Tag Archives: populism

Contagion

Canvassing is one of those things that many of us take for granted. It is part of what we do. Occasionally a meeting on a doorstep will echo down the years, coming back into the mind and setting a scene.

Such a meeting happened to me some years ago. It was in a Labour Ward in Liverpool, at the height of the Militant Tendancy regime. I knocked at a door in a Council estate and asked the gentleman who came to the door if he would vote for us. As I anticipated, he said no, he wouldn’t. So I asked who he would be supporting, expecting him to say, ‘Labour’.

But no. He looked at me and said: ‘ I’m voting Conservative.’ I couldn’t resist and asked him why.

‘Well, they’re born to rule, aren’t they’.

It is a picture that has stayed with me ever since. An old man, probably without two pennies to his name, supporting Mrs Thatcher. It has been a puzzle that has come back to me time and time again.

And here we are, in 2019, with the Brexit party soaking up Tory supporters and members, appealing to working class voters and the Tories through Boris Johnson, an old Etonian for Heaven’s sake,  trying to capture Labour seats.

Selling the vision that Britain won the war so can ‘get Brexit done’ is an advertising slogan that has been bought in to. If it was an advertisement, the ASA would soon smack those responsible down! But, in politics, there is no standards authority.

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Class politics, race and UKIP-phobia

We should always take class seriously, especially in England, if we want to understand the society we live in and the route to a fairer and happier society. That is not the same as taking class as a key driver for the creation of a political party, philosophy or programme.

Meanwhile this doesn’t stop us taking poverty utterly seriously. I was born in the poorest part of Newcastle, spent my working life as a Methodist minister in some of the poorest communities of the North of England, and In May this year I was elected for the third time in one …

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William Wallace writes…A way to bring our national community together

I am a man of the people. You are part of the metropolitan liberal elite. They are enemies of the people, citizens of nowhere.

That’s the populist self-characterization that more and more right-wing politicians are now making. It’s an easy appeal to the ‘ordinary’ person against the sophisticated, over-educated and privileged. It works very well even when wielded by old Etonian Oxbridge graduates like Boris Johnson, or former city traders like Nigel Farage. The terms ‘elite’ and ‘establishment’ are elided, and blended with ‘liberal’, into a hostile image of people who claim superiority because of their expertise and knowledge, against those who prefer instinct and ‘common sense’.

There was a wonderful example of the genre in the Daily Telegraph of November 23rd, a letter under the headline “This ‘No Brexit deal’ by the political elite treats the majority who voted Leave with disdain” – signed by 15 Conservative peers, eight of them hereditary, three of them with peerages dating from the 17th century or earlier. If these are men of the people, I’m the king of Scotland. There was another in the Sun on Sunday, on November 25th, from Lord Digby Jones, one of the most self-important members of the House of Lords: ‘the British people – as if they needed further confirmation after what has gone on over the past few months – have been let down by the political class and the establishment elite.’ We should ridicule such claims whenever we see them.

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William Wallace writes…The politics of unreason

As 2017 begins, the politics of unreason seems to be spreading its influence across British politics and media.  Liam Fox inside the government, and John Redwood and Peter Lilley outside, are arguing that we don’t need to negotiate a treaty with the EU as we leave.  They propose that Britain simply reasserts its sovereignty, and to hell with international law, commercial and security interests, and rights of access and residence elsewhere across the EU for the 50 million journeys UK citizens make every year. (Peter Lilley, like Nigel Lawson, lives part of the year in France; you’d have thought he might have taken rights of residence into account.)  Free trade, they assert, is something that we can if necessary adopt unilaterally.  The mercantilist policies of China and India, the threats of protectionist tariffs that the President-elect Trump has been making, do not disturb their tranquillity.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s Times  carried an article in its business section by Mark Littlewood, the director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, recommending Las Vegas as the model for post-Brexit Britain’s economy, in particular by spreading casinos through our ‘left behind’ seaside towns.  He’s as serious about this as Tim Congdon (of Economists for Britain) is when he argues that Britain’s economy can manage without an industrial base, and as the Taxpayers’ Alliance is when it recommends further deep cuts in public spending.  That’s the US Republican model they aspire to, even as Donald Trump moves away from it.  It is, of course, the opposite of what most Leave supporters thought they were voting for, and what the Leave campaign appeared to be promising.

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Predictions for 2017: How the Lib Dems can stay one move ahead

Anyone who watched politics, the Premier League or Strictly in 2016 will know that making predictions can seem like a fool’s game. As much as you might think you’ve got the future mapped out, sometimes bizarre things happen and those who thought they were in the know end up with egg on their faces. This is part of life and part of politics. However, the unpredictable nature of 2016 should not mean that we refrain from thinking ahead to what might happen in 2017. If a chess player decided that he or she had no idea what the next ten moves would bring so didn’t bother planning ahead, they would find themselves checkmated pretty quickly. With that in mind, here are my top three political predictions for 2017 and how I think the Liberal Democrats can capitalise on them.

Jeremy Corbyn will still be Labour leader come 2018

There has been plenty of speculation lately, as has been the case since day one of his tenure, about the future of the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The Fabian Society and Unite leader Len McCluskey are the latest to come out with less-than-helpful comments about him. But whatever seeming pressure there is on Corbyn, he has won two leadership elections now, surviving  the most extraordinary internal coup with a bolstered mandate from members. Forcing him out will be a near impossible job for Labour and I can’t see him resigning himself. If he was going to take the humble way out why didn’t he do it when 80% of his MPs turned on him in the no confidence vote? This means that the Liberal Democratss will likely have another year of being the only major UK wide Party united against Brexit. Banging the drum for the 48% who voted Remain, and holding the Government to account over its handling of its EU negotiations should remain our raison d’etre for now. Even if some start to see us as a single issue Party, it doesn’t matter in my view. Growing a small Party into a big one is often done by focusing on a single issue and then expanding from there. 

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Lessons (and warning) from Trump

The day after the US electoral college chose Donald Trump to be their new president, Huffington Post ran an article on his use of digital campaigning, where Brad Parscale, the digital director of the campaign explains:

We never fought for the popular vote. There was no economic reason, and there was no reason based off the system of our constitution to do so. We needed to win 270 , and to do so we needed to win in certain states, and we needed to target registered voters that had a low propensity to vote and a propensity to vote for Donald Trump if they come.

This was done by highly-targeted and personalised messages to key voters in key states.

Questionable behaviour by the FBI over Hilary Clinton’s emails, and whatever it is the Russians actually did may have contributed, but Parscale’s point is that very effective targeting gets results.

Part of me is wincing. The targeting is entirely legal, but also strains the definition of democracy — not least because Hilary Clinton had 2.8 million more votes than Trump (and roughly the same number of votes as Barack Obama had in 2012): the problem is that she had the votes in the wrong places. Most worryingly, this means that the voters-who-matter end up being a small number in a few places: marginalising the vast majority.

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged and | 6 Comments

Is evidence-based policy losing out to populism?

Populism always sounds good, but in the long-run it usually hurts those it is supposed to help.

In the UK, interest rates used regularly to be cut to stimulate an artificial boom before an election. This was good for the ruling political party, but the country paid a heavy price later. In the nineties, the Liberal Democrats championed the idea of making the Bank of England independent, and, in 1997, Labour implemented the policy.

As a result, inflation has been controlled, and business and international investors have more confidence in the UK. It’s no panacea. It didn’t stop serious mistakes being made over bank regulation. But, I think, it’s proved a real success.

In 1997, the Labour party proposed a National Minimum Wage. Many were deeply concerned that, by not allowing the existence of low paid jobs, this policy would price some low skilled workers out of the job market.

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