One of the common complaints amongst the commentariat is that of the rise of the political class, Peter Oborne’s phrase; a collection of MPs who have risen through the ranks of parliamentary researcher to think tank worker before jumping into elected politics. This professionalisation of politics is portrayed as a bad thing, as though newspaper columnists would prefer politicians who are ignorant of politics to rule over them. This is equivalent to only ever hiring amateur plumbers to fix leaky pipes, and has a great deal to do with opinion-formers resenting the way in which their choice of career has ruled them out of holding real power.

However, it does contain a grain of truth, and it’s something which David Miliband’s decision to leave the people of South Shields behind in order to pursue a different career in the States illustrates: the professionalisation of politics means that it is perceived as a career ‘option’ by people leaving university rather a calling to serve the public, from which quitting half way through would be seen as churlish. It can be seen as such because it has such a clear structure for the scions of old Labour and Conservative families: after a spell in a think tank, one proves one’s worth through being a councillor, contesting an unwinnable seat, and then being landed with a plump safe seat. One can opt for this path without having to demonstrate that one actually cares about the people one represents; when you’ll win regardless of how much engagement with the public you do, as Labour does in South Shields, then one is never required to confront one’s duty to serve them.

David Miliband has realised that he is unlikely to progress further in politics, in this case thanks to the likelihood of his brother becoming Prime Minister by default. He has felt able to duck out half way through to take up another career path rather than sticking it out for a couple of years in order to do right by the people who voted him in. He’s able to do so because he’s in a safe seat: South Shields will vote Labour even if they put up the resurrected corpse of Jimmy Saville. The seat hasn’t changed hands since 1935. Any damage to his party is minimised as a result. It’s very clear that he views politics as a career in which flitting between jobs, as one could do in other walks of life, is not a bad thing. Safe seats facilitate this view; if you can get a parliamentary seat purely through moving around to the most appropriate place to get elected, then you’re never exposed to the need to fight for popular support, which is what separates MPs (theoretically) from technocrats.

If the commentariat really want to prevent the rise of career politicians, then they would do well to support electoral reform the next time it comes round. Only by requiring aspiring politicians to risk their future on the altar of the electorate do you prevent it from becoming a ‘career choice’.

Lord Ashcroft, the gentleman who owns the Conservative Party, has commissioned a poll on the attitudes of people who read newspapers towards those newspapers. He looked to find out whether people were able to identify the political allegiance of their favoured newspaper. The results are fascinating, and I repeat them below:

Here is proof, if proof were needed, that 18% of the Telegraph’s readership are bonkers. However, what’s more interesting is how Lord Ashcroft presents these results.

Lord Ashcroft chooses to interpret this as evidence that newspapers do not lead opinion, but rather follow that of their readers. He claims this on the basis that if they led opinion, more people should recognise that they act as such:

“Part of the genius of successful newspapers is that they understand their readers and give them what they want. They don’t determine their readers’ political outlook, they follow it. […] But the view that the tabloid editor is a kind of Chief Whip, corralling the votes of biddable readers in support of the paper’s chosen victor, is patronising and wrong.”

The claim here is that it is only possible to lead opinion if people recognise what it is that you’re trying to do. This is an interesting claim, because it is the exact opposite of the approach that Thatcher took to leading opinion:

The Attitude Change Process

5.2.1 The traditional model of political communications resembles a military bombardment, in which you bomb your audience into agreeing with you, shouting louder when they appear not to understand.

5.2.2 The model we have suggested in earlier papers is quite different. It is based on the private perception of reality by the individual. The analogy we used was the building of a model of, say, St Paul’s, out of matchsticks. The structure would gradually take shape, but only when most of the matchsticks were in place would the observer suddenly realise the meaning of the model. At that point his attitude would start to change.

5.2.3 Each nugget of information that reaches him (a speech, two seconds on TV of the Grunwick pickets, an article, the report of a new wage claim, the plight of the Boat People) may only be one matchstick. This is why major speeches which take a great deal of effort to prepare are often not particularly cost-effective in communication terms. Their “yield” is usually only one or two matchsticks, in a few column inches. And of course they are discounted to some extent as propaganda, which live events – eg Grunwick, NUPE – are not.

5.2.4 Since in the nature of things we will seldom get everything right, it is a matter of making sure we take two or three steps forward for each step back. Of course there will be occasionally a rapid succession of matchsticks – as, for example, the events of last winter which altered the “mental sets”, at least temporarily, of a significant proportion of the electorate. But whenever we get something wrong, a matchstick will be removed from the model.

5.2.5 The important thing to recognise is that the process requires many matchsticks and lots of time – usually years rather than months.

It was quite clearly the position of the Conservative Party for many years that a drip-drip-drip effect of communication changes attitudes, rather than the marshalling of forces on election day. Tabloids do not need to be overtly political in order to fulfil a role useful to a political agenda – in fact, being overtly political would diminish their value as a source of matchsticks. Given the role Lord Ashcroft has played in developing Conservative strategy it is difficult to believe that he is not aware of this, which would make his claims above rather disingenuous.

Lib Dem Voice has a consultation up on the review of the AV campaign being carried out centrally. I thought I’d put my response to it up here:

1. Did you do any telephone canvassing? Did you enjoy it? If not why not? If so, how would you improve the process?

I undertook many telephone canvassing sessions. Generally, they were positive, however when the campaign decided to abandon persuasive canvassing on legal grounds, they became less so. Focusing on telephone canvassing was a strategic mistake; we should’ve been out on the doorsteps from September onwards. ‘Grassroots’ means ‘where people actually live’, which means ‘doorsteps’.

2. How would you have improved the literature?

The design was generally to a high standard, however many elements of the messaging were poor. I would in particular focus on ‘Make your MP work harder’ message, which was rather opaque. The focus groups that gave rise to this message were flawed: those groups were educated in advance about how AV works, which allowed a complex message to resonate more strongly than would otherwise have been the case. The connection wasn’t clear to someone without a fairly in-depth grasp of how electoral politics works in practice, which unfortunately is not the case for the majority of the population.

We got some fantastic leaflets towards the end, which lumped the supporters of the Yes vote against the No-supporting parties, and asked the public to decide whose side they were on. Given that the BNP was urging a ‘no’ vote, these should’ve been widely distributed in BME areas. That they weren’t was seemingly a result of what I can only describe as ‘wets’ being nervous about reverse dog-whistle politics.

3. How was your relationship with activists from other political parties?

Mixed. The local Labour Party was fiercely opposed to a Yes vote, and we only received support from individual activists – even though the head of Labour Yes was a councillor in the borough. Anecdotally she was forbidden from campaigning in Islington by her fellow councillors.

The Greens were very supportive, and we worked well with them. I abetted this relationship by taking an ostensibly apolitical stance for the entirety of the campaign; I judged this campaign to be too important to allow any party loyalties to interfere with its delivery. Besides, following the tuition fees debacle it was reasonably easy to not feel like being a Lib Dem.

We had no idea who the local UKIP branch was at all, despite efforts to find out. This is a broader criticism of the campaign – we should’ve reached out to the only right-wing party backing a Yes vote. That we did not I lay at the feet of the trendy lefties in the centre, who did not understand how to build a political consensus.

4. Did the Yes campaign marshal activists in your area effectively? If not how could it have been improved?

I was the local organiser for the campaign, and have been relentlessly self-critical about the number of people we got out onto the streets, even though we won and had plenty of people out on the day and the weeks before. I failed to:

– Make enough phone calls to get people out for campaigning events

– Give up on street stalls and phone banking early enough in favour of door-knocking, when it became clear that the former wasn’t attracting enough support and the latter was a pointless waste of time in the absence of a proper GOTV operation.

– Bully the centre sufficiently into providing us with enough high-quality ‘out’ leaflets for doorknocking. We ran out on several occasions, which disheartened some of our activists who felt that knocking on empty houses without them was a waste of time.

– Carry out more ‘one-to-one’ briefing sessions with key activists, which I found to be a very effective way of engaging people in the campaign.

Having said that, I have one very major criticism of local activist ‘marshalling’ that had nothing to do with me. I was not allowed access to the mailing list of local people who signed up by the national website, which remained with the regional staff. This meant I was frequently unable to get emails, like event reminders, sent out to supporters because they were going out on the same day as national emails, and the centre was worried about spamming. There is no other way to describe this decision than stupid.

5. Did you find channels of communication with the Yes Campaign hierarchy open or closed?

While the regional organisers deserve to be commended for the amount of time they spent sending my complaints back to the centre, what actually happened at the centre was almost entirely opaque. Decision-making seemed largely capricious, and the final decision to focus on doorknocking I could only interpret as the centre finally catching on to their error in focusing on telecanvassing.

6. With the benefit of hindsight, how would you have liked to have seen the Yes campaignin your area run?

My ideal campaign begins in September 2010 with a relentless focus on grassroots organising, via a series of large group meetings of everyone on the various databases that became the Yes supporters database, followed up by one-to-ones with as many key activists as possible. Explanatory leaflets on AV start going out in November, with one per month till February. Doorknocking starts once-weekly in September, and moves to twice-weekly in the New Year. We develop a proper relationship with the local press in the New Year, selling in a package about why activists are devoting so much of their time to voting reform. Our leaflets contain simple messages that do not rely on an understanding of AV to be effective. We target particular groups, including BME people and students assiduously. We have a small local budget we use for our events and for particular leaflets focused on local issues. We have a proper cross-party forum for discussion of campaigning tactics.

This is all mostly textbook stuff, with the exception of the community organising elements. This is what I thought a grassroots campaign would look like. The Yes campaign did not run a grassroots campaign; they ran what people who’ve worked in NGOs their entire lives think a grassroots campaign looks like.

7. And nationally, how could the Yes campaign have been improved?

The list is too long to go into, but Andy May’s now famous document is a good start. I’d like to pick up on a few points from it:

– Actually sending out a Freepost mailing to every house in the country. The person who made the decision to not do this should never work in politics, campaigns or communications ever again. This is unforgiveable.

– Not hiring quite so many expensive consultants and managing the ones that you do hire properly.

– Reach out to all your supporters, including the ones you personally find distasteful. It’s a measure of your commitment to an issue that you’re willing to work with people you ostensibly despise in order to achieve it; the issue is more important than the fact you don’t like UKIP.

– In fact, this extends beyond UKIP. Labour Yes barely talked to the central campaign at all. All the party Yes groups should’ve been round the same table at least once a fortnight.

– Not being afraid to engage in reverse dog-whistle politics. I would’ve put up billboards with two pictures on them: Nick Clegg and Nick Griffin, and asked the public which Nick they preferred. That the Yes campaign did not do this meant the No campaign was free to use Clegg against them.

– Perhaps most importantly, celebrities are not people, they’re artificial media contrivances. Eddie Izzard was never going to change the mind of a granny who lives on an estate. Someone knocking on her door might have done. A ‘peoples’ campaign should involve as many people as possible making their own decisions about how to effectively campaign.

8. Could the Liberal Democrats have fed into the Yes campaign better?

Yes. We could’ve not put John Sharkey in charge of it. I’ve yet to see a response by him to Andy May’s allegations. Not making that response is a tacit acceptance of their truth.

9. What did the Yes campaign do well?

The elements of community organising they brought in at the start – I’d like to particularly cite George Gabriel here – were excellent and a breath of fresh air. It’s a pity they then decided to ignore them entirely in favour of the mixed bag of centralised control and cock-ups they tried next.

10. How would you fight a future referendum campaign on electoral reform differently?

I’ve covered much of this already above, but there’s one important principle I’d like to raise here. I’m in favour of electoral reform because I believe a government over which people have more real influence is a better government. Similarly, I believe a campaign for electoral reform over which all of its participants have real influence is a better campaign.

A grassroots campaign involves ceding as much power and decision-making as possible to the grassroots. Some of them might cock up. Some of them might perform brilliantly. However, they’ll demonstrate that the freedom to have influence, when distributed as widely as possible, can achieve great things.

If there’s one thing I despise, it’s religious morality. Not religion; I have no problem with people believing in whatever macro-scale pixy they wish. However, any conception of morality that provides a ready-made package of quick answers to complex issues is not simply incorrect, it’s positively dehumanising.

The most fundamental freedom imaginable is the freedom to understand the world on your own terms; to make judgements about the best course of action using your own reason and the advice of those you have chosen to respect. Anything that tries to short-circuit this process – as religious morality does, by providing a set of answers divorced from all human experience – necessarily diminishes that freedom. This does not encompass those religions, like Sufi Islam, Buddhism and gnostic versions of Christianity, which steer towards promoting an ethical system rather than a prescriptive set of moral rules. ‘Always act with compassion’ provides a lot more for scope for determining your own principles (not in the least, whatever compassion is) than ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’. The approach adopted by Nadine Dorries and her ilk leaves little room for wisdom.

More than that, as a conception of morality it is positively perverse. The twin notions of heaven and hell appear to be positively designed to subvert an understanding of the Good based on the Good-in-and-of-itself; rather, acts are to be judged in terms of their impact upon your afterlife prospects. This eliminates any prospect of their adherents living good lives – if at the back of your head is a little voice calculating the impact of a particular act on the state of your immortal soul, you will never be able to act without one eye on your self-interest.

This brings us to the issue of the day. Nadine Dorries wants to restrict the right of abortion providers to also provide counselling services to those women considering having abortions, on the grounds of a conflict of interest. This, at the outset, nearly seems reasonable if one is willing to forget the regulatory framework governing these matters and the professional integrity of those delivering the counselling.

But, in seeking this outcome, does Dorries not have one eye upon her immortal soul? If one looks at the Biblical scripture used by anti-abortionists to justify their stance, it seems to proclaim that opposing abortion is something God wants them to do. There’s a logical gap between that and using the machinery of the State to enforce what they think God wants them to do, but that is incidental: this is about the status of their soul in the eyes of God.

I want to introduce a new notion into our legislative lexicon: that of eschatological advantage. This is advantage that an individual expects to accrue to them with regard to their afterlife as a consequence of a particular action. I propose that this advantage is taken into account in exactly the same way as Dorries proposes we take the financial interest of abortion-providers into account when determining who can provide counselling to women considering abortion. After all, we accept that someone who expects to see an improvement in their standard of living from another person making a particular choice is not funded by the State to advise that person on that choice. Why do we not think the same about someone who expects to see an improvement in their standard of afterliving?

Labour (or someone who looks really, really like them) have quickly whipped up a campaign website at http://www.noto55.com/ in opposition to the coalition government’s move to remove the power to dissolve parliament from the Prime Minister and change it to require a vote of 55% of parliament. Initially, the site claimed that the 55% rule referred to a vote of no confidence, but has since been amended to reflect reality slightly more accurately:

“This campaign originally stated that the government planned to introduce a 55% threshold on votes of no confidence. This was incorrect, but the effect of introducing this ‘dissolution vote’ is the same: that a successful vote of no confidence in the government would no longer lead to the dissolution of Parliament.”

Let’s go through the reasons why this is stupid. Before this move, only the Prime Minister had the power to call an election by going to the palace and asking the Queen to dissolve parliament. The PM could do this whenever they chose, but was required to do so after a maximum of five years following the previous election. A vote of no confidence is a vote in the House of Commons in which the ruling party (or parties, natch) is defeated on the Queen’s Speech, the Budget or a specific early day motion. Convention then usually requires the PM to go to the palace to ask for a dissolution.

That’s right, convention. Even if a government has lost the confidence of the house (and cannot therefore get through any legislation), it can still legally remain in office. However, under the LibCon proposals, it cannot do so any longer if 55% of parliament vote for a dissolution. This is obviously 5% more than the 50%+1 required for a vote of no confidence, but Labour’s claims that it represents a danger to democracy are rather rendered stupid when one remembers that the devolved governments they set up in Scotland and Wales both require 66% of their respective representatives to vote in favour of dissolution. This is because the systems used to elect those representatives are much more proportional than that used for Westminster, and hence much more likely to be unstable with a low threshold for confidence votes – c.f. the Weimar Republic. This is because it allows small parties to bring down a government without simultaneously ensuring they have enough support to form a government themselves.

We are now in an era of coalition government, and with the advent of a marginally improved electoral system in AV, are much more likely to see this continue for the forseeable future. People in favour of voting reform should look at examples of how PR works in Europe before assuming this is as anti-democratic as Labour would have you believe, while simultaneously reminding themselves that Labour don’t really believe it’s anti-democratic otherwise they wouldn’t have put it in place themselves.

I hate calling a particular type of politics by a particular handedness; it speaks of the sort of crass pseudo-intellectualism that passes for discussion in the media. But there’s little other way to describe the aggregate of bizarre activity & analysis we’ve seen from a particular section of what you could call the wonketariat.

Firstly, the Demo for Democracy that I and many others attended last Saturday in Trafalgar Square. I am entirely in favour of electoral reform (although the chant ‘STV in multi-member constituencies!’ is never going to be a rabble-rouser), and attended in the expectation that this demonstration would be about convincing all the parties that now is the time to change our blatantly unfair voting system. However, after some rather cathartic yelling below Nelson’s Column, the demonstration was shifted to Smith Square, to lobby Nick Clegg directly. When this happened, I went to the pub.

The Liberal Democrats have been in favour of electoral reform for ninety years. Ninety years. Protesting in front of their HQ is equivalent to standing in front of Shell’s corporate headquarters and yelling, “MORE OIL DRILLING! SELL OIL AT THE HIGHEST PRICE YOU CAN GET!” It’s just stupid. I make no apologies for labelling Power2010 and Take Back Parliament daft for doing this, it’s the truth. When Clegg responded to the protest you could almost hear him thinking, ‘Look chaps, if you think I could get any deal that didn’t include at least a referendum on PR through the Lib Dems’ triple lock, then clearly you think I could out-Machiavelli Machiavelli’.

This is straight-forward political ignorance. Handing power to as many people as possible (and away from politicians) is a key tenet of liberal philosophy. First-past-the-post tends to render the votes of so many people irrelevant that it can never fulfil this objective, regardless of whether it ends up with a single manifesto put into practice or not. If you’ve voted for a particular collection of policies, wouldn’t you rather that your vote led to at least some of those policies being implemented, rather than none? While PR decreases the power of the ‘winning’ voters, it enhances the power of voters overall. It therefore distributes power more widely, and is inherently liberal as a consequence.

A further demonstration of political ignorance (actually, this one might be just stupidity) comes courtesy of the Fabian Society. They’ve argued that a Lib Dem coalition with the Tories would lead to a Lib-Lab swing at a future election that would see Labour gain many seats from the Lib Dems. They do this on the back of a national poll conducted by YouGov that ostensibly shows that Lib Dem voters view themselves as being closer to Labour than to the Conservatives. 39% of Lib Dem voters consider the party to be centre-left or left, compared to 33% who believe it to be in the centre and just 5% who consider it to be centre-right or right.

This is a bad analysis for several reasons. Firstly, the YouGov poll did not differentiate between the types of seats in which the polled Lib Dem voters were located. This will necessarily have an impact; generally people will vote for the Lib Dems either positively (i.e. for our policies or the work of our candidate) or tactically, against our main opposition in the seat if we’re in second place. This means that Lib Dem voters in Labour-facing seats will be voting for our policy platform/candidate or against Labour. A coalition with the Tories, which implements several Lib Dem policies, would not necessarily affect this vote.

It’s much more likely that a coalition would affect our Conservative-facing seats, which have been the recipient of tactical voting in our favour from Labour supporters. This would lead, most likely, to us losing seats where we face the Tories – but not to Labour.

The Fabian Society appear to regard a particular demographic – the disenchanted Labour voter who’s switched to the Lib Dems – as constituting the 39% of our vote who view us as being a centre-left party. As discussed above – and this is the point that the Fabians appear to have missed – it’s entirely possible to be on the centre-left and not want to vote for Labour over the Tories.

This relates to a wider confusion on the Left about what liberalism is and how it relates to the Labour party. This is demonstrated by Polly Toynbee, who says:

“Here at last is the historic chance to heal the pointless rift between two near-identical progressive parties, divided only by history, tradition and a rotten voting system.”

I suspect calling Labour and the Lib Dems near-identical would cause many members of both parties to take some serious umbrage. The doctrine of liberalism is wildly different to the statist doctrines pushed by the Fabians; it merely appears on the surface to be similar because many of its goals appear to be the same.

Educating and providing the support for the worst-off are a moral imperative for the Fabians, in which the end justifies the means – the means being expanding the state to ensure these moral goals. However, for liberals, education and welfare are tools of empowerment, to set the worst-off free from that which enslaves them. In this, the means are important: when setting people free, placing them in hock to the State at the same time does not constitute empowerment. In this, we share values in common with the Tories, in our goals, values in common with Labour.

The end can never justify the means wholly, which is why, for example, I know of no Lib Dem leaflet which has knowingly lied about our opponents’ policies. This is in contrast to Labour, who during the recent Islington campaign put out leaflets claiming that the Lib Dems would shut down the NHS. For the Fabian mindset, this is justified in terms of their moral goals, but in my view renders any attempt at moralising on their part meaningless.

Liberals have values in common with the Tories. If a coalition with them leads to empowerment of individuals whose votes would otherwise be rendered meaningless under FPTP, if a stable coalition leads to more peoples’ jobs and livelihoods being saved from the worst effects of the financial crisis, if a coalition can lead to educational and tax reform that lends resources and opportunity to the least empowered in our country, then I say we must take it. After all, a coalition with the Tories would represent at least part of the wishes of 59% of the electorate, while a rainbow coalition with Labour would represent 56% of the electorate. Although the margins are small, a Lib-Con coalition would empower more people than a Lib-Lab coalition. And that, after all, is what liberalism is all about.

‘adjective’ Britain

March 11, 2010

It’s clear that the coming election will be fought over adjectives. Specifically, the adjectives one likes to place in front of ‘Britain’. Anyone with even a cursory interest in politics can’t help but notice the proliferation of phrases like ‘Blackout Britain’, ‘Breakdown Britain’ and other pejorative epithets riding on the back of Cameron’s ‘Broken Britain’ soundbite. They don’t constitute particular policy pledges or indeed any form of party allegiance, but rather a peculiar way in which an individual can lend identity to their political statements.

For example, take this comment on CCHQ. I have always taken it as read that anyone who liberally sprinkles their postings with CAPITALS and quoted soundbites is a moron, and this principle has served me well. However, this style of posting is endemic across the blogosphere across the political spectrum, and is reflected when canvassing; members of the public will often repeat soundbites (*cough*, ‘messages’) back at you on the doorstep, if their authors have done their job correctly. They immediately place their political allegiance and voting intention, which is very useful. They determine intellectual identity; a ‘Broken Britain’ user will view contemporary society as being a morass of failed marriages, immigrants & violent crime, regardless of whether that is true or not.

Unlike other soundbites, the ‘Britain’ line directly refers to contemporary society, so rather than being an easy way to encapsulate a policy pledge (i.e. ‘Education, education, education’), it becomes a method by which a politician can establish a shared identity with the electorate. It’s an effective way of saying, ‘Look chaps, I see the world they way in which you do’. Witness the mutual backslapping on comments threads when someone establishes themselves through the use of a phrase as having a particular outlook. It’s a very powerful tool.

We’ve attempted to use it, with ‘Building a fairer Britain’, but in doing so have missed the point. It’s a statement of identity rather than a policy pledge. It’s not aspirational, it’s saying who you are. Therefore, if we must use an adjective in front of Britain, it must say something about our voters – how they see themselves, and how they view their role in society. Therefore, I would advocate a truncation of the current slogan, into ‘Building Britain’; intended to refer to the voters who view themselves as contributing to society while remaining aspirational; public sector workers such as teachers & doctors, and private sector leaders such as small business owners. For the reasons given above, I argue this would be a more effective slogan.

On the other hand, this could be so much PR wank.

Eee, it takes me back. I remember a soggy Hyde Park back in 2003; a carnival of hippies, socialists and proto-middle-class students all railing against the mooted invasion of Iraq. I remember chanting, “No blood for oil! Leave Iraqi soil!”, and other variations on a theme, catching my breath only when the Palestinian brigade launched into a chorus of ‘Hitler was right!’. It was all dreadfully earnest and well-meaning, and I think perhaps one of the few times this millenium when people genuinely thought government might listen to them.

Of course, we were wrong, and today Tony Blair will once again reaffirm that he still thinks he did the right thing. On this I can’t really blame him; if I was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, I’d probably develop a blik such that I did the right thing, too.

However, there’s an issue I’d like to raise – partly to bait Stalinists, but also because it’s something I’ve yet to see brought up at any point during the climate change debate. It centres on control of oil reserves.

Iraq’s proven oil reserves stand at 112 billion barrels. That’s 35.5 billion tonnes of potential CO2 emissions, right there. Now, whoever controls those reserves controls where they go and what’s done with them. Obviously, both Saddam and our valiant Western forces were both interested in flogging them off, but consider an alternate possibility: putting them beyond use.

Far more efficient than convincing people to reduce emissions is to remove the possibility of them producing those emissions in the first place. I’m surprised that destroying fossil fuel reserves isn’t on the Green agenda at all; it would completely eliminate the possibility of dangerous climate change while forcing the world to shift to utilising zero-carbon technologies.

I’m not entirely clear how one could destroy oil reserves without burning them; perhaps by dropping a low-yield nuclear device into an oilwell to irradiate its contents and render them unsafe to use. However it’s done, in order to do it one needs to control those reserves, and this brings us back to the subject at hand: to be serious about combatting climate change, the Greens also need to be serious about acquiring control over the causes of CO2 emissions. Given that they’re already willing to trample on individual freedoms to pursue their agenda (see: every right-wing rant about eco-fascists, everywhere), it would appear to be a logical extension of their platform to advocate war on oil-producing nations.

Even though the protest at Hyde Park failed, the influence of the Green movement over British politics, as limited as it is, is significantly more than it ever had over Saddam. Therefore, its interests were better served by British control over Iraq. I can’t therefore see why the Greens opposed the Iraq War, unless they’re willing to concede that their platform is incoherent.

I don’t have anything against this creed in particular – indeed some of my best friends are libertarians. However, it would be a wonderful thing if they’d finally accept what they have in common with the communists who infested the UK’s intellectual seen for much of the last century, which is that they have no understanding of the way in which the world actually works.

This leads them to – again, like the reds of old – condemn the shortcomings of democracy in no uncertain terms. There’s of course nothing wrong with stating that you’re not a fan of democracy, but when you’re the leader of a party seeking election within that democracy, it would rather sit at odds with your stated goals.

Of course, dealing with all those other people (with their dratted wrong opinions) is a painful thing to do, when the rightness of your cause is so apparent. It’s also much more difficult when your opponents now have a quote that they can put on leaflets saying that you’re opposed to democracy. Which, I can guarantee, they will.

I suspect that libertarianism isn’t compatible with democracy; not in the sense that a democratic state could never implement libertarian policies, but rather that libertarians themselves as a group are incompatible with the sorts of actions one has to take to get elected. Given that one could interpret libertarianism as the entirely understandable drive to not have anyone else interfere in your life, and that getting elected requires you to take into account the interests and opinions of your electorate, this latter requirement rather implies that the libertarian seeking election is going to have to allow other peoples’ opinions to partly determine their choices – which they’re opposed to having happen.

I look forward to the day when libertarians start considering armed insurrection against a democratic state, which will be justified by the state already using violence against them by limiting their chances of influencing it. Then we really will have come full circle.

The Racist Narrative

September 24, 2008

Out canvassing in Clerkenwell, in a towerblock. I knock on the door of a white woman in late middle age, who doesn’t seem particularly pleased to see me. This is nothing new, canvassers are used to being greeted with low level suspicion. I begin my spiel, and ask a few questions about issues affecting the local area.

“Well,” she began, and her eyes darted across the hallway to the door opposite, which a black woman talking loudly into a mobile phone had just entered. “You wouldn’t like it if I told you what’s wrong around here.”

“From your tone, I’m sure I can guess.”

“You know, my daughter, who’s got two little girls, can’t get anything. And Them across the way never do a stroke. That door just bangs all day long”

In Islington, whenever anyone who lives on an estate is talking to someone associated with politics and says something about ‘getting anything’ they mean social housing. It later transpired that her daughter did indeed have ‘something’, which was a one bedroom flat. But since she had two daughters of her own, she wanted more.

I did some further digging. She had voted Lib Dem all her life, up until the last election. She didn’t want to tell me who she’d gone for. But, she said, “I bet you can guess.” And I could. In Clerkenwell, and the rest of old Finsbury, the socialist vote is divided between Labour and the Independent Working Class Association. The IWCA is, in essence, a communist version of the BNP. They employ the same standard of thuggish activists and are only missing an additional ‘W’ from their acronym to sum up what they represent. They do have something else in common with the BNP, and that’s their narrative.

Right now in the campaigning world there’s a lot of people still having Obamagasms over the way in which the candidates have conducted themselves in the US presidential elections. I’ve written about this before, but what seems to have been missed in all the fuss and bother over the narratives of the main parties is that the far right has been using this approach for some time, and it’s been effective. We’ve missed this for several reasons; partly because the things they say on the doorstep don’t get back to us in the way that their campaign literature does, but also because mainstream politicians have a well justified loathing of the BNP and what they stand for. We don’t want to believe that they’re capable of using the same political tricks as lovely Obama.

But they have, and what they’ve done is very clever – in a rather sickening way. The narrative goes like this. The bourgeoisie brought foreign workers over to undercut the wages asked for by British workers. The foreigners are now taking the jobs and the resources (e.g. housing) that should be going to people from round here. When you complain to the Government, they say you’re being racist. But racism is something invented by the bourgeoisie to stop you complaining about Them coming in and taking our jobs and houses. Only the BNP/IWCA are telling the truth about what’s really happening.

It’s a classic Marxist analysis of power; the bourgeoisie are using social ethics to control the working classes. If it’s made immoral to complain about resources being given to Them, then the working classes can no longer do it.

Of course, this is ridiculous. Distributing resources on racial lines is immoral however you cast it. But it’s a narrative that can be seductive for those whose lives are directly affected by inadequate social resources. When someone mutters darkly that there would be enough housing for your daughter to have a place that’ll fit her and her kids if They weren’t here, you’re more inclined to agree if you’re a Clerkenwell grandmother than if you’re a suburban teacher. And it is true that if They left there would be enough social housing in London for the white working classes.

The fact that that social housing wouldn’t be there in the first place if not for the additional wealth brought in by importing workers is neither here nor there; macroeconomic arguments have little relevance for the grannies of Clerkenwell. And outright condemnation of those espousing the racist narrative does nothing except play into the hands of the racists; it’s what results in the response “Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Try living down here,”on the doorstep.

I still do not think that the BNP will ever be a major party. But, at present, we are not countering the racist narrative. We need to do better.