» World ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Here’s something interesting I noticed on Twitter earlier today:


It appears to come from a ComRes poll testing support for Green Party policies while doing some other polling on the party for ITV news. However, from what I can see, this is a poll based on the general voting population, not Green Party supporters or any other subset, but I’ll need to wait until the full data is on ComRes’s site to confirm that.

However, for those of us who are supporters of basic income, it’s a very interesting statistic, especially as there are only 40% opposed to the idea (a further 23% are of no opinion, making the breakdown of those who expressed an opinion something like 47% in favour to 53% against). What it shows, I think, is that there is a substantial amount of people out there who are amenable to the idea of a basic income, and that it can be a policy that could get widespread support for a party that proposed it. (I’m looking here at my fellow Liberal Democrats For Basic Income)

I’ll write some more on this when I’ve seen some more of the data behind it, but it is worth noting that the question is phrased in a very positive way for basic income, by mentioning actual cash rather than keeping it theoretical. However, that’s also a lesson to those of us who support it about how important it is to get the messaging right when promoting the idea. If only we had a basic income-supporting version of Lord Ashcroft who’d fund a series of survey questions on the issue…

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By adding this picture, this post is now 32.9% more patriotic than it was before.

By adding this picture, this post is now 32.9% more patriotic than it was before.

Your starter for 10: Look at the following proposal.

Publicly-funded infrastructure projects – including roads, flood defences and broadband cabinets – will be branded with a Union Jack plaque.

Is this:
A) Something a UKIP MEP pledged to their conference when he lost his notes and had to make up a policy on the spot?
B) Actual Government policy, cooked up by Danny Alexander and Francis Maude, to ensure that neither party in the coalition can distance themselves from the stench of stupid?
C) A Labour party proposal, launched by a grinning Tristram Hunt and Chuka Umunna holding a massive flag?
D) A rejected plot from The Thick Of It, where Nicola finally snaps at Olly for proposing a policy of pure unadulterated ridiculousness?

The correct answer is actually and depressingly B, and Danny Alexander and Francis Maude will be launching the policy today. According to Alexander, the flags will be attached to everything from “roads in Cornwall to broadband in Caithness”, both examples that make you ask ‘how?’ Will there be a plaque every few hundred metres on the road, just to remind you, and just how do you attach a plaque to broadband? Meanwhile, Maude predictably trumpets this as part of the ‘long term economic plan’, which conjures up an image of a future where unemployment will be solved by employing millions in designing, making and affixing flag plaques to things.

Rejoice, citizens, and form an orderly queue at your local Office of Flag Attachment to receive your complimentary (and compulsory) full face flag tattoo to mark the taxpayer’s contribution to making you the person you are today.

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One thing that surprised me when I first lived in the US, and continues to stand out as an oddity to me is the election of judges. It confuses John Oliver too, leading to this segment on Last Week Tonight:

For me, it’s a great example of an idea I’ve talked about often, that democracy is not just about having elections, and having more elections doesn’t automatically make things more democratic. Democracy is an ongoing process, not a single event, and that process needs lots of different parts to work together to ensure it succeeds.

Electing judges is a pretty extreme example (from the land of extreme examples) but it does get to the point that judges and politicians have different roles within the democratic process, and electing judges starts to confuse the roles. Roy Moore, the Alabama judge at the start of that LWT item, has run for several political roles while serving as a judge, and that sort of confusion between the judicial and the political is common in US politics.

The point is not to say that judges should be free from and challenge or oversight, but that within a democracy not every post needs to be appointed in the same way. Every post in a democracy is appointed in some way, the question is who does that appointment and how – elections are perhaps the most obvious way of doing it, but that doesn’t make them the best or most appropriate in all circumstances.

We’ve seen it in Britain with Police and Crime Commissioners who were brought in to supposedly make accountability of the police more democratic than the existing system of Police Authorities because direct election, rather than appointment through other elected bodies was seen as ‘more democratic’. What we’ve ended up with, however, isn’t any better scutiny or accountability of the police, but a network of what appear to be very well paid spokespeople for the police, who now get brought out instead of the chief constable when the media need someone for a comment.

Democracy is a complex process, and not one that’s easily solved by simply electing everyone and hoping for the best. Sadly, that’s the message we keep getting sold, where an elected mayor trumps a complete lack of democratic accountability. We’re not likely to be electing judges here, but we need to keep making the arguments for real democracy.

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Would it have been terrible to wait until 2012 for this election?

Would it have been terrible to wait until 2012 for this election?

After my ‘what if Nick Clegg loses his seat?‘ post the other day, I was thinking more about the various party leaderships after the election, given that regardless of how well they do in their constituencies, at least one of Cameron, Clegg and Miliband will be out of a job as party leader after it.

Defeated leaders quitting after elections is something that’s become an entirely natural and regular part of British politics. The last time a leader of one of the big two parties didn’t step down after an election defeat was Neil Kinnock in 1987, and the post-election resignation speech has become a ritual of the political landscape. It also means that the post-election environment usually has a party leadership campaign running through it, regardless of whether that’s the best time to have it.

The rush to get things done and not leave a vacuum is common throughout British politics, of course – for instance, look at how quickly we formed a coalition compared to most other countries that have required coalition talks. The same applies to parties – the idea that a party could go for a while without a permanent leader being in place is not even considered, even if at times it might be the best way for a party to proceed.

Although I’m sure this will fall on stony ground, I want to propose that whichever party or parties end up leaderless after the next election doesn’t immediately rush into a full leadership election, but considers appointing someone as an interim leader for a period, so they can have a proper consideration of the future direction of their party and what they need in a leader. We have a system now where we know when the next election is going to happen, and I’m not convinced that the leader of any party necessarily needs the full five years to get themselves in position for it.

What I would suggest instead is that the party decide on how they’re going to appoint an interim leader, who’ll be in place for something like eighteen months with a remit to steady the ship and get the party ready to have a proper debate as part of a leadership contest, not just a rush to appoint whoever is the flavour of the month at the time of the election campaign. How they appoint someone as interim leader is up to them, but we’ve seen how party leadership election rules can be gamed by MPs ensuring only one person gets nominated, so it shouldn’t be that hard. I’d also expect that any interim leader would likely be some kind of senior and experienced figure, unlikely to take part in the actual leadership election.

There are similar systems used in other countries, be it explicit interim leaders in Canadian politics or the routine of not choosing the lead opposition candidate until relatively close to the election as happens in many European countries. It gives parties a chance to pause and take a breath before plunging straight into the long run-up to the next election campaign, as well as waiting to see how the political culture is closer to the coming election rather than making important decisions still in the shadow of the last one.

We’ve had some leaders who turned out to be interim leaders while the party sorted itself out – Ming Campbell and Iain Duncan Smith spring readily to mind – so perhaps its time someone did it officially? Maybe we’d all be better off if our political parties weren’t rushing to decide their future when they haven’t yet worked out their present.

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less_memory_4The legions of the Decent Left are on manoeuvres again. Armchair Generals Denis MacShane and Nick Cohen have both been criticising the Government for its lack of moral fibre foreign policy involvement. It’s pretty much Decent Left boilerplate bloviating, all assuming that what the world really needs is Britain throwing its weight around and the only people who can truly understand and advocate for this great cause are members of the Eustonite media-political complex.

What is interesting in these columns is the complete inability of both MacShane and Cohen to understand why a British government of any colour might be understandably reticent at telling the world ‘no, this is how you do foreign policy’. There’s a case sometimes for obfuscating about the effects of your previous advice, but this is simply ignoring it and pretending that the Blair years and their foreign policy never happened. (There’s no mention of ‘Iraq’ in either column, probably unsurprisingly) If you’re purporting to give advice, it’s usually best to begin by addressing the world you’re in, not the world you wish you were in. Foreign policy doesn’t take place in a vacuum, and Britain’s previous actions have an effect on its diplomatic strength.

But then, this complete ignorance of the past appears to have struck MacShane to such an effect he can’t remember important events in his own life and career, let alone military and diplomatic history. How else can you explain him writing the following with a (presumably) straight face?

Despite the UK’s excellent think-tanks on foreign policy from the venerable Chatham House to the newer European Council on Foreign Relations and Centre for European Reform fewer and fewer MPs of any party show an interest and very rarely attend foreign policy seminars and conferences.

Surely MacShane can recall very good reasons from his career why MPs might be somewhat reticent about going to foreign policy seminars and conferences? Yet again, that mistakes might have been made in the past are completely ignored, which leads to a bizarre vision of the present unhitched from any context or consequence.

So, the media offensive has been attempted, but by refusing to recognise the circumstances it’s taking place in, it’s not likely to have much chance of achieving its aims. Which, fittingly, is pretty much the same as the wars Cohen, MacShane et al advocated turned out too.

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A couple of snippets from the Sundays to help you understand how British politics works today:

First, the Telegraph is very eager to tell us that Liz Kendall has suddenly emerged as the favourite for a Labour leadership race that may or may not be taking place at some unspecified point in the future. How has she achieved this impressive, yet somewhat nebulous, feat? Some mass mobilisation of Labour members? A series of impressive performances in the House of Commons? Perhaps she’s set out some important new ideas for the future of the Labour Party? Maybe it’s through a long period of helping and campaigning other MPs?

No, it’s because ‘she gave an interview to House magazine saying that for the NHS “What matters is what works”’. Yes, reusing some old bit of Blairite managerialist pabulum – what matters is ‘what works’, ignoring that ‘what works’ is determined by whoever decides what ‘working’ means – is enough to catapult you into the lead. It’s definitely not that she’s stressed the importance of private healthcare in the NHS while her old boss works for Alliance Boots at the same time its chairman is attacking Ed Miliband. What would the Telegraph have to gain by promoting someone who’d push Labour back towards the managerialist centre?

Meanwhile, over at the Independent, John Rentoul’s remarkable career as a political commentator who doesn’t understand the concept of ideology continues apace. Today, he’s setting out just why the country needs a Labour government, but headed by David Cameron. It’s the sort of centrist managerialist fantasy one would expect from an arch-Blairite, yet again stressing that what is important in a politician isn’t believing in something but being possessed of some nebulous form of ‘competence’. Like ‘what works’, ‘competence’ is purely in the eye of the beholder, and the beholder is normally a well-paid newspaper columnist or editor assessing who they’ve been told good things about.

(Incidentally, although I’ve said I don’t think a grand coalition is likely after the next election, the number of times I’ve seen people in the press suggesting it does make me wonder if the ground is being prepared for one, just in case it turns out to be necessary)

What both these articles represent, though, is the cosy consensuses that dominate British politics. Stick firmly within the lines of what’s acceptable within the elite consensus and you’ll be praised to the skies for your competence and put forward as possible leadership material. Question it, or stray outside the mainstream consensus for just a little bit and you’ll be a maverick on the fringes, and you definitely won’t get the media singing your praises. It’s a lot easier for everyone in the elite consensus if politics is just a matter of deciding between competing managerial visions without letting any of that horrible ideology getting there. It’s why the memory of Blairism lingers so much amongst the commentariat: things were easier then when all you had to worry about was ‘what works’ not what anyone might actually want.

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Today’s trivia question: which British politician said this

“Every major statesman needs the wilderness years. Nelson Mandela had them and I suppose that’s my lot, too, so I’m ruling nothing out at this stage.”

You can find the answer here or in the tags to this post.

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