ‘progressivism’ brought about by the financial crisis and increasing inequality has led to a decline on the left of harmonious ideals of in-it-together mutual benefit. In is place is a combative, zero-sum conception of politics that combines the lofty rhetoric of social and economic justice with a disenchanted view of democracy as smashmouth sectarian conflict. Mrs Clinton is ably capitalising on this development”.

Interestingly the article goes on to note that “Although the populist progressivism touted by such figures as Elizabeth Warren may seem to present a challenge to the relatively conservative Mrs Clinton, it has actually handed her a very powerful weapon. Progressives wax idealistic about democracy, but their implicit notion of practical politics is class war by electoral means. This allows the powerful Mrs Clinton to position herself as her party’s only real hope, while lending moral dignity to otherwise baldly transactional promises to her party’s constituencies. If politics is war, then Democratic success in national politics requires a battle-tested leader mighty enough to vanquish the amassed forces of plutocracy and right-wing reaction. Bernie Sanders, a professorial Vermont senator and, so far, Mrs Clinton’s most significant left-wing challenger, may be able to state the problems, and articulate attractively progressive answers. But he cannot be the progressive answer. What can sweet Bernie Sanders do to the Koch brothers? Throw spare copies of “Manufacturing Consent” at them? Progressivism in both its moderate and extreme versions implies the need for a leader who is a heavyweight slugger, willing to fight at least a little dirty”.

It concludes “This is why, as long as progressivism is ascendant within the Democratic party, Mrs Clinton need not fear a progressive insurgency. In announcing her candidacy by picking fights in terms appealing to progressives, Mrs Clinton has reminded her party that, even if she’s not the progressive hero they might want, she alone has the knockout power they need”.

Jeb the moderate?

19/07/2015

An article from the Economist examines the changing demographic situation in America and how it will impact the GOP candidates for the White House, “HYPHENATED America, a fast-growing country of fluid, overlapping and proudly worn identities, makes lots of conservatives uneasy. Jeb Bush, the former Republican governor of Florida, is so comfortable in this new America that on June 15th he launched his bid for the White House there. Serenaded by Cuban musicians and flanked by his Mexican-born wife, Mr Bush announced his candidacy in a gymnasium at Miami Dade College, a diverse, no-frills academy offering mostly technical and vocational degrees to 165,000 students”.

The piece goes on to report that “Fans at the Miami rally had no problem deciphering this coded talk. Sam Guan, a Chinese-American who brought 200 supporters and a banner reading: “It’s the right time to be RIGHT! Asian-Americans for Jeb”, praised Mr Bush for working to improve schools in Florida and for supporting “compassionate” immigration policies. Ricardo Arana, a 20-year-old student and self-declared independent, approvingly called the former governor “a bit more moderate” than his Republican rivals”.

However, the author rightly points out some of the holes in the narrative presented by Bush, “Lots of Republicans call Mr Bush a moderate, though the historical record is more complicated. Mr Bush mostly governed as a conventional conservative, whether curbing access to abortion, granting new rights to gun-owners or exposing public schools to more competition. Where he breaks with more doctrinaire rivals is on questions of tone. He is, for instance, willing to call government a force for good when it gets a “few big things right”, such as raising standards in education. His launch was filled with tales of how he had expanded state assistance for the most vulnerable Floridians, such as disabled children. There are echoes of the compassionate conservatism that carried his brother, George W. Bush, to the presidency in 2000. On one big question, immigration, Jeb Bush is an outlier in the 2016 field: one of the few Republicans willing to call for a pathway to legal status for the millions living in America without the right papers”.

The strategy persued by Bush is a gamble in a party that endlessly seeks ideological purity, “Plenty of grassroots activists single out Mr Bush as one candidate they cannot abide. This was true in spades at a campaign rally in Iowa earlier this month, hosted by that state’s newest senator, Joni Ernst, crafted as a triple tribute to military veterans, Harley-Davidson motorcycles and barbecued pork, and billed as “Joni’s Roast and Ride”. Many spectators simply growled that they do not consider Mr Bush a conservative at all. Often this is a judgment on specific policies, such as immigration and Mr Bush’s support for Common Core, a set of education standards that many on the right consider a plot by federal bureaucrats to indoctrinate America’s children. But listen carefully and another divide separates Mr Bush from many rivals. Most other Republicans with White House ambitions do not sound like politicians speaking to the America of the 21st century. Instead, they pander to voters whose beliefs and assumptions were shaped in a previous age”.

The writer adds that “Bush skipped the Roast and Ride. Seven other presidential hopefuls turned up, offering tributes to conservative culture that at times verged on performance art. Rick Perry, a former governor of Texas, rode to the barbecue on a Harley belonging to a disabled war hero, accompanied by decorated ex-Navy SEALs, to raise funds for a charity that gives puppies to military veterans. Most of the seven offered laments for a country led astray by Barack Obama and Democrats who, in their telling, do not truly believe in American exceptionalism. Mr Perry assured Iowans that a few good policies and a change of leadership could bring an extraordinary country roaring back. The best-received speech, from Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, accused Democrats of fostering dependence on government, and so betraying the American Dream. America’s rare strength, Mr Walker said, is that as long as folk are willing to work hard, it doesn’t matter what class they were born into, or what their parents did for a living. This was a worryingly complacent statement, ignoring overwhelming evidence that American social mobility has stalled, presenting thoughtful politicians of left and right with a challenge that they cannot duck. The crowd, older and whiter than the national average (as is Iowa), applauded anyway”.

He ends the piece, “One candidate at the Roast and Ride, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, broke with the mood of glib nostalgia. “I love the 20th century, I was born in the 20th century,” he told the crowd—but now is a new century, with an economy transformed by such forces as globalisation and automation, eliminating jobs that once sustained middle-class lives. Mr Rubio, a young Cuban-American from Miami and a Jeb Bush protégé, wants Republicans to be the party that stands for the future, with education and tax policies to fit Americans for a competitive new world”.

It concludes “No candidate has a lock on the Republican presidential contest, and certainly not Mr Bush, who is merely one of a top tier that also includes Mr Walker and Mr Rubio. But a divide is emerging among the crowded field. Too many contenders have messages wistful for a lost past. Only a few sound excited about a changing America. Their party should heed them”.