2015 General Election Day 6: #nicolasturgeonsfault

Except for viewers in Scotland

Except for viewers in Scotland

This was meant to be a relatively quiet period in the campaign, wasn’t it? Thanks to Nicola Sturgeon doing moderately well in the leaders’ debate on Thursday, it seems the right-wing press have gone back to their 2010 election manuals and begun monstering her the same way they did with Nick Clegg. This time around, it seems that the whole thing hasn’t yet launched #nicolasturgeonsfault into the forefront of Twitter’s global trending topics, but the advances in social media have meant that a whole story was rebutted and the reporters were on the back foot trying to defend it before the paper itself had even published.

Of course, there weren’t legions of cybernats in 2010 either, so there wasn’t anyone there to attribute the whole thing to an MI5 plot and as proof of the establishment’s desire to crush the dreams of an independent Scotland. In that spirit, I would therefore point out that the obvious beneficiaries of this are the purely Scottish newspapers, as it will likely drive down sales of the Telegraph north of the border. Yes, instigating a potentially international crisis in order to drive newspaper sales is the stuff of a more ridiculous Bond movie, but I’m pretty sure I could get at least one of the papers to believe that the SNP want rid of Trident to give them a base in which to store Alex Salmond’s stealth boat. Then again, we’ve yet to hear the sages of English High Toryism weigh in on this yet, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Simon Heffer blaming it on a Scottish-French plot, meaning England must be prepared to defend itself from a revival of the Auld Alliance.

More seriously, a lot of people are wondering who benefits from this story, and the more general attacks on Sturgeon and the SNP, but I think it shouldn’t be looked at on its own. The Tories are trying to spread a message – it’s in a lot of their leaflets, and David Cameron uses it the phrase almost as often as ‘long term economic plan’ – that the only alternative to single party rule is a ‘coalition of chaos’. Anything that gets people confused about just what one of the other parties wants or might do is, in this view, good for the Tories. It’s also why they won’t talk about any of their own potential coalition partners, because they want to distance themselves as far as possible from any coalition talk. We can expect a lot more of this over the next few weeks, and we haven’t even got to the rerun of 2010’s ‘a hung Parliament would be a disaster’ theme yet. There’ll likely be another concerted attack on the Greens at some point soon, followed by a ton of hyperbole about the vast ideological chasms that divide Liberal Democrats and how Vince Cable and Tim Farron will undermine any future coalition with the Tories. By the last week of the campaign, we’ll likely be back to the ‘vote Tory, or the country gets it‘ messaging they were using last time.

One other thought that comes from this is that we were to get a Tory majority, we’d be treated to the spectacle of David Cameron attempting to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the EU against a background of an increasingly unhinged and Europhobic right-wing press. Cameron himself has shown he has no problems with insulting those he would hope to negotiate with, but given that the press is now being used to leak details of private meetings with ambassadors, what could we expect to see while he’s trying to negotiate with other countries? Trying to do something as complex as renegotiating EU membership is going to be a complex process, and doing it against a cacophonous soundtrack of Johnny Foreigner bashing orchestrated by press barons who would be quite happy to see a British EU exit would add even more complexity to it. To be honest, it feels like a surefire recipe for absolute chaos and something certain to derail any long term economic plan in a short-term mess of bickering and xenophobia.

So, having thought I’d be short of material for the weekend, I can boot writing about the Why Vote books to tomorrow, but rest assured that the one I’ve already finished has given me plenty of material. If you want to read about ill-though-out policy proposals in the meantime, may I direct you to the post I wrote this morning?

And finally, two of the more amusing bits of election news of the day. First, George Galloway managed to get into a spat on Twitter with a brewery after he took offense to a fairly innocuous message from them. Unfortunately, Courage is already trademarked by another brewery, but I would hope that we can all soon get to sample their Strength and Indefatigability ales alongside it.

Alongside that, we learn of another UKIP candidate standing down close to the election. For once, this isn’t because he’s done or said anything wrong, but because he’s got a new job. Congratulations to him, and let’s all wish him well and hope there’s no version of UKIP in the country he’s going to work in who’ll accuse him of taking a job from a citizen of that country.

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Worth Reading 157: Carthago Delenda Est

What ISIS Really Wants – Long but very good piece about the history, ideology and theology of the Islamic State.
The national interest demands it, let’s ban golf courses – If you think solar farms are a waste of productive land, why do you not protest about an even bigger waste?
The Austerity Con – A good explainer of the situation by Simon Wren-Lewis in the LRB.
How I became an erratic Marxist – Having just been writing an essay on Marx for my MA, I found this piece by Yanis Varoufakis fascinating, but I think it’ll be of general interest too.
Two Polarities of Anti-Politics: why trying to be friends with both Ukip and Green supporters won’t work for the mainstream parties – Interesting research from Southampton University on what drives support for UKIP and the Greens.

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Carswell starts the UKIP faction fight early

When I wrote yesterday that UKIP’s future looks to feature a big fight between its various factions, I hadn’t expected it to start in earnest until after the election. Even with a lot of underlying tensions visible in the current battles over candidate selection, I had assumed that the prospect of electoral success would paper over the cracks in the short term but Douglas Carswell appears to have decided not to wait. (That’s a Daily Mail link, just so you’re warned)

Carswell’s going over some old ground here, as it’s close to the message of his victory speech after the Clacton by-election. It’s pretty much the credo of the libertarian wing of the party (the second wave of Alex Harrowell’s three UKIPs) and it’s interesting that Carswell feels that now is the time to restate that. Amidst all the speculation about who might be UKIP#s candidate in which seat, and which seats they might win, Carswell holding Clacton appears to be something everyone is assuming. Given that relative security, is he taking the opportunity to play a longer game?

The problem for Carswell is that libertarianism is still about as popular now as it was when the first wave of libertarians started trying to ally themselves with UKIP, and I think we can safely assume – given what we’ve seen of them – that their latest wave of recruits aren’t teeming with libertarians. However, there are a number of people who want a libertarian UKIP amongst wealthy donors and the right-wing commentariat. Yet again, we’re back to the interesting effects of the UKIP leadership electoral system. To make Carswell leader, they don’t need 50% of the party to support him, just one vote more than the rest of them get. By building up his profile now and trying to drag a few more libertarians into the fold (and I think we can assume Carswell’s leadership campaign, when it happens, will be pretty well funded), he becomes a much more credible candidate. He can afford to take the time now to raise his profile, and hope it pays off when the time comes.

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This post from Alex Harrowell on the travails of UKIP candidate selection and this post on Conservative Home about the five different types of UKIPper (itself a variation on Alex’s ‘Three UKIPs’ idea) got me thinking before Christmas, and for once those thoughts remain coherent after it.

Whether you think there are three, five, seven or ninety-five of them, it’s clear that UKIP does now have a set of factions within it, even if none of them are formally organised. That’s not unusual for a party of its size and is perhaps inevitable for a party with rapid growth and an image that’s defined more by what it’s against than what it’s for. Being anti-EU or anti-immigration doesn’t come with a coherent set of other policy preferences and so people joining UKIP are quite likely to have other opinions that spread across the political spectrum.

This isn’t something that’s unique to UKIP, of course. Most growing and developing parties, especially those resting on issues outside of the normal left-right divide, have to go through a process of determining ‘but what are we for?’ at some point within their existence. One prominent example is the debate between the ‘Realo’ and ‘Fundi’ wings of the German Greens after their first electoral breakthroughs, which was mirrored in the debate over the Green 2000 proposals in the British Greens.

At some point, UKIP is going to have to go through their version of that fight. There’s signs that it might have kicked off in a small way already with the current fights going on in the party over candidate selection for the General Election, but the party has an advantage in that it has a leader who isn’t strongly tied to any faction. In terms of party organisation, Farage’s ability to say what his audience wants to hear and to not commit too strongly to any positive policy means that all the factions, however nascent they may be, think he’s one of them.

There’s an idea put forward in the academic literature on party leadership (see Stark or Quinn, for instance) that’s relevant here – the first thing a potential party leader must be able to do to win the leadership is to be able to unify the party. While others might seem more acceptable in policy terms or electability, the key to becoming a leader is to be able to appeal to (and lead) all the sections of the party, not one.

The big question for UKIP is what happens if and when Farage decides (again) that he doesn’t want to be leader any more? Two interesting factors come into play: first, there doesn’t appear to be anyone else in the party who can unify them in the way Farage does, and second, the way the party elects its leaders doesn’t do anything to encourage a unifier. Where most parties use some form of preference voting in their leadership elections (even the Tories have an exhaustive ballot of MPs) to ensure the winner has to be able to get majority support, UKIP’s leadership elections are first past the post, where the winner merely needs a plurality of support. What that means is that to become UKIP leader when there’s a vacancy, you don’t need to appeal to the majority of the party. Instead, you just need to get the support of the largest minority in the party and hope that the rest of the factions remain divided. In a party where no one’s quite sure of the relative sizes and strengths of the factions, what we could see is a very vicious battle for dominance.

It actually puts Farage into a strong position, as he can use the ‘apres moi, la deluge’ argument to see off any challenges and threats to his leadership, but if he chooses to go, we may well find that UKIP can keep entertaining us in new ways.

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Worth Reading 146: The end of Carthage

A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA – Be warned, this story does describe some pretty horrible incidents, but it’s worth reading for the exposure of how rape culture is permitted by institutional power.
On Countering The UKIP Cri-De-Colon – “if you’re not prepared to defend what are supposedly your defining principles for fear of losing just one election, you might as well pack up the whole party and leave politics to the bigots.”
“Immigration” is not “immigrant” – Andrew Hickey on why pandering to bigots isn’t even addressing the root cause of their complaints.
The Disappearing Sea – How the Aral Sea dried up, and what it left behind.
They refused to fight – A great piece by Jim Jepps on the experience of conscientious objectors during the First World War.

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Worth Reading 141: Hide this number

An election that UKIP should have won? – Matthew Goodwin looks at the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner election and questions why they didn’t win it.
Lez Miserable – A personal account of how every public high-profile coming out helps to make the world a better place. “Of course, it is getting easier almost by the day for (especially) a certain kind of white, middle-class person to come out. But let’s be very clear; that doesn’t make it easy.”
On the Party Presidential Elections, and why I still haven’t sent off my ballot – Jennie Rigg sums up my dilemma in the current Lib Dem elections.
This Is How ISIS Smuggles Oil – How the black market works to get it across the Syria-Turkey border.
Don’t mock Norman Baker – he accomplished more than most ministers do in a lifetime – Ian Dunt points out what many people (including some in Baker’s own party) don’t want to acknowledge. “And therein lies the key to media treatment of politicians: Look vaguely presentable and don’t rock the boat – they’ll treat you like a sage. But fight for radical policy and they consider you an embarrassment.”

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Worth Reading 136: Amateur broadcasting starts here

Have England’s universities been privatised by stealth? – How fees have radically changed higher education.
Some Thoughts On Online Voting – Why introducing it would bring in a whole load of new security concerns.
Iran: The Ayatollah succession question – A report from Open Briefing that explains a very different political culture very well.
Modern money and the escape from austerity – Does modern money theory offer us a completely different way of running the economy?
Square this circle: Common sense, UKIP and the decline of deference – “Things like this make me not envy politicians. How do you make policy when you have to appeal people who think 15% of girl’s under 16 are pregnant, but which has to be implemented by people who know it’s nonsense?”

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