May 20, 2013
A senior Tory has allegedly stated a belief commonly held amongst central party managers everywhere: that their activists are ‘swivel-eyed loons’. ‘Loon’, of course, is ultimate derived from ‘lunar’; the traditional belief that madness was more common during full moons. If we assume that voting Conservative is a form of madness, we can check whether a full moon does in fact impact upon the Tory vote by cross-referencing it with daily polls:
There is a small but noticeable impact on both the Conservative and UKIP voting intention, with the former impact significant at the 5% level*. This is the inverse of what people who would also be happy to dub UKIP nutters would expect, and presents a danger for Mr Cameron. The first Thursday in May 2015 is the day after a full moon. The motion of our nearest celestial partner may yet cost the Conservatives the next election.
*This relationship attenuates as the data set grows, precisely as a non-crazy person would expect. From 2010 to the present day it’s practically insignificant. One could attribute the short-term effect to science being right or Nigel Farage being a werewolf.
May 17, 2013
I’m a man. I’m in crisis. At least, this is the contention of Diane Abbott and Laurie Penny, who claim I’m currently being oppressed by outdated gender stereotypes about my role in society, and that I feel under constant pressure to get out there and win some bread.
Obviously, they’re not referring to me personally, but to men in the abstract. This Abstracted Man doesn’t understand his place in the world now that women are in the workplace, because he’s been told that he’s got to get out there and earn money for his family while the little woman stays at home looking after the kids.
Who is it who’s saying this? Laurie Penny claims it’s a conglomerate of evil Tories and enigmatic Forces of Conservatism who push the idea that a woman’s place is in the home. Unfortunately for this argument, the forces of Conservatism are exceptionally bad at their job:
Source: European Values Survey, GB Data
People think that women working doesn’t harm children and that both men and women should win bread. More significantly for the argument to hand, they see both men and women having the same responsibilities for homelife:
Source: EVS Data. This question was only asked in the 08-10 wave.
But regardless. We men are suffering from these social changes, which is why we’re killing ourselves in greater numbers than ever before:
UK Suicide Rate
Clearly more men kill themselves than women. It is absolutely true that the suicide rate amongst males rose between 2011 and 2010. It’s also true that it rose amongst women as well. What’s not true is that we have a sudden onset crisis of masculinity that is just begging to be solved; men and women clearly kill themselves at different rates, and may always have done so.
What is a problem is the fact that gender roles continue to be reinforced. Take this example, from someone talking about encouraging employment amongst young men:
“The decline of heavy industry and manufacturing jobs has left a lot of men in a position where they don’t feel the jobs on offer – particularly service jobs – are ones they feel comfortable with.[…] We need more advanced, rigorous vocational courses and a new focus on technical learning and skills”
Apparently men are only men if they bang bits of steel together. I’ve spent my entire life being told that men will lose out in the ‘new’ workplaces because we don’t have ‘soft skills’. Unaccountably this hasn’t happened; by and large, men still run the world. However, working class men – to whom the author of the quote was apparently referring – aren’t given the sort of ‘soft’ skills that the men who went to private school and now run the country were given. This is because people like the person who wrote the above, which was taken from Diane Abbott’s speech, keep reinforcing gender roles which require working class men to feel bad about taking service sector jobs. I can guarantee you that middle class men never have this problem.
An extremely limited understanding of the roles that men play in society – which for Diane Abbott is apparently either gang members in Hackney or traders in the City, with nary a fella in between – should disqualify you from pretending to say anything useful about issues relating to men. There are specific issues for working class men which are related to the impact of globalisation & immigration on unskilled labour, but those issues also apply to women with the same skill sets. If demand is increasing for employees in the service sector (which is a big ‘if’) our politicians need to stop banging on about how apprenticeships and big factories are what we need for our young men, and start saying that there’s nothing wrong with men being secretaries. If they don’t, we’re going to continue seeing people with limited viewpoints banging on about a crisis of masculinity year after year.
May 9, 2013
It is no coincidence that UKIP’s rise is in line with popular concern about immigration. Or is it? It’s true that Britain hasn’t been quite this concerned with immigration since 2011, and everyone remembers those days two years ago when Farage’s face beamed from every channel twenty four hours of the day. We’ve taken as read that their rise means the British public is positively infuriated with the thought of dirty foreigners coming over here and ruining everything with their ethics of work. It’s possible that we might be wrong.
Concern about immigration is not bound up with concern about unemployment or indeed the economy. In fact, when times are bad and people are worried about jobs, they’re less likely to be worried about immigration. This is completely counterintuitive to anyone raised on a diet of history lessons in which the Nazis exploited fears about the economy to scapegoat the Jews. However, it would appear that we’ve drawn the wrong lesson from history.
Opposition to immigration, along with gay marriage, the EU and other things that UKIP is on record as not liking, is not driven by economic circumstances. Rather, it appears to be cultural: opposing all of those things appears to be what you do in order to signify your membership of the Fuddy Duddy Tribe. Like all cultural issues, it’s something people only have time for when they’re not worried about where the next meal is coming from. This leads us to an interesting quandary for the Conservative Party: the rise of UKIP is as a result of the Coalition’s stewardship of the economy no longer being quite so dreadful. This has given their former voters the freedom to vote with their ‘resentment of change’ hat on, rather than their ‘must be sensible’ hat. If we were back in recession, UKIP wouldn’t be doing so well.
May 2, 2013
The United Kingdom Independence Party, to give it its full rather clunky name, is expected to do rather well in the local elections today. The main driver behind this potential success is ostensibly its positioning as an anti-establishment vehicle for discontent with the main parties. This is interesting, because claiming to be against the establishment requires an understanding of what the establishment is in the first place, and libertarians like the UKIPers have traditionally been very bad at properly analysing the structures of power.
So I’m going to do it for them. I’m going to go through each of the policies listed on their website (or at least the ones that appear to be actual policies rather than random statements of intent) and assign each a number. 1 will represent a policy that changes who has power and influence in Britain today, 0 will represent a policy that has no impact on power structures, and -1 will represent a policy that actually increases the power of the establishment. For clarity, I am defining ‘establishment’ as ‘the current distribution of resources, policy influence and decision-making powers in the UK today’.
Like most libertarians, UKIPers fetishise defence, presumably so they can call on the army when the hoi polloi revolt against the total removal of their legal protections. UKIP’s defence policy is to increase defence spending back to 2010 levels, disband the Ministry of Defence and turn over control to high-ranking officers rather than civilians, scrap Trident and replace it with nuclear cruise missiles, and buy more tanks and boats. There’s also a lot in there about bolstering the role of the Territorial Army, which is no way a reflection of what many UKIPers spend their weekends doing.
While this policy clearly impacts upon the MoD, it alters power structures by expanding the role of an existing authority – the military. Laughable as you might find the idea that we need aircraft carriers to fend off Somali pirates in converted fishing vessels (yes, really, that’s their argument), it’s undeniable that this is a significant change to the balance of power, and so I will award their defence policy a score of 1.
Unlike most libertarians, UKIP do not believe in the free movement of peoples. They propose a five year freeze on immigration for permanent settlement and the imposition of a points based system for limited immigration for specific skill sets the UK cannot supply. The practical upshot of this is to get rid of Polish plumbers and other archetypes of foreign labourers beloved by the popular press.
Reducing immigration will lower economic growth, making us all a little poorer. However, there is evidence that an influx of labour depresses the wages of the bottom decile of the population, even though average wages rise. Functionally then, restricting immigration makes the poorest slightly better off relative to the majority of the population, although everyone is poorer than before. This is a shift in the distribution of resources, and so I give this policy a score of 1.
Please note: the policy under discussion here is a ‘proposal’ rather than formal policy. Nigel Farage has apparently contradicted this policy elsewhere. However, there is nothing else available that would indicate UKIP’s position.
UKIP want a ‘flat tax’ on income over £13,000 of about 25%. This is a colossal tax cut for the most well-off, and a tax rise for the less well off. This would dramatically reduce the overall tax take, producing, one supposes, a much-reduced scope for redistributional payments like pensions and the NHS. They want to shift the burden of corporate tax away from profits and onto ‘added value’, being the difference between the cost of the inputs and the value of the outputs. This will dramatically penalise our already struggling manufacturing industries and provide a great boon for financial services as HMRC struggles to work out precisely how much value a particular financial product adds to its constituent parts. Under this policy, those who are already doing well are awarded and the less well off are penalised. I give this a score of -1.
UKIP wants to reallocate central NHS funding to elected boards in each county (presumably this means a single one for London, unless by ‘county’ they also mean ‘borough’). They want nurses to stop getting these new-fangled degree things because education prevents people from caring. I presume this is why; they seem to think that nursing degrees don’t involve any time on the wards at all, rather than at least half as at present. I remain baffled as to why there’s this common presumption that nurses should be the equivalent of manual labourers; the human body is rather complicated and I’d like people looking after to me to know what they’re doing.
I digress. The County Health Boards would represent a significant redistribution of power downwards, but coupled with this policy is the power to allow a charge for all prescriptions, not just those of the better off. This is a revocation of the principle of free-at-the-point-of-use, meaning that it’s a step in the direction of state-funded healthcare being inaccessible to the least well off. As this policy partly redistributes power and partly reinforces existing resource distribution, I give it a 0.
As a tiny businessman, I welcome UKIP’s warm words of support for small business, although they’re identical to the ones that come from every politician. A key way in which politicians could reduce the stress on small businesses is by stopping saying that we’re the engines of growth for the economy. It’s a lot of responsibility.
UKIP want to help us by getting rid of almost all employment protections, including weekly working hours, holidays and holiday, overtime, parental leave, redundancy and sick pay, and require a standard contract form which indicates the average wages and conditions for that role in that industry. While I look forward to seeing the vast bureaucracy that would be required to continually assess wages in each of the nearly 10,000 SIC codes, I can’t help but suspect that average wages in each would be set by the dominant player in the sector, who would be able to pay more than, say, start-ups. This would make it harder to crack open market incumbents by reducing the available pool of labour at a price we could afford. Coupled with the fact that employees have less influence than employers, I’m giving this a -1.
Ah, Roger Helmer, a man I recall responding to my press releases with ‘Poppycock!’ whenever I said something he didn’t want to believe. UKIP’s energy policy is based on opposition to something they don’t want to believe, namely climate change. They reject renewables that impact on the landscape (solar and wind), want an end to environment-related subsidies, love nukes and want more gas and coal.
The practical upshot of this will be to cement the market dominance of the Big Six energy supply companies, because the big stuff is expensive and they’re the only ones building it. The only power plants built in the UK in the last five years which aren’t owned by an international energy conglomerate are renewables or small-scale CHP.
The response of the market incumbents to the removal of environmental tariffs will be the discovery that the previous price was what the market could bear, so they’re free to raise prices. If UKIP genuinely think that the Big Six are going to suddenly opt for lower profits then they’re being even more bonkers than when they think you need a Sea Harrier to blow up a dinghy. A big -1 here.
7. The EU
Bafflingly, UKIP doesn’t have a policy on the EU. They mention that they want to leave in other documents, but they don’t set out how they’d do it. I therefore am unsure of the impact of this ‘policy’ – certainly, redistributing power from Brussels to the UK counts as being anti-establishment, but because our ties to the EU are so complex its impact is uncertain. EU funding for deprived regions would vanish, along with substantial trade ties. We’d certainly be poorer, at least initially. I therefore have to give this a 0, pending further information.
In conclusion, UKIP score -1 on the anti-establishment front, or 0 if you exclude their tax ‘proposal’. From this we can say that UKIP, despite its Farage-shaped veneer, is at least as pro-establishment as the other parties, and potentially even more so.